Art, Entertainment and the Technology of the Sacred

Or,
Satire, Irony & the Discourse on Pagan Diversity

Recent health issues have prevented me from doing much blogging this winter, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to revisit an essay I wrote almost two years ago but never published.

By the time I had gathered my thoughts and written this post, much of the controversy which originally inspired it had calmed, and the conversation in the larger Pagan community had moved on. Yet many of the issues at the heart of that controversy remained only half-articulated, and as a community, we’ve continued to encounter many of them again and again, albeit in always shifting forms. Most recently, talks and events at this year’s Pantheacon — including those involving a satirical newsletter mocking racist organizations (written in part by a Pagan of color), and the unintended but very real hurt it caused to some other Pagans of color — echo the themes I attempted to address in this essay when I wrote it almost two years ago.

How do we grapple with the sacred ambivalence of art, poetry and satire, in our theology and in our politics? How do we distinguish between healthy cross-cultural borrowing through art and other forms of communication, and harmful cultural appropriation? Between respect for historical accuracy and unique cultural contexts, and an obsession with cultural purity that so easily gives way to exclusion and racism? How do we express ourselves and explore our uncertainties freely and respectfully in the context of difficult conversations, especially about issues of injustice and inequality when the stakes are so high and the pain so raw? Two years ago, some Pagans objected to the characterization of ritual as art/entertainment because to them it implied that their religion was not being “taken seriously” by others. Today, some Pagans (not all of them the same) are suggesting that there are some political issues that are “too serious for satire.” I hope that examining some of the parallels between these conversations, separated by time and subject matter, might give us some insight into the deeper themes that our community is struggling to articulate during our long, slow coming-of-age, and how those themes are reflected in conversations about sometimes vastly different issues.

Over the past week, I’ve done some gentle editing on this essay, but for the most part it remains how I originally wrote it. For that reason, the references are almost entirely to the events surrounding the “pop-culture Paganism” controversy of two years ago, and do not directly reference current events. However, I’m a strong believer in learning from history; in this case, our own (very recent) history. I hope that this essay can offer all of us in the Pagan community who care deeply about these issues — especially those who, like myself, feel that art, poetry and satire are sacred forms of expression capable of provoking deep healing and great transformation — something to contemplate as we move forward in healthy and healing ways.

My heart aches with the weight of the racism so prevalent in American society, and in our own community. But I’m also concerned by references I have seen recently to satire as “weaponized poetry” and its elision with the use of irony as a way of obfuscating, manipulating or directing violence against others.* I’m concerned by claims that satire is only appropriate when “everyone understands” it and the satirist “understands everything” about the issue — which is another way of saying that it is never appropriate, for who could possibly claim to have such a comprehensive and complete understanding, or such control over the understanding of others?

A community that cannot tell the difference between poetry and propaganda, between satire and scorn, is a community at risk of losing its grasp of the real political power of art. It is a community at risk of sliding into the brittle literalism and harmful intolerance of fundamentalism that is actively hostile to expressions of ambivalence, uncertainty, mystery, curiosity and, in the end, diversity itself. In light of these concerns, I wanted to share this essay as a robust defense of the sacred value of art, poetry and satire within both our theological explorations and our political discourse. It is my view that ambivalence itself can be sacred, for it opens us to authentic experiences of others which may be unexpected or challenging, and so we can appreciate this ambivalence and the art forms that express it as powerful and meaningful aspects of our relationship with the numinous, and with each other.

"Cosmic Dance," by Prabhu B Doss (CC)

I met the gods in a high school auditorium.

It began with a clap of thunder, a ripple of woodwinds and the words, “There is an island where rivers run deep…”

And then the whole vivid magic of the musical Once On This Island blossomed on stage. It was the spring of my sophomore year, I was almost sixteen, and I was coming into my own. I had finally quit the soccer team I’d played on since grade school just to please my parents, and I was writing poetry and learning guitar and generally throwing myself headlong into becoming the true artsy hippie chick I’d always wanted to be. I couldn’t sing, dance or act worth shit, but when a friend mentioned that the high school theater group had a spot open on the lighting technician crew, I signed up.

