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Wicca Basics: An Introduction to Ritual Structure
A full blown Wiccan ritual can seem confusing to the novice. There are so many different parts, so many different tools, and different ways to approach ritual. It can all be quite overwhelming, particularly for Solitaries who have to learn to feel their way with little to no direct, hands-on guidance.
A good way to approach ritual is to break it into sections, and learn it part by part. This is one standard ritual structure model. Other models may differ. When learning ritual, you can include or discard the parts you wish, but it’s good to develop your own structure.
You don’t have to learn each part at once—but focusing on one small section at a time can help you develop your own ritual format.
Celebrate Your Faith
I Ritual Preparation
Preparation for ritual can begin hours or months in advance; basically it is all the actions you would take leading up to the ritual itself.
- Define the ritual’s purpose – is it an Esbat or a Sabbat? A rite of passage such as a Wiccaning (baby blessing) or memorial? Is it to honor a specific deity or commemorate an event? There is no limit to the reason you may wish to hold a ritual, but it’s good to know the purpose before beginning.
- Select or write the ritual – you might wish to find a ready-made ritual (or you may already have one in your Book of Shadows). If not, you’ll have to begin writing your ritual.
- Gather Necessary Tools and Supplies – it’s best not to wait till the last minute to see if you have the right colored candles or incense charcoal. Create a checklist and go through the list ahead of time, setting aside all those tools and supplies are ready for you (from your athame to the zippo lighter that you use to light your candles).
- Prepare the Ritual Space – Most of us would agree that a ritual is a special enough occasion to clean the room a bit. After all, do you really feel comfortable inviting your Gods and creating sacred space on top of a mess? Give the room a good physical cleaning. If the room has a discernible negative vibe, you might want to fume it ahead of time. If you’re holding the ritual outdoors, you probably won’t have to worry as much, but it pays to look around to make sure there is nothing to trip over or step on. The last thing to do to prepare space is set up your altar and lay out your tools and supplies. How you do this depends on your trad and your preferences, but you can gain some ideas and understanding of altar layouts from Wicca Basics: Designing your Ritual Altar Layout.
- Prepare the Self – just as you cleanse your space, you should cleanse yourself. Ritual bathing is ideal, though you can also fume yourself with cleansing incense. You may also take this time to begin preparing your mind for ritual consciousness with a light meditation or opening the chakras. Don your gay ritual apparel, be it robes or jewelry or flowers or street clothes, and anoint yourself with oils if you wish.
Set the Mood
Finally, a comprehensive guide to creating sacred space and casting the circle; and a very good one at that.
II Creating Sacred Space
At this point the worshippers should be present, the altar should be set and the ritual should be ready to go.
- Align Energies – it’s beneficial to bring the energies of all present into harmony with the area. Someone should lead a group into a chant, meditation, circle dance or some other unifying experience. Another way to do it is to anoint each person with oils blessed for the occasion. If you are a solitary, you may wish to sit and chant and center yourself in your space.
- Cleanse and Consecrate the Elements – if you are using Elemental Representatives, such as incense, a bowl of salt, water or a candle, cleanse and consecrate them each in turn.
- Presentation of the Elements – I’ve been to many rituals in which this action is not done, but as it’s part of my trad and I feel it’s beneficial so I’ll include it for those who might appreciate the idea. The act is to present each element, in turn, to each of the four quarters. That is, pick up one Element and walking with it to each quarter in turn, saluting with it (raising it for a moment). Then move on to each of the next three elements in turn. During the procession, practitioners would chant an Elemental Chant. It is slow and methodical and highly ritualistic, but I’ve found it invaluable for charging the area with Elemental energy before even calling the quarters or casting a circle.
- Casting the Circle – conjuring the boundary, creating the cone of power, erecting the temple—whatever you wish to call it. Use the desired tool to direct energy from above and below (sky and earth) to project an ‘energy barrier’ around the ritual area.
Holding Wiccan Rituals
III Perform the Invocations
The common order for invocations is as follows, though of course this can vary from trad to trad, person to person.
- Invoke the quarters – whether you consider yourself working with the guardians of the watchtowers, the elemental energies, or opening the gates, proceed with your quarter call.
- Invoke the Spirits – any lesser spirits you wish to invoke at this time—spirit guides, guardian spirits, spirit animals, household spirits, ancestors or other-worldly creatures—that you would like to invite may be done so now. Keep in mind the only spirits necessary in the circle are you and your Gods.
- Invoke the deities – with reverence and respect, call to your God and/or Goddess. Be sure all those invited are harmonious and amicable.
