Q19. How do you incorporate movement into your worship?

A few years ago, I went to a great workshop by Shauna Aura Knight about raising energy in ritual via movement and voice, and while it was great, my attempts to incorporate the techniques into our group rituals was not met with enthusiasm. In general it seems to be too far outside people’s comfort zone. We are coming up on Beltane, and even at a late-night bonfire with a fair amount of alcohol, I’d say that a solid half of the participants will not be at all interested in doing any dancing around it. I’ve heard from quite a few people in our group who would never go back to a group where they were expected to do “spontaneous expressive movement” or anything similar.

We’ve seen a lot of discomfort with asking the group as a whole to do any kind of participation beyond 1) Repeating short spoken lines, in unison. 2) Stand in a circle and hold hands. 3) Pass around items or put specified items on the altar. Chanting and clapping is usually okay, on occasion, provided they aren’t expected to show much enthusiasm. A few people will volunteer to read invocations off a card, carry a banner, pour an offering, etc. but “shy and awkward” seems to be the norm. There are less than a dozen who are okay with singing in a group, and a small handful who will do anything more movement-oriented.

In my private worship, I am more body-centered, more movement-oriented, but still, it is a challenge for me. My concept of “religious worship” growing up was about sitting politely in rows and following a well-defined script. When I see people who are able to unself-consciously do expressive, free-flowing, unrehearsed movement, I am really impressed, but I am just not there. It is one of those issues I can’t seem to wholeheartedly pick up, but I have not been able to put down. I can’t just look at it and say, “Eh. Not my thing.” because on some level I know that it is my thing. I’m just not there yet.

Q18. What does fertility mean to you?

Personally, my concept of fertility is fairly literal and biological. There is a spiritual dimension to it that goes beyond the act of procreation to a more fundamental expression of life, but the reproductive process is an essential manifestation of it. I don’t just mean human reproduction, but also plant and animal, and the latter is more relevant to me. When I think about “fertility” the main thing I think about is abundant food, and nature teeming and overflowing with life, not human babies.

I might feel differently about it if I’d had kids or thought I would ever have kids. (I don’t want to get into details, but even if I weren’t gay, I’m infertile due to a medical issue.) The closest I’ll get to raising kids is babysitting my partner’s daughter’s kids, when she eventually has some.

Even then, my primary focus of worship – Frey – is so strongly agricultural, so I think I’d still see fertility as primarily about food. I eat food every day. I have livestock that needs to get pregnant to give milk and to have babies we can raise and eat.

My impression is that many of the folks in my tradition either see “fertility” as primarily about human-procreation and don’t find the concept particularly relevant, or they have a more metaphorical understanding of it that includes any “process of creation” such as writing a book.

It is April, so we are planning for our Beltane campout and rituals. That is a holiday very focused on fertility, with an emphasis on the procreation and how the bringing together of male and female is what creates new life.

This poses an interesting dilemma for us. For our Maypole ritual, we want there to be a couple representing the Green Man and May Queen to embody that aspect of fertility. After extensive discussion and prayer, we decided that this means they must not only be fertile, but they must be quite comfortable embodying that biological role. That doesn’t mean the Green Man needs to be the manliest of all men, just that he be fully comfortable with the male role, comfortable with the idea of fathering a child, and have a fully functional male reproductive system. Same with the May Queen. Sure she could be a little butch, but she’s got to be able to deeply connect with that Maiden-becoming-Mother role and she’s got to be able to physically embody that role.

We also require that at some point shortly after the main ritual, they go to a private space and have sex. Because of that, we require that they be in some kind of long-term romantic relationship. That isn’t a gods-mandated criteria, just an attempt to ensure that they’ll find it enjoyable and natural to fulfill this part of the role, without emotional drama or nervousness. Also, if we’re going to ask people to have sex for our ritual, we want it to be people who were already having sex with each other and plan to continue doing so for a long while, so there isn’t any sense that we have coerced them into doing this. We’re not asking them to do anything they weren’t already doing. We are just asking them to do it in the afternoon in a tent in our woods, in complete privacy. We’ll take their word for it.

The first part of the dilemma is that some people who might want to fill the roles don’t qualify, for one or more reasons. The second part of our dilemma is that almost no one in our core group fulfills all the criteria. We don’t want to use the same couple over and over, so we’ve often got to look pretty far afield to find a fertile, heterosexually-paired (though not necessarily heterosexual) couple, both comfortable with embodying these reproductively-defined roles. They also have to be “Pagan” (under the broadest conceivable definition) and, most importantly, they must be able to give us a firm commitment that they will show up for the ritual!

So this year, we are still on the lookout.

Q17. What qualities should a leader in your tradition possess?

(image by Svilen Milev, on sxc.hu)

This is somewhat timely, as we’ve just started the process of training the potential next leader of our church in this past month. Our current leader isn’t ready for retirement any time soon, but he needed someone to take over certain responsibilities (at least temporarily) and the person who stepped up to help him — his daughter, Kricket — is someone who may eventually take his place in ten or twenty years.

If I’d answered this question a month ago, I would have answered very differently. I probably would have talked about skill at running ritual, diplomacy and conflict resolution, and inspiring others in their spiritual challenges.

But in light of this recent development, I think I’d have to say that the essential quality required of a leader is a lifelong commitment to serving this community to the best of their ability, and a sense of personal responsibility large enough to carry that obligation. The rest are skills that can be learned.

Kricket is young, and not very experienced. She shows good potential, but she has a lot of growing and learning to do in order to fulfill this role. There are other people in our group who have more skill and more experience, but Kricket is the person who stepped up. She is the one who has expressed the kind of commitment we are looking for, and that is what clarified for me that commitment is really the essential quality. Nothing has been decided at this point, and nothing will be decided for quite some time, but when it is decided, I think that anyone interested in taking on the role will be judged much more on their commitment and responsibility than on their skills, experience, or reputation.

It is hard to say exactly why that lifelong commitment is so essential, but I think that largely it is because we see this role as being the embodiment of a certain archetype, not just being the person in charge. When you take that role on, you are taking on a spiritual obligation that goes beyond just running rituals and mediating disputes. No one, no matter how skilled, would be accepted into the role without a deep understanding of that obligation.

The leader also would need to be approved of by the gods. That is how the first leader of the group was chosen – the three senior members drew lots. This time around, it would likely be a less “random” process, but something would have to establish that it was the will of the gods that this person take over leadership of the group.