I think with any ritual, so much is based upon the intention of the ritual work. And rituals rarely have just one intention. Is the ritual to do an act of magic, to honor the gods, to acknowledge the season, to do personal growth/transformative work, to build community, to acknowledge a rite of passage, to facilitate a grieving process.
When building or raising energy, the ritual team needs to look at the intention of the ritual, and match any energy work being done with that intention. For instance, if the ritual is solely about personal transformative work, then I could offer a ritual structured to get people into a personal trance state to do their own work. Energy would be raised but the room might be darker and people would be encouraged to have their eyes closed or half-lidded to facilitate both.
On the other hand, if the ritual is intended to build community, then I’m going to want more light so that people can meet each other’s eyes and see one another, and encourage the energy building to be with their eyes opened, not just having their own experience but sharing that with others.
If the intention of the ritual is to make space for grieving, then the energy wouldn’t necessarily be a cone of power, but perhaps a rocking/cradling chant, or a ritualist offering an invocation, poem, or trance journey that takes people into a deep emotional place. I’ve facilitated rituals where there was deep crying and grieving, with people literally on the floor uttering terrible things that had happened to them, and that raised more energy than many “cones of power” in other rituals.
What’s the Goal?
But the question comes back to, why is that energy being raised (or moved, or transformed) and what is being done with it. In a grief ritual, I think the goal is a release, a catharsis, and a transformation into hope for the future. In a ritual where a magical act is being done–casting a spell, or sending energy to a particular political goal or effort–there’s a clear focus.
I’ve done an experimental energy raising as part of an ADF Druidry ritual where we did an ecstatic energy raising to hallow the blessing (waters which people would drink in to drink in the blessing of the gods). There was a visual focus–the water, and an auditory focus–the chant, as well other focuses (shared movement, dance).
Some rituals I’ve seen that fall into the Chaos Magick/Occult realm, are perhaps more similar to Vodou and to Seidhr trances in that the energy raised is channeled into one person who aspects/draws down a deity into themselves.
It’s sometimes more difficult to channel the energy to specific focus when the intention is personal growth work. That energy is often more like shooting the energy up to the ceiling and letting it fall like rain; typically when I’m building energy like that I try to shape the group less like a cone, and more like a cauldron, where we’re cooking in the energy, and the energy is the spiritual heat/fire that effects the transformation.
What if There’s no Focus?
I believe that, even without a clear focus and channeling of the energy, the energy goes where it’s needed. I believe that even the act of engaging in an ecstatic ritual and raising that energy can effect a transformation. We don’t always know what we’re praying for–sometimes we’re just praying for things to be better, we’re praying for an unnamed blessing, and the energy goes where it’s needed. And even moving that kind of energy through our bodies can shake up our old patterns and transform us.
Typically when I’m offering a public ritual, one of my intentions is community building. Many of the people attending my rituals have never been to a ritual before, or haven’t been involved with the Pagan community at all. In some ways, the ecstatic energy raising becomes a “carrot” to get them involved again.
The trick to this carrot is, the energy raising feels good and people like it, and for some maybe it becomes just an endorphin high. However, I’ve found that the more I engage with it in a specific group, it transcends being just about the endorphin high of running that kind of energy and 100 people pounding out a chant on the floor. Over time, that energy (with the intention to do this) can build community. It’s tricky. I have to begin slowly, get people to actually acknowledge each other and look into each other’s eyes. If I can get them to do that, maybe I can get them to whisper their dream for the future to one another, or even say it aloud into the center.
For a group of people that doesn’t know each other, that’s a big step. It’s a lot more intimacy than they were perhaps prepared for when they walked in to a public ritual, but usually they’re thanking me after.
Energy Builds Community
But what happens after the energy building part, is that there is an ambient energy to the room and space. People have shared something together, and that energy keeps on simmering. After a big energy-raising ritual, people have something to talk about. The ice is broken. Sometimes I think that the point of the whole ritual may have less to do with honoring the seasons and the gods and more to do with giving people enough energy, and something to talk about, so that people can form real friendships.
It’s friendships and tribe energy that builds the foundation of a community, it’s connection that keeps people coming back. I can offer great rituals, with lots of endorphin-pumping energy, but if people don’t leave with some kind of personal connection, they usually don’t make a point of coming back.
I just thought I’d offer another perspective on some things to do with the energy that’s being built in a ritual. The big energy-raising rituals can focus that energy–still provide the peak experience, but also use it for a purpose.
I call the ritual style I use, ecstatic/participatory ritual. It’s not just about me facilitating an experience for a group, it’s me trying to help that group facilitate the experience for themselves. Over time, this energetic builds volunteers and joiners, vs. audiences who watch but don’t have a stake.
Instead of just invoking something with my own poetry, I’d step into the center and ask people to imagine what’s important to them about the (element/ancestor/deity/McGuffin) and to perhaps speak that aloud. That invests their energy and emotion in the ritual. If they’re invested, vs. just watching me do something, and I can build that investment over time, they’re more likely to feel a connection to the work and feel that they can participate and be involved.
As I almost always say before I offer a public ritual, we each bring the energy to this ritual. I can’t raise the energy in the ritual without you. What if we each sang and danced and breathed and moved and concentrated like it mattered, like this ritual really mattered?
It’s a shift in perspective but it leads to a different kind of energy. Not just the spiky “Hey we build a cone and that was fun!” kind of energy, but a deeper, “We’re connected and raising this energy for a shared purpose” energy.