The following lessons first appeared as an online study class on the subject of rituals. This particular section covers, among other things, ritual space, cleansing rites, shielding, centering, tools, gestures, movements, words, the basic steps and what to do when something goes wrong. This section also covers how to create rituals.
LESSON 1: WHAT THE HECK *IS* A RITUAL????
Glad you asked! Bottom line: a ritual is a “routine” that puts you in certain frame of mind.
For example, the preparations you make prior to going to bed are a ritual! Brushing your teeth, removing your clothes, putting things away, adjusting lights, checking the locks or letting out the cats, etc. Some of you may, in fact, be so locked into this ritual that if you miss, forget, or do any of your routine actions wrong, you find yourself unable to go to sleep!
What makes this “ritual” rather than just “routine”? The purpose of a routine is to get a job/chores done. To get the kids off to school, the bills paid, the paperwork done. The purpose of a ritual is, as I’ve said, to put you in a frame of mind; the tasks you do prior to bed get a job done, but they also cue your brain and body for sleep. They ready you for something that most people look forward to–the safety of bed, the delight of sleep, a trip to the dream plane.
And this is what makes your pre-bed tasks “ritual” rather than routine, and this is why you are usually consistent about it. Not because (as with the bills) they won’t get done otherwise.
Ok! A ritual, at it’s most *basic* level, is a routine that puts you in a frame of mind. But beyond that basic level, rituals can help you focus energy, transform yourself, your situation, or merely assist you in getting what you want. It’s important for worship, for magic, for meditation.
To put it another way, a ritual, in the context of this class, is a ceremony or rite for the purpose of focusing psychic, magickal and spiritual energies. There are usually three, general reasons for performing a ritual (in this context):
(1) To dedicate or rededicate yourself to a higher power or purpose. (2) To transform or alter a situation, an thing, another person or yourself. (3) To discover an answer.
First basic step: Purpose.
The purpose of a ritual is what alters it from routine to ritual. I’ll offer here a personal example:
Not long after my husband and I married, we found ourselves in a holiday quandary: I had no desire to celebrate Hannukah, and his fond memories of Christmas with his mom (now dead), made him identify that holiday with her loss.
So, we decided to create our own tradition. Being pagans, we focused on Winter Solstice– and I decided that our holiday meal for the Solstice would be a High Tea.
This year, only our second celebrating Winter Solstice as a “family,” something strange happened when I went shopping for the Tea.
When I went to the store it *felt* different! The store had been filled with decorations and holiday music since November, so it wasn’t that. And, being that it wasn’t yet Christmas, no one else was purchasing goods for a holiday dinner–
But *I* was! That’s how it felt! As I walked the aisles, I knew I was purchasing things for a special evening–a *sacred* evening. As I baked and worked in the kitchen, I knew I wasn’t just making dinner–or even a special dinner–my dinner was going to be a part of the celebration.
In short, the *purpose* of the ritual made routine, mundane elements *special,* even *sacred*. Shopping, cleaning, cooking.
Purpose is the single most important aspect of any ritual. You have to know exactly what that purpose is, and, if you can, you should be able to look forward to it–a ritual is *special* and must be seen as such, treated as such. Otherwise, it just becomes routine.
So, we’ll say this now and keep repeating as necessary: before you decide on any ritual, ask yourself, “what is this ritual for?” If your answer to that question is kinda fuzzy, then re-think it. Ask yourself “what do I *really* want?” You might get a friend to help you pare away the dead wood (ex: “I want my parents to change” “change how?” “They’re never satisfied with me” “In everything you do?” “Well, no, they’re not satisfied with my relationships” “Do you want them to be satisfied? “I don’t want to care about what they think—I don’t want to feel like I need their approval!” “So, you want to transform yourself so you don’t rely on their approval?” “Yes!”)–you want to be CLEAR and SPECIFIC.
Understand (example notwithstanding) that the purpose doesn’t need to be grand or earthshaking, nor the ritual that complex–you don’t have to spend the entire day preparing for a ritual. Rituals can be done simply, even off the cuff. But, however simple or small, you must remember to be very focused on the PURPOSE.
An example of a very small ritual is that of a Catholic crossing themselves (blessing themselves) before entering a church. This is a quick, simple ritual–touch the holy water, genuflect and a cross. And yet, it immediately gets our Catholic into a frame of mind for prayer and worship.
Note, however, that the simplicity of this ritual works, in part, because it has long been identified with its purpose. Our Catholic has been crossing himself for years just prior to prayer and worship. There is also another factor involved that is also important to a ritual, and that is the space!
SPACE! The final…. oh, wait…different space.
