Bad Ritual Guide by Bad Dog


(RFD article in the original extent)

Spirituality evolved alongside the story-telling. The faerie space allowed the gay men to experience togetherness beyond just "being entertained" at a party. Supporting each-other, often by so little as being there to tell and hear our stories. Here's mine unfolding ...

As a child of very materialist catholic and a fundamentalist Jehova's witness, with some other bigot or shallow or dysfunctional religiosity examples all over the family – my initial proclivity developed towards atheism. Of course, human life has a part beyond rational control or explanation – and summing it up under the whim of Coincidence did not feel sufficient. Therefore, later on in my "searching" years I channeled my spiritual needs into clumsy engagement with (neo)paganism and witchcraft. With an annoying and ironic rationalist voice in the background. As a natural generalist and also a bit of a sexual libertarian, I could not find better moral guideline than the well-known Wiccan rede: "An’ ye harm none, do what ye will". Not sure where burning the coffee table through with mishandled candles stands. Anyways, I prefer to derive my "what to do when" decisions from the consistent and well-defined key idea, rather than memorizing dozens of commandments for each particular situation or hundreds of pages of holy scripture for the sake of reverence or obedience. I have an inclination to handle the topic with a more systematic approach than just from awe and reverence perspective. Maybe lacking cells for unprecedented faith? Little angel and devil fighting in my head – a skeptic with raised eyebrows and an enthusiast with wide eyes – not sure which one is which.

Living in Eastern Europe after the revolution, in a culture busy with swapping (again) the adulation of the one party (and its ideology) for the recycled religious roots, one god (and that ideology), I felt adequately odd and solitary in my self-invented spiritual practice. I tried to develop my own set of rituals – combining some bits from scarce Wiccan resources with my own creativity and personal taste. The feasts aligned with solar and lunar cycles resonated with my well-founded feelings towards nature. Alas, the wise (wo)men say that even the well-thought-through but invented rituals may have a fraction of the inner impact if compared with the life-long habit around certain popular holidays well-ingrained in soul through the years of experience, stories, childhood memories, connections to family and friends and wider culture where we live. The notion of worship is somewhat bound to the shared experience and links an individual to the community or environment in wider sense (ecosystem, elements, spirits & deities). Living in a society and resisting to honor its current idols and rites is a thorny path – at least in the beginning. The "outcast-ness" is not what one particularly craves for in his/hers spiritual imagination – at least thinking of the first impulse. Luckily, in some ironic way, Christianity preserved the solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days in some of its saints’ days – so the festivities may conveniently overlap. :)

My life equipped me with natural suspicion towards cults, sects and guru/follower dynamics. For the sake of ironic balance, with an unquenchable thirst for deep togetherness, also in a form of shared rituals. Even if I did not want to go all the way towards the "new religion", I would not mind a circle of like-minded people, possibility to interact and learn. I humbly admit an envy for the transcending and overwhelming feeling of a billion-headed mass of spiritually aligned fellows in the mainstream religions. The Culture. My spiritual life lacked a dimension: a community, a celebration, a feast. That was not about to happen anytime soon - so my practice took a very private course. Which might have become its strong point in some sense. Describing it later to the folks who were asking "what I am" - I used the expression: "I have my own Personal Living Spirituality". This reflected my specific touch, a desire for active soul’s involvement (not a passive consumption of the doctrine), as well as the openness towards new inputs, changes and even an ability to turn my ideas upside-down anytime (not adhering to fixed dogma).

The quest to find the kindred souls has led me to various gathering and groups, alas often with single focus. Spiritual but a(nti)sexual, sexually aware but materialist, ecological but ideological – or various other combinations. Just not all that was important to me in one place. The discovery of faerie space was sort of a revelation ... at what felt like the end of this journey. The presence of sexuality, spirituality and nature among faeries seemed almost at a synergy. The environmental respect for the ecosystem (that obligatory "Nature") underscored by the feasts and festivities aligned with the wheel of the year, the sexuality rediscovered in the inspiration by the two-spirit roles of shamans, healers, rite preservers. Everything interlinked.

