emberleo: A forked crossroads symbol with the letters A M U H (umbanda)
[personal profile] emberleo
Every year for longer than I've been attending PantheaCon, the American Magic Umbanda House has put on a Devotional ritual for Pomba Gira. The last several years, I have been the lead singer for that event.

I have received quite a few compliments on my singing, for which I am deeply grateful. Every year I have been involved in the music we have worked very hard to make it the best we can for that year, and even better the next, so I am grateful when feedback reaches me that tells me we are succeeding, or how to succeed even more.

For a few years before I took up the singing, I helped coordinate the event and ward the ritual. We made many adjustments, some subtle, some blatant, to the balance of the ritual structure in order to better serve the needs of everyone involved. I don't think people realize how much we take to heart the critique we receive both directly and indirectly. We search for reviews of the Devotional and look at what people liked and didn't like, and more importantly, why they did or didn't like it.

We have put a lot of work into making the ritual structure more supportive for the inexperienced, while still being a positive, exciting experience for those who return each year to dance with us, and of course a pleasing offering for Pomba Gira Herself.

There are a few complaints I hear every time, and I want to address them now.

1: Why is the music so repetitive?

The Pomba Gira devotional is not a concert, it's a ritual trance induction sequence. Although there are repeating themes, we don't, as some have said, sing the same song the entire time. We actually go through 6 to 9 different songs for Pomba Gira over the course of 3 sets, each time building in energy, rhythm, tone, and pitch. And yes, all of them are fairly repetitive, because it's not about listening TO the music, it's about riding it, carrying it, letting it sink into your body, offering it up in praise to Pomba Gira, letting it go, and coming back to center.

Nobody minds that the drums are repetitive, because everyone expects percussion to be repetitive. Consider the singers another percussion instrument for the purposes of this ritual. We are using our voices to raise, carry, and direct the energy of the ritual. The words do matter, but not in the way you might be used to if you're thinking in terms of a concert or musical.

We're not telling you a story, we're sharing an experience with you. Share it with us!

2: Why are the lights so bright?

There are several ways I can explain this:

The first thing that needs to be emphasized is that nothing we are offering to Pomba Gira is shameful. People who are trying to hide themselves in the dark while they get their sexy on are missing the point of what Pomba Gira can teach them about self worth and mutual respect. We want to SEE all you beautiful, sexy people out there on Pomba's dance floor! You're not here to lose yourself, you're here to find Pomba Gira. If you came to lose yourself, you might want to ask yourself why you want to get lost. You might want to ask Pomba Gira, for that matter.

Shame is one thing, but privacy does indeed matter, as does respect for boundaries. If you're doing something you simply wouldn't want noticed, most likely you shouldn't be doing it on our ritual floor. Many of the people who comment on the light levels sound disappointed that they can't get away with as much. I'm not going to apologize for asking our participants to behave respectfully of each other and the ritual space.

Keep in mind that regular bembes and devotionals in the American Magic Umbanda House are held outdoors in broad daylight, and it hasn't put a damper on our efforts yet.

Another thing to consider, and perhaps the most important, is that we absolutely need to be able to see you all while you dance in case somebody is taken too hard, too fast, too far into trance and needs our help dealing with it. In traditional settings people sometimes fall to the floor twitching when the drums carry them out. Our ritual is very carefully geared towards NOT taking a room full of people of dramatically varied experience out that far, and to bring you all back safely to center, but there will always be some people who are more open to the influence of the music than others, and we need to be able to SEE them start to go out BEFORE they go too far.

3: Why are cameras not permitted?

I'm surprised we have to answer this question - The Pomba Gira devotional involves a lot of people wearing very little clothing, moving in sexualized ways, attending an alternative culture religious ritual. Most folks probably do NOT want that on Facebook for their boss to see on Tuesday, eh?

There are two different ways in which this comes up:

One is That Guy (tm) taking video or pictures knowing full well it's not permitted and why. They don't wonder why we stop them, they just try to get away with whatever they can before we catch them. It's obvious that's wrong. We'd appreciate your help stopping it if you see something like that happening, and frankly it's in your own best interests to help if it comes up.

The other case is friends taking pictures of each other in their lovely clothing with full permission, either not paying attention to who is in the background, or even carefully arranging for nobody in the background. While it IS fine to take pictures only of consenting subjects, we ask that you NOT do that inside the ritual space. If you want to take photos of your consenting, sexy friends, please just step out into the hall and take photos against the wall where the staff can see you're being respectful, and our warders can focus on real problems instead of trying to figure out if you're breaking out a camera because you're That Guy (tm).

4: Why are alcohol and other intoxicating substances not permitted?

The Pomba Gira devotional is a 60+ minute trance induction sequence designed to take a a person from center to ecstatic and back again. If you're not starting off sober, we can't be sure that the sequence will affect you in healthy ways. You might go too far out. You might open to other than Pomba Gira, and get hurt. You might lose track of yourself and your behavior and hurt other people. You might just make an ass of yourself in our ritual space, disrupting the ritual. Whether it's you we are protecting or everyone around you, the practical upshot is clear - if you are already intoxicated you're on another trip entirely, and we can't take you with us on this one.

5: Why is ID required? I have a badge, shouldn't that be enough?

Maturity is required, but alas, all we can check for is ID and a badge.


Yes, some of our rules are more strict than may seem necessary in any given moment. We need rules that we can apply safely regardless of the context in which they arise. It might be safe to dim the lights for you, and let you and your friends photograph only each other. You might only be a little buzzed. Maybe you're obviously of age.

It's not just about you.

It is NOT safe to dim the lights for the newbie soft head who has never attended before or to allow cameras in the hands of those who won't respect privacy. Not everyone is obvious when they're too compromised to be safe in a trance ritual. It's not up to our warders to determine the individual experience level and ethical basis for each attendee.

I don't think due caution is too much to ask for a couple hours once a year, for the mutual benefit of all.


6: Can I have a necklace?

What's it worth to you? The necklaces are tokens given in return for all the energy raised by the dancers out on the floor. If you want one of our necklaces, get your groove on, baby! We're not stingy, I promise, but the necklaces ARE part of a sacred exchange, the giving and receiving of which is a ritual action, and thus part of the devotional itself.

To be offered a necklace is to have your own offering to Pomba Gira recognized.
To take a necklace before it is given to you is to steal from Pomba Gira - we don't recommend that.

Sometimes people are sad that they see everyone around them wearing more necklaces than they have, or a different kind. There are a few things to keep in mind about that.

Many people wear necklaces they acquired in previous years. If it's your first time, you won't have that - keep what you get each year and bring it back to wear with pride!

House members tend to have their own necklaces which are much nicer because they are designed and used for much more intensive personal work for Pomba Gira than the ones we give out at the annual public devotional.

Of course there's really nothing stopping you or anyone else from making your own fantastic jewelry to wear in Her honor. I'll give you a hint: Pomba Gira's colors are Red and Black, and Her number is 3. ;)

Got a question about the AMUH Pomba Gira Devotional at PantheaCon? Ask, and I'll see what I can do to answer you.

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