Essential Pagan Etiquette
by Amanda Silvers
I have been to a number of “open pagan events” recently, and I’ve observed that some people don’t seem to know the generally understood codes of conduct. Since I hadn’t seen a good piece on pagan etiquette for a good long spell, I thought I’d put a few of my reflections on paper.
I know that not everyone will know how things should go, for example if you’ve never attended a ritual before. That’s okay; every one of us began somewhere, and we didn’t know how to act either! If you’re a beginner, say so. People will help you and introduce you around and forgive your faux pas (if you make any).
On the other hand, most of my suggestions will come as nothing new to many of you. Practically all standard rules of courtesy pertain to pagan events and gatherings.
The following bits of advice, some general and some specific, cover open pagan events, festivals and rituals. They are commonly relevant to private functions as well. Don’t regard them as comprehensive, though. Always investigate and find out whether there are any special rules for the gathering that you are planning on attending.
Arrival times are frequently set at a certain interval of time preceding the actual beginning of the ceremony, feast or festivity. For example: Arrival time 4 p.m., ritual to follow at 6 p.m., feast after, then drumming. This time interval is generally built in – for latecomers, for people to get their energy settled, visit, have a drink or bathroom visit and so on.
Check with the high priestess, host or event coordinator to confirm that this is the custom of the group you are joining for the event. Festivals generally have a set time at which the space opens, and you cannot arrive prior to that. There is often an opening festival ritual that you will want to attend. Try to arrive in time to participate; it helps the whole group feel cohesive and connected in a different way than if you miss it.
Double-check times always, and don’t arrive after the rite has begun unless you’ve cleared it with the hosts ahead of time. It is generally safe to arrive a bit early and volunteer to help with setup. Particularly if you are new to the area or are attending an event put on by a particular group for the first time, assisting will give the impression that you are sociable and helpful, and people will remember you.
If you do arrive early, and the ritualists are conferring or doing a pre-ritual run through, don’t disturb them!
Certain groups have a policy to lock the door after a certain time, and you won’t be able to get in if you are later than that. “Pagan standard time” (that is, late) is not a standard to aspire to!
What to bring
Do bring a benevolent disposition, a cooperative spirit and an open attitude. Shower or bathe and brush your teeth just prior to ritual if you can; it gets very gamy quickly when 50 to 100 people are in a warm closed room, very close together. Besides, you should cleanse your body just prior to ritual anyway, as an offering to the gods! Also, don’t wear heavy perfumes. They can be almost as offensive as bad body odor. Especially, patchouli and musk oil can be very potent.
Wear a smile, and for most events your fanciest ritual wear (if you have it), ritual jewelry and so on will be appropriate. This is the time and place to don a cape and your best or weirdest ritual array – entirely black clothes or your coffee-cup-sized pentagram.
It is always a good idea to bring a snack or a nonalcoholic drink to share. Offering a snack is a really good way to make new acquaintances! Bring any flyers, announcements, business cards and so on that you want to share with the community.
Bring drums, rattles and musical instruments for yourself and one or two extra to share, if you have them, especially if music or drumming is mentioned in the invitation.
Bring the site fee if there is one, in cash – check ahead to find out so there are no surprises. More about site fees later on.
What to leave at home
Do not bring your disagreeable or superior attitude, head games or grudges or animosity toward others into the circle.
Do not bring animals of any kind. As much as most of us like them, many people are allergic, they can be disruptive to the circle, they may get into the food and so on. It’s okay to allow your familiar into your own circles if you like, but please don’t presume to subject a public group to your pets.
Please, do not bring small children – unless you are prepared to supervise them closely, and to get cut out of the ritual if they become disruptive. (If they do become obtrusive, please motion to one of the ritual staff that you’d like to depart from the circle.) It’s very difficult to concentrate or meditate when there’s an infant shrieking beside you. We all (or most of us, anyway) actually enjoy children when they are reasonably well-behaved, but tempers flare when they begin to encroach on the experience of those who took the trouble to get a sitter or are childless by choice.
