Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

How to Include the Physically Challenged in Group Rituals

Candle in Hands

Anyone can do magic. You don't have to be able to dance to raise energy. You don't need an eagle's eyesight to have psychic visions. People with physical handicaps are fully capable of performing ritual, casting spells, and celebrating the holidays. Many elders and differently-abled folks have wonderful experiences and talents to offer the Pagan community. Yet sometimes we are not fully included in Pagan or Wiccan rituals. Some of us choose to work solitary for that reason.

As more and more people discover Nature Spirituality, there is a growing need for covens, groups, and festivals. Many popular books now focus on coven practice—such as Edain McCoy's Spellworking for Covens and The Witch's Coven and Amber K's Coven Craft. Working magic in a group can be a powerful experience. Therefore, ritual leaders must take into account that some of their new celebrants may be differently-abled.

Each year, I help to sponsor a large Pagan Pride event and a small regional festival. I'm the secretary for a legal Pagan church, where I facilitate the children's activities and co-teach a "Magic 101" course. I am also visually impaired, a kidney patient, and have other physical challenges. That is why I use the term "differently-abled." My abilities include organizing, cooking, and begging occult stores to sponsor events—and my disabilities include not being able to drive a car or read small print. Others may have different abilities or limitations. We are all differently-abled.

At public rituals, I cannot dance in a spiral to raise energy or read the song sheet. At festivals, I don't go for a midnight stroll in the woods. I can accept my own limitations, but there are some barriers to participation that just are not acceptable! Everyone should have access to the potties, which is why there are ramps and wheelchair-sized portable outhouses. Everyone should have access to ritual, as well. A priest or priestess, or other Pagan leader, would never intentionally exclude anyone who was sincere about celebrating a Sabbat or performing a magical ceremony, but unfortunately, people with handicaps are sometimes unintentionally excluded.

For many years, I was terrified of walking the candle-lit labyrinth, certain that I would catch myself on fire. Then last summer, my dear husband promised to guide me through the pathways, assuring me that he wouldn't let me run into anyone—or worse, step on one of the lighted candles. (You can just imagine the headlines: "Witch burning at Pagan festival!") I trust my husband with my life, but it still took a lot of encouragement for me to set foot on a narrow path of a thousand flaming candles. Yet I'm so glad I did! Walking the labyrinth was a deeply spiritual experience, a passage of transformation. It also helped me to understand some of the needs that people with disabilities might encounter during a ritual.

Here are some suggestions for Priest/esses, facilitators, and ritual leaders:

Physical Challenges
It may be very difficult for people with disabilities to attend worship rites. However, physically challenged people often develop amazingly strong psychic abilities. They are valuable members of any Pagan community.

Please ensure that the location of a ceremony has accessible parking, entryways, and bathrooms. If the ritual is held in a private home, help may be required to carry the handicapped person up stairs or into a dwelling. If it is outdoors, they may need some assistance to get to the site. Please make the individual aware of such limits ahead of time. Some people may feel patronized, so offer to help, but do not insist. Be aware that elders and other differently-abled people may need to sit down during circle. If someone uses an appliance, such as a brace or crutch, they may not be able to stand for long periods of time, kneel, or sit on the ground. They will not be able to participate in dance or other physical techniques of raising energy, especially if the ground is uneven. Wheelchair users will need a place to "park." Some rituals require participants to remove any metal objects before entering, which is impossible for those who use an appliance or a pacemaker. People who do not have upper arm strength may not be able to hold a chalice or drum.

To include elders and the differently-abled, provide chairs and a safe place to park wheelchairs or scooters. Waive the no-metal requirement. Ask them to help maintain the circle or other magical wards. They may help to raise energy by playing a musical instrument, singing, chanting, intoning a vibratory sound (such as "Om"), or by using visualization. Once energy is raised, they can help to direct it to the proper source. Elders can act as a summoner, gate-keeper, or guardian of a quarter. Physically challenged people can also help to ground the power or magically protect other celebrants. They may be able to help supervise children.

Allow service animals in circle. They are well-trained and will sit quietly during the ceremony. Some service animals are also "familiars," and help to store and channel energy. Raven Grimassi and D. J. Conway have both written good books on animal familiars and their presence in circle. These books may be helpful to those who have service animals such as a guide dog. Ask before offering service animals any food, since they are not supposed to play or eat while "working" or in harness. Mention their presence to other celebrants, so that nobody accidentally steps on Fido's tail.

Visual impairment
No, we don't expect you to Braille the entire ritual. If a visually impaired person has a speaking part and can see a printed page, large type is appreciated. Discussing a chant or song ahead of time may be helpful. Please be aware that visually impaired or blind covenors cannot dance on uneven ground, and may need help during a procession or while entering ritual space. Assign a "seeing-eye person" to assist them. Let the individual grasp your arm, rather than leading them. Verbal cues such as, "Now we are passing the chalice" help a great deal.

Remember all the blind "seers" in Greek and Norse mythology, and ask the visually impaired person to help with divination work. Visually impaired people are especially adept with clairvoyance, clairaudience, and presaging talents. However, they may not be able to scry or do readings by conventional means, such as tarot cards. They can also feel, raise, channel, and direct magical power just as well as any other participant.

Hearing impairment
If the celebrant has some hearing loss, it might help to station them near the priest/ess or ritual leader. If this is impossible, it might be helpful to give them a written copy of the ceremony beforehand, so they can follow along. Face the person as you speak to them. The Gods can understand sign language, but the rest of us might need an interpreter or paper and pencil. Hearing impaired people may not be able to chant or have a speaking role in a ceremony. However, they can feel vibrations, so drumming and dancing are good ways for celebrants to participate. Of course, hearing impaired people can also do visualization work and raise energy. They may notice elementals or other magical entities that others aren't aware of. A hearing-impaired person may have the ability to communicate with spirit beings through direct thought form.

