Kinship and community

Stacey Lawless —  March 22, 2013 — 31 Comments

Although I came back from Pantheacon with lots of anecdotes and experiences (most of which were extremely positive and fun), I find that the only story I have to tell you right now is one I didn’t want to tell. It won’t leave me alone, however. It’s just this: I had a dreadful time with the Morrígan devotional ritual, “The Heart is the Only Nation.” I know many people who attended absolutely loved it. Teo Bishop, in particular, seems to have been deeply affected by it, and I envy him. I went to the devotional hoping to be moved by it. I guess I was, although not in the way I wanted.

It’s a quirk of my personality that I react badly to being asked to identify with a group. Damned if I know why. If I voluntarily align myself with said group, that’s okay, but being confronted with any sort of team-building, identity-merging activity irrationally unnerves me. It feels like an attack. When I was a kid, I had recurring nightmares about being infected by zombies or assimilated up by Borg-like collectives. I don’t have that kind of a strong reaction anymore. But, unfortunately for me, the Morrígan ritual pushed my fear-of-loss-of-self button, hard. Maybe if I’d been expecting it, it wouldn’t have thrown me, but I wasn’t. So, suddenly, I went from opening up to the ritual to slamming closed, feeling threatened, depressed, angry, bitter, alienated. And I was much too far from the door to make a discrete exit.

So, I breathed and tried to work with the emotions, and went through with the ritual. It was a rite about deepening the bonds of kinship and community. I value these, so by gods I was going to grit my teeth and be in community. To try to be gracious and as open to the experience as I could be, even though what I really wanted to do was crawl away into a dark corner. It never occurred to me that I could have just stepped back from the circle into the darkness at the edge of the ballroom. I didn’t want to distract anyone around me from the work they were doing, so I worked too.

I spent the rest of Pantheacon, and a good part of the following month, mulling this experience over and thinking about religion and kinship, so I suppose the Morrígan devotional did its job even on my cranky self.

Anyway, this story really is not all that important. It wanted to be told, but I think the real reason to tell it is because it gives me space to say that sometimes, being in community is the worst. Doing anything with other humans is too often a real drag, and sometimes you can’t escape. You have to grit your teeth and go through with whatever it is you’re doing with all these people just because it has to be done. The reason I’m stating the beyond-obvious here is that I’ve been thinking about the post yesterday about Yana, and kinship, and solidarity with other Pagans. The costs of being in community, and the effort it can take to return to the work of building and maintaining those bonds again, and again, and again.

As Jason said, Paganism is international now. And I hope it’s not speaking too strongly to say that now modern, international, post-Drawing Down the Moon Paganism has a martyr.

After I post this, I’m going to light a candle on my boveda for Yana in her journey to her gods. Then I’m going to meditate on what I bring to this community, to “Pagandom,” as I like to call it in lighter moments. What I can do to contribute to the ties of kinship and affection and religious experience that strengthen this community. What work needs to be done for our safety and well-being. I haven’t done a lot of interfaith or intrafaith or outreach work before, so this is all going to be new. Will you walk with me?

Stacey Lawless


  • “Doing anything with other humans is too often a real drag, and sometimes you can’t escape. You have to grit your teeth and go through with whatever it is you’re doing with all these people just because it has to be done.”

    Thank you for writing this up. I’m happy to see this other perspective. Many of us
    struggle with this, I think. It’s good to give it voice.

    One note, that isn’t so important, but intriguing to me: we had planned for the stepping forth in kinship part of the ritual to be slower, with people stepping forward as they saw fit. It turned into the en masse happening, instead, leaving less space for people like you. Sometimes that happens in ritual, surprising even those who put the thing together.

    • Stacey Lawless

      A good ritual is a living thing in its way, and I do think this one was a good ritual. I may not have enjoyed it, but I definitely learned from it. Thank you.

  • Stacey, I appreciate the vulnerability and courage you show in sharing your experience. We hoped not to make anyone feel forced to stepping into kinship, but just to make the invitation and create the space that would hopefully help people be more able to feel what connects them to all the rest of our species. But it’s true, kinship isn’t just a feel-good thing. If it was, it wouldn’t be so powerful and so revolutionary. Thanks for showing up, for engaging deeply in your own way, and for sharing.

    • Stacey Lawless

      Thank you for your work, and for giving me so much food for thought! I tend to engage very shallowly with community, and I’ve realized I need to change that — something I might not have come to without going through your rite at Pantheacon. Again, thanks.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Stacey, your story is important and does need to be told because community is built upon individuals, and individuals come in all shapes and sizes, psychically as well as physically. Any community is a garment draped over a number of individuals, and sometimes the fit is too snug or too loose for some participants.
    Your individualism in no way compromises your fellow-feeling with Yana and the other Middle Eastern Pagans having a rough time in the Islamist uprising we are still calling the “Arab Spring.”