That spring I spent hours squirreled away in the tiny, dimly-lit lighting booth at the back of the theater, up among the dust and stacks of moldy, half-forgotten storage boxes just below the roof access ladder. I flipped switches and swung the spotlight across the stage, and a whole world came to life below me full of sound and fury and laughter and music and dance and so much color. And every once in awhile, the old light board would short out, plunging the stage into darkness, and I’d have to show it some tough love with a well-aimed kick or strangle it into submission with some electrical tape. But that’s how my art has always been — not glamorous and center stage, but just on the awkward side of nerdy, and done mostly in the dark.

I wouldn’t attend my first Pagan ritual until I was in college a few years later. But when I look back at that spring of my high school sophomore year, what I remember is the dawning sense of the sacred that seemed to bubble up from among the trilling flutes and rumbling drums in the orchestra pit. I remember the costumes swirling and flashing in a riot of color, set against a minimalist background of black-cardboard silhouetted trees. I remember the kind-hearted giggles among the dancers at their missteps and mess-ups as they learned their moves, and the soaring sense of awe when the singers hit those high notes, voices swept up on a surge of adrenaline and startled pride. I remember the itch to dance moving through my body like an unspoken prayer as I sat alone in that dark little booth.

And I remember watching my fellow students down on the stage, belting out songs in honor of the gods of earth and sea, love and death, and wondering… What did it feel like to sing praises in honor of gods you didn’t really believe in? I wondered if the more conservative Christians among them were wincing, or doing penance after rehearsal each night. Somehow, I doubted it. It was all just good entertainment, after all.

But then, truly good entertainment is never just that. Art is sacred. It shapes the way we see the world. It tunes us to new ways of being and thinking. It moves us to love, fear, grief and longing. It opens us to the realities of our own mortality, and to the possibilities of a life fully lived, set loose by death into the realm of memory and legacy. Storytelling, music, dance — the living arts of body and community — the preserving arts of pigments and paints, clay and stone.

"Asia Global Belly Dance Competition 2012, held in Singapore," by Matt Paish (CC)

Pagans With Hammers

There has been a perennial debate in the Pagan community about art, entertainment and theology, and their influences on modern Paganism. There have even been times when I’ve found myself caught off-guard by the ambivalence towards art and poetry expressed by Pagans who I would have thought would be strong advocates for its inclusion and celebration — a response that has challenged me to examine my own complex reactions to this topic. One such response came from Christine Hoff Kraemer, who wrote:

As someone who makes her living largely at a computer screen, I know I already struggle to be present with my little square of earth and its particular flora and fauna (including the human fauna who are my neighbors). […] I worry that fiction can have an escapist quality, and that engaging with it too directly in my spiritual life might distract me even further from the local. [emphasis added]

It struck me as strange that Kraemer would elide fiction and “time on the computer.” I could at least understand the Reconstructionists’ theological argument against newly-invented gods (even if I didn’t agree with it), but there was something unsettling to me about this notion of putting fiction, and art more generally, at odds with an attentive engagement with the natural world.

In another post, a response to an interview with secular atheist Pagan Amy B. that appeared on Jason Mankey’s blog, John Halstead shared his concerned reaction to Amy’s comment that she viewed ritual primarily as a form of entertainment:

When I read that, I thought, “Crap! This will confirm the worst fears of theistic Pagans about non-theists.” I commented on Jason’s blog and expressed my concern, and I was glad to see other non-theists speak up as well. […] Many non-theistic Pagans, including myself, have a deep sense of spirituality and treat ritual as something sacred.

Reading the rest of Amy’s interview, I wondered if “entertainment” was really the word she was looking for. She goes on to speak about the power and beauty of ritual done well, and the social and psychological implications of a shared physical, aesthetic experience. It seemed to me that she was speaking not so much of “mere” entertainment, but of the power of art.

