The 1899 Ritual: What Would Pagan Ritual Have Looked Like at the end of the 19th Century?

(While I probably won’t be sharing a whole lot of rituals on this blog, from time to time I might. The 1899 Ritual is one of my favorite “ritual experiments” from the last couple of years and I thought it was worth a blog post. I was told recently that this ritual might appeal to people in the Steam Punk scene, and that’s possible, but I wrote it long before I found out that was a thing.)

I am a big fan of Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon. Whether or not you agree with his take on the origins of Modern Paganism, there’s still a lot of interesting material there. While it’s never explicitly stated, one of the arguments he makes in the book is that by 1899 everything that one would have needed to produce a witch ritual was in place. A few years ago a friend and I decided to test that theory and what we ended up with was The 1899 Ritual.

We could have also called it the 1904 Ritual, or the 1900 Ritual, any date from that period would have been fine, but 1899 just sounded cooler. The year 1899 is also significant because it’s the year Charles Godfrey Leyland published Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. The importance of Aradia to the Modern Pagan Movement can’t be overstated. People are still using bits and pieces of it in ritual (most notably in The Charge of the Goddess), and its mythology still has a hold on many Pagans over one hundred years after its initial publication.


This is the picture that comes to mind every time I think of Aradia.

The 1899 Ritual has one rule: All of the material in the ritual has to be from 1899 (or earlier) and/or be authentic to the late 19th Century. I’ve allowed myself to adapt a few things from Aradia and other sources, but I don’t think those adaptations are out of character for that period of time. Something tells me that if I had been an occultist living in London circa 1899 I would have been adapting all kinds of things.

The majority of the material in the ritual comes from two places: Freemasonry and Aradia. Masonic Ritual is the backbone of many occult traditions and secret societies and can be seen in everything from Golden Dawn rituals to Modern Witchcraft to Mormon Temple Rites. I used Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor (by Malcolm Duncan and published in 1866) for all of my Masonic stealings, borrowings, and adaptations.

When I first wrote the ritual I tried to use a lot of Golden Dawn material, but upon further evaluation I decided that it didn’t feel very honest. If I had the rituals of the Golden Dawn back in 1899 why would I be doing ritual in my own living room? The Golden Dawn is also a secret society, so it’s unlikely that the average person would have had access to their materials back then. A bit of Golden Dawn material remains, but only a bit. The poems used for the “Charges” of God and Goddess come from the poet Charles Algernon Swinburne, my favorite poet of the Victorian era. (If you’ve never read Hertha before you are in for a treat.)

Not surprisingly the bulk of the ritual comes from Aradia and Leyland’s Etruscan Roman Remains in Popular Tradition (published in 1892). A great deal of the Aradia material has been adapted for group use, but I still think it maintains the flavor found in the original version. Since this isn’t the sort of ritual where everyone can just sort of “join in” there are only two real speaking parts. I decided that calling the ritual leaders “High Priestess” and “High Priest” was probably not authentic to the period so instead they are called “Seeress” and “Magus.”

I’ve listed the point of origin for all of the ritual’s components, when things are adapted significantly I make note of that as well. All stage directions and notes are in italics.

Without further ado I present The 1899 Ritual . . . . . .

The altar is laid out in the center of the room and faces towards the East. The working tools and other necessary items for the ritual are as follows:
-Sword
-Cup
-Pentacle
-Wand
-Candle
-God Statue (Pan)
-Goddess Statue (Diana)
-Cakes
-Wine and/or Juice
-Stones for working
-Shallow dishes for stones

The ritual begins when all the participants have gathered in The Temple forming a circle in the room.

Sealing the Working Space (Masonic)

Magus: Are all here now a part of the Craft or those that would seek its mysteries?

Seeress: They are. The door may be sealed.

(Magus seals the door with the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram, though no words are spoken.)

Magus: The door is sealed and is now protected from all cowans and eavesdroppers. None shall now pass through except for those who have permission from the Magus or Seeress.

Seeress: So mote it be.

Quarter Calls (Masonic)

Magus: As the sun rises in the East and pushes back the night we give our first blessings to the spirits who dwell there. So mote it be.

Magus: As the sun in the south at the high meridian is the beauty and glory of the day we give blessings to the spirits that dwell there. So mote it be.

