Rituals (Paganism 102? :-)

Most of this is stuff that I’ve taken from the post I was going to make next week for the Samhain/Ancestor Night ritual, but I’m posting it now due to the interest from my other diary today. I’ll recap it in the Samhain-specific post later.

This is the basics of two different forms of ritual, one I call the wiccan form and the other the Keltrian druid form. This is ritual the same way that, say, the Catholic mass is a ritual (and IMO, the Catholic church has some of the best “ritual theater” out there). Lest someone take that as an insult, by “ritual theater” I mean all the traditional stuff that goes on — lighting candles, saying certain prayers, incense, songs, all those things that lend continuity and familiarity to the ceremony. Just as a Catholic can go to mass anywhere and expect to be reasonably familiar with the ceremony, so pagans can, to a lesser extent, go to a ritual with another group and have some idea what to expect.

When working alone or in a small group, things may be less formal, but the more people involved, the more formal and theatrical ceremonies can be. Ritual can be done alone, with the solitary speaking all the parts, or have different people acting as priestess, priest, callers for each direction, etc.

As I said in my previous diary, the basic outline of a ritual is to:

  • establish sacred space
  • state the purpose of the ritual
  • invite the deities we wish to join us
  • do whatever the purpose of the ritual is (healing, celebration, etc.)
  • thank the deities for their presence
  • “release” sacred space

I often refer to everything but the fourth item as the “ritual donut” and the fourth as the “meat” or “filling.” In case anyone is wondering, I was a telecommunications major briefly, and that’s where I get the donut reference from :-).

Sacred Space: In most pagan-ish traditions, our rituals and ceremonies start with the demarcation of “sacred space.” There are two basic ways this is done.

Most pagans (and friends of pagans who’ve gone to rituals) are familiar with the casting of the circle, what I referred to above as the “wiccan” form. While there are a variety of ways people do this, the basic idea is that you create a boundary between the celebrants and the “outside world,” consecrating the space for whatever the purpose of the ritual is (celebration, healing, etc.). A term I’ve often heard used for the inside of such a circle is “a time that is not a time and a place that is not a place.” This sort of circle is especially good when the celebrants want to either contain energy they’re raising , to keep out negative energies, or both.

In this form of ritual, a there’s usually invocations to the four quarters (east, south, west and north) that include mentions of their related attributes. An example from one of my “donuts” is:

All hail to the element of Air, watchtower of the East. May it stand in strength, ever watching over our Circle. Soft and whispering winds from afar, greetings be unto thee in the names of the Gods of old. Blow clear and fresh and free. Golden Falcon of the Dawn, we honor thee. Blessed Be!

“Blessed be,” in addition to being a standard greeting among pagans, is also used in ritual much like “Amen.” It’s usually repeated by all present.

The circle is also delineated by being “drawn” with a sword or knife (the blade is usually moved through the air above the floor, though if the ritual is held outdoors a line might be drawn in the earth), and “consecrated” with the four elements: water which has had salt (earth) ritually added, and smoke (air) from burning (fire) incense.

The other sort of sacred space, what I call the “Keltrian” form and the one I’ll be using for Samhain, is rather the opposite of the cast circle. Instead of being “outside time and space,” it creates a sacred space in which “all places are here and all times are now,” the “center of space and time.

I’d like to add that, on reflection, I think this is especially suited to virtual ritual. The time and place I’m at when I open the ceremony will be different from the time and space of the first poster, which will be different from that of the second, etc. etc. We will each be participating from a different time/place, but at the same time we’ll all be in the same thread, which will be a time and place of it’s own. Should be interesting :-).

Purpose and Deities: Simply, this is where one of the officiants states why we are all here, and calls on whichever gods/goddesses are relevant to the ceremony. An easily recognized Christian equivalent is “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to…” 🙂

“Filling”: This is the part that changes from ceremony to ceremony, season to season. More on this later.

Closing: Once everything that the ceremony was meant to cover is done, you end the ritual. This consists of thanking those the deities who’ve joined us, and releasing “time and space.” In short, undoing everything you did before the “filling,” last-in-first-out (yeah, after telecommunications I switched to Computer Science and got my degree in that {G}). In many traditions, this includes sharing food and drink in a ritual manner. Originally pieces of cake and ale were used, so many still call this part “cakes and ale” even if the “cakes” are vanilla wafers and the “ale” is apple juice :-).

