Every once in awhile when I’m between books I take questions from readers. I used to do this on Facebook, but now I mostly do it via my Patreon page. This set of questions deals with ritual (one of my favorite topics!).
Jenett wonders: “What is one thing you wish people would ask you about more, and why, and what is it anyway?”
Ideally I’m always wishing that people would just ask me questions instead of gossiping behind my back, but that’s never going to stop now is it? So instead of jumping down the rabbit hole I’m going to instead put on my magickal hat and say “Rituals, I wish more people would ask me about doing group or public rituals.
Public rituals are hard, but there are lots of little things we can do to make them better. However, a lot of people overlook these little things, and just plow right ahead without asking any questions or soliciting any advice. I know, I know, most of us don’t like solicitors, but there are times when a little feedback is useful. It really can make things better.
So yeah, I wish we had more discussions about rituals and how we can make them better. I’m not suggesting I have all the answers here either, I don’t, but I have done a bunch of rituals over the last twenty years. Which brings up our next question . . .
Maewyn asks . . . What are your top 5 tips for improving public rituals?
Before we get to the answer, please me allow a shameless plug. I have a whole book about rituals and featuring 24 rituals called The Witch’s Wheel of the Year. If you want more info on the ins and outs of ritual I highly recommend it, though I’m probably a bit biased.
There are a lot of things that can be done when it comes to improving public rituals. I think the most important point thing we can do as ritual planners is to make sure everyone has something to do during the ritual. This doesn’t mean everyone needs a speaking part, it just means that the ritual should involve everyone in attendance somehow. Ritual is an active thing, it’s not a play, and no one wants to simply be spoken at for an hour.
Getting people involved is always easier said than done, but with a little thought it’s not too hard to do. Lighting candles, pouring libations, dancing, and chanting are all relatively easy things to incorporate into a ritual. If people wanted to sit in pews and do nothing during a spiritual activity I assume they’d visit a Protestant church. Witchcraft and Paganism aren’t meant to be passive activities.
A lot of activities might result in a line of people waiting to do something, but here’s another pieces of advice avoid having people wait in lines as much as possible. What’s wrong with lines? Well lines stop the flow of ritual, and they also bring about boredom. Boredom then results in people chatting and laughing; potentially disrupting the ritual, and at the very least long lines can take people out of ritual headspace. Nothing more exciting than to realize I’m going to be standing in a line doing nothing for the next 45 minutes.
But I like things that might involve lines you say? Well there’s a solution, plan your ritual with a variety of different activities so that the lines don’t become a problem. At an Imbolc ritual a few years ago we had three activities going on simultaneously: people talking with an aspect of Brigit, sharing the returning light, and tossing some coins into a well. It was also a big space so everything was spread out and people could explore their surroundings. All of this kept the lines from getting big.
One other things we did during that ritual was keep control of the ritual. We had three different Brigits that people could chat with, but no one got to choose what Brigit they spoke with, instead we left it up to chance. When it was your turn you simply went to the first available Brigit. This was important to me because I was at a similar ritual a few years prior where people waited to talk to the goddess of their choosing, and for most ritual goers that meant the most popular High Priestess sitting on the dais.
This turn of events led to a few things. The first was that the ritual ended up taking hours when it should have lasted an hour. People waiting in line for just one priestess meant the other two priestesses were left twiddling their thumbs and had to feel disrespected. There was also a lot of shushing (I was shushed) because those of who went first were then bored out of our gourds for the next two hours. It was not good.
Sometimes you’ve got to do what’s necessary to keep the ritual moving along, and sometimes you have to direct traffic (herd cats?) to keep things organized. There’s nothing wrong with this if it’s done in a polite way. And be sure to repeat your instructions for the working at least two times so everyone is clear when it comes to what they are expected to do. Also, you can assign a few people to randomly wander and help anyone who looks lost or bewildered.
If you are leading a large public ritual that has the potential for a lot of newbies, avoid any activity that puts people on the spot and might make them extremely uncomfortable . Some people don’t want to talk or become the center of attention (and sometimes, there are people who love being the center of attention too much).
When you are leading a ritual, you are the facilitator, and it’s not fair to rely on your attendees to facilitate the ritual. This means I avoid awkward games or competitive boasting. (Such things are probably fine with a coven, public ritual is a different thing.) Giving people something to do during ritual is not the same as “making everyone the center of attention for two minutes.” Besides, doing something that cedes control of your ritual to someone else can derail everything you’ve got planned.
One more hint when it comes to the working, have some background noise ready! Unless you have a cadre of drummers or everyone chanting together, a little background noise will help muffle any giggles or whispers. Music is especially transformative and can help create a magickal atmosphere.
This last thing is pretty obvious, but it’s amazing how often it’s overlooked, Practice! Practice! Practice! Practicing will let you know what works and what doesn’t work. Witch ritual sometimes contains odd words and even strangers turn of phrase, saying all of that out loud before doing ritual with sixty people will work out those kinks. Practicing is a good time to go over the ritual’s blocking too.
A ritual is not a play, but you want to be heard during ritual. Figuring out where you are going to stand will help with that. (Hint: never walk to the outside of the circle and start talking, you are simply shouting into the ether. Stand in the middle of the circle and face a certain direction instead!) Also, practice speaking slowly and using large gestures. This might feel comical when practicing with five friends, it will make your ritual awesome when doing it in front of forty people.The practicing “speaking slowly” part is really important because when we do ritual in front of people we have a tendency to speed up our words.
How much we speed up those words will go a long way in determining how long the ritual is. I think a good open ritual is about 45 to 70 minutes. Anything less than 45 minutes and people might feel cheated. More than 70 minutes and there’s a good chance people will start getting bored. Practicing allows you to figure out how long your ritual might be, and to adjust accordingly. I’ve dropped ritual bits in the past because my rites were too long, and added stuff when they are too short. Somewhere around an hour tends to be the sweet spot!
So those are my top five (plus some bonuses) ritual tips! Happy circling!