Ritual Etiquette in the Asphodel Tradition
Asphodel's rituals are open to newcomers and folks of any path, regardless of what they do or do not believe in, their involvement or lack of involvement with other spiritual or occult organizations, their knowledge or experience of pagan religion, or their interest in further involvement with Asphodel. All we ask is that people make an effort to treat each other respectfully. However, we realize that even an experienced Pagan may find our group and our rituals quite different from what they are used to, and may have some confusion as to how to act appropriately. Our rituals are fairly informal, occasionally theatric, frequently participatory, and almost never done the same way twice. We encourage folks to ask us any questions they might have, before or after the ritual, or even quietly and discreetly during it. Folks can always call Cauldron Farm (978-928-4198) or email Raven (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Joshua (email@example.com) with any questions.
That said, here are some general guidelines for folks attending rituals, based on many of the questions folks have asked.
Driving to Cauldron Farm - Hubbardston is a small town, and the streets are not particularly well marked, so first-time visitors are encouraged to leave plenty of travel time, and call if they have any question about the directions. For small events, cars may park in the driveway or in the field just north of the house. Not in the garden, and especially not in the road. The local police become very upset by folks parking in the road, and one lives just down the way. For larger events, such as Beltane, cars may be shuttled to a public parking lot just on the other side of Asnacomet Pond. We appreciate car-pooling.
Punctuality - Asphodel does not, in general, hold events on "Pagan Standard Time". We appreciate folks arriving promptly, and often welcome guests as much as an hour early, especially if they are willing to help set up. If you must arrive after ritual has begun and the ritual is in the main house, just come in through the side door (near the driveway, not through the garden) and join us. If it is an outdoor ritual, the path into the woods is visible from the driveway. Follow it down to the ritual field and join us. We do not "cast circle", and there is no ritual procedure required for entering and leaving sacred space. Simply walk in and join us.
Clothing - Asphodel has no set standards for ritual dress, and there is no clothing that would be startlingly out of place. Participants are encouraged to wear whatever they feel is appropriate for religious celebration or worship. For most, this is neat but casual street clothes, and occasionally somewhat dressier than everyday. A few wear special ritual clothing such as robes or tunics, and some enjoy an opportunity to wear their "ren faire best" or other unique clothing. In fair weather, a small number choose to wear nothing at all to outdoor rituals. Nudity is permitted in the back field, but not in the front yard or driveway. Do keep in mind that many rituals are held outdoors, and consider the sun, wind, bugs, mud, snow and rain in your clothing choice.
Concerns Regarding the Site - Classes and wintertime rituals are often held in the main house. It is a very small crowded house, with a (friendly, old) dog and a fair amount of dust. The ritual field and camping area are a five-minute walk from the road, down a somewhat uneven and occasionally muddy path. The path is not wheelchair accessible, and may pose a problem to folks with other mobility impairments. Often we have a tractor and/or electric vehicle that can bring people down to the field, but these are older vehicles and we cannot guarantee they will be operational at any given time. Please call ahead. There are usually (but not always) tarps erected to shelter people from rain and sun. There are benches in the field, but some folks bring their own camp chairs. For camping events, you are expected to bring all your own gear and food - the field has no running water or electric, and no RV or cars are permitted.
Ritual Participation - Many Asphodel rituals encourage or expect some level of participation from attendees. We recognize that there are a variety of reasons a person may choose not to participate -- shyness, emotional discomfort, boredom, a conflicting spiritual commitment, a theological difference, confusion over the meaning of an action, and so forth. Also, there may be a number of practical considerations governing a person's involvement, such as a physical disability or an aversion to certain food or drink. Whatever the reason, it is always acceptable to decline participation in any ritual activity, or leave the ritual if you find it seriously conflicts with some aspect of your personal beliefs or practices.
Quarter Calling - Many our rituals begin with a quarter calling, and we will generally ask for volunteers for this or a few other similar small parts shortly before we start. This isn't, as some folks have suggested, due to a lack of prior planning on the part of the ritual staff! It is to give new people a chance to participate actively in the opening of sacred space. (Because of this, the core group will often only volunteer after no one else expresses interest.) You don't need any special skills or training for this. If you are new to all this and have no idea at all what the four directions symbolize or what to say, you can ask about that before the ritual. Sometimes, you will be given a few lines to read, other times you'll be asked to say whatever you like. You can use a traditional quarter calling if you know one, of any tradition you are familiar with, or make one up as it comes to you. Don't worry about it being incredibly poetic, and don't worry about it being in the same style as anyone else's. Just say it with conviction and sufficient volume for all present to hear. At the end of the ritual, each quarter-caller usually says a few brief words of thanks and farewell.
