Dancing in the Streets – Review

by Veronica Cummer . . .

I was wandering through a bookstore, when the title caught my eye—“Dancing in the Streets:  A History of Collective Joy” by Barbara Ehrenreich.  I had never heard of this author before, but a quick look through the book told me that I just had to have it.  The basic premise of the book is that by participating in festivities which inspire collective joy—i.e., experiences that take you out of ordinary, everyday consciousness and into the realm of divine contact and ecstasy—that you not only feel more secure as an individual and within your community at large, but that it may have a lot to do with relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Dancing in the Streets

Dancing in the Streets

One of her theories involves drawing a close correlation between the rise of what was called melancholy in the 16th and 17th centuries and what psychiatry today diagnoses as anxiety disorders and clinical depression.  She states that when societies cut down on having numerous and varied group celebrations, holidays, and dances during the year, religious or otherwise, that not only did it shut down the ability for people to just let loose on occasion, but that it actually contributed to an increasing lapse in mental health.  She isn’t sure if this loss of ecstatic group celebration directly caused the incidents of melancholy or if it only helped relieved an already existing condition, but it certainly is cause for thought.

We all know that the Puritans and various other morally restrictive Christian religious groups who helped found America frowned mightily upon people having fun or dancing, among other things (like actually enjoying sex, for example).  We are also told that pleasure and dancing and playing games and so on are an intrinsic and natural and even possibly a necessary part of being a witch.  As is attending rituals in the buff, another thing that the Puritans would have absolutely had fits about.

We also know that achieving an ecstatic state is something we’re supposed to feel while in ritual.  It certainly seems then that not only did witches keep as a matter of course the celebrations that allowed them to break free from the grind of day-to-day life, but also the secrets of achieving and maintaining a healthier and more joyful frame of mind and direct contact with the divine.  While this Mardi Gras of the soul also helps stir and quicken the blood of each witch and waken them to their own innate inner powers.

Essentially then, can regular contact with the divine and achieving a state of divine ecstasy actually contribute towards keeping you sane?  Can it work towards gaining magickal power and abilities?  Does it also contribute towards building a strong community?  Simply put, does attending joyful celebrations of our Art make us happier as individuals, more capable of powerful acts of magick, as well as serving to forge us into a close-knit group both as a coven and as a community?  Should we be pursuing this ecstasy more in our rites for all of those reasons?  Learning how to just let go a little more…I think so.