Ritual Redux

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The Critic Episode: https://thewonderpodcast.podbean.com/e/the-inner-critic-1612153312/

S2E08 TRANSCRIPT:

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Yucca: Welcome back to The Wonder: Science-Based Paganism. I'm your host, Yucca.

Mark: I'm Mark.

Yucca: And today we are returning to the important topic of ritual. So we're going to talk what, why, how and why we've come back to this topic.

Mark: Yes. And I think we should probably start with that last one. First obviously rituals are really central to pagan practice. They are a really essential part of what makes us pagans and what makes our practices into a religion. We did the second ever episode, of the wonder about rituals more than a year ago.

And we just have more to say about it. We'll probably repeat some of it cause neither of us have heard the episode in a year. But that's fine. One of the things about paganism is that it's iterative. You come back around to the same time of year, every year. And so you repeat themes and we're going to repeat themes here on this podcast as well.

Yucca: That's right. And it's the sort of thing we've touched on in so many of our episodes. There's very few. I think that we haven't mentioned ritual in because it is just so central.

Mark: Right, right. I mean, in, in many ways being a pagan is I mean, it's certainly far less about what you believe than it is about your value set and what you do. And there's the sort of passive ritual behavior of observing the world around you and stopping for the sunsets and the flowers and paying attention.

And then there's the active rituals, which are the more formal symbolic behaviors that we do in order to put ourselves into a ritual state of kind of trancy hyper presence which is a state in which we can reprogram our brains. We can heal our wounds, we can focus our intention. We can make things easier for ourselves as we go forward into our lives.

Yucca: So we're going to be focusing a little bit more on that second type of ritual that you were just talking about. Yeah. The daily, small rituals, the habits, those are also incredibly powerful. And I think those deserve their own episode, frankly.

Mark: Yes. I agree.

Yucca: but let's go ahead and start with really what is ritual?

Mark: I have a definition. Do you have a definition?

Yucca: Well, your definition is probably going to be a little bit more succinct than mine. So let's hear yours.

Mark: I believe that ritual is symbolic behavior rather than practical behavior for purposes of spiritual expression. And there's a lot of words in there that are very fuzzy. Spiritual is a very fuzzy word. Expression is a very broad term, but generally speaking the difference between brushing your teeth every day and going to your altar and lighting a candle every day is that you do one of them for these spiritual purposes.

And the other one is strictly a matter of practical maintenance.

Yucca: So for me, ritual has an element of intention without there you're intending to do something, not necessarily your trying, that it's an intention of, you're trying to cast a spell or do something like that, but you don't go into ritual, you don't go into that space without a reason. And that reason is often an emotional reason, often a quality of life reason, or a reason where you're trying to figure something out or contemplate. There's a purpose to it. It's intentional are choosing to do it. It's not something that is happening to you. It's you doing it?

Mark: Right. One of the things that is often said about pagan ritual is that there are no spectators. Everyone is a participant. And that if you have people that are in the circle who are being spectators, your ritual has a problem. Because it hasn't engaged them in a way that makes them participants. So I really, and I really feel that's true. Part of what makes group ritual really amazing is that everyone is engaging kind of in their highest self in co-creating this amazing moment in time.

Yucca: Yeah. And that, that brings it to a very different experience than it would be otherwise. Just amazing.

Mark: Yes. I mean, there, there are varying degrees of the amount of satisfaction that one gets out of performing a ritual. I have daily rituals and it's just sort of a little bump of dopamine, right? It's just a little feeling of satisfaction and reward that I've done my daily rituals again, and there are the candles burning on my focus and isn't that jolly. It looks very pretty, very witchy and cool. And I have a good feeling about it. Then there are other things which are more elaborate where I might set up a special altar just for that day and have activities planned that are supposed to be a part of the ritual. And that's all. You know, because it's a special day, it's a holiday, right.

