Tonight I want to talk a bit about ritual; nothing specific, but ritual in general.
So many who are new to paganism seem to have a problem with ritual; they seem to feel that if they canít get it ďrightĒ, that they oughtnít to do it at all. Theyíll find a book that describes how to do a ritual, and if they canít find all of the materials, or if they canít memorize the lines, they skip it. There will be no ritual. Or they might feel silly, perhaps because they are unconnected to the purpose or goal of the ritual.
So, with Solstice upon us, there are probably many who would love do perform some sort of ritual, but they simply donít know how, or are afraid to. My question is this: if paganism or Wicca or whatever it is that you claim to believe is actually a religion, how can you know, without some sort of practice, that yours is actually a religion? What, other than your words, could convince someone that what you have is an actual faith?
Then again, what is the purpose of ritual anyway? Why is it that so many people take part in seasonal or monthly rituals? Do the gods get anything out of them? Or are they more for us?
So, here is my own take on things. I donít claim to speak for all, or most, or many other pagans. I can only speak for me. Some others might hold similar views, and thatís fine. Others might see things differently, and thatís ok too. But this is important enough for me that I think itís worth saying.
Whatís the purpose of ritual?
For me, it is to build a connection with something larger than me. In this case, itís deity, by whatever name someone might happen to call it. It also builds a connection with that group of people who have practiced a similar spirituality long before me. It connects me to the universe, to the Earth. It connects me to those who are practicing that ritual with me. Ritual is about establishing and strengthening connections between people, spirit and places.
So, if thatís what ritual is for, then what about what all the books say about the tools, incense, words and that sort of thing? Are they all so important? Do we need them?
The outward expressions of ritual are in one sense, very important. They awaken something in us. When I see a censor swinging, Iím brought back to my youngest days in the Catholic Church. Seeing the smoke rise out of the openings, an offering to deity, Iím transported in time, in place. When that same tool is used in modern pagan rituals, it awakens that part of my mind that knows this is a time to commune with deity.
When I see an athame raised in power, I know of the energy that is being directed. I understand the casting of a circle. The words that are used are important. They call forth things on more than one level.
But remember this, especially if youíre practicing as a solitary Ö that to avoid ritual simply because you donít have a sword, a censor, an athame, or because you donít remember the words exactly is a shame. You are really missing out.
If a group doesnít have a sword, they still cast a circle. If a person doesnít have an athame, or a wand, itís not usually too hard to find a stick, or even an icicle. In fact, an icicle might not be a bad tool to use at the Winter Solstice.
But more to the point, the usual reason for a person to avoid ritual when new, is simply because they are afraid theyíll get it wrong.
Hereís a hint. The gods are not concerned with your imperfect memory. They arenít going to send down lightning because you say ath-amay instead of athame, or vice versa. Whatís really important is that if you claim a religion, that you try to practice it.
So, what Iím going to offer tonight is a simple, very un-orthodox solstice ritual. You wonít NEED any tools, but if you have them, great.
First, clear a space, inside or outside. If youíve got a broom, sweep the area clean. If youíre inside, and there is an outside door in the area, sweep things right out the door. See yourself sweeping all of the negativity out of the area, making it physically and psychically clean for the ritual.
It would be nice if you can know where the directions are.
If you have some water and salt, great. Bless the salt and the water, Put a little salt into the water. Recognize that water is cleansing, and that salt keeps things pure. You can use your fingers or a small branch, perhaps of an evergreen that has fallen. Sprinkle some of this water around the edge of the circle that you are creating, in your room, or outside, if you will. You are creating the boundaries of your circle. You are blessing the space. Work from the East, to the South, then the West, and then the North (or which ever way works for you).
Next, following the same directions, using an athame, or a wand, or a stick or even your fingers, create the circle. See it growing, and call it forth. Using your own words, call it and raise it, saying something like ďI call forth this circle to be a place of safety, to contain and direct the energy at work here today. To be a place that is not a place in a time that is not a time. To be in this world but separate from it. To be between the worlds.Ē
Next, call the directions or the quarters. Starting in the east us a formula similar to:
This is the direction of the East.
The direction of the rising Sun.
The direction of the element Air.
The Direction of Imbolc and the Spring Equinox.
I call upon the power of the East.
The power of Springtime, of the rising Sun, of births.
I invoke the deities of the East.
I ask them to be with me in this, my Solstice Ritual.
I ask them to send me their strength to work this rite on this day (or night).
Following this, go to the South and then the West, and the North, using a similar formula.
Many traditions will have specific deities or archangels to call in each of the quarters. If you know these deities, and what they represent, then thatís great. But if you donít know them, call them by principles Ö deities of the East, deities of Springtime, deities of the element air. These are considered correspondences, and in your studies, youíll find many.
You may, if you have some, light candles in each of these quarters, as you complete each direction.
When the quarters are done, you might go to the center and light a candle there.
Now, itís time for the purpose of the ritual. Here, you might just sit in your circle and meditate, to discover what Yule, or Solstice is all about. If you have a musical instrument, you might play some Yule music that you know. You might write and recite a poem to the new-born God. Spending time with any being, man or deity is important; itís how† you get to know them.
Imagine the god, who descended into the Earth in the Southward journey, and died, is now re-born, once again an infant, and who begins his journey once again, out of that ground. In the Spring, he will make the Earth once again fertile. But now, heís just the new-born infant. Itís a joyous day, a birth.
When youíve spent your time in meditation, or accomplished what it is that you want, you can go back to the quarters, thank the deities that protected you and witnessed your rite. If youíve lit candles, you can extinguish them at this time.
After your ritual, itís a good idea to eat something. This will help you ground.
What youíll find is that in time, most rituals are basically modifications and expansions to this simple formula.
Really, ritual doesnít have to be complex. Now, at the solstice, itís as good a time as any to begin performing rituals. Perhaps it can be a gift to yourself. Give it a try. Donít worry if you mess it up or forget something. Thatís not the point. This isnít ceremonial magic, where demons will devour you, or where the magick will fail. This is about you getting in touch with deity and with yourself.
Give it a try, and donít feel self-conscious.