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Problems in group ritual

What do you do when someone 'freaks' during a working - that is to say, they are behaving in a manner which is contrary to expectation? Examples of this include: people staying in trance after a pathworking, refusing to give up a possession, epileptic-type fits, hysterical outbursts, and people going off into their own little world and not following the ritual outline.

I've seen all these things happen during group workings, and occasionally, they've happened to me. In a way, such occurrences are proof that ritual work can affect people very intensely. Anyone can react in this way, from a novice at their first working to an experienced adept. It should definitely not be seen as a lack of competence or ability. Yes, it can be disturbing, but such occurrences can actually heighten the group intensity, rather than bringing it to a halt.

The first time I saw someone freak during a working was rather frightening. A group of us were sitting around a priestess who had 'gone out' on the astral to discover the character of an entity. She began moaning & violently twisting around. We were totally at a loss what to do, and tried various things in order to 'help' her. When she came out of trance, she was very pissed off with us for our well-meaning attempts, as we had inadvertently interfered with her trance. We didn't expect what happened, so we assumed that something was 'wrong' and that we 'had' to do something about it.

The problem with this kind of thing is that you have to be present at a freakout before you can really get a 'feel' for how to behave when it happens 'next' time. When I was a psychiatric nurse, I occasionally had to deal with violent patients. The first time it happened, I 'froze' - didn't know exactly what to do and had no confidence. With experience however, I began to get a 'feel' for when it was appropriate to back off, and when it was appropriate to leap in and grapple. I think that ritual freakouts are similar. Sometimes, it is appropriate to get in close and grapple with someone, and at others it may be enough just to stand or sit close by someone and carefully observe them - until you feel it is appropriate to speak to, or touch them. But you can't lay down guidelines for the appropriate way to act - you have to develop an intuition for it, based on experience.

Ritual Officers

One approach for dealing with this issue is to appoint ritual officers or exorcists. This is a job for experienced ritualists - preferably people who have either witnessed freakouts in ritual before, or have had them themselves. The task of ritual officers is to pay attention to other people, rather than letting themselves go. In my own experience, I have found that the presence of an experienced, and trusted 'anchor' allows people to go further into trance than they might otherwise do, as they know that if they go too far, there is someone who can pull them back. This sometimes requires the projection of a distinct persona - of calm authority, that can reach through trance and pull people back. I have often found that standing near people - close enough to show that you are attending to them and are prepared to help - but not close enough to be invasive, can be helpful.

The role of ritual exorcist does appear in various magical systems. In Voodoo, for example, the officiating priests do not become possessed, but act very much as a Master of Ceremonies - paying attention to the drummers, audience, helping celebrants into possession and, back out again. I recall an account of a priest 'heckling' a loa who had ridden a celebrant and caused him to climb a high tree - the priest told the loa not to leave the celebrant in the tree, but to climb down again. I have been at mass TOPY workings (80+ attending) where ritual officers not only were on the lookout for individual response to the working, but could change the tempo of the working if they felt it was appropriate. This can be useful, particularly if workings are going on for several hours in a large space.

As a general guideline for ritual freakouts - if you're not sure what to do - don't do anything. Bear in mind that if you do attempt to 'help' someone in what for them is an inappropriate manner, they are very likely to be very pissed off. Being jerked out of deep trance suddenly is unpleasant. I've found, particularly in some of the long workings done at seminars, that sitting down for a while and 'resting' is sometimes useful - taking a breather if you don't feel up to maintaining an intense gnosis is okay, if it helps you get back into the fray later. Chaos group rituals tend to be rather free-form, and with this in mind, if someone seems to be behaving in a manner which is at odds with the working plan, it might well be best to leave them to it, providing they don't get in other people's way, or look likely to injure themselves.

In general, we need to be aware that not everyone will respond to a working in the same way. Just as it takes some people longer to build up a visualization than others, so too, individuals will have different gnostic thresholds, and some will require more earthing/banishing than others. If someone is feeling weird after a working, they are unlikely to want to draw attention to themselves. Workings do not stop with laughter banishing - we need to be attentive to how they affect people afterwards.

Perhaps a useful attitude to foster is that whoever is ‘leading’ a session of group work is not only responsible for the rite when it happens, but for checking on people afterwards.