As more and more newcomers delve into animism, it’s important to have a conversation about etiquette for sharing sacred space. By “sacred space” I mean formal and informal places of worship, rituals, and liminal space where the apparent world and the Otherworld meet. The latter could just be a meditation or moon circle. If you’re engaging with Spirit in the presence of others, it’s shared sacred space.
As with everything in Pan Society, this isn’t a strict do’s and don’ts list. There is no dogma. Things vary from facilitator to facilitator. It’s more of a sharing of cultural norms so that newcomers know what to expect.
Don’t Assume It’s an Open Invitation
Some events are open to anyone. Others are not. There may be rules about gender, age, spiritual affiliation, health, group size, male to female ratio, intoxication, mental health, menstruation status, or who knows what else. If you’re not used to this, it may seem discriminatory. It’s not.
Everyone is of equal value, but everyone is not appropriate for every event. The facilitator’s job is to make sure that sacred space is a safe, appropriate place for all attendees. Sometimes this means limiting who can attend. So don’t bring your children, best friend, spouse, pet, or news anchor (ask me why that’s listed here!) without asking the host first.
If you are knowingly coming to sacred space, be prepared to be in that space. This means be mentally grounded and freshly bathed (purified). Leave your work or relationship stress outside the space. Bring an open mind and open heart. When a group of people come together, all those energies influence the group. If everyone comes ready to share space and participate fully, this benefits everyone.
Turn off your cell phone. Or better yet, don’t even bring it into the space.
If you think you might have to use the bathroom, do it ahead of time.
If you’re supposed to bring something, do your part. You may be asked to bring food. You could be asked to bring something for the altar. You won’t be asked to bring a hostess gift, but this is customary to bring a gift, food, or donation.
If you are asked to donate, give something. There may be costs for the space, materials, or food. This can only be sustained if everyone gives something. The rule of thumb is to contribute the value of what you receive. If you don’t think it’s worth anything to you, don’t come. Leave the space for someone who can benefit.
Of course, if you truly have nothing to contribute, it’s okay. Your presence is welcome. Just know that community events are made possible by the donations, volunteers, and participation of the community itself. If no one does those things, there is no community and no event. Don’t wait for someone else to do it if you can.
Dress is usually “come as you are.” So make yourself comfortable. Ritual clothing is generally optional. If the event is sky clad, you’re generally told ahead of time repeatedly so that there is no mistake.
Be On Time
Some spaces and events are really relaxed, but if there is a ritual, be on time. Everything is all about energy. When you go in and out of sacred space it really disrupts the energy. I once participated in a ritual where nobody respected this boundary. It made the ritual rather powerless.
Keep It Clean
Leave your loving mark wherever you go, and leave the space better than you found it. It assures that you’re welcomed back and shares your love with the world.
Don’t Take Pictures
There are many reasons why taking pictures is not permitted. First, this is sacred space. Do you take pictures during church, a pow wow, or a funeral? Most of us don’t. It’s unseemly.
If you are taking pictures, you’re not fully participating. You will have a better experience if you are fully present. Your movements and flash may also take participants out of their experiences and bring their focus on you.
Finally, it’s a deeply personal experience. Unless you ask everyone for their permission (and the facilitator’s), it’s not appropriate to assume that it’s okay to intrude on someone else’s sovereignty.
It’s exciting to be in a great place seeing new people or those you haven’t seen in a while. It’s natural to want to socialize. Keep it to times that are designated for that. During ritual, focus on the event. Side conversations are a distraction to those who are in devotion.
Everyone’s energy adds to the event. You can be distracting, a dead weight, or part of the joy and vibrancy. Why not uplift? Let’s work with the energy to make it a fabulous event for everyone.
Respect Magical Tools
When in doubt, don’t touch anything. Generally speaking this refers to the altar, altar tools, and ritual clothing. To be safe, until you get the hang of rituals, assume that everything is a no touch zone. Items may be cleansed or charged, so unless you know for sure that it’s okay to touch, don’t.
Generally speaking, we move in a clockwise fashion (anti clockwise in the southern hemisphere). This is not random. It’s purposeful. We do this to build the energy. It is also the direction of the sun and life.
When we “unwind” the energy, or if we’re reaching out to the ancestors in the Other World, we move counter clockwise. When it doubt, just watch others.
What happens in sacred space stays in sacred space. (This is another reason for the “no pictures” rule). You can’t expect people to be vulnerable if they are subject to gossip later. Be cool. Be kind. Keep everything to yourself.
Make Yourself Comfortable
You’re a sovereign person. If you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to. If you just want to watch, make sure that is permitted. If you want to leave, that’s okay. (FYI- The general rule of sacred space is once you’re in, you stay in until it’s closed. Leaving is disruptive. This is one reason why some events do not allow newcomers. So, if you are on the fence about staying, talk to the facilitator beforehand to create an exit strategy).
When weighing the choice between taking care of your own needs and disrupting the sacred space, take care of yourself first. If you are uncomfortable, resentful, negative, or feeling unwell, staying with that energy will impact the group.
Some people have special needs, like perhaps you can’t stand very long. It’s okay to sit. Just let someone know so that you can be in a place that suits everyone involved. Some rituals have food. If you have special dietary needs, it’s best to bring something for yourself that you can eat so that you can fully participate should the hostess forget.
Be a Good Guest
If you’re not leading or hosting, be a good guest. Help with the clean up. Keep your helpful suggestions, political opinions, corrections, dietary commentary, or spiritual expertise to yourself. When it’s your event, you can run it the way you want to. Most community events are acts of love. They are not done to boost anyone’s ego, make a ton of money, or recruit followers. Stay humble and grateful so that we may enjoy their generosity in the future.