In my previous post, I outlined my general template for rituals and talked a bit about why it’s important for you to develop a system that works for you. With that in mind, today I will go over the first element in my ritual template: Preparations.
Rituals can be planned or spontaneous. They can take a lot of preparation or very little. This will likely vary from ritual to ritual, depending on your Purpose and what you feeled called to do in the moment. Even for a heavily planned ritual, I am a big proponent of leaving room for the Divine. Deities work in unexpected ways and you can’t script a Divine encounter. The best you can do is allow space for it, and be adaptable with your plans. My most meaningful rituals were powerful because something unexpected happened. That is part of the joy and the mystery.
Preparation was also the step that I got the most stuck in early on in my ritual practice. I thought I needed to wait until a particular moon phase, always take a ritual bath, have the precise color of candles for correspondences, and get my invocations phrased exactly right before I could even begin. Let me bust that myth right now: You do not need to wait until everything is perfect to perform a ritual.
As the Nike slogan goes, Just Do It.
That’s not to say that you should completely throw preparations out the window. Being properly prepared for a ritual can help you (and anyone else who might be doing the ritual with you) get into a magickal state of mind – an altered consciousness that allows you to be more open to mystical experiences. It can also help lend atmosphere and feeling to what you are about to do. Wearing a flower crown on Beltane will make you feel differently than wearing a black pointy hat on Samhain. Casting a circle with a wand is a different experience than casting a circle with an athame. Poetry and prose both work wonderfully in ritual, but how they are used can determine the cadence and flow, gravitas and levity, and whether sections need to be memorized or can be extemporaneously spoken.
This is where experimentation is important! The various aspects of preparation will impact how your ritual feels. Even among my close witchy friends, the same crystal may evoke an entirely different feeling for each of us. What may work for me may not work for you. Try out many different methods and see what resonates for you.
Here are a few general categories of preparations that I typically include when I am designing my own rituals:
Cleansing and Purification
The acts of cleansing and purification can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, or based on what the ritual Purpose calls for. My post on Why Do We Ground, Cleanse, and Shield goes into a bit more depth about why you might want to include this in your ritual preparations. Basically, cleansing is a shower for the Spirit. It helps you to let go of all of the gunk and stress of your day so that you can focus on the ritual. It may also be extra helpful if your ritual Purpose is meditation, journeying, or magick.
Some of my favorite cleansing and purification techniques include:
- A sea salt bath
- A sea salt shower scrub
- A conscious shower
- Cleansing with smoke (incense, palo santo, sage, et cetera)
- Rosewater or essential oil spray
- Singing bowl
- Selenite wand
- Black tourmaline
- Fire (visualized or actual fire, but please be careful with actual fire)
You may wish to read my post on an Elemental Cleansing and Purification Ritual for Self, Spaces, and Tools for more in depth information on some of these techniques.
Pick one of the techniques listed above, or invent your own! If you feel you are in need of a big energy shift (for example, lots of stress hanging around from work, or if the ritual is a super important event like an initiation), you may wish to use multiple techniques to get the job done.
As one of my friends is fond of saying: “If you can’t do a ritual with just a paper hat and a toilet plunger, fancy tools don’t really matter.” It is both a hilarious mental image, and pretty darn accurate. You don’t need tools to perform a ritual. All you really need is yourself! However, tools can definitely help. They can set the atmosphere for a ritual, decorate your altar, help you focus your energy, create sacred space, or aid in working magick. Plus, a lot of tools are simply beautiful! What tools you will want to use depends on your ritual Purpose and what you have available.
Some of my commonly used tools are:
- Statue of Aphrodite
- Elemental representations (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water)
- Offering plate/bowl (and offerings)
- Candle holders (cleaning wax out of your carpet is no fun)
- Burning bowl
- Pen and paper
- Art supplies
- Meditation cushion
- Blanket (I get cold easily)
- Tarot or oracle cards
I also generally have an altar set up to honor the Divine, focus my intentions, and arrange any tools I may be using in a way that contributes to the creation of sacred space. Check out my Altar for Aphrodite series for more ideas on how to set up an altar and what you might want to include.
Engage Your Senses
Whenever I am designing a ritual, particularly if it is for a group (but also for myself), I try to make sure I engage all of my senses in the experience. This helps to create a more immersive ritual, it smooths the transition from mundane life into sacred space, and it allows you to open up to magick and the Divine more easily. Here are a few ways I incorporate the senses:
Sight: Beautiful altar with accoutrements appropriate for the tone and purpose of the ritual, creating ambiance with candles, using natural lighting, wearing special ritual clothes and jewelry
Sound: Speaking heartfelt words, chanting, song, poetry, using a singing bowl for cleansing or transition between different parts of the ritual, sometimes music
Touch: The feel of ritual items in my hands, wearing special ritual clothes and jewelry, holding a crystal while I meditate, ritual movement, dance, hand motions
Taste: Cakes and Ale, shared offerings
Smell: Rosewater, incense, or essential oils that align with the purpose of the ritual
Spontaneous rituals can be amazing! You don’t always need a ritual outline – sometimes all you need to do is speak from the heart and follow your intuition. I do not write a ritual outline for most of my personal rituals these days, but it was definitely a helpful step when I was experimenting to figure out what different ritual elements worked best for me. I always write a ritual outline whenever I am running a group ritual, however.
Writing your ideas down helps with overall ritual design, and can help you stay focused on your ritual Purpose. It also offers an opportunity for the Divine to work through you. I’ve composed several rituals that, even though my hands were the ones doing the writing, did not feel like they came from me. Some aspect of the Divine channelled through me and I ended up with a very different ritual than what I set out to write.
This mostly happens with Aphrodite, but I’ve also had it happen with Cerridwyn. I just start typing things out, and half an hour later, there are pages of text that seemed to have come from nowhere. When I read it through, it feels right and like what is supposed to happen. I’ve received astounding feedback from the rituals I have led that were written this way. They have been powerful and met a need in the community that I didn’t know was there.
That said, you don’t need to wait for Divine inspiration to strike to start writing a ritual! Start with some of the ideas above, and go from there. You’ll find your groove!
This is an ongoing series about designing rituals. Read about my general Ritual Template here. Coming soon – Creating Sacred Space!