Now, I know I kind of glossed over the “filling” part, but that’s because it requires more explanation. This part of the ritual could be any number of things. It could be a seasonal celebration, the equivalent to Christmas or Easter. It could be a “working” circle, for example if someone has requested a healing. For these, there is a power raising, which involves something like joining hands and chanting to call up spiritual energy/power and then flow it to the person in need. It could be a rite of passage, as in a naming ceremony for a child, a coming-of-age, a wedding/handfasting, a hand-parting, or a funeral.

Sometimes, and this is common in seasonal rituals, we’ll write something we want, or want to be rid of, on a slip of paper which is ceremonially burned. Sometimes there is a sacrifice involved. Don’t panic, we’re not talking about killing anything! >G< Pagans generally feel that there should be something given for something received, so if we ask our gods for something we offer something in return. One of the ways to do this is to write both what you want and what you’re willing to give on the paper being burned. An example I’ve heard of was a man who quit smoking in exchange for a healing for his daughter. Often the sacrifice is related, such as offering to fast periodically in exchange for help losing weight. Last year, I offered the sacrifice of a specific amount of money donated to progressive causes every month from the time of the ritual to November 2004, to get Bush out of office. As you can see, sometime pagans get our prayers answered “no,” too.

Personal rituals can be much less involved. For me, “spell casting” and “prayer” have significant overlap, and I tend to find the bells and whistles that I enjoy when working with a group to be distracting when working by myself, so my rituals tend to be very simple: hold a candle while making my request/visualizing what I want, flow that energy into the candle, light it, put it someplace it can burn safely (usually in the fireplace), and walk away. Other people find that anointing the candle with an oil that’s related to their desire, chanting a rhyme they’ve written for the purpose (or one they found elsewhere that feels right to them), etc., helps them focus their intention. As has been said many times, we’re not a monolithic lot :-).

Again, I invite others to add their $.02 on how what they do differs from the above.


In the Reclaiming Trad … (4.00 / 4)

… the person casting the Circle often recites the following as s/he walks the perimeter (starting at North/Earth, then East/Air, South/Fire, West/Water, then the center of the Circle) …

By the Earth that is Her Body,
By the Air that is Her Breath,
By the Fire of Her bright Spirit,
By the Waters of her living Womb,
By All that is Above,
By All that is Below,
The Circle is Cast;
We are Between the Worlds, and what is done Between the Worlds affects all the Worlds.

The Directions / Quarters / Elements are then called, plus we recognize a mystical Fifth direction, that of Center / Spirit, the Cauldron, the Event Horizon, the Line Between Light and Dark, the Point of Transformation.

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 00:50:52 PDT

I probably shouldn’t go here… (4.00 / 3)

But I thought they’d changed the Water line to “By the living Waters of her Womb,” after someone slipped and said “By the Waters of her living room” and it started people giggling at that point of the ritual. 😉

I think I remember reading that in the 10th Anniversary edition of Spiral Dance, but I know I read it somewere.

Since I have a tape with a variant of this on it, I tend to remember it as the song, though this version is for clearing the circle:

By the Air that is Her Breath,
By the Fire of Her bright Spirit,
By the Waters of Her womb,
By the Earth that is Her body.
The circle is open, yet unbroken,
May the peace/love/joy of the Goddess be ever in our hearts.
Merry meet, and merry part, and merry meet again.

The one on my tape goes through it three times, using a different word in the penultimate line each time. I’m not sure I have the sequence right, though.

by Morgan on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 10:25:14 PDT

Ahh, you have (4.00 / 2)

the Moving Breath CD. I love that entire CD. My coven always ends ritual singing that and after meeting weekly for over a year.. someone always gets one verse wrong and we have half saying “love” and half saying “joy.”

After all this time, if we ever get it right, I’ll be afraid it would invoke some bad karma.

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 10:57:18 PDT

Tape, actually (4.00 / 2)

But yeah, that’s the one :-).

I just wish I could find more stuff along those lines that’s more balanced, i.e. more God stuff to go with the Goddess stuff. I can’t afford to buy lots of CDs only to find it’s more of the same, even if it’s “good” same. Recommendations welcome!

by Morgan on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 11:20:31 PDT

Do you practice (4.00 / 2)

the Reclaiming tradition?

