So, here you are. You are standing in the Circle and now it’s your turn to do something during the ritual. All eyes turn to you, and now you…. do nothing. You freeze. The words can’t come out of your mouth….
Has this ever happened to you? Didn’t like how it felt did you? Well, I can now help you, but you have to do a few things for yourself at this point. For starters, you can read this whole article.
One of the benchmarks of your growing ability in Wicca or any Pagan religion is the request of the ritual leader that you take an active part in the ritual. It’s a moment both filled with joy and terror, at the same time. It is a sacred trust, one that shows that you are maturing and learning and becoming more of a person the leader can trust.
However, the terror part is natural too, and it relates to not wanting to look like a fool. It’s silly since in any lifetime we are guaranteed to look like a fool at one point or another, but this is human emotion we are talking about, and that doesn’t stand up to reason very well.
So, now you have a job to do during the next meeting and you are terrified. Is there anything you can do?
Well, obviously there is since I wrote this article.
Public speaking is JUST like speaking at any other time, the only difference is that the numbers have changed. Speak to one person, you are sharing. Speak to four, you are communing, speak to 15 or more, you are addressing. But it is all still speaking and passing what is in your head to others.
I’ll tell you a secret. I’m terrified of public speaking. I think about being up there in front of all those people and I get the collywobbles. But I have something that you probably don’t have at this point, and that’s experience.
Since I do hate public speaking, I deliberately put myself in situations where I would have to address others and I learned to get past that fear. Some of it is practice and more of it is simply realizing that they are people like me, like my best friend, like my wife. If I feel comfortable talking to them, why can’t I feel comfortable speaking to those people? But once again we are talking about emotions.
Believe it or not there are people who can help, whole groups that are dedicated to public speaking. Have you ever heard of a group called the Toastmasters? It’s a club, like the Rotary Club, who are dedicated to the dying art of public speaking and making toasts at a dinner. I understand that when you join it, you are required to make one public toast per month and one speech a year. All that practice will get you over your fear pretty fast. Also they have tools to share that make public speaking easier.
One of the pieces of advice that i was told over and over was to imagine the audience in their underwear. That does two things. First it gives your brain a visual to focus on that prevents it from obsessing on your fear and thus reinforcing it, and the other is that it shows your gut that these people are HUMAN, just like you. They have their flaws, their problems and their hairy legs.
Most of the time this simple mental trick overcomes problems you may be facing when speaking, and as time passes and you become better at public speaking, the fear fades. But there are occasionally times when it is very hard for someone to continue to speak due to a very bad case of shyness. In these cases, I would simply advise that they not speak in public. It’s not like anyone is going to judge them ill if they don’t do public speaking. No harm no foul and it keeps them from losing it due to fear.
But before you throw the towel in, keep reading. I actually have a cure for stuttering in those situations. From the doctors who study the reasons for stuttering, they found that almost the whole time (when it’s not an actual medical and physiological problem) if the person stuttering has a script, they don’t stutter when reading. It’s true. Mostly the psychological stutter is from the brain going too fast for the mouth to keep up. So in those cases, having everything written down will actually help in that it can be read directly off the page.
James Earl Jones (the voice of Darth Vader and Mufassa on The Lion King) is a perfect example of this in action. He stutters. I’ve seen him in interviews, and he does. But when he’s acting, because he has a script, it completely vanishes and he sounds like one of the greatest speakers of all time. So much so that my wife would like to listen to him read out of the phone book.
That’s one trick, use a script. Another is to simply slow down. Think about what you are saying and don’t try to speak extemporaneously. Just speak from the heart and understand you know what you want to say, so you simply say it.
The last trick is to understand that you WILL make a mistake. It is 100% guaranteed that you will mess up at some point in time during any speaking part. Now, the only thing you can absolutely control is how you react to messing up. You can panic, get embarrassed and run away or you can simply mentally say “Okay, I messed up, let’s keep going now.” Continuing on is the best option and it is the one that will make you look the most mature, but the human reaction is to get flustered and embarrassed. Try not to. Some embarrassment is normal, and I would be surprised if you didn’t get embarrassed. But letting it ruin the whole ritual is inexcusable. There is no need to get THAT upset and embarrassed. Others may laugh, but they are not laughing AT you, they are laughing because every one of them can relate to what just happened.
See, that’s important to realize. ALL of us at one time or another have had that happen. We have all messed up during a speaking engagement and have all flubbed lines. It’s normal. So don’t lose your cool from doing that and don’t be embarrassed. Just say the line like you are supposed to and move on. Don’t berate yourself about it, don’t stammer to a halt and run, don’t get even more upset. It’s just normal and no big deal.
Now, a few words about speaking parts during Circle. First off, SPEAK UP! If you have to read something off during the Circle, not everyone is in your head and can hear and understand you. You have to speak loudly enough that everyone will be able to hear you when you speak. The example I’m thinking of is calling on the Quarters. Reciting the lines is good and fine, but if you speak quietly, the entities you are supposed to be calling aren’t going to respect you at all. They will equate quietness to timidness and will ignore your call.
