Writing a Ritual

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Knowing your purpose and your goal is probably the easy part of the planning process. Once you've got that figured it, you need to sit down and work out all the details.

There's really no correct order for designing a ritual. The following is simply a process that works, but you may have better luck switching things around.

Probably the best thing to decide first is where the ritual will be held. Knowing your physical location will not only give you some inspiration for what to do with your ritual, but it also sets up your limitations, which is very important. You can't very well plan a ritual requiring full body water submersion, for example, in the middle of someone's living room. Similarly, if the ground where your ritual will be held is filled with small rocks or biting insects, you probably don't want to make going barefoot a part of the ritual. If you are planning an outdoor ritual, it is always a good idea to take weather into consideration, and have a back-up location if at all possible. If you are planning a rather long ritual in either the dead of winter or summer, make sure to tell your guests what to prepare for so they can adequately protect themselves from the elements. (This sounds like common sense, but it can be an easy thing to overlook when you are in the thick of planning a ritual, especially if you aren't accustomed to hosting and/or leading a ritual).

The next thing to decide is how many actors you will need, and how many actors you have to work with. When you are designing a ritual with several people, you generally have more possibilities to work with. It is much easier to incorporate a drawing down, the Great Rite, etc when you have several people who can be involved with the ritual. However, when deciding on who will be part of your ritual, make sure you choose people who can be depended upon, and who have the experience to perform the role you are asking them to perform. You won't be doing anyone any favors if you ask someone completely inexperienced to be the High Priestess for your ritual. Everyone needs a chance to get used to doing ritual and to performing in front of people. It can be an uncomfortable task for many people, but with practice most people will become easier.

How many guests do you plan to invite? Consider whether or not your ritual area is large enough to hold all the people you wish to invite. Consider also whether or not you will want children at the ritual. Is the ritual appropriate for children? Are they likely to become bored? Will you be providing childcare for your ritual for parents who do not wish for their children to participate? (You're not usually expected to, of course, but it's something you may want to consider if many of your guests have children.) Consider also whether you have fewer guests than major participants in the ritual. It can be very uncomfortable or intimidating for a guest to be the only one who does not have a major part in the ritual (especially if your ritual is a type of ritual theatre). You may want to consider either inviting more non-participants, or incorporating all your guests into the body of the ritual somehow. (This can often be done by asking them to smudge the area or the other participants, drum, lead a song or chant, call the elements, etc.)

Once all the big details are taken care of, you can start planning the body of the ritual.

Just like a book or a movie, your ritual should have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and each segment of the ritual serves a specific purpose. While there is no "formula" to designing a Wiccan ritual, most rituals are expected to follow certain guidelines (It's that whole orthopraxic thing again.)

The beginning of your ritual establishes the mindset for your ritual. Ritual is a time to step outside of ordinary time and into a time outside of time where anything can happen. But in order for that to happen, the individual has to believe that the mundane world has melted away and that he or she is experiencing something extraordinary. This is often done with the use of triggers. Different people are triggered into ritual awareness by different methods, so when designing a ritual, you should try to incorporate several different triggering techniques in order to engage your participants as fully as possible.

The first trigger is the use of liturgy. While many creative Wiccans like to mix it up when doing things like casting the circle, using different verses or impromptu language when inviting the elements and the Lord and Lady, this can often be a disservice to the aurally stimulated congregants. When we use a constant liturgy in each and every ritual, the words and rhythms used to speak the words become a very potent aural trigger, allowing us to slip quickly and easily into a ritual mindset.

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A second useful trigger is the use of incense. We know that the sense of smell is the most powerful sense for bringing back memories: smell brings back memories more than any other sense. Therefore, engaging the sense of smell in ritual is a surefire way of establishing a ritual mindset, especially if the incense is one that is consistently used.

In a similar vein, the use of costumes, drums and chanting can produce the proper trance-like state for ritual. The idea is engage the senses in a way that allows your logical, rational mind to sit and take a backseat and allow Younger Self to come out and play. Ritual is the perfect time to explore the boundaries of regular, mundane life. Even when ritual isn't centered on the use of magic, every ritual should be a magical experience in the sense that every ritual should draw the Divine out of the ethereal and into the present moment. Thus, stimulating all the senses in a way that we might not get to in regular life is a wonderful, easy, and entertaining way to encourage a ritual mindset.

The last element isn't really a trigger, but it's an easy way to get the participants into a ritual mindset, and that is the use of meditation and/or trance inductions. Even a simple grounding and centering can allow your participants to let down their guard, to ease out of the stresses and trials of everyday life and to become absorbed into the magical time that you have prepared.

All of these things can be done at the beginning of the ritual in order to both set the mood and prepare your participants for the ritual experience. Cleansing and smudging can incorporate incense, casting the circle can include liturgy, drumming, and chant, which can all be followed by a short grounding and centering. Not all of these triggers have to be implemented, of course, but trying to get some variation is generally a good idea.

The middle of your ritual is the meat and potatoes. This is where the bulk of the ritual should take place, where the goal is ultimately achieved. (Or at least where the seeds for a long-term goal are planted.) This is where you tell your story, explore a relationship, initiate transformation (depending on the kind of ritual you are writing). The middle of the ritual needs to keep your participants engaged, busy, and interested. You need to decide what they will be doing, how the ritual will be moved along, and

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how the transition between beginning, middle, and end will take place.

A lot of new ritual planners have a very difficult time remembering that ritual is not a lecture. Many of us grew up attending church or temple where the congregants sit in the audience, observing or listening to a minister, priest, or rabbi deliver a sermon of sorts. The congregations is only expected a peripheral level of participation. Wicca, however, is a religion of action. We have to get down and dirty with our gods, and are therefore not granted the luxury of sitting idly by and letting someone else lead us through the motions. Your participants should be actively involved in your ritual. There should be some sort of activity that involves them. The one real exception is in the case of ritual theatre, in which case the participants should be so enthralled by the drama that they aren't aware that they aren't doing anything. Otherwise, however, your participants should contribute something to the ritual, whether it is in the format of call-and-response, small rites, or participating in invocation. In general, ritual should not be a "show". It should be an experience.

Along the same lines, you should consider how the ritual will be moved along and how the various rites will flow together. The more rituals you perform and write, the easier this aspect of ritual writing will become.

The end of the ritual is the time to begin the transition from magical space-time to regular space-time. If you've done any magical work, this is the time to do a thorough grounding and centering. This is also the appropriate place to offer cakes and ale if you choose to implement that into your ritual. (While performing the cakes and ale rite is traditional, many people prefer to save feasting for fellowship after the ritual. The decision is yours.) Releasing the circle can also implement liturgy that helps aid the transition between ritual-mind and mundane-mind.

Especially after particularly draining rituals, it can be very tempting to perform a "quick and dirty" releasing of the elements. However, try not to rush the opening of the circle. Even if you personally don't feel particularly out of sorts after ritual, some of your participants may require a more formal winding down time. If you rush them, you run the risk of having them be disoriented, "spacey", or suffer a general malaise. If you have led the entire ritual and find yourself wanting to rush the opening of the circle, it might be a good idea to plan to ask someone else to lead the circle release in future rituals.

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