Ritual Theory: Sharing Stories by Molly Remer


“Ritual that is alive encourages each person to touch what is sacred in their own way, in their own time, through their own unique experience. So there evolves a dynamic dance between guiding and shaping the group’s experience and encouraging and supporting the individual’s experience, so there is a smooth and cohesive flow to the ritual.” –Suzanne Reitz and Sandy Hoyt (Celebrating, Honoring, Healing)

As a practicing priestess, one of the dynamic dances that I engage in is with the power of story. I both find that women’s stories are the vital lifeblood of conscious engagement and power-building with one another and that they can be one of the elements that bogs down a ritual and makes it lose power and magic. This is partially because the dominant culture may teach us to bond using stories in a way that actually drain our energy through “venting,” swapping complaints, trading to-do lists, and through describing behavior, motives, and character of other people. In women’s ritual space, I encourage people to dig deep, but also to share a here-and-now connection of shared experience rather than a ­there-and-then­ rendition of past experiences.

Chameli Ardagh in her Create Your Own Women’s Temple manual from Awakening Women explains:

To hold the group and space as sacred is one of the most important guidelines, and the guideline that may bring up the most questions or protests. It goes against our habits as women and against our identification with the small self; we are quite used to creating intimacy through sharing our wounds and problems. The Temple Group is not a place for processing wounds, analyzing ourselves, solving problems, complaining about our lovers, healing our addictions or sharing the stories of the personality. Many women’s circles (and support groups or sharing circles) are focused mostly on the personality. The Temple Group is, in a way, impersonal because it focuses on the larger vast nature of our true self. In the Temple Group we focus not so much on our identity as separate women, but on the whole group as one feminine divine body and expression. The impersonal guideline may sound uncaring at first, but as you explore new ways of being intimate and nourish each other as women, beyond the words, you discover that those are infinitely more fulfilling and caring than the personality talking and processing (p. 61).

I believe that we live in a storied reality and that we are constantly in the process of 22338975_2058326864379525_7570131764764457268_ostorying and re-storying our lives and that seeing our lives, and the lives of others, through a mythopoetic lens, can have a radically transformative impact on our experiences and our relationships. I have written about this for FAR in the past and noted that my personal lived experience is that stories have had more power in my own life as a woman than most other single influences. The sharing of story in an appropriate way is, indeed, intimately intertwined with good listening and warm connection. As the authors of the book Sacred Circles remind us “…in listening you become an opening for that other person…Indeed, nothing comes close to an evening spent spellbound by the stories of women’s inner lives.”

So, what is special about story as a medium and what can it offer to women that traditional forms of education cannot?

Stories are validating. They can communicate that you are not alone, not crazy, and not 23319504_1994649147413964_2818983018590835346_nweird. Stories are instructive without being directive or prescriptive. It is very easy to take what works from stories and leave the rest because stories communicate personal experiences and lessons learned, rather than expert direction, recommendations, or advice. Stories can also provide a point of identification and clarification as a way of sharing information that is open to possibility, rather than advice-giving.

Cautions in sharing stories while also listening to another’s experience include:

  • Are you so busy in your own story that you can’t see the person in front of you?
  • Does the story contain bad, inaccurate, or misleading information?
  • Is the story so long and involved that it is distracting from the other person’s point?
  • Does the story communicate that you are the only right person and that everyone else should do things exactly like you?
  • Is the story really advice or a “to do” disguised as a story?
  • Does the story redirect attention to you and away from the person in need of help/listening?
  • Does the story keep the focus in the past rather than the here and now present moment?
  • Is there a subtext of “you should…”?

Several of these self-awareness questions are much bigger concerns during a person-to-person direct dialogue such as at a women’s retreat rather than in written form such as blog. In reading stories, the reader has the power to engage or disengage with the story, while in person there is a possibility of becoming stuck in an unwelcome story. Some things to keep in mind while sharing stories in person are:

  • Sensitivity to whether your story is welcome, helpful, or contributing to the other person’s process.
  • Being mindful of personal motives—are you telling a story to bolster your own self-image, as a means of pointing out others’ flaws and failings, or to secretly give advice?
  • Asking yourself whether the story is one that will move us forward (returning to the here and now question above).

This work is beautiful. It is complex. It is multilayered. It is simple. It is hard. It is easy. It is rich and rewarding. It is dynamic and evolving and flowing. It is never the same.

May you be blessed with many stories together.

mollyatparkNote: there is a detailed audio exploration of the themes of this post available here.

Molly has been “gathering the women” to circle, sing, celebrate, and share since 2008. She plans and facilitates women’s circles, seasonal retreats and rituals, mother-daughter circles, family ceremonies, and red tent circles in rural Missouri and teaches online courses in Red Tent facilitation and Practical Priestessing. She is a priestess who holds MSW, M.Div, and D.Min degrees and wrote her dissertation about contemporary priestessing in the U.S. Molly and her husband Mark co-create Story Goddesses, original goddess sculptures, ceremony kits, and jewelry at Brigid’s Grove. Molly is the author of WomanrunesEarthprayer, and The Red Tent Resource Kit and she writes about thealogy, nature, practical priestessing, and the goddess at Patreon and at Brigid’s Grove.

