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The Finer Points of Ritual

Subject: The Finer Points of Ritual

                         A Comparative Approach to
                  Liturgical History, Theology and Design

                 A Heartland Pagan Festival Keynote Address

                              by Mike Nichols

                              August 29, 2000

                                   PART 1

     [NOTE: This transcription was made from an audio tape dub of a
     videorecording of the event. Although the original transcript of
     this event contained audience comments, it was necessary to delete
     them from this version, since the question of ownership of
     intellectual property is naturally raised. Such omissions will be
     noted in the text, and it is usually easy to guess the content from
     the context anyway.]

     I hope you don't mind if I do this sitting down. I want to present
     it more like a workshop than a standard lecture. First of all, I
     want to start out with a few thank you's. I just want to say a
     personal thank you to Rhiannon who has acted as liaison between the
     Heartland Spiritual Alliance and the Magick Lantern, which was
     sometimes a difficult and thankless task, but she's done it well.
     When I saw her stand on the chair in the hall last night and scream
     "TWO pieces of chicken! ONLY two!", I thought I've never seen
     anyone look so much in their element. (LAUGHTER) So thank you so
     much. And not only to Rhiannon, but to the organizers of the
     Heartland Pagan Festival all together. I think they've done a
     wonderful job. Let's give them a hand.

     (APPLAUSE)

     What we're going to be doing in here is kind of an advanced class
     on ritual design, what we sometimes like to call liturgics. Before
     this is all over, we're going to be into such areas as liturgical
     theology, liturgical history, and liturgical aesthetics. For those
     of you who are local and who have taken my class, or seen me do
     speeches at psychic fairs and such, you will be happy to note that
     this is not recycled material. This is the very first time I am
     presenting any of this material anywhere. So I hope you enjoy it.

     I'm starting from the premise that most people here are already
     fairly well advanced in Paganism and have gotten to the point where
     they already know about ritual and realize why it's there, why
     there is a need for it, and are beginning to ask other questions
     about ritual. What does it take to make a "good" ritual? What kind
     of elements do you need to have, what kind of order, what kind of
     structure does a ritual have to have to work? Are there certain
     things a ritual needs to work? How can you tell if a ritual has
     worked? And questions like that start happening only after you've
     been into it a little while.

     If you are new to this whole area, and really are not that
     conversant with why ritual is used anyway, let me just gloss that
     point by saying there are a couple of really good books that I
     think give you a good understanding of that. One is "The Spiral
     Dance" by Starhawk. Another is "Drawing Down the Moon" by Margot
     Adler. I think either one of those would inform you as to why
     Witches use ritual in the first place.

     The need for ritual is sometimes one of the most difficult things
     for newcomers in this area to understand because quite often, if
     they've been brought up in a religious tradition that downplays
     ritual, for example, (and many Protestant religious traditions say
     that ritual is only so much gobbledy-gook, etc., that there's
     nothing to it), it's a real stumbling block for people to
     understand why the ritual is there. I've noticed that people with
     Roman Catholic backgrounds or a background in Judaism seem to have
     a better grasp on what ritual is there for and what it
     accomplishes.

     When we get into this kind of work, let me just say that much of my
     talk here today is going to be highly speculative, highly
     theoretical, and please do not take it as a final position paper on
     anything. It is at best a preliminary report on work in progress.
     We're going to do a lot of comparative liturgics as a way of
     understanding our own ritual development.

     When it comes to ritual or liturgy -- whichever word you want to
     use, and I'm going to be using them interchangeably -- it has
     always seemed to me that liturgical theology should be on the
     cutting edge of theological concerns in Paganism. There are many
     religious writers who believe that religions basically have three
     dimensions -- any religion. First of all, it's theology: what are
     it's beliefs? Secondly, it's social structure: how does this
     religion impact on the world around it? And thirdly, it's ritual:
     what do the people do to express their religious values? It has
     always seemed to me that within Paganism in general, and Witchcraft
     certainly in particular, it is the liturgical dimension that is the
     most often in focus.

     Theology I think has been rather slow. It is developing, Pagan
     theological concerns, but it's developing late. If you read
     Starhawk and Adler and people like that, you're beginning to see
     the beginnings of Pagan theology.

     As far as the social dimension, there was a time of course when
     Paganism had a social dimension, when most people were Pagan. But
     for the last couple of thousand years we have been a minority
     religion -- a very small minority in some cases. And I think
     because of that we don't yet have a very strong sociological
     impact. But that too may be changing, through festivals like this,
     when Pagans start gathering in big enough numbers to start talking
     about such things as social change. For example, at one of the
     workshops we had the other day, somebody suggested that one of the
     things Pagans could do to increase their visibility and positive
     image in the community is to take on community projects like
     answering telephones for the local public TV telethons. Yes, this
     is our local Coven on the phone lines! (LAUGHTER) Or this is the
     local Coven who have all decided to go down and do a park clean-up
     on a particular day. When we get enough people doing stuff like
     that, then Witchcraft will have its social dimension.

     In the meantime, the strongest dimension I think for most of us is
     the ritual, is the liturgy. When you tell somebody you're a Witch,
     the first thing they ask you is "What do you do?" -- not "What do
     you believe?" or "What is your impact on society?" -- but "What do
     you do?" They want to hear about your rituals. I think that's
     exactly why Stewart Farrar titled his first book on Witchcraft
     "What Witches Do".

     So we've got to start looking at what we do, in terms of ritual and
     how ritual has developed. However, when it comes to trying to study
     liturgy in modern Paganism, you are immediately arrested by the
     fact that there is no coherent study of it. Yes, there are books of
     rituals. Sure, you can buy a spellbook here, a grimoire there.
     Marion Weinstein has published a Book of Shadows. The last half of
     Doreen Valiente's book is a Book of Shadows. Scott Cunningham's got
     books of spells, etc. But is there any systematic study of all this
     stuff put together? No. Not so far.

     I think the reason is because development has been so rapid. All of
     this stuff has come along so fast that people have not had a chance
     to assess it and evaluate it, and ask significant questions about
     it. Consequently, both the scholar and the lay person really don't
     have very many places to go when it comes to this.

     There are a few things though that you can say about religious
     ritual. First of all, religious ritual is a human experience, a
     very universal human experience. It is as real as fear, and as
     important as love. It has a meaning of its own. It is not some sort
     of aberration or distortion of reality. It is an injection of new
     meaning into the reality around you. There is hardly a culture in
     the world that has not developed its religious rituals. And
     sometimes by looking at religious rituals of other cultures, we can
     begin understanding our own better. That's one of things I'm gonna
     try to do here.

     There's a strange continuity, a sameness when you start looking at
     different rituals, that pervades all of them. We find that rituals,
     for example, are transpersonal and transcultural. People seem to
     experience the same types of things no matter where you look all
     over the world.

     In looking at liturgical theology, I have been doing an awful lot
     of work in terms of comparative study. Because the only group of
     people who have systematically writing about liturgical theology
     for any length of time are the Christians. Does this have anything
     to say to us as Pagans? Perhaps it does. Reason: I think most
     Pagans are by now well aware of the fact that the Christians have
     borrowed a heck of a lot from the old Pagan religions. For example,
     it's commonly known that the old Pagan holidays served as models
     for Christian holidays, so that the modern Christian liturgical
     calendar is to a great extent based on older Pagan themes. And
     ironically, sometimes you can look at what Christians have written
     about these to find out still more about the Pagan themes that
     underlie it.

     A second area where this is true is what we call hagiography, the
     study of saints. So many of the saints in the rites of the Roman
     Catholic Church are in fact simply Christianized forms of old Pagan
     gods and goddesses. So we read about the legends of these saints,
     and we learn a little bit more about the gods and goddesses
     underlying those legends. I think Pagans generally realize both of
     these points. What Pagans do not generally realize is that it is
     the same as far as liturgical ceremonies go, too. When you get
     right down to it, Christianity -- especially the way the Roman
     Catholic Church developed in the early years of Christianity --
     borrowed most of its liturgical traditions from the Pagans.

     I mean, if you ever stopped and thought about it... For example,
     within the Roman Catholic Church, there are certain rituals known
     as "sacraments", right? Do you realize that is a Pagan word?
     Sacrament comes from the Latin "sacramentum" and was an oath given
     by a Roman soldier to his gods. It was a ritual setting. We might
     be well advised once again to reclaim the word sacrament and use it
     as our own.

