To dismiss the incredible amounts of distress we all feel and demand we soldier on is both counterproductive and inhumane. Though we are not all crying out, we no longer possess the emotional strength we held in reserve even two years ago. The election cycle of 2016 and the Presidency of Donald Trump in 2017 (so far) have become a psychic battleground, as much as it is a political crisis. Media bombs our consciousness and inescapable reports of every tweet and calamity wear us down.
Threadbare and weary, we are not capable of rising to any occasion, let alone resistance. Social contact is neglected, our concern narrows significantly, we seek the anesthesia of the soul because our souls are hurting. And rightly so! Who can deal with these pressures on their own and also continue to function as a productive member of society? We seek the validation of others, the enfolding embrace of like-minded community. But, the social media webs we’ve woven serve the media, and the poison of daily life seeps in through the cracks of advertising and algorithms designed to engage and trap you. We rage and rip at the thread of whatever little intentional community we’ve built for ourselves in these past decades, purging our echo chambers of unwanted voices for the sake of peace.
When alienation is complete, the individual loses the agency to articulate their will. The sickness registers as anxiety and depression. We become easy prey, then, for a further devaluing of our personal and political power. Tyranny emerges from the shadows, confident in our self-imposed confinement, and exerts its will unchecked. Democracy dies slowly.
Many issues are highlighted in this assessment, some of which are daunting and painful to deal with. We do not have to deal with this morass of the will alone. All around you are millions of suffering brothers and sisters, each tending to the private wounds that ails us collectively. In that paradox we find a question: What ails us collectively? The answer might be how scared we are to feel alone and attacked in a society we had previously considered supportive. The solution might be to try to re-forge these lost links intentionally, without making assumptions.
We need a space, then, that can hold all who come to find connection without judgment. A place constructed with the specific intention of providing support, but also fostering a healthy deconstruction of our societal ills poisoning the bedrock of our democracy. Furthermore, this place must also promote a new cultural practice of reconstructing of the bonds we’ve frayed in the crisis. A place of shifting consciousness and impactful moments, easily performed in most settings and with diverse people.
To find this space, this place, we need to wind our minds back to a nearly-forgotten way of life: the village. The method of bringing this space into the world must also be equally old, familiar to every person in the nation: ritual.
This is one pagan’s attempt to create a prototype for one such space, and the reasons behind it. My frame of mind references a pre-Christian and prehistoric approach to ritual, but this can surely be adapted to any preference. It can even be agnostic or atheist, since all that is needed is a setting of intention, a shifting of consciousness, and a series of actions to impart an idea. This is as much pedagogy as it is ritual. Finally, my advice to would be “tenders of the village fire” is to practice, on their own and then with a few trusted friends. Experience goes a long way.
THE RITUAL OF THE VILLAGE FIRE
For the best results, go to Nature and do not formally begin until the participants have had at least 15 minutes of quiet contemplation. This will also give you time to greet folks as they arrive, but do not engage in conversations. Tell arrivals, “Take this time to relax and unwind, to disconnect from your daily worries. Put your cell phones on silent, or better yet, turn them off.”
When you’re ready to begin, gather everyone together and state the intention for this gathering. Say something like, “We are here to destress from the constant barrage of divisiveness and chaos in our daily lives. But, most importantly, we’re here to affirm bonds of connection with each other and the world we live in. Only as a village can we stay focused and strong, even if we don’t always agree on every issue. We’re here to heal our ailing democracy.”
Enlist everyone’s help in setting up an altar or focal point, somewhere participants can gather around in a circle. Unless all participants of the village fire are of the same religious persuasion, please endeavor to remain non-religious. Symbols of Nature and “the national spirit” are entirely permissible, like the flag and the Statue of Liberty. Alternatively, make room for everyone’s gods and philosophies: each participant can bring their own images to the altar circle with the clear understanding to show respect for others. If this happens in a natural setting, like the woods or a park, incorporate the natural elements around you. If it is being done in a more sterile, urban location take care to adorn the circle with Nature. Incorporating this beauty will facilitate the shift of consciousness desired.
Now you are ready to begin the ritual properly. It is preferred that all participants sit together in a circle, in lawn/beach/foldable chairs. Light some incense. This is a signal that something important, if not sacred, is about to happen. Incense has been used as a sacrament in religious functions in every society, but also as a perfume. Make sure everyone can smell the incense: light multiple sticks or walk around in a circle while the smoke coils upward.
Next, light the village fire. This can be accomplished with a brazier or in designated fire pits. If the wind isn’t strong or if indoors, a candle may substitute. If none of these things are possible, the lit incense sticks can serve as a symbolic fire. Place it in the center of the group, where everyone can see, and say: “This fire is the commitment to truth and unity we make now, in this moment. It is the fire that warms our village, sister to the first fire of prehistory, carrying the hopes and dreams of humanity to the sky above. This is the fire that burns in the torch of Lady Liberty, a beacon for all here gathered and beyond. What we say around this fire is consumed and returned as heat and light and smoke, recycled into Nature.”
Next comes the sharing of worries and fears. Try to have one or two folks sitting next to you in the direction you want to move (clockwise or counterclockwise) who know what they are supposed to do. This way things flow smoothly. It is best not to interrupt this moment to correct things. Let people vent whatever ails them. If you feel another layer of symbolism is needed, they could write it down during the first 15 minutes of the gathering, and now they can burn it in the fire after reading from it. The idea is to purge so that these stressors can be given names and “banished” from the discourse to follow.
(There’s a lot of “going around the circle” and “sharing” involved. Keep groups small so that everyone can take their time, but it doesn’t drag or pile on too much.)
When this part of the sharing is over, say: “Take a deep breath, steady yourself. Feel your muscles relax. Take another deep breath in, hold it, let it out slowly. Smile. Our worries burn in the fire. Take one last, deep breath, hold it. Breathe out and share the good news. What uplifting things have we heard of lately? What progress has been made toward liberty and justice? Let us celebrate these truths and feed them to the fire, too, so it may feed our commitment and strength. As we speak, imagine the light/heat of the fire nourishing you and everyone around you.”
Follow the same procedure as before. When it is over, say: “The fire of this commitment is now within each of us. We carry it out to the world and wider communities. Let us speak of what hopes and dreams the light now shines on. Honor each other’s work for a better democracy, and if you feel called to, find a way to directly support each other’s endeavors. Together, we rise.”
Follow the same procedure as before. If someone isn’t sure what to say, or has nothing new to say, prompt them to repeat what they’ve said before. There might be new people who haven’t heard and maybe able to lend a hand.
When this final sharing is over, it is time to “close the circle” and end the rite of the village fire. If you have chosen to make space for all religions, invite anyone who wishes to pray to do so. Stress that these should be “prayers of hope” and not specific pleas to a divine entity—those are private. It helps to have prepared something secular and inclusive to say at the end.
Enlist all participants in cleaning up now. Return natural items to Nature and pick up anything that may not biodegrade or cause harm to the ecosystem. If there’s anyone interested in doing this, allow folks to migrate the altar around a tree, rather than scatter it all completely.
A meal is recommended afterward. Potluck works nicely. Make sure everyone is given a warm farewell.