Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A quintessential Pagan Quaker ritual - ?

I had a question recently from someone about what a quintessential Pagan Quaker or Quaker Pagan ritual might look like.

A few days later, in passing, I happened to mention on Facebook that I'm doing Beltane planning, and a friend said she'd love to see a Quaker Pagan ritual, thinking that's what said Beltane ritual would be. I told her that Beltane with Roses, Too! is not a Pagan Quaker ritual, but a Pagan ritual with Quaker and lots of other influences.

At first I suggested Full Moon Meeting for Worship/Worship-Sharing might be a better example of a Pagan Quaker ritual, but then I realized -- you can't actually tell the difference, by looking or even necessarily from within worship, between that and any other Meeting for Worship.

Okay, so what would be a quintessential Quaker Pagan ritual?

Well, what do I mean by quintessential? It occurred to me that this is another one of those words I use frequently and whose meaning I'm pretty sure I know from context, but I decided to look it up. I found the Merriam-Webster definition particularly interesting, because it talks about "the fifth and highest element in ancient and medieval philosophy that permeates all nature." (Hmmm!) But in this case, I am using quintessential to mean "the most typical example or representative," or perhaps, a typical example or representative.

Let me also think and talk for a minute about what I mean by ritual.

I spent a lot of my time last spring thinking and writing about what ritual actually is, for a couple of reasons. One reason was that I was taking a graduate class called "Understanding the Ritual Experience." (It ended up being more of an introduction to ritual theory and ritual studies than the nice and concrete unpacking of the experience of ritual which I'd been hoping for; nonetheless, it was deeply fascinating, and I learned a lot. The prof has since re-vamped the course; I'm not sure what it would be like now.) Another reason was that I'd spent a lot of time -- too much time? -- the fall before, trying to be in dialogue with the clerk of the pastoral care/oversight/ministry-and-counsel-equivalent committee of one of my former Meetings, about the definitions of words like ritual, clergy, and Pagan... conversations which, sadly, ended up coming down to: what he thought, he considered to be truth, and was reporting to the Meeting as such; and any reality of experience -- mine, that of any other Pagan Quakers, of any other non-Christian Quakers, of any other Pagans, or of the large body of Pagans in the world -- was just not true as far as he was concerned. It was painful, to say the least.

Since I'm not going to re-hash my whole semester (or the fall before) here, for now, I will just say that people who study religion and religious practice would call Meeting for Worship the essential/quintessential religious ritual within unprogrammed Quakerism.

(Yes, yes, I know unprogrammed Quakers say we don't have ritual, and we like to think that's true. But that is a whole entire other conversation.)

So, thinking about it, and going back to what I said above, I take it back: I would say that any Meeting for Worship in which people with Pagan theaology participate is a quintessentially Pagan Quaker ritual.

I'd also say that any Meeting for Worship in which people with Christian theology participate is a quintessentially Christian Quaker ritual. Certainly any Meeting for Worship which focuses primarily or exclusively on Jesus or Christ would be a Christian Quaker ritual.

So any Meeting for Worship that focuses primarily on the Old Gods, the Goddess, nature as the Divine Itself (rather than as Divine creation), etc., would be a quintessential Pagan Quaker ritual.

Happily, most Meetings for Worship which I attend aren't explicitly Christian, or Pagan, or anything else: whatever Face of the Spirit you experience or seek, you are welcome. The people in most Meetings I've been part of worry a lot less about which particular aspect, facet, or name of the Divine people seek and experience -- or, to borrow a phrase from Cat Chapin-Bishop, which brand name of the Divine people tune into -- and are more concerned about our seeking together and collective experience. This is how I can be in worship with Friends who are Christian, Jewish, Non-Theist, Buddhist, and other theaologies, and still be in genuine spiritual community. And even have the profound experience of gathered or covered/held worship. (And what a blessing. What a deep, joyful blessing.)

In that earlier conversation, I went on to lay out what I thought a typical or quintessential Quaker Witchen or Witchy Quaker ritual would look like. And then I realized, I'm a Pagan Quaker; I'm an open and out Pagan Quaker who does education with Monthly Meetings and Quaker organizations, and with Pagan organizations; but somehow, I never end up doing this version of worship/ritual -- what's up with that, anyway? *laugh*

So here's an example of a Pagan Quaker ritual based in Roses, Too! tradition of eclectic, Feminist Witchcraft (therefore, small-group):