There’s good reason to feel uneasy about equating art with entertainment, or fiction with “time on the computer.” In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman explores the differences between entertainment and what he calls “enchantment,” drawing heavily on Marshall McLuhan’s theories concerning the relationship between various media, the experiences they provoke and the ideas they communicate. Postman’s focus in this book is on the effects that the medium of television had on the many different forms of cultural discourse — from politics to religion to family life — in the modern Western world, particularly leading up to the mid-80s. But in his 1998 talk, “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” (pdf), he anticipated the coming digital age of smart phones and social media when he noted:

Perhaps you are familiar with the old adage that says: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We may extend that truism: To a person with a pencil, everything looks like a sentence. To a person with a TV camera, everything looks like an image. To a person with a computer, everything looks like data. […] The writing person favors logical organization and systematic analysis, not proverbs. The telegraphic person values speed, not introspection. The television person values immediacy, not history. And computer people, what shall we say of them? Perhaps we can say that the computer person values information, not knowledge, certainly not wisdom. Indeed, in the computer age, the concept of wisdom may vanish altogether. [emphasis added]

What can we say of a culture in which access to the multi-media cacophony of the internet has become ubiquitous, instantaneous and interactive? To a person with a smart phone, everything looks like a Tumblr post. (And warrants the same call-out culture response.) As Postman rightly points out:

Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. […] A new medium does not add something; it changes everything. [emphasis added]

"dancing with lights," by petros asimomytis (CC)

The debate over pop culture and theology that has raged in the Pagan community seems to me to be a debate about how technology has changed everything, including art and entertainment. One of those changes is that, at a basic level, the carefully constructed division between the two has begun to break down. We’re no longer sure where “mere” entertainment stops, and true art begins. We now live in a world where we make our own entertainment: from internet memes that seem to take on a rollicking life of their own as they crowd-surf the crowd-source, to painstakingly edited YouTube videos of autotuned local news reports and comic artists who spend hours on cartoons that intentionally mimic the look of a five-year-old who can’t draw. We live in a world where the best forms of entertainment are often meta-commentaries on the medium itself, where the sacred art of satire rubs elbows with the laziness of cynicism and sarcasm, where sincerity is in constant rivalry with irony, and everybody’s a hipster who doesn’t care if you care that they actually care.

Why We Tell The Story

So what are the “worst fears” of some polytheists that Halstead worries will be confirmed when they are confronted with the beliefs and opinions of other polytheistic and non-theist Pagans?

Perhaps most important to this conversation is Postman’s “fifth idea,” which is worth quoting in full:

I come now to the fifth and final idea, which is that media tend to become mythic. I use this word in the sense in which it was used by the French literary critic, Roland Barthes. He used the word “myth” to refer to a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things. I have on occasion asked my students if they know when the alphabet was invented. The question astonishes them. It is as if I asked them when clouds and trees were invented. The alphabet, they believe, was not something that was invented. It just is. It is this way with many products of human culture but with none more consistently than technology. Cars, planes, TV, movies, newspapers — they have achieved mythic status because they are perceived as gifts of nature, not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context. When a technology becomes mythic, it is always dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and is therefore not easily susceptible to modification or control. [emphasis added]

As much as the polytheist debate has been about theology, it has also been about the mythic place of media in our religious practices.

In some reconstructionist and devotional polytheists who argue in favor of historical accuracy, scholarly research and deity-centered ritual, we can see a parallel to Postman’s “computer people” who value data and information as the primary organizing principle of reality. From this perspective, it matters at a fundamental level that the gods are “real,” external, discrete, identifiable — in short, the gods are matters of fact. Their existence is a piece of information, a point of data, that must be taken into consideration, factored into whatever code we live by if we expect that code to function properly. The growing emphasis on piety, ritual efficacy and right relationship among some Pagans reflects this desire to organize and manage the “data” of the gods’ existence in a way that will not break down or return inexplicable error messages that bring our engagement with the real world to a grinding halt. From this perspective, ambiguity in our language is an obstacle to clarity and precision that can quickly derail our attempts to live devoutly.