Magus: As the sun sets in the west and joins in harmony with the moon and night we give blessings to the spirits that dwell there. So mote it be.

Magus: As the moon rises in the north and is the magic and mystery of the night we give blessings to the spirits who dwell there. So mote it be.

(At each of the cardinal points the Magus should stand with his sword outstretched and raised above his head as he welcomes the spirits. In other versions of the ritual I’ve had a Magister share the quarter calling duties with the Magus. The version of the ritual you are currently reading only features my wife and I in speaking roles and I’m not sure she wants very many of them, so I the Magus does most of the work.)

Those That Have Gathered (Masonic)

Magus: There are many here who have gathered tonight to learn the secrets of Witchcraft and Sorcery. Seeress, are those that stand before us worthy of the ways of the Witch and Wizard?

Seeress: Those gathered here this night have overcome many trials and tribulations to be with us. I deem them worthy candidates.

Magus: Do all of you gather tonight of your own free will and accord?

Group: Yes.

Seeress: Are all here duly and truly prepared for the horrors and blessings that they may chance upon from here on forward?

Group: Yes.

Magus: Seeress, by what right do these candidates come forward?

Seeress: By being born free men and women of good repute and well recommended.

Magus: Then the names of our gods and our signs shall be revealed.

Seeress: We worship the goddess Diana, she of the New Moon and Midnight Groves, and we honor her with a kiss.

(Seeress places her first two fingers up to her mouth and kisses them, and then points them towards the sky saluting Great Diana.)

Magus: We worship the god Pan, Earthly Shepherd and guardian of the wild realms. We honor him with this sign placed over our heart and then lifted towards the sky.

(“Horns,” the index and pinky fingers extended, thumb upon middle and ring fingers.)

(This is obviously not a word for word borrowing of a Masonic initiation, but some of the phrases are found in Duncan’s. One of the earlier drafts of the ritual had the Magus challenging each participant at the door and asking for “The Sign of Pan.” Since no one at the ritual knew what the sign was I had to tell them five minutes before the ritual which I thought was kind of dumb, so I have the giving of the signs now in the ritual. Almost all secret societies in the 19th Century had secret words and hand gestures, so I thought adding them to the ritual was very much “period.”)

Adoration of the Sun (Golden Dawn)

Magus: As the sun now sets we turn towards the west in adoration of the life force. Hail Unto Thee He who is setting. Hail unto thee who is the source of joy and travels over the heavens. The sun is the splendor of the day, source of light and justice. Hail unto thee from the abodes of Day!

Celebrants: All Hail

(This is the only remaining Golden Dawn bit in the ritual, but I like it too much to take it out. I don’t honestly know if it dates from 1899 or before, but it sounds right for the era.)

Adoration of the Moon/Diana (From: Aradia: Gospel of the Witches)

Seeress: When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all-together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
Our mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead.

(This is obviously the Aradia version of The Charge of the Goddess, notice how much more adversarial the words are versus the more modern version? “The last of your oppressors shall be dead . . . . .”)

Call to Pan

Magus: In whose name and under whose symbol do we gather this night?

Seeress: We gather in the name of Pan and his horns are our symbol.

Magus: (From Charles Algernon Swinburne’s A Nympholept)
I dare not sleep for delight of the perfect hour,
Lest God be wroth that his gift should be scorned of man.
The face of the warm bright world is the face of a flower,
The word of the wind and the leaves that the light winds fan
As the word that quickened at first into flame, and ran,
Creative and subtle and fierce with invasive power,
Through darkness and cloud, from the breath of the one God, Pan.
Is it Pan’s breath, fierce in the tremulous maidenhair,
That bids fear creep as a snake through the woodlands, felt
In the leaves that it stirs not yet, in the mute bright air,
In the stress of the sun? For here has the great God dwelt:
For hence were the shafts of his love or his anger dealt.
For here has his wrath been fierce as his love was fair,
When each was as fire to the darkness its breath bade melt.

Is it love, is it dread, that enkindles the trembling noon,
That yearns, reluctant in rapture that fear has fed,
As man for woman, as woman for man? Full soon,
If I live, and the life that may look on him drop not dead,
Shall the ear that hears not a leaf quake hear his tread,
The sense that knows not the sound of the deep day’s tune
Receive the God, be it love that he brings or dread.
The naked noon is upon me: the fierce dumb spell,
The fearful charm of the strong sun’s imminent might,
Unmerciful, steadfast, deeper than seas that swell,
Pervades, invades, appals me with loveless light,
With harsher awe than breathes in the breath of night.
Have mercy, God who art all! For I know thee well,
How sharp is thine eye to lighten, thine hand to smite.

