What is co-creation/shaping-with?

        I think that it is again timely for the Reclaiming Witch Tradition and the other Heathen/Pagan communities as a whole, to take a deeper look into this way of being. I am convinced that there are transformative powers and understandings embedded in shaping-with/co-creation that will lead us way beyond our wildest imaginings.

        After many years of working with this philosophical concept, I use the following basic definition;

shaping-with/co-creation - All beings of all kinds; rocks, rivers, plants, animals, planets, stars, mysterious ones, ancestors, etc., eternally shaping the multiverse together every instant of every second.

        Of course, within this definition are embedded implications of all kinds. First of all, it is firmly rooted in a multiversal world view. It supports the notion that the only constant in the multiverse is change.  It implies that at some core levels we are all co-equals, peers if you will. It implies that none of us; Mysterious Ones, ancestors, humans, whoever, are all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, etc. beings. It implies that the multiverse is in continual flux just like any other living thing and that this growth is fueled by choice. It implies that we are all woven together in a fine fabric of relationship within which we are each responsible for our own specific delightful obligations and yes, the well being of ourselves and each other. It leads to the conclusion that we are all co-creators if we choose to be so or not. Our only choose in the matter is to be either conscious or unconscious co-creators. The above definition also leads directly to the understanding that co-creation is firmly embedded in the notion that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

        For me, shaping-with is yet another name for the never ending grand symphony of existence. But unlike a score that is fully notated and set, co-creationism is improvisational jazz; free, flowing, yet with it’s own internal coherence. Shaping-with calls us to actively listen to and participate along side the myriad voices that surround and fill us.

        One of the most common confusions in the communities I am involved with is the difference between collaboratively designed ritual and a shaped-with experiential ritual. A collaboratively designed ritual is when a group joins together to design a piece in which a larger group is invited to participate. The over all piece is built by the small group, often using the consensus process, with a rather firm idea of what will happen when and to whom. One of it’s primary goals is to blend all of the designers’ visions into a coherent whole which are ideally informed by the larger group they are designing for. Frankly, it is what many Witch camp teachers have been doing for years. In our recent commitment to shaping-with, we have striven to open that planning work to the larger camp communities. Yet, we still primarily retain a ritual form quite similar to the ones created by teaching teams working alone. The structure still remains such that there are primary facilitators and secondary facilitators who often devolve back into simply being participants.

        Don’t take me wrong, I believe that the ability to collaboratively design is a vital skill. I am quite pleased with our growth as a community in it’s development and use. Most of the significantly brilliant rituals I have participated in have been the result of good strong collaborative design work. And I trust that we will continue to fine tune this tool within the foreseeable future.

        What then is the difference that I am talking about? What for me defines a co-creative experiential ritual? Basically, it is making room for the folks participating in the ritual to create immediate influences, taking actions that effect the actual body of the ritual. It is a space that is not controlled by the design team, but actively co-created by all of the folks, human and otherwise, involved in the piece. This can be quite unnerving for those of us trained in the older ways of ritual work. It calls us to radically trust that Mystery will indeed work in that empty space. It calls us to truly embrace the truth of fractal formation in a chaos field. It calls us to learn the arts of improvisation.

        One of my favorite expressions of community co-creative ritual is based on the concepts of ‘Group Spell/Prayer Poems’ and ‘Layered Spell Work’. In short, spell prayers are based upon an intention built by the group which inspires individual spells in mutual support of said intention. Each spell is then set, witnessed and supported by the group as a whole. Layered spell work refers to the use of multiple pieces in support a common intention enacted in groups of two or more at the same time. One possible example could be a dance that supports three spoken word pieces while others are chanting sacred sounds with the whole supported by a string quartet weaving it all together. I suspect that both of these technologies, individually and when they are blended together, hold great promise in the development of shaped-with experiences, .

