New address: 24 Farnsworth Street, Boston, MA 02210-1409.
The return flow of spiritual power is what the whole process of a worship ritual leads up to, so it's important that everyone be ready to receive and handle the divine mana that is to be returned through the gates. Making them ready is usually done through, first, a meditation upon personal and group needs, and second, the induction of a state of receptivity.
The first task is relatively simple: the presiding clergyperson asks everyone present to meditate upon what they, as individuals and/or as a group, need from the deity(ies) of the occasion. In a primarily theurgical ceremony, receiving individual blessings will be the main point (the goal) of the entire liturgy. So, folks should be given half a minute or so to think quietly, with no sounds other than those provided by Nature, or perhaps some serene music. Next the participants are reminded of the group's magical/religious goal(s) and target(s) and of the need for unity to achieve them. [See Chapter 9, Targets and Goals, and Sacrifices.]
The second task is a matter of getting the participants into a state of maximum openness and receptivity by reminding them of what is about to happen and why. A prayer, chant, or guided meditation can be used to encourage people to drop whatever remaining psychic shields or emotional blocks they may have between themselves and the deities.
Groups that are musically inclined, for example, could write a quiet, powerful song to accomplish all these tasks, with optional verses to guide the pacing and focus. This would probably work best in a verse-pIus-chorus or litany format being led by one or two singers, and including long pauses for meditation.
Part of the induction of receptivity in Neopagan Druid Rites is the taking of an omen, via ogham sticks, runes, or scrying (etc.), to determine the nature of the blessings that the deity(ies) intend(s) to bestow. The results of this divination then get worked into the meditations.
It should be noted that in Wiccan ceremonies, the induction of receptivity has an additional aspect, in that the presiding priestess usually intends to draw down the moon upon herself. This means that she intends to become possessed by, channel, or at least be inspired by, the Goddess being worshipped. [See BEGWW and Chapter 9, Lend Your Aid Unto the Spell: Channeling Energy.] This generally requires that she go into a preparatory trance state, usually with the assistance of the priest/ess with whom she is working. Like the other participants, she needs to be placed into a state of maximum openness and receptivity at this point in the ritual, though her trance should be far deeper than that of any other participant.
There are many ways in which the blessings of the one(s) being worshipped may be received in a ceremony. In a Wiccan rite, the priestess may be inspired or possessed by the Goddess to give information of value to the congregation, along with mana in the form of blessings or healings. The presiding clergy in other rites may make sacred gestures towards each participant, sending the energy coming through the gate(s) to them. All may dance or sing an affirmation that they are receiving the energy, pulling the mana into themselves from the gate(s). The clergy may mark each person's body with a sacred sign in oil or ashes or some other substance, triggering a transferral of the divine power into the recipients.
By far the most common method is the sharing of drink and/or food that has been blessed/charged with divine power. When a c1ergyperson consecrates a cup of liquid or a piece of food, she or he is using her/his magical arts to focus and direct the divine power, in order to psychically charge the food or drink, so that each person consuming it opens her/himself to the power of the deity/deities. This process can be invocatory and/or evocatory, depending upon the c1ergyperson's perceptions of the experience. The energy might seem to be flowing through him/her into the object being consecrated, or it could seem to be coming directly from the ritual center to the object. Either way, this is obviously something that the deity(ies) involved would approve, so he/she/it/they would assist with the charging. In fact, this is exactly what the c1ergyperson requests during the consecration prayer.
As each person consumes the drink and/or food, he or she physically takes into themselves a substance that has been charged with the energies of the one(s) being worshipped. The symbolic effect of this is extremely powerful. If you believe that you are eating and drinking the energies—or even the flesh and blood-of your deity(ies), this ritual cannibalism (as anthropologists and psychologists call it) will convince your subconscious mind that you are going to become more like her/him/it/them than you were before.
The consumers of consecrated food and drink become psychically, magically, and spiritually wide open to the divine, in the sort of simultaneous surrender/merging/triumph that occurs in the finest lovemaking (which might also explain some of the erotic imagery in the meditations of many mystics). Thus they attain a state, however fleeting, of communion (mutual participation or sharing) with the divine.
Since Neopagans believe that divinity is immanent as well as transcendent, this communion can be thought of as a recognition of a state of being that always exists, but which is difficult for most mortals to remember on a day-to-day basis. That recognition can be powerful enough to enable a person to suddenly have access to resources, human and divine, that she or he may have forgotten were available.
Many Wiccan traditions use the blessing of food and drink, and its subsequent consumption, as a grounding technique, since eating and drinking, especially in a social atmosphere, are good ways to bring people back into their bodies after an intense ritual.