The whole wood feels thee, the whole air fears thee: but fear
So deep, so dim, so sacred, is wellnigh sweet.
For the light that hangs and broods on the woodlands here,
Intense, invasive, intolerant, imperious, and meet
To lighten the works of thine hands and the ways of thy feet,
Is hot with the fire of the breath of thy life, and dear
As hope that shrivels or shrinks not for frost or heat.
Thee, thee the supreme dim godhead, approved afar,
Perceived of the soul and conceived of the sense of man
We scarce dare love, and we dare not fear: the star
We call the sun, that lit us when life began
To brood on the world that is thine by his grace for a span,
Conceals and reveals in the semblance of things that are
Thine immanent presence, the pulse of thy heart’s life, Pan.

(This is probably far too much poetry, but I really love Swinburne and can’t help myself.)

Call to Diana

Magister: In whose name do we also gather this night?

Seeress: We gather tonight in the name of Diana, Queen of the Witches.

Magister: Seeress, will you lead us in adoration of her?

Seeres: (From Hertha by Charles Algernon Swinburne)
I AM that which began;
Out of me the years roll;
Out of me God and man;
I am equal and whole;
God changes, and man, and the form of them bodily; I am the soul.
Before ever land was,
Before ever the sea,
Or soft hair of the grass,
Or fair limbs of the tree,
Or the flesh-colour’d fruit of my branches,
I was, and thy soul was in me.
First life on my sources
First drifted and swam;
Out of me are the forces
That save it or damn;
Out of me man and woman, and wild-beast and bird:
before God was, I am.
In the spring-colour’d hours
When my mind was as May’s
There brake forth of me flowers
By centuries of days,
Strong blossoms with perfume of manhood, shot out from my spirit
as rays.
And the sound of them springing
And smell of their shoots
Were as warmth and sweet singing
And strength to my roots;
And the lives of my children made perfect with freedom of soul
were my fruits.
I am that thing which blesses
My spirit elate;
That which caresses
With hands uncreate
My limbs unbegotten that measure the length of the measure of fate.
But what thing dost thou now,
Looking Godward, to cry,
‘I am I, thou art thou,
I am low, thou art high’?
I am thou, whom thou seekest to find him; find thou but thyself,
thou art I.

(Again, probably far too much poetry, but wow!, some of those lines in there. “Before God was, I am.” Damn!)

The Charging of the Stone to Prevent Betrayal and Bring About Good Luck (Adapted from Leyland’s Etruscan Roman Remains)

(Enough stones as to give one to every participant are placed in a shallow dish full of wine (or grape juice) before the ritual and then are set on the altar. The Magus and Seeress pass around the dishes at this point in the ritual and all participants take one. Participants are then instructed to place the stones in the mouth for charging while the following is said and repeated by all in the circle:)

Magus:
‘Stone, who by some wizard or some witch
Hast certainly been buried long ago,
Because thou wouldst not bring good luck to others,
Now it is plain that thou hast repented,
And hast wished to recall it unto me
And I know right well how to preserve it,
And I ever by my side will bear it.
I conjure thee, O stone!
I conjure this stone to ever bring me fortune!
And that it may free me from all evil.
Specially from foes who fain would cause me
Some deceit.
May this stone free me!
Should any wish to cause harm against me,
Whether by thought or deed
This piece of wine-stone shall ever be
My wizard, freeing me from it!
I conjure thee, O stone!’”

Seeress: This stone shall now protect you from all those who would seek to do you harm. Keep it forever upon your person and you shall be safe from all evil sorcery.

(The original spell in Etruscan called for the use of amethyst, but I changed it to “stone” to make the ritual easier to do. If you’ve got fifteen pieces of amethyst floating around your house then by all means use it. I don’t think that I do. In other versions of the ritual I used The Conjuration of the Lemons and the Pins from Aradia for the working.)

The Cakes and Wine (Adapted from Leyland’s Aradia)

Seeress: And we now celebrate the feast of thanksgiving, and in doing so we eat the body and blood of great Diana.