Now, the true irony comes. More rituals I have experienced with faeries, the less eager I felt to entangle my spiritual needs in the communal mayhem. While the longing for experience of shared spirituality has driven me to the faerie space, I often find myself fleeing the faerie rituals into more personal and intimate space.

The high concentration of esoteric species, gurus wrapped in dramatic rags, teachers of whatsoever kind – did not affect me more than with a rash. The cynical me immunized against woo-woo, with the inbuilt suspicion as an obnoxious emergency valve. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind all the theater and the drag. It’s part of the synergy I have already mentioned – the shamans and tribal rituals always included costumes, role-play, ritual reenactment of the archetypal stories - because the human mind is more susceptible to receive the "moral" through the story, through the emotion, through the sensual bewilderment. Colors, smells, music, dance, drama. It’s all in its place.

I even developed an acquired taste for intrinsic faerie subversion, for resistance towards ideology (and tradition), a sweet weak-spot for farce or unexpected interruption or misplaced joke. Oh yes, sometimes I would love to experience also a ritual in more serious (what does it mean? ... genuine? engaged? respectful?) manner – but I also see the value of the jester as a keeper of sanity and perspective. In connection with the medieval Mattachines or the other satirists - the challengers of powerful, the conscience of society, the dissenters.. The questioning of ideology and tradition is a valuable skill - that this community is still exploring and learning.

As a natural Taoist (i.e. not studied, but rather resonating with the core concept) I keep asking for the balance. Of the seriousness and farce, of the traditional and situational, reverent and innovative, didactic and creative. I keep asking how to convey the message of the ritual and keep it playful and alive. To honor something while keeping the sane perspective. To reaffirm the shared values – if we have any – and to keep the ritual non-imposing. To allow for the personal input in the rite, personal function of the ritual, the intimate dimension – while benefiting from the aspect of sharing.

The strong sense of balance comes from my own peculiar journey. While Positive Magic offered me self-empowerment: Take the responsibility for your life, shape it, follow your dreams, another one of my spiritual mentors (Thomas Moore, the psychoanalyst) offered me a contradictory approach and a different vocabulary: To accept the challenges and stories that the life brings, not bending reality compulsively according to my will by force, being less heroic (doer, changer, fixer) and developing more soft, perceptive and receptive attitude. We may call it "submission" - known from (but often distorted by) mainstream Abrahamic religions, but also playfully re-explored in BDSM. Appreciating the experience of pain, illness, depression, sadness, failures, imperfections or even death as important shades of life’s palette.

Here enters the key duality. Something that in many languages blends into one, or is crudely interchanged: the spirit and the soul. "Help both the body and the spirit", "join the spirits", "enspiritment", "spiritual shepherds", "spirituality" - throwing and sowing those words like a glitter, in excess. Particularly the spirit is often everywhere. But what about soul? A topic for a library of books. My so far favorite description comes from another archetypal psychology pioneers -James Hillman: An image easily readable by most of the faerie folk – the tree. The spirit is represented by the crown. Explicit, growing upwards, indulging in the sunlight. The enthusiasm, the aspiration. The High in all its deep and shallow meanings. All the worshipers of "light" (that is aspirng to beat the forces of darkness), eternal life, paradise, deities up in heavens, "let’s heal the world", "let’s make everyone happy", joy and laughter, positive thinking, be open to everyone and everything, let’s tear down all the walls and borderlines – the realm of the enthusiast absolutism. The heroes, the fixers, the saviors, the visionaries, the cheering crowd, the hooray. Sometimes a bit forced, a bit one-dimensional, a bit ambitious or at least eager. Spirituality and aspiration come from one root"spirare" – for breathing. It’s vital, no doubt, but perhaps focused in one direction only?

