I have noticed a disturbing trend in the Pagan festival scene of people manifesting symptoms similar to that of possession. These incidences crop up in several different ways and all of them are damaging to Pagan community. I hope this article will raise to a greater awareness the issues of false possession so that we can act as a community to lessen the negative effects of these occurrences with calm action, rationality, and a unified responsibility toward the community for which we care so much.
For many years, I shied away from pubic trance-possession and fet rites. This was not because I had any issue at all with the African diaspora religions, but because there seemed to be both a chaotic atmosphere to them that attracted the less stable folks of our community. Furthermore, until I did have some oracular, divine possession, and augury work under my belt, I was downright scared. I didn’t understand how the rite worked or what might not only come knocking on my head, but what might blast open my energetic front door and take up home during one of these rites. If I didn’t understand how a spirit might enter, how would I know how to get rid of it? No Ma’am, thank you very much!
I kept most of these feelings to myself for many years, until recently. I did in fact have some training on divine possession and then became wary of the opposite; that I was distancing myself from the experience solely out of fear and limiting my exposure to something I should probably be aware of.
Therefore, I decided to go to a conjure dance and see what I could experience. I was there only to observe, kept myself grounded, my shields up, and tightly caped my upper chakras (the crown, the nape of the neck, and the transpersonal chakra) those chakras are used in divine possession work. I then decided to groove off the drums and really get into the spirit of the ritual so that I could be a part of it and get the most out of the experience. I danced and danced, which is one of my joys in life. I was astonished to see, that as my energy built and expanded, that one of the guards became increasingly concerned that I might be possessed. I kept telling him that I was fine. Both my husband and one of my Tradition’s Elders were other guards and I knew that they were also looking out for my wellbeing. At one point, after assuring the guard I was fine, I told him that my husband was also looking out for me and not to worry about me.
Afterwards, I spoke with Ivo Dominguez, the aforementioned Elder of my Tradition about the subject. The answer I got was astonishing. I had often been worried about what was actually going on was not that I couldn’t see a possession happening. It was two other things in fact. One, most of the people that I had observed in the pan-Pagan conjure dance I had attended were high off the energy and ungrounded, but not in fact engaging in successful possession. The other thing was that he taught me how to discern the type of energy to be looking for to recognize an actual possession.
While these lessons were a great education to help me be involved in guardianship and energetic damage control roles, this did not explain the outcroppings of random possessions that happen both in rituals not designed for possession and outside of ritual. There is also a disturbing number of people who come to festivals and exhibit over-the-top attention seeking behavior. Such behavior could include inappropriate acting out in someone else’s ritual, hysterical mob behavior, inappropriate substance abuse during fire circles and rituals, and fake possession (whether in ritual or not).
Whether you have attended public rituals or have been a part of leading them at festivals and for the public, you will have experienced a range of strange behavior from inappropriate guests over the years. Part of learning ritual leadership not only includes how to deal with outside intrusions, crowd control, and helping engage ritual participants to flow with the energy and stay connected with the magick you are creating, but you unfortunately also learn how to minimize distractors and nuisances. Those who have led ritual over the years all have stories of “You wouldn’t believe what this person did in the ritual”. In the best scenarios, only the ritual leaders are aware of issues and the participants are left to their experience, unaware of such disturbances. In the worst cases, the public drama of the event disrupts attendees, stresses out organizers and medical staff, and scares children and newbies. If I had been an observer to some of the hysterics that happen at Pagan festivals early during my path, I would have hightailed it back to the mundane population and my engagement of the occult would have immediately ended. We are going to lose people that potentially might be our future leaders if we allow this ridiculous behavior to continue! This is why when people who are psychically sensitive see this sort of thing sometimes assume that all ritual and magick is a hoax. It is time to call out this behavior and have it stopped in a calm way that does not promote public drama and lead to gossip.
For organizers, instate internal protocols for how to handle social, psychological, medical/physical, and energetic emergencies. Know who is qualified to deal with all of those types of issues and properly diagnose and treat. Know where the limits of treatment are and when someone might need to be taken off site for medical care. It is dreadfully important to be able to tell the difference between diabetic shock, someone off their proscribed prescription meds, substance abuse, dehydration, ritual overload, and actual unwanted spirit possession. Be open about what is proper ritual etiquette and expected behavior of attendees. Finally, create a safe space for people with warding the festival/conference grounds and cleansing ritual and workshop spaces regularly.
After an event has occurred, empower yourself to set limits. If there are people with unstable mental conditions who are belligerent and cause major problems for your festival on a regular basis there is nothing wrong with deciding they should no longer attend your festival. Make sure that you know what qualifications you have to make these decisions and your organization has come to an official agreement. As a community we cannot encourage negative behavior by spending most of our attention addressing trouble makers. If crazy, drama queens get center stage at our events, we are de facto accepting such behavior. This is the image we are projecting to the world at large. It is up to us to cultivate our image as a sub-culture and group of valid, serious religions.
For ritual presenters and leaders, set protocol for safe rituals. Don’t do experimental ritual in public until you get stable results in private. Know what could happen in your rituals and make plans on how to deal with those situations. Remember the whole axiom of “don’t summon what you can’t put down”. If you are designing a ritual that might put people at risk, make sure they know those risks and make sure you can take everyone through a ritual safely, including aftercare. Finally, tell participants beforehand what you expect from them so that everyone is already on the same page to have safe space for their ritual experience and will also not be expecting or encouraging bad ritual behavior.
Now, if you are not an event organizer, how can you take responsibility? Look out for yourself, your family and your friends. If you notice your friends ungrounded, help them ground. Make sure that you are making extra effort to be hydrated. Use sunscreen for Goddess sake! Make sure you are eating proper nutrition when you need and take your maintenance medication. If you are in any sort of crisis, ask for help before you reach a critical moment. Sometimes your leaders, teachers, etc. will have a better grasp on what you probably need to help you work through something before an emergency arises.
I have been attending, participating, and leading ritual on a regular basis in this community for years now. I will attest that I have never had someone accidentally become possessed or spontaneously start drawing down or aspecting in a ritual. Divine possession is not an easy skill. It is much more likely for someone learning such techniques to have nothing happen that someone have something happen without meaning for it. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but it is less likely. I would greatly discourage someone taking over, acting out, or going into a trance that the ritual was not designed for in a ritual I was leading. When I have had situations were someone’s energy is wildly out of control or disruptive, it is up to me and the other people leading ritual with me to help them energetically adjust and adapt so that they are going in the same direction as the rest of the group. In the worst case scenario, at least they would just not be a disturbance to the other participants.
Let’s all work on encouraging safe spaces and rituals and discouraging inappropriate behavior in our public events. We have a beautiful cadre of religions that are growing and maturing. Let’s make sure that we focus on the magick we are really trying to create and help to lessen immature, attention seeking histrionics. We all have to work together to stop frauds, fakes, and scary, disruptive situations.