Some help, guidance and advice for newcomers or non-pagan attendees:
PTG is attended by Pagans and non-Pagans alike. We try to be welcoming and inclusive and are a great way to discover more about Paganism and Pagan people. You may meet people following differing Pagan paths: Witches, Druids, Shamans, ceremonial magicians, healers, diviners, astrologers, people who are interested in the more ecological aspects of Paganism or even the historical or academic aspects, as well as lots of people who may not be sure what kind of spirituality they are looking for and are simply curious - PTG welcomes everyone wishing to socialise and communicate in an open and diverse environment. You may not always find someone whose outlook matches yours, but Pagans are normally very open and interested in other spiritual outlooks and you can usually enjoy a good discussion even if you don't agree or share others' beliefs.
Here's some general information for newcomers to the Pagan community / scene / events:
• Use as much common sense as you would at any other gathering of people you don't know.
• Try not to preach your religious beliefs to others. Even if you believe everyone present is going to hell, you are still a guest and ought to remain respectful. Of course you can discuss your beliefs politely with others, just don't be persistent or judgmental.
• Overt prejudice in language and attitude or even in jokes is generally a bad sign at any gathering, though there is sometimes a more relaxed and accepting attitude towards lifestyle choices within the Pagan community. Anybody who seems overly interested in sensationalism or stigmas regarding subjects such as sex or nudity, is probably a prat - just as such people are if you encounter them in any walk of life - at work, in a club, at a party. If someone's manner or behaviour gives you cause for concern, speak confidentially to the organisers of the event.
• Always listen to your intuition, if something feels wrong to you, then it probably is. Ask questions, there's no better way of gaining knowledge!
.. but the best advice of all is simply to be patient - finding friends and fulfillment in the Pagan community (like finding any other kind of friends) takes time, but is really worth it!
What about Pagan Rituals?
Pagan Rituals are diverse in style and flavour, many held privately as well as publicly at events like PTG. PTG welcomes non-Pagans to our rituals which, while visual and inclusive, do involve elements of practical Pagan spirituality. Our rituals are scripted carefully to explain what is happening and why and to make it clear how attendees can participate. As an attendee you are very unlikely to be called on to do anything other than whatever the rest of the group is doing, Pagan rituals are generally more participatory than many other religious services but if you feel some ritual action is against your religion or faith, or simply not for you, you will not be frowned upon if you politely step away or signal your wish to sit it out. If you are a non-Pagan at a Pagan ritual, be assured that no one will ask you to profess your beliefs publicly and, whether you are Pagan or non-Pagan, the experience will be, at the very least, interesting and informative, so long as you attend with an open mind and in a good spirit.
At any given ritual, you will usually find people wearing all sorts of clothing, including jeans, robes, quasi-medieval garb, and regular "nice" clothing. As a guest, you will probably stand out less in darker colours, dress appropriately for the weather.
As a guest, it is polite to arrive on time but be prepared for the ritual to start late, pagans operate on something called "pagan time" which is a humorous term for, simply, "late"! Most public rituals don't last longer than an hour.
You may want to do a little research beforehand on what the ritual is celebrating. Many public rituals are held at one of the eight seasonal holidays, or on a new or full moon. Knowing the purpose or "intent" of the ritual can give you an idea in advance of what the themes will be.
What Makes Pagan Ritual Different from other religious services?
If you are used to going to other religious services, you will find Pagan rituals a bit different. For one thing, you will probably not be given a book or sheet of paper to follow along. This means you will need to pay a little more attention to directions and cues from the ritual leaders. For another, rituals tend to be more participatory, this is especially true for private rituals, but even in public rituals you may be expected to join in a chant or dance or come to the centre of the circle to write down your wishes for the coming year, and so on. People may speak about the meaning of the ritual and there may be a meditation.
If you are a non-Pagan attendee at a Pagan ritual, be assured that no one will ask you to profess your beliefs publicly. Maybe you don't believe in the gods or goddesses invoked, maybe you think all this magic stuff is nonsense, or maybe you find the ritual interesting in a detached, academic way, but don't really see what others get out of it. As long as you are respectful, you will be welcome. If you feel some ritual action is against your religion or faith, you can politely step away or signal your wish to sit it out (e.g. politely shake your head when offered food, or step back when dancing begins).
