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Religion Library: Paganism

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Carl McColman

What follows is a brief description of a generic Wiccan ceremony. This is only one of many possible rituals that can be performed within a Pagan tradition.At an appointed time and location (say, in a forest on the night of the full moon), the participants gather, having ritually prepared themselves with a ceremonial bath and a period of fasting. The priest and priestess (leaders of the ritual) arrive early to prepare the ground for the ceremony and to set up four shrines - one in each direction with elemental symbolism (air in the east, fire in the south, water in the west, earth in the north) - and a larger altar closer to the center of the circle, north of the fire pit, marked with symbols of the god and the goddess.

After the shrines and the altar are set up, the priest lights the bonfire while the priestess meditates. When the participants of the ritual arrive, the priest anoints each person with oil on their forehead, and smudges them (ritual purification using incense from a burning sage bundle). When everyone is gathered within the circle, the priest and priestess begin the actual ritual by sweeping the bounds of the circles, then censing it with incense, then "cutting" a boundary using the priestess's athame (ceremonial knife). Brief invocations to the spirits of the four elements are offered at each of the directional shrines.

Finally the priest and priestess face one another, standing between the bonfire and the main altar, and invoke the god and goddess to be present in one another. They kiss, and each in turn speaks prophetic words to the gathered assembly. Over the next hour, the community chants, drums, meditates, and dances to raise magical energy for particular purposes. At the direction of the priestess, this energy is used to create a "Cone of Power," which is then psychically directed to whatever goal the community has established: perhaps healing for a friend who is in the hospital, or for fertility in the local farmlands.

After the magical energy has been raised and dispersed, the priest and priestess invoke the sacred marriage between the god and the goddess by a ritual act in which he holds a chalice of ale, into which she plunges the blade of her athame. Then they bless the ale and share it with all who are present. Finally, the ritual ends by thanking and dismissing the elemental spirits and bidding farewell to the god and goddess, and ritually re-sealing the circle with the athame. Afterward, the group may linger for general feasting and merry-making.

Study Questions:
     1.    How is magic categorized? When is it used?
     2.    How are Pagan rituals structured? What do they include? What do they prohibit?
     3.    What is role of the priest and priestess within ritual?
     4.    How do Pagans utilize a circle within ritual?


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