Dorm Room Druidism
By far, the largest "occupation" listed by Pagans is "student." According to one recent study,1 the number rests at 16%. I've also noticed a large upswing in the number of students (college-aged and non-traditional) in ADF. Despite this, we tend to look at our membership as if they're established in their careers and with a few restrictions on their worship. This is, perhaps, understandable, as it seems to be a new trend within our membership; doesn't mean we should continue to ignore it, though.
Another group that faces some similar questions and issues is a segment of Our Fellowship that is in the military. These also tend to be younger members who may face some interesting restrictions on their worship.
One of the things that is a constant battle of new college students (and, as it turns out, a few military members who are also in a similar situation) is conducting worship on a level where they feel pious and fulfilled. A number of each group will spend at least part of their respective careers in some form of dormitory or group-living situation, and the primary thrust of this article will be working through that particular issue.
The rules of dormitories are, generally speaking, fairly reasonable. They are primarily based on the safety and comfort of the group. Most dormitories are extremely strict about open flames (candles in particular), smoke (both tobacco and incense), weapons (or anything resembling a weapon, like a ritual knife), and noise (drumming at 3 AM is generally off limits).
It is interesting that the primary tools that most Pagans and occultists "grow up on," such as candles, incense, knives, and chants are generally forbidden in these settings. For a wide number of young Pagans, this is so disheartening as to cause them to stop their worship entirely out of frustration.
Sometimes, students have recourse: they can discuss these limits with their resident advisor or a dormitory director. Often, an understanding can be reached, and things can be permitted at certain times or even (with a very understanding dorm director) any time the student wishes to use them. This article, other than suggesting that the student should have the courage to ask their advisor or director about these policies, won't always be of much use to a person who can do what they want, but I hope that it can at least inspire some alternative, creative modes of worship.
Military personnel living in a dormitory setting are far less likely to reach such an understanding, and some students will never have luck talking to dormatory directors. The real purpose of this article is to suggest replacements that are not only easy to find (especially in today's online marketplace), but also perfectly okay in most circumstances (of course, always check carefully with your dorm rules to make sure that the alternative doesn't break any other rules).
A note: I'm not going to only address the ADF-style of ritual and building an altar. A number of our members also use four or five elements, various occult tools, and other things, so we'll address those as well.
Fire, Candles, and Incense
The most obvious problem for most Pagans is the rule against open flames that you find in most dormitories. Some local Pagan student groups have taken the fight to their universities' Boards of Trustees and won, and now "candles with religious significance" are allowed on a number of campuses, but these are the exception, not the rule.
The rule, of course, is in place because candles are extremely dangerous things. They're a leading cause of house fires, and in the eight years I've been in Columbus, there have been five or six small fires in dorms at Ohio State caused by candles, even though candles are explicitly forbidden.
The ban on incense is generally marketed as an extension of this policy ("Where there's smoke, there's fire," reasoned one resident advisor to me), but generally seems to have more use to the resident advisors in preventing illicit drug use. Either way, with both candles and incense banned, the most common symbols of fire and air are taken away.
To top this off, every room is generally equipped with a smoke detector and (sometimes) a particle detector, meaning that anything sprayed (perfume or hair spray included) could set it off. Tampering with the detectors, of course, is illegal (not to mention stupid), so that option is out.
My favourite solution to this is remarkably simple, so much so that some people flat out refuse to use it: battery-operated candles. Not only are they safe, easy to maintain, and pretty darn cheap because of their re-usable status, but they can be left to "burn" until they run out of batteries or the bulb dies if your spell calls for that. You can also paint them various colours if you feel that they need to match the intent of your spell or ritual work, and if you use rechargeable batteries, there's no waste, no smoke, and no worries.
There are some very neat LED tea light candles available now (a quick search on Google for "led tea light" will bring up a number of different ones, about $3 apiece),2 and most of them have a flicker and a soft light that actually looks pretty cool. The brand I most recently bought around Halloween is called FunKin (they go in fake pumpkins by the same name), and three of them grouped together makes a nice representation of fire, each one puts out almost as much light as a regular tea light, plus they come with extra batteries.
If that's not your cup o' meat, you can also make a simple representation of fire rather than keeping an open flame or a battery operated candle on the altar. This can be a picture or sculpture, or just an orange cloth balled up and set into a cup so that the corners come out the top.
Incense is actually surprisingly easy to solve. First, you can take an essential oil, put a few drops into a spray bottle filled with water, and spray it around the room. Just a few pumps, and you'll get an amazing amount of scent from that, along with a good dispersal. You can also buy a small lightbulb scent ring, which is a small metal or ceramic ring with a trough that is heated by the bulb, and placing a drop of essential oil on the ring disperses the scent nicely. Finally, if there are rules against scents that disperse well enough to leave your room (as in military dorms), you might consider just keeping some potpourri in a jar, and opening that when you need the scent.
Permanent Home Shrines and Altars
If you're the only person in your room, creating a home shrine isn't all that difficult, and the choice between permanent and temporary altar is a matter of taste.
Some special considerations apply to altars in dorms. Dorm rooms have high traffic from friends, roommates, and (in some cases) dormitory directors. All these people have a tendency to want to touch and handle things that are left out. There is nothing more annoying to most Pagans I know than someone picking up and handling their ritual gear. And with a roommate, it might happen when you're not there.
One good option is to use a drawer in a dresser. You can place all your ritual supplies into one drawer (often, dormitories provide a lockable drawer for each person's use), and take them out when you wish to use them. It's not so nice as having an altar that's always there, but it's usually pretty convenient (and helps you keep the top of your dresser clean when you go to pull it out). Don't use the drawer for anything other than storing altar supplies.
If the drawer is tall enough (and your altar items short enough), you can even make a sort of "pull-out" altar that you don't have to set up in order to use. Such altars work very well, and when you feel like you need to chat with your deities, it's nice to just pull the drawer out and start into a ritual.
People living in dorms (especially students) often move out for weeks at a time, and so are without their altars for all of spring and winter breaks if they have set them up as permanent shrines. A good option for altars that need to be moved out every 10 weeks or so is to make or buy a box for all of your altar supplies, and keep them in that. It can also serve as an altar itself if it is large enough to hold all your equipment.
Another interesting (if somewhat amusing) idea is to check your local Pagan shops for "portable altars" or "travel altars". Usually, these come in small boxes and have a number of nifty items. If you can't find anything like that, (this is where it gets amusing) there's always the Teen Witch Kit from Silver Ravenwolf and Llewellyn Worldwide, a cardboard box that comes with a few (rather poorly made) items. The best part of this particular kit is that it folds down quite small and can be carried around (actually, that may be it's only advantage).
If you're into carrying around your ritual kit, you might consider getting a blanket or a rug and rolling all your altar items up into that. The rug can either make a good altarcloth (they come in many colours and some are pretty cheap, too), or you can kneel on it and use it to save your knees some hardship.
At the Walking With Fire festival in 2005, Narabali made each participant a portable altar. It was simple, containing a small glass cup, a tealight, a clothespin with some moss on it, and a felt cloth to cover the box it was in. It was small, compact, and worked beautifully. Such an option is not only amazingly cheap, but also highly effective.
Ritual Wear (or None at All)
Boy, it's embarrassing to be interrupted by your roommate opening the door with his date when you're standing naked in a chalked out pentagram holding a knife and chanting something about a "horned god." We won't discuss how I know this. . . it's best just to accept it. On the bright side, you may not have a roommate after such an incident. On the not-so-bright side, it might seriously fracture your relationship with your roommate, and could lead to a crazy rollercoaster ride of investigations and questions from neighbors.
If you're set on worshipping skyclad (in the nude), make sure that either your roommate really is totally okay with it (i.e. he or she hangs out completely naked while in the room), or that they're certainly away. Remember that classes let out early (sometimes people don't go, too. . . which is a revelation I'm sure comes as a shock), social plans fall through, and sometimes roommates get curious and wander in on you on purpose. Be sure you know you'll be alone if the thought of being interrupted while naked (and the thought of being called "that naked Pagan chic") bothers you.
Oh, yeah: and close your curtains. You'd be surprised what times of night maintenance men need to be on a ladder headed to the roof.
If you don't practice skyclad, but rather have a special dress or certain outfit that you like to use for ritual, make sure that if you allow your roommates free-reign over your wardrobe, or if they take such allowances without permission (even some guys do this in college), you are very specific in saying what is off limits.
Cleansing for Ritual
Nearly every book on ritual gives the same piece of pre-ritual advice: take a cleansing bath. While I have seen pictures of dorm rooms that have bathtubs, I have never seen one in person (much less lived in one). I believe the dorm room bathtub to be a rare creature indeed, so the most common bathroom fixture is likely to be the shower, shared with at least one other person (and, as I did my freshman year, up to twenty other boys).
While a ritual bath is not at all required to get into the ritual mindset, it certainly helps. The difficulty of getting this kind of cleansing is obvious, though. With no access to a bathtub, how can someone reasonably take a cleansing bath?
The solution I came up with for a friend who was still living in the dorms seems to have taken off quite nicely, and to work well. Because the idea behind the ritual bath is to have some time alone in a situation that is different from a "normal" bathing experience, you need to find a way to make things different than usual when you shower.
To replicate the ritual bath, buy an extra shower caddy, another towel, and a special pair of shower shoes (don't ever forget shower shoes in a communal shower!). They don't have to look any different from your normal ones, but you will only use them for ritual cleansing. Fill the shower caddy with herbal soaps, special-smelling shampoos, and body oils that you find aromatically reminiscent of the ritual you plan to do. Only use this shower caddy before ritual, and you'll be surprised how effective it can prove.
I also have it on good authority that good-smelling bath-stuff is highly prized by roommates, so it might be wise to put this shower caddy somewhere particularly special (and thus hidden) as well.
Chanting, drumming, and singing are pretty common in our worship, as are shouts of "Deities, accept our sacrifice!" and similar phrases. We like to be loud and boisterous in our rituals, and to have fun and show our enthusiasm. Dorms, though, generally limit the noise allowed, and a loud noise, especially prolonged outbursts, will usually bring the posse down on you.
