In setting forth this section on ritual, it is not our intention to give you a book of immutable rituals to learn by rote and to practice without variation. Quite the contrary—ritual, like religion itself, is a living, growing thing. It adapts and changes according to the needs of those using it.
The wise, whenever they find a better way, adapt it to their own. In doing so, we sacrifice none of our own traditions, but rather we help our traditions to grow and to improve.
The rituals in this section should be viewed as examples and templates, then: a starting place from which to gain facility with ritual and thence to create your own. For the art of ritual lies in mindful creating, not in mindless repeating.
The last thing the world needs is another “cookbook” of basic Wiccan rituals. There are so many of these already that one could fill a library with them alone. In putting this section together, we do offer a selection of rituals for you to draw upon, but we also hope to share with you the theory
behind ritual as well as helpful tips learned from long years of performing ritual.
The rituals we will present are primarily oriented toward group or temple use but can also be used by the solitary practitioner.
Generally speaking, the difference between group and solitary use is that solitary ritual tends to be simpler but more highly personal, since the ritualist can make use of symbols and concepts that have deep personal meaning without having to consider whether or not other people will understand them. For example, a solitary ritual can incorporate symbols from personal dreams or visions, which in a group ritual might not be appropriate or would require explanation.
Ritual should be an expression of the heart, whether the individual or the community heart.
Words, forms, actions—these serve only to help give form to the heart’s expression and should never bind it. Granted, specific forms are sometimes important to give cohesion to group ritual or to pass along traditions that are important to the community.
But in ordinary ritual, specific forms are a guideline from which the ritualist builds a personal expression. There is no mistake greater than putting the form of a ritual above its function.
Your concern in ritual must be that the ceremony achieves its purpose, not whether or not it uses specific words, movements, and so on.
Ritual serves three primary purposes:
First, ritual is an expression of religious devotion.
Second, ritual is a means of raising, directing, or attuning energy.
And third, ritual serves to create a sense of community with others, through common
actions and through shared customs and traditions.
Performance of Ritual
A ritual should never be “read,” as from a script. With few exceptions, this creates a stilted, unnatural feeling. Using a script makes it very hard to raise energy, as people are apt to pay more attention to what they are reading than to what they are doing. It also tends to give the mpression
that the ritualist is an amateur who hasn’t done this before and doesn’t really know what they are doing.
Rather, the words and actions used in ritual should be your own; even the parts that are memorized should be put in a form that is natural and comfortable to you. This you develop through practice.
Do not be afraid to rephrase, to innovate, and above all to improvise. In this way you
make the ritual your own, and you will find that you are able to put more of yourself
into it, thus raising more energy as well as being a purer expression of the ritual’s intent.
People tend to be tense and nervous when they try to conform to the written words of others. There’s also the possibility of messing up or losing one’s place. Doing so can be embarrassing, and it can completely throw off the emotional and energetic feel of the ritual. When you use your own words you may still be nervous, but you are less likely to have problems. Consequently, you should never carry a “script” into ritual. Familiarize yourself with the concepts and actions used in the given ritual, and then let your words flow naturally. Granted, you may wish to use a “script” the first couple of times you do a ritual, but if you must do this you should wean yourself from it as quickly as possible.
Instead of using a book or a script, you should write up an Order of Service for the ritual. This is a basic outline of the steps used in the ritual, which can be placed upon the altar and referred to during the ceremony. In some cases you might wish to give a copy of the Order of Service to each participant in the ritual, so that they know in advance what to expect and where they may be called upon to join in.
In addition, you might wish to have parts of the ritual written on note cards. This is especially useful for a ritual that deals with themes unfamiliar to some of the participants, such as beginning students or guests. You may also wish to use note cards during those few rituals—initiations, rites of passage, and so on—in which specific wording may be important because of custom or tradition. In all such cases, the use of note cards should be kept to a minimum as much as possible.
Order of Service
Generally speaking, most rituals follow a very similar Order of Service. For that reason, most parts of the Order of Service become second nature as one gains more practice with ritual. Once the basic Order of Service has become second nature, it can be varied to fit the situation as needed or desired.
In the example given below, we use the formal circle casting preferred by the Correll Mother Temple, which you learned in the First Degree lessons. We prefer this circle casting for formal Correllian rituals like initiations. However, there are many ways to cast a circle, and in ordinary ceremonies you should not feel limited to this one. You should judge by your circumstances what is best for you and adapt accordingly.
In later sections of this course introduce you to several other ways of casting the circle, but we will start with the formal Correllian casting.
This Order of Service is appropriate for the vast majority of rituals you will do. Because of this, the basic form will become second nature after you have done a few rituals. You should remember this material from the First Degree lessons, but you may wish to look back to the First Degree lessons in order to refresh your memory about the appropriate visualizations and
suggested wording to use.