What Should I Expect At A Pagan Ritual?
The following is a fairly generic ritual outline with notes about what to expect as an attendee. Private rituals vary more widely, but much of the following is applicable to both public and private rituals.
Cleansing/purifying the space to set it apart for ritual:
This often involves actions like burning incense, sweeping with a broom, or sprinkling salt water. In many cases, the organizers will do some of this before anyone arrives. Sometimes you may be asked to pause at the door to the space and clear your mind or banish extraneous thoughts.
Casting a circle to create sacred space:
The circle may be created by everyone holding hands together and focusing their intent (perhaps humming one note or singing a song together), or by one person drawing a physical circle with an athame (sacred knife), wand, staff, or their own hand. Once the circle has been cast, try to stay roughly within the circle as it was drawn (often the perimeters are marked by torches or candles at the four corners). If you need to leave during the ritual, ask someone to "cut a door" in the circle for you. They will draw the outline of a door with their hand or an athame, wand, or staff. If you return afterwards, someone will cut another door for you to re-enter.
Calling on the deities and the four elements:
Deities may be called on as individual gods (eg. "I invoke Artemis and Apollo") or as archetypes (eg. "I call upon the Lord and Lady of the Hunt"). The four elements - Earth, Air, Fire, and Water - are ofthen invoked at one of the four compass directions. At public rituals (and many private rituals), designated people will usually speak these invocations. Sometimes an invocation ends with a phrase like "Hail and welcome" which is then repeated by the whole group.
Statement of intention for the ritual:
Is usually made by a leader of the ritual. Ritual intentions may be such things as celebrating the cycle of seasons, honouring a change in someone's life or working magic toward a specific goal.
The main body of the ritual could involve actions such as:
Performing ritual drama or acting out a seasonal story
Ritual drama is very common in public ritual (and occurs frequently in private rituals as well), especially at the eight seasonal holidays. Ritual drama does not usually demand any participation from attendees, however, it is often followed by a more participatory action like the following two examples.
usually by dancing or singing, often in a circle while singing a short chant over and over. If you don't wish to participate, you may want to step backwards from the other participants (but try to stay within the "circle" of energy that was created earlier).
Other symbolic actions
These are usually general and unlikely to offend the non-Pagan visitor. For example, ritual organizers might distribute small pieces of paper to all the attendees, who are then asked to concentrate on something they want to release in their lives then ask them to come to the centre of the circle and throw the object into a fire, focusing on letting go. If you prefer not to engage in the particular action, it is usually easy to "pass" politely to the next person.
Food and drink
Often seasonal, food and drink may be blessed and shared. This feels pretty familiar to most folks, as it is a ritual action occurring in many religions. Usually food and drink are passed around the circle, and you may hear statements like "May you never hunger" and "May you never thirst". Before or after eating, ritual leaders may give offerings of food and drink for the gods. Sometimes, in larger public rituals, food and drink are shared after the ritual instead of during it.
Saying farewell to the gods and the four elements, closing the circle
This is basically a reversal of the initial invocations and circle-casting, but it usually goes more quickly! Leaders may end de-vocations with a statement like "Hail and farewell" which is usually repeated by the group. A saying commonly heard at the end of the rituals is "Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again!"
Things NOT To Do At A Pagan Ritual:
Don't violate basic rules of respect and civility (e.g. don't laugh during a serious meditation, don't make fun of someone, don't talk loudly while someone else is talking, don't take more than your fair share of food/drink, and so on).
Don't touch tools or objects on an altar unless you are specifically invited to do so (e.g. "Everyone, take a piece of paper from the bowl on the altar.")
Don't preach your religious beliefs to others. Even if you believe everyone present is going to hell, you are still a guest at their ceremony and ought to remain respectful. Of course you can discuss your beliefs politely with others, just don't be persistent or judgmental.