(The Seeress takes the cakes and prostrates herself in front of the Magus, holding the cakes up towards him. He picks up the sword and lays it upon them while saying the following words.)

Bread (Adapted from Aradia, adaptations and rhyme Mankey)
Magus: We did not bake the bread, nor with it wine,
We did not cook the honey with the vine,
We baked the body and the blood and soul,
The soul of Diana who make the years roll
She knew neither rest nor peace
In cruel suffering no torments cease
Until she granted what we most desired
The arch of magic growing ever higher
We begged it of her from our very hearts!
And in that grace was granted by her mighty arts
In honor of thee we hold this feast,
Feast and drain the goblet deep,
We eat this bread in our sacred hour
In the shadow of your moonlit power.
So mote it be!

(The Seeress then passes around the bread, or cakes. Once that is done the Magus takes the wine and pours it into the cup and then prostrates himself in front of the Seeress, holding the cup up towards her. She picks up the sword and touches the cup with it, while saying the following words.)

Wine (Adapted from Aradia, adaptations and rhyme Mankey)
Seeress: We thirst and to our knees we sink
For it is the blood of Diana we drink
From the Earth to the growing vine
Her blood has been transformed into wine
That blood shall give me good return
Diana handing us all all we yearn
In drinking from this horn we drink her blood
The power that comes from root and stem and bud
We do kiss our hands in gift to the moon (kiss to Diana)
And Diana who sits inside this very room
Should our fame and fortunes fall
It will be Diana that we call
Her blood is power, her eternal prayer
Goddess strong, wild, wicked, and fair.
So mote it be!

(The Magus then passes around the wine. These two pieces were probably the most adapted. The bread blessing comes from the Conjuration of Diana, and while I didn’t change a lot of the words I think I probably took it a bit of context. The wine blessing is actually for “He who would have a good vintage and fine wine” but it seemed to fit naturally here.)

Quarter Calls (Masonic)

Magus: As the sun rises in the East and pushes back the night we give thanks for the blessings given to us by the spirits who dwell there. So mote it be.

Magus: As the sun in the south at the high meridian is the beauty and glory of the day we give thanks for the blessings given to us by the spirits that dwell there. So mote it be.

Magus: As the sun sets in the west and joins in harmony with the moon and night we give thanks for the blessings given to us by the spirits that dwell there. So mote it be.

Magus: As the moon rises in the north and is the magic and mystery of the night we give thanks to the blessings given to us by the spirits who dwell there. So mote it be.

(Magus walks around the circle as gives thanks to the spirits, sword raised at each cardinal point. Magus then goes towards the door and makes the sign of the pentacle before it, opening it back up to the outside world.)

Magus: The door is now open to all cowans and eavesdroppers. All are free to enter and leave this place of their own free will. So mote it be.

Farewells (Masonic)

Seeress: I go mine, thou goest thine;
Many ways we wend,
Many ways and many days,
Ending in one end.
Many a wrong and its crowning song,
Many a road and many an Inn;
Far to roam, but only one home
For all the world to win.”

(The ritual ends kind of abruptly, and you’ll notice that the gods aren’t dismissed/said goodbye to, but I thought that helped to keep the piece “period.” I have to assume that if I was an occultist in the 19th Century attempting to assemble a witch ritual that I’d leave out a lot of the things we take for granted today.)

Hope you enjoyed!

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    It’s good. Shows how perceptions towards ritual and ritae change over the years.

    If doing it for Steampunk, I think it’d have to be adapted slightly. A bit more Cthulhu mythos, perhaps?

    • Jason Mankey

      I’m doing it (or a version of it) at a festival this February and one of the organizers mentioned people dressing up in their Steam Punk finest for it . . . . so I might continue to fiddle with it before then. Cthulhu didn’t appear in print until the 1920′s so he’s out. Got to stick to my rules.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I’m aware, but Steampunk is hardly authentic, either.

        I wouldn’t have suggested Cthulhu for a historical (speculative) reconstruction ritual.

        Thinking about it, is there much of a 19th century reconstruction movement?

        • Jason Mankey

          Nothing explicit. I assume that anyone who does real Golden Dawn type ritual could be thought of as a 19th Century Reconstructionist. There’s not enough in Aradia and Etruscan Roman Remains to really create a complete system so that’s out as a possibility.