To “smart phone people,” however, data no longer represents inviolate truth. Facts make up the messy, quantum sludge of the collective, crowd-sourced mind out of which a consensus reality congeals. Given the overwhelming and sometimes self-contradictory milieu, there is not necessarily any way to “function properly” in the midst of this onslaught of information, no way to factor in every stray data point. Attempts to write the perfect code end up too brittle to keep up with the pace and unpredictability of change, and no matter how good your phone’s data plan, sometimes you just can’t get a signal. In fact, the task of distinguishing the signal from the noise is ultimately the work of a lifetime, a creative process of individual exploration and self-expression. From the viewpoint of some pop-culture Pagans, there is simply no reliable way to differentiate the gods as external “facts” from the socially constructed and mediated experiences of those gods. For these polytheists, ritual is like the Double-Rainbow Song — a spontaneous response to awe, autotuned, imitated, parodied and adapted into a thousand unique derivations and expressions, some of which are really quite beautiful and reverent. To “smart phone” Pagans, theology is Wikipedia.

Of course, these are not strictly defined and mutually exclusive categories; none of us are always and only one or the other. We may be “computer people” about some things, and “smart phone people” about others. At other times, we may be “television people,” “pencil people” or even “pigment-and-paintbrush people” or “hammer-and-anvil people.” All of us find ourselves in a matrix of multiple-belonging, and so many of us often feel the pressure to adjust ourselves to more neatly fit into only one category, to be only one kind of person.

Because It Might Lead To Dancing

There is an old joke that goes: Why are Southern Baptists against sex outside of marriage? Because it might lead to dancing. At the risk of ruining the joke by explaining it, the punchline works because it flips on its head the assumptions about the goal of a particular religious group and its authority figures. The joke plays on the realization that dancing itself can be subversive in its own right, perhaps even more so than sex. The act of dancing can radically shape our perception of the world around us and how we relate to it. And so by extension, it can influence (and be influenced by) all of the ways that we experience the intensity of intimate relationship. It can let joy, pleasure and rebellion leak in where figures of authority would prefer to enforce conformity in the name of “seriousness.”

"let's dance! Mevlevi Sufi Whirling Dervishes," by Tinou Bao (CC)

Art has always held a controversial place in relation to authority, in particular religious authority. It can be used to shore up this authority and to reinforce worldviews, to elevate some aspects of reality to the realm of untouchability while dismissing others as merely frivolous and so justifiably ignored. Art always involves an active, intentional participation in the world; it shapes and changes that medium within which it participates. Without an appreciation for the potential power of art to shape our relationship with the world around us, art as “mere entertainment” can become something that distracts us from engaging more deeply with the world-as-it-is apart from its re-creation within the aesthetic experience. As a species, we are capable of constructing works of fantasy that are self-referential and appear to be self-reaffirming. Because works of art can present us with a sense of wholeness and coherence, balance and completeness, we always run the risk of mistaking the work itself for a comprehensive view of reality — we can become convinced that a particular artistic representation is a “matter of fact.” In short, when we no longer recognize art as art, we risk taking it as reality. Works of art cease to be cultural artifacts and are instead perceived to be, as Postman put it, “gifts of nature” that have achieved mythic status.

