Recently I wrote an article that articulated the idea that I serve as a High Priest to create effective ritual for my coveners. I stand by that idea. My job as an officiant is to create an environment that allows for religious, spiritual, or magickal “something” depending upon the ritual in question.
Certainly after the proper environment has been created we can worship/honor deity in the circle, but that’s only one of many different reasons to have ritual. In fact, since there are many Pagans out there who don’t even believe in the reality of deities, ritual has to be about more than just deity, or those people wouldn’t participate.
We all partake in ritual for different reasons, and all of those reasons are probably valid. (There are most certainly invalid reasons too, engaging in ritual to find a significant other comes to mind.)
CONNECT WITH NATURE/HONOR THE SEASONS
The word “Pagan” often conjures up images of nature religion, and while not all Pagan traditions under the umbrella are nature oriented, a great many of them are. Many natural world-first Paganisms celebrate the turning of the Wheel and honor holidays that are in line with seasonal or agricultural cycles.
Modern Wicca is, at its heart, a nature religion. The eight sabbats follow the yearly turn of the Wheel, and many of the traditions we associate with our holidays are concerned with the earth’s fertility or take advantage of where we are in the turn of the Wheel. (Think about how we decorate for a second, nearly all of that is determined by what’s “in season” during any given month.)
Rituals then are often about connecting to the energy prevalent during a certain time of year. At Lammas I focus on the local harvest and plan my rites accordingly. Many of my seasonal rituals have very little to do with deity, and they don’t lack anything for it.
Holidays are meant to be fun, and rituals are fine times for celebration. Many of my Yule rites lack a serious “working” and instead focus on having fun and celebrating a season of general goodwill. A Beltane “ritual” consisting of nothing but games under the full moon and a dance around the Maypole would probably serve me just fine.
Many of the earliest Modern Witches reserved their sabbats strictly for celebration. They were not seen as times for magickal workings, and were often just as focused on feasting as they were the gods. Rituals are designed to serve us, the community, and sometimes a celebration is what we need. Speaking of . . . .
Many public rituals are designed to celebrate, honor, and build community. As I write this I’m at the Summerland Spirit Festival and our opening ritual a few days ago was all about community building. We moved around in the circle and introduced ourselves to total strangers. Some of us hugged, some of us shook hands, but all of us got to know each other a little better.
One of the best rituals I’ve ever attended happened at Pagan Picnic in Michigan many many moons ago. Melissa Hill put together a ritual and it was this amazing community/web creating ritual where we talked about what we could give to our local community while throwing a big ball of string around our circle. (Someone talked, they held onto some of the strIng while throwing the rest of it.) This all served to create a web connecting us all together, and it was magnificent.
TOUCH THE GODS/TOUCH THE MYSTERY
I’m a Witch because it brings me closer to deity. For me the most important thing I can do during ritual is walk between the worlds and enter a space where I can truly feel the power of my gods around me. Sure, I feel them in my daily, mundane life, but I feel them so much more in the circle.
My job when I’m serving as a High Priest is often to create an atmosphere where those I’m ritualizing with can feel those powers. I’m hesitant to use the word “worship” when it comes to deity, I’m not sure I “worship” anything in the Christian sense, but I do honor my deities, I interact with them and seek their counsel.
As a Wiccan-Witch Drawing Down the Moon is a central part of my faith. It is often the highlight of ritual, and it brings me intimately close to deity. It’s the great mystery and it’s there in my circle and I hoped to facilitate an environment that allowed it to happen.
Often rituals revolved around deity independent of practices such as Drawing Down the Moon. We honor Brigit yearly at imbolc in my coven, and the Dread Lord of Shadows is a frequent visitor to our Samhain rites. Sabbats can very much be about goddesses and gods, and I love rituals where that’s the case, but that’s just one option out of many.
And then there are deeply spiritual people who are not believers in deity who still honor the great Mystery. They may use archetypal imageries or ideas, or simply try and connect with the heartbeat of the Earth. This is power too, and are things I’ve done with my coven as well.
HONORING WHAT HAS COME BEFORE
I write about Witchcraft in this space more than any other Pagan tradition because it’s what I practice and what I know. One of the things about the Witchcraft that I practice is that it’s English in origin. Wicca is the first great world religion from Great Britain, and as a result there’s a lot of the United Kingdom in its DNA.
The eight sabbats represent the agricultural calendar of the UK, and not so much California where I live. The United States has no ancient Lammas celebrations so I borrow from the ones celebrated in Scotland 1000 years ago. Those individuals were not Witches, but they were “pagan” in a very agrarian sense and using their rites helps me to connect with what happened very long ago.
Using the words of Doreen Valiente or Gerald Gardner helps me to connect with those two more modern individuals. And while I’m not sure Robert Cochrane and I would get along, I still admire many of his Witchcraft ideas and have used them in ritual to perhaps understand him a bit better. Rituals are often about connecting us to what has gone before.
I know that many Pagans celebrate their ancestors, and that’s another valid reason for rituals. My coven honors the “Mighty Dead” our more recent Craft ancestors and teachers and it’s important part of our Samhain rites. Ritual is a glue that has the power to connect generations, and more.
Not all Pagan spiritualties emerged from the Western Magickal Tradition, but Wicca most certainly did. It is a magickal religion and magick is often central to our rites. Generally the energy and magick we raise has a specific purpose, but there have been times where we’ve raised energy for the pure joy of it. (Chanting and dancing can just be plain old fun!)
Holding a ritual in order to find a new job or a new place to live is a more than valid and necessary reason for ritual. We’ve been given the power to have some control over our circumstances, and we should use it. Our coven meets simply to “work on things”
Rituals and rites can also be about specific people in a circle. What is an initiation or an elevation if not a rite about a specific person in a group? Sure, an initiation might be a way to introduce a person to particular deities or ideas, but the initiation is really about the person being initiated. It’s their inward journey, it’s their moment so to speak.
Personal rituals can be about more than just that too. Transitioning rituals, coming out rituals, croning and everything else are valid reasons for ritual. Our personal progress in life is worthy of being commemorated and celebrated! My job as a High Priest in those instances is to create the moving ritual my covener deserves.
Rituals can and should be about everything. Celebrate the forces that shape our lives and give it meaning.
If you didn’t catch it in the article, I wrote this while attending an outdoor festival. Sorry for the inevitable typos!