Naturalistic Paganism’s Spectral Challenge – Part Four: A Ritual of Encounter by Émile Wayne

Editors note – this post is the destination of three posts leading us in our encounter with our intersectionality and the specters that hold it.  The other three are here, here, and here.  

This ritual is intended to be the culmination of a much longer process of discussion and relationship building within a diverse, multi-storied community. As with all good rituals, its primary participants should rehearse many times before its performance. Non-participant attendees may either observe or participate as the Chorus, so long as they are provided with a script and are willing to follow along.

All ___________ portions of the following ritual are left open to be crafted according to local needs, by communal collaboration. The sharing of stories across a single community’s various identity groups is a prerequisite for this ritual, as is the cultivation of local knowledge:

  • What species of animal and plant are indigenous to the area, and which are exotic and invasive? What is the history of ecological change and/or disturbance over time? How are humans tied into this history?
  • How long have humans shared this place with other species? How far back does human occupation go? What is the oldest known name for this place? How many names has it had? Who is buried here? Which graves are marked, and which are not? What is the history of interaction between groups of different languages, origins, ethnicities, and ideologies here?
  • Identify “scars” in the local ecological, temporal, and communal landscapes. These must exist in the experience and/or memory of some, if not all of those involved. Ecological scars might include mountain-top removal, a drought, destruction of a watershed, etc. Temporal scars might include an extinction event, a massacre, a historically segregated lunch counter, or a riot sparked by police brutality. Communal scars persist in the present: ongoing voter suppression, discriminatory housing practices, racial profiling, LGBTQ+ exclusion, economic hardship of small-scale farmers, etc. Many scars will cross over these categories: cancer clusters from contaminated groundwater and soil in low-income neighborhoods leftover from exploitative manufacturing processes, for example.

Contrary to my usual style, I’m going to try to avoid lengthy explanations. If the previous three articles in this series don’t provide enough clues as to why I evoke the images chosen here, or why the ritual is framed as it is, then that is a failing I accept in the name of the uneasy kind of encounter I am trying to provoke.

PARTS

  • Representatives – One representative from each salient identity group in the community, including important companion species and geographical landmarks. Each Representative should wear whatever is most comfortable, but might also wear clothing indicative of the group represented. The roles for numbered representatives (Rep 1, Rep 2, etc.) may be distributed in any manner the participants see fit.
    • Non-Human Examples: The Desert, Juniper, Raven, Mount X.
    • The Unknown – A representative standing in for those “unknown” contributors to the place’s history.
  • Chorus – representing the current, total community
    • This can include all attendees who do not have a specific role to play, but there should be at least a small formally designated Chorus to lead the community.
  • A Specter for each scar identified in communal discussion. All Specters should be shrouded in black cloaks with hoods, and carry a taper candle with them, concealed until the end. Their faces should not be seen.
    • Examples: Racism, Genocide, Exclusion, Extinction, Poison, Poverty, Patriarchy, Famine, Hurricane Katrina, Inequality, etc. – Names can be general or specific, so long as they have local, communal resonance.
  • Optional: Musicians and/or Drummers

SPACE

Preferably outdoors, at night or dusk. The space should be large enough to accommodate a significant portion of the local community to gather in a circle, with enough chairs for those who cannot stand for long. An outdoor amphitheater would be ideal. A fire-pit should be at the center. Around the base of the fire pit, place one bowl of red powder or pigment for each representative. (Non-toxic, safe for skin.) Similarly, bowls of white/grey powder or pigment should be set at the outside edge of the circle. Lighting should be sufficient for people to read off paper sheets. The Chorus will be all those in the seats/stands, with an additional, sparse Formal Chorus circle ringing the stage.

An additional place, separate from the ritual circle or stage, should be dedicated for a communal meal after the ritual, and set up beforehand.

RITUAL

[As many as can fit into the space form a circle. All participants are interspersed with attendees. All those groups who feel the need to prepare the space ritually should do so, one after another, before the ritual begins. The first lines of the Chorus should be initiated by members of the Formal Chorus, hidden amid the crowd.]

Formal Chorus: We come. We become present, one to another, face to face. We bring our loss and our longing, our fears and our hopes. Who is this we? We are one, and many. We are unified, and diverse. Who gathers here?

[While speaking, the Formal Chorus slowly moves from the crowd to the edge of the ritual circle. Representative 1 steps forward into the center of the circle, close to the fire.]