If sex can lead to dancing, the Southern Baptists of our joke might worry that the joy and pleasure of the aesthetic act of dancing may come to be seen as synonymous with sexuality and sexual relationship itself, obscuring aspects of sexuality that are not, in fact, very much like dancing at all (such as the ethical and biological implications of sex and its potential long-term results). We can laugh at this joke because it highlights extremist and fundamentalist attitudes that fear pleasure and aesthetic self-expression even more than sex. But this potential confusion between works of art and the realities with which they play fast and foot-loose is an issue we can see even in more open and inclusive communities. If modern Pagans intentionally mythologize works of art or entertainment, might they not risk placing these cultural artifacts “beyond our control,” reimagining them as “gifts of nature” rather than as products of our own human hands? To intentionally mythologize a work of art or entertainment may give undue authority to the human creators of those works, allowing the particular worldview that their work embodies to rise to the level of “reality” or natural fact.

Yet art can also be used to deconstruct or challenge this authority as well, and to undermine current mainstream worldviews. The very basic process of making art does this: the artist must learn how to effectively and meaningfully engage with a physical medium that is not infinitely malleable, a passive subject to the human will, but which has its own limitations and puts up its own unique forms of resistance. Making art puts us in touch with the “real world” around us in a very immediate and undeniable way — art is engagement. Great art does this not only for the artist, but for the audience as well, forcing us to come to terms with the constructed nature of the work itself by calling our attention to its own artifice. The political potential of such art lies in its ability to show us the ways that our own presumed worldview is itself “artificial,” a cultural artifact that is the product of a specific place and time. In reminding us of the constructed nature of our experience of reality and forcing us to confront the natural limits of the media through which we communicate with each other, art can open doors to a deeper appreciation of the world around us. It can be a doorway to the gods, breaking open worldviews that have become too self-referential and stagnant.

Which way you view the role of art and entertainment in modern Paganism depends on where you stand and what you have at stake. Does art undermine “serious” belief in what is actually real, or does it crack open stale notions of reality to let in a fresh breath of spirit? Does it deliberately obscure the processes of meaning-making, or does it expose those processes and invite fuller, more self-aware participation in them? There aren’t necessarily any “right answers” to these questions — only complexly overlapping views with a wide variety of (sometimes unexpected or unintended) consequences.

"Traditional Kandyan Dance," by Gwenael Piaser (CC)

Gods in Disguise

Where do I stand? Somewhere between the “smart phone people,” and the people who still see the function of art as rooted in a community of storytellers, gathered together around the hearthfire at night whispering old familiar tales into the darkness, giving life to the heroes, gods and sacred landscapes of memory and myth through the movement and music of our own bodies in a cooperative, participatory experience…

Modern social media and technology allow this kind of storytelling to take on new forms, and we often find ourselves retelling old stories in new and surprising ways. When I met the gods in high school, I did not know them for what they were.** They were gods in disguise, gods acted out and embodied by people who did not really believe in them (except, perhaps, for their shared belief in the beauty and value to be found in good art). These were gods hidden behind the veil of “mere entertainment” — but that did not keep them from being gods, and sparking in me a deep longing to explore the mystery of the Many that I sensed unfolding before me. An important aspect of my relationship with the gods is the long-standing belief (confirmed by experience) that the gods are so much more than I can possibly conceive or control. They will find their own ways into the human heart and mind, even if it means that on occasion they have to take a detour through Hollywood.

The musical “Once On This Island” still in many ways defines my sense of connection and the spirit of my own approach to worship. My heart hears the song, my feet move along, and to the music of the gods, I dance. And as the song goes, much of the time I feel that I am “dancing just to stay alive.” This is how essential, how absolutely vital art and poetry are to my spiritual life.

"Dance like no one is watching," by Heather (CC)


* The differences between satire and irony are subtle, but crucial. Satire relies on the intentional use of ambiguity and uncertainty to question the presumed authority of current systems of power, while irony asserts itself as a superior frame of reference, often through the use of cynicism, sarcasm or disdain. While irony can be used as one (of many) techniques in satire, it is in no way synonymous with it, nor can the political function of satire be reduced to a simplistic one-to-one comparison to irony, cynicism, propaganda or sophistry.

