Making a Ritual Work

I’ve been to many rituals, a lot of them… weren’t that great. I’ve thought about this a lot, and why they didn’t work, and why others did. So I made a list of the 7 things you can do to improve a ritual, no matter what tradition you belong to.

The 7 Things You Can Do To Improve Your Rituals

1.) Abolish Scripts: I cannot underline, italic, and bold this statement enough: Do. Not. Use. Scripts. Unless you and all your ritual mates are hardcore theater majors willing to reherse and reherse and reherse until every line is drilled into your head from now until Ragnarok, do not use scripts. Do you know how many times I’ve been roped into reading lines off a ritual script, with the ritual devolving into flat, emotionaless popcorn reading with the occasional chant and stacktime in the middle? A lot. Do you know how many people in these types of ritual are unfocused and bored in two minutes or less? A lot. Seriously. I have a decent attention span, but when the high priest is just droning and droning and tripping over their own words and droning… UGH. Don’t do scripts. 

2.) Don’t celebrate without a good theme: Most rituals that rock have a general theme; tonight we’ll “honor our ancestors” or “celebrate fertility” or whatever. Not awesome rituals go “yay! It’s Ostara! Um… now what?”. Because you have no destination, the journey isn’t very powerful. Try to have a theme, a destination, so everyone is clear with what you’re doing.

3.) Try your hardest to set the mood: Pagans today are modern people- we go online, drive cars, play video games, talk on cell phones- and women wear pants. The microwave heats up our food in an instant- it’s all amazing, but creates a huge disconnect between us and our ancestors who had none of these things. Recently, Shauna Aura Knight wrote an entire article regarding this disconnect for circle magazine, and she has a great point; “Glaring fluorescent lights, T-shirts with slogans, tennis shoes, posters and advertisements, cars driving by… all of these serve to bring us back to the fact that we’re a bunch of folks dancing around looking ridiculous”

Looking ridiculous is scary. I mean, generally I shy away from new things to avoid looking silly whilst doing them. That fear cripples me, but at the same time it cripples 90% of the pagan community in one way or another; fear of how family perceives you, fear of being a fool in general. It’s something we all struggle with, and like Shauna Knight mentioned, you do feel kind of ridiculous when traffic is whizzing by, and you end up accidentally drawing spectators.

The solution? Create a barrier

Not, not just the circle for ritual, but also a physical barrier from the modern world. Wear clothing that flows and makes you feel like a pagan- not just your jeans from the Gap an a band t-shirt. Use large, lightweight (i.e. cheap) fabric panels to decorate and create a thin barrier for your ritual area. It doesn’t block out yelling or the sound of a bus whizzing by, but suddenly they’re a little harder to see and that is often just a good. Don’t be afraid to overcompensate via things you consider witchy/pertinent to your holiday. Samhain? Get out the ‘creepy fabric’ from the dollar store and hang them from winows, or against your walls. Use a hundred tea lights to create a flickering, sparkling ritual room. The setting can help so very much regarding the experience you and your ritual have. Don’t have much talent in the field of decor? Outsource to a coven mate that does.

4.) Know your audience: Okay, if you’re doing a public ritual of 50-100 people, try to avoid getting to know everyone 15 minutes prior to ritual, but with local groups within your area/coven- you probably know everyone fairly well. For example, I work with a blind woman and I’m dating a man with ADHD- both of whom often join us in ritual. We’ve had trouble with them prior- not because of them, per se- but because they were not factored into the ritual.

With blindness, often complicated dance moves (such as the maypole) isn’t doable. Instead, try a less intensive action for ritual or offer a different activity that is equally important to ritual on the sidelines (such as keeping a beat with a drum, etc) Note: I am not trying to dis-include someone with a disability such as blindness, but instead encouraging them to be included in ways that work best for the group and for them.

With someone with ADHD… well they’re a blessing and a curse (and since I’m using my boyfriend as an example, well I can rag on him all I want). On the bad side- they’re often fidgety an easily distracted, and can end up being a distraction themselves if their mind veers off course during ritual. But they’re also an excellent indicator of where a ritual may have gone wrong. For example; I’ve attended rituals that are long, tedious, and just “go with the motions”- I can stand still and focus (even if my mind is drifting in and out due to boredom) but someone with ADHD can’t, and end up being an indicator of the flaw. IF someone is fidgety, ask them why and improve based on it.

5.)Educate yourself!: Do not be afraid to veer off from the standard “ritual” layout. If you feel calling quarters takes too long, shorten it. If blessing your cakes & ale feels strange to you, do something else. If you feel something might work better, do it! If it doesn’t- well do better next time. Learn how different cultures do their rituals (no cultural appropriation please!), and figure out what best works for you and your group. If someone with a different practice attends your group, coven, social circle- ask questions! Learn more and always ask why. New information can sometimes bring the bulb of inspiration.

6.)Push people’s emotional buttons: Why does church work? Why can so many different people pour out of a megachurch and feel so moved, when they are all from different backgrounds, races, and cultures? Because they play to universal emotions- love, fear, sorrow, pity, etc. Megachurch sermons and worship services are designed to maximize emotional response via music, lighting, colors, and pace of services. Take a leaf from the megachurch’s book- research or attend church services and watch for changes of lighting, music played (tempo, style, major or minor key), the general ‘flow’ of things, and the sermon based on these setups. It can shed great light on certain colors and their emotional meaning, how music and tempo can effect your emotional state, and why all the factors coming together make a great production, while mismatched factors don’t.

7.) Encourage Participation: Tell people a few things about the ritual ahead of time- going to have an ancestor altar? Have people bring photos of deceased loved ones and personal offerings. Beltane? Have them bring flowers to use in ritual or decorate the altar, or to adorn the may queen with. Having people personally invested in the ritual adds power, because it gives an immediate personal connection when it’s your grandmother on the altar of the dead, or roses from your garden in the arms of your new may queen.

So there you go. 7 things to consider when building a ritual. And seriously; NO SCRIPTS EVER.

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