Rep 1: I am [name of group]. We are ___ [statement of identity]. Without us, this community could not be: it is because we are.

[Each Representative steps forward and makes a declaration, using the same formula. Representatives should form a smaller circle around the central fire.]

All Representatives: We stand together at the center. [All Reps join hands.] Out of many experiences, a common life emerges.

[Specters will be interspersed among the attendees, or lingering on the very outside of the circle, behind them. Specters should interrupt the following lines by intermittently shouting/wailing: Pain! Loss! Shame! Remember Us! Why? Help! Sorrow! Fear!]

Formal Chorus: The darkness cloaks the scars of the past, and the wounds we nurse in secret. But pains concealed can never be healed. Ruptures in our past unsettle relationships today; old wounds mark us with scars and echoes of enduring pain. Time is out of joint. Our words, our deeds, our silences, our eyes, our ears – all are haunted.  

[Specters should continue shouting individually for another minute after Chorus finishes, then collectively, with echoes:]

All Specters: You cannot hear us, but we call.

Specter 1: We call!

All Specters: You cannot see us, but we linger.

Specter 2: We linger!

All Specters: You cannot feel us, but we live in you.

Specter 3: We live in you!

All Specters: You will not acknowledge us, but we are powerful.

Specter 4: We are powerful!

All Specters: We are the past, disturbing the present. We are the present, closing the path forward to the future.

Chorus: Specters, we feel you, but do not know you. In the storm of your cries, we strain to hear your individual voices. We wish to call out to you. When we search our hearts, we know your names.

[Each Specter should be called by the appropriate Representative, to represent the relationships between a given group and its own specific, historical wounds.]

Representative 1: I, [Name of community], listen to the voices in the darkness, the wailing carried on the winds of time. In the maelstrom, I hear [name of Specter] calling me.

[As each Rep calls out, that Specter should come to the center and stand behind the Rep who called to it, an arm’s distance away. For Specters relevant to the whole community, the Representative should speak in unison, adjusting the call to: “We, the gathered people, … we … hear [Name] calling us.”]

At this point, the Specters should form a ring around the Representatives.

All Specters: Why have you called us here? Why have you given us names?

[Specters begin to move clockwise around the Representatives, so that the associations between Rep and Specter become mixed.]

Representatives: Specters, to acknowledge you is to acknowledge a fractured present – to uncover hidden wounds. But even out of rupture and disturbance, new life can emerge.

[Specters begin to move in and out, between Reps, breaking their hand-holding with each other.]

Specter 1: You would turn to face your shame?

Specter 2: You would turn to face your pain?

Specter 3: You would turn to face your loss?

Specter 4: You would turn to face the wounds you inflict on each other, even now?

All Representatives: Yes – For the first time, we will turn to face the Specters who haunt us.

All Specters: We are not so easily faced. We are in, and among you.

            [All Reps turn to face the outside circle.]

All Reps: When we face each other –

Chorus: — and ourselves –

Reps & Chorus: — you become manifest.

[All Specters stop moving, then reform their middle circle. Each Specter should alternate facing in, toward the fire, or out, toward the outer circle.]

All Specters: Here we are.

[Specter 1 Raises arms above head.]

Specter 1: I am [Name]. I spawned from [relevant event, broken relationship, etc.] I linger in [relevant memories, institutions, social practices, monuments, land divisions, etc.]. Even when you cannot see me, I am here. What do you have to say to me?

[After Specter 1 speaks, hold a moment of silence for any responses from either Chorus or Representatives. All are free to speak. Once a few voices have been heard, each Specter will make a declaration, following the same formula. After each has spoken, the circle of Specters begins to move – those facing out begin walking clockwise. Those facing inward move counter-clockwise. Specters should cross each other’s paths and interweave slowly.]

Specter 1: We are the lingering pain of ancient wounds.

Specter 2: We are hunger in the belly.

Specter 3: We are the memory of strife, struggle, and loss.

Specter 4: We are the hypocrisy of the powerful.

Specter 5: We are the silence of the displaced.

Specter 6: We are the cries of the forgotten.

Specter 1: We are the poisons in water and soil.

Specter 2: We are your failed ideals and your frustrated yearning for justice.

All Specters: You have acknowledged us. Will you rebuke us? Will you mourn us? You may push us back into the shadows, but you can never banish us. Push us away and we will rage!

All Reps: We are because you were. We cannot erase you. Our lives and the land bear your marks. We carry you with us, even as we try to leave you behind.

