Key Features of a Ritual
Wiccan rituals fit together a variety of tried-and-true magickal methods to form a congruous whole, rather like a spiritual jigsaw puzzle. Dancing around a ritual fire, singing, chanting, meditating, communicating with deities, casting spells, crafting charms, making wishes, pouring libations, asperging the participants or the sacred space — every part of a ritual has purpose and meaning in relation to the whole.
In Wiccan rituals, great care is taken to make sure there are no meaningless words or actions. A ritual without meaning becomes a liturgy to which the participants have no connection, and therefore cannot effect magick.
Not every ritual you create or attend will contain all of the following elements. However, any of these features applied in meaningful combinations will help generate similarly meaningful results.
Where a ritual transpires has a tremendous effect on the participants and the resulting magick. Many witches enjoy enacting rituals outdoors. This allows participants to connect with nature and to recognize their place in the universe. If you're a solitary witch, you have more options than a group of thirty people might. If you live in a heavily populated city, you may not have as many sites to choose from as rural witches do.
Accept your limitations and plan with the goals of the ritual in mind. Make sure that your space, whether indoors or outside, can comfortably hold all the people participating in the ritual and allow for the process to take place. If you're going to do a spiral dance, you need a lot of room. Sitting and meditating, by comparison, requires far less space.
The right environment for your ritual is essential. Ideally, the place where you perform ritual should be a sacred space dedicated to this purpose. You don't want anything to distract, interrupt, or otherwise take you away from the ritual at an important juncture — it should go without saying that ritual space is a cell-phone-free zone. Set the right mood by using appropriate decorations, aromatics, altar configuration, and so on. All of these components should reflect the ritual's purpose.
Seasonal rituals usually include decorative and symbolic touches that reflect the cycle being commemorated. Fresh blossoms might grace an Ostara ritual; evergreen boughs compliment a Yule celebration. Well-chosen music, incense, and thematic items can make a big difference in the ambiance of a ritual. These touches affect your senses, which in turn influence both the conscious and subconscious mind.
Everyone in attendance should be in the right frame of mind, for their combined thoughts and emotions generate the ritual's energy. When you participate in a ritual, you set aside daily concerns and mundane thoughts to focus on the goal of the ritual.
Before beginning a ceremony, many witches take ritual baths to cleanse themselves in body and mind. Salt is usually added to the bathwater (symbolizing purification) and sometimes essential oils. Ideally, you should bathe in a stream, lake, or the ocean; however, most ritual baths take place in an ordinary indoor tub.
Witches gather in circles to demonstrate visually and spatially each participant's equal responsibility and relevance in the ritual. Everyone who chooses to participate should feel wholly comfortable with the ritual and its components. They should understand the ritual's significance, its goals, and the steps involved, and be ready to contribute mentally and physically to the ritual's purpose.
For the good of all, anyone who cannot fulfill these conditions is better off not participating. One person's lower energies or distractions become a weak link in the circle of the power of creation and the direction of magickal energy.
Tools and Components
Do you need a complete altar setup? Do you want to wear costumes? What about a special altar cloth? A ritual might require any of the following tools:
Circumference-marking material (such as chalk)
Crystals or stones
Drum or other musical instruments
Feather or fan
Foods or beverages
Masks (or other props)
Objects representing the four elements
Plants or flowers
Everything that will be used in the ritual should be cleansed in advance. In addition, each ritual object should be charged for its task in the ritual. (Refer to the cleansing and charging methods described in Chapter 13.) Bring all the items you'll need for the ritual into the area where you'll be working before you cast a circle.
A ritual follows a logical progression, like a play. The ritual's progression creates the pattern — the actions and words that become tradition.
Each ritual should have a defined beginning, such as creating sacred space. The beginning of a ritual sets the tone for everything to follow. In particular, it transports the participants to that place between the worlds and unifies their hearts and spirits, directing them toward the ritual's goal. A typical beginning in a group setting might include breathing in unison, holding hands, and calling the Watchtowers. Practitioners of solitary rituals might take a moment for prayer or meditation, followed by invoking the circle.
After the ritual space reaches this juncture, what happens varies dramatically, depending on the ritual and its goals. As mentioned previously, this middle portion might involve weaving spells, dancing, singing, drumming, meditations, visualization, divination, enactments, and so on. Whatever takes place should be congruent with the beginning of the ritual.
As is the case with spellcraft, the more sensual aspects you include, the more energy a ritual is likely to raise. As participants work their way through the ritual, everything perceived through their senses helps them maintain focus and direct energy. When the members of the circle are raising energy, drumming might get faster or chanting might grow louder, for example. Each cue communicates the goals of the ritual to the individual's awareness and to the Divine, and therefore nourishes the magick.
“I think the highest purpose of ritual or magickal work is to seek our gods, to commune with the cosmic ‘mirror’ and the spirits of nature in order to learn more of the divinity within ourselves and reach evermore toward personal growth in its highest expression.”
— Maria Kay Simms, A Time for Magick
Human beings like closure; solid endings also bring the participants' attention back to mundane matters. A ritual without a defined ending is like omitting the last chapter in a book; it leaves both the participants and the energy hanging. It's also important to thank and release the Watchtowers who have been present during the ritual. Furthermore, participants need this time to gear down a bit (or ground out, as witches say). End the ritual by deconstructing the circle, saying a closing prayer, or stating a parting wish. Some circles end with a chant:
The circle is open, but unbroken