Plus, you have to speak loudly enough for the people on the other side of the Circle to easily hear you. They are participants just like you are, and they deserve to be able to hear what you say. It’s kind of unfair to have the person calling Air speak up so everyone can hear, and the person calling Water on the opposite side of the Circle speak so quietly that those on the Air side have to scramble to add their “Hail to the Water” chant to the ritual. So speak up. You are outside and you should speak like you mean it.
If you are inside, then by all means use a quieter voice. You don’t have to rock the china off the shelves, but still project your voice to allow everyone to hear you. And if you are in a large room like a gymnasium or a ball room, still speak up. No one is going to be down on you because you spoke too loudly, but they may if you speak too quietly.
Practice what you are going to say. Read it out loud. Several times. Read through it several times in your head. This practice will eliminate 99% of the problems you may have. It will for sure show you where the problem words are and things you have to pay attention to.
Over one weekend I participated in four individual rituals. One was the Opening Ritual for this convention. The next was a ritual I was doing to demonstrate Druidism to others. The third was the Main ritual for the whole convention (I was calling Air). The last was a huge production ritual for about 40 outside on the roof of the hotel. There were many others I could have gone to had I wanted to. It was Samhain and everyone wanted to do one.
In each, I spoke up. I knew about what I wanted to say, and where I had a script or words I had to say exactly, I had note cards or crib sheets to use.
(Yes, the use of note cards or a “script” during ritual is entirely allowed. No one expects you to have the exact wording memorized of every ritual, especially one that you have never done before. As time passes and you do the same ritual over and over, the note cards are supposed to go away.)
Know what? I STILL messed up. I almost didn’t go to the main ritual (I had forgotten I was supposed to call Air), and during the pageant on the roof, I forgot an entire set of lines. I looked at the person who wrote the ritual for help, she whispered the word to me, and I didn’t hear her. I asked again, she told me again, I asked a third time, and STILL didn’t hear it, and I went on. Everyone laughed somewhat, because they could totally relate.
But the point is that I went on. I didn’t get embarrassed and freak out. A mistake was made. That’s why it is called a mistake. If I had done it on purpose it would have been called an intentional. Or something.
But I also knew the general shape of what I wanted to say. In the ritual I did that weekend, I knew I wanted to do a ritual to call the Ancestors to us to protect and watch over us. The required statements, the things that had to be done by rote, like the invocation of the Land Sea and Sky, were written down on index cards, printed in a large font so we could see the words. From there I improvised, knowing what I know about rituals and petitioning spirits and saying what I wanted to say.
When speaking like that, you DON’T have to have it perfect. Speak like a person. Don’t do “thee”s and “thou”s unless that is how you normally speak. If you want to chant or rhyme the calls, then do so. But whatever you do, make sure that you say what you mean to say. You do that by speaking normally and thinking about what you are saying. The Gods and the elementals and us are NOT going to be impressed by a well crafted poem or by putting symbolism in every word. The best invocation I have ever heard was one where the deity was invited to be part of the ritual in their honor. That was it. No “Hail and welcome DEITY! I call upon you to be present and bless these proceedings with your presence!” Just “Please, Deity, we are gathered to have a party in your honor. Would you join us as the guest of honor? Thank you.”
Oh, if you are reading from a script instead of chanting from memory, make sure you can read the stuff that is written. You will be in dim light, probably only with a candle available to read by, so it helps if you can see the text you are supposed to read. That’s why I printed my note cards in 18 point type, which is HUGE printing. I wanted to make sure that if I were outside in a ritual that I could see what I had written. I’ve seen times where the Priestess had to hold the paper she was reading from so close to the candle to read from it that she set it on fire. Not funny if there is a lot of flammable stuff around.
And take a few minutes to be able to read words you don’t know how to pronounce. It’s not funny when Samhain is pronounced “Sam-Hane” when it’s supposed to be “Sow-ann”. There’s a trick that TV news agencies use to make sure their anchors can cold-read a word that is unfamiliar. They write it how it sounds. When writing a name like Beauchamp, which can be pronounced Bo-champ, the people who set up the text for the teleprompter for the news anchors will write it Beech-ham (which is the correct pronunciation for Americans).
If you don’t know, ask. That’s the cardinal rule here. And if you really Really REALLY don’t feel up to being one of those who do things in the ritual, then say so. No one is going to think you are incompetent or irresponsible if you don’t feel up to the task.
And if you are doing something as opposed to saying something, like making sure the incense continues to burn, try to make your actions unobtrusive and in the background. But if your actions are supposed to be watched and seen as part of the ritual (such as jumping over the fire), then make a production out of it. Maybe yell “YAHOO!!!” as you go over the fire. At that point you are SUPPOSED to be watched, so if you do it so quietly that no one sees you, then you may as not do it.
But please speak up. That’s one of the most irritating things about most public rituals I have attended. One person speaks in a tone of voice everyone can hear, and then I have to strain to hear the next person. It’s compounded when they face away from you and address the direction.
Rituals are supposed to transport me out of my body and into another mindset where the Circle has no space and no time. If I have to strain to hear the invocations, that knocks me out of that mindset like little else can do. So please speak up.