You can perform a ritual *ANYWHERE*. In the restroom stall of a 747, in your shower, in the back of your car, at your desk, and here, in cyberspace!
While it is altogether possible and viable that you could perform a ritual on a busy street corner you would (1) have to be sure you could tune out the noise or *use* the noise and (2) be sure you wouldn’t be arrested.
Thus, a good space for rituals is usually one that is isolated and quiet.
If possible, you want your ritual space to be “special”. If you are lucky enough to have a spare room (a meditation room or library) then this is where you want to have your rituals. The separateness of this room from the rest of the house (it’s not where you sleep or cook or work or entertain) makes it instantly special.
If you’re doubly lucky, then you have a backyard, and an area in that yard perfect for outdoor rituals! Perhaps it’s an area with a pond or a gazebo. You might even consider making a corner of your backyard into a ritual area—putting in special flowers, herbs, a small fountain or statue, etc.
Alas, most of us are not so lucky! So what’s a poor, one-bedroom urbanite to do? Designate a corner for your sacred space! Put up an oriental screen in front of it, or mark it off by the set up of the furniture. Just be sure *TO DESIGNATE IT!*
You want to designate an area a ritual space because when you do– (1) You instantly make it special; you give *it* a purpose; and so, when you step into that space, you more easily step into the mindset–rather like crossing a magic threshold into a magic space (and it *should* feel magical!). (2) The more ritual/meditation/magic you do in this space, the more attuned to you the space will become; the rituals will also become easier and more powerful, the space more sacred and magical.
When these lessons were posted, I received some really cool ideas for solving the space problem. Alexandra Sestak had this solution:
<<A friend of mine found a lovely solution to her sacred space which I’d like to share:
What she did was suspend a bar from the ceiling in front of a corner, forming a triangle with the walls (I guess a curtain rail would work just as nicely). She has curtains hanging from the bar which she ties back whenever she uses the space. It’s a bit of an eye-catcher and conversation piece, so maybe the screen is subtler… >>
Mary Barzee came up with the marvelous space solution by having a rug which she could roll out (rather like a prayer rug), and use as her sacred space. She could then roll it back up and put it away in a closet. What is terrific about this idea is that you can take the rug (your special space) with you wherever you go!
If you go with this unique idea, make sure you pick out a special rug, and take special care of it, cleaning it with natural cleansers and tucking it away with lavender and other herbs to keep away the moths.
Ultimately, you want to be able to say: this area is *my* sacred space for rituals. A floating space (now in the bedroom, now in the kitchen) won’t work nearly so well.
“But,” you say, “I only have a little studio apartment!!! So Can my ritual space be the *entire* apartment?”
Absolutely! Your home *is* a sacred space already! Your mindset changes when you arrive there. It is set up to reflect you and your personality, and it’s purpose is to shelter and protect you. So, if necessary, then, of course, the apartment can serve as the ritual space.
A section of the apartment, dedicated to rituals, will still, however, work better– remember *PURPOSE*. Your mindset changes according to where you are–your mindset at home is different than when it is in the workplace or in a “church”. This ritual area must, when you step into it, give you the mindset to perform rituals.
If you absolutely cannot designate a space just for rituals (if you have to, say, share that space with your desk or dinner table), then try other things to make the transition special–one of the best ways to do this is to reserve a special outfit (or, if you’re Wiccan and comfortable with the idea, go Skyclad) for rituals–a favorite robe, for example. Separate stepping into that area in daily life, with stepping into it for a ritual.
Last point on finding an area: Make sure you *can* do rituals there! We don’t want anyone tossed in jail for trespassing, nor do we want anyone performing a ritual on some gang turf where you’re likely to get shot. Also, *DON’T* do rituals in an area already “sacred” without the assistance of a experienced Priest/Priestess. Mosques, Cathedrals, Burial Grounds and ancient Pyramids carry a history of very old, very powerful energy, not all of which may be good for you! Stomping out onto someone’s sacred Burial ground to perform a ritual is not only rude, but foolish. You don’t know what energies may interfere with you.
Ok, you’ve found your space–your corner, your room, your little area just for rituals. How do you make it a ritual area?
DECORATING: Two recommendations: (1) Decorate this space as your instincts tell you, whether bare or cluttered, lovely or strange. Look around your home–or, better yet, make a special shopping expedition for pictures, candles, statues, pillows, incense burners, flower vases, etc. And if something screams out at you, don’t try to analyze why it seems right, just find a place for it (During one ritual, I ended up with a glass jar filled with chunks of white chocolate on my alter–just because something told me to use it!).
