It’s that time again. We are close to Imbolc (and Lupercalia) and the largest and, I think, most public display of Paganism, is about to get underway. Personally, I think the event is intentionally inspiring both emotionally and mechanically, and its equal comes only rarely. This gathering is magic.
I’m always impressed by the careful planning, attention to detail that a complicated event requires. The organizers must attend — often in painstaking detail — to the varied and storied mystical community that attends the gathering.Really, the range is enormous. The organizers impressively manage the needs of multiple faiths, addressing complicated spiritual and even nutritional needs. They make sure that each group is honored and recognized in their journey.
I am equally impressed by the dedication of the participants; they are preparing for it even now. They are not only organized in their travel planning, but also in their ritual wear. They take great pains to ensure that every element of their ceremonial wear is present, distinct and revered. They are cautious in their supplications, and spell-work is carefully attuned to their mystical devotional practice throughout the event. They even complicate their magical work with sigils inscribed on the ground, and on veves on their bodies.
I think I am personally most interested — enthralled may be more appropriate — with the careful use of totems in the ritual. I wonder, actually, if the organizers pay special attention to their use because frankly the complexity and artistry to execute many of those totems is magnificent. While it certainly seems clear to me that some of them are modified fetishes that are mass-produced, others are judiciously executed with the care of Zuni fetish dolls most notably discovered by Amelia Black.
Indeed, the Super Bowl is all that and more. And we are caught — like in a performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen — in a great cycle.
It begins with pilgrimage, this time to Minneapolis. Participants dedicate themselves to guide their teams through their heroic voyages. They sustain the team emotionally and psychically, manifesting that support through their ritual wear and camaraderie. Ultimately, they follow their team to main ritual; sometimes physically, but certainly spiritually. Across the nation sport covens gather to lend energy to their team.
The participants begin with organizing among themselves opportunities to create intention. They use their fetishes and garments to align with their powers to bless their side. They engage in profound rogation so that their gods and spirits will gather and see their favor.
Like Pagans past, the participants enter reverie through food and community prior to the main ritual. They establish the common bonds of kinship created through an allegiance of common purpose. Some reflect on past magical accomplishments. Some create lavish and complicated delicacies. Others gorge on nachos.
Those who are physically present approach the great temple of the main ritual, called the U.S. Bank Stadium. They will chant in procession until they reach the entry portal challenge where they must also relinquish prized items. And once having passed they will enter the temple, they will take their places in circle until the central ritual begins. The celebrants who execute the ritual enter separately.
Those who cannot go will gather at home and open their scrying mirrors into the ritual space to project their energy.
At the appointed time, a disembodied booming voice announces that the ritual is about to begin. The celebrants gather into their respective places in the middle of circus. They will begin by bowing their heads and asking their own powers for safety, temperance and judgement in the coming ritual. They look for and honor their ancestors and then dream of Elysium. They will then ask for the annihilation of their enemies.
Following the opening reflection, the ritual formally begins. Celebrants and participants are asked to stand as the space is cleansed, complete with gesticulations and movements, swaying as they raise energy to access the powers, the spirits, and the light. To heighten their spiritual awareness, sacred imagery is often employed through both physical identifiers and guided imagery. We’re reminded that there is no such thing as too many exploding sky offerings. Finally, as the cleansing is complete, the participants erupt in joy as the space between worlds is opened and petitions completed.Distance participants, through their palantirs, also share their energy and mimic the elements of cleansing ritual. They stand in somber silence: some even put down the chicken wings.
As the ceremony moves into its main liturgy, the fully-armored celebrants show their humility and hospitality within the temple. They then rally their esprit de corps to engage in ritual combat erupting with jubilation and defiance. While reminiscent of battles in other cultural and ritual spaces, these skirmishes are close and dangerous with often personal, even intimate, interactions. The scuffle continues with no clear reason or outcome, often for seemingly insignificant gains.
It took me a while to understand this. However, it finally did occur to me that the gain is often intertwined with a magnificent lesson profoundly similar to Levertov’s This Great Unknowing. Like in those poems, we learn that we cannot know the outcome of the unfolding universe, but can only accept its continuing revelation moment by moment. We learn also that the powers are manifest in the fleeting events of grace wherein we see both instant clarity and ineffable dubiety as the celebrants gain and lose favor. We also witness the fickle tension between order and chaos, reminding us that all is both impermanent and uncertain, and we join the elation like magical royalty.
One thing I find interesting about this ritual is that once the sacred interactions begin among the celebrants is the presence of arbiters, individuals capable of halting ritual to maintain orderly progression. Their role is not to judge the ritual itself, but rather to keep the celebrants from succumbing to chaos. They keep the balance existing in a liminal space both in the game and beyond it, king-fools for a day, but the arbiters’ role is carefully watched by the participants (particularly those at a distance who carefully attune their scrying mirrors to search incessantly for mistakes). The arbiters nevertheless maintain their composure even when their seemingly insignificant failures can result in the most severe of penalties. I’m not sure what the lesson is there but it seems quite sobering.
As the ritual unfolds, the tension rises. The celebrants rely on the participants to channel energies against their adversary, and participants will use their skills to change its outcome causing both grace and confusion.
Some will launch incredible incantations to thwart the opponents. Others will just scream, “Go Pats!” having used the same spell for years.
Those possessing scrying mirrors will also participate. What is interesting here is how the participants select their method of broadcasting their energy. While much of the focus is on verbal manipulation of energy, others rely on gestures reminiscent of the ninja art of kuji-kiri, but with only one finger.
There is one other rite important in the Super Bowl but manifest in many such observances. A punctilio some would say but ubiquitous nonetheless. While celebrants engage in their ceremonial execution — and with the arbiters seemingly both focused and worried — participants are free to promenade to conduct ablution and oblation, most often with beer but occasionally with other liquids. They return to their seats pungent and undulating from their observance. Fascinating.
Finally, the ritual passion concludes with a victor. The defeated are silent. There is catharsis and release. We’re reminded that millionaires always win even when they lose. The celebrants are all honored, and each is offered a gift token to remember their ritual experience. Half of the participants continue in the reverie as they leave the temple. Those scrying collapse, attempt to cleanse, and often give up.
This ritual is over.
On to The Beautiful Game.
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