Rather than, or either that, or I have some very specific need that I need to address either in my in my mental health or in my life and my capacity to grapple with the issues that are in front of me. So those are the. So there's this big spectrum of sort of small commonplace rituals, all the way up to sort of grand opera, amazing costumes and music and incense and stained glass and, you know, whatever it is.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: So why don't we talk a little bit about you know, we were talking about the, what about what a ritual is? Why don't we go more into examples of the why? Because I've done rituals for a lot of different purposes over the years, and I'm sure you have too. And it would be interesting. It'd be good. I think, to sort of compare notes on that, about the different kinds of things that we've done.

Yucca: Sure. Yeah. There's such a huge range. There's the kind that you were just talking about with that those daily rituals. And those can be the ones that are really your quality of life rituals. Those are the ones that are how you enact, what you decide you want your life to be like and where you want your focus to be, because where that focus is determined so much about what you experienced and how you feel. And we spoke about this recently in the episode on manifestation. Right. That what you are aware of and where you are, what patterns you are enacting and feeding is what's going to determine so much of your experience.

Mark: Right. Exactly. I think, for example, about house-warming rituals the sort of house cleansing slash blessing rituals that people will do, and they're all different kinds of them, but they tend to have certain shared characteristics like going into every room in the house and doing some kind of activity that helps demark the space as having been cleansed of whoever else was there before.

And now marked as yours belonging to your family. And you know, now being your space and the, I mean, th the reality is that there's no physical change happening there. Right. But how you feel about the place can be radically different. You can go from, you know, Oh, I'm moving into a stranger's house too.

Oh, this is mine. And that's where I want to put the furniture and, you know, here's where I want to keep the canned goods and A much more comfortable kind of way of being

Yucca: Yeah.

And then there's also those rituals which are for the big rites of passage.

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: So the weddings and deaths and births and separations and coming of ages and all of that, that are those moments that there's only a few of them in your entire life, whatever your particular path is that you're going on with that?

Mark: Right. And honestly, I mean, I feel sort of cheated that I missed a couple of them. You know, I've done. I didn't ever get a passage into adulthood. I didn't ever get you know, that kind of recognition. I've done. Marriage ceremonies, I've done a dissolution ceremony. I've and now I'm kind of pressing onward toward elderhood.

And I'm definitely going to do something for that. That one is very problematic in our culture because nobody wants to admit that they're old. You know, we've got this incredible culture of youth going on, but

Yucca: Yeah. How do you decide that?

Mark: you have to pick an age and I was thinking it was going to be 60, but I'm going to be 60 next year.

And I'm thinking maybe 70. Maybe more like 70, because 60 just doesn't seem that old anymore. It used to when I was a kid people died in their mid sixties typically, but life expectancy has jumped so much that it's just, you know, 60 is the new 40.

Yucca: Well, and that's not where I am with my life, but there's just from people I know. They can be at so different places, at least from the outside, because some people who are 60, not only physically, but just seem to be much older than some people who are the same age.

Mark: Yes. Yes.

Yucca: And that happens to a certain extent with younger folks when they're coming into adulthood.

But the window is a little bit more narrow for that.

Mark: Right. Right. And they have greater plasticity too. I think, you know, people become less flexible as they get older. And so even if someone is, seems very kind of, you know, bitter and world weary at the age of 22, they can get out of that again. Whereas if you're bitter and world weary at the age of 60, you're probably stuck there unless you have a really radical transformation.

Which is possible and ritual can be a big part of that, honestly. But it takes a more a less organic process and more of a a deliberate intervention in order to make a shift like that.

Yucca: Yeah. And so with something like that, there might be a big ritual. The one that has all the bells and whistles and cloaks and candles and all of that, which is then supported by many smaller ones

Mark: Yes. Yes. In my experience the most transformational rituals that I have been associated with have involved homework. It's not only the big grand dramatic thing that, you know, kind of blows your emotional socks off afterwards. If there's a thing you gotta do every day or every week or whatever it is you have to keep up the momentum of what has been started and that's the way that you reaffirm to yourself again and again, that the meaning of the ritual is true and that it's happening.

Yucca: So we jumped into this very quickly, but why don't we talk a little bit about what's going on? Brain-wise with ritual.

Mark: I love this stuff.

