In addition to posting on the 366 exercises, I thought it might also be nice to document my circle work here. So we’ll start with some bona fide homework that Z. gave us a while back ago.
Now that we’ve gone and dedicated ourselves to the Grove, the dedicants are getting more involved in ritual than we were in classes. Part of that is that we now are expected to help with the preparation and clean-up of circle. Z. and Y. gave us a list of tasks separated into masculine- and feminine-associated chores, then asked us to describe why these tasks are gendered in addition to any other commentary we may have on the subject.
These are the tasks:
Feminine Associated Preparation:
- Altar water bowl: Clean and full?
- Libation bowl: Clean and on altar?
- Altar and Grove goblets: Clean and out on altar/tray?
- Circle ‘wine’: Open/corked and ready at the water altar?
- Circle ‘cakes’: At earth altar along with any needed utensils.
Feminine Associated Clean-up:
- Consecrated salt water disposed on driveway, by flushing, or by another approved method.
- Libations and excess ‘wine’ disposed on herb garden or other approved place.
- Altar water bowl, libation bowl, and goblet washed, dried, and returned to altar, upside down.
- Grove goblets and trays washed, dried, and returned to coven storage.
- Food dishes washed, dried, and returned to kitchen storage.
Masculine Associated Preparation:
- Censer: Old ash removed and censer appropriately heat-proofed?
- Incense charcoal: lit and placed in censer?
- Incense: The loose incense appropriate for the working is in stock and on the altar?
- Altar, quarter, and lighting taper candles candles: Is there enough candle left for the duration of the working? Replace any questionably low candles.
- Candle wicks: trimmed to no more than ½ inch, pre-tested for lighting ability.
Masculine Associated Clean-up:
- Ensure that all flames are thoroughly snuffed.
- Flush hot ash and remaining charcoal, clean censer, and return it to the altar.
- Cap the remaining incense and return it to storage.
- Help as needed with removing trays, dishes, and left-overs to the kitchen. Put away food.
Why I Think We Have a Gendered Division of Labor for Circle Preparation
When it comes to the gender associations with the four classical elements, water and earth are pretty much unilaterally aligned with the feminine, and air and fire are aligned with the masculine. One of the first things we do in ritual is to combine the like-gendered elements: we bring salt (earth) to water and incense (air) to fire.
It makes sense, then, to have female-identified participants attend to functions that pertain to earth and water and their combination and male-identified participants attend to functions that pertain to fire and air and their combination. It’s a matter of maintaining sympathy. Therefore, the female-identified participants make sure that there is actual water on the altar and that its vessels are clean. They make sure that cakes and ale (earth- and water-identified) are on the altar and that all their vessels are clean, as is the libation bowl which will receive the God/Goddess’s offering of these foods. And at the end of ritual, they attend to disposing of and cleaning anything related to salt, water, food, or drink. Male-identified participants similarly attend to male-aligned elemental tasks. They clean the censer and get the stuff to create fire and dish out the airy incense. They make sure all the circle candles are ready to go, and they’re the ones in charge of making sure that all fires are doused, the incense is capped, and that all the fire/incense vessels are cleaned.
I consciously chose to say ‘female-identified’ and ‘male-identified’ in the above paragraph. And I don’t necessarily think I’m striving for political correctness here. I think that you could be a biological female and/or a psycho/sociologically female-identified person and yet still be magically male-identified, in full or in part.
My concept of gender largely follows the idea of yin and yang in which there is an element of yang in yin and an element of yin in yang. I would hope that this means women are capable of using and interacting with magically masculine associations and vice versa. There is a part of me that wonders if a bio-psycho-sociological woman magically identifying as male points to a magically fractured person or if it might just be her specific integration of yin and yang. I don’t think I can answer that at this point, but the paradox leads me to another question. In this particular culture, we’ve gotten to a point where men and women are encouraged to cultivate aspects of the opposite gender in different parts of their lives–even in the bedroom. In this regard, I wonder if it might be hindering to always delineate group tasks by gender. Men have to tap into female energy at time, and women have to tap into male energy too. It might actually be a helpful thing for people who are very much feminine or masculine to do magical work aligned with their opposite gender in order to cultivate a greater balance.