    • Stacey Lawless

      Thanks, Baruch. I think that at this point in time, the best thing I can do is to work for a stronger “Pagandom” and more acceptance of minority faiths in the U.S. The more established and effective we are, the more we can help fellow believers elsewhere in the world. I hope.

  • welltemperedwriter

    Thank you for writing this. Last year I ended what had been, for over a decade, my primary and recurring contribution to the community in my region and it’s been tough to figure out what to do next–I have plans and ideas and great people to do them with, but it also led me to question how I participate in community and what is worth hitching my wagon to. Food for thought.

    • Stacey Lawless

      You’re welcome. Do you mind if I ask how you’ve decided, if not now than in the past, what (to use your phrase) you wanted to hitch your wagon to?

      • welltemperedwriter

        I’m still figuring that out, to be honest. But a few parameters that I’ve come up with include: it must feed my spirituality as well as others’, or I’ll burn out; everyone involved must have their work appreciated; there need to be ways that it connects beyond our spiritual community to the one we live and work in. I suspect that these are somewhat specific to my circumstances–it’s pretty safe to be a pagan where I live, for instance.

        In the past, it was enough to be part of something bigger than myself. As I’ve gotten older, though, and have less energy to spend, I’ve gotten pickier about whether the inevitable price of such work is worth paying.

  • Franklin Evans

    Stacey, you bring a clear-eyed self-awareness and integrity to your spirituality. The rest is just figuring out what to do next. Honor to you, and my admiration.

    • Stacey Lawless

      Thank you.

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  • Northern_Light_27

    I wish there had been a bit more detail about what the ritual was for and what actually happened during it.– I see” deepening kinship and community”, but what does this have to do with Morrigan? What specifically was asked of you that made you feel uncomfortable?

    • As one of the organizers, I can answer the question about what it had to do with the Morrigan. We were inspired by our work with Her in this ritual – in particular, messages from Her about kinship being a source of strength to enable us to fight for that which we love, to face the battles we have to face; and about kinship itself being a form of resistance. I wrote more about that here:
      I can’t, of course, speak to the second question. I’m sorry anyone was made to feel uncomfortable, but I appreciate Stacey for sharing.

    • Stacey Lawless

      I actually can’t point to anything in particular that made me feel uncomfortable. I remember it kicked into gear during a visualization (that we all shared the red iron of the Earth flowing through the blood in our veins), but that didn’t have to do with the imagery, it was just timing. I think it was more the feel of the current of energy, plus perhaps the sheer number of people in the room. If I gave the impression that the Coru, the priesthood who organized the ritual, did something amiss, I apologize, because that wasn’t my intention.

      • Northern_Light_27

        No, that’s not the impression I had, it’s more that so many posts about P-Con seem to be for people who were also at P-Con, and can be confusing for people who weren’t. I’ve been opening tabs for a while and have yet to find someone who summarizes what the ritual was, what happened during it (not emotionally, I mean… what the actual liturgy was), what its focus/intent was, as opposed to how it made them feel.

        I’m thrilled so many people went to such an intense and soul-changing ritual, it sounds amazing, but can’t help but feel I’ve come in on a book discussion that I don’t understand because I didn’t read the book. You started with saying you had a dreadful time at the Morrigan devotional, and then went to “I react badly when asked to identify with a group”, leaving me thinking “context? was there a missing paragraph in there that explains what the devotional was and how it asked you to identify with a group? did the ritual leaders ask everyone to call out what group they were in, or assume everyone was in a group? what happened at this thing, anyway?” Then you say that the story doesn’t matter, leaving me even more baffled– obviously it’s the context for the rest of the realizations, but since I don’t know what that context *is*… I’m sure if you were there, the missing information is not missing and this blog post is completely coherent. It’s just baffling *me*.

        • Stacey Lawless

          I tried to reply to this last night, but my reply seems to have been eaten. I wanted to thank you for pointing this out, as I think you’re right and I was unconsciously writing towards an audience who’d been at Pantheacon. As for the ritual, I can tell you it started with a staged battle between two woad-painted women (which was excellent), and moved into invoking the Morrigan and then a period of visualization to engage the theme of the ritual: that we were all kin, connected by our shared humanity and bond with the earth, and could draw strength from that. At the peak, participants were invited to call out the things they were willing to fight for. There were lots of people there, and for most of the ritual I couldn’t see into the circle, so I’m hazy on many of the details now that a month has passed.

          • Jo Jenson

            The ritual was in a double ballroom space, which holds 500 people. I believe it was full to capacity. There was an enormous amount of energy raised, I remember that just after the visualization and before we called out what we would stand for, there was a call for all who would stand as kin to step forward and the crowd moved in masse like a tidal wave, not individually. I found it profoundly
            moving and invigorating. Looking back on it I can see how I realized I could not have done anything other than move forward with the wave and how that could have been uncomfortable.

          • Northern_Light_27

            Thank you both, that helps immensely when it comes to understanding both this post and the many others I’ve seen about this ritual. It does sound pretty amazing!