Other physical challenges
People with special dietary needs, such as diabetics, may not be able to eat sugary ritual cakes. Providing an organic, non-sugared bread may be an option, or ask celebrants to bring their own. Pregnant ladies, those in recovery programs, and young children can not have alcoholic beverages, so provide juice or blessed water. Kidney patients may need to carry a plastic water bottle with them.

Some people cannot be in the sun for long periods of time. Others may require warmth to maintain body heat, so allow them to work robed, or wear a shawl or poncho. Here in Michigan, where temperatures can reach 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, celebrants often take a cue from Native people and wrap themselves in colorful blankets. Some wear long underwear under ceremonial garb.

People with allergies may not be able to tolerate smoke, including incense, sage smudging, or wood smoke from a bonfire. Please station them upwind, and ask first before you smudge anyone. Using a feather to invoke Air may be more appropriate. Check with celebrants before anointing them with ritual oils. Individuals with contagious conditions or compromised immune systems may require separate cups, rather than sharing a communal ritual chalice.

It always helps to inform people of the overall scope of the ritual, and outline all the steps, especially if they are "newbies." This helps to make the ceremony a positive experience for everyone.

Here are some suggestions for people with disabilities:

  • Please inform the ritual leader of any special needs beforehand. This will eliminate any surprises, and help them to prepare to accommodate you. There are some situations that are just plain unavoidable—the field in a public park might be the only place available to hold Pagan Pride Day. John and Mary's bathroom might be too narrow for a wheelchair. Deal with it. They did not choose that location just to exclude you. Next time they will know better, and make an effort to include everyone. If they cannot, or will not, there are other gatherings, other circles, and other groups who are more accommodating. You might have to take a pass on one particular ritual, but there are many others that you can attend.
  • Seek out ceremonies held in public buildings. Most of these places already have handicapped accommodations. Some things might be surmountable—a piece of plywood can be an impromptu wheelchair ramp, and the ceremony can be held on the ground floor instead of in the attic if the group knows you are coming to their ritual. Ask the Priest/ess or ceremony leader to seat you in a place where you can see, hear, or help to direct the energy. Request a copy of the ritual ahead of time. If the ceremony is in a Llewellyn book, you can purchase it online and have it delivered to your door!
  • Don't be too proud to ask for help. This is an excellent way to meet new people! Teens and older children often feel honored to be able to assist you. Bring a lawn chair if needed, and ask that cute guy or gal to help you carry it to the circle. Request that parking be provided for you. We often place a broom on a bucket across the driveway for "handicapped only." When the celebrant arrives, they honk the horn, and someone can run out to move the barricade. Ask the Priest/ess to assign you a helper. Tribal people made it a habit to assist one another, and we Pagans base many of our traditions on these customs. It does as much for the helper as for the person needing assistance.
  • If you have special dietary needs, you may wish to bring your own food or bottled water. Ask the priest/ess to place it on the altar, bless it with the other ritual foods, and give it to you when the time is appropriate. You can put your own water in a pretty chalice and keep it near you. If you are allergic to smoke, oils, or other substances, warn the "mudger" or other ritual assistant ahead of time.
  • If you use an appliance, you may have had this experience: magical energy is rough on electrical energy! I am talking about wheelchair batteries, TENS units, pacemakers, hearing-aid batteries, or other electrical devices. The cone of power may drain your scooter's power. Bring along an electrical extension cord, your power pack, and spare batteries, if needed. Some electric wheelchairs can be jump-started from a car battery, but if not, make sure there is an external power source at the location of the ritual. Public parks and festival grounds may not have electricity available. If you need a breathing machine, air conditioning in your motor home, or a recharger on your wheelchair battery, being without electricity can spell disaster. Better to enjoy the ceremony in the hotel or community center than to put yourself in danger at an outdoor event.
  • For those who use appliances, be aware that metal, wood, and some plastics can augment magical energy. You may need to discharge excess power by channeling it down through your appliance or prosthesis. Practice this technique alone at home or in a small ritual or group of understanding covenors. It feels much different than grounding through the bottom of your feet. Metal appliances may also be an energy conductor. If the people around you start acting "hyped," and the animals in the room start turning backflips, you may be zapping them with excess energy channeled through your crutches! Talismans or crystals attached to your appliance; runes or sigils painted on a walking cane or brace; and herbal sachets can help to ground excess energy. There are many Llewellyn books that have good tables of correspondence for colors, stones, runes, Gods, days of the week, etc. Hematite is a good “grounding” stone, and a dark green amulet bag can effectively remove excessive energy. Shield and protect appliances just as you would any other ritual tool, or your car and living space. Yes, you might want to consecrate your wheelchair! The fairy Queen Mab had her chariot, Aladdin had his flying carpet, Odin had Sleipnir the Horse—your conveyance can be just as magical.

Lastly, please remember that we are all differently-abled. We all have unique talents and abilities to offer our communities and the Gods. You might not be able to cavort wildly around the bonfire, but you may be able to channel the energy raised by the drummers and dancers. Working magic, participating in ritual, and honoring our own inner deity are valuable ways of contributing to our spirituality. A good book to help you on your path is Spiritual Fitness by Nancy Mramor. As the title suggests, this book can help to enhance your personal well-being and spiritual awareness.

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