Public Ritual Gone Wrong 5/5: Moving Forward

Before getting to anything else: it has come to my attention that the gentleman I have referred to as House Arcanum is not, in fact, the sole individual to whom that title belongs.  My apologies to my readers, and to the rest of that House: the misunderstanding is entirely my fault.  I will henceforth refer to that gentleman as Bousiris, and edit previous posts to reflect that reality in the coming days.  Again: my apologies to all involved for that misrepresentation.


From beginning to end, the process of dealing with the ritual and the Sacred Experience Committee was terrifying, emotional and exhausting.  Still, I’m glad that I went through with it.  If nothing else, the festival which has been so central to my social and spiritual life over the last fourteen years remains a safe (if now slightly stained) place.  Several in my encampment would not even consider returning had I not secured an apology—though there are still no guarantees that they will choose to attend the festival again.  Above and beyond that, I have been encouraged to follow through with my intention to join the Heartland Spiritual Alliance and get involved with the Sacred Experience Committee, once I have the money to do so.  The apology itself … well, having spoken with Bousiris personally, please allow me to say that I believe it to be more sincere that it may appear[1].

Thank you, Bousiris. Thank you, Mr. Crane, Alexandros, and Aradia for working with us toward closure and progress on this issue.  I look forward to working with you all in the future.

The festival, the email exchanges, the meeting, and the composition of the apology all took place under the influence of Venus retrograde through Gemini.  I cannot believe that this fact did not greatly shape both the ritual  itself and the fallout afterwards.  One wonders if the astrological “weather” of the moment at which the ritual was destined to be performed could shape to process of writing that ritual over the course of the preceding year.

The old hurts which were dredged up by the ritual seem well within the character of the Venus retrograde.  The old ways of responding to hurt—particularly on the part of Bousiris , who would later admit that such behaviors were not only counterproductive but something he wished to excise[2], and on my own part[3]—are even more perfectly aligned with the way Austin Coppock characterized the retrograde through Gemini.  None of this excuses anything, of course, but it does shed light in some interesting places.

With all that said, there remain a few points which I was either unable to bring up in the meeting, and/or which  wish to address to the public at large.  I do this not to try to “score a second victory” but because I think these issues are important to the community as a whole.

1) There was a great deal of talk about artistic vision.  Specifically Bousiris said:

“ …in your email and the email that was forwarded to me from the vendor, people talk about safety. About how Heartland is a safe place to be yourself; to express yourself. That’s what I did. I’m an artist at heart and the work we offered was an artistic expression of an idea.” –Expressions and Healing

Firstly: we were talking about safe spaces, which is a concept somewhat more specific than “safety”.  Secondly, as the head of the Sacred Experience Committee, Bousiris is not just “an artist”, but a spiritual leader; as such, he carried a responsibility and an authority beyond that of just “an artist”.  So, yes, while the festival ought to be a safe place for Bousiris (or any other ritual leader) to experiment with his art, that freedom is necessarily restricted by his leadership responsibility to the attendees’ safety.

2) At one point I was accused of advocating “reverse” sexism:

… I cannot buy into the sexist idea that it would have been “better” or more “correct” to have men represent the old guard and women do the questioning. – “The Response”

That was not my argument.  That would never be my argument.  Such a frame, why possibly useful to some people, still reinforces the very gender-essentialist, heterosexist, and fundamentally normative narratives which I believe modern neo-Paganism must abandon in order to be a valid cultural movement[4].  Further, such a frame would have all the same problems as the one which actually took place: the sanctification of violence, the reinforcement of the “war of the sexes” meme, and the triggering of survivors of gendered violence.  Although violence by men against women is more prevalent in society, violence by women against men is equally morally abhorrent.

