It was my first ritual. I had been reading an introductory book on Wicca and decided to try casting a circle. I nervously followed all the steps for the rite. Step one was a cleansing bath. Sitting in the water, I felt the nerves melt away and a sense of deep relaxation. As I rose out of the water, my racing thoughts were washed away.
That was my first experience of pre-ritual cleansing. Through my subsequent rituals, I have kept the act of cleansing before performing a rite, either with washing my face or taking a ritual bath. It remains meaningful to this day. However, as time has passed, I’ve noticed the racing thoughts of the “monkey mind” have become more persistent. The thoughts keep popping up like mental whack-a-mole. It requires a fair bit of chanting to achieve a sense of focus.
The “monkey mind” is only natural, but what is disturbing is that I get increasingly carried away by these thoughts. I am reciting the words of my ritual, but my brain is somewhere else entirely. Discouraged, finding less meaning in my devotions, I withdraw even more. Recently, I’ve felt rather empty.
On a rainy day off from work, I spent some time down by the river, lying on the bank in utter silence. I put my headphones in my pocket. It was just me and the Earth Mother, connecting. In this time of meditation, I had a sudden moment of clarity.
It’s 5 AM. My alarm goes off and I roll out of bed. I grab my iPhone, tiptoeing out of the room so as to not wake up the baby. Drinking my morning tea, I cruise mindlessly through YouTube, trying not to think of the stressful day ahead. And then it’s suddenly decision time. Do I go to my altar or just get dressed and begrudgingly go to work?
It’s 7:30 PM. I’m back from an exhausting day. The realities of the pandemic and the dysfunctional medical system have drained me dry. So many patients, in so little time, as I cover for colleagues pulled to work in the hospital wards bursting beyond capacity. There are so many grieving, anxious, angry patients, back-to-back in ridiculously short appointments. There is no time to emotionally recover. Finally back home, I disappear into a fantasy world of TV shows, between the baby’s crying sessions, until exhausted, I crash into bed.
I look at my screen time on my phone and am shocked! How did I have this much time left in my day? I realize all this screen time is spent with an endless barrage of voices, music, news, information coming at me. My brain is bombarded with small, ever-changing chunks of data, not just at work, but also in the time I disappear from reality to escape. And when I come up for air, to try to connect at my altar, all the face-washing in the world cannot cleanse my spirit for the work ahead.
There is a type of cleansing that Gerald Gardner and others of that era never needed – a cleansing from the cacophony of the smart phone. While washing my face before ritual is important, I am not fully cleansed. I am desperately in need of a mental cleansing as well. There is a saying from Wicca that hit me hard. As without, so within.
And what of the pagan life. Devotions at an altar are important to me, dedicated time to connect with the gods and spirits. However, this is not all I want for my journey. I wish to connect outside of ritual as well. I’ve been impressed in my Lughnasadh meditations this year that the gods are real. I will find them, if I listen. But here was my riverside eureka moment. If I am to listen for the gods and exercise devotion in my life, both inside and outside the ritual circle, do I not need to be able to hear the voice of the Otherworld? How can I ever hear the Otherworld when I am bombarded with endless information and emotions through my smart phone?
Cleansing is important, both inner and outer cleansing. But, in my opinion, the cleansing that needs to be emphasized is not a pre-ritual bath. The cleansing we need is mental. The cleansing water is silence. The vessel is time. Even in my busy life, the time is there, like an empty bath tub. I know, because my screen time app tells me so! I must fill the time with silence. Immersing myself in the silence, this is my cleansing bath.