Advertisements


Categories: female friendship, Goddess feminism, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Priestessing, Relationships, Ritual, Sacred Space, Sisterhood, Women's Spirituality, Women's Voices

Tags: , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Women’s stories are the glue that holds the world together.

    The binary approach that you use to split the small woman self from the whole Woman Self distresses me. I think we need to be present for both since they are part of one whole. These words of yours reflect my point:

    “It is very easy to take what works from stories and leave the rest because stories communicate personal experiences and lessons learned, rather than expert direction, recommendations, or advice. Stories can also provide a point of identification and clarification as a way of sharing information that is open to possibility,…”

    Like

    • This is one of the limitations of the 1000 word post–being unable to fully explore the complexities of what I’d like to discuss. I did not intend to set up a binary at all, but rather my purpose was twofold: to take a look at the complexities and intricacies of combining theory and practice AND encouragement of mindful discernment in our interactions with one another in a *ritual* context. The quote I referenced that uses the phrase “small self,” is not actually phrasing that I choose to use myself or in my own work and should perhaps have been trimmed out–the part I wanted to highlight was the “stories of the personality” and the influence on the energy/dynamics of a women’s ritual group. I also wished to explore the differences between story as a medium for engagement compared to “traditional education” as a means of “instruction” for others–stories are dynamic and powerful and encourage a depth of work/connections with one another, rather than instructions handed down from “on high” to another–but it looks like that point was lost or perceived to be a comparison other than what I intended.

      At the same time–how do we balance *both*, the power of story and the safe space to exchange stories with the the health and process of an entire group of people. That’s the theory and practice component that I was drawing out in this specific piece:

      theory = “stories have value and are powerful and each woman’s voice matters.”

      Practice = in the context of a two hour long Red Tent with twenty women present and one hour for “rattle-passing” and one hour for other ritual activities, how do we create/hold space for each woman to speak and to share her story if one woman speaks for 25 minutes about a relationship from the past (or even more challenging to navigate in a group-health way: the experiences of other people and their relationships with one another), thus leaving only 35 minutes for all the other 19 women combined to speak about their own equally important stories/experiences. The answer for me comes not in minimizing the value of stories or in silencing others, but in encouraging the radical self-responsibility of being mindful of one’s own impact on the process of the group as a whole. I find it a constantly challenging issue–we want women to speak and to share and to be heard, we also want women to *listen* to one another. This is the dynamic dance of ritual, not a binary construct.

      The part of my own words that you quote is not in opposition at all to the concept of stories are powerful and the glue that holds the world together. The comparison I was forming in that section was between “story” as means of engagement and “lecture” as means of engagement (as in: “women’s circle” compared to “class”–not individual women compared to collective women).

      Like

      • Thanks, and yes I do see your point about women not being self responsible about not taking up others’ space… couldn’t that be a suggestion the facilitator makes? Listening is if anything more powerful than speaking, and from my 40 year experience with creating ritual for self and others I make no bones about how important it is to develop the skill of good listening… all of this, of course has everything to do with the ability to be in the present moment which is what usually happens to me within any sacred circle I create alone or with others. If I am alone I speak my words out loud, knowing that they are being witnessed by unseen powers.

        Like

      • Absolutely, Sara! It is something I actually remind others of at the beginning part of every circle that I facilitate–self-responsibility and what I call the “sacred speech zone.”

        I find it difficult sometimes to be saying, however, “this is a safe space for us all to share our stories” AND also, “don’t talk too much though.” It is certainly easier to read about, and quote about, than to do. ;)

        Like

      • Reading your reply I also thought of a group experience that I had about three years ago, in which a woman new to the circle asked at the end, “have you ever thought about having a completely *silent* Red Tent?” (she never came back)

        Like

  2. Ahhhh, yes, it’s good to share our stories, either true stories about our present lives or made-up stories about what we want to happen or wish might have happened in the long-ago of our own lives or of what we call history. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone who didn’t love stories.

    Like

  3. Here’s my story for today. This morning I was out on a walk in my city, on my way to a restaurant where I could buy a delightful breakfast. A number of men, no women, were out walking their dogs along the streets, and I saw one man getting tied up in the leash when the dog turned round and decided to go the other way. My thought was that it seemed like the dog was walking its owner, and the owner laughed and I started to laugh — the breakfast was delicious too — so it all turned out to be a delightful experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As ever, Molly, you’ve written a wonderful essay about story, something that builds the backbone of my work as well. I think you hit the nail on the head about how story is both “the lifeblood of conscious engagement” and one way to derail a good ritual. You say, “One of the most challenging aspects of holding space for others and tending to ritual space is storytelling, because it is powerful in creating our reality and can shift or derail… or dominate what the group is doing.” That is certainly my experience as well. I think you also make an important point about why that is the case: “the dominant culture may teach us to bond using stories in a way that actually drains our energy through ‘venting,’ swapping complaints, trading to-do lists, and through describing behavior, motives, and character of other people.”

