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Raising Energy Makes a Ceremony or Spell Effective
I have been to a lot of Pagan rituals over the years. In my not very humble opinion, an important difference between an effective ritual and a stale one, in addition to sincere, embodied faith by those doing the invoking, is the raising of energy. What is an effective ritual? An effective ritual changes the energy in the room and in the person for the better. An effective ritual leaves participants with a feeling of awe, connection and hope. An effective ritual that is a magic working, well, works, in that the goal is achieved. A stale one leaves you wondering if you should cut out a door and slip off to the bathroom, or where you find yourself critiquing the clergy in your head, or trying to be patient for it to be over. Or maybe that’s just me.
There are many ways to raise energy – but when I asked what I should write about today, I received ‘Dance’.
How Do Pagans Use Dance in Ceremony?
What kind of dancing you do in ceremony or ritual depends on the size of the group you have, and the level of intimacy between the participants. Sacred dancing in a coven ritual with experienced folks is going to be quite different from dancing at a public ritual or wedding outdoors or in a large room.
The old standby – the Spiral Dance – for large groups
The Spiral Dance is a magical tool used when a group of 30 or more is gathered and you want to get them moving. It’s also fabulous to use as an icebreaker and/or connected close to a weekend retreat, as it makes everyone in the group face everyone else in the group at close range at least once. It should be done as the ‘meat’ of the ceremony, right before you devoke, unless you use the variation that leaves everyone back in a circle, because it ends in a peak of energy and it’s hard to get people to do anything else after. It is, of course, not good to use during a pandemic for all of the reasons above – the large group, and the face to face contact. However, we will spiral dance again. The Spiral Dance is also the name of a respected and classic book on ecstatic witchcraft, written by Miriam Simos, more commonly known as Starhawk. She likely named the book after the dance.
How to Lead the Spiral Dance – Safely
The practicalities of leading a spiral dance
Starting and safety
Get everyone in a circle by asking them to form a circle and hold hands with two other people. This usually makes everyone form a single circle. Explain what is going to happen, that we are going to dance slowly while chanting or while musicians play and to make sure not to let go of the hands of the people next to you.
Invite anyone who doesn’t want to or isn’t able to dance holding hands to let go hands and go to the edges of the circle and ‘hold the edge’. It’s good to have some chairs available for these folks so they sit where you want them. Put them far enough away that they are about 10 feet back from the edge of the large circle.
In addition, let everyone know that the dance feels fastest for those at the outside of the spiral, and to avoid pulling them off their feet, the folks on the inside of the spiral will need to keep a slow, measured pace. People get excited and speed up, so salt the circle with some folks who will stick to the pace and hold the line back if you have a larger group.
Pick a nice slow dirgy chant for this one, and have a drummer who can hold a slowish rhythm for it if you have a lot of Pagan cats to herd. A drummer or group of drummers is strongly recommended if the group is 100 or more. Make sure the drummers understand their job is to keep things slow and steady.
Leading the spiral in and out
Then, you yourself join the circle. Begin the chant and music. Dance deosil (clockwise) until everyone in the circle is moving their feet. People can do a grapevine step, or the good old Pagan shuffle. Then let go of your right hand (warn the person you will be doing this) and continue on inside the other circle, slowly winding in a spiral toward the center. Stay a good distance from the outer ring to help you get closer to the center before you have to turn around. You will have your back to the other people at this point.
At a certain point you will want to ‘turn the spiral’. This varies based on the size of the group, how long you want to dance for, and how tight a spiral you want. The tighter the spiral, the longer it will take to get there. When you are ready to turn, pivot on your left foot, so you are face to face with the person on your left. Then move down so that you are face to face with the next person in line and so on. You will need to press fairly close to them, to keep the shape of the circle, so be assertive. This will keep them from unwinding from the circle. You will be happy you didn’t wind the spiral too tightly at this point. Keep doing this until you run out of people. Make sure to make eye contact with any persons holding the edge.
Finishing the spiral dance
Then pivot on your right foot and lead the circle/spiral back in. If this is just a greeting dance, if you want a shorter dance, or if you have something else planned in the ritual before you devoke, you may want to opt to re-make a circle at this point. You will be facing toward the center of the circle at this point. If you are raising energy for a group purpose, then you will want to wind the spiral until everyone is again facing the center, and then encourage the entire spiral of people to rotate.
Sending the Energy
The center at this point will contain a lot of energy. If it doesn’t then people are being distracted by the movement. In this event, hold still in a pack and simplify your chant to the key message, ideally one of the lines in it. Then sing that over and over till you have raised some energy. If that dooesn’t work, give it up as a bad job and stop singing by holding a steady tone. If all goes well, either you or someone near you (like the person holding your left hand) will need to direct all the energy to its mutually agreed goal. That person will feel the energy begin to peak, and can hold/sing a steady tone which will be taken up by most of the other people, the tone will likely increase in intensity and peak, at which point the dance will be over. Inviting people to ground if the energy was particularly intense is a good idea at this point.
Pagan Ritual Dancing for Small Groups
For smaller groups of less than 30, the spiral dance is not going to work. You will run out of people before you get a decent spiral going and it will feel ineffective. You can try it, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, I recommend doing a circle dance holding hands, again in the clockwise direction because you are raising energy, and then when you get people moving at a reasonable pace in a circle for a few minutes so they have momentum, you can let go hands and model continuing dancing freeform while continuing to move in a circle.
Keeping people moving when they are not holding hands is a challenge in small groups – people get self conscious and stop and the energy often drops. To help with this, keep a much faster circular pace than the large group dances and don’t let go hands until you have some good solid momentum. Also modeling continuing to move by doing it yourself, and by preparing the group in advance to understand that contining to move clockwise is what will build the energy is a good idea.
Dance until the energy peaks (good) or falls (meh) and you can send it to its purpose. An alternative is to do a more complex circle dance with actual steps, from a basic grapevine to something more complex, with the group stepping into the centre of the circle and raising joined hands periodically, which can keep the group unified. This is especially helpful in a group that doesn’t know one another well, or is a medium to large sized group.
If doing ritual alone, put on some music or sing and feel the dance in your body. Move as your body wants to and feel the energy build within your body and the circle. Dance as if no-one is watching but the Gods. Note: this simple but profound dance method can also be used with large groups that you think will mostly all participate sincerely. Keep in mind when deciding that both action and inaction are contagious in groups. If you know your group well, you’ll know which will prevail.
Go forth and dance
Dance is a good way to raise energy, particularly in large groups. I’d be very interested in hearing how it works out for you in the comments, and happy to answer any questions.
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