(2) Try to give the area a “theme”–a feel, either in color or style or symbols (ex’s: red Russian votive candles, red pillows and a red screen to separate the area/a lava lamp, black light, psychedelic posters/ seashells, ocean posters, dolphin statues). A theme helps to create that “special” feel, helps make that area magic.
****The single most important thing a ritual space *MUST* have, no matter how spare, is a spiritual symbol. This can be a feather, a yin/yang symbol, a book, a crucifix, crystal, a Buddha or a statue of Kali. Whenever you hold as “DIVINE”, no matter how abstract, find a symbol to represent it, and put it in a prominent place in your ritual area (a shelf or alter). It’s best if it’s placed at or just above eye level.****
Let me pause here, for a moment, to remind you all that what I’m doing here is telling you about items useful for effective rituals (like a sacred space), but not yet the steps. There are steps to cleansing and dedicating the space; cleansing and dedicating a space will, in fact, usually be (should be!) your *FIRST* ritual in that space.
So go out and purchase decorations if you like, but hold off actually decorating the area (or setting the Guardian symbol in its place) until you’ve read about cleansing and dedicating your space.
I’m going to be discussing the various items that you might want to consider using in rituals. Understand that (1) you can do a ritual utterly and totally barehanded (and naked! As those of you who’ve read the W101.TXT lesson may recall, the ritual done in the shower) and (2) that, so far as I’m concerned, almost *any* item can be used in a ritual–whether it be a rubber fish or a lampshade.
But there are things that seem to be inherently ritualistic–meaning that (historically, culturally, symbolical and spiritually) they make a ritual “feel” like a ritual.
I want to discuss items that you can BURN first as they are the most common ritual items. They are also the most dangerous items in the ritual. You can burn yourself, or your home, you can accidentally breath in noxious fumes. I don’t want you to get rid of the candles or incense burners–I definitely want you to use them, just safely! As Trailstalker pointed out in her commentary on Charcoal burners (noted below) <<As with anything, take care with the small things… a half assed effort at bringing fire to earth within your ritual sets up your ritual to be half assed>>. The details here are not only for safety’s sake, but for the success of the ritual.
NOTE: if you do create a flame, do not blow it out. Snuff it out with fingers, the tip of your knife, or a snuffer.
What can you burn?
(1) Candles! Lovely and making an incredible resurgence! Candles are in fashion, and choice of candles and candle holders is really limitless. Just remember: Candle wax can be nasty, spilled on you or your furniture! Use a wet warm cloth to get it out of carpets or off things (for carpets, try the ice and iron method–chill the wax with ice, then place a paper bag over it and iron the bag–keep the heat low. The bag will absorb the melting wax. Make sure your carpet is of a material that *can* be ironed!).
Bees wax candles will burn without dripping wax (as will some others)–so you might want to consider them first.
(2) Candle holders: Lovely as free- standing holders are, they’re a danger, easily knocked over (especially in California, earthquake country!). Choose deep holders with a high walls and short, squat candles over tall thin ones. If you must have a tall candle, get a spiked holder. Or try floating candles that drift on water. Also viable are lanterns that surround the candle with glass, or holders, like the hanging sailor’s lantern (try *Pottery Barn*), that surround the candle in a metal cage.
(3) Oil: Usually used in lamps–lamps can be as dangerous as candles–if they fall, they’ll spill, and the spilled oil can catch fire (or just stain the carpet. Also, beware, lantern oil is toxic if swallowed!). Again, a lantern with glass walls is safer, or oil floated on water with a special floating wick–or an oil lamp that is hefty and not likely to fall over when you breathe on it!
(4) Incense burners: cones are a little safer than sticks, which are flimsy and have to be fitted into tiny holes. Sticks are more likely to fall and burn something. Cones have a little more stability and the advantage that they can be put *inside* a squat burner with a perforated lid. Less likely to fall over, more easily snuffed if the burner does fall. A cone *inside* a burner is safer than one outside. Just remember that the burner gets HOT!
(5) Charcoal burners: Information on these kindly provided by Trailstalker:
<<BASIC: Be SURE that you have sand or gravel or something in your container under your charcoal to absorb/shield/insulate the heat. I know this sounds like a “no brainer” but you would be amazed at the number of people who don’t do that and wind up with their grandmother’s favorite antique cherrywood sidetable ruined with scorch marks….or their new bazillion dollar wall to wall carpet deep pile with little brown spots (that are NOT the dog’s fault).
When using charcoals be sure that the entire charcoal is red-hot before applying herbs. As with anything, take care with the small things…a half assed effort at bringing fire to earth within your ritual sets up your ritual to be half assed.