    But I agree with Sarah Wright (above) that your distinction between the small self and the larger Self is troublesome. In my experience, spiritual growth has to do with dealing with the wounds and experiences of the so-called “small self” in order to get out of our own way so we can live in the present and be in touch with the Goddess. Therefore, both are important.

    And I think you actually agree in much of your writing and teaching with both Sarah and me (In my experience, you are not a binary thinker). I listened to much of your online talk and found a more nuanced approach (not a binary approach) as well. You admonish your circles that the “PRIMARY focus of the ritual will be on the here-and-now experience of the group,” tapping into the Goddess’ energy (not the exclusive focus, as it appears in this essay). You also quote Carol Christ saying “When one woman puts her experiences into words, another woman who has kept silent, afraid of what others think, can find validation. And when the second woman says, ‘Yes, that was my experience, too,’ the first one loses some of her fear.” In other words, you underscore the necessity of women telling their (personality) stories.

    In my experience, it is the facilitator’s job to move the storytelling from the personality level to something more encompassing (this probably also has to do with the type of group you’re facilitating. If it’s a drop-in group, the facilitator will need to do more of this. If it’s an ongoing group, the participants will get past that initial stage of sharing – as you say in your talk – and move on to deeper digging.) When women are first able to tell their stories, they’re still messy, still “I said this, he did that,” etc. I don’t want us to shut down that storytelling. It’s the storytelling that grounded the second wave of the women’s movement in its consciousness-raising groups and much of the storytelling in the Red Tents today (the Carol Christ quote alludes to this process). When we first share our stories, we women are taking risks and making ourselves vulnerable in the process, as you say in your talk. Trying to tell women HOW to tell those stories will just shut them down. But once a woman has shared her story, a good facilitator can take the story to the mythopoetic level…Oh you had the courage to stand up to him…you danced with your fear…storying reality to see what women are capable of (to use some of your own quotes from your talk). And this is important, because it’s the connection between the personality self and the mythopoetic reality/the Goddess that creates spiritual growth.

    And C-R is still important. We were talking about sexual harassment in the late 1960s and early 1970s – as part of our common experience as women – but it took until this last year for the country to grok it and begin to deal with it. That means that a lot of women were unaware of the scope of sexual harassment and thought it was just happening to them. “Creating intimacy by sharing our wounds and problems” is the first step in c-r. What problems do we still need to explore, common (personality) problems in women’s daily lives?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am finding the responses to this post interesting because I certainly never intended to set up a binary, but rather to explore the complexities of theory and practice. The section with the phrase “small self” was a quote from another woman and not my own choice of phrasing, though it did capture my attention. (Another phrase that captured my attention, I believe was in Starhawk’s Truth or Dare book, but I’ll need to double check that, that essentially said: “boring other people in a group context by talking too much about yourself is an act of violence.”) It can be very easy to SAY one thing about the value of stories and quite another to actually “balance” the room and space for “hearing one another into speech” in real life. I have worked with the dynamic tension of this for about twenty years and continue to turn over how to nurture the life/spirit of the individual women AND the health/spirit of the whole group–if one woman dominates the discussion with personal narratives with a heavy “there and then” quality, other women stop coming (we really aren’t providing therapy groups after all) and the whole group can thus be destroyed by the power of story, just as the whole group can bloom and be nourished by it. I find it a very, very tender place and one that requires constant vigilance and renegotiation. Groups are living systems and they change character and personality based on who makes them up–it is a tender “line,” so to speak, to nourish the health of the many while creating space for the individual voices of each one…rather than a binary construct, I intended to encourage a mindful discernment in our *own* personal lives about how we engage with one another in *group* processes.

      As I noted in my reply about, my point was really about how do we balance *both*, the power of story and the safe space to exchange stories with the the health and process of an entire group of people. That is the theory and practice component that I meant to explore in this specific piece (there are definitely limitations to what can be done in 1000 words!):

      Theory = “stories have value and are powerful and each woman’s voice matters.”

      Practice = in the context of a two hour long Red Tent with twenty women present and one hour for “rattle-passing” and one hour for other ritual activities, how do we create/hold space for each woman to speak and to share her story if one woman speaks for 25 minutes about a relationship from the past (or even more challenging to navigate in a group-health way: the experiences of other people and their relationships with one another), thus leaving only 35 minutes for all the other 19 women combined to speak about their own equally important stories/experiences. The answer for me comes not in minimizing the value of stories or in silencing others, but in encouraging the radical self-responsibility of being mindful of one’s own impact on the process of the group as a whole. I find it a constantly challenging issue–we want women to speak and to share and to be heard, we also want women to *listen* to one another. This is the dynamic dance of ritual, not a binary construct.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hmmm. On the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete we have two kinds of ritual spaces. One in the evenings is for story telling and sharing experiences. This is opened and closed with a ritual. The other is the rituals in various places where the personal contributions often center around pouring libations and only a few words such as “I brought this stone from home because it reminds me of the xxx place where I love to hike.” The rituals themselves are relatively short and sweet and structured to stop long verbal disquistions. In the evening story telling we share more of our personal experiences. There too we try to keep focused and we do have a rule not to give advice or to move from the personal to theoretical or theological discussions, which we always say can happen on the bus or at meals, etc., but not in the story space.

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: