An Analysis of
The Structure of Neo-Pagan Ritual

This is a fairly detailed outline - although there may be some steps i have left out - and it is unlikely that any individual, group, or tradition will perform absolutely all of them. Some steps may occur in a slightly different order. This is NOT the BE-ALL and END-ALL of NEO-PAGAN RITUAL. I have read lots of books and have been performing ritual since the mid-1960's alone and since the early 1980's with others. I am not a Wiccan, but have read numerous books on Wicca. I have trained in two neo-Pagan Wiccan-influenced traditions and a couple non-Wiccan systems. I have also been exposed to several Pagan traditions through academic classes in anthropology, folklore, religion, and have traveled through and lived in countries with living Pagan traditions. I have friends in a fairly large number of different traditions and have been a participant in a variety of rituals, both in terms of tradition and of purpose. But while i have wide and varied experience, there's still plenty i don't know and haven't done.

For example, i confess that i am not deeply interested in ceremonial type ritual. i have read various books, grimoires, etc., and have participated in some OTO and Golden Dawn rituals, but i don't know this material as well as i know other neo-Pagan systems. Ceremonial rituals will differ significantly in detail (e.g., use of Lesser Banishing Pentagram, Hebrew or Enochian names and calls, etc.), but the GENERALITIES of form will be similar - prepare, perform, and experience.

This outline shows definite Wiccan influence, but is not strictly Wiccan. I am always interested in what other people think, so you can .


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I. Before: Pre-Preparation

A. Prepare ritual

  1. Plan the ritual, write and organize (memorize, rehearse, etc.) (if spontaneous, not necessary to write, but good to have a general outline of form)
  2. Notify participants
  3. Assemble ritual needs

B. Prepare space

  1. Physically prepare space, clean, move furniture (if public: rent hall, get permits to use park, etc.)
  2. Have all ritual needs in ritual space (candles, incense, statues, tools, etc.)
  3. Set up altar

C. Prepare self

  1. Special bath; Meditation; Fast; etc.
  2. Dress (or undress) for the occasion

II. The Ritual

A. In-Ritual Preparation

  1. Attune all participants
    1. Chant, such as OM, AH, MA;
    2. Conspire, i.e., breathe in unison;
    3. Ground and Center;
    4. Visualization;
    5. Meeting Dance
  2. Banish negative/ distracting/ unsuitable energies from space and participants
    1. sweep with broom
    2. cense, smudge (use smoke from smoldering herbs, etc.)
    3. chant
  3. Purify and bless (sacralize) space and participants
    1. cense, smudge
    2. asperse (use aspergillum or other tool or hand to sprinkle participants with water)
    3. chant

B. Create Sacred Time and Space

  1. Cast the Circle
    1. Draw with athame, sword, or wand - most common method - usually by one person
    2. Use stones, candles, shells, fruits, vegetables, etc. to mark boundaries; scatter grain, cornmeal, sand, salt, pollen, flower petals, herbs in circular pattern
    3. Dance circle into being; spiral dance - all participants
    4. Cast the circle through sound: song; simple chant; rising chorus of spontaneous pitches; wild animal noises; music - all participants
    5. Combine circle casting, quarter calling and visualization as entire group moves from quarter to quarter- all participants
  2. Call the Quarters = directions/ Guardians/ Elements/ Angels/ etc.
    1. Standard "quarter calls," poems, chants, etc., which are used unaltered for every ritual
    2. Alter quarter calls to suit season, mythos, or purpose of ritual;
    3. Call appropriate deities, angels, etc., at quarters;
    4. Call quarters silently using body movement, Sign Language, ...
    5. Standard direction and element associations: East-Air; South-Fire; West-Water; North-Earth; may include Center-the Quintessence/Ether, and/or Above and Below
    6. "Cross" Quarters: NE-dust (earth+air), SE-smoke (air+fire), SW-steam (fire+water), NW-mud (water+earth) - and you'd be cross, too, if people forgot to call you ;-)
    7. Use different directions and elemental associations, such as: other Wiccan, Tibetan Buddhist, Chinese, Neo-Native American, specific to mythos or culture associated with ritual, specific to local geography, one's own inspiration (one system i was trained in uses 20 directions!)
    8. It is usual draw a pentagram (unicursal 5-pointed star) or pentacle (pentagram within a circle) in the air at each quarter after the recitation of the call;
      the pentagram may or may not vary with the quarter in terms of element and/or color visualized and/or directions of hand gestures
  3. Honor/ Invite the Ancestors and/or Precursers
    not part of all neo-Pagan traditions
    1. Those who have changed from a seen to an unseen existence or energy form
      1. A person's vital energy does not cease to exist, but changes form or locus
      2. Actualized through ritual/magic, in some cultures/systems
      3. Honored because their existence has allowed us to exist, in most cultures/systems
    2. Our Ancestors - our blood relatives, family, kin
    3. The Mighty Dead (of the Craft) - those who have preceeded us in our magical tradition
    4. Our Teachers
      1. May be still alive, as in Hinduism (Guru) and Buddhism
      2. Those not related to us by blood whose lives have been important to us
      3. Honored, not "worshipped"
    5. Sample Call:
      • Blood ancestors,
        whose living allows us to be here now;
        Ancient and Mighty Ones of the Outer Dark,
        whose magic allows us to circle here now;
        Our Teachers, who may be dead or still alive,
        whose wisdom and knowledge allows us to work here now;
        And all those who, though not related to us by blood,
        have inspired and enlivened us;
        We invite you here, and welcome you if you wish to share in our circle.
        We honor you. Know that our thanks are directed to you
        as your energy has been directed through us.
  4. Invoke the Deities
    may or may not include:
    1. spoken, chanted or sung invocation by an individual
    2. spoken, chanted or sung invocation by the group
    3. "aspecting" - light trance
    4. "channelling" - deep trance
    5. deity possession - very deep, usually ecstatic, trance

