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Ritual - Expression of Will, Art and Creativity

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Ritual - Expression of Will, Art and Creativity[credits]

by Summer Woodsong

 

Most of our lives involve traditions, regular observances. These might relate to annual or seasonal holiday, it might just be meeting a friend every year at a particular time to go shopping, or have a beer and catch up. The main thing these informal activities do is to provide a comfort, a richness, a regular rhythm within our lives.

Within the Wiccan religion, we also have ritual. But, this is ritual that not only relates to seasonal and holiday observances, but that can also be celebratory, transitional, energy working, spell working, divinatory or deeply moving interaction with those forces we value in our spiritual lives.

Why do you do ritual? You do ritual because you need to. Mainstream religion does not provide for it, so we have chosen to reclaim and create a religion that does. Ritual is a combination of reaching out to those powers, claiming powers from our Gods, making changes within our selves and our world, and creating our world rather than simply bathing in its occurrences. It is both an expression of our will, our world view and an understanding that we are obligated to participate in creating that world and its events.

What precisely is ritual? There are so many answers to this question, that I can only urge you to read everything you can get your hands on, and form your own opinion. I will give you here what I believe about ritual.

What is it for? Ritual, also known as circle, holding circle or a rite - is a structured series of events, music, speech, thought, activities, actions and/or interactions of a person, persons or many people within a designated environment for a specific purpose.

Within our Pagan/Wiccan/Witchcraft community it is very likely to hold such rituals for celebration of the seasons, life transitions, simple thanks, recognition of special occurrences within the Wheel of Life, or people's recognition of the glory and mysteries in their lives.

Rituals are also held in answer to a need. The need may be cultural, personal, in response to a request for help from anyone who appealed to the group. It could also just be a response to the need to feel connected to the inner divine, to raise energy for personal projects, to experience the inner mysteries that come of ritual and energy raising.

Most people will at some time or other want to call on their friends, gods, inner divinity to gain more control over their environment. This can be an abundance ritual, to bring more money/success into someone's life. It might be a love ritual, to send out energy to attract your best possible mate. It may be an inner working to come to know your path, and your own mind.

Our world is so busy, running from work, to gym, to PTA, to appointments, to meetings, to shop, to home, to cook, to clean, to prepare to start over again. Some times the most valuable thing ritual offers is the opportunity to connect with our inner mind and our sensory selves in a deep and rewarding way. When we are young, our lives are deeply influenced by the capacity of these sensory gifts. As we age, we are encouraged to leave those basic skills, and develop more sophisticated skills - social skills, reading, technological acuity. And over time we may forget how rich and valuable those early tools were to our complete development and to our appreciation of our world.

Ritual allows us to acknowledge things of power and to see our place in the entire tapestry which makes up our world and our life. By taking control of our enjoyment of the sacred, we also acknowledge the part we play, the contribution and effect we have on the whole. This keeps the world from becoming overwhelming - and reminds us how valuable we are to the entire picture.

And most importantly, it reminds us that we are players in the game of life, not victims, or observers. Ritual is deeply personal and powerful. And as we write, create and perform rituals, spells, etc. we are directly involved in making a commitment to create change - personal or for our community. These rituals also allow us to connect with the energies that the people of our world and our God/dess(es) offer. We enter that sacred space, that inner knowing, where we reconnect and become aware again of another layer of life. Intuition, magick - those lost and neglected concepts, come again to the fore. We release our analytical side, and immerse ourselves in sensation, intuition, sensing without seeing and bring awareness of energy, life, nature, seasonal rhythms and our place in the great Cycle of Life, The Wheel of the Year and the Inner Mysteries.

How does one have a ritual? I will address here that basics of a Wiccan Ritual, as typically planned by Wiccans for a Sabbat or Spell. Every ritual has an order, a specific set of steps one goes through in order to bring about the proper internal state, create the sacred space, and to accomplish the workings goals. There are some steps that one group may insist upon, such as costuming or ritual bathing, while others do not see them as necessary for their purpose.

The most important part of the process, is to remember that this is your personal design, and whatever you require in order to bring about the proper atmosphere for focus of your will, and enjoyment of the Rite, if appropriate. Thus, some will be very observant at herbal or Astrological signs, other do not use these, but may well have an emphasis on proper tools. Still other traditions hold that any tool is a distraction from the main focus, and discourage ritual costumes, athames, jewelry within their Circles. One group was appalled that folks might use jewelry, while another thought that jewelry was OK, but was amazed that anyone would wear shoes into ritual. Still others, insisted that outside things such as glasses, plastic, etc. did not create the full atmosphere. You will find that most groups will coalesce into a working group or coven, because they tend to agree on what best suits them.

