I sit here watching the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Any holdover of an ancient ritual always fascinates me, even if they’ve added a rock concert and people in spandex-with-Christmas-lights-built-in bouncing around in large transparent balls. The lighting of a sacred (even if they don’t use that word) flame at the beginning of a big event, and its extinguishing at the end, show what a primal and universal symbol fire still is.
But I already did a blog entry on the Olympic flame in 2008, so why repeat myself? Instead, I’ll mention another thing I saw during the coverage of the Games this year that was a little surprising and also a little bit pagan. Before one of the ski events, they showed clips of some of the athletes standing away from the ski run, their eyes closed, their hands and bodies swaying back and forth in the pattern of the course they were about to race on. The announcer said that this was an example of “visualization”, where they would run through the course in their minds before actually skiing on it, and apparently most of the skiers do this. I wasn’t surprised by their doing it, I already know about the experiments involving shooting a basketball and how visualization without practicing was nearly as effective as practicing alone. I guess I’m either surprised that they’d never shown it in earlier Olympic coverage, or surprised that they decided to show it this year. A sign of more acceptance of “New Age” practices? Or did they just have to work harder to fill their coverage?
Having a background in ceremonial magic before I joined ADF, I’ve been very familiar with using it as a magical technique as well. It’s definitely a useful skill to have when we do our meditation and contacting work at An Bruane, but it’s not something we use much in our High Day rites. Having studied and discussed visualization for twenty years now, I know all too well that not everyone is good at it, and I would never want to design a public ritual that members of the public wouldn’t be able to get something out of because they didn’t have the training or the aptitude for it. The interest level among my Grovemates in attending courses on magical techniques seems to be pretty low, I’m not sure whether this is from lack of interest or from people already having learned them elsewhere. We seem to do well enough without it.
ADF Vice ArchDruid Kirk Thomas has suggested that ritual leaders do a brief visualization of the various assembled Kindreds after their invocation, to help the participants feel their presence. Kalvin Thomas did this at the rite he led last weekend at ConVocation. I have to admit I felt it a little jarring, if only because it was phrased as “see the Nature Spirits enter, see the Ancestors enter, see the Gods enter”, and this was after we’d invited all three of the Kindreds already. While I’m not a Roman practitioner myself, I always feel that the only reason you go back and do a ritual part a second time is if you screwed it up the first time, and the whole time we were doing the visualization, I was thinking, “What? What did we do wrong, that we have to have them enter again?” If we do start using this technique at our own rituals (and I’m certainly inclined to try it out at least once), rest assured we’ll be telling people to see the assembled Kindreds already in the ritual space. No backsies in the liturgy!
And now I’ve seen William Shatner do a monologue for the closing ceremony, including a reference to making love in a canoe. I honestly thought he was going to do that Monty Python joke about American beer, and wondered if he would really use the F word on live television. Apparently not. Still, it’s good to be reminded that sometimes even an experienced practitioner cannot visualize things as bizarre as the real world can provide!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF