Last week I looked at alcohol in a Pagan context and something that goes well together with both Paganism and alcohol is Dance. The image of Witches dancing, particularly naked and under the pale moon light, is about as ubiquitous as oyster shells in Roman excavations; everyone thinks we do it and it’s one of those questions first out of their mouths when they want to know more about our nocturnal activities.
History of Dance
Dance is probably as old as human culture itself. You need very little to establish rhythm, a stout stick and a hollow log will suffice, and where there is rhythm dance is not very far away. Dancing itself cannot leave direct archeological evidence of itself, at least not that we have found so far. That meand we must look to secondary sources such as written records, stone carvings, paintings and even ceramics and similar artifacts making it difficult to pinpoint it’s role in these early times
It may be that dance was simply an expression of movement in relation to the best but more likely it held some spiritual relevance, perhaps akin to the significance implied by cave paintings and hunting cloaks. Either way we know that dance appears in many spiritual and religious contexts through history and amongst numerous cultures and civilisations.
Examples include, but are not to;
Each dance has their own meaning and purpose both within that culture and religion and they survive in many ways. Dance as a spiritual act survives in other contexts, such as (maypole, Hindu) but it has also been incorporated into modern paganism as it can bring a number of benificial elements to rituals and worship.
Dance as Trance
Ecstatic dance is one of many ways which can be used to enter a trance-state. The mind is made to concentrate on the music and movement, drowning out the ‘monkey mind‘ which can stop us from achieving the higher mind states. It can also be used to take the body upto, and beyond, the point of exhaustion which is also a state that is conducive to entering the trance-state of mind.
This use of dance is not as widely practiced as is the case with Dance and energy raising, which we will cover next, but in sone cases it is central. It is a particularly shaministic practice and as such appears in paths that claim to have such origins but is also appears in Vodou and similar traditions.
Dance as Energy Raising
The most common use of dance is s a method of raising energy. Movement and emotion become translated into energy which is then used to empower rituals and other kind of magical works. The goal, as with Dance as a method of trance, is to free the mind from the mundane and allow it to concentrate on the ritual focus and the movement and music exclusively. The same levels of exhaustion are not the goal of this process as the pratitioner needs to continue with the ritual structure but feeling tired is a natural part of the process.
Energy raising through dance is most commonly done in group rituals and is accessible to all regardless of ability to visualise and meditate. Although these abilities are desirable and ideally cultivated simply participating whole heartedly in the group dance will add to the energy raised. Particularly popular in open rituals is the spiral dance. In the variation I have participated in participants join hands and initially walking around the circle in a clockwise direction, progressively picking up speed. At a certain point the ritual leader will break the circle and begin to lead the dance inward to the central where they will reverse direction leading the procession back out again to reform the circle. There are other versions of the Spiral Dance and circle dances which are less structured and more ecstatic though the dancers always process in a circular movement.
It is possible to raise energy through dance alone either through procession or by simply by holding a centre point. My own experience of raising energy tgis way is varied. Sometimes it has been highly effective, other times less so. I’ve found my health plays apart but also the avalible space does as well. Although it isn’t necessary to move around I seem to get better results when I do.
Can’t Dance Won’t Dance
Strutting your stuff on the dance floor isn’t the only way to raise energy through movement. Regardless of my own experience it is possible to raise energy without wide ranges of movement and people should feel, or be, excluded from public ritual based on their mobility. There has increasingly been a move towards inclusivety in Paganism over the last 5 years or so with events, such as those online events coordinated by the Pagan Federation’s Disability team, meaning that more and more people can access rituals and activities.
How does this relate to dance? Well ecstatic movement of the entire body isn’t the only way to raise energy through dance. Swaying and flowing gestures with accompanying music can also be used to raise energy as part of ritual.