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| Article Specs|
Article ID: 2814
Age Group: Adult
Posted: June 4th. 2000
Matters of Etiquette
by Patricia Telesco
No matter the type of event you're attending, there are general unspoken rules of pagan etiquette that should be followed contientiously. Many of these rules come under the heading of common sense, but that all too often is in short supply!
Magickal Tools & Altars: At nearly any event there will be other people's magickal tools, jewelry, drums, wands, walking sticks, and altars scattered about. Please, please don't touch any of these items without express permission of the owners/makers. Just as you wouldn't walk into someone's home and begin rummaging through their drawers because it breaches privacy and courtesies, a person's or groups effects and altar are very private. The energy in them needs to be honored and respected, so always ask first.
The abuses I see at ritual fires make me cringe. People who randomly poke and prod, toss garbage in the fire, or who try to rule the fire's energy can be very dangerous to a gathering. The poking and prodding can cause sparks, which then hit people's clothing, bodies, or eyes (I have seen this happen to children recently, so it is no laughing matter). There are individuals at every event who tend the fires. Let them do their job.
Tossing items in the fire again can be dangerous. It should be obvious that waste has no place in a sacred fire (you can take care of that elsewhere). Herbs added to a fire can cause some individuals to experience allergic reactions. If there is something you'd like to add to the fire, my suggestion is to present it to the fire tenders and let them handle it accordingly. Note: this is obviously a little different if the burning is a ritualistic one, where everyone is burning an object or item to release energy. In this case, please make sure it is a fire-safe object.
Finally folks, unless you're an adept shaman or fire-worker, please don't try to coax the ritual fire to do your bidding. This is kind of like having 50 weather witches at an event all "doing their thing" -- it only causes a confusion of energy. Instead, feed the fire, respect it's spirit, and become partners with it. Overall you'll find the spiritual experience far more beneficial.
Another area where I see people stepping all over the sacred energies being created. Drums are a means to heighten people's spiritual awareness and connect them to a tribal, communal heartbeat. This is not a contest about who can drum loudest, fastest, or take center stage. The key to good drumming is LISTENING and letting the drum spirit speak. A drum circle is a conversation between drummers, attendees, the drums themselves and Spirit. No one (other than Spirit) should overwhelm the other. It is also an expressive experience that helps create a communal trance state, that resounds with the cycles of time, our tribe, and our souls. Treat it accordingly.
Goddess if I had a nickle for every time someone blatantly interrupted an event's entertainment I could retire. I expect most people would not behave that way at a dinner theater, but for some reason they feel it's "ok" to let children cry, talk to others, and make other kinds of interruptions at events when entertainment is going on. It is one thing to participate, and another to make a spectacle. Please, folks. Most festival coordinators have to pay good money to get professional quality entertainers. Don't ruin the enjoyment of others. Be considerate and take conversations and other disruptive matters elsewhere.
Other people's Children:
Unless you have been designated as a child-care person, don't yell at other people's children unless they're in danger. It's one thing to gently correct a problem and another altogether to set yourself up as an authority. Generally, I suggest taking the matter to a parent or responsible adult. If that doesn't work, inform the event coordinators or staff.
There are a lot of reasons to follow this guideline other than keeping negative feelings to a minimum. For one, young children get confused when other people than the primary care-givers are shouting orders that may, or may not, match those of a parent. Older children get rebellious or resentful of such correction when it comes from a complete stranger in the wrong way. So rather than putting yourself in an awkward situation, try to find a non-confrontational way of handling it.
Note this doesn't mean you can't stop children from running, making too much noise, or other activities that can be hazardous or disruptive. It just means using diplomacy!
I can't stress this one enough. If an event coordinator asks you to do something, or corrects a situation, please honor his or her wishes. If you have a real gripe about how a problem gets resolved, take it up with that person after the event. More often than not, the heat of the moment speaks louder than logic. A little time, space, and reflection may resolve things for you, and if it doesn't by the time you contact the coordinator he or she will be rested and in a better frame of mind to talk over the problems with you.
Remember these people do not wear red capes --- but are often expected to pull off the impossible. If you seriously consider the logistics of handling an event, you will quickly see why responding to a coordinator's requests in a timely manner is very important. In effect you're in that person's home, so obey the ground rules.
Another biggie. Please respect other people's taboos. Some may not hug. Others may not eat meat. Others still may not imbibe. A simple answer to the last two situations is to tell people what's in foods and beverages before handing them some. As for hugging, I usually extend a handshake and see what happens. If a person pulls me in for a hug, I figure it's ok!
Sweat Lodges and other Preparatory activities:
As a courtesy to the person running the lodge or other event where specific personal preparations have been requested, remember to make time for those preparations. These activities are intended for your spiritual welfare, but will not be successful if you're not wholly prepared in body, mind, and spirit.
The Pagan community is filled with people from all walks of life and a diversity of lifestyles. If you have a question about a way of living, ask it honestly, but please don't gossip or make assumptions. This is very hurtful and can have far-ranging effects that you cannot possibly control once you've started the rumor mill going. Similarly, if a rumor comes to you, rather than perpetuating it why not squelch it. Find someone who knows what happened, and get clarification for everyone!