** I was also not yet familiar with the complex issues of cultural appropriation and racism that potentially arise when stories about people of color are retold by a mostly white teenage cast. I note this here, not to denounce the choice of the adult supervising staff to put on this particular musical at my high school — being involved in the production profoundly influenced me in many ways, ways that I believe have helped me become more sensitive to and passionate about issues of justice and equality — but I want to acknowledge my own ignorance about the broader implications of these issues that this choice took for granted or failed to address at the time. This is made all the more complex by the history of cultural borrowing underlying Once On This Island itself, which is a musical adaptation of a novel by a Trinidad-born American writer who herself had drawn from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and Shakespear’s “Romeo and Juliet” for inspiration. Even now, with more awareness about these issues than I had then, I’m still unsure about whether my high school’s choice to put on this play is to be criticized as insensitive, or applauded as appreciative of diversity.


Photo Credits:

• “Cosmic Dance,” by Prabhu B Doss (CC) [source]
• “Asia Global Belly Dance Competition 2012,” by Matt Paish (CC) [source]
• “dancing with lights,” by petros asimomytis (CC) [source]
• “let’s dance! Mevlevi Sufi Whirling Dervishes,” by Tinou Bao (CC) [source]
• “Traditional Kandyan Dance,” by Gwenael Piaser (CC) [source]
• “Dance like no one is watching,” by Heather (CC) [source]

Alison Leigh Lilly
Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

3 Comments

  1. Brian Henke
    Feb 21, 2015

    I really, really loved reading this!
    I make my living as a composer/singer/songwriter/guitarist.
    Everything I do starts in a very deep spiritual place within and without myself and eventually after the work of figuring out to play and sing the music I’ve been writing, goes directly to the stage and or recording studio to be shared with anyone who’ll listen.
    For me all of this is a “ritual” , me giving thanks to the powers of the Universe…me sharing my love….me wearing my heart on my sleeve in a very public way.
    I almost never, ever take part in rituals at the Pagan fests I play simply because most seem to me to be devoid of any spark of real life, of true divinity. They for the most part seem to me to be bad play acting in the way that in a catholic church people are constantly getting up and down, on and off their knees while the priest intones in a language the people don’t understand or feel. It has become a myth, devoid of ant sense of what any of it REALLY means.
    Now, not all of the rituals I’ve seen and have been a part of are like this. There are a few that were simply beautiful, powerful and for many life affirming and life changing.
    That connection between where it all starts and the end result whether it be ritual or art is important and all too often either forgotten or skipped over entirely…because….it’s always been there…..and as you put it so very well …MYTH!
    A Ritual can be very like a lounge act’s tired version of the song “Feelings”…..

    Thanks so much for writing this!!

    Brian

    • Alison Leigh Lilly
      Feb 21, 2015

      Brian,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

      I definitely know what you mean about some of the issues surrounding public Pagan rituals. I think there are a lot of complex things happening that make them prone to “falling flat” or feeling empty. Some of it may simply be that just because a person has a passion for spiritual contemplation or a talent for writing liturgy doesn’t mean they’ll have the talent, skill or interest in the performance/leadership aspect of ritual. I feel like I’m one of those people. I really enjoy leading rituals with our family, especially with my stepkids who really get into the different special traditions we’ve developed over the years, but I feel much less certain when trying to lead a ritual for a group of relative strangers. I become preoccupied with issues of accessibility (do we sit or stand? do we need chairs? what about people with mobility issues who can’t, f’ex, sit cross-legged on the ground? are we using incense or food as part of the ritual? what about people with allergies?)… as well as dealing with the uncertainty of the knowledge and skill level of all those who will be in attendance. By the time I’m done trying to take all of these things into consideration, it can feel like the ritual has become so watered-down and padded with tangential issues that some of the power has been lost. And because Pagan ritual tends to try to be more participatory than the religious rituals of some other religions (where people sit passively in pews listening to a priest drone on, like you said), there’s also the issue of knowing how to effectively bring people into a space where they can “drop their guard” enough to engage authentically without feeling self-conscious or awkward. Given how weird our society can be about these things (how uncomfortable we can get when we feel vulnerable in public, or when we see others being vulnerable in public) I can sympathize with how challenging it can be to really do this effectively. It’s definitely a skill that takes practice. I’ve been to some really good rituals, but I’ve also been to some that were a bit too much like LARP-ing for my comfort level.