I do not yet but I find that tradition very appealing.

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 10:59:34 PDT

Yes, I do (4.00 / 2)

Starhawk has written a pretty good definition of Reclaiming.

Personally, I’m less interested in the “Magic as Activism” stuff than I am in the Trad’s extraordinary skill at making Ritual a truly ecstatic experience, particularly the emphasis on chanting and trance work. Another thing I like is the fierce embracing of sexuality in all its (consenting adult) variety, be it straight, bi, gay, trans, autosexual, asexual, monogamous, polyamorous, vanilla, kinky, etc.

Probably due to its deep feminist roots, Reclaiming falls a tad short (in my opinion) on inclusiveness with regard to the Divine Masculine and Men’s Mysteries.

If you’re really interested, see if you can find a Reclaiming class or workshop in your area, or better yet, attend a week-long, residential, total-immersion WitchCamp.

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 14:20:12 PDT

I really want to go (4.00 / 2)

to Witchcamp but just cannot afford it.  

I find the openness of the tradition very inviting, but then again I was one of those who read Spiral Dance and said: wow. That’s me.

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 14:29:42 PDT

Scholarships ! (none / 0)

Most WitchCamps have work-study type scholarships, in exchange for a few hours a day helping out with the running of the camp. If transportation is an issue, many camps promote ride-sharing. And if you are anywhere near North Carolina, the DreamRoads camp is probably the least expensive of the lot.

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 08:14:29 PDT

Morgan (4.00 / 2)

This is a great description of ritual. It is very similar to what my coven does. I like the Keltrian idea of being at the center of all space and time.

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 11:08:37 PDT

Thanks 🙂 (4.00 / 4)

I find that circles are better for power raising and the “open” form is better for celebratory ritual.

It doesn’t hurt that, the first time I did the Keltrian form, we had several reasons to be glad that we didn’t have a forman “closed” circle to deal with. I forget the sequence, but a) I’d forgotten to turn off the phone ringer, and someone I needed to talk to called, b) silly person who was still new to houses with fireplaces (me) forgot to open the flue before lighting the fire, which set off the smoke alarm (which of course was down the hall, outside the ritual area), and I know there was a third thing but I’ve forgotten what it was.

We were all very glad that we could just deal with things without having to “open” the circle first :-). Times like that, it’s good to know your gods have a sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd!

by Morgan on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 11:17:16 PDT

I have a question (none / 1)

The circle, does it have to be drawn with a certain knife or sword, or will any knife work?

Can the circle be bigger than needed or is it better to have it be just a comfortable fit?

does everybody need to be in the circle and no one leave or enter untill it’s released?

I bought a candle today (actually 4 for $1.00),  will I need one for the on-line ritual?

I guess that’s more than one question. Got to get back to work. Thanks.

God has many names

by leftofcenter on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 13:48:20 PDT

Drawing the circle, etc. (4.00 / 2)

Some groups have a specific sword or knife they use. Some have the person drawing it use their personal ritual knife. Some use a wand instead of a sword. In these cases, it’s usually a tool that has been consecrated for ritual work, but some “kitchen witches” will just grab a knife out of the drawer.

In less formal ritual, you can use your finger to draw the circle. I’ve even done quick-and-dirty protective circles just visualizing the circle drawn in light in my mind.

One thing to remember is that, in many things in paganism, it can be truly said that something only matters if it matters to the person doing the work (drawing the circle, casting the spell, etc.). Some people feel things work better if done a certain way, and if it’s not done that way they feel it won’t work (as well or at all). Others are more flexible. Sort of like some people feel prayer is more effective if done on one’s knees, and some don’t worry about it.

It’s the intention that makes the difference. I can read a spell from some book, with perfect inflection, and it won’t mean squat if I don’t mean it. Conversely, if the feeling, the intention, is there, I don’t need to say anything :-).

As for the size, it’s usually based on a) room available and b) room needed. Too small and there’s no room to move around, too big and you feel like you’re rattling around in it.