        Another technology I believe to hold great promise is ‘Community Spirit Mapping’. Again, briefly put, this is when a group goes on a deep journey together with an agreed upon intention. When they come back from the journey the group maps out their individual experiences and then synthesizes the individual maps into a larger vision which then becomes a guide for the whole of the group.

        These last few months of contemplating just how to continue to nurture the co-creative experience has led me to at least one clear realization. When my friend Chelidon, pointed out that most folks have no real understanding of improvisational technique, it shattered one of my unexamined assumptions. My training in the arts has given me a basic understanding of improv and how it works. Most people have no such training, nor have had much experience simply observing improvisational work. I suspect that it would be a good thing to begin such training in the community at large if we really want co-creation to actually make sense beyond the more accessible concepts of collaboration. We can not expect folks to step confidently and effectively into something without sharing some of the basic guidelines that make an improvisational piece work. The following are a few of the things I think are important to remember when working in an improvisational or shaped-with manner.

1. Listen. Look around you. Feel the energy that is present. In other words, pay attention, be in the present. When I am engaged in improvisational work with others or working alone, this is an incredibly important guideline for me personally.

2. Co-creation is not about the individual voice, image, etc. It is about a common experience, a weaving together of the many threads into a single tapestry. It embraces the mystery that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. It is a good thing when an individual voice highlights or perhaps even adds a bit of spice to the piece. It is not such a good thing when an individual voice become the star of the show.

3. Am I truly called to do whatever it is that I want to do?

4. What ego investment do I have in doing whatever it is?

5. How can I do this to support and enhance the larger work?

  1. 6.Always remember that it takes practice to make this work. It is not unlike learning to play a musical instrument or any other skill. Practice makes perfect... more or less. I am not actually that interested in perfection, I just want the piece to work effectively, at least empowering all involved. Of course, it is always a plus in my book, if it is an expression of beauty, balance and delight.

        Depending on the size and experience of the group, these roles can certainly be taken on by more than one person. I have noticed that in small groups who know each other well, all of these roles can be quite invisible and are simply taken care of by the whole group. I imagine it will become that way for most groups, no matter what the size, as we practice and refine this particular ritual art form.

1. Intent Facilitators - A person or persons who are willing to help bring together the thoughts of the people gathered into a clear intention/vision for the ritual.

2. The Amplifiers of the People - When folks take on this roles their main job is to listen to the voices of the people around them in order to become their microphone. One pays attention, opens to the energy and the intent of the piece, waits to notice phrases, songs, sounds, actions, dance steps, etc., that are emerging from the community that support the working as we ritualize together. It is good when engaged in this role, that one is listening for the voices emerging from out of oneself. One asks oneself, ‘Does this expression need to be supported? Am I someone who is called to support it?’ If you are called, then you can begin to gently support the action, sound, etc. If the community responds to the thing, then it may be a good idea to pour more energy into it. Even when the energy is freely flowing, it is always good to pay attention what is coming through folks and being open to supporting it in ways that you feel called to do. This role  is also a good way to support the magic coming through folks who may not have loud voices, or perhaps lack a bit of self-confidence.

3. Props Person - A person who takes on bringing objects that may be called for in the ritual. For example, one may be called to bring brooms, flowers, containers of water, potential offerings, etc.

4. Fire Tenders - A person or persons who build and tend the fire until it either burns or is put out.

5. Food Folks - These folks make sure that there is drink available during the ritual and that food and drink are available for the post-ritual feast.

        I hope you find all of this helpful. Let me know what you think and how it has worked for you. I certainly hope that there will be continued explorations and discussions of our experiences of  shaping-with. It is good to always remember that all of our voices are essential to take shaping-with from theory to a working functioning technology and a trusted corner stone of the emerging Cultures of Beauty, Balance and Delight.


(Co-Creation, Making-With)

Donald L. Engstrom-Reese

© 2009

Yggdrasil: A Partner in the Shaping-With of Itself, the Cosmos