I personally believe that each person is as much a mirror of the Gods and the Gods are a mirror of us. And this being the case, there is no right or wrong, each person will make their own decisions about what is most useful or necessary for them to attain the appropriate mental focus for their ritual.

The components of ritual tend to be similar, but there is no one definition. A ritual progresses through defined steps. While these may not be defined at the time of ritual, it is most common for that person to have decided prior to their ritual what they want to accomplish, and what best symbolizes this. In many cases where people want to be spontaneous, to answer the energies and respond to them as they occur, it is still the case that they at least have defined what they are doing, such as a vision quest, a celebration, divination, etc. Without such focus, one is simply `soaking in Circle', basking in the energies of the God(s). This can be quite common at the end of the ritual, but usually is not the focus. Without focus, it is difficult to have folks get together, or even a solitary to take time apart from their other endeavors.

Ritual is designed in such a way as to bring about specific states of mind conducive to the working. Beltaine tends to be held out of doors, it celebrates the arrival of the warm Summer and the Creative Impulses that effect us all at that time of year.

Divination rituals tend to be in quiet, isolated places, where the hustle and hurry of the day subside and allow one to be open to the impressions they are seeking. The darkened room is not just to impress newcomers, it dampens our critical factors as they relate to visual distractions. And soft music can bring about differing states of mind.

Every ritual needs a beginning and an end. Typically, we gather together and begin to weave a group mind. That would be where people catch up on the news, and what is new in people's lives to the point that they are in concert with the feel of the ritual, and that they will not be distracted from the main focus of the ritual. For the solitary, this is also true, but differs in that they may simply need to take care of any chores or tasks which might interrupt their ritual.

Following this initial stage, we begin to build the mental state, the emotional mindset needed for the particular working. For some this is as simple as going to the ritual site. For others it may include change of clothing or a ritual bath. This is actually the beginning of the ritual even though you have not yet gone to the space where you will set up Circle.

Setting up the sacred space for a Wiccan Ritual is done by recognizing and dedicating that space to Ritual and Sacred works. Generally, people do this by turning to each of the quarters and greeting them, and inviting them to their Rite. This may be done once by simply saying, I greet the Powers of the East, elements of Air. I welcome you to our Circle. And then turning to each quarter - South, West and North, and making a similar greeting. Some prefer to have more complex Quarter greetings, and will go about the Circle more than once. Greeting each quarter once around for each symbol - incense for Air, Salt for Earth, Holy Water for West, flame or sword for South.

These traditions vary according to the needs of that Witch, or the Coven. Following the creation or acknowledgment of the space as sacred, most Witches will then light a candle or otherwise acknowledge/invite/invoke their particular Deity, Goddess, God or other power they recognize or worship.

Then the actual working is done. Address the Gods or Powers and say what it is you are doing here. “We come to celebrate Lammas. To honor the Sacrificial God and His gifts to our Lives.” “We come to send energy to Patty, who is ill, and has asked that we do this working in her honor.” Stating, out loud, what it is that you are doing brings in both sides of your brain, and includes more than one sense in focusing your will on the intended outcome. Even when one works alone, it is important to speak and define precisely what is intended. Following this definition, you may include anything that is meaningful or appropriate to the task at hand. I have sewed poppets for healing, I have painted altar cloths in Circle. There is no real limit to what you can do, so long as it has meaning and is effective.

It is traditional to include Cakes and Wine at the conclusion of the working. This small ritual within a ritual is designed to acknowledge and honor the God and Goddess presence and effect on our lives. It is not appropriate for every circle, and sometimes not used.

When the working is completed, it is time to thanks the Lady and Lord for their presence and their contributions, and to salute them. Most folks use the phrase - “Thank you for your presence at our Rite. Go if you must, stay if you will. May there ever be peace and harmony between us.”

Then each of the quarters is also thanked, and released in the reverse order they were invoked. This continues with the mental imagery that we have drawn a circle, set in energy and now will `undraw' it, to release those energies. For folks with a permanent ritual site, this part of the ritual may not be observed if they leave the energy and the Circle `up' all the time.

Other groups use a shorthand version:

“By the Earth which is her body, by the Water which is her blood, by the Fire which is Her bright spirit, and the Air which is Her breath, do I release the quarters. Stay if you will, go if you must.”

Almost every Circle is ended by the statement, “The Circle is open, but unbroken. Merry Meet and Merry Part, and Merry Meet again!”

