Ritual Safety Tips
My spouse reminded me the other day of the time I tried to burn my house down in ritual, and I thought it was time to share the lesson I learned that night, and other lessons I've learned about keeping yourself and your surroundings safe when you do ritual!
1. Rubbing Alcohol is highly flammable! I know. Duh. But when I was very new at this, I read the ritual instructions to put an inch and a half of rubbing alcohol into my cauldron and light it. Funny, the book never mentioned that this was supposed to be a ritual conducted outside! The five-foot column of flame shooting toward my den ceiling was a little disconcerting, even more so when the solder on one of my brass cauldron legs melted from the heat and the whole thing tipped.
If you need a cauldron fire indoors, pour enough Epsom salts into the alcohol to make the mixture about as thick as a Slushee, and then light. The Epsom salts act as a wick, and the fire will only be about 6 inches above the rim of your average 7-inch-diameter cauldron.
2. Ritual Garb. Long medieval sleeves that trail the ground are beautiful, elegant, cool, and work just fine - as long as you are merely a participant on the periphery in the ritual. If you have any role in the ritual: Priest(ess), go-fer (or maiden), quarter caller (if the quarters are marked by candles), anything that gets you near the altar, I hate to tell you, but shorter, more manageable sleeves are required. Assuming you manage not to set your long flowing sleeves on fire, you're a hundred times more likely to drag them through the salt water, knock the chalice over with them, etc., etc.
If the ritual is outdoors, wear shoes. Once at a major gathering I attended, the Main Ritual was held in the not-too-often-mowed field known by the camp's owner as the "Marching Band Field." Some ritual participants went barefoot, and quickly dubbed it the "Field of Pain." Thick grass and weed stems that have been chopped by a mower are apparently painful to walk on, and can leave nasty splinters.
Indoors or outdoors, a ritual robe shouldn't be so long that you trip over it. Falling down in ritual, with all the open flame, hot incense burner, etc. is not recommended. Ankle-length is perfectly fine, you don't need nine yards bunched up at your feet to trip over!
3. Pets. Once upon a time, a roommate of mine did an all-night Yule meditation. He sat up until dawn with a lit pillar candle (so it would last). In the morning, I asked him how it went. He said the most exciting thing was when my not-quite-bright kitten wandered by at around 3:00 a.m. and flicked her tail into the flame, instantly setting her tail on fire. He freaked out. She didn't notice. Keep mobile pets and small children away from open flame, the salt water, and anything breakable that's on the altar!
4. Herbs. Did you know that most recipes for "flying ointment" can kill you? Do you know for a fact what plants are safe to burn or ingest and what aren't? If you can't verify with an experienced herbalist, leave it alone!
5. Ritual Oils. Of course with all scented ritual oils and all incense, you should double-check for scent or substance sensitivity on yourself and your fellow ritualists before the ritual starts! Some small vials of oil found in craft stores craft departments of places like Wal-Mart are meant to replenish potpourri scent or put on a lightbulb ring to scent a room. They are not meant to touch human skin! Also, you should seriously consider diluting like hell any anointing oil that contains cinnamon or clove oil and these can burn you! One time I didn't do that, and I spent the next day praying my bangs hid the red oil-burned pentacle on my Third Eye!
6. Ritual set-up. If, like me, you were told in high school never to leave an Ouija board lying around because it could be a "magnet" for evil spirits, don't worry. A basic Pagan altar is not, not, not, not going to be the same sort of potential danger. You can safely set your altar up, go take a ritual bath or shower, and come back to your ritual space confident that no demon has taken up residence. However if, like me, you have mobile pets, you may want to keep them away from your ritual space (either by crating or closing them up or closing the ritual room door) and definitely keep them away from any cakes and wine! Cats in particular are usually very interested in what's on the altar, and mine just love to bat at all the shiny - and breakable - pretties they find there!
There are enough stories from our history, true or not, about witches being burnt. Please don't become a witch-burning story on the front page of your local paper for doing something unsafe!