Do not blow on your charcoal with you mouth…this is considered rude to Spirit. Use your hand or a feather or a fan dedicated to the purpose.>>
(6) Substances that burn to be inhaled: Don’t use if sleepy, keep an ashtray handy, and be careful! Grind them out thoroughly.
(8) Fires: If inside, use a fire screen (make sure chimney is clear!), if outside, bank them well, and put them out thoroughly! Don’t wear flowing clothing (and braid, wet down or pin up long hair!) if you plan on leaping over or through the flames.
(7) If using matches, keep an ashtray on hand for them. If burning *anything,* have water or sand, a wet towel or an extinguisher on hand as well as your snuffer.
(8) ****NEVER leave a burning substance untended!!!!!****
The steps: As mentioned before, a ritual can be impromptu or off the cuff. It can also be as complex as you care to make it. Barring these two “extremes” the middle ground *usually* looks something like this:
1) Preparation (includes creating the ritual, preparing for it) 2) Self-cleansing 3) Shielding/Centering/Casting the circle/Calling powers 4) Statement of purpose 5) Body of ritual: Focusing/Raising the Energy/Meditation 6) Sending off the energy 7) Grounding/Meditation 8) Releasing powers 9) Open Circle/Conclude
Remember that this is a *VERY GENERAL* outline of steps for a very *generic* ritual. It will grow, shrink, change depending on what your ritual is trying to do.
First step: Preparing. Once you’ve decided on the purpose for the ritual, once you’ve decided what will happen in the ritual, and write it up in detail, then you need to prepare for it.
1) GET YOUR SPACE READY!
First, *clean it*: Trailstalker offered some great cleansing ideas for a ritual space, especially for that first dedication ritual:
<< We washed it down *THOROUGHLY* with salt water…starting in the east corner and working clockwise….>>
Brief reminder note here: clockwise (deosil) *creates* and counterclockwise (widdershins) “undos”–so if you want to create something, go clockwise, undo go counterclockwise.
<<The carpet gets treated with baking soda, sea salt and other herbs (rather than use chemical storebought carpetfresh)….whenever possible use all natural cleaning products. (personally I also look for cruelty free products as well…. plus I use nothing from Procter & Gamble because of their environmental policies of abuse and disinformation).>>
You can find natural cleaning products (products that use no chemicals) at most health food stores. Sweep, polish, vaccume, and straighten things up. A messy space will interfere with your movements (if any). And cleaning reminds you that you’re going to be doing something special–you’re making things nice (as well as spiritually clear) for what’s to come.
2) DECORATE THE SPACE!
Your space is *not* (nor should it be unless it’s important to you!) immutable. If keeping the space looking one particular way is not essential to you, than you should think of changing it depending on the ritual.
Change the color of the table cloth on the alter, change the candles or candle holders, choose new objects for the four quarters (like your chalice–the fine pewter goblet you used for Lammas may be right for that time of year, but why not crystal for Winter? Or one with a celestial sun on it for Midsummer?)
Consider putting out new potpourris (seasonal smells are wonderful for emphasizing the feel of a ritual–a fragrance can get you into a mindset quicker than anything your eyes see. For example, I recently saw a sunflower potpourri that I thought would be perfect for Lammas, as well as an apple potpourri perfect for Autumnal Equinox. Every Yule, I make sure to get a special potpourri, all red, green and snowy white, that smells like White- Chocolate mint. Once it’s out, *then* I know it’s Yule).
If you have a doorway into your space (or a closet there) why not hang seasonal wreaths above it (or on a nearby wall)?
Change the flowers in the vase! Go out into nature and bring in what you find out there, what the season *itself* hands you to use as decoration.
3) HAVE NECESSARY ITEMS READY FOR RITUAL.
Here is a list of some of the things you might want to have in your home/space for use in rituals and or creating your space (remember, you can do a ritual bare-handed and naked, which is to say that none of these items are essential to a ritual, so don’t feel that you need them all. Pick whatever seems right for you):
Alter cloths,Candles, incense burner, incense, Atheme, Broom, Cauldron (a little copper pot will do just fine), herbs, (dried and bottled), Essential oils, Potpourri, flowers (vase for flowers), goblets, Small bowls (for salt, salt water, etc), Feather(s), Sea shells, crystals, Colored ribbons, Bells, Compass (for finding North), Mirrors, Postcards/framed pictures, Pentacle/pentagram (or other religious symbol), Statues, Tarot cards (or other divination tools), Drums, Rattles, Stereo, Walkman, music (best for playing while your prepare although some people like to have music during a ritual)
SPECIAL PREPARATION NOTE: You can get your space ready (cleaned and decorated) ahead of time. But it is essential that right *BEFORE* you get ready to start the ritual, before you cleanse yourself, you *PREPARE YOUR HOME* meaning that you shut off lights (this has the added advantage of discouraging people from knocking on your door thinking you’re home), adjust curtains or blinds, inform your spouse not to bother you for 2 hours (if he/she is *not* part of the ritual–get him/her out of the house if you can), put the children to bed or get them out of the house (unless they’re part of the ritual), make sure the dog is taken care of (don’t worry about cats, they’re *always* part of a ritual–whether you want them there or no), lock the doors, turn off the phone ringers, turn down the sound on the answering machine and prepare the CD/tape player with the music you want.
Also, if you haven’t already, have *EVERYTHING* needed for the ritual to hand! You don’t want to have to stop and leave the circle to get something once you’ve started.
****A point here that we shall reiterate once we get into creating the actual rituals– at the top of the page on which you write up your ritual, create a “shopping list”. List everything required for the ritual. That way, when it comes to doing it, you can just scan the list and have everything there in the space.
You might also want to think about having either a closet, shelves or locked chest in your space (or right next to it), where you can keep all ritual items.****
Cleansing *yourself*, physically and psychically, is often overlooked– neglecting it can put a dent in the ritual, while doing it can really enhance the ritual–it can clear your mind, put you in the right mood, and re- energize you.
In short, it feels good to be clean, and when you clean yourself up for an occasion, you recognize and do homage to it’s being special.
Nevertheless, you don’t have to take a shower before every ritual. Here are the simpler options:
(1) One easy self-cleansing method is to sprinkle a little SALTWATER on yourself. Get a small bowl, fill with purified water, and put in 3 small spoonfuls (if you have an Atheme, use it as the scoop; stir with it 3 times counterclockwise). Hold a hand over it and bless it. Dip in your fingers and sprinkle yourself with it.
This salt water can also be use to cleanse tools, alter and ritual space.
(2) AROMATIC OIL can also be used to self- cleanse/purify–anoint yourself with sage oil or other cleansing oils. Just touch a drop to the five points–feet, knees, pubis, heart, lips or to the seven Chakra points–base of crown, third eye, hollow of the throat, heart, above the navel, below the navel and pubis.
(3) SMUDGING is a very potent and magical cleansing method–here you use smoke from burning sage or cedar to cleanse yourself. Once again, this info was provided by Trailstalker: <<Start with your left side/feminine side (always take care of the feminine first). Pass the smoke over your arms…underneath…down the left leg…pay attention to the feet. Repeat the procedure on your right/masculine side.
Place the smoke at groin level and move up the chakra points…pass the smoke down your spine. Place the bowl at your heels and let the smoke drift up over you. Touch up any places that still feel a little “off”.
While you are doing all of this smudging visualize the smoke lifting all the black, dirty, negative little particles off of you and carrying them away of the body of the smoke.>>
(4) Another easy cleansing method is AURA cleansing–take a wand, feather, or the branch of either an herb, flower or tree (again, a cleansing herb like sage), and brush it around yourself, up one side and down the other, to cleanse your aura.
(5) One of the simplest (and my favorite) methods is ritualistic WASHING OF HANDS. When you’re finished preparing your space, set a small table with a towel, bowl and pitcher just outside the sacred area. Fill the pitcher with purified water–maybe rose water, salt water, or water fragrance with a drop of essential oils, lemon juice or the petals of a flower or herbs. Just before entering the space, pour the water over your hands, one then the other and dry them. It’s simple, but incredibly effective!
If you are outside (and you can) wash hands in a rushing stream, lake or the ocean.
Washing hands under the faucet will also work, but it won’t have as much power as a stream of water from a pitcher.
If your ritual is important–a deep self- transformation, for example, one of the eight Sabbats, a full moon or re-dedication, if you’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, then go all out with the cleansing!
(6) SHOWERS! Make sure it is a candlelit shower! If a shower, get a special soap for the occasion–make sure it’s a vegetable soap, perhaps sandalwood, sage, lavender, rosemary (a *wonderful* soap if you can find it!) or citrus (citrus is *very* cleansing). You may want to use one of those special sponges/scrubs that gently scrubs away dead skin. Give your hair a wash with an herbal shampoo–imagine the water washing away all negative energy, imagine it rinsing all clutter away, leaving only you and your purpose behind.
