The Ceremonial Circle by Sedonia Cahill and Joshua Halpern – June BBBR

The Ceremonial Circle: Practice, Ritual and Renewal for Personal and Community Healing
Sedonia Cahill and Joshua Halpern
Harper Collins, 1992
200 pages

This month’s Bargain Bin Book Review ended up being a useful resource for both my paganism and my (future) therapeutic practice. Written by two psychologists of a spiritual bent, it can basically be summed up as “ritual practices for people who don’t want to use the word ‘pagan'”. This gives it certain amounts of versatility that more blatantly neopagan books might not have in reaching a broader audience.

The book is essentially a 101 guide to ritual construction. Written in such a way as to not evoke any specific religion (though it draws on “Native American” spirituality–more on that in a moment), it breaks ritual practices down into basic components, but without going too heavily into theory. It’s a practical guide, a toolkit for creating rituals for everything from rites of passage to celebration to grieving, as well as connection to the Earth and other living beings. Not surprisingly, there’s a great focus on healing, including healing of the psyche, and the use of ritual for that purpose.

The authors present a nice balance of how-tos and anecdotes. One entire chapter is dedicated to interviews with various experienced ritual leaders, including Starhawk, to get their perspectives on creating rituals through the medium of a circle. These interviews add a nice touch of “been there, done that, here’s what worked” to the hands-on material.

I did take off some points because of a bit of cultural appropriation. The authors, as mentioned earlier, borrow from what they perceive as “Native American” spirituality. This is presented pretty generically, and without a lot of discussion of the original cultural contexts of the practices. Additionally, there’s not a lot of information presented for each–the sweat lodge, for example, gets a few paragraphs at best, never mind that improperly done it can be deadly. And they toss the word “shamanic” around more than I’m comfortable with; surviving an abusive childhood, for example, does not automatically make one a shaman. While I understand the authors’ desire to present a wide variety of potential ritual practices, “trying to be like the Indians” generally ends up with some deficiencies, and while they did address needing to respect the cultures drawn from, I found this aspect of the book to be pretty lacking.

Overall, though, this is a really valuable resource, especially if you need to design a ritual for people who aren’t necessarily pagan, but are open to animistic spiritual/psychological practices. I’m keeping it for my own uses, and would recommend it to others.

Four pawprints out of five.

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