          You are right about Cthulhu sort of fitting in though. He feels like something that would have been around in 1899. Also, I always appreciate your comments, in fact I look forward to them.

          • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

            You can also use the influences and some of Lovecraft’s friends, colleagues, and contemporary authors if you really want to go down that route. The King in Yellow was published in 1895, and Chambers was a direct influence in HPL’s own work. Hastur may be a more suitable periodic name to evoke if you want to stick specifically within the turn-of-the-century late Victorian era associated with Steampunk, especially with Bierce’s (Chamber’s own influence, where he lifted the name directly) portrayal of the entity being a benign God.

            Edit: Of course, Chambers introduced the horrific aspects of the King in Yellow which Lovecraft was so taken with and incorporated into his posthumously defined Mythos.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I have to say, I am somewhat surprised that there isn’t a 19th century reconstructionist movement. Victoriana (both Steampunk and otherwise) seems to be quite popular at the moment.

            I’m glad you appreciate my comments. I sometimes wonder if I just come across as an arse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Anna.Greenflame Anna Greenflame

    Nothing they would have adapted from the grimoires? The Key of Solomon? As Rankine and d’Este amply show, the Key was an obvious influence on Gardner, and it was certainly available in 1899, as Mathers translated it in the previous decade, so it is reasonable to believe a Victorian occultist could have mined it for ritual ideas as well.

    • Jason Mankey

      Personal preference, and comfort level, I’ve never been hugely into the Key of Solomon, there’s only so much time in the day. There’s certainly some grimoire material that could have been used, also the Tree of Life, or the Key of Solomon as you pointed out. I’ve done different versions of it over the years, and on some instances I’ve called arch-angels at the quarters, etc. But yes, there are lots of other things out there I could have used.

  • Deborah Bender

    This is fine. I’m going to recommend it to a friend who constructed a very workable Wiccan esbat liturgy entirely out of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other poets of that era. Maybe we can get together a group to do this, or a version of it. I want an 1899 Seeress robe, though alas my hair no longer reaches to my waist. And having seen that painting, I want a wand as long as a teacher’s blackboard pointer.

    Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis are about forty percent Crowley’s poetry and forty percent passages from Swinburne.The Swinburne is better. Back in the 1980s, Chandria of blessed memory, a witch and a leading member of the Thelema Lodge of the OTO, revived the Rites of Eleusis, which hadn’t been performed since the Teens. She did them as house parties of fin de siecle excess, with long intermissions between acts for refreshments and foolishness. During one of the intervals in The Rite of Venus, I read the entirety of Swinburne’s Laus Veneris aloud to everyone who had the patience to listen (or was too stoned to get up and leave the room).

  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.corrigan.338 Ian Corrigan

    Very interesting. I do think you miss one very big source that would have been stock-in-trade at that date, and that’s grimoire magic. In 1899 that would mostly have meant Barrett (Waite wasn’t until 1911) though a well-connected magus might have had a hockley copy. That would have provided the elements I found missing – a formal drawing of the circle with sword or wand, and the purification of the circle with incense, at least, probably with water as well. It might also have led to the calling of specific spirits at the quarters, though demon-kings would have been more likely than archangels.

    I see someone else brought it up… eh, posting anyway – nice effort!

  • Raven

    Our whole tradition (Cthonioi-Alexandrian) is based on the work of Romantic poets, along with passages from such sources as the Homeric Hymns, the Masons, and even the Bible (and okay, once, e e cummings). The founder of our tradition was a librarian who collected the world’s best poetry for many years before creating a large body of ritual work, including the esbat, eight Sabbats, a mystery cycle, and an entire magickal order’s worth of ritual. The whole Alexandrian BOS is also contained within the liturgy, as he was initiated Alexandrian in the 70′s. L’s work was known for being long and weighty, but it has been edited down a bit in the decades since he wrote it. His coven was, and still is, known as “The Coven of the Cthonioi”, and so the name of our still-vibrant and growing tradition honors both our descent from Alex and the beautiful and powerful work of L–all done in the manner you have shown here.

  • Ian Phanes

    Have you noticed that the only closing in the published versions of BTW is the dismissal of the quarters? There is no farewell of any sort to the deities.

  • http://twitter.com/vogelbeere + Yvonne Aburrow

    I love this ritual and want to do it!


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