     According the Catholic Church, a sacrament is an "effective"
     ritual, which means that it produces an objective effect. This is
     not just a symbolic commemoration of something. This is something
     that actually produces a change in reality. This beginning to sound
     familiar?

     Other things which we have long considered primarily Christian --
     Again, I'm going to be drawing this almost exclusively from the
     background of Roman Catholic liturgics, which is one of the ones
     that is most developed. The High Anglican would be another good
     source if you wanted to look into this. The practice of
     "genuflection", of bowing on one knee, originally a Pagan practice.
     The practice of kissing ritual tools. If you were in a Catholic
     church, did you ever see a priest pick up a Missal at Mass and kiss
     it, put it on the altar? The same way a priestess will sometimes
     kiss her athame after she's used it for an invocation? Yet another
     custom borrowed by the Christians from the Pagans. So it seems real
     obvious to me that we could look at the whole question of
     sacramental rites, and ask what have the various Christian writers
     had to say about them in terms of how they work, in order to find
     out what Pagans probably also originally believed about rites and
     rituals.

     Although at a later time the Catholic Church would limit the number
     of official sacraments to be only seven in number, at an earlier
     time this was not true. Anything could be seen as a sacrament. A
     blessing was a sacrament. A holiday, a sacred object, all of these
     things could be considered sacramental in what they did. As a
     matter of fact, the first use of the word "sacrament" within a
     Christian context was not until 210 C.E. and it was by the Church
     writer Tertulian. He was the first one to use that word in a
     Christian context, and when he did so, ironically, he accused the
     Greek mystery religions of having stolen that word from the
     Christians. Obviously, it was precisely the other way around.

     Although today the word sacrament refers primarily to only seven
     ecclesial rituals within the Catholic Church, all of which -- or at
     least six of which -- have parallels in Paganism, the word
     "sacrament" is still used in comparative theology in a much broader
     sense. Basically, it refers to any hidden reality, any sign or
     symbol of a hidden reality that is mysterious and sacred. I could
     be a person, a place, or a thing. Any of these things could be
     considered sacramental.

     From the point of view of Pagan theology, by the way, with its
     strong emphasis on the theological perspective called "immanence",
     the in-dwelling quality of the divine force in all of nature, for a
     Pagan practically anything can become a sacrament. Every rock,
     every tree, everything is alive with magical and sacred powers
     which a Pagan can get in touch with and from there connect with the
     entire universe. That's what a sacrament is.

     There have been, historically, at least two ways of viewing rituals
     and sacraments. The first is the way as practiced by social
     anthropologists. For example, one of the most famous of these was
     proposed by Arnold van Gennep, who was the first to come up with
     the idea of rituals being, as he called them, "rites of passage".
     He would point to something like a marriage rite, and we can find
     rites like that in practically every society. And he would say that
     the reason this ritual was important for this society is that it
     marked a transition for one member of the society from one social
     role to another. From the status of being unmarried to the status
     of being married. In many societies, kids when they hit the age of
     puberty go through a rite of passage. This is an official
     recognition by the society as a whole that this person, who was
     once considered a child, is now considered an adult and has adult
     responsibilities.

     Van Gennep originally thought that practically all religious
     rituals were rites of passage. Later social anthropologists have
     pointed out there's at least one other major class or rituals. And
     this is not a rite of passage but what we call a "rite of
     celebration". Very distinct from a rite of passage. In a rite of
     passage, we talk about a person's transition from one social role
     to another. In a rite of celebration -- let's take for an example a
     wedding anniversary -- nothing is changing here. We are simply
     looking at something which has a permanent value and belief
     structure, and we are celebrating it. We are focusing on it. We are
     saying this is important to us. And we're going to have this ritual
     to let everybody know how important it is to us. A rite of passage
     is a rite of transition, but a rite of celebration is a rite of
     intensification. It intensifies the values and beliefs that are
     already present.

     That was one of two ways of classifying religious rituals. The
     other is the psychological approach. And probably the best writer
     in this field is Mircea Eliade. He called sacramental rituals -- he
     had a wonderful phrase for it -- he called them "doors to the
     sacred". Every sacramental ritual, he said, is an invitation to a
     religious or sacred experience. An invitation, which you may accept
     or not. You can either let yourself become a part of a ritual or
     not. You can make up your mind to distance yourself from it. But
     its basic design, the basic reason for a sacramental ritual is to
     give you an invitation to have an experience of the sacred. Which
     Eliade calls a "hierophany", an experience of the sacred.