Do not bring illegal drugs or alcohol unless you have been assured by the hosts that such is gladly received. With innumerable pagans in recovery now, it’s a good bet that a lot of the people attending an event will be clean and sober. If you do feel that you must have a wee drink or toke, do so very prudently. You never know which person around you might be inclined to call security.
Make sure to determine if there is a potluck, and if there is, bring a dish to share that will feed 8 to 12 people. Please be creative when you select what to bring for the potluck. Many times, I have seen four or five containers of deli potato salad and no cheese, bread, drinks, fruit, veggies – well, you get the idea. I recently brought fresh fruit of various kinds and Devonshire cream to an open full moon – it went over very well and was gone in a twinkle.
Homemade is always preferred, hot dishes are frequently at a premium, and meat is popular. However, vegetarian dishes are always a reliable bet, and if you have a specialty that you feature, bring that! Unusual drinks, breads, cheeses, desserts and appetizers are a good risk, as is unique ethnic cuisine.
Check to see if you need to provide your own dishes and tableware, and don’t forget a serving spoon or fork for your contribution, as well as napkins, cups or glasses! I have a fairly large picnic basket that I keep packed with everything I might need – plates, bowls, knives, forks and spoons, napkins and all, including blue plastic goblets and salt and pepper!
If there is no potluck planned, be sure to eat something substantial prior to attending. Keep your blood sugar level up, and you have less of a chance of falling over due to hunger.
Behave toward others with courtesy, kindness and respect. Introduce yourself to and make an authentic effort to meet and make the acquaintance of at least three additional people at each gathering you attend. Expand your foundation of friends, and make other newcomers feel like the local pagan community is gracious and sociable.
Do be cautious when encountering strangers – don’t rush up and leap on them like a puppy with bad manners! Approach them with consideration. Don’t interrupt a conversation, but do contribute if you sense that you have something to add. Query, but don’t pry. Certain pagans are yet in the broom closet and may not wish to divulge a lot of personal information. Take a cue from how candid and friendly they appear to be.
Bringing a small gift for the host or something for the altar is an excellent notion. Flowers are usually appreciated for either.
Attempt to observe the customary conduct of others and follow along. Please do not talk, jest or criticize the ritual cast during the ritual. (I have been guilty of this one myself, and I apologize!) Endeavor to not disrupt the ritual energy at all, unless you absolutely can’t wait, and use the bathroom prior to joining the circle!
If there is music, chanting, singing and so on – don’t sing along with the music unless invited to do so by the performers. Then sing only after you’ve listened long enough to be able to sing the words and melody correctly. Respect and honor what the performers have spent their time and energy learning by lending an ear.
Do not touch the altar, ritual items, the ritual cast or anything that does not belong to you without asking first! This includes people’s jewelry and knives. Keep your paws off if it’s not yours!
You may or may not experience the energy in a public ritual. Practically all are intentionally performed at a “lite” energy level, for the best interests of the collective. The ritualists can never know the skill level of all of the participants.
If you focus and breathe and follow along with the priest or priestess, you will get much more out of the experience. Furthermore, why take the time and effort to attend an event just to convince yourself that it was not satisfactory and then complain about it. Where is the fun in that?
Be mindful, though, that you don’t get “ritual energy overload” if the ritual does in fact have some “juice” to it. If you feel that this is happening or if you get any symptoms such as ringing or buzzing in the ears, dizziness, nausea, queasy stomach, feeling suddenly very hot or flushed or very cold (unless you’re outdoors in October!), you may be getting an energy blast.
If you think you might collapse, or vomit, please make your condition known to the high priestess or priest. It will be much less embarrassing to be ushered out of ritual than just to crash to the ground! Not to mention how unpleasant it might be for others if they believe that you’ve had a heart attack or something.
Not infrequently, you can surf through an intense energy surge by grounding and breathing slowly, maybe by moving your body or by eating or drinking something, if possible.
In my experience producing events, there is no way you can ever make all the people happy all the time – no matter how hard you strive. Please take the time to think about your complaint prior to voicing it. Is it that important to you? Will it be productive? Will it make any kind of difference? Are you willing to help or offer useful, positive suggestions on how to improve things? Are you just having a bad day? My opinion is, if I’m the hostess, I get to do things my way. If someone else has a better idea, they’re welcome to go do it! Don’t just bitch at the producers of an event because you don’t like what they’re doing. If you positively don’t like it, make a note not to attend again, but endeavor to have the best time you can while you’re there and permit others their experience.
