Planning the location of a group ritual may be as simple as “inside or outside” for some, especially if they rely on utilizing each others’ homes, but not everyone is comfortable with that. Furthermore, not everyone has enough space to accommodate more than a few visitors. Traditions like Ár nDraíocht Féin emphasize public rites, so that can further complicate things. There are many Groves and Protogroves that meet at one or two individuals’ private property, but that seems rare. If you’re thinking about starting an ADF study group or protogrove, but you’re worried about having an unknown number of strangers in your home, you may want to look at other options. This may seem overwhelming at first, but you have a variety of paths to explore!
- Public Town or City Parks
This is an obvious place to start. Scout out local parks with accessible bathrooms (very important), shade, and a variety of shelter in case of inclement weather. Pavilions may even have power outlets if you’d like to have crockpots or kettles plugged in for a potluck following the ritual. Call the appropriate city or town office to look into a reservation if you’re concerned about having tables or the possibility of shelter from rain. My group, Northern Rivers Protogrove, rented a small pavilion at one of the largest parks in the area. All I had to do was look up the park office online and contact them. They required a $15 fee (which I paid by check with group funds) and asked for some basic information, including a reason for the reservation. If you’re nervous that a park will reject you for wanting to have a ritual, you could simplify your explanation. For example, you could say that you’re having a fall celebration while maintaining your integrity. A ritual and a celebration are the same; it’s just word choice based on audience. Do check with local and state laws. I’ve heard from some in other states that parks don’t always allow religious activities. Looking to save money? Just meet at the park and find a free place, but be prepared with a plan B in case others beat you to all the sheltered areas.
- State Parks
Northern Rivers Protogrove recently had a ritual that we called “A Feast for Manannan mac Lir” at a local state park along the St. Lawrence River. For a group named after the local rivers, it seemed important that we arrange this and “pay the rent” to Manannan! The information about city or town parks also applies to State Parks, but there may be additional concerns about what you bring in and take out. For example, a park on a protected lake won’t be an appropriate place to leave certain offerings out of environmental concerns. Other state parks are more developed. The location we chose had newly renovated bathrooms, a clean beach with lifeguards on duty, marina, campgrounds, pavilions, and a huge playground. It was also more expensive to rent a pavilion here ($60), and every car had to pay a $7 parking fee, but the park is immaculate and the pavilion we rented included clear signs as well as garbage and recycling receptacles. Since the group made a day of the event, it was worth it in my opinion. We’re about three-four years old now, so we can afford this from time to time, but smaller groups just starting out may want to to save a bigger park for another time if there are high fees. Also consider the accessibility of the site. Since ADF rituals are supposed to be open, having events in a more rustic park that might not be handicapped accessible could be a bad option. You just never know who will show up! Look for parks with wide paths, ramps, and accessible bathrooms.
- UU Churches
Parks are great places, and of course many Druids and Polytheists want to gather outside as much as possible, but if you live in a climate with four seasons, shelter and plumbing become very attractive amenities! This is especially so with open rituals since some people may not want to (or be physically able) to attend rituals in inclement weather. Think the handicapped, small children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Many Pagan groups utilize Unitarian Universalist churches. In the past, when I lived in Utica, I belonged to an eclectic group that often rented space at the UU church for rituals, workshops, and even a couple Pagan Pride-type events. However, this was made possible because a few of the group’s leaders were already active members of the UU church, so they were trusted with the keys. When my protogrove was seeking ritual space, we decided to look at other options because the UU church nearest us already has a CUUPs group, and none of our members went to the UU. Without the connections, and with time and space already needed by the CUUPs group, we decided not to pursue that option. Having said that, if you are already active in a UU church, you should look into using that space. You’ll have access to bathrooms and, usually, kitchen space. Depending on the specific church’s policies, and your involvement, there may be a fee, and you may need to coordinate with another person who has a key. Scheduling in advance will be important here due to other programing.
- Metaphysical ShopsIf you’re lucky enough to live near an established magical shop with enough space, you may be able to have some rituals there! Back in Utica, there was a shop that hosted bimonthly gatherings, and they were opened to having other groups utilize the space. This may be a good option for new groups that don’t have an established “home base.” It could also be a winter solution for groups that usually meet in parks. Here in Northern NY, a few metaphysical shops have informed me that they would be happy to have us should we ever need space. They either have a set rental fee, or merely ask for a donation. One shop even said those who rent a space will get a special discount the day of the event. You’ll need to consider scheduling in advance because other groups, readers, or presenters may be using the space. One big plus is free publicity! Many people will come to your group simply because the shopkeeper knows who you are and that you’re already meeting there!
- Yoga and Holistic Centers
Northern Rivers Protogrove’s base is at the beautiful Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center. Not all Yoga centers will be an appropriate choice for NeoPagan groups to approach for ritual space, but don’t rule it out. Ours is not just a studio space in a building – it’s a whole property that includes a yoga studio, kitchen, bathrooms, barn, labyrinth, nature trail, gardens, and a fire pit surrounded by a stone circle. That last point, as well as the location’s monthly drum circles, encouraged me to ask. This path is for those who are patient. I didn’t have an established relationship with the center at the time, and their board wanted to know all about us. I supplied them with links to ADF, explanations on modern Druidism, and a step-by-step guide to our rituals so that they would see that we’re working with positive energy and not trying to do any harm. I think my openness and insistence that we are an Earth-centered path really earned us some trust. We’ve never used the space without their live-in VP in attendance, but he’s very open-minded and loves to take part in our workings. Our relationship with the yoga center continues to grow and improve, and in the spirit of hospitality, we try to give back when we can. We always pay a rental fee, often giving more than required when we have highly-attended rites. We’ve helped with yard work, painting, and occasionally attend their other functions, including fundraising to update the facilities. We also promote each others’ activities. Just as with the other examples, you’ll have to do a lot of cleanup when you leave in order to maintain the trust you’re building. Northern Rivers is lucky in that we have several dedicated members who stay until the floors are cleaned, the tables and chairs put away, and the dishes are done. We also have to schedule a year’s worth of rituals in advance because they have many other programs beyond their yoga classes. If you’re lucky enough to live near such a facility, and have the energy and/or funds to give back, I encourage you to explore this option!
The moral of the story?
It would be nice if each Pagan group could have an established temple that meets all their needs, but new groups should spend their energy establishing themselves and having group rituals where they can. Whether you’re starting a group, or you’re looking for a new ritual space to meet your growing needs, I encourage you to look around your community and think about what’s available to you. Don’t be afraid to ask, and never forget the virtue of hospitality when exploring these possibilities. In fact, emphasize that virtue, letting others know that you will clean up at least, or help in other ways if possible! Renting spaces for ritual will often bring up the question of money and how groups obtain it, but that’s a post for another time. For now, I hope those thinking about starting a study group or protogrove will find this encouraging. If any of my readers have found other solutions for open group rituals, please comment so those seeking options can get more ideas!