C. The Working - The Purpose - the Heart of the Ritual

  1. Celebration Of Moon Cycle
    1. Full Moon - most typically (Lunar Esbat)
    2. New Moon
    3. Specific Other Phase of Moon
      usually chosen for magical purposes
  2. Celebration Of Season (the Solar Sabbats)
    1. Quarter Days - Lesser Sabbats in a Celtic-based system
      1. Winter Solstice (Yule) - Dec. 19-22
      2. Vernal/ Spring Equinox (Ostara) - Mar. 19-22
      3. Summer Solstice (Litha) - Jun. 19-22
      4. Autumnal/ Fall Equinox (Mabon) - Sept. 19-22
    2. Cross-Quarter Days - Greater Sabbats in a Celtic-based system
      midway between solstice and equinox
      actual date approx. 5th, 6th, or7th of the month
      1. Samhain, Hallowmas - conventionally Oct. 31-Nov. 1
      2. Imbolc, Oimelc, Candlemas - conventionally Feb. 1
      3. Beltaine - conventionally May 1
      4. Ludhnassagh, Lammas - conventionally Aug. 1
  3. Ritual Drama: Re-enactment of Myth
  4. Celebration of a particular aspect of Deity
  5. Rite of Passage: celebrating changes in personal or societal states of being
    examples:
    1. Birth, Baby Naming, Wiccaning
    2. Miscarriage, Abortion
    3. Menarche (for girls)
    4. Adulthood
    5. Initiation
    6. Handfasting, Marriage
    7. Handparting, Separation, Divorce
    8. Menopause (for women)
    9. Eldering, Croning
    10. Death
  6. Guided Visualization/ Meditation/ Path Working (can bring about deity possession)
    1. To ground, cleanse, focus, induce light trance, heal, even raise energy
    2. Decide where it should fall within the ritual - can preceed circle casting or be centerpiece of ritual
  7. Magic
    1. Spellworking
    2. Healing
    3. Developing a particular quality in ourselves (e.g., courage)
  8. Deity Possession: Ecstatic Trance
    1. Personally experience our union with the Divine - a valuable goal in itself
    2. Transmit Divine power, knowledge, blessing, healing
    3. Perform Magic
    4. Raise and Direct Energy
  9. Raising and Directing Energy
    1. State Purpose
    2. Raise Energy
      1. Silent: Pass energy psychically around a stationary circle
      2. Non-Verbal Sounds: Hum; Laugh; Ululate; Shout; Howl and make other animal noises
      3. Verbal: Chant; Sing
      4. Musical: Play Rhythm Instruments
      5. Physical: Dance; Other Movement
      6. Sexual: Solo; with Partner;
        rarely with more than a couple, and generally in private
    3. Focus, Direct, and Release Energy
    4. Ground ourselves and any excess energy (eating is also grounding, see D.2.)

D. "Communion"

  1. Blessings of the Deities/ Cakes and Wine/ Symbolic Great Rite
    from intangible to tangible
    1. union of opposites/ all elements (end of duality)
    2. link deities and participants
    3. fertility rite, which we can transmute into creativity-spiritual
  2. The Sacred Feast: Sharing Food and Drink
    tangible
    1. link deities to participants through blessing, sacralizing food
    2. link participants to each other through sharing food
    3. acknowledge the Divine in each of us - actual
    4. feed the deities, too - some beverage and food in libation bowl;
      and if honoring the Ancestors/ Mighty Ones, feed them, too.
  3. "Sacrobabble," "Sacred Bullshit"
    1. social: link participants - sharing conversation;
      try to keep related to topic of ritual
    2. physical: grounding - through eating and relaxing
    3. psychological: easing toward return to mundane reality

E. Return to Ordinary Consciousness/State of Being

  1. Grounding: Release extraneous magical energy
  2. Devoking, Dismissing or Banishing: Thank the Deities, Ancestors, Elementals
  3. Unwinding, Opening the Circle: Take down sacred circle, Return to Ordinary Time and Space
  4. Sample:

III. After

A. Mundane

  1. All participants leave: may socialize for a while, help clean up (one should hope!)
  2. Clean Up Space - Put Everything Away

B. Magical

  1. "The 24-Hour Rule": Don't talk about magical working for at least 24 hours afterwards
  2. "Acting in Accord": Taking action in the mundane world to bring about the goal of the magical working

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