     Practically all of these experiences involve altered states of
     perception, in terms of an altered sense of time and an altered
     sense of space. And we all have these understandings. For example,
     to most of us a tree is a tree. But what about the tree that you
     had your treehouse in when you were a little kid? That tree is
     special. There is no other tree like that tree anywhere else in the
     world. It is sacred. A funeral home -- you see them on every other
     street corner; they're just a building. Except the funeral home
     that you attended your grandfather's funeral in. You walk into that
     funeral home and space seems different. It is charged with a
     meaning that normal space -- a normal other funeral home -- does
     not have.

     Time is the same way; the sense of time can change. Anniversaries,
     celebrations of New Year's, celebrations like that take us back to
     a time that's kind of outside of time, if you will. And once again,
     charges that time with a special meaning. Time may even seem to
     pass differently. I think for me the best expression of this has
     always been in fairy tales. When somebody goes into the next world,
     the world of faery, and experiences the passage of time
     differently.

     So all of these -- what Mircea Eliade calls "hierophanies" -- all
     of them have to do with altered states of perception, which include
     both time and space. This is remarkably similar, by the way, to
     Dion Fortune's famous definition of magick, the "ability to alter
     consciousness at will". We're obviously talking about the same kind
     of thing here.

     Most hierophanies, the great majority of them, are individual. They
     are personal. Whether it's watching a sunset, visiting a sacred
     place, walking up to Stonehenge and standing in the center of it
     (and having the same feeling you had as you stood in your last
     magic Circle), this is sacred space. This is an individual and
     personal experience. But these religious experiences can also be
     shared. It happens when we sing the national anthem. It happens
     when we sing the old school song. It happens when a group of us
     gets together to go see a dramatic or theatrical presentation. In
     this case, we open ourselves collectively to an experience of the
     sacred. Which again is what a sacramental rite is all about.

     One other interesting thing about these experiences is that it is
     almost universally experienced that the high charge of meaning that
     is found in the rite is experienced as "discovered" or
     "encountered". It sort of dawns upon you. "Oh wow! That's what this
     is all about! Yeah, I get it now!" It's not something that is
     artificially enforced on the ritual from the outside. It should
     grow organically from the ritual.

     It's interesting to note that in Judeo-Christian tradition, this
     sacredness is quite often found in history. In the historical
     development of a God that interacts with a "chosen people"
     throughout a period of history. Whereas in Pagan theology,
     sacredness is most usually found not in history but in nature. That
     every tree, every rock, everything is alive, that you can get in
     touch with it, that it has a magical and sacred essence and you can
     interact with that, and get in touch with the Cosmos as a whole
     through that.

     It's interesting to note, too, that because of this the
     Judeo-Christian tradition places a very strong emphasis on sacred
     writings, or scripture. Whereas many of the old Pagan religions --
     taking the old Druid religion as a fine example -- made it
     forbidden to write down sacred material. Druids teach it, bards
     sing it, dancers dance it -- but you don't write it. They realized
     it was too sacred for that. So we have these very definite
     distinctions in terms of how we've approached these sorts of
     things.

     Another way of looking at a ritual is this: Most of us are familiar
     with the way a myth takes the values and beliefs of a religion and
     embodies them in story form. A ritual takes the values and beliefs
     of a religion and embodies them in actions. That's why quite often
     a ritual is a myth enacted. Ritual drama, for example.

     As I said at the beginning, I think many Pagans are aware of how
     Christians have borrowed from us in terms of calendar customs, and
     how they've borrowed our gods to use as their saints. But we've
     seldom examined how the Christian religion has borrowed our sacred
     rites. They have. The Catholic Church now recognizes seven official
     sacraments. And virtually all of them -- or at least six of them --
     have Pagan origins.