      Another aspect of this issue is that public art — especially performance arts like dance, music, theater — have a head-start in having a pretty strong tradition in our culture already. People attending a music concert know pretty much what to expect, more or less, and I think mostly they also feel that for that reason they know how to choose the extent of their own engagement. One person might be right down in front of the stage dancing their heart out, while another might hang back on the edge. And having that sense of being able to actively choose their own level of engagement (and knowing that the artist/performer will be the one “carrying the performance” to a large extent), there’s less self-consciousness, less worry that if they choose not to dance, f’ex, that they will somehow be making things awkward or disruptive for others. At least, this is my intuition about it. There’s so much “aesthetic framing” that goes into a concert or musical performance that we tend to take for granted — and this, really, is an important aspect of being able to experience the art as a meaningful experience. It’s the very invisibility of the “frame,” not being constantly reminded of the artificiality of the performance, which allows people to really “get into it.”

      I guess it sounds like I’m arguing the opposite of what I said in my post! I think it’s a fine line to walk. When it comes to art (especially forms of art that we’re already really familiar with as a society), we might tend to take for granted the “framing” that’s going on — and so being effectively reminded of that frame from within the experience of the work of art can give us a profound sense of suddenly having our worldview opened up to new possibilities. (What else are we taking for granted?) When it comes to modern Pagan ritual…. I think maybe part of why they feel awkward is because they’re such a relatively new way of engaging in ritual that we can’t help but pay attention to the frame, the artifice of the whole thing. And so with Pagan ritual — especially large public rituals — I think we have to work harder to draw people in and invite them into a more immersive experience… before we start asking them to shift their attention back out again. Does that make sense? (I’m making this up as I go. ;)

      Anyways, thanks for sharing your perspective and experiences! Really provocative thoughts. :)

      • Brian Henke
        Feb 21, 2015

        Hi Alison,
        My gig tonight was canceled due to bad weather and I’m finding myself with more time than usual to read and respond to blogs (well, yours anyway) and to be introspective too.
        I’m also for the very first and hopefully the only time this cold weather season here in Northeast Ohio….sick, which means I can’t sing worth a Damn either. That nixes any practice plans I had too…..
        With a new album (my first vocal project since I was a rocker back in the stone age) about to be started, my 60th birthday coming up in just a few weeks and the year of the Wood Sheep coming back round again and into focus, it’s as though this album is me being reborn. I actually started writing most of these songs about the time I was conceived. Well, plus exactly 60 years.
        It’s funny, I estimate that I was conceived on a beautiful warm early Summer night in June or the beginning of July. Who knows, maybe even on the Summer Solstice itself…! Which makes some of the songs I’ve written for this album even more interesting.

        Kiss me now soft and sweet
        beneath a rising Moon
        Lie with me here beside the fire
        melted shadows in the gloom

        Or bodies entwined like the flames
        that reach for the sky
        The sparks of our passion rise up
        like the Stars in our eyes
        (excerpt from “Like the Stars in Our Eyes”)

        The last song to be written towards this record I wrote a few weeks ago and it will be the first song on the album. I do look at the order of songs like chapters in a book and like to have things planned out in advance, even when recording instrumental music.
        Anyway…..as much as I plan, I too am simply making it up as I go.
        Any project, be it visual art, writing stories and books, making music or planning a ritual, when honestly searching for balance, truth and the divine with an open heart…making up the path as we go has got to be the right path…….!

        Do you ever speak at festivals? If so, will you be at any this year?
        For some reason I’m thinking you’re in Illinois? Will you be going to PSG?

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *