Accommodating Different Abilities at Pagan Rituals and Events

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S3E30 TRANSCRIPT:----more----

Yucca: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-Based Paganism. I'm one of your hosts, Yucca.

Mark: And I'm the other one, Mark.

Yucca: And today. We're thinking about rituals and pagan gatherings and how we as organizers and participants can help make those more accessible to the many different people in our communities.

Mark: Yeah, this is an important one and it, it kind of rears its head up every now and then when. Planning gatherings or designing rituals because it's so easy to slip into the, the. The comfortable accident of designing a ritual for somebody that's just like yourself.

Yucca: Right.

Mark: And we have people in our community that have all different kinds of levels of ability and have various different kinds of challenges.

And we want to make them as welcoming as possible for everybody. So we're gonna kind of kick around different ways of approaching that and reasons for it. Today,

Yucca: right. Yeah. And so I, I love that you talked about it as, as looking at. Designing the ritual just for ourselves or for everybody. Right. And the, the, I think as paganism is growing up a little bit, we are, we have a, a shift in the people and the life stages that are involved. So. A lot of times. I mean, thinking back to, when you talk about when you started in paganism there, it was a lot of mostly young people, right?

Mark: It was a lot of people that were in their. Thirties. I, I think that the big pagan up swelling in the late sixties, early seventies, those were people who were kind of college age. They were, they were late teens, early twenties. And by the time I got involved, those same people were still participating, but they were now, they were now in their.

Some of them into their forties and they, they were having their own kids and, and so forth. But what's happened now is certainly that first generation they're elderly now, right? I mean I'm 60 years old and I'm, I'm from a subsequent generation.

Yucca: Right. You're on the kind of younger. So the, the standing, the standing around in a circle and running around and all of that for 40 minutes is not going to be as possible for some of that generation. Now there's new generations have been entering in. So there still are plenty of people who, who that's a good fit for, but when we're designing, we just need to be aware of, well who's, who's at our ritual.


Mark: And bear in mind. There are people of every age who have different levels of ability, right? I ha I happen to have foot issues. I beat my feet to death waiting tables on a concrete floor. While I was working my way through college. And so, although I finally discovered some insults that help a tremendous amount for years, I've really been in agony, standing around in pagan circles.

Because it wasn't right to have a chair, right. There was, there was some idea that having a chair out there was disrupting the energy or whatever it was.

Yucca: right. Or if you were in the chair, somebody doesn't necessarily know that about you and they look at you. Right that so we can be self-conscious about judgment from people. And then we can, we can, not purposely being unkind, but sometimes we can make those judgements ourselves without being really aware of whatever that person's situation is.

Mark: Right, which is why I think we have to be overt about it. I, I think that in the welcoming remarks at a, at a circle, one of the things to do is to say, different people here are gonna have different physical conditions and different different challenges that they contend with. Do not feel that you can't pull up a chair and sit down if that's what you need, do, do not feel like you can't leave the circle because that will somehow break the magic bubble.

You, if you need to go take care of yourself, then go take care of yourself. There's nothing wrong with that. And it doesn't cause any harm to the ritual.

Yucca: Right. That's always been a big one for me is that there's been circles that I've been in that that's really important, but it rituals can get really overwhelming. Right. And, and some different types of personalities. We need to step back for a moment and just. Beyond the outskirts or step away or that sort of thing.

And if, and for having children in a ritual, sometimes you need to step away with the kids, need to step away, or, as the parent or the caregiver that the kids. They're about to lose it and it might not look like it to everybody else, but you need to, to get them to move them away and, and let them be able to process or do whatever it is they need and not, blow up in the middle of everything.

And so I think it's important that that be a, be an option that people have and not be judged for taking the removing one's self from the ritual and, and coming back in when ready or something like that.

Mark: Yes. I think it's ironic that I, one thing that I've seen pagan circles be rather good. Is about indulging children who are young and running around and, not shushing them, not trying to get them to sit still, just letting, letting them be the kids that they are. But they don't necessarily give the same latitude to the parents who need to sort of shepherd that energy and, keep an eye on when the kids are gonna melt down.


Yucca: And whether they're being safe or not. Right.

Mark: Right when they're, when they're getting sleepy, because there can be that burst of manic energy right before somebody's about to kill right over. And so being aware of all those things and making sure that people feel a strong sense of permission to take care of themselves or to ask for help in taking care of themselves, I think is really, I.

I know that I've been to some rituals where visually impaired people have had kind of a buddy like either assigned to them or of their own choice, who can lead them around the circle so that they're, they're safe. If moving around the circle is a part of what's happening in the ritual there.

And I, I just, I think we can be a lot more conscientious. Accommodating lots of different kinds of folks. As we design our rituals and our, our gatherings.

Yucca: right. And I think. It's gonna depend on each situation, but there's gonna be kind of two levels to that. And one is when you know, who is going to be at your ritual and some of their specific needs, but there's also a level of, of just kind of being accommodating any ways when you don't know, you don't know the specifics, maybe you don't know who's going to be at your ritual or you don't know all the details about.

Mark: Sure. Sure. And it's not their job to disclose all that to you either because people, people have privacy rights, they, they don't have to necessarily lay their whole medical history out in front of you in order to qualify for accommodation. But I mean, there is kind of a middle ground there where people, should be able to advocate for themselves if they need something.

If they're invited to ask for it, then I think they're much more likely to come forward and ask for it. Or avail themselves of it like a chair, for example. I know that in the fire circle gatherings that I've gone to, which is a particular stream of the pagan. Umbrella which is that the central ritual of which is a sort of freeform ritual container around a fire, usually from about 11 o'clock at night or midnight until Dawn.

Yucca: mm-hmm

Mark: And for a long time there was controversy about whether there could be any chairs anywhere in the circle. And as people became older and it became evident that some people just really needed that we started inserting that. At least in the events that I was involved in organizing, we started inserting a little bank of, three chairs in a particular place in a circle.

And they weren't meant to be just for any onlookers. They were meant to be for people that really needed them in order to accommodate their needs. And. Pretty soon. Everybody got used to that and they, they knew where the, where the, the accommodation bench was and they could and people used them and it, it worked out fine.

Yucca: Yeah. So I know we, we did something similar at the sun with that, and I really appreciated there how there was kind of layers where, of where you could situate yourself physically and how How you were being involved, everybody was involved, but you could be up there right next to the fire in the middle of all of it.

Or you could be kind of, snuggled in next to somebody or off to the edge. And there was this, this really, safe kind of beautiful fluidness to it where people could move in and out. And I mean, I remember that as one of, One of the most magical experiences at nights, right. Is, is that experience.

And there was a whole variety of, of how people were engaged. And that's a great example of, of having the mix of chairs and standing. And we had a few little blankets out there and, I know my kiddo was there kind of switching between people's laps, right. and all of that. So.

Mark: Yeah. And I, I mean, I, I felt really good about that and I felt that it, it really did meet a lot of needs. We did get one piece of feedback about about a, an ability concern that had to do with getting from the main lodge to the dining hall. Which was kind of over a hill and we were at high altitude.

And so for some of the people that were there, it was just difficult to, to hoof it from the main hall to the dining hall. And so the next time we do that event in 20 24, 1 of the things we're thinking about is renting a golf course, a golf cart or something like that, so that we can transport people that have a hard time with that walk.

Yucca: right. Well, and maybe we can we can build in more time to. the, when we're at each location. So that there's more flexibility in, in, how long you take to get to some place and not needing to be jumping back and forth between the two places. Right. So that might be something that we could work on.

Mark: Yeah. So it's just a matter of keeping all of these factors in mind and just kind of putting yourself in the position of, okay. If I'm in a wheelchair, how do I negotiate this? If, if I, if I can walk, but I have, limitate limitations in my walking, I can only do it for a certain amount of time or I can only stand for a certain amount of time, all of those, all of those various issues that confront people.

I mean, I'm in, reasonably good condition given my age, but still, I don't wanna stand for an hour on, on my. My 60 year old feet.

Yucca: I, I don't wanna either on mine. that sounds too long

Mark: it

Yucca: I mean, I could do it, but doesn't sound good.

Mark: Well, the other, the other thing about that when it comes to ritual design is. Making sure that there are engaging activities for the people that are there in the circle that they're not just standing there watching other people do sort of performative ritual stuff.

Yucca: It's not a play

Mark: No.

Yucca: plays that you go to watch. Yeah.

Mark: they're they're not a spectator sport.

They are a participatory

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: Um, and it's, I mean, you can incorporate a little theatrical production of people playing different roles as a part of a ritual, but if you're gonna do that and nothing else, do it. In theater style seating where people can sit down and watch. If it's gonna be a circle, give people in the circle, something to do, give them something to sing, give them a place to move, give them, snacks that are passed around, whatever it is.

A craft thing that they can all do. We, we talk about all the different possibilities in rituals, but engagement is so important. For all of that.

Yucca: Right. So a couple that we've mentioned, we've talked about. Being, we've talked about the ability for people to enter or leave the ritual when they need to, and being able to be the one who decides that for themselves. We've talked about having the seating accessibility, what are some other big ones to just be aware of in general, without really knowing who is going to be there, who your audience, or who your participants are going to be?

Can you think of ones that would be helpful?

Mark: Well, the other one that I can think of is. For people that experience various kinds of overwhelm just from crowds or maybe thundering drums

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: you know, just, they, they just, they get that sensory overload thing where it's like, I've gotta get outta here. And rather than have them kind of blow out of the circle in a really uncomfortable and ungrounded kind of way, it would be a lot more sensible to have a quieter, calmer place.

