I belong to two ecstatic neo-pagan traditions. These two traditions of witchcraft, Feri and Reclaiming, consider themselves ecstatic rather than fertility based. This means they do not focus on polarity or duality of gender. [In fact,the extreme (odd) polarized conditions of ultra feminine and masculine (Mother and Father) deity are atypical conditions, present for very specific purposes (creating new life), that do not reflect the expression of most deity forms or humans (which are nearer the androgynous unity of the universe).] Instead, they actively encourage Otherness – in sexual expression, philosophical thinking, approach to magical work, and personal development. What they focus on is an immediate and personal experience and expression of divinity; of Self as Divine.
Reclaiming’s ritual style is said to be (EIEIO) Ecstatic, Improvisational, Ensemble, Inspired, and Organic (Starhawk, The Pagan Book of Living and Dying). In this context, ecstatic refers to free-form expression of an immediate and personal engagement: with divinity, with life, with spirit. Reclaiming strives to be non-hierarchical and encourages shared power and equal participation. This focus on equality, with an expectation of stepping into personal power, creates an atmosphere that fosters ecstatic experience. Reclaiming rituals are not scripted, though some, like the Samhain Spiral Dance, are shared and recycled. This freshness allows for ritual spontaneity which opens another pathway into ecstasy. Another element is Reclaiming’s use of the possessory style called aspecting. This tool allows for direct experience of god forms.
Since Reclaiming has its roots in Feri, you find much of this same flavor within the Feri Tradition, though with a bit more diversity; however, due to the very private nature of Feri as a tradition, I will make my comments brief. There are some Feri lines which use scripted material while others do not, all are hierarchical (certain information is initiates only), some lines are more free-form and public while some are very secret, but all place emphasis on personal power and responsibility, direct and immediate experience of spirit, and all make regular use of possession as one of several tools for direct experience of god forms.
For me, it’s all about the directness and immediacy. For me, the ecstatic…experiencing ecstasy…..is itself a tradition, and one that is the very essence of life and what it means to be alive.
It is a primal, personal expression. The snap of twig and smell of crushed herb under foot. The tingle of cold rain pattering bare flesh. The sound of hawk soaring, feeling of eyes watching, taste of sweat on….. my…. lip. Pouring milk on the ground, liquid white, licking the spilled droplets from my fingers. Succulent butter..pat, pat, smear….on stone, on lips, on hands. Glossy. To run through the field under the cold stars, to spin … breathing in the green fire of LIFE. Into my very pores it seeps, infusing me with the quickness of life springing from itself. I writhe; in the tall grass my body is caressed. My Being expands and I no longer feel the edges of my skin. Outward I venture until within me is all of the Universe…. like Her. I drift, pregnant with possibility.
Union. The ecstatic union of Self with self, of Self with Other.
28. None, breathed the light, faint & faery, of the stars, and two.
29. For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.
30. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.
In an instant, from this expanse I am filled. Thrust into my soft flesh the warm fire of the Gods. Emanates, Imminent. He sees…. through my eyes. She touches….with my hands. They sing speaking words of animal wisdom…. with my lips.
I need no “high” priestess, for I am She who birthed all life from her womb. I have witnessed the Great Mystery and kissed its mouth, though my legs would fall from under me. I have stood tall and proud in the presence of the Powers. I dared name myself….and Them. I have strained with the sweat of blood to push a slipping, shiny Life into the World of Form. I have wept alone in the bitter night of loneliness and suffering. I have tasted the pain of death, the joy of orgasm, the warmth of community. All of this and more is the ecstatic pulse that rushes through my veins. To embrace Life, in all its shades and tastes, is the Charge. I can say it no better than my first Feri teacher, and I will close with his words…of ecstasy. (blessings to you, Caradoc. what is remembered lives)
So we celebrate the wheel of the year and the waxing and waning of the moon, the rhythms of night and day, the rhythms of sex and the breathing patterns of childbirth….The universe itself is dancing with and about us; that dance is the dance of our very nature, and that dance I accept wholeheartedly. In that joyous assent to life and death is the seasons’ round, the wheel of the year, the promise of the seed, the replanting of the oak; in that assent lies our dreams, our power, and our promise….We have this world and this life, and nothing else — at least nothing else that is certain, that we can feel and touch. The question, perhaps the only question that has ever been worth asking, is how best to live it.