  • kenneth

    Circle work, or rituals that work along that format, do not work best among strangers. To do it, or at least to do it to its full potential, is a very intimate sort of work, and a deep kind of vulnerability. It can be structured in such a way as to minimize that and connect everyone at a less intrusive communal level, but everyone’s comfort levels are different. Ritual work in some ways involves as much or even more intimacy and vulnerability that what our society usually thinks of the most intimate boundaries of our bodies.

    Many of us, myself included, don’t happen to feel any particular vulnerability with going skyclad for ritual or the hell of it at a festival around anyone and everyone. Not a kink for me, it’s just neither here nor there. It all is what it is. There is some considerably fewer people I’d be physically intimate with, some much smaller number I’d be emotionally intimate with, and exactly one person in this world that I will open myself up to in order to undertake the deepest sorts of magickal work. I am also a person who tends toward maintaining a strict sense of self, yet I have also sometimes achieved trance states in which I surrendered ALL boundaries of time and space and separate identity. It’s beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.

    Everyone’s set point is different in all these things and where you or I fall on that spectrum, is not a character flaw. It’s just an attribute of who we are. It doesn’t necessarily mean the organizer of a ritual or you did anything wrong at all. It’s perfectly OK for someone to decide, through experience or instinct, that “this is not for me.”

    One doesn’t have to be a “people person” to be a vital part of a community, either. Like any other movement, we need the “out front” people and the natural politicians and social butterflies. We also need the people who are happy to work alone writing letters or code at 2 a.m. in the middle of nowhere.

    • Stacey Lawless

      That’s interesting, thank you. I haven’t had a lot of experience with circle work.

      “Social butterfly” may turn out to be my role. I’m an introvert, but have a pretty chatty persona.

  • Paloma

    Thanks for sharing with us Stacey. I too had awful dreams much like the ones you describe. Please do not feel alone in your journey when you see “everybody else” joining in and saying “wow” and you feel like the only one saying “ick”. God /Goddess loves all of us, and that is the shared journey.

    • Stacey Lawless

      I’m sorry you’ve had the nightmares too, but I’m glad I’m not the only one!

      • ChristopherBlackwell

        Stacey, no one is ever the only one, just because we don’t know about the others.

  • ChristopherBlackwell


    Not everyone functions well in community. I know that I don’t, as it is impossible for me to fit in. So I am always the outsider, who may come into to community for a purpose, but who then must get back out to be by myself. If I get enough alone time and have enough personal space, then I can handle people, but I will never be a group person and no longer need, or even desire, to fit in.

    There are certain advantages to being the outsider. The outsider can cut through the bullshit and say what needs to be said, while an insider might be afraid of not being popular. That not needing to fit in can give a great amount of freedom that those in a group may not have, not if they want to stay in the group.

    Nothing wrong with those that can and do work within a group, if they by nature are group people. But not everyone needs to be in a group. It is not by accident that when people needed to battle, with difficult choices and ideas, that often they go away to the wilderness, to get away from the distractions of being in a community.

    So be what you are with no apology. There is nothing wrong with being alone if and when you need it. I tend to be semi hermit, but that is the way I work best, that is who I am. Be whatever you are, as you were meant to be.

    • Stacey Lawless

      Thank you.

  • CorieR

    In a circle there are so many different kinds of energies from so many different people that it is understandable to feel a little out if it, especially if you are susceptible to feeling these energies on a deeper level. I do like groups at times and the feelings of kinship, but I believe solidarity is just as important and spending time on yourself on getting to know yourself is one of the most (if not THE most) important aspects of getting to know the Gods. That’s my spin on it :).

  • Ms Lawless, it’s been my experience that the darker the passage, the brighter my awakening at the end. Collaboration and cooperation and building a community is the impulse many of us are feeling as we swim further into the cosmos that is past 12.21.12. The urge to communicate and bond through this planetary consciousness (Above) in the form of social networks and technology (Below) is working its’ way through so MANY spiritual communities with exceptionally OPEN invitations and highest of hopes. I can relate exactly to your “pushed my fear-of-loss-of-self button, hard.” I can also share with you that I’ve transcended mine in the demonstration of what can be achieved to change our world when we do reach out to one another… especially as a new global culture awakens. Your post is a great eye opener …. !

  • Matt G

    What I love most about this post is that, when confronted with a ritual that wasn’t comfortable for you, instead of telling yourself, “This must not be my thing.” and totally disengaging you decided to breath and go deeper into the work.

    “I didn’t want to distract anyone around me from the work they were doing, so I worked too.”

    I absolutely love that. We create so many articles and books and workshops in our communities on “How to properly lead/perform ritual,” and it seems to get lost in the cracks that *how to participate* in ritual is just as much a vast set of techniques to learn and challenges to overcome.

    “Ways to respond when a ritual isn’t going your way.” I’d love to read that article.

  • Moonwater SilverClaw

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

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