It is now necessary to accept this divine energy (for any gift may be rejected) and to absorb it into your being for whatever purposes were either originally intended or which the flash of divine fire makes clear at the moment. A chant or song is the most common ritual tool here, or a guided meditation may be done, or a simple statement may be made that "We accept the gift of the Gods and recognize its purpose in our lives."
The emphasis in such a chant, song, or statement should be upon the complete acceptance of this gift of the deity(ies). Mention can be made that the incoming mana will go to where it may be needed most within each person. All who receive the mana should let it fill their bodies and feel it swirling throughout their beings: cleansing, healing, teaching. Whether the ceremony's goals are theurgic or thaumaturgical, at this time individuals should concentrate on their personal relationships with the divine.
The main result of the reception and acceptance of the divine mana is that each participant becomes spiritually and physically exalted. When the return of mana from the deity(ies) is strong, most of the participants will feel themselves filled with mana. If the liturgy has been a spectacular success, some people may cry at this point in the ritual, some may laugh, some may speak in tongues or prophesy. Some may be healed of physical or emotional diseases, while others may receive insights of personal value. Some may receive more mana than they can handle and need help to ground the excess. If a genuine possession should occur (an extremely rare event) the presiding clergy will need to determine and verify the identity of the deity possessing the woman or man, and to inquire after her or his wishes. This may completely change the rest of the ceremony.
After a short pause to digest the mana received and to experience the results-perhaps guided by soft music or a mantra-the ceremony can continue.
The next step can have either or both of two intentions: to strengthen the group's awareness of themselves as linked into a group mind at that moment, and/or to make those psychic links continue to connect them to each other long after the ritual is over. This perpetuation of the experience of communitas is essential for creating a real community of believers. Once again, this can be accomplished by all participants joining in a chant, song, dance, or by some other activity that would emphasize mutual connections.
If the ritual is purely theurgical, then this step can be a relaxed, schmoozy sort of family awareness, something that can grow through the years. If thaumaturgical work is to be done, this step becomes more important, and the reinforcement of the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual bonds among the participants will need to be clear and unmistakable—you want as much unity in your group mind as you can create before you attempt to cast any sort of spell or prayer. A rite of passage would need both approaches, since most such rituals involve a mixture of thaumaturgy and theurgy.
Now is when the participants will be able to perform the most powerful spell castings and/or rites of passage, although followers of monotheistic religions will insist what they do at this point is praying rather than spell casting. Of course, since they have now achieved communion with their deity, they expect him to be able to hear their prayers much more clearly (though such is, by their standards, a theologically unsound proposition), and to be more inclined to grant them. Presumably this is because he can now see how sincere and devoted his worshippers are. [Why it should be necessary to demonstrate anything, even sincerity, to an omniscient deity is unclear.] Nonetheless, the techniques used in monotheistic ceremonies to get everyone thinking about their desired goals (whether thaumaturgical or theurgical), and to emotionally discharge their energies towards those goals, are separated from polytheistic techniques less by genuine metaphysical or philosophical differences than by levels of effectiveness.
It is possible, of course, that a group of Neopagans, having attained a state of communion with one or more deities, might ask her/him/them to grant a prayer, especially in a situation where a problem appears to go beyond the spell-casting abilities of the group, or where the appropriate goal and target are unknown. However, most Neopagans believe that the gods gave us our magical skills with the intent that we use them to manifest their will and ours on the Earth plane level of reality (in this physical world).
So the deities may be asked to send additional power through the participants, or to help with the fine details of visualization and energy direction, but the primary responsibility for the success or failure of the spell rests with the humans involved. If a magical/spiritual/psychic working fails, whether it was thaumaturgical or theurgical, we do not automatically have the excuse available that it was the will of the gods. It might have been their will, but it might also have been incompetence on our part!
Fortunately, if the basic laws of magic and the principles of liturgical design are faithfully observed, the relevant variables are taken into consideration, and the clergy and congregation are competent as well as sincere, most spell castings/prayers and rites of passage done at this point of the ceremony should succeed.
Next: Phase Five: Ending the Ceremony
For more information contact web @ uua.org.
This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations.
Please consider making a donation today.
Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.
Sidebar Content, Page Navigation
More Ways to Search
Donate to Support This Program and the Ongoing Work of the UUA
Read or subscribe to UUA.org Updates for the latest additions to our site.
Learn more about the Beliefs & Principles of Unitarian Universalism, or read our online magazine, UU World, for features on today's Unitarian Universalists. Visit an online UU church, or find a congregation near you.