Great work is often boring, part 1: logistics

While cleaning, I ran across notes I’d made for a blog post some time ago, in response to someone saying “Great work is never boring.” The ideas for that have finally come together, and it’s relevant that they did so while I was doing mundane household chores.

First of all, if there’s anything grad school has taught me so far, it’s that qualifiers like “never,” “always,” and “everyone” should be used very, very, very sparingly. If the quote above was rephrased as “great work is seldom boring,” I might still disagree, but I wouldn’t have enough disagreement to make up a blog post. If the quote was “great work never has to be boring,” I would tentatively agree. But never boring? Um, no.

I learned a lot by leading some open rituals for Sacred Circle bookstore over the last year. In particular, I came face-to-face with the huge logistical implications of trying to conduct rituals in a space not set aside for them, let alone trying to conduct them outdoors. The day of ritual usually went something like this:

Revise pre-constructed checklist. Get together everything on the checklist. (This usually includes liquids and fragile items.) Double check. Find someone to help you get stuff to the car. Drive. Find someone to help you unload. Wait for space to become available (usually no more than 1/2 hour before scheduled start time). Set up space, sometimes with people helping, sometimes not. Find volunteers to take volunteer roles. Coach volunteers. Don’t lose anything. Field questions while doing this. Keep track of roughly how many people there are, so that you know if you have to make changes to your ritual plan if you didn’t bring enough materials (or too many) for the number of attendees. Light candles, possibly charcoal, pour liquids, and get ready to start ritual because everyone’s already waiting for you.

Now, I had previous been intimately involved in leading Christian rituals in a variety of contexts, but nothing I had ever done had been half as hard as this. The biggest difference is the logistics. In nearly all Christian settings, there are other people there to help the ritual leader, sometimes lots of them. They all have a rough idea of what is required for set up. A lot of rituals are done in dedicated spaces with nearby storage for relevant ritual items, and with plenty of time to set up beforehand. Nobody is running around worrying that they forgot the apple juice or that they don’t have a plate.

The person this impacts most is the ritual leader. A Christian cleric with lots of logistical support has time to compose herself before ritual; maybe spend a moment in prayer, go over her notes, take a deep breath, usually somewhere away from the view of her participants. The difference this makes to one’s mindset cannot be understated.

Now, is leading ritual great work? Absolutely. But if you don’t pay attention to the simple, mundane, boring details, you can’t have great ritual. That’s why I don’t like this statement: it sets up an expectation that undermines itself.

It’s easier to get volunteers for something that they expect to be “great work.” Lots of people will volunteer to Call a Quarter at a ritual, or play a role in ritual drama, or whatever. But ask for volunteers to bring the apple juice and help you carry things, and fewer hands go up. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve had no problem getting people to help me unload my car for rituals when I ask them on the spot. But my whole point is that pre-planning matters. I don’t know whether there will be people around to ask for that kind of help. Pre-arranging things like that would make a huge difference, but it’s hard, because it’s simple, mundane, and, let’s face it, boring.

I mean, a lot more people would want to say “I helped with the Ostara ritual by playing the part of the Spring Maiden!” than would brag about “I helped with the Ostara ritual by unloading somebody’s car.” But the car has got to get unloaded before anybody can be Spring Maiden.

Now, part of the problem here is also the relative lack of institutions and facilities among Pagans. This is also why I am highly irritated by people who are opposed to all forms of organization in Paganism. But when we spread memes like “Great work is never boring,” without defining what we mean, we don’t do ourselves any favors.

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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4 Responses to Great work is often boring, part 1: logistics

  1. Pingback: Making great work less boring, part 2 | Works of Literata

  2. storiteller says:

    Oh my goodness, I completely agree. Probably because of the institutions you describe, I haven’t had this experience in church. But I keep having it in my activist groups over and over and over again, probably in part because of the similar lack of organization/rules. As you said, everyone wants to play the “fun” or “heroic” part, but no one wants to help with the basics. When I was in Habitat for Humanity, we had enough volunteers to build houses every weekend, but a heck of a time trying to get people to organize fundraisers. Similarly, in the group I work with now, it’s not too bad finding volunteers to plant in the garden, but organizing workshops and recruiting members….not so much.

  3. MaryKaye says:

    We saw some improvement when we gave some of these under-appreciated roles formal names. “I need a props master for Ostara” went over better than “I need someone to load the car.” You can also, if you name these roles, develop the understanding that some combinations of roles should not be doubled up if there is any way to avoid it. For example, if a person is going to be carrying an invocation they should not be guardian/safety officer, or props master. If a person is going to be the facilitator they should not also be the guardian (it turns out to be a conflict of interests). If a person is doing childcare they should have no other roles at all.

    You can pass around a sheet with all of the necessary roles listed–that helps everyone appreciate that they are all necessary, and that if you always jump at the “sexy” ones you are not doing the group any favors. If necessary you can put some social pressure on: “Hey Mary, how about if you’re props master this time, you were a ritualist the last three?” This helps avoid having the same couple of people doing the scutwork ritual after ritual, which leads to burnout and resentment.

    • Literata says:

      Those are really fantastic ideas. Thank you so much!

      The situations where I can’t implement them are the most challenging; the open rituals that I’ve helped run have not had a stable team. It’s the coordinator and whoever zie can rustle up to agree ahead of time to be there or find on the spot. And I guess that’s part of the difficulty in and of itself; it takes a team to run a good ritual of any size and complexity.

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