Singing - Except on the rare occasions that someone is singing a solo, we enthusiastically welcome you to sing along with any song or chant, or join in with a drum or other percussion instrument. Depending on the event, we may even provide folks with a copy of the words. Asphodel has a small choir that practices the ritual music on Monday evenings in Worcester. Anyone is welcome to attend these meetings if they wish to learn the ritual songs, regardless of their singing ability or long-term interest in either Asphodel or the choir.
Group Spoken Prayer - Many rituals incorporate a spoken prayer done by the whole group. Sometimes this is "call and response" where one of the folks leading the ritual says something and the group repeats it, or the group repeats a set phrase in response to each statement. Sometimes it is a short prayer said in unison, or call-and-response, read off of papers. If you would like a large-print version, or have a question about pronunciation, do ask before ritual. If you are uncomfortable with the content of the prayer for any reason, you may remain silent.
Personal disclosure in ritual - Some rituals invite guests to share something about themselves. (Their hopes for the coming year, something they have sacrificed, something they are thankful for, something they'd like a blessing on, etc.) Generally these are kept brief, and you may pass if you have nothing you wish to say. In nearly all cases, it is perfectly acceptable to make your answers silently, for only the gods to hear.
Photography - A limited amount of photography is permitted at events, provided it does not disrupt the ritual in any way. Please do not post your event photographs online or otherwise distribute them without the consent of the folks in the picture. Event photos may be freely posted to the private "OurKingdom" email list, or associated Flickr group. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this policy, please speak to the ritual staff.
Spontaneous Expression - The tone of Asphodel rituals varies, but in some it is acceptable to make spontaneous expressions of faith or spirited commentary, if you feel so moved. In a more structured or somber ritual this might be quite out of place, so take your cue from those around you. Beltane, for instance, often invites spontaneous participation and even active interference from assorted tricksters, whereas Samhain very rarely does. Use good judgment.
Emotional Responses - Occasionally someone may be moved to tears or have some other strong emotional response to a ritual or some other experience at a gathering. As a group, we tend to give folks space to work through their emotions on their own unless they ask for support. Please do not interpret this as a lack of compassion or a devaluing of your experience. It is our way of respecting a person's emotional privacy and autonomy. If there is anything at all that you experienced in ritual or at a gathering that you would like to talk about privately, please ask any of our members. If they can not help you, they will find you someone who can.
Extraneous conversation - It is acceptable in most rituals to quietly and discreetly ask a simple question or make a brief comment or request, but engaging in extended conversations is disrespectful, even if it is done quietly. If you (or your children) have really lost interest in the ritual, you may amuse yourselves elsewhere on the property until the ritual is completed and rejoin us for potluck afterwards. Please do not bring your cell phones to circle unless you are actively on duty in an emergency on-call position, and in that case please turn your phone on vibrate and excuse yourself before answering it.
Leaving ritual - If you must leave in the middle of ritual to attend to an emergency, care for a child, use the bathroom, or for any other reason, simply come and go quietly. Our tradition does not cast circle, and there is no special ritual procedure for entering and leaving sacred space.
Libation - Our rituals often involve the sharing of drink, and sometimes the drink is alcoholic. A number of our members choose not to drink alcohol and it is perfectly acceptable to ask -- in the ritual or before it -- what a shared drink is, and if it is alcoholic. This is generally mentioned during the course of the ritual, but we may forget. One may always decline an offered drink, kiss the cup rather than drink of it, or (in an outdoor ritual) pour a small amount on to the ground as an offering. If a parent or guardian chooses, they may allow their child a small sip of wine, or they may assist their child in pouring a libation onto the ground. Drinking horns are generally held with the point of the horn facing towards your body, for practical reasons rather than ritual ones - If the tip is pointing up and the liquid is at a certain level it forms an air pocket and tends to splash all over you when you drink.