3) In his closing his apology, House Arcanum said:

I am not timid in my exploration of magic and the self and I cannot make apologies for that but, I will certainly go to further lengths in the future to attempt to foresee the entire spectrum of impact.  I cannot share with you the exact phrase that cast light on all of this for me but, I can say it was my intent only to shed light on darkened places.  It was never my intent to summon up demons of the past and stand them in front of people and for that I apologize. – Garrish Light

The phrase he could not share with you was my own.  In my attempt to convey the severity and nature of the hurt which we had endured, I explained to him that “… [with your ritual] you opened our emotional closets, reached into our deepest, darkest shadows, pulled out our monsters, and fed us to them.”[5]

4) In my initial email, I said:

Public ritual is not the place to be “edgy”. … And as to the value of being “edgy” versus the value of *not hurting people*: http://www.shakesville.com/2010/08/survivors-are-so-sensitive.html

I stand by that statement, but I wish to clarify it a little.

While the ritual in question, as executed, was an ethical clusterfuck, much if not all of the damage could have been mitigated by doing one thing: telling the participants exactly what they were going to be involved in.  For example (at a bare minimum):  “Good afternoon, everyone.  We’re going to be doing a series of rituals aimed at casting light in all your darkest emotional closets.  There’s going to be screaming and yelling and even some throwing things about.  This may be troubling to some of you, and if you would like to leave now, this is your chance.”  In the feminist blogosphere, this is what folks call a “Trigger Warning” or a “Content Note”[6].  Now, I recognize that that would have been nigh impossible for the main rituals, given the way people tend to trickle in as it goes, which means that it would have been an excellent high-intensity workshop.

I feel that bleeding-edge ritual is best reserved for groups who are working together intimately.  Within the bounds of established trust and magical resonance, themes which would be harmful and horrific in a public ritual can be used to heal and empower.  This is not to say that public ritual attendees “want nothing more than the comfort of well-worn predictability … nothing more than to live in the past complacent with constraining formality.”[7]:  what they want[8]  is to know that they will be handled with care and respect by their ritual leaders.

5)  Finally: I am not a spiritual leader.  I aspire to be one, some day, but at the moment I’m a madman with a machete in one hand and a bottle of mead in the other, blazing trails through magical and spiritual jungles that bear little resemblance to any of the maps I have available to me.  I am certain of little in this world or any other.  What wisdom I have to offer is hard-won through trial and error and careful observation.

I make no claims to any secret or absolute morality: my thesis is that Post-Modern critical analysis, queer theory, and intersectional feminism are absolutely essential to the pursuit of Truth or justice.  I believe this holds true whether one is a magician, a witch, an activist, a student, or even an “innocent” bystander.  These analytical and intellectual frameworks are available to anyone with the time to study them and the capacity for sincere introspection.  My own understanding and practice of them is, necessarily, imperfect, but I expect more of myself even as I expect more of others.


While this is the last I (currently) intend to write about this incident by itself, I am happy to answer any questions that people may have.  Further, if anyone is interested in investigating the matter for themselves, Bousiris may be contacted at housearcanum [at] gmail [dot] com; the head of the Heartland Spiritual Alliances PR committee may be reached at RainWitch [at] gmail [dot] com.


1 – My mother calls this sort of thing an “I’m sorry, but…” apology.

2 – Expressions and Healing: “My response was carefully crafted to make you as angry as I was. (perhaps this is where the magnitude of my asshole-ishness is most apparent. I broke my own tenets and did not honor a principle of the House, the first tenet of the House, that could have had us navigate around the anger but, still through the issue) Again, it’s a setting I’m trying to unlearn.”

3 – Debriefing Venus Retrograde

4 – Yeah, I went there.  Here’s the short version: if modern neo-Pagans can’t ditch their back-assward views on sex and gender, they might as well go back to the totalitarian patriarchal religions they came from.

5 – To the best of my ability to recall.

6 – You may have seen me employ this in the past.  Although this is not a blog about feminism, per se,  I feel there is value in the practice, and I want this to be a feminist safe space inasmuch as that is possible when dealing with double-0-duh and 100-level arguments.

7 – The Response

8 – Inasmuch as they are a monolithic group, which they are not.

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One response to “Public Ritual Gone Wrong 5/5: Moving Forward

  1. Pingback: HPF 2013 After Action Report Part I: Overview | Journey Through The Obsidian Dream

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