Originally published in Trance Portation, 2007.
Introduction by Diana L. Paxson
When we interact with other people, we need to be careful in different
ways than when we are working alone, and the more people involved, the
more care is needed. A pilot and co-pilot can watch out for each other,
but they need cabin attendants to take care of the rest of the airplane.
The same is true in trancework. When we work alone we can ward ourselves,
and so can partners working together. But if you are leading a trance
journey for a roomful of people you cannot stop “flying the plane” to help
one person without disrupting the process for all the others. Thus, large
group trance work requires a team.
We call the people who keep an eye on the crowd “warders” or
“watchers”. They are useful in a number of kinds of trancework, some of
which will be discussed in the next chapter. Unfortunately, this is the area
in which I myself have the least experience, since in this kind of situation
I am usually the one piloting the plane. So I am very grateful to Lorrie
Wood, who taught the Beta test class using these materials, for most of
the following observations on the art of warding.
The practice of warding may be broken down into the broad categories of
self, place, and other people. However, as in so much of life, the key is
preparation and the more ordinary kinds of foreknowledge.
Until and unless you feel confident enough in yourself, it is difficult to
achieve and maintain control over various non-ordinary states. While
achieving this on a large scale is one of the most important goals of
this work–as well as one of its desired results–establishing
your own personal safeguards is where all warding rightly starts. Remember
the watchword chiseled in the forecourt of the temple at Delphi, “Know
The same goes for the group when you are working with a team. If those
who will be running the ritual take the time to ground and center together
and link their energies, their rapport will allow them to sense each
others’ needs and work together even when they are stationed in different
parts of the room.
You should safeguard the space where the work will be done whenever
circumstances warrant and permit. Good manners dictate that you allow the
owner or primary tenant of the place to set the rules and take primary
responsibility for protecting everyone within, although they may be willing
to delegate the job. In the case of a festival or a rented space, this
permission may be tacitly assumed to have been given when physical access
to the space is granted to your group. When possible, respect a host (and
his or her tradition’s) rules on how sacred space should be established:
casting a Wiccan-style circle when a Vodou mambo has already
made prayers and offerings to Papa Legba, or when a Slavic
Reconstructionist has already had a word with her domovoi
(household spirit), is poor form–and can cause conflict within the ritual.
So, when possible ask, and if the host would rather not or cannot ward the
space for whatever reason, do as conscience and the situation deem
wisest–which can include discreet supplemental warding in your own idiom
to support an inadequate existing structure.
If you are working in a festival situation, find out what the
presentations in that space in the time slots around yours will be
and consider whether their energy, or that of the events scheduled in
the spaces to either side at the same time as yours, will incompatible with
your own! Your quiet contemplation of the sea goddesses of seven different
cultures will likely not benefit from the leftovers of the Kali
puja that just cleared out, nor from those of the Discordian
Ritual going on next door. Pay attention to the schedule, and determine
whether further banishing, cleansing, and/or reinforcements are needed
before non-officiants enter the room.
Some of the problems may not be apparent until you move in to set up.
If the previous ritual may have featured an incense, or used herbs to
which someone on your team is allergic, you will need to sweep or air it
out. Check the space for concentrations of energy that may not be negative
would at least be distracting, and break up and expel them.
In smaller venues, less preparation is generally necessary: simply
alerting your allied personal and/or house spirits to keep an eye on the
group should do the trick, just as they would to safeguard your personal
Once a ritual has begun, the job of dealing with the space, and how the
space interacts with the outside world, should be delegated to a chief
warder by the person running the ritual, and if circumstances permit and
warrant, an “outfield” of warders on the perimeter of the group space.
If this your job, then once you have determined that the energies of
the place are appropriate, your next task is to deal with people (corporeal
or otherwise) who might attempt entry from the outside once things have
begun. Do not make snap judgements: a latecomer may have good reason to
attend, the hotel staff might need to know when the ritual will end so the
space can be re-set for tomorrow morning’s breakfast, and an interloping
spirit might be there to test you!
It may also fall to you to process people who would like to leave
early–this can mean giving them a drink of water to ground them, or
murmuring a lengthy guided meditation to bring them back to consentual
reality, or three hours at a picnic table in the dead of night doing ad
hoc counselling. Use your judgement–and if that fails, seek advice from
those you trust. Should none of those be available… congratulations,
the Universe has obviously awarded you Yet Another Learning Experience.
If dealing with uninvited spiritual guests is the job of the warders in
the “outfield”, those who are stationed in the “infield”, among the
participants, need to know what may reasonably be expected of any
invited guest, and who that guest may, within reason, invite.
The experienced warder should familiar enough with the cultural context
in which a ritual takes place to know this–and the inexperienced warder
should ask as far in advance as is practical.
For instance, at a possessory event, warders are well advised to act
as servitors to seated deities–which puts them in an excellent position
to observe the goings-on and an equally excellent way to defuse potentially
ill-advised situations. Knowing how and when to intervene, however, comes
down to experience: what would you do if someone in trance aimed an
unsheathed spear at the chest of a non-tranced attendee, resting the point
on her chest? Would you:
- Simply watch?
- Grab the non-tranced person out of the way?
- Have words with the possessing entity?
- Do you distract the possessor with a tray of food?
Any of these might be the right answer, given different situations,
and knowledge is the best tool you can have in the box.
