Pagan Practice: Quality over Quantity
Most of the Pagan gatherings I have attended have been rather small; ten to fifteen people at most. Of course, there have been a few when there were many more but, in my opinion, those gatherings weren't nearly as emotional, fulfilling, energizing or spiritual. A strange thing happens when such a large group of people comes together. Energy seems to constantly move about and you can sense that not everyone is well-acquainted. This results in energy being scattered and unequal and basically every ritual or magical work that we try to do doesn't reach its full potential. In other words, the quality of the ritual diminishes.
The reason why I decided to write on this topic is because many people nowadays believe that the more people there are attending a certain gathering (i.e. the larger the quantity), the better it will all turn out. While this may be true for parties, at least in most cases, it isn't always so when it comes to spiritual and/or religious gatherings. When you go to a church, mosque or synagogue, you will see a vast number of people in attendance, but only one person leading the congregation. This is because most organized religions are based on slightly different concepts than Paganism. In Pagan rituals, there may be a High Priest and a High Priestess leading the ritual, but every participant has an important role and adds to the entire experience and, more importantly, to the energy of the ritual. The Priest and Priestess may have "assistants" (depending on the Sabbat), but even when they don't, everyone influences the outcome of the ritual. At your typical Catholic mass, for example, the priest leads the congregation and even though they sing and repeat something every now and then, they aren't as active in their religious service as Pagans see themselves as being during their rituals. I have to elaborate on this so you don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that the way in which organized religions hold their services is wrong, just that it is different from the Pagan system. This is due to differences in worldview, doctrine and even formalities. Pagans believe that the Priest/Priestess are not the only ones who can come into contact with the Divine or the energies of the Universe; everyone can do this. The Priest and Priestess may only have a bit more experience and may have a natural gift for leading. But this is another topic.
During Pagan rituals, there is always someone (one or two people i.e. the Priest and Priestess) leading the ritual. My perception of their role is that they are not leaders in the tyrannical or dictatorial sense. They are like conductors holding the orchestra together; guiding them in the same direction. This means that their role is significant but then again, there would be no music without the orchestra so every member of the group plays an important part.
I think this analogy is quite appropriate because just as each person in the orchestra has a special talent and plays a specific instrument, so does every person in the ritual circle have a certain energy and work in a different way. This brings me to the main topic of this post. Since every Pagan ritual is centered around energy (directing it in a certain direction, controlling it etc.), it is very important to take into account the kind of energy that is admitted into the ritual circle, be it via the participants of the ritual or the entities that are invoked during the ritual itself. Negative energy is generally unwelcome in the circle. When I perform rituals, either by myself or within a group, I always cleanse the circle and everyone coming into it but also make it clear that only positive energy and pure intentions are welcome. Although there are always some obstructions. Not everyone carries only positive energy with them. This doesn't mean that they are bad or ill-intentioned, just that there is some excess energy that can be a hindrance to the ritual. In fact, they may not even be aware of this. But those who are aware have to sort it out.
In the process of gathering people for a ritual, many get excited and say "yes" to anyone who wants to join in even if they have never met before. This makes it quite easy for people who aren't quite ready for rituals to participate in them. By "ready" I mean mentally and spiritually ready. During any religious or spiritual activity, many people learn a lot about themselves, their surroundings and other people through introspection and meditation, they are filled with energy that comes from the universe, from the people around them or nature in general. Many even face their fears, admit complexes, come to terms with certain issues, but also realize many nice things. All of this can be overwhelming and one has to be mentally and spiritually stable in order to handle it the right way. I don't mean to sound all high-and-mighty or overbearing, but not everyone is equally stable or mature for such things. This is partly why most Pagan groups don't admit minors and why they insist on meeting anyone who wants to join them. I'm not implying that I'm extremely mature or anything like that, but just that a certain level of maturity and stability is needed in order to continue on a spiritual path.
What I have to say may sound pessimistic to some, but I see it as realistic. Imagine if an immature or mentally unstable person came to a ritual (although these are relative terms, but I believe you understand what I mean). The worst-case scenario could be that they go through a nervous or mental breakdown. A slightly less dramatic view is that they are forced to confront a certain issue and end up misinterpreting it because they haven't yet reached the stage of maturity that is needed to comprehend it. But we as humans tend to look at the worst possible outcome and take precautions, so please don't take offense at my comments.
So if an individual who is not ready for such things takes part in a ritual, they will probably cause themselves the most harm. But they may have an impact on others as well. Speaking partly from personal experience, they may spread unease or simply cause organization to go a bit slower, but they may also cause a complete energetic earthquake making the ritual work out differently than expected. Many people may end up leaving the ritual feeling unstable, unfulfilled, tired and shaken up. These feelings should, again generally speaking, not be a part of Pagan rituals. In short, everyone has to be careful who they let into the ritual circle for their own sake but more importantly for the sake of the other participants.
Of course, I am not a psychologist and am not qualified to judge anyone's mental or spiritual health, but I believe that anyone with a bit of common sense can see when something "isn't right" with a person or when they are a bit immature. I myself can be a bit weird, as can everyone, but there is a big difference between being slightly quirky or eccentric and being downright strange.
The kinds of people I have met so far in Pagan circles cannot be easily categorized. But I have met your stereotypical treehugger, masculine Ásatrú, feminist Goddess-worshiper, Goth chick who is into Wicca and so on. But I've also met many many more people who don't fit into any stereotype. Some of them are your average Joes (or Janes) and some of them were the complete opposite. When I met the latter, and I have met a few very strange people, I couldn't help but feel uneasy around them. They sometimes just have a strange look in their eyes, but they sometimes have strange written all over. Either way, you can sense that something's amiss. Most of these people were good-intentioned though and wouldn't cause any harm, at least not on purpose, but they don't have their energy under control and this is what can cause problems during rituals.
Basically, when I talk about quality, I am referring to the control which a person has over their energy, their whole persona, their actions, thoughts and feelings. If the majority of people in the circle cannot control what they are doing, then something is bound to go wrong.
What my experience tells me is that quantity and quality are inversely proportional in most cases. So the quality of a ritual will diminish as fast as the quantity grows. This isn't the case if all, or at least most of the participants in the ritual know what they are doing and how to control their energy, actions and so on. But there is still the issue of discord in terms of energy. Even if all of the participants know what they are doing and have control over it all, they may not all be acquainted, they may not be relaxed enough around one another, they might simply not be compatible....all things that should be taken into consideration. This is why most traditional covens are made up on thirteen members at the most. This regulates the number of people thus enabling them to really get close, become like a family and work more effectively. When there are too many people in the circle, it's hard to get to know everyone and it's even harder to get everyone to work together, harmonize everything, organize things and get the timing right.
Most of the people I have worked with agree that quality is more important than quantity. Actually, even five quality practitioners (by "quality" I mean that they know what they are doing, know each other well and have things under control) will work much better than fifty people who have just met for the first time and are new to the whole thing. At least this is why my experience has taught me. If your experience is somewhat different, then by all means, leave a comment and voice your opinions. I'm always open to a good discussion.
So until next time. Yours,