These steps offer a depth of meaning and power to the emotional, magickal and psychological aspects of each Witch. Energy is a tricky thing, that cannot be played with lightly. We have all been in places where we just don't feel good and had to get out, only to discover later that some incredibly negative event had taken place there. We have all been in real high-energy situations like rock concerts, sports events, pep rallies, etc. and experienced the energizing, uplifting and perhaps even downright silly feeling of well-being and exhilaration. That is energy in action. And as children it was not unusual for us to go from extreme exhilaration to crash into weary despondency. That occurs when children run out of energy and have exhausted their capacity. As adults work with this energy, it is important to be aware of its power and to provide for both its availability and its grounding when the work is over.

If a ritual includes raising energy for any purpose, it is important to ground that energy after the working. Particularly when groups include newcomers who would not understand, recognize or know what that energy was - and thus were unable to deal with it appropriately.

What does a ritual really mean? There is no one answer to that. It is, however, a designed set of actions and experiences. And that design largely steers the path of the experience. Almost all ritual is designed to transform us in some way. It can energize us, bring us to new motivation, make us aware of potential success in the offing, or merely allow us a space of time in which to connect with our inner selves, free of disturbance. And that change and transformation is the central effect. If we do not perceive the time spent in Sacred Space, communing with our Divine selves, then we are missing the point. Religion, ritual and sacred space all provide us with a central definition that brings meaning to our daily lives, our religious observances and our ongoing exploration of this world in its many facets.

Providing that meaning is one of the reasons why I advocate planning rituals carefully. Everyone involved in the presentation should be part of or in concert with the theme, or flavor or the ritual. Much of that is by using consistent associations. Abundance rituals concern physical goods, and thus are the province of the element of Earth, the North. There are Goddesses who are recognized as focusing in these areas, and colors that represent Earth and growing things to us. So you might use Green, plants, rocks in your ritual. Each person might take home a small golden piece of pyrite to represent future abundance. Or other minerals which mean wealth, success.

If this is a ritual to honor a young girl entrance to womanhood, it is customary to clothe her in Red, honor the Creative forces, acknowledge her new status.

For a job interview, you would look to the South, have yellow, golden or orange candles, perhaps altar cloth, and even ritual robes. This would bring a visual and physical cueing that success, wealth, etc. were the goals for the evening.

Over time many of these associations have been recognized by the Wiccan community as effective and common. You can find a chart under Resources which gives a rather long list of seasons, Goddesses and Gods, minerals, elements, directions, etc. that work well in a variety of areas. These associations are not exclusive. Primarily, it is most important that the chosen colors, items, tools, etc. are meaningful to those in the ritual. Some people may use green for Earth, others may use brown or black. It depends on how you view a particular element, and what your purpose it. Black might absorb negativity, while green would encourage new projects.

With some thought you can use the same symbol for different purposes, if that is what you need. If you are trying to stop smoking, you might start on a New Moon (the dark of the moon) and have your freedom from this habit increase as the Moon increases. Or, you might start at the Full Moon and have your smoking decrease as the Moon wanes from full to dark. Never get caught up in the fallacy that there is only one `right way.' Our world and our options are infinitely diverse.

Rituals in the Wiccan religion differ in one main way from those of other religions in their method of addressing and approaching their Divine Source. Most Pagans celebrate their Gods, and see themselves as working in concert with both the Goddess and Nature. Thus, we do not spend a lot of time castigating ourselves for being `only human' or `flawed.' Humanity is an equal partner in that Mystery which is creation. And we partake of Divinity in equal parts with our world, our peoples and our lives. We do not beg favors. We get out and do things to accomplish our goals. That does not mean we are foolish, or that we are victims or our world.

We are aware of ourselves as a power within this world, we respect Nature and the Earth, and we are willing to accept the responsibility to work in partnership to create and preserve our natural world and its resources. We have no more rights than the planet or the animals to use without thought. Being aware, and being the primary force for transformation on the planet puts us in a unique position of responsibility.

Thus, we focus on our capacities, and do not focus on our lacks. Each person shares in the inner power to create and change their world, their community and themselves. We have inner control, we do not operate under the concept of `not getting caught' to provide us with standards for our honor and behavior. This does not mean we will always have things exactly the way we want them. We are part of a world of many people, with differing views and values. Our preferences may not hold sway - but it is always honorable to work to further those ethics and values - such as respect for women, respect for Elders, respect for the Gods, respect for the Wheel of the Year, and the other beliefs and values which make us unique.

In addition, there is the recognition of chaos. Sometimes things just happen. Can bad things happen to good people? Of course. Viruses don't know if you are good or bad, yet they are a natural and not always welcome part of the entire cycle of life. IRS audits may be similarly unwelcome and indiscriminate.

Can we make a change? Of course we can. But that does not mean our preferences will overrule those who have different preferences. Magick works best when all parties effected are in concert with its goals. If there is a lot of opposition, such as stopping a war or something similar, then there are many additional forces involved, and while you are contributing your energy and will to your preferred outcome, it may not be easy to see that you are having an effect. Honor is met by putting your will and energy into the equation. You will not always be able to measure your effect in the equation.

Wiccan values focus on the respect for each person's innate divinity. Thus, as we honor each person and their decisions, it stands to reason that we would not attempt to bind them to a path they had not chosen. Ritual that interferes with someone else's free will is wrong for more than one reason. First and foremost, you will tend to incur the debt for such interference, and thus gather a tendency to be interfered with yourself in future. `What comes around, goes around.' Was a measure of this truism. Also, the kind of attitude and energy you put forth, are a hallmark of who you are. Positive people tend to hang around with other positive people, and thus their lives have more opportunity and positive occurrences than those who chose other paths.

If we value independence, self-reliance and self-responsibility, then our rituals and magick should reflect this. If they do not, then we have an inner inconsistency. Our religion, ritual, inner messaging, stated goals within Circle and followup actions must all be in concert, or our magick is weak and ineffective. If you do a spell to pass a math test, but never look at the book or learn the formulas, then you were not really serious. If, however, you do the best you can, study, followup on things that don't make sense, then your spell can add that boost to truly bring insight and comprehension - and that will definitely assist. People who do love spells, but never leave the house, can't really expect to meet people. Magick is a complex combination of interactions, not a mechanistic robot obedient kind of thing.

Rational view - why does Ritual work? Ritual aligns our stated goals, with a series of symbolic actions that emphasize what we want to accomplish. This is combined with the lights, colors, scents and other sensory inputs which community to our inner brain - that part of us which responds to the most basic needs - breath, food, survival. And this, combined with providing us a psychological mindset focused on the desired outcome provide a powerful gestalt for change, focus, and accomplishment of our working. That is the same as mentioned before, internal messaging, stated goals, followup actions or activities and energy work all focused tightly on a specific awareness or action. It is now accepted by professionals that creating a specific mindset, emotional state, or heightened awareness brings about change in a person's physiological status. So, in addition to that consistency necessary for our will, our very bodies become more in line and responsive to our will and intent. Biofeedback and meditation are commonly accepted practices these days, and scientific tests have proven they are effective.

As prosaic as it seems, almost all powerful speakers, motivational coaches, professional athletes and successful salesman use very similar combinations in order to bring themselves to peak performance. Magick is inherent to the human condition - whether we actually call it that or not.

On a wholly different level, Witches can take this one step further than athletes or salesman. We are also aware that there is something in addition to the daily grind. We believe in our own divinity and in our Gods. And we acknowledge the mysteries. We know that energy and magick are real, and effective. We are seeking as a religion to re-weave our non-analytical skills into our repertoire. While science is a useful took, even scientists are now coming to recognize that it is but one method for gathering information about our world. Environmental scientists were amazed to discover that aboriginal peoples had a detailed and better grasp on their environment and the changes within it, than scientists could detect with their measurements and definitions. These aboriginal peoples also had better, and finer language to describe the minute changes in their world.

There is much discussion these days that science has run its course as a dominant view. We have lost much by focusing on it to the exclusion of other methods of knowing our world. It is time to reclaim those options. And that well may be why there is such a resurgence of interest in magick and WitchCraft at this point.

Religion, magick, intuition, physic, all these are the paths through which we will discover our world, our selves, and bring meaning and beauty into the way we honor our physical, mental, emotional and social needs.

Religion, with its standards, definitions, values and ethics has created commonalities that we may see and recognize others with similar views and gifts. And with that recognition, we create community.

Ritual taps into this community, with its shared energies and definitions and allows us access to energy, power, relinking and re-weaving of ourselves into that greater Divinity. It allows us to experience all that we are, while weaving into a cohesive pattern. And that pattern is but one small part of the entire tapestry that is our world, and our cosmos.


"We who are clay blended by the Master Potter, come from the kiln of Creation in many hues. How can people say one skin is colored, when each has its own coloration? What should it matter that one bowl is dark and the other pale, if each is of good design and serves its purpose well."

~Polingaysi Qoyawayma, Hopi ~