(7) A BATH is equally if not more potent than a shower; you step in one person, you step out reborn, cleansed–try bath salts (citrus, lavender), or bath oils. Light a candle, shut off the lights, and sink into the hot, soothing, fragrant waters. Imagine the power of the water drawing out negative energy and impurities from you, soothing out the tangles, drifting through you, erasing clutter, fear, worry and all unrelated thoughts. As you step out, you are left pure, reborn, renewed and ready for your ritual.
Don’t forget to have big, fluffy towels waiting–there’s nothing that can throw you off faster than, just after a wonderful shower or bath, finding yourself without towels (and having to stomp out, all damp and drippy and cold looking for them!).
(8) One of the last, and the MOST potent of all cleansings is to take a dip, preferably a skinny dip, into a lake, stream, under a waterfall or, best of all, into the Ocean. This is truly like entering as one person, and stepping out purified, reborn. In this case, as you enter you want to feel the natural power of the water–it’s holistic connection to life on earth, and your connection to same though it. Feel the natural movements of waves and running water, feel where the water came from and all it’s brought with it. Absorb some of that magic even as you let it wash and cleanse you.
***Understand, by the way, that these cleansing rituals are a *part* of the ritual itself. Preparing the space gets your mind focused on what’s to come. The ritual of cleansing is where you clear your mind (as well as your energy). It allows you to do to your mind and spirit what you did to your sacred space, clear it out, put it in order, make it clean and fresh and ready. Don’t ever neglect this part! Indulge in it, make the most of it!***
A final note: A light cleansing can be used to start the ritual, and then a deeper cleansing can be used as the Body of the ritual. If, for example, you feel that your ritual requires, in the middle, a deep meditation involving power of water, you may save the bath for the middle of the ritual instead of the beginning. Such a ritual might start with an aura brush, involve perhaps a ritualistic removal of clothing, most certainly a candle-lit bath, specially fragrance, perhaps words said, wine drunk while in the bath, and towels most definitely waiting at the end.
A ritual could also be done entirely in the shower, bath, stream, lake, ocean (or a group ritual in a hot tub or at a lake or at the ocean). So keep this option in mind!
Alright! You’re prepared, cleansed, ready to go.
WAIT! DON’T STEP INTO THAT SPACE! Have you shielded recently?
You definitely want to shield before a ritual. It’s a good idea to think of shielding yourself anyway, once a week or when things seem overwhelming (ever have those days when every little sound, every little distraction effected you like a firecracker going off? Whenever you feel that way, Shield immediately! It’ll help enormously!).
You want to do this ahead of time because you’re going to have your ritual on your mind, and you don’t want to be standing, just about to enter your space and think, “Darn! Forgot to shield!”
Shielding involves envisioning and creating a protective, permeable (you want the right energy to be let in, the wrong energy kept out) force around you. The most common shields are:
*Ring Pass Not*–with finger, wand or atheme, create around you a hula-hoop of silver (that will allow in the positive but keep out the negative); envision it spinning, faster and faster till it vanishes.
*Rainbow Spiral*–Sit crosslegged on the floor, hands resting on knees, relaxed, and from the earth draw up a rainbow spiral (that will allow in the positive but keep out the negative)–make your spiral wide and red at the bottom, tapering and spiraling up too a violet point over the crown of your head- -red, orange, yellow, green blue, indigo, violet, according to Chakra points (base of spine, genitals, solar plexus, heart, throat, third- eye and crown). Spin it around you until it vanishes into invisibility.
*Bubble*–Call up an iridescent, protective bubble before you, one as large as you are, and step into it. Imagine it allowing you to enter, but closing up behind you. Watch the colors of the bubble move faster and faster around you until it becomes invisible.
After you’ve shielded, you won’t feel as sensitive or as overwhelmed as you did before; the noise and static, the pins and needles of the world will be shut out, and there you are, protected and serene in the eye of the storm.
Do this early in the day or the day before a ritual, you don’t want to have to worry about it at the last minute.
Alright. The Space is ready. You’re shielded. You’ve just toweled off from a deliciously hot and soothing bath; you’ve put on your special robe/clothing/jewelry (or you’re skyclad), and now you stop the music you’ve had playing in the background.
In that moment of silence, you step into the space.
Light your candles. Most traditions have the lighting of the candles as a signal that the ritual has begun (don’t light any special candles, those there for candle magic, just the candle(s) that you have upon your alter, there to illuminate the space and give it the power of light). The lighting of the candles to signal that the ritual has begun is optional, but it is a nice and powerful beginning.
And now you center yourself.
Centering is the position a ballerina takes on stage just before the curtain goes up; it’s the on-guard position of a fencer just before the bout begins, the “On Your Mark/Get Set” position of a racer before the race. Centering is the slow lift and drop of arms in Tai Chi just before the moving meditation actually begins.
