Accessible circles

There are several activities that happen in Wicca and other Pagan traditions that might make our rituals inaccessible.

That doesn’t mean we can never do those activities: it does mean being aware of the needs of participants, preferably by asking them in advance what their needs are.

The great news is that an activity or resource that is accessible is better for everyone, because everyone has some needs that are not met by inaccessible resources. I am a web developer and I specialize in user experience, which brings together usability and accessibility requirements with what happens offline to create a seamless and satisfying experience.

Accessibility in ritual

I am not disabled, but I get really dizzy from circle dancing (partly because I have had labyrinthitis), so it’s not a good way for me to raise energy in circle. There are various conditions which might make it difficult for people to circle dance. A great alternative way to raise energy is to make energy balls: draw in energy from your surroundings, direct it down your arms and into your hands, and shape it into a ball, which you can then merge with the energy balls of everyone in the circle, and send off to its intended recipient.

Be careful with hugging and kissing, as some people can experience physical pain from physical contact. Always seek consent before going in for a hug, and be prepared to accept no for an answer.

If your ritual involves kneeling, this can cause cramps for a lot of people, and is just impossible for people with reduced mobility (whether this is due to age or other factors). There are other ways to express reverence, such as hand gestures.

If you work out of doors, a ritual site that is deep in the woods may not be accessible to wheelchair users. Check out the route beforehand, especially footbridges and stiles.

Woodland paths have many inaccessible stiles and gates. [Public domain image]

Woodland paths have many inaccessible stiles and gates.
[Public domain image]

If your tradition requires people to copy out your Book of Shadows by hand, consider that this is really difficult for some people, either because of dyslexia (which makes it hard to remember the sentence you have just read on one page in order to copy it onto another), or because of mobility issues. Consider allowing people to make an audio recording of the text instead, or to transcribe the text from an audio version (if they are blind, visually impaired, or severely dyslexic).

Even if you share all your ritual scripts electronically, not everyone can use Google Drive or email, so you may need to find other ways to help them access resources.

If you work skyclad, consider that some people cannot retain heat in their bodies for various reasons and may find working outdoors too difficult without thermal gear. According to some accounts, witches used to rub themselves with grease to keep the cold out (also handy if you were apprehended by the law, as you could literally slip out of their grasp).

Be careful with incense and flowers, as some people are allergic to specific perfumes and flowers. I am allergic to star lilies (they give me a really bad headache). I call them fleurs du mal.

Various people have food intolerances and allergies: coeliacs cannot eat gluten, and there are people who are allergic to peanuts. If one of your coven has a food allergy, it could be serious. It’s no good just asking them to bring stuff they can eat: the aim of a coven feast is to share food together, so if there is something in the feast that is potentially poisonous, that is a bit antisocial.

Recovering alcoholics may need accommodation in the area of drink. If you have alcohol in your chalice, they can just kiss the cup as it passes, or you could use a non-alcoholic alternative. A lot of people use alcohol because it seems somehow alive, but you could use kombucha, kvass (both of which have a very low alcohol content), or lassi (zero alcohol content) instead.

Standing for long periods of time may be difficult for a lot of people, so it is a good idea to alternate different types of activity in the circle. When doing meditation or visualization, I always invite people to sit, stand, or lie down according to their preference.

In case of difficulty or emergencies, it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan. What are you going to do if someone is deeply psychologically distressed by the content of your ritual? What will you do if someone has a sneezing or coughing fit in the middle of your ritual? Do you have anti-histamine tablets on hand in case someone is allergic to your cats, flowers, or incense?

Obviously, if someone has a condition that they know about, it behooves them to inform you and make sure they have their inhaler, epi-pen, meds, or whatever with them, and that you know what to do if someone has an epileptic seizure.

Some disabilities are not visible or obvious, and conditions can change over time, so it’s always worth checking with people about mobility issues, specific learning difficulties, and other conditions. Not all disabled people use wheelchairs, either.

Man with a service dog [public domain image]

Man with a service dog [public domain image]

In our coven, we have a quick round of updates from everyone to say what’s happening in their lives, so we all know how everyone feels. This means everyone gets to hear everyone else’s news, and it gets the energy moving in a circle. This would also be a good time for people to give updates on their condition, if they wish or need to.

It’s also worth mentioning what not to say to disabled people and people with chronic illnesses. Don’t post pictures of disabled competitors in the Olympics with the implication that people can “overcome” their condition, or glurge about disabled kids (also known as disability porn or inspiration porn). Don’t say “oh but your disability means your other senses magically make up for the missing one”. Don’t say “have you tried turmeric / lemon-juice / meditation / hanging out in Nature?” (or whatever the latest snake-oil is this week). If the thing was effective, they would be using it.  Don’t assume that you know better than they do how to manage their condition.

Did you know that shoving a tablespoon of cinnamon up your ass can cut the duration of the common cold in half? You can trust me, I'm a random picture from the internet.

Did you know that shoving a tablespoon of cinnamon up your ass can cut the duration of the common cold in half? You can trust me, I’m a random picture from the internet. [Source:]

Above all, everyone appreciates having as much autonomy and self-determination as possible, so the more information you can give people about what is going to happen in your ritual, and the more you make getting informed consent a core value of your group, the more autonomy and sovereignty your members will have. If in doubt, ask. It is better to ask than to assume that you know.

Further reading

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3 thoughts on “Accessible circles

    • Thanks Debi! Glad it was helpful. I was hesitant to write about this, as I am not disabled myself, and try to stick with the principle of “nothing about us without us”, but a lot of what I have written above comes from reading articles by disabled people.


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