All Specters: Our claws are in you! We are a great weight. Will you so eagerly take us up?

Reps: Not eagerly!

Specter 1: To carry us –

Specter 2: – is to mourn openly.

Specter 3: To carry us –

Specter 4: – is to remember with both joy and sorrow.

Specter 5: To carry us –

Specter 6: – is to listen to many voices.

Specter 1: To carry us –

Specter 2: – is to live with us, to bring us out of the shadows.

All Reps: We will carry this burden – for in taking you up, we clear a path toward a new way of living.

[Specters cease moving after each has returned to stand in front of the Representative who initially called it out.]

Rep 1: But the burden is heavier for some than others.

Rep 2: We cannot continue our journey together if some are overburdened, under-nourished, and hindered by injustices.

Rep 3: Some of us still bleed, while our neighbors hold the knife.

Rep 4: The specters haunt our words and deeds, even now.

Rep 5: Let us pledge speak differently, and do otherwise – from this night forward.

Rep 6: The specters haunt our homes and roadways, our dammed rivers and cleared forests, our laws and institutions.

Rep 1: Let us pledge to dismantle the structures of injustice where the specters haunt.

Chorus & Reps: We so pledge

Rep 2 (or other): Let us hold each other accountable to this pledge.

Chorus & Reps: We will keep a careful watch.

Specter 1: You have pledged – we are drawn into your circle, away from our haunts.

[All Specters take half a step in, toward Representatives.]

Specter 6: Who are we, if we do not haunt?

Specter 2: By the light of the fire, we cannot remain Specters.

All Reps: You are the past in the present. You are legacies. You are Ancestors – hated or loved, accepted or rejected, celebrated or mourned, welcomed or rebuked – you are acknowledged, carried, and named.

[All Specters step in once more. Each Representative turns to the fire and picks up a bowl of red powder or pigment, then turns back to the circle of Specters. Each Specter removes their hood.]

All Reps: We mark you and name you.

[Each Rep calls out to a Specter by name and uses a thumb or finger to smear red across the Specter’s forehead. After all Specters are marked, a chosen selection of the Specters should walk to the outer edge of the circle and pick up the bowls of white or grey powder/pigment, then return to the inner circle. As they do this, Representatives should return red bowls to the fireside.]

All Specters: We are marked. We are carried. We are inheritance. With the ashes of fires past, we mark you as progeny – those who will do a new thing, and walk beyond us into an uncertain but open future.

[Each Specter with a bowl marks the forehead of a Representative. There may be more Specters than Reps, but there should be at least as many white/grey bowls as Representatives. Once all Representatives are marked, Specters hand their bowls to Representatives, and walk past them to the central fire, where they light their candles, concealed until now. They then take the place of the Reps. Both Representatives and Specters should face away from the fire, toward the Chorus. Specters should remain silent and still at this point.]

All Reps: Who else will take up the burden?

[Members of the Chorus step forward and circle around the Reps to receive their markings. These may include both the Official Chorus and any attendees. Musicians or drummers should play during this time. Specters should quietly chant: “Carry Us.” Once the Chorus has returned to their places, Reps should return to their circle, facing out.]

All Reps: Let us pledge to carry our burdens together – to let none falter under the weight.

Chorus:  We pledge!

[Specters step forward and place a hand on the shoulder of a Representative.]

All Specters + Reps: [Joyfully] The way forward is open! The future awaits us, and this night is full of promise! Follow us!

[Drummers or Musicians begin to play as Reps and Specters process out of the circle, toward the communal dining place, followed by Chorus, and then by Audience.]

 

Emile’s blog is here.

Emile WayneAmelia “Émile” Wayne has studied the intersections of religion, history, and culture for eight years, and has spent the last two years teaching undergraduates in various Humanities courses as an adjunct professor. Émile’s personal spiritual quest flowed along lines of inquiry laid out by research, and eventually led them to seek out a form of religion which could counterbalance Émile’s tendency toward intellectual abstraction through a radical affirmation of lived experience. It was through participating in Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) style rituals that Émile came to embrace Paganism. Émile will be pursuing a PhD in Philosophy and Theology at Drew University in New Jersey from 2016-2019. Their goal is to construct a naturalistic pagan philosophy which engages Queer Theory, Process Philosophy, and Ecstatic Naturalism, while remaining firmly rooted in actual soil and actual lives. While not studying or teaching, Emile enjoys horseback riding, mystery dramas, and craft beer.

Read Emile’s previous posts here.

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