I am, as I have said before (both in previous posts and through one of my books), magically trained. By this, I do not wish, or mean, to imply that I am The Great High Priestess of Fill in Your Own Blank (far from it, believe you me!) or any of that sort of thing; simply that I have studied the Western Mystery Tradition for well over twenty years, first through the Wiccan perspective and more latterly through a more Ceremonial approach.
This weekend, I was asked to enact the High Priestess role in a ritual drama for Beltane – and it was a pretty amazing experience, despite the fact that I ended up as wet as an otter’s pocket and with mud bespattered half way up my legs. I do not recall much of the actual drama itself. ‘Tis often thus during ritual when one dons the cloak of the surrounding energies for a while – or, to use a metaphor adopted by the wonderful Granny Weatherwax, rides gently behind the eyes of another entity, doing no harm but seeing the world in a significantly different way.
Funny the way things turn out. I say this because I was such a very shy little girl and an almost silent, withdrawn, self-conscious teen. Drama terrified me. Reading aloud in class caused what I now recognise as minor panic attacks. And yet now, in my late fifties, I stand, on a hillside in Glastonbury, playing a role – and clad in a long red velvety robe with green ribbon taking the place of my usual cord – in front of a large crowd, without fear.
Now why is that? Have I changed, fundamentally, so much in the intervening four decades? I mean, it is possible. But, as my posts reveal, I remain anxious and lacking in confidence (at least some of the time) and continue to veer between social energy and a hermit-like existence.
So what has changed?
Simple. The clue comes in the word ‘training’. Like most things in life, magical training gives you techniques and knowledge and opens doors to parts of yourself (or other souls, depending on your individual beliefs) and, thus, allows you to transcend the stuttering, shy, self-conscious part of your personality. In a very real sense, you are both you and not you during drama (whether it be comedy, tragedy or ritual). You have the same body and clothes – but, in all three categories mentioned in parenthesis, the willing acceptance of other can significantly alter patterns of speech, physical movements, even abilities, often bringing out aspects of the self kept chained by inhibition for decades.
I think I know why this is. We accept negative feedback from primary carers, and then friends/partners, from the first moments of our existence, and they become an inherent, often unconscious, part of who we think we are. We rarely question them – and their heavy hand upon our shoulders can all too easily become crippling and stifling. Told that we are, for instance, clumsy often enough, we will, with ghastly inevitability, become utterly cack-handed.
But during ritual, or drama – and the narrowest of lines separates the two, in my opinion – the external-become-internal descriptors go into abeyance. Not needed, they are dispensed with fairly quickly, leaving room for our actual magnificence as human beings (or a visitation from an Arch-angelic being or whatever it might be) to break through the confines of our childhood training.
Do robes and other costumes, props and so forth really matter in drama and ritual? This is something I am often asked – and I would have to say, ‘Yes – and no!’
Costumes make an impact, without a doubt, and can contribute much to both confidence and atmosphere. Same goes for properties. But they are not strictly necessary. They set the scene – but, if you cannot act, clothes alone will not change that fundamental fact! Of course it is lovely to don bright garments and pose, as I have, in them. It made me feel really good and happy. I adore colour, as you know, and find joy in it. I could, however, have called up my Inner Priestess (or however you wish to put it!) in ‘normal’ clothing and in my back garden. We all can. I am neither special nor unusual in this!
Clothes do not a ritualist make! Robes and cords do not, by themselves, create a ritual. Training does that – and natural aptitude, I guess.
Ironically, as I trudged up the High Street, along Chilkwell Street and then up to Fairfield, with drums beating their powerful energy and the dragons rippling and roaring in red and white splendour and the rain sogging everything, I suspect I made a decidedly unpriestly figure on the surface: Wet, middle-aged, handbag slung over one shoulder, green ribbons dripping limply; I do not, that is to say, imagine I was one of the striking marchers captured by every roving camera (thank Goddess!) – but that matters not a jot. My purpose was, if you like, other.
Briefly, I wasn’t me. Or, I was more than me. Or ‘me’ stopped mattering because the Beltane beat took over and the ancient rite behind the drama was more urgent and important than I was, than I am.
The training happens at many levels, and may well have its beginnings in previous lives. Who knows? But in this life time, as Alienora Browning,* I have now been a part of many rituals, and have acted in a fair few plays. Discipline is required without a doubt, as is a level of sacrificing the ego for the good of the wider production (bloody difficult, that; I struggle with it still: We all want the best and biggest role, don’t we?!!). It is not about whether I am excellent, good, crap (etc); it goes beyond that. What matters is that I am trained, prepared, ready to allow the unfolding of the Other. What matters, in a sense, is that I am able and willing to get myself the hell out of the way for the duration!
It has been a joyous Beltane weekend, but I am exhausted, feel the tristesse that so often follows on the heels of dramatic performances, cried as I drove home from the King Arthur pub this evening having accepted, for a moment, the simple comfort of being a frail human hugged by others.
Training in ritual magic does not, in any way, make me a superior being; it simply allows me to access something hidden by the various wounds, withholds, shallow ponds and societal chaff with which we are all so plentifully supplied – and, on occasions, to use that Higher Self (for want of a better phrase) to give something back to the world.
Truly, I am – as, I suspect, we all are – but an apprentice to a much higher, more universal master or mistress, to the powers that surround us and infuse us all our lives long, to the heartbeat of the land.
* Though I publish under the name Alienora Taylor (and am, officially, still known by my married name), I have reverted to my maiden name since coming to Glastonbury!