There is a mirror image of the tree, lying underneath the ground, often huge as the crown itself, the root system – the soul’s metaphor. A beautiful faerie connotation – as the word "radical" does not refer only to political radicalism, but often to the root"radices", i.e. seeking for our roots. The roots dig into the darkness (!), into the dirt (unlike spirit and spirituality that often venerate "purity", "cleanliness", "transparency", or even "virginity"), sucking the nutrition from the decomposed previous life. The same way as the soul feeds on the memories, nostalgia, old pictures. So much for the limitless idolatry of "focus on the present moment" or "don’t dig in the past, look into the future"! :) The thread of the soul needs to be interwoven into the timeline of life, connected to the previous and future generations (ancestors anyone?), it is that part of us that stretches out of our own short and linear time-frame. Soul expresses in stories – not just personal ones, but narratives of the family, tribe, community, culture, era. And talking of the darkness: soul sometimes (particularly when it needs to be heard through the loud "I wish" of the spirit) speaks also through the illness, depression, sadness, tears, withdrawal, or other healthy and natural phenomena of the soul’s weather. It is a counterbalance for the pretense positivity, it is our capacity to accept and live (also) the darker aspects of life, it is our wholesomeness. One of the reasons I fell in love with faerie space was the fact that the darker emotions seemed to be welcome – unlike in many "keep smiling" cults and communities.

I do not want the spirit to feel as the antagonist here. Maybe just a deity with too much attention – on behalf of the others in the pantheon. Think of puer archetype – the panzer optimism of the youth. Spirit has its importance – working behind aspiration and inspiration. The incentive and the desire propel us towards inventions, recreation, revival. The above-surface part of the tree is important, without doubt. We surely do not want to just wallow in the pain and pleasure roller-coaster, meditating on it endlessly. I just wish to give attention to the overlooked entity that has its equally meaningful job down there – the soul.

In New Age era, it is not difficult to achieve sort of spiritual saturation. Much of the esoteric exploration calls upon spirit. Rarely one can find "care of the soul" on the program. And even that smells suspiciously of ... frankincense? Churches are full of "spiritual shepherds" (at least in my language) who claim to aim to "save my soul". Soul business sounds almost menacing. So how does the faerie culture feel – how much excitement we find for the spirit and how much nourishment for the soul?

In a classical mass, we find two different aspects. The repetitive and the changing one. The latter may be represented by the sermon that usually challenges or models the folks’ aspirations, it tries to uplift the spirit. Some would say that the meaning of the faith lies in The Content – how you live, how you interact, what are your values. Love, Compassion, Sacrifice? But then... why all the temples, why the drag, why the communion, why the kneeling and bending, why the music? The description may be a bit clumsy – but soul actually indulges in the ritual part of it, the regularity, the repetition, the familiar, the warm fuzzy feeling, the ancient/traditional, the symbolic acts, the splendor, or even wearing your best Sunday clothes – everything that others would find quite superficial about the religion – the theater aspect of it. Spirit gets a kick through the fiery speech, but soul feeds on sharing the experience of mass or festive lunch in togetherness. Conviviality. Not to forget the confession, that is not solely a hypocrite "washing off the responsibility", but a basic need of the soul - that faeries have kind of rediscovered in their heart circles.

By the way, heart circle. That famous "speaking from the heart" (and not from mind) - is reaching towards the spirit or the soul or both or neither? Heart is an organ, quite an unromantic pump, what does it represent in its symbolic value? Even bigger challenge for me – is often being reminded by the facilitators to focus on the "here and now" and not to stretch far into the past, not to tell the stories, not to unravel the complexity of interconnections of the current emotional state - the way how we filter every present moment by the sum of our previous experience, the way how soul is manifesting in life... I often receive: "soul, shut up – now the spirits speak". And then I often see spirits (!) drifting towards socially presentable positivity, flimsy momentariness, yay and hooray. Is it the faerie tradition, or just a fancy-sounding "guideline" passed on and repeated so often that it has become blindly revered instead of understood and felt? Do we know the pitfalls of this pattern of monkeying and hooraying from the other religious practices?

Out on The Land, I noticed two kind of exemplary rituals indulged by faeries. The first one I call a "station ritual" where I am led by the facilitators from one place to place B to place C – in each one expected to do this and that, repeat, recite, sing, or just watch hailing to the directions or calling on the elements. And dress up well! I wear drag and drag myself along – more or less passively entertained. I enact, publicly, aware of being seen. On the scene. I wonder how popular this approach to the festivity is – and if this is indeed what draws many towards faerie space, the preferred way to experience the "queer spirituality". It makes me think of an average - of the inputs by newbies and by elders, by spiritualists and by woo-woo enthusiasts, by rationalists and by skeptics, by compulsive party-spoilers and by self-centered divas, the eternal performers and the inconspicuous shy ones, the sarcastic observers and wide-eyed followers, those promptly interchanging chemical-high with spiritual-high or the genuine plant-medicine shamans.

The other sort of the ritual may start in a circle, to feel the group support, the safety net, something that we do together, setting the simple intention – followed by "go and experience!" ... when each one on their own explores how the intention resonates with them and give the ritual a peculiar shape. At the end we meet again in the circle to share (if we need to) what was it like and to feel the group container again, making sure we return both in physical and spiritual sense. Caring, waiting, asking. I perceive this set-up as a simple structure – a "ritual skeleton" - that the soul can fill in with the personal and intimate content.

To participate in "shared ritual" and still to claim an intimate space for the soul - is a fragile balance that I do not find that often. There are spots on our land of a great spiritual value for me - where I prefer to go alone. Be it Ancestors’ Tree or Meditation Rock – I avoid those stations in most of group endeavors, not willing to be bound into a particular way how to engage with these symbolic places and the spirit/soul-connections that they represent.

Shared rituals are sometimes shortcuts towards togetherness, sometimes they genuinely allow us to explore more dimensions of the interconnectedness. Those less obvious aspects of the meaning of "the community". Sharing of the values and ideas. Being with the like-minded friends. But sometimes their gift is a feeling of solitude, loneliness, disconnection. Is it an invalid value?

Not long time ago I participated in a sweat-lodge-ish event, where I have found myself surrounded by dozen of faeries trying to imitate the wild beasts roar, me unable to look inside really and experience anything intimate, within me. All my space filled in with others’ noise. It made me think of another rede: "your freedom ends where the others’ freedom begins". Yup, I get judgmental (sinner!) and sink into sarcasm (bitch!). Am I trapped in a stampede of the urban intellectuals trying a spliff of exotic spirituality? "Liberating their spirit" by screaming – as is a popular spiritual cliché of the faerie events? Surely, I do not want to inhibit anyone’s spiritual expression. Though, round after round – yelling, singing mantras, calling the "important keywords" into the space – again and again and again – is this it? Fill the silence vs feel the silence. Are we spiritually ... ready? Is this the only spiritual expression we are capable of? "Yeah baby, let it out!" Anytime I hear terrified giraffe on faerie praerie, I tell myself: "Oooh, some spiritual ritual again!"

But seriously - could we possibly try the shared silence – challenging, uncomfortable, weird silence - denuded sweating bodies in a safe proximity with a ritual meaning (not an opportunity for a stolen touch!) and embraced by the darkness? "Being together" as way of allowing each-other a deeply personal work - to get in touch with the intimate space inside? A spirit hand in hand with the soul? Like those embarrassing and looooong moments in the heart-circles when someone holds a talisman and does not speak a word for infinite minutes?

As a sort of sanity check, I keep asking how much our faerie rituals resemble those mistakes of the mainstream spiritual systems that many of us have run away from. When the word keeps being called, but the actions are in contradiction with its very meaning. No, luckily I do not speak of hating in the name of Love or killing in the name of the All-Merciful. But that distinction when we worship, idolize, revere, honor, bow towards something – and we forget to practice it. How much do we worship Nature and how much do we consume, waste, fly – for the sake of our faerie connections, or ritualistic indulging? How much do we worship Sex, Spirit, Soul, or other holy words – and how much do we feel them, live them, are aligned with them?

Working in the technology sector, I often get reminded of a trendy term with quite a fundamental meaning – "robust". Robust systems operate well even under changing conditions. I often recollect and laugh at my attempts for nude mid-summer candle-burning and spell-casting rites, almost bitten to death by the mosquitoes with no compassion for the sanctity of the moment. The gods of ridiculous, embarrassing, twisted, turned upside-down and hijacked – often call for their forgotten homage. Can we imagine a robust ritual not dependent on making the symbolic acts in proper way (as we often see in the outside world) – and nothing's going wrong – but welcoming the stumbles, cheering the surprising outcomes, caressing the failures and mistakes? I have seen that abundant capacity in faerie folk.

The best rituals combine the prepared with the unexpected, incorporate the flaws into the flow of the ceremony. I love working with the props found on the way and on the spot. The leaf, the acorn, the feather ... the lighting, the critters, the weather. Once your miniritual gets flushed by a summer storm ... and you get stuck soaking wet at the rail crossing, staring through the car-lit mystical fog at the passing wagons, ... you will understand :)

Even amidst faerie chaos, I love to experience the balance of the complements. Sometimes it’s a tug-of-war, of course. Practical, hedonist, esoteric, artist, political, outer-space faeries all pulling the rope in their direction.

As when the practical faeries designate a corner or timeslot for those others: "And here you can do a bit of your spiritual thing. You know, make it pretty, make it deep." Spirituality done. Check. Or when the spiritual faeries cross again the boundaries of known physics. "Oh, don’t worry hon, someone skilled will fix it!" But I have seen and I still believe those various approaches can experience a synergy. Pulling in the same direction. All minds, spirits, souls, egos and bodies satisfied.

I find the "soul work" most often in the least prepared of the rituals. The walk. The dish-washing. The showering and bathing. You still do what you do – the grease and the bugs need to get off the plates – but you can also introduce another level of "doing it". On physical level and in parallel as an inner work – for you, perhaps for the others. The "secret" is in how you do it – just the first plane or with some added value. You wash the thing and in the same time you "wash" the soul.

Ironically, the most enchanted and soul-feeding moments among faeries happen to me when we don't try so directly to "make them". During the shared meals (eating food, dressing up, decorating – but also receiving the someone's service offered to the rest, chewing on the togetherness, digesting the conviviality of the moment), during the daily chores that become spontaneous parties or amazing discussions or new connections, also during the community weeks when we toil "as monks" but with added value of mutual-care and heart-space, or when marveling about the mysterious coincidence and communal synchronicity also known as The Magic.

Contemporary art has a tendency to explore the concept, the installation, the set-up, the different variations in relation of the performer and spectator roles. In resonant simile - I appreciate the faerie circles in their own wonder. Just the circle happening, realization of being here right now, holding your unique hands. The circle as a constellation. I may find details – e.g. rainbow-gathering borrowings like kissing of the hands - creepy and forced. (Maybe I express love in different way. Maybe I feel I can’t escape not doing it when everyone does it and everyone watches the rest with those ominously shining eyes. They show you love, you must return love the same way, right?) I know some others who find sound of yoo-hoo toxic to the ear-drums, some have shivers from the hissing, or from the repetition of the popular phrases, some just can’t stand the neo-pagan chorales (as in "Dear Friend Queer Friend" - oh dear, were I competitive, I could win the sprint racing) being the only know musical genre on that more ritualized and traditionalized side of the faerie culture. :) We have our quirks. But we still hold the circle. We gather - in flesh and not virtual realities. We are there for each other. The very basic Ritual of our community. Being there, with awareness.