Centering is where you finally focus on *YOURSELF*. After attending to the purpose, the ritual, the space, the tools, now you, at last, take a minute to look at the center and power of the ritual, to remind yourself what this is all about, namely: YOU!
Centering is where you take command.
Here’s what you do: Stand with feet *comfortably* shoulder width apart (or seat yourself comfortably on the ground), relax the shoulders, straighten the spine. You should have a relaxed but straight posture, as if there were an invisible string running through you, up through the crown of your head.
Take in a gentle but filling breath, through the nose, released slowly out the mouth. As you draw in this air and release it, imagine the connection between you and the Earth- – there are two ways to do this, either imagine the Earth power being draw up through the soles of your feet to the crown of your head, or imagine the connection going down from head to feet, like water or roots into the Earth.
This anchors you. You should feel relaxed but alert, clear minded, calm.
You can see right away how this important this is for the ritual–*any ritual*. You’re going to be calling up powers here, from without and within yourself. You don’t want to be flustered or angry, sleepy or grumpy, foggy or uncomfortable. Energy you call up in that state can’t do you any good–it’ll only aggravate the muddled emotions you’re feeling, and radiate them outward. Not good. Centering brings you back into yourself, into that calm eye of the storm.
Centering also keeps the magic focused– imagine the magic as electricity–you’re the lightening rod, and it’s best if you’re grounded in the earth. Centering makes sure that you don’t “overload” during a ritual—the Earth is anchor, it helps you control the magic, and direct it.
Alright, now it’s time to draw the circle. The circle is the cauldron in which you work the magic. By drawing a circle, you contain the energy within; you create a place to mix and transform and build the energy until it’s ready to be released.
Note that once you’ve cast the circle, you should not leave and no one should enter. If an emergency arises, draw an imaginary door in the air, step out, take care of the emergency, step back in, and close up the door by “undrawing it”. Kids and animals are “exempt” from the “cannot enter” rule (cats most especially). They can enter and leave a circle without disturbing the magic.
You can draw a circle in countless ways: You can draw a physical circle, actually draw it with chalk, or colored sand or, if outside, scratch it into the dirt with a long stick.
Most magicians, however, simply point, with finger, wand, atheme, staff or broom and, turning, draw an imaginary circle in the air or on the ground. Some traditions ask that you imagine, as you draw the circle, that a fire follows in its wake, so that, for a moment, you are surrounded by flickering, supernatural flames, a ring of protective, magical fire.
Others traditions just say, point your fingers and turn. It’s up to you whether to draw the circle the same way each time, or change your method according to the mood/tone/theme/demand of the ritual. I, myself, like the change it. At Yule I used a broom to reinforce the “home” theme; I’ve also used driftwood, wand and atheme.
Nothing needs to be said as you cast the circle, but you might want to have some ritual phrase. I like to say an appropriate quote or a line of poetry as I cast my circle, so that I feel that I’m creating the right sort of “pot” for this special recipe.
You can also use unique items to focus your energy through as you turn and draw the circle–for example, you could use tarot cards. Choose an appropriate card (say, the High Priestess for a dark moon ritual, or the Empress for a harvest ritual or Death for Samhain), hold it face outward, and, aiming your energy through the card, draw the circle with it (just imagine your energy going through the card as light through a lens, to burn a circle around you).
You can also go out and get different “wands” to use for drawing the circle. A sprig of holly for drawing it a Yule, a flowering branch for Spring, applewood for Fall. You can use a rough bit of stone to etch a circle into the dirt, or a feather to create it, like a brush, upon the air. You can spill water or wine in a circle around you (champagne, powdered chocolate and rose petals were used for one memorable Valentine’s day circle), or spin with a lit stick of incense to create a circle of smoke.
The important thing is to envision and focus on creating an enclosed area, a “container” in which to work your magic.
After you’ve cast the circle, it’s time to call the quarters. The Quarters are a call for assistance. In calling/invoking the quarters, you make sure that all aspects of the Earth (and/or universe) are invited to assist you; the four variant “powers” or energies cover all the bases, sic (directions, elements). Whatever energies your ritual might require to succeed, they are there to help you.
Depending on your tradition, there are four/five quarters. They are usually called in the following order: East/Air, South/Fire, West/Water, North/Earth and, if you like, Center/Aether (spiritual element).
Each of these quarters, traditionally, also has a symbol upon the alter to represent it. Since we haven’t yet, let’s take a moment to chat about ALTERS!
