Fire lit, food on the table, chairs set, drums laying about waiting to be played. It is time for ritual… ritual of a different kind.  Ritual that most of us aren’t use to and don’t partake in very often, but is as essential as any of the great days.  It is the ritual of sharing and learning.  This was my “backyard ritual” last Friday evening.

The evening had been conceived a while ago when I asked the administrative staff at the Chapel if they would be interested in a “paganism for the non-pagan” crash course.  They were interested and so we began to work through our summer vacations, festival weeks, and modified work hours to find time.  The navigation of our conflicting schedules wasn’t easy but we did succeed in finding a couple of hours one afternoon to sit and begin our conversation.

 The rules were simple, they could ask any question they wanted to and I would not be offended by anything they asked.  These two rules were essential to having an open dialog about paganism. We talked about spell casting and cauldrons, brooms and their representations.  We touched on the basic neo-pagan Great Days and how different traditions and paths have their own Great Days, rituals and celebrations.  I explained the difference between the umbrella term pagan and the specific term Wiccan.  In fact we explored a great deal in two hours and all done with laughter, surprise, and a dawning of enlightenment.  We ended only because one of the staff had an appointment to attend and we all agreed that we needed to continue on.  They were amazed at how little they understood about paganism and how wrong the information that they “knew” really was and so the promise was made that another gathering would take place.  That gathering was to be around a fire.

I also decided that I could not be the only voice they heard.  After all I am only one person who practices one particular path. I may be the Pagan Chaplain but I am not all people.  I could not address in-depth the questions about faith traditions, cosmologies, and practices that were outside of my own.  I have always held the philosophy that I don’t need to know it all – I just need to know others who do have the particular knowledge in question and help people make connections.  Grow a greater, stronger community in a way.  So the date was set.  People from a multitude of faith traditions and spiritual paths came to drum, eat, and share what they believe.  I told them all bring friends and people that they might know who could benefit from a “no holds barred” question and answer time.  The response was wonderful. Pagans and non-Pagans alike were coming.

Friday evening came and cars began to arrive – the pre-ritual hum was starting.  When I felt that everyone that was coming had arrived, I  relayed the rules again, but with an explanation.  The admin staff’s perception of paganism, I explained, was born out of a culture that taught about witches through Disney (think Snow White), Hallmark’s Halloween, Grimm fairy tales, the Wizard of Oz, and Church dogma.  With this, the ritual began – the ritual of sharing, learning, and walls being taken down.  There was a great deal of relaxing and laughter which lead to drums and dancing which lead to great conversations and revelations for everyone. 

At the end of the evening there was talking about getting together again and “just enjoying” each other’s company.  So much was shared on both sides of this fence that in the end I think the garden gate has been permanently propped open to allow free travel to each other’s worlds.  And so I put this challenge to anyone who reads this:

Create your own ritual of understanding and engage someone, a non-pagan, who has shown a curiosity of what it is you believe or “do.”  Remember where their reference points come from and that they have to work through centuries of indoctrination on the evils of anything outside of mainstream religion.  Share some music, a fire, a drink, or a meal, and allow the elements that lay within each one of those acts to help you show your spirit as well as to see theirs.

Oh, and have fun doing it!