     First of all, the rite called "Baptism". That's the first ecclesial
     ritual in the Roman Catholic Church. Or "Christening", as it's
     sometimes called. It turns out once again that practically every
     "primitive" culture has similar rites of blessing of a child. In
     ancient, pre-Christian, Pagan Celtic society, there was a similar
     rite. It had to do with sprinkling a child with water, passing the
     child through the smoke of a fire, passing it through a hole in a
     stone or else touching it to the earth (getting in all the elements
     here), and quite often passing the child around a circle, handing
     the baby around so that each person in the circle gets to hold it
     for a short time. If you want descriptions of this taken from
     people who seem to remember these pre-Christian ceremonies, look at
     the work of folklorist Alexander Carmichael in the six-volume set,
     the "Carmina Gaedelica". Some of these rites had been
     Christianized, of course, even at the time Carmichael was taking
     them down. But a lot of their Pagan origins are still very clear.

     In Pagan Celtic society, by the way, this rite was called a
     "seining". Which I would like to propose as a much better term for
     this kind of rite in Paganism than the more recently coined word
     "Wiccaning". I oppose that terminology for two reasons. One, it's
     obviously a word that was coined recently to be a counterpart to
     the term "Christening". So the word itself is not historically
     attested. Secondly, think of what it implies! When you "Christen" a
     child, you are introducing it into the body of Christ, the Church.
     You are making it a Christian. I don't think that any Witch thinks
     that "Wiccaning" a child is making that child a Witch! I've never
     heard any Pagan put it that way. At the very most, you are blessing
     the child, asking the gods' protection for this child "so that no
     harm comes to the child, or to anyone else through the child" (as
     it is commonly expressed) until such a time as that child is able
     to choose its own religion. We do not attempt to make that choice
     for the child. It is simply a rite of blessing and protection.
     Strangely enough, that is exactly what the word "seining" means.
     And therefore I think it's much better than the alternative
     "Wiccaning".

     The Christian religion also has a sacrament called the "Eucharist".
     By the way, if ever anybody challenges you that the Christian
     religion doesn't employ magic, take a look at what the Catholic
     Church has to say about the sacrament of the Eucharist, or what
     they call "the blessed sacrament" -- THE blessed sacrament. The
     official term for what happens is "transubstantiation" -- that the
     priest actually has the power to turn common bread and wine into
     the body and blood of Jesus! If that isn't a magical act, I don't
     know what one is! Although the Church would be loath to use the
     word "magic" in this context. But we certainly understand what it's
     all about.

     The idea of blessing food and drink, however, once again seems to
     be one of those universal rites. When people sit down to a shared
     dinner, a common meal, it is a rite of inclusion. Even in the early
     Christian Church, you were not allowed to partake in the
     Eucharistic meal unless you were already a member of that church.
     So the fact that in the Wiccan tradition you share "cakes and ale"
     would imply an inclusion in the membership of that group. And of
     course, there are all the symbolic associations of food as
     sustenance.

     We also have the sacrament of Confirmation in the Catholic Church.
     Which always sounded strange to me when I was growing up. You know,
     you're twelve years old now, and it's time for you to be
     "confirmed". It's almost like up until then you were only
     "tentative". (LAUGHTER) But now you're confirmed. What it really
     meant, though, was the person was supposedly old enough by now to
     make a free choice (cough) of which religion they wanted to belong
     to. And the bishop -- You'll notice here, by the way, that the
     proper minister for this rite is the bishop, not the priest.
     Although it is possible for a bishop to delegate the power to a
     priest. But the bishop comes and confirms you into this religion.
     Again, we have so many rites from so many Pagan systems that this
     seems to based on that are usually referred to as "initiation"
     ceremonies, or rites of passage, rites of adulthood. When finally
     the child is brought fully into the religious and social (in most
     primitive societies, they are the same) structure of the society
     and is now seen to be a full adult. So any first degree initiation
     could serve as a model for what the Catholic Church came to call
     Confirmation.

     Ordination. This is a right that ONLY a bishop can perform, in the
     Catholic Church. Only a bishop can make a priest. You'll notice
     that when we look at how initiation rites are traditionally done in
     Wicca, any priest or priestess can make another priest or
     priestess. And quite often, it looks like in the oldest rites, it
     also involved a kind of "laying on of hands". There was an
     imposition of hands that occurred in the Catholic tradition, as
     well. And until that time, a novice priest was actually told that
     it would be wrong or DANGEROUS for him to perform some of the
     priestly functions unless he had been made a priest!