Any table can serve as an alter including a patch of floor, shelves, dressing table, vanity, coffee table or folding t.v. tray. Some traditions place the alter to the north (so that when you face it, you face north) some to the East. If you have no choice in the matter (thanks to doors, heaters, shelving, etc.) and the only place for the alter is West or South), don’t worry about it. Put it where you can.
Upon your alter you can have any, all or none of the following as you choose: Your “guardian” symbol (that symbol of a power you feel is watching over you), candles/oil lamp, incense burner, Atheme, goblet, pentagram, cauldron, a small bowl of salt/salt water, essential oil, wand, bell, cakes/wine.
These items are the most commonly used items in spells, which is why they’re listed. The Atheme, Wand, Goblet, Pentagram and Cauldron can (and traditionally do!) stand for the five quarters (East-Atheme, South-Wand, West- Goblet, North-Pentagram and Cauldron at the Center).
But you have plenty of other options in regards to such symbols–a pen or feather for the East, a candle or an item made of metal to the South, seashells for the West, flowers or a bowl of earth for North, a crystal ball for the Center.
To show you how flexible these symbols can be: I once recommended to “Jewish” Pagan, that she place a spice box (a silver saltshaker- like box filled with spices, used in the havdalah ceremony) to the East, a Monorah to the South, a Wine goblet to the West, a Jewish star to the North and a miniature Torah at the Center.
You can, in short, use whatever seems right to you and your ritual to stand for these quarters (or you can use nothing, if you like). I mentioned before that I once had a jar filled with chunks of white chocolate upon my alter–it stood for North, and it seemed to fit just right! Tarot cards, postcards, pictures or runes are another option, as are four/five separate candles, statues or different essential oils.
And, once again, at Holiday time, you might consider heading out into the wilderness to see what nature can offer you as symbols.
The quarters (East/South/West/North– Air/Fire/Water/Earth) are common to almost every religion, modern or ancient. You can find them in Chinese Taoism, in Jewish Kabbalah, in Christian mysticism and in several Native American, African and South American tribal religions. It isn’t, therefore, too difficult to translate calling the quarters into almost any religion you might choose—you just have to have suitable God/Goddesses or Angels stand for the quarters. If you’re leaning towards a more Christian ritual, for example, than you call on the Angels: Michael (east), Raphael (south), Gabriel (West) and Uriel (North).
Your choice of God/Goddess, Angel or Saint is up to you, but you ought to choose either according to direction (as with the Angels) or Elements (Air, Fire, Water, Earth).
You may also use mythological creatures (dragons, sprites, etc.), animals, or historical figures that you feel are potent enough to bring the power of a quarter into your circle.
The calling itself can be very simple and/or direct: “Powers of Air be with me Now!”
Or it can be highly detailed and/or very poetic. Traditionally, the Powers are “described” as you invoke them, that description matching the purpose of the ritual. This, for example, was Grace’s calling for East, for the *YULE* ritual:
Over mountain, from sea of evergreen,
Through a blanket of snow,
I call the Guardians of the East.
Wake and join us now,
On crested wing of snowbird,
With the gentle scent of pine.
Lift us, raise us, our voices blend,
Bring us too your breath to lend.
Together we join
On this Yule we gather
To reclaim our New Born Sun.
Note the emphasis on Yuletide symbols and the gentleness of the calling—this was in sync with our Yule ritual which was very gentle and very, very *wintery*. Compare this to Starhawk’s invocation of the East which I used for Lammas:
Hail Guardians of the East! Powers of Air! We invoke you and call you Golden Eagle of the Dawn Star-seeker Whirlwind! Rising sun! Come! By the Air that is our breath, Send forth your knowledge Be with us now!
Much more dynamic, far less lyrical. The sentences are short, the images sharp, this to match a ritual that needed to start strong, stay strong and build to a very powerful climax.
You can have the same callings each time, or you can change them depending. Just remember that you will be needing a dismissal as well as a calling, so be sure you’ve thought up both.
CALLING THE GUARDIAN:
After you’ve called the quarters, it’s time to invoke (choose one or a combination):
(a) The Goddess (b) The God (c) Your Guardian “Power”.
Most certainly the Guardian power should be invoked even if you don’t choose to invoke either Goddess or God. It’s up to you. As with the Quarters, invite your Guardian (et al), to come be with you, and help you in your ritual.
Once you have done this you may now ritualistically say (as so beautifully phrased by Starhawk):
“The circle is cast, We are between worlds, Beyond the bounds of time, Birth and Death, Joy and Sorrow, Meet as one, Blessed be.”
Originally posted 2009-10-27 19:15:55. Republished by Blog Post Promoter