Ritual Restructuring

Today I did the first celebratory ritual I’ve done in years. Until recently, I’ve seen celebration as a casual thing. When I first got into neopaganism, I celebrated the eight Wiccan sabbats, but after a couple of years I started simply noting what was going on outside at that time of the year, wishing folks “Happy (insert holiday name here)”, and not much else.

Last spring, I read The Witches’ Sabbats by Mike Nichols, an excellent, concise text on the origins of these holidays. That got me wishing I had something to celebrate again, and that holidays were more special than simply wishing people the best. The desire to celebrate has been ruminating since then–not long after I read that book my contracted job ended unexpectedly thanks to forces beyond my control, a couple of months later we moved from Seattle to Portland, and I ended up with a new job that took twelve hours out of my day, five days a week. Things got pretty crazy for a while.

However, this autumn I’ve really been feeling Deer/Stag energy quite a bit. This is a high time for the deer family, as they’re in rut, and fighting and sex seem to be the key themes. Everything that deer in general have been doing over the past half a year or so has culminated in a few weeks of posturing, bashing antlers together, and getting it on. For me, this translates into preparing for the long, cold winter ahead, as well as fertility–but a longer-gestating fertility than the quicken-and-go fertility of spring. I have a few projects that I’d like to ideally come to fruition next summer or so, and so I wanted to put some energy towards that, as well as acknowledging the changes going on outdoors this time of year. (I did some hiking yesterday, though I’ll be playing catch-up with a post on that later this week.)

Now, my usual ritual structure has been pretty generically neopagan for most of my practice. It goes something like this:

Cast circle
Call quarters (directional totems, in my case)
Say stuff about the ritual
Do some magic
Make offerings, if appropriate
Tell everyone they’re welcome to stay or go, but I’m done (stick a fork in me)

I’ve been pretty much solitary, so this has worked just fine for me all by my lonesome. This also means that I can adapt the ritual format as needed at the last minute. However, the general structure above has been pretty standard for me.

Well, when I went to do my ritual today, I found that the structure just wasn’t quite meshing with what I’ve been working with lately. I felt like I was talking too much, doing too much extraneous “stuff” that really didn’t have any meaning for me any more, or that simply felt distracting. So, time for an overhaul.

I’m keeping most of the circle casting process. Yes, I do recognize all space as sacred. However, the casting allows me to formally evoke the directional totems and my various spiritual friends, family and guardians. It also helps me to get into the right headspace for ritual, completing the process started with the initial banishing-by-broom (yes, I do still like to purify the ritual area by sweeping it–more, these days, to help clear my mind than to clear any crud out). However, I’m going to stop doing a verbal “greeting”, and instead go directly to the internal connections I have with each directional totem. when I evoke them, there is a simultaneous internal/external reaction. Externally, the totem arrives from wherever it is totems go when they’re not hanging out in ritual circles (I could say the Lower World, but I don’t keep tabs on the totems. How do I know they aren’t just throwing huge parties behind my back without inviting me? *dejected sniffle*). Anyway, at the same time, there’s a corresponding part of myself for each of them that flares to life (or maybe just attention) when I sense that the totems are here. I actually go through a very brief energetic shape-shift as each totem arrives, temporarily taking the shape of the animal to greet the totem. I also draw the corresponding elemental energy of each totem’s direction into the ritual area.

These two occurrences–the arrival of the totem, and the bringing of the elemental energy, are the two most important parts of the circle casting for me. So I’m probably going to drop the speeches, as well as tracing the pentacle in the air, and stick to a more minimalist experience. I’ll probably say a silent invitation and greeting, but I’ve been calling on these totems long enough that I feel comfortable being a little less loud about things (though the process is still formal).

I’m also probably going to reduce my use of the long-speech-at-the-beginning-of-the-ritual format, at least for celebratory rituals. Again, I will probably make a silent prayer, but most likely just cut to the chase. For example, the crux of today’s ritual was dancing in my deerskin and headdress to bring forth the Deer/Autumnal energy and to celebrate both the positive and negative aspects of preparation, fertility, and uncertainty over the months to come.

I’ve been doing a more bare-bones approach with my magical rituals for a while, but the celebratory ones are something entirely different for me. It’s been a long time since I’ve done regular celebrations, and I’m not the same person I was back then. I’ve got a better idea of how my magical work may change, but restructuring celebratory rituals may take me longer to figure out. As usual, though, it’ll be a matter of trial and error, seeing what works and keeping it, and discarding the rest. Today’s ritual, while enjoyable for the celebration it brought, was also a valuable experiment, and showed me some areas that could use some updating.

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