Yucca: Because there, there really is a lot, and there's a lot that is. That can be understood from a perspective of modern science and our understanding around that. So, yeah. Is that something you want to start with?

Mark: One of the big mysteries, I think. In looking at humanity is what's up with this religion stuff. There are certain things that people do that on the face of them appear to be just baffling as to why we should, music is one of them. Dancing is one of them. Art generally is sort of baffling as to why we're inspired to do that.

And religion is another one. Why does every culture documented on the earth have a religious tradition? Now some of them have secularized over time, but they started out with religious traditions.

Yucca: And just to jump in there, the idea that religion has to have a deity, and if it doesn't, it's not a religion is a very Eurocentric not very representative of the rest of the world.

Mark: Right. And we're here living examples that it's simply not true. You know, we are living spiritual paths, which by any reasonable definition are religious in nature and we don't have deities, so, you know, there it is. So when I started researching this stuff, because the whole question of. When I left and community, after being there for about 25 years, 27 years, I think I left because I had experience of very unethical behavior that was excused as the will of the gods was like, Nope, I'm not going to be part of a community that, that believes that, that accepts that you can do these shitty things and excuse it as being the will of some invisible, probably imaginary beings.

So I left, but within six months I really missed it. I, my altar was all dusty and I wasn't doing my seasonal observances and I missed the community and it, my life was just impoverished relative to where it had been before. So I started exploring this question, you know, what's, what's up with this religiosity thing.

And how does that map to the brain? Because if all cultures have this, there must be some hunger within us that is fed by these religious activities and practices. Right. And what that led me to was the triune brain model, which was first published in 1958. And it posits essentially that there are three that of the conscious parts of the brain, not the cerebellum that runs the machinery of the body and so forth, but of the conscious parts of the brain.

They come in three sort of bursts of evolutionary activity, mounted a top one another. The first is what's called the R complex, which the R stands for reptile. So it's the fish brain essentially. I like to say that the the fish brain is about the five F's, which are flee, freeze, fight, food, and mating. And that's all that the, our complex cares about that's all that it cares about. It wants to be safe. It wants to reproduce and get its genes into the next generation. And that is all that is concerned with. But as we became mammals, this new system grew over the top of theR complex. It didn't replace it. Bare in mind, that's, it's still very much in play. But in addition to that, we now have what is called the limbic system or the mammalian brain. And the limbic system is about feelings, connection, relationships sense of right and wrong of whether we are in harmony or disharmony with those around us. And that is what enabled mammals to nurture their young, developing social groups so forth. And then there is the third portion, which is the frontal cortex of the brain, the prefrontal neocortex, and just the cortex generally there that's the thinky part of the brain. It has language, it looks for patterns.

It asks about meaning it once answers to questions. And it's, it has all of those intellectual aspects. Now I believe that the both the most intriguing thing about the human condition and maybe the most tragic is that we have all three of these brains operating at once and they can get into conflict with one another.

They frequently get into conflict with one another and when it becomes severe enough, we call it mental illness. PTSD, for example, is where the art complex is going crazy with fear. Just crazy with fear and all that it can do is flee, fight, freeze, flee, freight flight freeze, over and over again in response to stimuli that may be kind of animal really, and it's a tragic circumstance when that happens. So there are these three parts of the brain and religiosity happens to really scratch the itch of all three of them. The R complex loves that it builds community so that you're safe in numbers. It loves that it, that in some cases it tells you that there's an afterlife, so you're not going to die.

It loves that. By being in a community, you have more access to food and security and all that kind of stuff. Right. It tells you that you're safer in the mammalian case. It's, you know, community and love and all that, you know, wonderful connect the stuff that we are so fond of as mammals. And then the thinking part gets answers to big questions.

Like why should I be living? How should I behave? What's important in the universe? What does it mean that I'm alive? And because it's a pattern recognizing it can create metaphors where a symbol comes to represent something else. And that is the rich playground that we work in when we create rituals.

You know, when I. When I do my Hallows ritual and I walk around the circle with my human femur to draw the circle. It's not just about a human femur. It's about the presence of human death. Right. And that, that visceral powerful sense that we are in the presence of that all inspiring force, that is such a presence in our lives.

