When I was living in the tension of the hinge between Roman Catholicism and Paganism, I helped to make a ceremony. I had been exploring what Mary the Mother of Jesus, who I called “the Blessed Mother” at that time, meant to me. I attended Mass and I attended Full Moon Services. I was, in my white girl kind of way, like the Cuban Santerians I know who are clear that they are Catholic as well as practicing la Regla de Ocha.
I had friends who had rejected Christianity in such a way that the very idea of anything Christian made them angry, or at least some kind of aggressively apathetic. They didn’t want anything to do with Christianity. But I was able, somehow, with Mary’s help, to be present with some of them as a plan for a ceremony emerged. A ceremony that might heal some of the wounds, gentle some of the anger, awaken some of the feelings behind the alleged apathy.
We made a ceremony involving aspecting—the Pagan practice of invoking a spirit or deity or ancestor into one’s self. Some would call it very deep method acting, but in the context of the ceremony (which some might also call Sacred Theater), it was our belief that were bringing the power and image of Mary the Mother of God into ourselves and our ritual.
Four of us invited four different images of Mary to come to us. Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Señora del Caridad del Cobre in Cuba, where she is the patroness of the country) in her gold attire. Our Lady of Mercy all in white. Our Lady of Perpetual Help in red and blue. Our Lady of Sorrows, all in blue.
In Roman Catholicism and other magisterial branches of Christianity, these names are called “titles.” In Paganism, such “titles” are also referred to as “aspects.” They each refer to a task or way of being of a deity or image or thought-form, depending on how one looks at such things. For Christians, they are each a way of looking at a single, unified person.
In this ceremony, though, each of us represented a different facet of the jewel that is a goddess. “If it walks like a goddess and quacks like a goddess….if people pray to her like a goddess….” well, you can see where I’m going here. There will doubtless be more on this topic as this blog blossoms, but for now, hear me when I say that I believe with all my heart that Mary Mother of God—how important is that title!—is a goddess.
Over the course of what came to be called simply, “The Mary Ceremony,” each of the Aspects spoke through the woman wearing her colors. Each woman had prayed and prepared for a good long time for these moments, for these monologues and invitations. The celebrants, as we called them—that is, the participants in the Circle, not the ritual leaders—were each invited to come to one of the Aspects, the one that called most to their heart, and give Her a stone. The stone, semi-precious, tumbled, lovely, represented a prayer, hope, grief, or other significant feeling or event in the celebrant’s life.
I was aspecting Our Lady of Sorrows. I do not remember what she said through my mouth. I remember singing “Salve Regina” and “Hail Mary”; over and over for hours for before the ceremony. But when the time came to speak, I felt myself take a back seat to Our Lady and her Seven Sorrows. And then the celebrants came.
They came and they told me their sorrows. They told me of a children lost to death, to abuse, to drugs. They told me of their own abuse. They told me how they had been seriously considering suicide, but they knew that the Lady could hold their sorrows. I don’t remember details or names or faces – my vision was hazy as I listened and took in their pain and transmuted it into love for each of these beautiful children of God, images of God, children of Earth and Starry Heaven.
Someone told me later that that ceremony saved her life. That she is walking today because she knew that a power greater than herself, a loving, feminine presence who knew her pain, could hold it, could take it, could transform it slowly.
In the Anglo-Protestant and Protestant-derived traditions like Unitarian Universalism, we don’t talk a whole lot about ritual as pastoral care. But I know from this ceremony and others, that ceremony, done well, can be one of the most healing things we do. Yes, the sacred services of Sunday worship, yes. But also the creative, genuine rituals our youth put together and then wonder as they grow up what happened to the energy they found at the Mountain or in their own small groups. How often do we UU’s touch one another in the depths of our hearts, in the shape of our bodies? Outside of youth services and services where ministers come together with one another, do we trust one another to bring an embodied experience of ceremony?
What is liturgy for us? For some of us it is very important that it be plain, simple, even without congregational singing. For many we sing two hymns a week.
Still, one congregation I know sings five hymns every Sunday. Another sings together for half an hour before worship every week. Another congregation often asks children to help plan worship. Another offers laying on of hands and blessings of healing, and congregants line up to be touched and blessed and healed by nothing more than the presence of the Holy brought together in the assembly.
How creative do we dare to be? What risks will we take? Are we willing to fail as we learn what works, what meets the needs of congregants, what might grow our movement spiritually as well as socially?
I’m not saying that a ritual in the woods with water and candles, stones and women draped in gauzy colors is the way to go for most UU’s. But I am saying we must be more than wounded. There is healing energy among us. We can be more than ex-Catholics, ex-Mormons, ex-whatevers. For some, healing comes through the intellect, or maybe it does. For many, it comes through the body, through magic, through risk.