Structure of a Ritual
Copyright © 1999-2000 Vibra Willow
1. Grounding and purifying — we use salt and water, or incense, to cleanse ourselves spiritually and mentally, getting rid of any thoughts or feelings that might interfere with our participation in the ritual; and we meditate together so that we will feel secure and rooted to the earth, and remember that we are all connected.
2. Casting a circle — we draw an imaginary circle around the place where we are doing a ritual, creating a sacred space. In each direction, we draw a pentacle, which is like an imaginary window that can let in the spirits and powers we will invoke.
In a group, as one person walks the boundary of the Circle in a clockwise direction, beginning either in the North or in the East, using an athame she or he “draws” a pentacle in each of the four cardinal Directions and a line connecting them, ending at the same point where she or he began, and then walks to the center of the Circle and points the athame towards the sky and then towards the ground. All participants remain attentive and focused, using their own psychic vision and imagination to aid this process of encircling the space with a magical cord (or circle of light) on the psychic plane. When the Circle is cast, the participants are said to be “between the worlds” and the ritual begins. Following are traditional words for casting the circle, each part spoken in the appropriate direction: “By the Air that is Her breath, by the Fire of her spirit, by the Waters of Her living womb, and by the Earth that is Her body.” In the center: “The Circle is cast and we are between the worlds. The ritual has begun.”
Once the Circle has been cast, participants who must enter (or leave) it should “cut” themselves into (or out of) the Circle by carefully opening a space to pass through and closing it after they have crossed the boundary. This can be done, e.g., by miming cutting out a door shape, passing through a “door” as in a tent, or parting curtains. This prevents a “tear” in the circle boundary which would disrupt the focus and dissipate the energy of the Circle and is, at least, respectful. Circles are permeable, however, to animals and young children who need not cut the circle to enter or leave.
3. Calling the directions — using words, song, chanting, and/or movement, we call the powers of the four directions, and the elements associated with the them. East — air; South — fire; West — water; North — earth. In the Center, we invoke the spirit.
4. Invoking the deity — we invoke a different Goddess, or Goddesses, and a God or Gods, depending on the purpose of the ritual. A deity (or deities) is (are) invoked to witness and assist magical work, and to empower those who are working the magic, so generally we choose a deity who is known for particular powers or qualities. For example, the Goddess Diana is known for her strong and independent spirit, so she might be invoked at a coming-of-age ritual celebrating a young woman’s first menstruation; or the Green One, the God associated with growing things, might be invoked at a young man’s coming-of-age ritual. Often an invocation is composed in advance, and it may be accomplished with poetry, song, sounding or music of any kind, movement or dance. One person may take the role of invoking, or all participants may do it together.
5. Magical working — this is the heart of the ritual. We might try to heal ourselves, or something in the world. We might try to raise energy and send it out into the world. We might seek guidance, or power within ourselves. We might build a vision of a more peaceful world. We might be very quiet, and meditative, or we might make a lot of noise. We might sing, or dance, or make something out of sewing or other arts and crafts materials. We might be very serious, and some of us might cry. Or we might be very joyous and have a lot of fun, laughing and joking.
We try to work in harmony with the forces of nature. For example, when the moon is waning, we get rid of things, casting out what we don’t want. When it is waxing, we try to increase the good things in our lives. With the full moon, we try to fulfill our promises, bring projects to completion, and remember the infinite possibilities in the universe. We might also harmonize our work with the seasons of the year, the phases of the tides, etc.
6. Sharing food and drink — we bless something to eat and something to drink by acknowledging them as gifts of the Goddess, and share them. This is sometimes called “cakes and wine” or “cookies and juice.” As the food or drink are passed around the circle, the giver may say to the recipient, “May you never hunger,” and “May you never thirst.” (Note: public rituals in the Reclaiming Tradition are alcohol- and drug-free.)
7. Devoking and opening the circle — At the end of a ritual, the participants thank all the deities that were invoked, and then all the spirits of the Directions, this time going in a counter-clockwise direction, inviting them to leave or to stay (sometimes called “dismissing” or “devocation”). Often, whoever invoked the directions or deities also thanks and dismisses them. Then we imagine the circle we cast being erased, dissolved, unwrapped. Often, people say together: “By the Earth that is Her body, by the Waters of her living womb, by the Fire of Her bright spirit, and by the Air that is her breath, the Circle is open, but unbroken; may the peace of the Goddess stay in our hearts; merry meet, merry part, and merry meet again.”