The Order of Service is divided into segments that correspond to the elements:
· Clear and release all excess energy
· Bless the salt and the water
· Cleanse the ritual space, going tuathail and aspersing with the combined
salt and water
· Bless the fire and air (usually incense)
· Charge the ritual space, going deosil and censing with the combined fire
· Cast the circle
· Call each quarter
o Cleanse the quarter with salt and water
o Charge the quarter with fire and air
o Invoke the quarter
· Invoke the Goddess and God in a manner appropriate to the ritual
· Invoke the ancestors, if desired
· Define and explain the focus and intent of the ritual
· The body of the individual ritual (act of power)
· Bless the chalice (and “cakes” if desired)
· Share the chalice around the circle
· Offer what remains to the God/
· Goddess and the ancestors
· Thank the ancestors (if called)
· Thank the Goddess and God
· Thank and devoke each quarter
· Open the circle
· Cleanse and release all excess energy
The Order of Service should be kept on the altar in a discreet position, so that you can refer to it during the ceremony if you need to.
As stated, ritual should not be “read.” There are exceptions to this, however. If you are working with people who do not have experience with ritual, you can make up note cards to assist them in taking a role in the ceremony, but this should be regarded as a temporary practice and you should soon wean yourself off of it. Also, some rituals have “mystery plays” in which
a person will personify a deity. Not everyone has enough knowledge of theology to simply do this off the cuff, and note cards can again provide a solution. But, ideally, people should work to move past a reliance on note cards.
It is always best to prepare for a given ritual well in advance, so that you have time to familiarize yourself with its requirements. Think about how you will handle the ritual, and make yourself thoroughly familiar with its components. Commit to memory any part of the ritual you feel you should memorize, and try to have the Order of Service in your head as well as on
If it should come to pass that you make a mistake, even a big one, it is best not to
call attention to it. Better to continue as if nothing had happened and correct the mistake without emphasizing it. If this can’t be done, let it go altogether. As a rule, people will not notice. Even if they do notice, it will still be less disruptive than calling attention to the situation.
Of course, sometimes you may make a nor ignored. In that case, you should correct
the matter in as considerate and dignified a manner as possible, apologize without being self-deprecating, and explain that mistakes are an ordinary, human part of ritual. Do not become flustered or overcompensate. Remember, you want people to be comfortable and to enjoy the ritual, not to feel embarrassed or awkward.
In writing this course, I have assumed I was writing for situations in which more than one person would be present. The rituals can for the most part be adapted to solitary use if desired, or expanded for group use by dividing the parts among as many people as are present.
In dealing with group ritual, problems present themselves that are not readily apparent in solitary ritual and are rarely touched upon in books on the subject. The first is boredom. Ritual works by raising and directing energy through thought and emotion. Lose these and you lose the energy. It is important in ritual to keep people interested and excited, and not to lose their attention. Alas, losing their attention is all too easy to do, and to a large extent you can only learn to avoid it through experience and by learning to recognize people’s moods and expressions.
Yet some mistakes of this nature can be avoided easily. You will lose people’s attention
if you talk too long at any one time. You will lose their attention if you carry a mistake that can be neither glossed over on too long. You will lose their attention if you go from person to person
around a circle (as in a healing circle) too many times, and you will lose their attention if you have so many people in a circle that even going around once is tedious (as it would be when passing out the drink for the toast in a circle of forty or more people).
In this last event you can avoid the problem by having more than one person serving, or by introducing a chant or other activity in the meantime. Having people waiting too long at any point is death to the energy of a ritual.
In any ritual, be careful with fire. If you are using a censer, cauldron, or burning dish, make sure it is suitable to the purpose. There is no such thing as being overcautious. If you are not sure that you can do something safely, then don’t do it.
Consider the needs of other people. If there are people in attendance who are allergic or otherwise unable to tolerate incense, don’t use incense. Many incense alternatives have been enumerated in other places in our lessons. If there are people present who need to avoid alcohol, make sure you don’t use wine in the chalice; use fruit juice or water instead. Be polite and
make sure everyone else is, too.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Ritual is meant to be a joyful, loving experience; allow it to be thus. Don’t get caught up in the details, and allow the experience to unfold as it needs to. Doing ritual should make you feel good; it should leave you feeling energized and strongly connected to the Divine. This is more important than any of the details.
In these pages I have attempted to treat ritual as a systematized pattern of interchangeable
parts in order to emphasize a basic, simple order that can be expanded and re-dressed in any number of ways. If I have succeeded in my intention, upon completion of the course you will have the building blocks of an infinitely variable system of ritual form. You will also have
many discrete examples of the component building blocks, which can be expanded still further by personal research.
All of this means nothing, however, if you do not put your heart into it. Ritual in the end is only a skeleton upon which emotion and faith put flesh. Too often people forget this, and are left with only the bare bones.