  • Gather; talk through the ritual.
  • Check-ins: what are three words that describe how you are right now?
  • Ground and center/tree of life.
  • Purify the space, cast the circle, invoke the directions and the Goddess.
  • Silent worship. Vocal ministry as moved. Singing, dancing, drumming, chanting if moved?
  • Ground and center.
  • Feasting.
  • Goodbyes to the directions and the Goddess and to each other. Shaking of hands. Hugs.
Here's another I can easily envision:
  • Settle into silent worship; "enter and center" (per Bill Taber) / ground and center in silent worship.
  • If/as led: purify the circle.
  • If/as led: cast circle.
  • If/as led: invoke the directions.
  • If/as led: invoke the Goddess.
  • More silent worship.
  • If/as led: raise power silently or noisily, with or without movement.
  • Ground and center.
  • If/as led, goodbyes to the directions and the Goddess.
  • Shaking of hands/goodbyes to each other.
  • Feasting/coffee and tea in the social hall after. ;-)
And I'm curious. What does Quaker Pagan / Pagan Quaker worship, ritual, etc., look like to you? What's your own experience of it?


Hystery said...

I guess for me it is just to walk into MfW, sit down quietly for about an hour then talk to Friends after. Sometimes there are crackers and juice. ;-) Even before I began attending Friends meetings, I could never feel connected to Pagan forms of worship so now as a Quaker Pagan, I leave them right out. I don't invoke any Gods or Goddesses and use almost know discernible Pagan language in my spiritual practice. In fact, I would say that one of the key reasons I personally became the Quaker type of Pagan was because I found silent meeting for worship more attractive than any Pagan forms I've encountered. This could have something to do with the Protestant forms of my upbringing that made me uncomfortable with the notion of ritual in the first place. I wonder if there are patterns among us based on religions of origin. How do our pre-Pagan experiences affect our choices in ritual forms?

Alyss said...

What an interesting post/train of thought. I attended the annual retreat for my Quaker Meeting this last weekend and was telling my mom about what a great time I had. She asked "So, are you a Quaker?" I laughed, and wondered aloud, how do you know? Am I a Quaker because I've been attending meetings? Would I be a Quaker if I "joined" this church with a financial obligation? Would I be a Quaker if I stopped attending Meeting? And then I said, "Well, I'm not a Christian, so all of these questions are still in the air." The Yearly Meeting my Meeting is a part of is very evangelical and Christ centered and I sometimes worry that someone will "find out" I'm not a Christian. In practice, I don't think it matters, but it's a conversation I can't wait to have with someone :)

I guess all of this is to say... thanks for being here as a guide for me in this really neat, fascinating, fruitful, beautiful path I'm walking down.

Mary Ellen said...

For me, the "Pagan" part of Quaker practice has been, from time to time, using imagery from reading or Starhawk workshops or dreams or inner visionary adventures while in Meeting for Worship. I have often invoked an inner image of the Feminine Divine as part of this practice. However, I have felt a constraint on doing primarily inner work for the entire Meeting, and over time have moved into more mantra or prayer-centered practice. If I had a striking dream, though, I'd go back to some of the earlier approach. I would say that the ritual is the corporate silence itself, and something that happens (when it's working well) that Tabor has described well, the "covered" Meeting. Though experiences of beauty in nature can trigger this experience for me, to a degree, the deepened and almost palpable sense of Presence in such a Meeting is a gift and an enduring refreshment. Just reflecting on it here makes me realize I've been on the dry side for a while - coming unprepared to worship, perhaps, or too tired and distracted.

petersontoscano said...

wow wow Wow! Great stuff. Thank you for sharing this on your blog. I love the way your mind works. Delicious!

orawnzva said...

"Quintessence" is exactly that extra element — it's the element of Spirit in magical systems which include it in addition to earth, air, fire, and water.

quintessence... quintessence... quintessence... okay, that last involves way too much blowing up of stuff to be quaker, but it is in its strange way both uplifting and beautifully pagan. That aside...

Given the original sense of "quintessence", I would say that a quintessential Quaker meeting would have to refer to what Friends call a covered meeting, since that's (one interpretation of) what a covered meeting is covered with. :-)

tressabelle said...

I'm a long-time Pagan, but new to Quakerism. A big part of what attracts me to the Society of Friends is the lack of ritual. I don't like the "circle casting" and "calling directions" of Wicca because they are the trappings of Western Ceremonial Tradition (the origin of "casting a circle" historically was to trap demons). I feel that it is silly to "call directions" because I would rather be in a free and timeless state of mind instead of attuned to the "directions" and the artificially constructed associations with each. The natural world is already sacred, so I feel no need for "creating sacred space" as is done in Wiccan ritual. There are other Pagan ritual frameworks besides the Wiccan model- some more simple, some more complex. My vision of an ideal Quaker Pagan "ritual" would be gathering in silence, but in an outdoor setting with a fire or a tree at the center of the circle. Then spontanious sharing occuring (the drumming, chanting, poetry, dancing, etc. that you mentioned) as the spirit moves people to do so. Sharing food around the circle would be a wonderful way to cap it all off. Simple, elegant, timeless.