Chas Clifton recently blogged about a change in the big-ticket events at pagan festivals he attends. They used to do large, participatory rituals. Nowadays, that pattern has apparently shifted, at least in his neck of the woods, to rites involving multiple priests and priestesses "drawing down" an aspect of the Wiccan Goddess and people either waiting for their turn to come in a circle or filing into a tent where the aspect's carrier is ensconced, in both cases for very brief consultations. I freely admit I have all but no experience with Wiccan rites aside from being a very occasional attendee of same. At the same time, I've been studying trance possession for the last three years and know people who've been at it for far longer. My background has left me a bit bemused by this usage of the talent.
I've both attended and been involved in rituals that contained trance possession and involved larger groups. I've attended a Hrafnar-run seidh ritual, in which the seidhkona will often embody deities from more than one tradition during the course of the evening depending on who's asking the questions as well as reaching out to speak with any requested dead person. I was one of three women selected to carry Brigid for a public ritual attended by over 200 people. But in neither case were the trancing individuals set up as a private oracle in a tent. I know of a different seidh group where something similar to that is done, but even then, we're not talking about long lines and ten-second visits. I grant you, the Brigid ritual included what we called the "rock star" routine in rehearsal. The three of us performed rapid greetings to everyone who we could reach in our thirds of the space. But greetings are not consultations.
What can you get in a few short seconds from an aspected deity? A fortune cookie quip? Is it so difficult to get in touch with the numinous that people have to stand in line to get a brush with it? And is there real community in a ritual where you only get a group vibe going long enough to allow the drawing down to happen, then you stand and wait until your turn is up and either leave for the next event or watch until everyone else is done before it's closed? The Christian churches know the value of audience participation. Are there Wiccans who are forgetting? If so, I feel sorry for them. If Wicca is a religion where all are priests, this shifts the power structure outside of that approach and into a system of priests and congregation. That brings it closer to the Christianity so many people within Wicca left behind. That would only reinforce the suspicion many outside Wicca hold that the more modern versions of it are Christianity minus the rules and with a Mommy Goddess Who doesn't do more than give hairpats and consolation. And truly, I don't know of many deities Who would easily tolerate being treated like a divine ATM for long. The ramifications are many, I fear, unless my distance on the issue is introducting mistaken impressions.