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Ritual - Expression of Will, Art and Creativity

Author: Summer Woodsong

SWoodsong@aol.com
Connections Journal


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.

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