Again, please abandon your “attitude” at the door. I have attended numerous events where there were one or two troublemakers, complainers, disrupters and just ordinary assholes. Such people are a pain in the butt for the ritual staff, and often for the attendees as well. After the staff works really hard to make an event happen for the community, then they are subjected to a person who does nothing but complain because the staff hasn’t provided especially for the complainer’s particular, probably unexpected requirements.
I am extremely sex-positive, but I want to say that pagan events are not a place to try to get laid. Ritual is not a place for sexually predatory behavior, and if you do exhibit this, you will quickly gain the reputation of a wolf, cad, or loose woman. You may not be invited – or allowed – to return.
It’s okay to flirt and even to “come on” to someone if who seems receptive, but make sure that person is interested and that you know his or her relationship status (and that person knows yours) before you leap!
If a person says no, respect that! No means no! If someone is not interested, move on to someone else. If you do move from man to man or woman to woman at a ritual or festival, be assured there will be some people who will notice your conquest mentality. A lot of people won’t want to be just another notch on your wand. So use discretion and common sense when choosing sex partners.
At some events, there will be the opportunity for sexual expression for those who wish to revel in it. I really appreciate it when there is a shrine provided for worship of Aphrodite or Pan or other gods that are sexually oriented, and I feel it is appropriate to make a sacrifice to them in this way.
However, if you partake of the shrines and make a mess, please clean it up! Dispose of condoms, gloves and dams properly by wrapping them in a tissue and putting them in the garbage. I don’t know how many times I’ve found used condoms lying in a shrine. Ugh!
Furthermore, wipe up any spills or mess, put out the candles and the incense, throw away the tissues, fold the blankets and so on. Leave the place as you would like to have found it. Remember this is the gods’ domain; you owe it to them.
Also, just as in any similar situation – if you are having sex with a new partner, use latex! We’re living in the ’90s, people. There are many, many incurable diseases that you can catch or pass on. Some strains of hepatitis can be fatal, and several are sexually transmitted. Thus, even if your partner is not at risk for HIV, they could give you hepatitis B or C or herpes. Latex should always be used for all activities involving body fluid exchange with a new partner.
Please pick up after yourself and your party. Make sure the area is as clean or cleaner than when you arrived. You might ask the ritual staff if they need any help with cleanup of the ritual space, kitchen or whatever. Again, volunteering to do these little things shows you are willing to go out of your way, and that is a welcome trait. It also helps you get acquainted with people you may never have met.
Some groups have a work exchange program, so if you want to get in free, ask. Some will require you to do setup and cleanup. Some will not require much at all. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and pay if you’re able. If you want the events to continue to be available – support them, bring your pagan or pagan curious friends!
Time to go?
There are usually times posted for public events, as in: Ritual from 7-8:30. Such a schedule is sometimes loose, and sometimes not. If the event promoters have to pay extra for the building after a certain time, it is annoying to have people just hang out for hours after the ritual is over. Take your cues from the majority of the people: When they leave, make for the door.
When you are at someone’s home, be sensitive to the fact that your host may be tired and want to go to bed. If he or she is yawning and everyone else is gone – go home!
The time to discuss, analyze or process your experience is when you’re home, behind closed doors. If you have serious criticism, call the promoter or ritualists and ask if they want your feedback. If so, try to convey it in a nonjudgmental tone. If you come across as a whiner, they won’t hear or heed your words!
Don’t forget to express your thanks and appreciation of an event well done, too. Remember, no one and nothing is perfect, so if things went fairly well and you had a good time – call and let them know that too! It’s is a thankless job (most of the time) to produce events, and it’s nice to get some positive feedback occasionally instead of just bitching.
Take advantage of the public events to connect with the pulse of the local pagan community. Experience the diversity of the traditions in the area. Enjoy yourself and learn something new, and honor the people who produce the events and rituals with your presence, attention and energy. Most of all, worship the God and Goddess with those of a like mind. And have a great time doing it!
Tell them I sent you.