As a liturgist in charge of a ritual there are a lot of details that go into making sure a ritual goes smoothly. I was recently asked to create a list of “all the things” for the grove member leading our Yule rite. So rather than attempt to text type all the details that go into making a great ritual, I figured I’d just type up a blog post and save my thumbs for texting cute pictures of my cat to my friends.
There are a number of interlocking parts to creating a good, interactive, congregation focused ritual:
First, the ritual itself, you have to have one. You have to have a theme that focuses on deities or spirits that pertain to the seasonal occasion, or particular event. You have to know enough about the pantheon and culture associated so that you can add in appropriate spirits and deities to flesh out your ritual, who will stand as the Earth Mother, the Gatekeeper, or the Spirits of the Elements, if your rituals swing that way.
In our rituals we have the Earth Mother, optional Sky Father and/or spirit of inspiration, then the Gatekeeper, the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, and the Shining Ones. Then you have the main offering honoring the Deity or Spirit that you have decided to theme your ritual around. Each of these needs an invocation and an offering in our tradition. As the liturgist it’s not just your job to make sure the invocation gets done, it’s your job to decide –how- it gets done.
Questions to ask yourself:
As you create your ritual there are a lot of questions that need answering. Which invocations are going to be done by others, and which ones will be done by you? Will you pre-write the invocations or ask others to do that work? Based on your knowledge of their ritual skill sets, you may want to check in and see if they need help with the writing process. If you pre-write invocations you will need to make sure they get printed and given to each person. If you don’t you will need to make sure to let them know if there’s going to be a particular ending that each invocation will have. A tagline can add continuity. For instance, if you have everyone say something like, “(spirit or god) accept our offering!” or “Join us (spirit or god) and sit by our fire.” it can create unity amongst diverse invocation offerings.
After you’ve assigned parts and figured out how much input each individual is willing or capable of putting in, then you have to figure out other things, like who’s bringing the decorations for the altar? Who’s bringing offerings? Are you doing your ritual indoors or outdoors? This will change what kind of offerings and decorations you can use. Do you have a way to dispose of offerings in a sacred manner? Do you want people involved in the ritual to be wearing ritual garb? Do they even have ritual garb?
As you do all this planning you need to remember that if your ritual doesn’t engage your congregation you’re failing. Is it multisensory? Are there songs? Do you need to go find a new chant? If you do, you need to send it out early to people, emailing a mp3 ahead of time can be a great idea. Sometimes all you need is to ask a couple of people who are good at singing to learn it so they can carry the chant. Sometimes if it’s particularly complicated it’s better to have those good singers just do it as a performance piece. (Sometimes I dream of having a pagan choir for my grove, but until then, we do what we can)
Take it to the Next Level:
One of the things we do in our grove rituals is have a trinket: small objects that are blessed with the sacred Waters of Life toward the end of the ritual. Each person in attendance takes one as a remembrance of the ritual. Sometimes it’s as simple as a purchased glass bead, sometimes it’s a carefully crafted item. Figuring out what this is going to be and how it’s going to get done is also the job of the liturgist in charge.
As a liturgist you also need to be in contact with the people who are doing children’s activities, competitions, or other non-ritual holiday activities. In the case of Yule this could mean kid’s activities, carol singing, white elephant gift exchanges, the potluck feast, or crafts. You need to be aware of kids and the elderly. Is your ritual too wordy for a bunch of little kids to sit through? Then you need side activities for them. Do you have a lot of elderly or disabled members? Then you need to make sure they have proper seating and access to the site.
As one of the priests of my grove a big part of my job is teaching all these skill sets. It’s intense. If we look at it in terms of modern movie production, you’re a writer, a performer, a director, and a producer who is also the liaison to caterer, and entertainment director. It’s a lot. It took me a long time to realize just how much –work- I was doing to create a great all-ages ritual production.
You’re Not Alone in This:
Most of all, remember that everyone who is helping you is a volunteer, as are you (Unless you’re paid clergy in which case, awesome for you.) Be kind, thoughtful, and make sure you’re getting input from your membership and actually –listening- to it. Ritual can be a solo performance, but doing that high day after high day is exhausting, and more to the point, not helpful for your grove, circle, or coven. You won’t always be there, whether it’s the flu, other priorties, or death. Train your people slowly but steadily to replace you. Always look for how people can help with rituals in ways that will fulfill them and expand their skill sets.
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