Please people, DO NOT take pictures of anyone at a Pagan gathering without express permission. This is very rude and a huge breach of pagan etiquette. Many of us have to keep our spiritual lives hidden to keep our jobs or families safe from persecution. Many others simply prefer that a private life remains private. Others still may have a taboo about photographs. So, ask first. Believe me when I say that you will avoid a lot of problems, not the least of which may include the confiscation of film should you not heed requests and warnings.
Respect Spiritual Privacy:
If you see someone meditating or otherwise having a spiritually private moment, it's Extremely Bad Manners to run up and shake them by the shoulder, shout in their ear, or otherwise disrupt or intrude upon such a moment (Would you want someone to come up and start singing 'Henry VIII I Am' at the top of their lungs in the middle of your ritual? It may seem humorous to think about, but it's not much fun when it happens. - (added 7/23/2002 and thanks to Oak Silverthorn)
Many Magickal Paths:
Please be aware that when you attend a gathering of any kind, it's highly likely that you will meet people from a wide variety of magickal traditions, including those that you don't agree with! Now, this is not the time to try and prove "whose right" -- gatherings are a time to put aside dogma and celebrate our common ground. So don't start picking nits about where the altar should go, if Priestess so-in-so has actually been initiated, and if Shaman so-in-so has the right to call himself a shaman. Issues can easily be discussed after the event so as to not disrupt the atmosphere.
Additionally, just because you're a druid and someone else is a Gardinarian, it doesn't mean you can't stand at a circle together. We all "say" we believe in many paths to enlightenment and the Sacred, now is the time to act on that lip service. If you talk tolerance, walk it gently and wisely at gatherings, honoring all as having equal benefit to the individuals walking that road.
A lot of us enjoy dancing the ritual fires, but this is not the time for becomming a primadonna. The purpose of ritual fires were to draw the community together. So, share the space with others. If you want to stand and sway, move to the outter edge of the circle of dancers so you don't get run over. Those that are dancing also need to be aware of their movements and those of other dancers, not to mention the fire's energy. Move in cooperation with the tribal circle and the fire, not against it and do not overwhelm it. And please, folks, watch the sexual content of your dances. Children often gather at the ritual fires, and not all of them are ready for what you're showing!
Really all of dancing etiquette goes back to awareness. What is the flavor of the music and the fire? Who is gathered at the fire? In a heightened state you should be even more aware of these things, not less. Courtesy and consideration do not stop when drumming begins. Don't toss your arms around wildly and hit another dancer in the face. Don't run around the fire with loose silky fabrics praying you don't catch fire. And don't go jumping the ritual fire unless it's been specifically constructed for that purpose.
While African tradition says "if one can walk, one can dance" some of us just like to watch the ritual dancing, drumming, and sit by the fire. For those of you who fall into this category, please don't be overly roudy or loud when entering, leaving, or while you're at the activity.
When servicable, move in and out of the sacred space in a clockwise manner to keep the positive energy spinning, and don't laugh or make fun of those who, to you, seem somewhat uncoordinated. Remember what's happening at a fire has more to do with Spirit than showmanship (or one would hope that's the case). Actually this is an idea time to act as a watcher -- someone who looks to see where problems might develop and helps avoid them quietly. Say, for example, that you see someone sleeping at the outskirts of the circle. In the dark, a dancer could easily fall over that person (not to mention the exposure to the elements if they stay there all night). To go over and carefully wake them to move is perfectly acceptable -- but remember your manners!
Beyond this, please be careful with where you leave cups, bottles, chairs and other items. There needs to be adequate room for people to move around, in, and out of the circle easily without danger of falling. And always, ALWAYS remove your garbage when you leave the area. Again this is as much a safety issue as it is a matter of being kind to the earth.
This is a tough issue because so many of us in the community travel unique lifestyles. So, let's start with the obvious.
I am certain there are many more points of etiquette that can be added here. If you have some, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Practice safe sex - use condoms or don't do it! Additionally, always know the age of the person with whom you're coupling. If you're not sure - don't do it! If you think the person might have a mate or get the feeling that something is awry, don't do it! If you break these basic rules, you will be sorry now or later.
- Consider the comfort of others and your camp mates in whatever you do. If you're sharing a tent with someone, don't expect them to sleep outside just because you want to get laid! Similarly if you have children in your camp, be discreet - don't make tons of noise that parents will have to explain later.
- In considering the options that present themselves at events, it's very important to be informed. For example, there are people who practice polyamoury, all of whom have specific ground rules with their mates for what activities take place, when, and where. If you get involved in this type of coupling, you need to know the ground rules so as to "harm none."
- Do not take advantage of someone who is in an altered state (this includes spiritually altered state). For example, dancing can be a very erotic experience for some people, who right afterward might be tempted to do things they otherwise would not. Give that person time to ground and center before getting carried away. Likewise, if a person has been drinking alot it's usually wise to wait. You may not be getting the whole picture of that individual's situation because of the alcohol.
- A lot of pagans are flirtatious or seem to be because they are less hung up about physical matters. Don't mistake this as an open invitation. Flirting and/or partial nudity is a world or two away from sex. Don't assume, don't make unwanted advances, and don't move too quickly and you'll be much better off.
The Witches' Voice
June 6th., 2000
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