Components of Ritual
What are all the Elements required to perform a ritual?
If you haven’t yet been part of a ritual practice, or if you are trying to figure out how to create one of your own, it can be a daunting proposition. One of the easiest places to start is within a coven or an order who can teach you how they do their particular brand of rituals.
How you conduct a ritual really depends on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. There’s no such thing as “right” or “wrong” so much as the right set of ingredients for what you’re creating. It’s kind of like baking; you wouldn’t leave out sugar if you’re making a cake, but it’s not something you would put in Yorkshire Pudding.
The first place I was exposed to the art of ritual was within the Anglican Church. My family attended a very old-school place where the service was sung (thankfully not in Latin) and all of the most traditional aspects used such as piped organ music, a fully robed choir, incense swung from a brass burner, and the sacrament of bread and wine.
Of course there were many components which make up the church ritual including taking an oath, “passing the peace” which is basically sharing a blessing and positive energy with everyone there, invoking the spirit, unburdening the conscience, and raising energy through song.
In the mediumship training I undertook, there would be a pre-session meditation designed to change our frequencies so that we could channel other dimensions. The frequencies were literally assigned a number, basic everyday function was set at 9, while a channeling state was set at a minimum of 22 but usually something like 33.
We were not supposed to draw on our own energy because that would be exhausting. Instead, we had to align with a higher state and tap into that source of energy in order to hold a connection with spirits who had crossed over. It still used a lot of energy to do that, but was nowhere near as taxing as using our own, or worse… stealing it from people around us. A post-session grounding had to be done as well to disconnect and return to normal.
When I joined the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, their rituals were very similar to the Wiccan style of the coven I later joined. The basics of a pagan ritual are set out down below:
- Cleansing the Space: this is usually done with a besom and gets rid of unwanted energy before you begin. You metaphorically sweep out the space in circular motions and cast it outwards.
- Casting a circle: this can be with just your finger or with a wand, but you draw an invisible line of energy around the perimeter of your sacred space in a clockwise direction to shut out anything you don’t want and to contain any energies you do want.
- Blessing the participants: anointing the members of the coven with either oil or ash placed on their third eye before they enter the circle helps to open up their psychic senses.
- Blessing the Altar: all of your sacred tools would be on an altar, usually positioned in the East, as well as any offerings. You bless this space with the four elements of Earth (salt), Air (incense), Fire (candle) and Water (literally water). You would also invoke the God/Goddess if you work with any, a candle to represent each.
- Blessing the Space and Invoking the Elements: those four elements used at the altar are then cast in a clockwise directions around the circle.
- Calling the Quarters: this is the part when you face the five directions; North (earth and body), South (fire and will), East (air and mind), West (water and emotions) and Centre (spirit and the heavens).
- The ritual itself would be performed after this establishment of sacred space and energy.
- At the end of your ritual there would be a sharing of “cakes and ale” which does not have to be alcoholic or contain gluten. You would also pass the plate and cup between one-another with a blessing to the person you’re passing onto. This portion is rather similar to the Christian practice of “passing peace” and the Eucharist.
- After that the circle is opened and normal chatter may resume.
As you can see, the main purpose of most ritual whether it is Christian, Pagan or Spiritualist is usually to channel higher energies and reconnect ourselves with spirit. The post ritual supper is also very important because it returns you to the present physical realm so that you can go back to normal.
What you do within the ritual will often vary depending on your objective, but here are the basics you can use to set an intention or channel different energies:
- Music: this can be in the form of drums, singing, bowls or other instruments. It should always be a live version since recorded sound does not have the resonance needed to accomplish anything. Rhythm is also a key component since it has been proven to affect brainwaves and assist people in achieving trance states.
- Dancing: never underestimate the need to physically move in order to raise energy. It can be as simple as a conga-line, stamping feet or clapping hands. The wilder forms of magic based on nature spirits needs abandonment of the ego in the form of free-movement.
- Chanting: again, using the voice and certain tones of resonance will invoke particular energies, but also the words are vital. Chanting has the effect of both stating your intention and then aligning your energy to it.
- Adornment: how you dress is also of consideration. Your appearance should be pleasing but not disrespectful. Ritualistic washing is sometimes done before the main ritual so that you enter the space cleansed of other energies. The colours you wear, jewellery, makeup etc all play a role in the ritual. Like warriors painting themselves before battle, it can also serve to change your state of mind before the ritual.
- Fire and Water: often when we practice ritual we only use small amounts of the elements, however a proper cauldron fire for burnt offerings or the submersion into water have a bigger impact.
- Location: this can really affect the dynamic of a ritual. For example, a cave ritual is very different to a beach ritual and they will serve different purposes.
- Celestial Events: it can be just as crucial to consider the movement of the heavens when it comes to timing a ritual. Most pagan practices revolve around the Sabbats (Wheel of the Year festivals) and the Esbats (full moons). However, a new moon may serve your purpose better than a full moon, or an alignment between planets might be especially auspicious. A date on the calendar might also have meaning for you.
- Offerings: your offerings to spirit can take many forms and should be in alignment with either the occasion or the purpose. You may just be expressing gratitude and so an offering of bread and flowers is used, or you may be setting an intention in which case paper written with the intention is used and a combination of herbs and spices included. Some (more serious) rituals call for bodily fluids which can be tears, blood or sex fluids. Whatever your offering is, it’s supposed to be you parting with something of value.
A ritual, at its most basic form, is an exchange of energy. What you put out you theoretically get back so the more time, attention to detail, and effort you make; the better the outcome.
I find it useful to spend time preparing for a ritual by meditating on what my objective is and what elements will align with that. When I have a clear plan in my head I can start designing the ritual and gathering all the ingredients as well as setting up the space and waiting for the right astrological alignments.