I've been talking a lot, but obviously I'm really kind of hyped about

Yucca: Oh, this is great.

Mark: But I think I am going to stop now for a little bit and let you go. The I truly believe that non-fee is paganism is an answer, maybe not the only answer, but an answer to the conundrum of how science and religion co-exist in a meaningful and truthful way.

Yucca: Yeah, so wonderful. So it, it sounded like if I was hearing what you were saying, you gave a great explanation about the way that the human brain works. Or at least some of the parts of the brain and why that has led to ritual. Which works in the symbols, why it's led to that and why it can be really powerful, a, another direction to take with that, which has really connected.

We're really talking about the same thing in a lot of places is the idea of neuro-plasticity where like plastic, meaning it can change. It can move. It can adapt. And there is a myth that we stop learning after a certain age. That's not true. Organisms continue to learn and learning happens on so many different levels, but one of the primary purposes of learning is to take care of us, to, to protect us and make sure we can do those survival things, make sure that we can get the food that we need, that we are safe, that we are all of these things. And so learning often happens when there is something novel when there's something new in the environment and your brain has to really pay attention and it may not necessarily be the part of you that is explaining it with words logically, but you're still really paying attention.

And so in ritual, you can create the environment in which you are learning. You are relearning, you're learning new pathways, you are creating that new place. So that a new pattern can come out of that and, or it's enforcing, reinforcing a pattern that you have been creating because you've got to travel that same path over and over again, because the most travel path is the one that you're going to go down when you're not thinking about it.

Mark: Right. Right. So ritual in some ways can be said to be the creation of a novel experience. That's freighted with meaning, So, I mean, it's no surprise that the stuff that people use for their rituals is all really cool stuff. It's bones and pine cones and seashells and chalices and, you know, knives and just, you know, cool stuff, right.

Staffs and they wear cloaks and robes and it's just all really interesting stuff that draws the attention.

Yucca: And really works for the individual.

Mark: Yes. Yeah. There's no standard set of ritual tools. People use whatever works for them, right? So you're creating this moment of attention to some sort of transformative event that has a metaphorical meaning to it.

I'm thinking of, I don't know whether I've ever told this story. My my ex had a terrible nightmare and was, she was having a really hard time in her life and had a nightmare in which a teacher of hers a Zen teacher was dead and buried in his hand was still extending from the grave.

Did I ever tell this story?

Yucca: I am familiar with the story. I don't know if he told it to me or if you told it on the recording, but I think he probably told it on the recording, but go ahead, because we have a lot of new listeners who may have not heard it before.

Mark: Okay. Well,

Yucca: So the hand was coming up from the grave.

Mark: Right. And it was a little alive, but not very much. And she was just in this terrible state of grief and upset and real loss in her life at that time. And without letting her know about it, the members of her circle of the Dark Sun Circle that I'm a member of, we dug a grave. And filled it in again with loose dirt, with various things, items in the dirt for her to find.

And I had a hand, a rubber hand from a Halloween store that I set in the grave kind of sticking out and. The transformation of course, was that she had to physically dig through this grave and find these items, find the gifts in the grief, right. Find the transformative elements that could help her to move on. And of course it involves kind of large muscle motion and the smell of wet earth and, you know, the candles that were flickering around the grave and, you know, all of these, you know, very potent symbolic States. But I mean, when she came around the corner and first saw it, she burst into tears. And and was crying during most of the digging until she got near the bottom of the grave and found one item and I don't even remember what it was.

And then she started to laugh and said, that's great. That's just so great. So that's an example of how you can craft a ritual with these symbolic items. That puts someone through a transformational experience so that they are changed by the end of it. And that really is the point of a ritual. It's not just to have a, an experience it's that the person would be changed even if just a little.

Yucca: And that person could be you, right?

Mark: Yeah. So yeah.

Yucca: right? You're sharing a story from a group ritual, but these are the things that we can do individually in private as well.