The answer I have come to is play. Experiment. Do what feels good without regards to the tortuous rhetoric of long-dead saints like Origen, who said, “I believe because it is absurd,” and, to stem the sexual urges that made chastity a burden, severed his own genitals. Such men and women were probably psychotics living out their sick fantasies.
The answer, my friends, is to just say YES. Yes to the whole bloody, joyous, messy, painful business of birth and life and death, yes to the fragile and transitory exquisiteness of moonlight on water and flesh moving under your hands. Accept the whole journey from newborn babe to dead meat.
Did those last words give you pause? Good; they were meant to. Don’t flinch and turn your eyes away; look it square in the face: dead meat. We all have an appointment in Samarra someday. Undying spirit or not, your flesh and mine, my friend, and all the lovely flesh we have ever cherished, will one day in a span of time that will seem in retrospect the twinkling of an eye be transformed into piles of dead meat, with as likely as not some bozo dressed in white pumping formaldehyde into them in a grisly, meaningless attempt to provide some semblance of immortality by keeping them from rotting.
No one may stay the hand of change. We are impermanent, yes, but we are not illusion. We may be sparks burning as we fall through the night towards that final darkness, but for that span of time in which we fall burning, we are.
Rather than fearing death, let it be the light spur of urgency reminding you to live to the fullest, without holding back, to shine as brightly as you can against the dark. As a Chinese poet whose name I forget wrote, “This moment will not come twice; an inch of time is worth a foot of jade.”…there is benefit to be derived from the certainty that there is nothing in the end but rotting meat. It reminds us not to let life with its infinite possibilities pass us by while we watch passively from the sidelines hoping someone will want to dance with us.
But you may say, accept pleasure and you must accept pain. Yes, I nod sagely, smiling a crooked smile, that’s right. Very good; you’re paying attention. But reject pleasure and you will still have pain to endure; fight pain and you make it worse.
Pain only hurts; there are worse things. Things like fear and guilt, which paralyze the will and rob life of the joy and spontaneity of free-flow.
Pain hurts and pleasure pleases. Take them together. But fear and guilt, shame and restriction, these have no place, at least in my life. They are the false inheritance of systems of thought aimed at controlling us, aimed at making us good sheep ready to follow the Judas goat up the ramp to the slaughterhouse.
They are the tools of those who claim power over us, who hold power over us only because we give it to them, and whose real interest in us is limited to how much wool, meat, and tallow they can make from our lives. …
Fear and guilt and shame: they alienate us from ourselves, from our very nature and bodies, even from our dreams. Estranged from ourselves, we spend our lives searching for the approval of others, or for power, money, position to shelter us from their disapproval.
Driven by insecurity, by fear of ourselves planted at the very deepest levels of our being by the most well-meaning and loving parents and teachers (themselves victims of an ugly inheritance) we run, we hide, we learn to be good, productive, and uncomplaining citizens-as if the highest good to which we could aspire is to spend our brief precious flicker of time building better automobiles, scrubbing other peoples’ floors or praying on our knees to the God who taught us shame, the God who in the legends of his own faith drove us out of the garden for tasting the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge lest we should be tempted to taste of the Tree of Life and become too much like him for his petulant comfort….The machine runs, as it has always run, on fear and guilt and shame, chewing up human lives and hopes and dreams and spitting out poisoned air and earth and water, always taking reality and giving us symbols in return. To the machine alone, I say No! with the resounding finality not of words but of the substance and pattern of my whole life.
My life is my life; I will not waste it knowingly, nor give it up to any other…. I have seen much of life, and of death, and of change, and I say if I had it all to do again, I would not only do more, but my regrets , such as they are (for they are not a thing I feed) are almost all for the chances not seized, the risks not taken, the pleasures refused.
Just say yes, did I say? Don’t just say it; shriek it with every fiber of your being. Roar it with your whole body so that its echoes will resound long after your voice has fallen silent. …Flinch from nothing; dare everything.
(excerpts from ‘Just say Yes!’, Gabriel Carrillo, 2000)