The. To go to, maybe under a tree with some blankets and just kind of a nice, cozy, comfortable place to be. The first fire circle gathering that I ever went to was an event called fire dance in 2002. And They actually had a hollow Redwood tree at this site. That was the grounding zone.

And there was a person who was a volunteer who was stationed to be there to just kind of help people to ground. And they had blankets and there was a little chimney there with some, burning some wood so that it was warm. And. Put up some fairy lights and things in on the inside of this tree.

So it was this charming, very welcoming little space and people could come and they could just, calm down, just, just, relax. And of course you could hear the drumming off in the distance, but it was far enough away from the ritual circle that you didn't feel bombarded by it.

Yucca: right. So you could feel part of it, but not, not overwhelmed by it. If that was.

Mark: Right. And as we become more aware of neurodiversity and of just the incredible diversity of people and what their tastes are and what their needs are,

Yucca: And how that shifts too, right? Because, we can all be very different. And in each day our needs may be different depending on what is happening in our lives and all of the experiences that we're having.

Mark: right. Right. Because someone who is at that very moment able bodied and doesn't have any particular mental diversity or mental health issues. Maybe they just had a loss in their family. Maybe they've, just, become unemployed. And they're really afraid about things. People can become in the ritual context where you're emotionally open.

People can become very. Impacted just by being in the ritual container and having a place for them to land and somebody to kind of, sit with them makes a big difference,

Yucca: Hmm. Yeah. So this has been kind of for a longer ritual, but, but when you're doing a shorter thing as well, these are types of things to keep in mind, right. Even if you, if you consider. At 10 minute opening, here we are, we're opening this, just, still just sort of looking around when you're designing it.

Just thinking about different types of abilities and different people. There can just make such a huge difference.

Mark: Yeah. And making people know in advance that they can take care of themselves, that they can bring their camp chair. That that's welcome at the circle because I mean, what I remember, particularly from when I was first starting out, the idea of a chair in the circle was really sort of taboo. Almost. It was, oh, that's gonna disrupt the energy.

And if people are dancing, they're gonna trip over it. And well, we don't want people tripping over things, but we need to accommodate people that

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: aren't going to be wildly dancing around the circle. Right.

Yucca: Typically, we can, if we're aware of that, that's an issue to begin with. Then when you're dancing, you make the choice to, dance two feet over to the right instead, right.

Mark: Sure. Yeah. I mean, I have seen in rituals, I have seen people who are seated in a chair. Sort holding hands with someone who's standing up

Yucca: Mm-hmm,

Mark: kind of, doing a, a, for the person in the chair, they're doing kind of an above the waist dance and the, and the, the person who's standing is doing kind of a full body dance and everybody is engaged in participating and it's a lovely experience for everybody.

Yucca: Mm-hmm

Mark: So, all of this is just to say that. changing. Paganism is changing. It always has been changing from the moment that Neo paganism got started up again. It's been evolving and changing consistently and it will continue to do so. And My orientation to this has always been let's do what works for people, let's, let's do what actually affects their minds.

Let's do what, what values actually affirm them and help them to live well.

Yucca: Right,

Mark: And this is just another example of that. Just to be considerate of those who are differently abled than we are.

Yucca: Yeah. And just being intentional about the way that we are growing and changing as a community.

Mark: Mm-hmm mm-hmm . And I will say one other thing about it, which is that when you get a concept for a ritual. Design some, some flash of inspiration. Sometimes you can really get married to it. And sometimes it isn't something that's actually gonna work for everybody.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: then you may need to surrender the idea that you're married to in order to do something that's more accessible.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Hopefully you can do some adapted version of it, but just be aware that, Not all good ideas are implementable, right? Much better to, to let go of what sounded like a really cool thing, because it wasn't really gonna work for the group you're working with than to try to force it on them and have people feel excluded and not seen.

Yucca: Right. And I think that that's pretty good advice, not just for building a ritual, but for any type of relationship, whether it's a group or, two individuals is, is being really present with what is the reality of your group and what are the actual needs of the group. And sometimes that doesn't line up actually most of the time, it's probably not gonna line up with your, with your visions ahead of time, but. if you let it be, it probably will end up being something amazing.

Mark: Yep,

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: because if everybody's engaged, then they're all bringing the magic of their personalities. To bear, right? They're bringing their creativity and their particular unique spark to, to what's going on. And that, that just tends to make a very magical kind of environment.

Yucca: Yeah.

Mark: Well, thanks, Yucca. This is been a little bit shorter of a, of one, but I'm, I'm really glad we had this conversation. I think it's such an important issue for our community.

Yucca: I agree. Yeah, I think, and I think it's great that we gave it its own episode because it really is that important.

Mark: Huh? Yep, absolutely. So, if you have comments or questions, you can reach us at the wonder podcast cues. At That's the wonder podcast, QS, all one and we look forward to hearing from you. Otherwise we will see you next week for the Equinox issue because we are back in the holiday season.

It's September hard to believe, but it's here.

Yucca: Yep. All right. Thanks everybody.


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