The most obvious solution, of course, is to keep your mouth shut and just avoid drumming and otherwise banging on things. Some of us, though require drumming or chanting to get into a ritual mindframe, and especially to enter trance-states.
While there is no substitute for the euphoria or depths of experience actual drumming can bring some people, a solution might be found in the various tapes and CD's of drumming that can be found, as well as the .Mp3's and other music files that are proliferating on the internet. Get a good pair of headphones and your iPod, sit down in the center of your ritual space, and trance out to a drummer without disturbing a single other person's studying.
When I was a sophomore, I brought my herbs from home to keep in my dorm room closet. One day, my roommate walked by and the pretty glass jars with strange green herbs caught his eye, and he tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Mike, can I borrow some herb?"
It says a lot about me that it never crossed my mind exactly what he was asking, and I only caught on when I saw him tearing paper out of his physics lab book and rolling something green and flaky into it. He'd never bothered to read the label, and was going to try smoking some witchhazel. I'm still not sure who was more embarrassed about the whole situation, but he never asked me for any "herb" again. Our definitions, it seemed, were a bit different.
One of the primary problems with roommates is that, no matter how little they may question us or how much they might pretend to understand us, if they aren't Pagan there might be a communications issue sometimes. Often, roommates don't understand why you need the room for a whole night, and telling them that you want to "draw down the moon" or "become one with the Goddess" might get you a weird look, or it might get you a lot of uncomfortable rumours.
It's mentioned above how roommates can affect what you wear (or don't) for ritual and how they can affect keeping an altar. Roommates can also cause you some of the biggest problems you can face for the entirety of the time you live in the dorm.
Often, these problems can be reduced or eliminated if they're addressed early. When you first meet or talk to your roommate, tell them that you're Pagan and offer to describe what that means. It's possible to simply keep quiet, but it's difficult at best, and you can't expect them to understand or respect something that they don't know about.
Even if you are up front, though, don't automatically expect your roommate to respect your beliefs. While most roommates won't really care what your beliefs are, some will, and unfortunately it's always impossible to tell exactly what the reaction will be until the situation explodes.
Always remain tolerant in your interactions with your roommates. If you're lucky, it'll rub off. If you're unlucky, being able to show that you've been tolerant toward him or her will go a long way when you complain to a Resident Advisor or dormitory director that your roommate isn't managing to show such restraint.
Some dorms that involve roommate situations require the roommates to sign a sort of "roommate agreement". Usually, in colleges and universities these outline the most basic things: when you'll study, when you'll sleep, how loud music can be. If one of these is offered, jump on it. You can really use it to your advantage.
Usually, such agreements allow you to set "alone time" for yourself. You can, if you can get your roommate to agree to it, set specific times and days when you want the room to yourself. Go into the agreement process with a full set of dates you want (as well as backups), and put them in writing. You don't really have to say what you want the time for; just say you want it.
Also, most college kids will eventually come up with some sort of "symbol" for when the room is unexpectedly needed for some alone-time, usually in which another person is, ah, "entertained". Set such a symbol ahead of time (usually socks or neckties on the doorknob are traditional), and use it when you want to do ritual.
If things start to become problematic, take notes and talk to your dormitory director. Make sure you include the date, time, and a description of the incident, and take pictures if you have a camera and the evidence can be photographed. There is almost always recourse if you feel uncomfortable, and there is always recourse if you feel threatened. Check and find out what those avenues are before you need them.
Dorm-Specific Symbol Replacement
As mentioned above, dorms have some unique restrictions on them. Most often, we can work around these restrictions through simple replacement of our usual altar supplies with things that are similar. Here are some suggestions:
In single rooms, chalk is good for marking the boundaries of a circle, and will usually come out with some warm water if you mark light enough. In doubles or multi-person rooms, rope is a good solution, as it can be gathered up quickly with no mess.
Of course, magicians and ritualists should ideally be able to function mostly without physical tools, but they do come in handy. Most of the time, you can get by with things that do double-duty (there's little sympathy for the need to keep a full-sized two-handed sword in your dorm room, even for religious purposes), and so it's always helpful to think, "What can I get by without, and what do I definitely need?" before you start packing up your tools to take with.
Table runners and even coloured napkins make great altarcloth options, especially since they come in seasonal designs (and both are fairly cheap).
It's also good to keep an "offering box," a small box of items that is self-contained and easily transportable.
Most of the time, these things include incense, oils, and silver, but they can contain anything you wish. Generally, the following items are good for dorm-room paganism:
Remember the most important thing: You don't need anything to do ritual or magic. The only tool required is your self.
Be patient and tolerant in the face of intolerance, and don't worry about getting things "by the book," but rather worry that they work for you. Religion is something between you and your deities; not you, your tools, your roommate, your Resident Advisor, and your deities.
1 - Berger, et al. Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. University of South Carolina Press; Columbia, SC. 2003.
2 - As an example, you can find one like I mention at http://www.coolsafetyproducts.com/ under "flameless candles": Item no. AL-06130