By Jack Wolf
I recently had an interesting conversation with another Pagan person with regard to what he called ‘public’ rituals. He had attended a large gathering of folk in the United States and had been rather discouraged by the use of what he considered to be sacred aspects of certain rituals used while the public was present.
The person I was having this conversation with is young, in his mid twenties, and is passionate and fiery about the Old Ways. He is dedicated to the Elder Kin without compromise and feels that there is too little respect being shown to the Old Ones in certain venues.
In some ways he reminds me of me – about twenty five years ago; before years and experience caused me to mellow somewhat. Though he and I come from different traditions (he is Asatru and I am Thornish), there is a goodly mutual respect between us – and I certainly don’t mind hearing the words of younger pagans who are seeking to find their way.
And so his questions…
The first thing I asked him was, what he meant by public.
The second thing I asked him was to clarify why he didn’t feel comfortable with the rites being held in that venue.
He told me that what he meant by public was that members of the general population were there, viewing the rites, who were not necessarily Heathen (as my young friend is) and that there was a good possibility that some were not even Pagan. He told me that the reason he had been feeling uncomfortable was that he believed that the rites of the Old Ways were very sacred and that they should not be shared in public with those who were not sworn to the Gods.
He was not happy that some Pagan groups were holding rituals in public, “ostensibly to educate the populace as to what our ways were about” – because he felt that this kind of thing was a mockery of the Old Ways. He did not like seeing the old rituals being put on like a show for entertainment purposes.
I asked him whether he thought that all Pagan people should be free to express their respects for the spirit world in their own unique ways, or should there perhaps be some kind of strict codification in place.
My questions stopped him cold and I could tell he understood what I was getting at: When we become incensed at the actions of others there are times when we wonder why all cannot think as we do; act as we do. To think these things is to plant the seeds of orthodoxy. To actually act on such thoughts is the beginning of troubling times for Paganism in general for if we do that are we not then becoming much like the scions of Abraham with their commandments and codes?
There is a difference between acknowledging the beliefs of others and bowing down to the beliefs of others.
And, there is a difference between holding true to one’s own beliefs and enforcing those beliefs upon others.
Our ancient ancestors knew this and they often showed respect for the beliefs of others. Even though the children of Abraham ultimately used this honorable custom against our ancestors in a cowardly and dishonorable way the fault was not on our ancestors for showing such respect.
Respect is key, though in these turbulent modern times, wary respect is a wise course.
There is a fine line there that we should pay heed to lest we slide over and revert what we have striven to evolve away from. On one side of the line we are in balance; showing respect yet not subservience. On the other side of the line we become what we loathe.
I told my young friend that if he did not agree with the public rituals of other Pagan groups the best thing to do was to simply walk away and tend to honoring the spirit world in his own way. If his own group of folk were doing things he felt uncomfortable it might be wise for him to address these concerns with any elders or Gothar his particular Heathen group held in esteem.
Thus, having listened to my thoughts, the young fellow asked the inevitable question: “How do the folk of the Thornish path deal with the subject of ritual and respect in relation to the public.”
My answer was simple: “We don’t.”
Which brings me to thoughts about the way Thornish people have always expressed themselves… with regard to ritual and indeed with regard to outsiders.
Outsiders are not permitted to view the sacred rites of the Thornish tradition. Period.
The folk of the Thornwood do not perform rites anywhere other than two ways and those are with other sworn tribal members or in solitude. The Thornish tradition does not allow for public ritual of any kind because that is not our way. We feel that for us, the greater amount of respect will be shown when we have focus and sincerity in our offerings and that these factors cannot be guaranteed when there are those from outside our circles present.
This is not to say that the acts of other Pagan or Heathen groups are wrong; it is simply that such acts as public ritual are not our way.
The rites of the Thornish tradition, with very few exceptions, are quite subtle and low-key. It is thought that focus and respect do not require overt displays. When we recall that we Thornish people view what some people call the Gods as, quite literally, our Elder Kin; our revered Elder-folk… it makes sense that they are addressed in the same way as one might address a human tribal elder in a similar context. The same goes for any interactions we might have with any of the Shaeda – the Thornish word for spirit-people: Reverence and respect within well considered parameters.
Ritual is customarily performed at night with few exceptions, and ceremony is kept to a minimum. For rituals of deeper importance the time of the darkest moon is preferred. Thornish people prefer the deep green places or other remote locations to perform most rites.
When a Thornish person speaks to the Elder Kin or to any of the other spirit-people, the voice is generally kept low – sometimes even whispered. There is seen to be no need for loud announcements because one is communicating with intent and focus; they do not need to put on a display of any kind.
As such there is very little possibility that one would ever witness a Thornish rite unless they are oathed tribal members. Our way of informing those outside our tribal circles – of our ways – follows other avenues, such as books, blogs, websites and social media as well as face to face informational coffee or pub-moots.
We allow what we want to allow out into the world but we never put on overt displays of what we consider to be deeply sacred for the public. Our way is not for entertainment.
Others will do as they wish and honor the Old Ones in their way.
…Just as we will.