Spirit possession - A small number of our rituals, most notably Lammas and Mabon, involve god or spirit possession. To some folk, even non-pagans, it is immediately apparent when this is going on. To others, it is not so clear. Regardless of whether you believe in or perceive spirit possession, in our tradition courtesy dictates that you treat a person actively representing or speaking as a deity in ritual with a great deal of respect, appropriate to the deity in question. A certain level of spontaneous personal interaction is often invited, but if you are not sure how to go about it, first ask someone who is not directly involved in running the ritual, or take your cue from those around you. Guests who behave rudely during rituals involving spirit possession (intentionally or unintentionally) or who persist in attempting irrelevant small talk with any person who is in, entering, or recovering from a possession trance will be immediately escorted away for the duration of the ritual. The process of going into and coming out of a possession trance is sometimes quite difficult and lengthy, and the process may not be immediately apparent to the casual observer. If there is some interaction that startles, upsets, or confuses you, the ritual staff will gladly discuss it with you after the ritual is entirely completed, but generally not until then.
Potluck - Most of our rituals are followed by a potluck feast. Guests are asked to bring a fully prepared dish of their choice. Keep in mind that indoor facilities to warm up food are limited. If you have any food restrictions, such as vegetarianism or food allergies, bring food that you can eat. It is courteous, though not required, to write down the ingredients of a dish for the benefit of those with restricted diets. Alcohol is permitted, in moderation, but does not count as bringing potluck. If despite your best efforts you find cannot bring potluck and would still like to contribute to the feast, consider offering to help with cleanup.
Illegal Drugs and Intoxication - Please do not bring illegal drugs to our events or come to our events under the influence of illegal drugs. Our staff has an obligation to report illegal activities and we do not want any trouble. Do not attend our events impaired by anything (legal or not) to the point where you cannot behave respectfully and appropriately. Drunken disorderly conduct will not be tolerated. You don't want to be "That Guy".
Craft Names - Many folks in Asphodel use their full legal names or simply their first names at pagan gatherings, but just as many prefer, for reasons of privacy or of spiritual devotion, to use another name in religious contexts. If you happen to know someone by a different name than they seem to be using at an event, please do them the courtesy of addressing them as they wish to be addressed, and asking them privately for clarification of their wishes on the matter. Also, do not assume that everyone wishes to be addressed as their craft or spiritual name in non-spiritual contexts.
A few folks may have titles, either given to them or taken by them for a wide range of reasons, but within Asphodel it is not considered at all rude to omit the title from a person's name when addressing or referring to them. Most folks in Asphodel use titles primarily for specific ceremonial occasions, and not consistently even then.
Personal Diversity - Asphodel is a welcoming congregation, open to people of all ages, races, social classes, levels of ability, national origin, levels of education, religions, otherworldly affiliation or heritage, sexual persuasions and identities. A few of our members and guests have physical or mental illnesses or disabilities that occasionally cause unusual or socially awkward behavior, and a number have odd personality quirks or non-traditional gender identities. Repeated or tactless questions or comments about a person's behavior, presentation or background quickly become annoying, if not outright disrespectful, whether asked of the person directly or of a third party. If you feel you must ask questions about a person's behavior, appearance or background, do so privately, and only if you can ask out of a sincere and well thought out interest in understanding and getting to know the person, and not in the interest of changing them or expressing your disapproval. Please understand that no one is under any obligation to explain or defend their behavior, choices or identity to you or educate you about their situation, and the answer they give might upset, embarrass or challenge you in a way you were not anticipating. If you inadvertently use the wrong pronoun for someone, or refer to them in a way they tell you is offensive, discriminatory, or culturally inappropriate, apologize and make an effort to not make the same mistake twice, even if you disagree with their reasons. You need not approve of who someone is or what they do in order to treat them well, and we insist all members and guests treat each other well. If you cannot treat a person well, for whatever reason, you may avoid or ignore them. If you cannot avoid or ignore them, you may leave.
Religious diversity and acceptance - Asphodel has members on many different spiritual paths, including a number of non-pagans. Many of our members have strongly held beliefs about spirituality, and while people's beliefs may be in conflict, we insist that they treat each other with respect. Again, you need not agree with someone in order to treat them well. There is a time and a place for heated spiritual debate, and our gatherings are generally not it. It is fine to ask respectful questions about another person's practices or beliefs, but no one automatically owes anyone an explanation, justification, or debate. Simply stating a contradictory or unpopular viewpoint is fine, so long as you are not disrupting a ritual to do it. However, long or heated expositions on beliefs or practices you find offensive, dangerous, heretical or wrongheaded are not considered appropriate at a gathering, even if they are not aimed at any particular individual, and regardless of whether any representative of the group in question is or might be present. We do not appreciate "Christian bashing" or the denigration of any religion, in whole or in part. If you hold such beliefs, please keep them to yourself out of respect for other guests. Political debate is similarly discouraged.