Charm School: Miss Manners for the Pointy Hat Crowd
Did you know that there are delicate matters of etiquette and protocol you are expected to know and abide by when attending a ritual, even an open, public one? Are you aware of what is expected of you as a guest to someone’s covenstead and circle, so you don’t make an embarrassing faux pas or accidentally insult your hosts? Some of these tips below are common sense and a few are requisites for the more traditional type circle arrangements, but it doesn’t hurt to err on the side of decorum even if attending a non-specific ritual gathering.
Should the ritual you plan to attend not advise you of these things by word of mouth or as a part of the written or online open invitation, it is in your best interests to contact the hosts in advance to make inquiries BEFORE the event. Chances are they will be busy on the day of and may not have time to answer you properly or fully, so be contentious and ask them well ahead of time.
Ask permission before bringing outsiders with you. The reason for this is two-fold: unless otherwise stated in the invitation, it may extend only to you because of your relationship with the hosts. Outsiders, even spouses or family members may need to be cleared with the hosts or the other participants first. The second reason is that the hosts may be using the RSVP’s to their invite for a head count so they have enough supplies for the ritual or enough food for the feast.
Don’t come empty handed. This is, foremost, a hospitable ‘thank you’ to your hosts for all their planning and gracious use of space. A dish for the potluck feast, a bottle of wine or mead, flowers for the altar…. all are wonderful gestures. Additionally, some invitations cite that the host group may be collecting canned goods, clothing or other items to give to charity. Or that they may accept, or even require, a monetary contribution to cover the expenses of materials used or the space rental if in a large forum. Sometimes these monetary contributions are on a sliding scale, but don’t be so gauche as to expect to not pay anything at all if the hosts have alerted you about this up front. Springing a “pass the hat” on you without prior warning, however, is tacky on their part.
Have robe, will travel. Most invitations will state whether or not street clothing is acceptable. And it is pretty darn unlikely that a semi-public or public event will be skyclad. For the most part, it is customary to have your own ritual robe to wear while in circle. Some hosts may have a spare for guests to use in a pinch, but don’t assume they will have one set aside for you…. or that it will fit! If you don’t own a robe, usually Ren wear or all-black attire is a good choice for a substitute. Do not wear anything with monstrous logos — save your Dickies shirt or your favorite sports team jersey for your own time!!
Bring your own personal working tools. Just like the robe, you should have your own personal working tools with you and not expect them to be provided. It goes without saying that you cannot expect to borrow any old athame! Should you find yourself without yours, just use your finger. Be aware that in some traditions, female witches are also “required” to wear a necklace of some sort. If you don’t have one, ask the hosts to borrow something.
A simple, yet powerful word: Hygiene. It may sound ridiculous to have to put this on the list, but I can attest to having been in some public circles where this should have been on the loudspeaker. Brushing one’s teeth and bathing are mandatory. Some covensteads may offer facilities to freshen up if you’ve traveled some distance to attend, but don’t rely the hosts giving you a place to take a full-on shower if you’re coming to circle straight from your workout or whatever. Please arrive clean and groomed. Also be very sparing with your cologne/perfume; better to skip it entirely. I’ve been to rites where the person next to me was so overwhelming as to distract or clash with the incense. Please know that eau de parfum is not a substitute for soap and deodorant!!
Let your hair down. Again, according to myth, folklore and what is mandatory to some traditions, your hair should not be plaited or bound during ritual. Some say it is the work of the faery; some say it knots up the personal magic; some say it tangles the energy of the circle. Whatever the reason, it is nice to be completely unfettered during the rite…just be careful if you’ve got waist-length locks and are dancing near the quarter candles!!
Be on time…. or if you’re unavoidably running late, do the courteous thing and CALL. I cannot stress enough how completely obnoxious it is for people to use that lame-ass excuse of “Pagan Standard Time.” It is unaccountably rude to your hosts and the other attendees who have managed to arrive on time to have to alter their schedules to wait around for you. It may be that the ritual itself has a time-sensitive component, which cannot be halted because you got caught in traffic, couldn’t find your keys or whatever. If you’re running late or have a flat tire, please be mindful that the universe does not revolve solely around you and call your hosts. Allow them the option of continuing to wait for you, to start the rite and cut you into circle late or else ask that you skip the rite this time.
Make your own babysitting arrangements. Do not assume that it is ok for you to bring your kids or pets to the hosts’ home and that they will find something to keep them occupied while the adults are in circle. Either find a babysitter or call to ask the hosts if it is all right to bring your children. If you are allowed to bring them, you are responsible for their behavior and responsible for keeping them busy/occupied during the circle. Don’t expect that your hosts will have entertainment set aside for them or allow constant interruptions of the rite to cut you in and out of circle to attend to your children’s needs.
No talking or giggling during circle. You would think it obvious that folks who attend the ritual would want to pay attention and participate fully, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, there are always a few who think it is playtime and who find that if the attention isn’t on them, that it is appropriate to make comments under their breath, make sound effects, start giggling or goofing around or otherwise draw attention to themselves. If you cannot control your borderline ADHD behaviors, perhaps you should rethink your participation in a group setting. For all intents and purposes, you are like a visiting dignitary in someone else’s kingdom.
Treat the hosts with respect and you will be treated likewise. Do not critique the ritual while it is in progress; besides, most folks don’t want to hear “in my group, we do it this way” sorts of feedback. Even if you have something nice to say, please save it for private disclosure after the rite.
No drugs or alcohol prior to the rite. This too goes along with being responsible for your behavior… Hello! Rede anyone? Intoxicants and hallucinogenics alter your cognition and perceptions. Those around you in circle who come to expect a certain level of perfect love and perfect trust from their fellow attendees cannot be confident that you will behave accordingly if you are drunk, disorderly or spaced out. If the objective of most rituals is to get everyone on the same mental/emotional/spiritual plane, it is immensely difficult to do if a participant is whacked out on something. This may also include the ingestion of some over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines too. So if the warning label says “do not drive or operate heavy machinery, ” chances are it is probably not good for you to take prior to ritual.
If you’re sick, do not share in the communal cup or do not attend the ritual. Please don’t spread your illness to others, especially in light of this latest round of cold and flu season! If you’re sick, stay home. If you’re recovering from being sick, please be considerate and not partake of the communal cup. Asks the hosts to give you your libation in a separate vessel or else just “kiss the cup (at the base) ” when it is passed ‘round the circle to you but do not imbibe.
Find your own transport. Kindly make your own arrangements to get to and from the ritual site. It is not the responsibility of the hosts to retrieve you from the airport or the train station. If you don’t have your own vehicle, call a cab or share a ride with other attendees, etc.
Disclose any allergies. This may seem a bit silly, but it is practical. Outdoor rituals have the episode of bee or wasp stings. Some indoor rituals are hosted in homes that have pets and if you’re allergic to fur, feather or other pet dander you could be in for a sneezy night! Same goes for food allergies. Best to know up front if you should skip partaking in the ritual cakes if they might contain tree nuts or other ingredients which would make you need a trip to the ER. Doesn’t hurt to ask.
When proper, do not disclose real names of participants. Out of respect for privacy, there are some events where the participants may wish to be known by a pseudonym or “circle name” only. Do not “out” anyone by their real-world name if you happen to know it unless you have permission to address them as such.
Always move deosil in circle, unless expressly directed to do so by HP/HPS. A good way to remember this is always walk with your right side facing the center of the circle. Perhaps it is a superstition, but for some traditions, this idea is further extended in that you are not to do any ritual movements or gestures using your left hand (even if you are left handed) . You may want to either ask the hosts or just observe what is customary for that group and follow along.
Try to stand in alternating ‘Male-Female-Male-Female’ while in circle. Again, this may be a strict rule for some groups and an ideal situation but not mandatory for others. When in doubt, it seems best for energetic purposes to position participants in this manner. Take a cue from the host group as to whether or not they observe this custom.
Go to the bathroom beforehand. Just like when you leave for a long car ride, please take care of your private business before things get underway. It is disruptive to the circle’s energy to have to cut people in and out of the sacred space for potty breaks. Pregnant women do get special dispensation for this though. *grin*
Shut off your cell phone, Bluetooth, iPod or other electronic device. It is all about not disrupting the flow of energy folks. Not only should you NOT have such electronic device with you in circle, but please turn them on mute or completely off during the rite. Nothing shatters group concentration like hearing your annoying ringtone or the rhythmic buzz of your cell in the background of a meditation or during a pinnacle point of the ritual.
Be aware of any “home court” rules. Different covens or groups have their own local preferences. For example, if they put their altar in the East and you’re used to working with yours in the North or the Center, you have to abide by their local customs while on their turf. Do not expect to impose the version of ritual style you may be used to working in someone else’s ritual space. If you fear something may be so distracting or abhorrent to you that you do not wish to participate, ask to be cut out of the circle and quietly, peaceably leave the ritual. Do not wage a formal protest in the middle of the circle.
Lastly, say ‘Thank You!’ A little courtesy is worth a lot these days. Showing appreciation for the amount of time and effort your hosts have put into the event is gratifying…and may garner you more invites in the future!