For a formally cast circle (one where the edge is “marked”), passing though the edge is considered to “break” the circle. It is possible to “draw a door” if someone needs to come and go, either because someone is supposed to come in partway through, or because nature calls and won’t be ignored. Most people I know consider children (those who haven’t begun puberty) and animals to be an exception, due to an innate “innocent-ness” I think, and I’ve seen outdoor circles where the cats wandered in and out at will.

You don’t need a candle for the online ritual, but if you want to have one (or one per person you’re remembering) that’s fine. I find that lighting a candle is a good way to focus one’s thoughts. Hey, look how long it’s worked for the Catholics! 😉

Ask away, folks! This gives me a chance to clarify things and to cover things that got left out.

by Morgan on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 14:08:28 PDT

My only additional comment (4.00 / 2)

is that it is at a minimum horribly rude to exit a circle once it has been cast. At a maximum, during heavy duty energy work, violating the integrity of a circle can be very jarring for whoever is leading the ritual.

IMO drawing a door to exit an intense ritual is not a good thing. It always interrupts and disturbs concentration.

Morgan is right; intent is hugely important.

My Blog: Recovery, Spirituality, Politics and Kilts.What more could you ask for?

by Andy Ternay on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 14:35:24 PDT

I should have noted (4.00 / 3)

That exiting the circle (even by creating a doorway) is only done either when it is a pre-arranged part of the ceremony, or if the need is great. I’d consider it less disrupting, for example, for a person who had an urgent need for the restroom to quietly ask to leave (don’t just cut and run!) than for them to have an accident in the circle ;-), though of course it’s better to go beforehand to avoid the problem when possible. Another example, if you’re indoors and the smoke alarm goes off, someone exiting briefly to quiet it is less disruptive overall that letting it run (and if there really is a fire, well, you’ll all need to wrap up in a hurry!)

If disruption can’t be avoided, go for the lesser one.

by Morgan on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 14:56:42 PDT

Chiming in … (4.00 / 2)

I’ve been in Circles symbolically drawn with finger, feather, knife or sword; with smoke from a smudge stick; or by walking the perimiter. I’ve been in Circles literally drawn with thread, string, ribbon, rope or chain; or scattered grain, beans, flour, ashes, sand, chalk dust, glitter (biodegradable), flowers, straw or dried herbs; or poured water, wine or olive oil; or permanently demarcated with rocks, logs, gravel, grass, hedges or flower/herb beds.

This variety illustrates a very important point about a lot of Pagan ritual practice : molding the physical form of all the segments of a Ritual into a rich, evocative tapestry of symbols that support the over-arching Intention (or Intent), which is the *spiritual* focus/goal i.e. healing, protection, passage, celebration. This grants enormous room for creativity / improvisation, while providing a vision that keeps things unified and on-theme.

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 15:43:52 PDT

Question (none / 0)

Has anyone been to the Athens, Ohio area summer meeting?  My friend goes to that every year, and tells me about it.  I’m not sure what it’s called, and it is not actually in Athens but nearby.  

by Margot on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 22:40:23 PDT

Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG) ? (none / 0)

I think that’s in the general area …

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 08:20:50 PDT

That’s it (none / 0)

PSG is what she calls it, I couldn’t remember until you said it.  

by Margot on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 14:08:56 PDT

Yup ! Just Googled it … (none / 0)

Pagan Spirit Gathering AKA PSG, which is sponsored by Circle Sanctuary, takes place at the Wisteria Community campground & nature retreat, in the Allegheny foothills about a 1/2 hour from Athens, OH.

by Propheticus Lycanthroponica on Fri Oct 21st, 2005 at 08:30:59 PDT

one nice thing to add (none / 0)

is that after the energy of the circle has been raised and then it is time for the circle to re-open, participants either send the energy outward to others in need in the world, and/or ground the energy back into the earth, by kneeling and pressing hands back on the earth as blessing.

barn’s burnt down…now i can see the moon. -masahide

by marjo on Thu Oct 27th, 2005 at 14:01:47 PDT

Assuming it wasn’t already all directed somewhere, (none / 0)

And even if it was there might be some left over. Good point!

Also, I always add the admonition when grounding energy to keep what you need. I’ve seen people ground so “well” that they lose too much energy and get faint. Yet another case of watching out for extremes :-).

by Morgan on Thu Oct 27th, 2005 at 15:05:02 PDT

5 Responses to “Rituals (Paganism 102? :-)”

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