While there’s a lot I can say about ableism and accessibility in a general context, in this post I want to specifically talk to my fellow pagan clergy. Especially those of you who do public rituals.
Yes, doing public rituals is awesome. I totally agree. Spiral dances are pretty cool, and having a friend who makes wine locally is awesome. Candles are awesome, and making your own incense is pretty rad (I make my own, too). Smudging is always nice to do, or maybe aspurging with special scented water is nice. Hugging folks is nice, and yeah, sure it brings connection.
However, what if there’s someone who can’t stand up for too long or is in a wheelchair? What if there are people in the crowd in recovery? What if you’re in a place where you can’t have candles, or you’re doing something outside in a state park in, say, California where there’s a drought? What if there are people attending who are allergic to smoke, scents, or a particular herb? What if there are people who don’t want to be touched by people they don’t know, or they don’t want to be touched by others at all?
As I mentioned in my post about marginalization, not everyone in the community is going to think like you, or be able to tolerate, or do, the same things that you can. There are margins within your margins, whether you know it or not. You should keep in mind when planning rituals that there are people who have visible and invisible disabilities and conditions. As a public priest, it is smart, wise, and responsible to really think before any ritual what issues could come up.
Here’s a list of things that I try to keep in mind for rituals, and while I don’t get it perfect all the time, I try to remember as much as I can:
- Can people move in the space without getting hurt?
- Can people who have mobility aids access the space and navigate the room without too much trouble?
- Are there chairs for people to sit on if they get tired or can’t stand for long periods of time?
- If the ritual is going to be particularly intense, is there a space for people outside of the ritual to go and collect themselves? Is there someone from my group to mind that space and to call for help if needed?
- If I have bread/cakes, are they gluten free for those who can’t tolerate gluten (and preferably nut free if possible)?
- If there’s a liquid libation, is it alcohol free in respect to those in recovery?
- Or, alternately, are their other choices for those who do no wish to partake of the bread and juice?
- Am I clear that people can say no if they do not wish to partake of any food item?
- And am I clear that it is ok to NOT participate in something that makes one uncomfortable if they do not wish to do so, including anything that calls for touching or hugging other people?
- Do I have alternatives to incense and sage, or do I have permission from all people in attendance to use scented things (including scented waters and anointing oils)?
- Was I clear in my promotional materials that ALL people were welcome? Alternately, if it was a single gender ritual, was I explicit in my promotional materials that ALL who identify with that gender were welcome?
- Did I make it clear in my promotional materials about what this ritual was about, or alternately, did I clearly explain the nature of the ritual before it even started so that people can make an informed choice about whether to participate, partially participate, just watch, or leave?
- If the ritual has an entrance fee, did I make provisions for those who may not be able to afford it?
- If there’s a potluck, did I remember to have some extra food for those who couldn’t bring, or forgot to bring, food? Will everyone be able to get fed?
- Did I make it clear that I (and the other priests working the ritual) would be available after the ritual for anyone who needs help or support, and do I have a way for people to contact me (or the ritual group) after the ritual if they need it?
- Did I think of as many of the things that could possibly happen within the ritual, and did I discuss these things with all those who will be performing the ritual with me so that we are all aware of possible problems and needs?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I know I’ve flubbed any number of times in the past. But since I’ve really tried to think about these things ahead of time, I’ve had many people come up and thank me for it. Many times they tell me that it was the first ritual they’ve been to where someone had actually thought about their particular needs.
Thinking about the ableism and accessibility of our own rituals, and then working to make our rituals more accessible, will make for more inclusive rituals where everyone can feel comfortable to be a part of the community, no matter what their situation.
If you’d like to hear more about this topic, I’d recommend listening to TWIH Episode 21 with Dany Atkins.