     And there were all sorts of stories in the old days that only a
     priest could touch the consecrated elements. Only a priest's hands
     -- only consecrated hands -- could touch the vessels that held the
     consecrated elements: the chalice, the monstrance, the ciborium,
     and so forth. This almost implies to me, though it's never quite
     stated in this way, but it almost seems like there is some sort of
     real, tangible, psychic energy that is present.

     I remember being regaled with stories when I was a little kid going
     to a Catholic school where the nuns would tell these wonderful
     stories about how some poor person was kneeling at the altar rail
     waiting to receive Communion, and the priest comes along to
     administer Communion, and drops the Host. And the poor person
     reaches out to try to catch it, and at the first touch of this
     consecrated object, there is a tremendous flash of lightning, and
     the person is now a little pile of ashes on the altar carpet.
     (LAUGHTER)

     I don't think it's quite like that. But what it may be saying is
     that some of these powers, even within magical traditions or Pagan
     traditions, are tangible and do carry some sort of psychic clout. I
     don't think lightning is going to flash out of the sky and reduce
     you to cinders. But what we're saying is a metaphor, really, that
     there may be some kind of psychic backlash if you attempt to wield
     these magical energies before your training has been finished,
     before you're ready to handle them, before you understand what
     you're doing. In the same way that a good psychotherapy session, if
     it uncovers too much garbage from your subconscious, can throw you
     backward if you're not ready to deal with the stuff that's dredged
     up.

     For those of you who believe there is some sort of validity to the
     concept of "apostolic succession", the imposition of hands, it also
     may imply that, when one priest or priestess makes another priest
     or priestess, she is passing on a kind of MAGICAL SHIELDING as
     well. A protection, so that you will be able to handle these
     magical powers without any ill effect. For those of you who believe
     that the initiation tradition is valid. Again, if you want to see
     Pagan examples of that, look at some of the work done by Alexander
     Carmichael. There is a rite called a "shielding" where one person
     kneels, while a second person puts one hand under their knees and
     the other hand over their head and says "Everything that is between
     my two hands is protected and seined by the Mother". The Goddess
     has control of everything in this sphere. It's a passing on of this
     shielding, that until you have, it might be dangerous for you to
     experiment with these powers. IF you believe that's a valid idea.
     (We'll get into questions of validity in just a minute.)

     The Christian tradition of marriage, of course... Well, in every
     society that we know of, we have rituals that talk about people
     getting together. However, ever since the Judeo-Christian system
     has come along, we've been firmly locked into only one way of
     viewing marriage -- a monogamous way of viewing marriage, for one
     thing -- with very little latitude in terms of variability. If you
     look at the Pagan idea of Handfasting, if you go back to the Irish
     pre-Christian brehon laws, you will find that they talk about at
     least ten different forms of what we today call marriage. These
     forms include such things as marriage between two people of the
     same gender, marriage of more than two people (what today we would
     call a "group marriage"), marriages that only last for a "year and
     a day" or some other specified time (what today we might call a
     "trial marriage"), marriages that did not demand sexual exclusivity
     (what today we would call "open marriage"), "contract marriage",
     the woman keeping her own name, pre-nuptial and post-nuptial
     property arrangements. (If you've ever read about the great
     pillow-talk argument between Queen Maeve and King Aillil about who
     had the most property, you know what I'm talking about!)

     You know, it's fascinating to think that all of the so-called
     marriage innovations that occurred in the 1960's, that we thought
     were so mind-bogglingly new... nope! They were all there in the old
     Pagan form of this rite. They were *standard*, until the Christian
     form of marriage with its single theme, its monogamous monotheistic
     vision, it's vision of the one right and only way to do something,
     came along and knocked the older one aside. But again, the Pagan
     origins are obvious.

     The ecclesial sacrament called "Last Rites"... We have all sorts of
     what we call "death blessings" in the Gaelic Pagan traditions, to
     send the spirit on its way. For each person who dies, there is one
     particular person assigned to be the leader of these rites who from
     that time on is known as the dead person's "soul friend". This is
     the one who will carry out the rituals, remember them when Samhain
     comes around, set out the extra places at the table, etc. We
     perhaps have less historical data on the Last Rite theme than we
     have for certain other themes that we're talking about here. But it
     is still there. And again a reference to some of the early
     folklorists.

