On Stuff

This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time.
George Carlin

And now, from the Department of Sleep-Deprived Rants:

Why the hell do pagans need so much goddamned stuff?

I once attended a gathering where there was so much “stuff” for the altar, that it literally took anywhere between thirty to forty minutes to be carried to the site and set up in the appropriate manner.  When I asked about the possibility of someday doing a parred-down ceremony, the ritualist’s eyes nearly fell out of his head.  “But, but, we NEED these things.”

Well, the fact is that we don’t need “things” in order to worship the gods.  What we need is a little imagination and a touch of sensitivity to our surroundings.

My (non-sarcastic) theory is that since most of Neopagan ritual was heavily influenced by the rather 19th century sensibilities of magical groups like the Golden Dawn and OTO, the Victorian penchant for ornate clutter was one of the memes that has been passed down as a “pagan” aesthetic.  Just go into any Witch Shop in Salem, MA, and you’ll see what I mean.

Simplicity was, in fact, one of the challenges I set for myself to complete the OBOD Bardic Grade: perform an entire ceremony using only three man-made things (I actually did it with two, a lighter and a water bowl).  Everything else had to be found at the ritual site.  The first thing this did was allow me to become much more intimately acquainted with the site itself, and to ask the Powers who dwelt there for the loan of the items I needed.

First, I noticed a perfectly flat rock at the base of a huge old tree—presto! Focal point! Then, I found large branches and pieces of bark to outline the circle. I went walking around the area looking for symbols of the elements.  Another lovely rock served in the north; the first dandelion of the season was placed in the east; some dried sage from the garden served as incense in the south; and water from the nearby stream graced the west.  I also happened to find the perfect stick for an impromptu wand.  So with very little effort, I was able to conduct a full ritual with only a couple of items in my pockets.

Now, I’m not saying that every polytheist should completely wipe out their ritual cupboards.  (And of course this would be especially true for those practicing some sort of Ceremonial Magic.)  However, I think it’s possible, especially in personal rituals, to use a more simplistic aesthetic to great effect.  In my own practice, I’ve got through my sacred paraphernalia and gotten rid of anything that’s a duplicate—so now I own only one incense bowl, one libation bowl, etc.  It wasn’t easy as I have pack rat, I mean, collector tendencies.  But the freedom and clarity brought about by not having to decide between five sets of candle holders can’t be underestimated.

So with Spring, and the liberating qualities of the element Air, I encourage you to go through your own “stuff.”  Take stock of what you really need to honor the gods.  Sacrifice the rest.  It’s a scary step, but a worthwhile one, I promise.

—A.V.

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2 thoughts on “On Stuff

  1. In short, I agree.

    I think stuff does have its uses – magic is the art of affecting change through will, and props can reinforce this. At the same time, eventually a person has to get to a place in their spirituality where they need to know you can do this stuff without tools if it is necessary. If a person can’t direct magic without a wand, then their ability to direct magic with a wand is questionable. Etc.

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    • Oh, yes, props definitely have their place, I agree. They create a powerful link between the imagination, the will, and the physical world. I just wish more people were willing to use natural/found objects in ritual, rather than Ye-Olde-Athame-Made-In-China. I suppose the argument can be made that using the same tools over and over builds up their ju-ju; however, I think items gifted by the spirits of place can be just as powerful for a particular ritual, especially if they are returned afterwards.

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