Working Ritual with the Center, Pt 1
Centers unite all around a shared focus.
(cc) Hartwig HKD, Flickr.com.
This is the first in a 2-part series exploring a new technique for creating special time and space. This part introduces the key symbol, the Center.
Last Samhain’s ritual script experimented with a new technique for creating special time and space (i.e. sacred space): working with the Center. In short, participants circumambulate a chosen focal point. Sounds simple enough, right?
Now, let’s explore that a little deeper. Why create special time and space? Why propose new techniques? What is the Center?
Why create special time and space?
The ultimate goal of ritual is to reaffirm or change patterns of perception and behavior. Creating a sense of special time and space is useful to that end.
Whatever the nature of time and space in an absolute sense, our experience of it is malleable. Time can seem longer or shorter, space can seem larger or more vital, and both can acquire a sense of heightened significance, depending on our state of consciousness. Time and space can at times appear special.
At those times, routinized behavior patterns are disrupted as the unconscious mind reevaluates the situation. They are thus prime times for inputting new information into the system. In short, the function of achieving a sense of special time and space is to signal to the unconscious mind that what is about to occur is significant, so that it privileges it henceforth in memory and behavioral decision-making.
To put this in theological language, it is to create space that is sacred, meaning “set apart.” Ritual time and space is set apart as special and significant.
Why a new technique?
But wait… what’s the point of experimenting with new methods to do this? Aren’t we re-inventing the wheel?
There are already several well-developed techniques for creating sacred space in the Pagan community, such as casting a circle or opening the gates. They usually speak in some way of moving between “the worlds”, and naturalists can easily read this as moving between states of consciousness. Becoming familiar with these techniques is valuable for naturalists because it allows us to take part in rituals of various traditions, side-by-side with other Pagans in the larger community. And if it works for you, then hey, why not use it?
At the same time, these techniques may leave something to be desired. Their theoretical backings are highly metaphysical. For example, the purpose of a circle is purportedly to keep hostile energies out or desired energies in. Opening the Gates (a technique of ADF and its offshoots) is meant to enhance communication with deities, spirits, and ancestors.
While such theory need not intrude on practice, it leaves me wondering what it would be like to experiment with an entirely naturalistic technique, home-grown and inspired by patterns in nature. Hence, I present: the Center.
What is a center?
Wherever you look, centers (small “c”) pervade nature. There are literal centers, such as the atomic nucleus circled by its electrons or the star by its planets. There are also figurative centers, like the watering hole encompassed by herds or the giant redwood by a mini-ecosystem of life. At the most domestic, there is the hearthfire of the home. At the most cosmic, there is the omnicentric origin point of the Big Bang (which is everywhere). Centers are all around.
Crucially, a center only exists relative to what gathers round it. Apart from that, it is meaningless. Centers are inherently relational.
Thus, the distinguishing characteristic of a center is that it is a center of something. It unites that something around a shared focus. It is the nexus, source, or heart of a community. And that is what makes it interesting as a pattern for ritual.
What is the Center?
The Center (big “C”) is liturgical language for a real and symbolic focus of ritual activity. It is real insofar as it really is what all participants are focused around, symbolic insofar as it reproduces greater patterns of nature. Its role in ritual is to alter consciousness, calling forth the individual ego’s relation to the group and the cosmos.
Like all good liturgical language, the Center is suggestive more than indicative, evocative more than precise, so that each person can discover themselves in it. Virtually anything can be discovered to be a center if you look closely enough, and that is the point: it’s everywhere, but it takes a shift in perspective to see it.
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