Mark: Yes. I mean, when I stand in front of my focus, my altar every morning, I I draw that one tarot card and I know that it's random, but I still take it as kind of a lens to view the day through. And I lean it up where it can be seen on the focus. And I take a moment. And I just sort of drink in the symbology of all of those things that are there.

And I am changed. I am grounded in the richness of my life through that process and it helps me it helps me to be happier.

Yucca: So we've been jumping around a lot, kind of dancing around. Are there other types of rituals before we transitioned into some of the hows? Right. We talked about the daily ones. We talked about the big events in life.

Mark: Well, they're the holidays. Of course.

Yucca: Oh! Yeah..

Mark: The holidays of the Wheel of the Year. And those can be big rituals as well, or they can be small ones depending on how many people are involved and just how elaborate you want things to get. But the, just as a Rite of passage celebrates a person's transformation into a particular phase of life, the wheel of the year celebrations acknowledge the transformation of the year into a particular stage in its life. Okay.

Yucca: Yeah,

Mark: And, you know, as I said, some of them are really big people. Do, you know, 14 foot maypoles with ribbons and people dancing around and it's all very cool. And others are very quiet.

Yucca: And that depends on the person and the community. And. If there's a global pandemic on and all of those details.

Mark: Speaking of, I got my first jab on Friday. I am delighted to announce,

Yucca: Oh, congratulations. That's good. Yeah. We're on the list here. But we probably won't be getting it until May most likely cause we're but that's okay because there's other people who need It. Before us. Because we're not really public facing, so, and not in any high risk groups, but our parents have gotten it.

So we're super grateful for that.

Mark: That's good. I'm glad to hear that. Yeah, but it's, I mean, it's starting to happen. You know, it's not just a dream on the horizon anymore. It's that the shots are getting into people's arms and that is really going to change the dynamic of this disease. And the numbers are way down. The COVID numbers are already way, way down, which is just such a relief.

Yucca: Yeah, it's been really encouraging. So yeah,

Mark: It's amazing. What a little leadership will do.

Yucca: So I let's. Let's start talking about some of the how, and knowing that what we're going to do from our perspective and what has worked for us and what we've been exposed to. But we are by no means the end all be all on this. There are thousands or probably millions of other pagans out there each with their own way of doing ritual and things that have worked and haven't.

But why don't we talk about the. At least for you, Mark. What is the basic structure? Is there a normal structure in your ritual?

Mark: There is. And I think it's kind of a generic structure and I'm always very careful to caution that this is a structure that works. It's not the structure that works. It's just one that works. And it's a five part five, stage system of structuring the ritual. The first phase is called arrival. And that is where you create a safe, secure space where you declare that this transformational work is going to be happening. You ground yourself in the moment. So you become very present. This is the moment where you invoke that ritual state of brain, right? You're not worrying about the past or about the future.

You're in the moment now. And what that does is it makes you very open. So you're more psychologically influenceable by the events of the ritual. The next phase is called qualities. And this can be done lots of different ways, but essentially it's invoking the qualities that you want associated with this ritual, like courage and perseverance or sensitivity and love and compassion, or you know, any of those.

Any of those qualities, it's sort of like invoking deities in a theistic ritual, except instead of invoking the deities that stand for particular qualities, you just go straight to the qualities. And that can be done with people calling out these different things, or it can be done. Very formally with people having, you know, individual speeches that they short speeches that they make about each quality that we want involved.

It just, it varies. The third phase is the hardest to describe because it's most varied and that's working. Which is the process of doing the transformational thing in the ritual, whether that's digging out that grave or tying knots into a cord with a particular focus, as we tie the knots in the cord, or adding things to a cauldron to boil to make, you know, like a magical soup, which can then be shared amongst the participants to get the benefit of the ritual.

It can be any sort of creative, crafty thing. It can be dancing, it can be singing and it can be multiples of those things. It doesn't have to be just one. The next phase is gratitude because I find that incorporating gratitude into all of my rituals just makes the more effective. It helps me however down I might be, it helps me have perspective about all the ways that I really enjoy that I enjoy privilege that I enjoy wealth. Even though I'm not in the context of. This country wealthy by any means, you know, I have enough to eat. I have a roof over my head. I have a meaningful job for me.

