What is worship?
To worship something means to give worth to that thing. So what constitutes worship for me? What do I find worthy? What exactly do I give honor to and how does that move me spiritually?
Well, I struggled for years as a Christian to find a way to “live like Christ”. Maybe I didn’t understand it, but it seemed that living like Christ almost meant dying like Christ—to sacrifice one’s self as the way to experience holiness. It required pain and suffering and denial of one’s own being to be godlike, to know what is sacred and thus be able to worship.
And now? Now I know that it requires giving up self. I have to let go of my ego, with its selfish nature, its blind focus on its own desires in order to experience the sacred. Buddhism best describes how I work to give up self. The Four Noble Truths of basic Buddhist belief essentially come down to this: All of our unhappiness comes from our own selfish, egotistical desires and the inevitable disappointments of those desires. If we let go of the ego, if we refuse to listen to it whine, then we can find peace and enlightenment. By following the Eight Fold Path, we learn to make choices that are not ego-driven and so become the sacred being that we truly are.
Giving up the ego means that I can learn to appreciate how very sacred I am, as a spiritual being in our Universe. I do not have to do anything more than breathe to be a miracle. Because I can see the sacred within myself, I am learning to recognize the sacred in all that is around me.
This would seem to create a dichotomy of views. I give up who I am, but who I am, is Divine. But there is no conflict. I don’t give up self, I give up ego. I give up the part of myself that creates divisions, that tries to convince me that I am somehow superior to others. I am special and unique—just like everybody else! I have no more right to this life than anyone else does or ever had. Every spark of life, no matter how small or how large, has an inherent worth just because it is a part of the Universe.
Working to gain this view has given me a way to live that is more Christ-like than anything I experienced before. I can give worth to the Divine through the simplest actions—as long as my heart is joyous and willing and I perform that action with love. You have heard me say this phrase before, but it is so true: Make your state of mind more important than your actions. Any act can be worship when it is an acknowledgement of the sacredness that surrounds us.
And what joy for me to find others who are walking beside me—or on a path that parallels mine, so that we can choose to mark certain times with extra worship. Pagans do not have buildings for worship; any meadow, any glade in the forest can serve as our temple. If you stop and think about those times that you have felt the strongest connection to your Supreme Being, chances are good that they occur most often when you are outside. Nature has its own way of reminding us of the magnificence of just being—why else would it be so easy to sit and watch the fire, or the waves break on a shore?
Pagans choose to mark times that are based on the natural calendar: the longest day, the shortest day, the two days of equal day and night; we honor the coming of each season in its turn. We give worth to the abundance of the Earth and to the times of introspection, the winter sleep of animals and plants as they rest up for the next season of growth. It’s not hard to draw corollaries between the natural rhythm and our own lives.
Pagans’ celebrations can look an awful lot like picnics, since food is a major part of our worship. Every ritual has a feast that follows it—and in our group, some rituals ARE the feast! By combining the acts of eating and worship, eating becomes worship. As our prime tribal bonding activity, this sanctifies the group and intensifies the marking of all that is sacred within each of us.
Most Pagans follow a basic framework for holding a ritual. They mark out the space for the ritual, cleansing it and then consecrating it. They will “cast the circle”, a way of marking the boundaries of the space that they are going to use. This circle is usually acknowledged as an energy barrier that can be actually felt by most and even seen by some. They may then call the Watchtowers, which are guardians of power, like the Elements or Archangels, to protect the circle. The Divine is invited and greeted to join the circle through a formal invocation which generally calls upon male and female aspects of Deity by whatever name is applicable for that Sabbat or traditional for the group. This may mean inviting a god or goddess that is associated with spring and youth to the Beltane (or May Day) ritual, or Nordic deities for a winter celebration. Sometimes it’s just as simple as asking the Lord and Lady to join the group, without naming specific names. All of these guests will probably have some type of item on the altar or central working space that symbolizes them. Candles are the most frequently used way of representing living beings that are a part of the ritual.
The leader will talk about the reason for the ritual and then may facilitate an energy working—a healing, protection spells, or a guided group meditation for vision questing. Depending on the ritual, the group may also have some sort of discussion. This is followed by Cakes and Ale, which is the sharing of token amounts of food and drink which bonds the group while helping to ground and center the energy that has been raised.
The ritual winds up with the leader thanking the Divine for being with the group, then thanking and dismissing the guards. Each of these beings is let go with some form of the phrase, “Go if you must, stay if you will” and then the words “Hail and Farewell”. The circle is “un-cast” as the energy that was used to erect the barrier is returned to where it came from and the group will either sing or chant some the farewell. Most of these endings include the traditional words of “Merry meet and merry part and merry meet again”.
As with most forms of worship, the ritual may be a pleasant way to mark the seasons or a profoundly moving, deeply spiritual experience. It can even be both of these things at the same ritual, depending on the person and their point of view. But it is always a way to give worth to the Divine, to the Universe and to the sacred core of our own being. It is worship, Pagan style. Blessed Be!
Written by Kathleen S. Granville for a BRUU service on worship, June 2006