While it’s possible and even desirable to enter quite a few states on
one’s own, once another person is involved, it is best, when possible,
that there be a third to chaperone. The more directly involved
practitioner(s) will often find it easier to go further from consensual
reality if someone is back home “minding the store”!
In a ritual in which only one person is in trance at a time, the two
most vulnerable people at an event are the person in trance who is that
ritual’s primary focus…and the person with whom the trance subject is in
direct communication. The states of both of these are the primary concern
of the warders stationed among the participants in the “infield”.
Regardless of which trance state is the desired outcome, a given
subject will have developed his or her own set of conditioned cues for
entering and leaving that state–people may not be able to articulate them,
but they will almost certainly have them. A warder whose primary concern in
a ritual is those who are in trance should try to find out what each
subject’s cues are. If you cannot do so, try the ones usually used in
that group, or take other logical steps such as providing or removing props,
speaking certain names, and so on. If removal from trance is the goal,
strong flavors and smells can be useful–but as always, have a care for
context. Consider keeping two containers at hand: one of some large-grained
salt (e.g. kosher or rock salt), and one of some other strong-flavored
powder (citric acid, cinnamon, cocoa, etc). Offering a drink of clear,
still water can often help someone to regain ordinary consciousness.
The person who is interacting directly with the person in trance is
an infield warder’s next concern. They may be in a light trance state
themselves without knowing it, and may be thrown without warning into
deep emotional waters. At the very least, an infield warder should carry
tissues and be able to move to offer emotional support to someone in tears
or other obvious distress. A warder would be well-advised to limit their
support to simply that, and allow tears to flow so long as the ritual is
not disturbed; not all tears are evil. Trance events, involving as they
do direct contact with the numinous, do much to comfort the disturbed
and disturb the comfortable. Expect anything.
Finally, like the place/outfield warders, a people/infield warder
should also be able to process people who were not intended trance subjects
out of ritual space.
As a warder, you will often be required to be the bouncer. If it
becomes apparent after the ritual has begun that someone is going to be
a problem, like the gentleman who brought a bottle of beer to an oracular
ritual and kept drinking, or someone who is overcome by the energy and
breaks into wild weeping, you may have to gently but firmly ease them out.
If necessary, try to alert the ritual leader so that he or she can distract
everyone from the disturbance by narration, or a chant, or drumming.
As a rule, it is not a good idea to allow animals or young children
into group rites involving trancework, unless you know they are familiar
with the protocols–in particular, do not trust the parents’ assertions in
this regard. That said, this can also vary by ritual: if a god to be honored
is known to go about with dogs, wolves, and/or cats, or to find especial joy
in children, it may be a dishonor to disinvite these from the event.
However, primary responsibility for both animals and children should still
be taken by their owners or parents. Children are famous scene-stealers,
and a dog who decides to sing along with the trance induction or paw for
attention can jerk someone out of trance with painful suddenness.
Without a Net: A Warder Alone.
But what if you don’t have all these people to throw at your
ritual? In that case, do what you can. Remember, as I said above, that the
optimum minimum number of people for a trance event is either one or three,
For a larger number, there should be at least three staff persons: one
trance subject, one attendant or guide, and one to handle the audience and
the outside world. If your ritual is intended for a medium-sized group
(20-60 people), it is desirable to have one head warder (who may or may not
also be the chief officiant of the rite), plus one infield warder per twenty
attendees, with one or two working the outfield. Larger groups, over 60
people, can be hard to manage in the best of times, and are beyond the scope
of this essay.
And if you are the only one on hand when someone you’ve just met is in
the throes of spiritual emergency, congratulations, you’ve just won yet
another learning experience… and, if nothing else, a great war story.
Debriefing and Grounding.
After any ritual involving trancework, it’s a good idea to eat a
reasonably-sized meal. From a warder’s view, this is also a good time to
make sure that all your officiants and audience members have wholly come
back to themselves. Don’t miss any opportunities–and don’t forget to eat
yourself! Many of the things that a good warder does, even if it’s just
wandering around with a plate of snacks, take energy…
A meeting over food also provides a good opportunity for the ritual team
to share information and impressions. A multiple point of view provides
more coverage. Events that took place on one side of the room may not have
been noticed by those on the other. One warder’s solution to a problem
may be useful to another the next time around. Things that worked well can
be noted and incorporated into the script, and the reasons for things that
didn’t work analyzed so that they can be avoided or corrected.
The job of a warder is to be aware of him/herself, the ritual, and
its surroundings. Those who think this unnecessary tend to be those who’ve
never needed a warder’s help. Although warders are primarily responsible
for their stations, should a situation unfold before you, for gods’ sakes
worry about the overall job before fussing about being outside of your
Even if you usually have other ritual responsibilities, it is still
useful to ward from time to time, even, or perhaps especially, if you
are usually the one doing trance work for others. Your performance will
be improved by knowing what things look like from the other side of the
circle. We usually start anyone interested in learning techniques from
our group on “the warding track”, followed by intense mentoring with one
of our more experienced members.
Besides…someone who cares enough about others to ward their
well-being in a ritual might just feel called upon to act more
responsibly towards their fellows in the rest of their life–and this
can hardly be a bad thing.
— Lorrie Wood, 09 September 2007