You know, I have a community of people who love me. There's so much to be grateful for. And and so I express that and then the last phase is called benediction, which literally means a good word. And what it is the declaration that the ritual is now ending. And that we are all to go forth in the world and be happy and make it a better place. Thank you. How about you? How about the way that you structure rituals?

Yucca: Yeah, very similar pattern. I think a lot of the similar things happening. It's a little bit more simplified. It's the sandwich. There's a the core structure and I might make it a little bit more fancy depending on the time, but there is an entering phase. Which is a stepping out of normal awareness into this special awareness, into this different state.

And that is definitely a practice. So there's. Because it's something I've been doing a long time. It's something that just sort of happens that I have to really stop and think about what are all the steps that are actually going on. But there's a there's grounding that happens. Okay. Let's be present in the moment. There's the breath of it. And then something that is symbolic of changing into this new space. And sometimes that may be the doing a small circle casting, which for me is really usually just taking a moment facing each of the cardinal directions and taking a deep breath and then also acknowledging the center space.

And then there's the, the meat of it, which is where the, whatever the the ritual is. And then the reverse of the entering, which is the stepping out back into the normal awareness into our regular awareness. So there's always an entrance and an exit, and the main work. And that can be taken in a lot of different directions.

There's this very simple moment. That is those moments throughout the day. The thing that I do when I first wake up, you know, it's the greeting the Sun and the stars, and, or more complex with a seasonal celebration or a Rite of passage or something like that. But the structure is always. Enter, the work as you called it or the play, and then the exit.

Mark: Yes. Yes. I like that a lot. And one thing that you pointed out that is really true is that these things get better with practice. They become easier. When you've been doing ritual for a long time, you can just sort of click into that ritual state as long as you feel safe and in a reasonably good place.

It's pretty easy to just sort of downshift into that very present state without a lot of that, a lot of work, other people who are just starting, they might need more of a methodical grounding process, mindfulness and breathing in order to bring them into that present state. But as they say, practice makes practice.

Yucca: Okay. I felt like that version better practice makes practiced. Yes.

Yeah. So it bark at it. I was wondering as you described the stages that you go through, is that something that you do in your daily rituals as well? Or is that something reserved for the more formal or larger rituals.

Mark: it's really reserved for the more formal rituals by my daily rituals are very brief. And they're just dropping into that space. So there's the arrival piece and then drawing the card, lighting the candle whatever the little piece of work is to be done. But part of the reason that those rituals are powerful for me is because of their consistency. You know, when we talk about ritual, another word for ritual is repetition, right? Repetitive. And one thing that's wonderful about pagan religions is that in most cases, not all, but in most cases, You can be very creative about the kinds of rituals that you can create. And so there's always this sort of a liveliness and newness and surprise, but there's also something to be said for doing the same thing every year or every day.

There's a comfort in it and a feeling of momentum that has accumulated over the long time that you've been doing this ritual. I recommend some of both.

Yucca: It's that shoe that's been worn in just the right way that it fits your foot perfectly?

Mark: Right. Exactly right.

Yucca: So why don't we get it to some of the things that folks could play with a little bit with their ritual. And before we do want to remind folks about the episode that we did on the Critic Voice. Because this is one of those times where the critic, we talked about ritual a lot in that episode, that the credit really raises its its head to, to tell you everything that it thinks and it's all bad, so don't worry about it.

Mark: I would encourage people that are new to ritual to listen to that episode before before embarking on a ritual practice, because I think it'll help give you more permission and a little more freedom from that Critic Voice, and also kind of give you all the warnings about the sorts of tricks that it might try to spring on you.

Yucca: Yeah.

So given that Let's talk about some of the things that folks can try. So both from people who are just starting a practice and maybe people who want to experiment and add new things into their already existing practice.

