Behind the scenes: An open ritual
My coven holds open rituals on a regular basis so I thought I would share how we put the open rituals together and what goes on behind the scenes. It does take an awful lot of preparation and organisation…
Setting the date
As there are several groups in our area that get together to celebrate the sabbats we tend to go ‘off piste’ and work with rituals for particular themes rather than calendar dates. Also, we are mindful of setting a date that doesn’t clash with our fellow groups as a matter of courtesy.
We have held rituals in honour of deities such as Elen of the Ways and Sulis. Our rituals last year were based around the elements; a ritual for each. Some of our rituals have been for intents such as prosperity and love and yesterday we held an open ritual for ‘gratitude’.
We are very lucky to have a country park fairly close by that are more than happy to allow us space to celebrate. The pitch is booked in advance for a couple of reasons: Firstly, so that we can make sure the date we have chosen doesn’t clash with any big event they are holding. Whilst they wouldn’t mind us using the space we don’t want to be over-run with cycle festivals or children’s foraging parties… And secondly because we actually book the spot it means we are then covered by the park’s public liability insurance, not that we envisage needing it but it seems wise to be safe.
The spot we use is on top of a hill (but with a car park close by) and has two groves of trees; one grove of beech and birch. And another that we often use in the darker months that is a yew tree grove and provides some cover from rain or wind. The site itself has all the amenities such as a café and toilets. Although the spot is quite beautiful and we are amongst the trees it is only a short walk (a couple of minutes) from the main car park which allows easy access for those that are less able on their feet.
I have attended rituals in all sorts of different places; on the beach, the centre of Stonehenge, a Saxon church ruin, in the darkness of the White Springs, within the stone circle at Stanton Drew and a stone circle on Dartmoor – all beautiful spots. However, I have also attended rituals in back gardens, sitting rooms and even in a church hall. Each has its own unique feel and at the end of the day you often need to work with what is available to you.
For an open ritual you do have to bear in mind access if you have people that are unable to walk far and ease of getting there for people that don’t drive. Also, however sparse you are with paraphernalia you will need to carry some items from the car to the site.
There are also a lot of places that you will need to request permission to use especially if the land is owned privately. Some places such as the one we use also have their own public liability insurance which is also very useful to have in place when bringing together a large group of people.
We do script out our rituals in advance although we don’t read word for word from them the whole way through. Having an ‘order of service’ just seems to help to keep the ritual flowing.
Our lovely ritual team ‘get together’ via facebook messenger to throw ideas into the pot. Each member will pick, research and write their own quarter call and/or deity request. Bizarrely even when there are six people putting their thoughts in the pot no one duplicates a deity or an element and the chants all end up complementing each other. Then we put suggestions in for the working part of the ritual and bounce them around. One person then takes charge of bringing all the script elements together and it has to be typed up, checked and printed.
I have been part of rituals where the altar in the centre of the field has been grand and beautifully decorated. But I have also had to help lug all the items to and from the car to the site and believe me it is a total pain to do so. Over the years at Kitchen Witch our ritual altar has evolved or perhaps that should be devolved into an up-turned plastic box. You carry all the items to the ritual site inside it then empty them out and turn it over – dual purpose. On occasion we have attempted to use candles but in the middle of a field on top of a hill it is a complete nightmare to get them lit or keep them alight. We did try storm lanterns but again it is something else to carry and most of them have glass which you don’t want to be lugging over uneven ground for fear of breakage. We have found the definite need to be practical over pretty.
It is important to us that we involve everyone in circle – we like to get interactive. Our working at the weekend was for everyone to make their own gratitude medicine bags. We provided the pouches and a selection of herbs and everyone stepped into the centre of the circle to help themselves to herbs and ingredients from the altar. But we have also held spiral dances, hung wishes on a wish tree (actually a large branch stuck in a pot but it worked). And had everyone make a large nature mandala in the centre of the circle amongst other things! You do have to bear in mind that beautiful bowls of herbs can be tipped over by the wind. And anything light placed on the ground can be blown away…or rained on.
And of course, whatever you use in the working has to be sourced/purchased/prepared before the ritual and put in easily carried containers.
At most of our rituals we spend some time raising energy often to send out to the universe to use as it sees fit. However sometimes situations arise as with yesterday and the energy was raised and sent to someone who was poorly that needed healing. We might clap or chant or beat the drums to get the energy going.
Then we feast…’may you never hunger’. We seem to have gained a bit of a reputation for cake… At each of our rituals we have homemade cakes and/or cookies. But you don’t need to go to those lengths, it all takes time and preparation before-hand. I have been to very successful rituals where the feast was a platter of dried fruit and also several where the offering has simply been a loaf of bread to share – it all works.
To go with the cake we serve some form of drink ‘may you never thirst’ … If it is cold we might have herbal tea or hot chocolate but in the summer we usually stick to juice. We have tried passing around a chalice for all to share but it does make some people uncomfortable sipping from the same cup as twenty other people. So, we switched to shot glasses so everyone has their own individual drink. We do wash and re-use the glasses.
Again, you don’t want to create huge messy fancy iced cakes because you have to carry them to the site…and eat them standing up in a field…
For some of our rituals we have included a meditation. Although if it is particularly windy or there are a lot of people this doesn’t always work very well as you have to be able to hear the person speaking. On other occasions we will have a story or a poem. Of course this is another element that has to be written or sourced before the event.
Bossy and gobby
I love being in circle but that could be because I am a loud, bossy, gobby control freak. Which I actually think in this instance (but not many others) works to my advantage. You need to be loud if you are talking in ritual. People around the whole circle need to hear your every word. They need to feel that you are interested and in control of what you are doing. Looking down and talking quietly to your feet won’t cut it. Be loud…be proud…
Thanking the quarters and deity and closing the circle chants are also written individually by the team and somehow it all seems to come together. This part of the ritual can sometimes feel hurried or an after thought – but we like to put as much effort into writing the closing text as we do in the opening.
Experience has taught us that not everything will go to plan… When you have had the heavens open halfway through the ritual and had to all huddle under the trees whilst finishing the ritual (making an on the spot decision to cut it much shorter than planned). Dogs running through the centre of the circle to snaffle the cakes. To realising that the ritual has run through much faster than you thought and is way too short needing a quick on the spot meditation to be created…
Being flexible and adapting on the spot is often necessary to keep the ritual flowing. You have to deal with whatever Mother Nature and the universe chooses to throw into your event. It doesn’t matter if someone walks the wrong way around the circle or says the quarter call in the wrong order (yep we have had both of those more than once). This does happens, you either ignore it as if it didn’t happen or more often in our case laugh…lots…but carry on regardless.
It is team work, it has to be because putting on an open ritual takes a lot of time and effort. It is also much more fun when you all work together and share the ‘workload’. However, the rituals would not work without those that attend, the energy of a ritual is made up from the people that are there in circle. We are very blessed to have such a lovely group that join us on a regular basis. Our rituals run in our very own unique way. Although they do have structure (otherwise it would just be pure chaos) they are relaxed and we do like to have a laugh and a joke, after all the gods have a sense of humour. It won’t be right for everyone but it works for us.