     The one modern Christian sacrament that I cannot really find an
     exact parallel for in terms of a pre-Christian precursor in
     Paganism is the sacrament the Roman Catholic Church calls
     "Penance", or "Confession". Isn't that interesting? The whole
     sacrament has to do with confessing your sins to a priest, who then
     absolves you of the sins. It is a whole thing of guilt, and release
     from guilt. Yes?

     [AUDIENCE COMMENT]

     Okay, good point. I can think of an Irish example of that, now that
     you mention it. The Chucullain legend is a good example.
     Chucullain, who was originally Setanta, accidentally on purpose
     kills this very ferocious dog, and walks up to the gate-keeper and
     says, "I've killed your dog and I would like to replace him." And
     the gate-keeper says "Fine, there go some cats. Get busy."
     (LAUGHTER) I think that's where that joke started.

     [AUDIENCE COMMENT]

     I noticed that in a lot of the Pagan traditions, the purging of
     one's "guilt" (and I think we're very misguided to use the term
     "guilt" here)... Responsibility, right -- is a matter of making
     recompense to the person or persons who were wronged. It's not a
     matter of carrying around a guilt trip until somebody says "Okay,
     if you'll go through this ritual, you will be absolved."

     [AUDIENCE COMMENT]

     Exactly. These are things that I think we all ought to think about.
     What I'm trying to do in the first part of this presentation is to
     focus your attention on how we might be able to look at Christian
     liturgical rites to find information about their predecessors as to
     how they might have been done in Pagan societies. Because all of
     these things we've talked about, the so-called "seven sacraments of
     the Catholic Church -- if you look for data that Jesus himself
     instituted these things, you look practically in vain. Where in the
     world did the Church come up with these things?

     A great example of this, by the way (and it's an example I use in
     my class quite often) is this. For a long time, after I decided
     that I was going to be Pagan, I quit going to the Catholic Church
     because it didn't interest me. It might have been a mistake. One
     year while I was at college, I was home for Spring break (it was
     Easter) and my mother dragged me along to a service that happens on
     the Saturday night right before Easter, "Holy Saturday" -- which
     has to be one of the most liturgically rich occasions of the Church
     calendar. (If you want to see it even richer, take a look at the
     Orthodox traditions, the Greek and Russian Orthodox. They *really*
     know liturgics.) At any rate...

     I had forgotten how the Catholic Church blesses the holy water that
     it's going to be using in the coming liturgical year. But what
     happens, roughly, is this. The holy water font, which is usually in
     the porch or vestibule of the church, is brought up into the
     sanctuary and placed near the altar. And at one point in this
     particular Mass, the priest walks over to this large candle which
     is called the Pascal Candle. It is in place throughout the Easter
     season. It has little herbs stuck in it and so forth. He takes this
     candle out of its holder, walks over to the holy water or Baptismal
     font (which looks, from my point of view, remarkably like a large
     cauldron), and holds the candle over the font, and starts doing
     *this* with it. (demonstrates by plunging the vertical candle in
     and out of the holy water font) (GASPS OF RECOGNITION AND LAUGHTER)

     [AUDIENCE COMMENT]

     I'm NOT kidding. And after having studied Paganism, and I saw that,
     it was like I was seeing it for the first time. And I looked to the
     right and to the left to see if anybody else, you know, realized
     what was going on. I mean, I thought "Aren't there any *Freudians*
     in the audience?!?!" (LAUGHTER) There was not one flicker of
     recognition, not one flutter of an eyelid! I could not believe it!

     And I knew there and then that obviously the Catholic Church had
     not picked this up from Jesus. Where had the Catholic Church
     learned to bless water? From us. And where had the Catholic Church
     learned to do a lot of other stuff? From us. So, I think it is
     richly rewarding for us to take a look at what they have done in
     terms of liturgics.

     [AUDIENCE COMMENT]

     And you'll notice that in all this discussion we've only covered
     the seven basic ecclesial rites of the Church. We're not even
     talking yet about all the little incidental things the Church calls
     "sacramentals", like the blessing of holy objects, the consecration
     of a church altar, the consecration of the church building. Where
     did the blueprint, where did the pattern for a lot of these rites
     come from?

                      ...*** Continue to PART 2 ***...

     Document Copyright  1988, 2000 by Mike Nichols
     Html coding by: Mike Nichols  2000

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     Other uses of this document must be approved in writing by Mike
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     Revised: Wednesday, April 30, 1997

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