Mark: Well, it all starts with intent, right? The only unsuccessful rituals that I have ever been associated with have been, I mean, fully unsuccessful. I've been to some rituals that were pretty unsuccessful, but the only ones that I've ever been to that were fully unsuccessful were ritual simply for the point of doing a ritual, they didn't have any intention behind them. Not even as simple an intention as to. Back up a little bit. There was a friend who would have parties and there was always a ritual at the party. Everyone dreaded it. And these rituals were never really much of anything other than that, they were rituals. And I always wondered why she didn't at least focus on having those rituals be about bringing together the people that were at the party.

You know, some, something that, that was doable within the context of those humans. So intention is very important, I think, you know, and if you're new to ritual work, maybe you don't bite off, you know, dealing with your childhood abuse, like

Yucca: Right away.

Mark: As a first thing, you know, the ritual is very psychologically powerful, but that cuts both ways.

If you open that stuff up, it can really knock you over. If you're, if you are not prepared. And and you know, ready. So you determine what it is that you want to do. Is it, I want to feel more magical. I want to feel more of a sense of magic in my life. That alone is enough to start a daily practice. And if you build an altar and have a daily practice, it will add to the sense that your life is this sort of magical journey. That's cool. So why not do it? We've talked about this before, but I'll go back to it again. We are pro pleasure here. We say, if you're not hurting anybody, things that feel good are good. There is no guilt to be had.

Yucca: So something with that, you could start with that intention, build a focus or an altar. And maybe just play with, entering into that ritual like space, find a, you create one yourself or try out a structure that has been used before, like the circle casting or something like that. And then experiment with what you can do in that.

In that ritual space. Are there symbols that, that mean the magical life to you? Right? Is there something that you could bring into that space, which is a physical object. The thing is you don't need to use physical objects, but sometimes they can be really powerful having the thing to hold smell, touch, taste.

Taste is big.

Mark: And you can see it around, you know, if you have a physical object that you've put on an altar, you can see that. And it will remind you once again, of all of the meaning that you have loaded it with. So it's. I mean, my experience of the first few times that I had ritual by myself was that I was basically playing with the toys. I had, I had a bunch of sort of cool witchy things like chalices and incense burners and candle sticks and knives and all these sorts of things and lots of cool things from nature.

And basically I just lit incense lit candles and just sort of moved stuff around and it felt really cool. You know, it felt like I was casting spells, even though of course I wasn't doing anything out there in the world. It was doing a lot to me. And it was bringing a lot of joy to a very childlike part of me.

So, you know, don't. Undersell the value of just that kind of work of, you know, becoming accustomed to the idea of going into a ritual space to do play because ritual is really kind of an elaborate meaning freighted aspect of human play.

Yucca: And when you were just starting out, when you came back to those same tools later, was your relationship different with them having then played with them in ritual space?

Mark: Sure. Yeah. They came to have particular meanings and and over time, of course my altar accumulated, fossils that I had found on trips or, you know, bottles of water from high in the mountains, in the grand Tetons and, you know, various sorts of just sort of special things that I'm able to now use in conducting rituals. I mean, I used some of that water from high in the grand Tetons, which is now more than 20 years old. Just recently because I wanted I wanted something that was about purity and. That water is incredibly clean. It, you know, it comes from 12,000 feet up and it's really super, super clean and snowmelt so, anyway, you know, I wanted something that symbolized purity, and so I, you know, put a little dollop of this water in and then sealed my bottle and put it away.

There are just so many cool things that you can do that have meaning you'll find that you start collecting cool containers. I have incense in all these marvelous jars and boxes and, you know, carved wood boxes and, you know, things like that. And, you know, all that sort of wizards, laboratory stuff.

It it has a particular feeling to it. That's really cool. You know, it's really, it's fun to play with and it's okay to be an adult and play with things. That's fine.

Yucca: I think it's more than fine. I think it's, I think it's really important. It really feeds a part of us. It releases so much of that judgment intention that we have that, that often really isn't serving us. But play so often does really serve us and improve, just improve what it feels like to be us.

Mark: Yes.

Yucca: And we really don't have a lot of time.

So enjoy it while you got it.