IV Ritual Observance
This is the ‘body’ of the ritual; in fact, up until now the other sections can all be done in a formatted routine. It is this part that will differ from ritual to ritual, depending on the ritual’s purpose.
- Welcoming and Statement of Ritual Purpose – with all present (both human and otherworldly), you may wish to formally bid welcome and state the purpose of ritual, such as, “We are gathered here tonight to honor the Lady and Lord on this Full Moon Esbat, and to perform a healing working on our friend John.”
- Honoring and Celebrating – there are many ways to honor the deities and celebrate the occasion, which may include seasonal enactments, reciting prayers or poetry, or whatever you like.
- Workings – these may include purposeful meditations, acts of divination, spells or magical workings. Proceed with whatever you’ve planned.
V Cakes and Ale
Also known as the Simple Feast, or sometimes the Great Rite since the symbolic act is often included in this section of the ritual.
- The Great Rite – For most covens and solitaries, this will be the symbolic Great Rite—the union of God and Goddess is symbolized by plunging the athame into the cup. Some couples who practice together may wish to perform the actual Great Rite (in some covens in which the actual Great Rite is performed, it may be at a different part of the ritual, in order to charge the circle before the workings).
- Bless and Consecrate the Feast – if the symbolic Great Rite is not performed, you may bless the ritual drink, then move on to blessing the cakes. If the symbolic Great Rite was performed, this is not necessary; move directly to the cakes.
- Libations and Offerings – make a libation of the ritual food and drink to the Gods. If you have other offerings for them, present these at this time as well.
- Feasting – take a moment to feast on the ritual drink and food, and make merry with others, or to relax and bask in the joy of the presence of your Gods.
Setting a Beautiful Altar
Cunningham's Wicca book has stood the test of time. This simple, non-dogmatic approach is one of the most user-friendly for beginners. He designed simple rituals and ritual structure that have become a model for solitary Wicca.
It is time to bid farewell to those who have been invoked. This is usually done in reverse order. This is not a step that should be brushed off and forgotten simply because the ritual is coming to a close… it would be rude, like inviting your guests to a party and then disappearing without saying goodbye. Like a good host, thank Them for Their attendance. They’ll actually go when They are ready to go.
- Devocation of the deities
- Devocation of the spirits
- Devocation of the quarters
Again, finishing up the ritual should be seen as part of the whole, not formalities to rush through or ignore. Respect the entire ritual, and finish what you’ve started.
- Open the Circle – draw up the energy to disperse the sacred space. It’s also customary to sum up with a neat little phrase to signify the end of the ritual, such as, “The circle is open, but never broken,” or, “May the Gods preserve the Craft, and may the Craft preserve the Gods.”
- Clean up – cleaning up is as much a part of the ritual as setting up; considering how everything has been made sacred in the circle, whether it’s a tool or some supply you used, you should treat it all with reverence. Lovingly break down the altar, putting away the ritual tools and cleaning up. You can leave offerings outdoors, returning them to the earth under a tree (make sure they are organic and safe, of course!).
- Grounding – No doubt you’ll have residual energy after a ritual and taking up a circle, and it’s a good time to ground it by releasing some of it. You may simply return it to the earth by directing it down through your hands or feet into the soil, or you may transfer it to your ritual tools to further empower them for the next ritual. If you are still new and have trouble manipulating and transferring energy with your mind, you can ground by eating some carbs, sitting against a tree for a while, holding a cleansed, receptive crystal (such as a green moss or blue lace agate, brown jasper, or even by holding a handful of kosher salt), or with the help of a more experienced practitioner using hands-on methods to brush or wipe excess energy away.
- Reflecting and Writing-- As a final step, you may wish to reflect over the ritual, what worked and what did not work, and record your thoughts or experiences in your Book of Shadows or journal. While this is not always necessary, it can be very beneficial in keeping track of your spiritual growth.
This book not only gives good instruction on designing rituals, but the ones contained within it are inspiring.
Building Your Wiccan Ritual
Again—you don’t have to do everything listed here to perform a ritual. You can leave out ¾ of this stuff and still have a very lovely ritual. You might start with just three things: casting a circle, invoking your Gods, then say a few prayers and have cakes and ale (or a cookie and juice—whatever you like). Then in a couple of months include consecrating the elements. A couple months after that, invoke the elements. Build on it that way—little by little—so you can really enjoy your rituals and get into them without the distraction of taking in too much at once. More than anything, make it yours and enjoy it.