Mark: Right, right. Yeah. I mean, as we get older we're taught various things about dignity and shame and I mean, there's a time for, to be dignified in a time to, you know, be upright and responsible and all that kind of stuff. Of course. But if you can't let go of it to pursue joy, then that's something to work on. You know if honestly, if that is who you are, you probably want to get free of that to have a better life,

Yucca: And ritual, as we've been talking about can be a great place to do that in. I may have shared this before, but one of the things I do when I'm start to catch myself and you know, that feeling at least, so I feel as too serious and uptight and all of that, I just stick my tongue out and, you know, blow through my tongue and make farty weird sounds with my tongue and that just loosens my face up.

And I'm not going to do it into the mic here cause I don't want it. That doesn't sound great. And Mike, for the anyone who's got headphones in. So out of respect for you, I'm not going to, but you know the sound I'm talking about, just the, let it out, let it all out and just you know, get your face moving.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. It reminds me a little of the spring rituals that we've done at the spring Equinox, the Vernal Equinox that are all about kids and playfulness and, you know, coloring eggs and playing childhood games and playing tag and things like that. It's it is amazing. You have not seen competitive tag playing until you've seen a bunch of adults playing tag. They will. I mean, they're having fun, but they will take it very serious.

Yucca: I'm a huge fan of capture the flag

Mark: Uh, uh Huh.

Yucca: Yeah. Those are great.

Mark: Yeah. I've never done paintball. I don't know about that, but.

Yucca: Have to not mind the sting. And

Mark: of course. Right.

Yucca: but yeah.

Mark: So, I would encourage people to go to atheopaganism.org and look for some of the ritual outlines that are there. If you look in the tag cloud there's a tag for rituals and so you can look over some of the rituals that are there and get some ideas, but it's a pretty blank slate.

There's. You can do almost anything as a ritual, as long as it's meaningful to you and transformative.

Yucca: And Mark, speaking of the blog, congratulations on 500 posts.

Mark: Oh, thank you very much. Yeah. When I saw that was coming up, I was really sort of amazed. That's a lot of posts.

Yucca: That's a lot of posts. Yeah.

Mark: Thank you.

Yucca: Yeah. Oh, one other shout out is to the folks who successfully landed Perseverance. That was amazing. And the other missions that are there as well. So going, gonna be. Seems like this is going to be a great year for the space sciences. We've got three Mars missions. Hopefully we'll have James Webb launching and all the stuff Parker probe's doing.

So this is just a fantastic time for exploration right now.

Mark: it is I'm concerned about the militarization. I mean, it certainly seems that the Chinese and there, and then Trump really wanted to militarize space and I'm hoping that can be avoided, but we'll see.

Yucca: Yeah. There's a lot. There's a lot there. But yeah, we'll see how that goes. But in terms of the Planetary exploration and the solar exploration, it's just you know, wonderfully exciting for what we're going to learn.

Mark: It is, it really is. I can't wait to see the James Webb

Yucca: Oh my goodness.

Mark: going to be, it's just going to be outrageous. We thought Hubble was good, but this is just going to be an order of magnitude better. It's just so exciting.

Yucca: Literally that's not an exaggeration in terms of yet. So yeah. Well, anyways, that's something to be looking forward to and we should come back and do an episode about the night and astronomy and all of that stuff pretty soon.

Mark: Sure. Yeah. Pig and stand to have a lot of affinity with the night. We we like to go out in the night under the trees and light fires and, or not light fires and just be there in the dark, under the trees. It's nice.

Yucca: For those of us in the Northern hemisphere, we're going to be going back into the warm weather where you won't freeze your butt off while you're out there watching. So.

Mark: Right. It's such a trade-off because the winter sky is so much clear,

Yucca: Goodness. Yeah.

Mark: So clear, but it's cold. Yes.

Yucca: Some of my favorite stars this time of year, but we had negative five Fahrenheit last week, which is pretty unusual for us, but we got hit by that that storm that, you know, have the continent got hit by. So not much star watching last week, maybe next week.

Well, Mark, thank you so much.

Mark: Thank you. Thank you. Yucca I really enjoyed talking with you as always have a great week.

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