Once you have an idea of the outline of your ritual, have gathered all of your tools, and made the necessary preparations, you are ready to begin your ritual!
I like to begin each of my rituals by creating sacred space. What exactly makes a space sacred? It can be many things, but the primary attribute of a sacred space is that it brings us closer to the Divine. Some spaces may have an environmental sacred element to them, like beautiful places in nature. Some sacred spaces have been established and maintained by people, such as ancient temples or even the altar area in your home. And other sacred spaces we create specifically for the purpose of ritual.
The category of Timing may also fall under Ritual Preparations, but it is a part of the sacred space/environment of your ritual. Some rituals may be very strictly tied to timing, such as celebrations for Beltane or the summer solstice, while others may be more flexible, such as for a spell or magickal working. Timing was one of the things that I got stuck on early in my Pagan practice, so I encourage you to not to hold on too tightly to any strict rules or feel like you have to get the timing perfect in order to hold a ritual.
The Wheel of the Year
Each of the eight Sabbats on the Wheel of the Year will have a particular energy to it, may be associated with particular deities, or have a distinct flavor for each deity you work with. You can celebrate the entire Wheel of the Year with one deity, exploring the different aspects of them that call to you at different times of year. While Beltane is my main Sabbat for Aphrodite, I also see Her in all of the others. Here is what a Wheel of the Year for Aphrodite might look like (dates given for the Northern Hemisphere – the calendar is flipped in the Southern Hemisphere):
Beltane (May 1st) – Love, passion, romance, pleasure, sex, the thinning of the veil opposite Samhain, possibilities, the beginning of summer
Litha/Summer Solstice (June 20th-23rd) – Play, flourishing, raising energy
Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) – Making the most of the last of summer, harvest, community
Mabon/Autumnal Equinox (September 20th-23rd) – Abundance, harvest, gratitude, balance
Samhain (October 31st) – Love that lives on after death, the thinning of the veil opposite Beltane, honoring your Beloved Dead
Yule (December 20th-23rd) – Rebirth of the light, warmth, community
Imbolc (February 2nd) – First signs of spring, new beginnings
Ostara/Vernal Equinox (March 20th-23rd) – Flowers, new growth, flourishing, balance
Pagans also work with the lunar cycles. Each phase of the moon has a different energy to it. You can also work with the astrological signs within the moon phases, if that calls to you (personally, it isn’t something I work with much, but I know some folks who do). Different deities may prefer different phases of the moon. For example, I honor Aphrodite on the full moon and Isis on the new moon. Here are some general associations for each of the moon phases:
New Moon – New beginnings, rebirth
Waxing Moon – Growth, manifestation
Full Moon – Culmination, blossoming
Waning Moon – Banishing, diminishing
Dark Moon – Introspection, divination
That being said, DON’T FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL A PARTICULAR MOON PHASE TO DO SOMETHING. I fell into that trap early in my practice, and it meant that I spent more time waiting for the perfect moon phase than I did actually doing ritual. If you want to honor a deity or need to work magick, anytime is really fine.
Other Considerations on Timing
You may also want to explore other aspects of timing, like days of the week (Fridays are for Aphrodite!) or astrological signs. Astrology is a giant rabbit hole all on its own. There are also planetary hours and a whole bunch of other things that you may feel called to explore.
Timing will also necessarily have a practical element to it. For example, my Pagan group generally celebrates major Sabbats on the weekend closest to the date, as that is when most of us are off of work. The actual astronomical point of maximum fullness of the moon may occur during the middle of the day in your timezone, so you will probably want to do your ritual the night before.
I’ll say it again: Don’t get too caught up in the intricacies of timing for your rituals. Any aspects of timing that you choose to utilize should be in SUPPORT of your rituals. If you spend all your time waiting for the perfect planetary hour on the perfect day of the week in the perfect moon phase of the perfect season in the perfect astrological sign… you may be waiting forever. Practice is key to spiritual growth, for honing your ritual skills, and cultivating your relationship with the Divine. So pick maybe one or two aspects of timing to work with (or none!) and get started!
Preparing the Space
The goal in preparing your ritual area is to set it apart in time and space from the mundane. This can be both physical and metaphysical.
Clean and Cleanse
If you have not already, I suggest that you physically clean your ritual space. This helps to remove any obstacles to the flow of energy, as well as mundane things like tripping hazards. Make sure you can move about the space freely, and in a circle if that’s your thing. Sweep the floor to physically and metaphysically sweep away negative energies. Plus, you don’t want to breathe in a lungful of dust during an important ritual moment and hack your way through that beautiful poetry you wrote.
In addition to physically cleaning, I also recommend spiritually cleansing the space. Some places in nature have a natural cleansing quality to them, so this is not always necessary. However, it is a good idea to do so while indoors, definitely if it is in a new-to-you space, and at least periodically if it is a space you use often. Feel into the energy already present there. If anything feels icky, stuck, or stagnant, those are good indications that an energetic cleansing is in order.
This can be done with a variety of tools, including smoke, sound, water, salt, and many others (see my Elemental Cleansing post for some more ideas). You may visualize the energetic junk leaving the space, the space being filled with purifying white light, or whatever else feels right.
In rituals specifically for Aphrodite, I like cleansing with rosewater, selenite, salt water, and/or jasmine incense.
Next, it’s time to create some ritual ambiance – Decorate!
Decorations aren’t a strict necessity for ritual, but they can help create a reverent atmosphere and help get you into the right headspace for ritual. Decorations are also another way to honor the Divine. They can serve as offerings, or can even be a part of the ritual.
You might have decorations that match with the seasons, tools or items that correspond to your ritual purpose, objects or images sacred to the Deity you are working with, or even just things that look cool! Constructing a ritual space is a creative endeavor – Have fun with it!
Create an Altar
Some practitioners make a distinction between altars and shrines, but I generally use the word “altar” interchangeably for both since mine typically have elements of each. In general, an altar is used more actively for magick or workings, while a shrine might be a bit more static construction in honor of a particular deity.
Unless it is for a group ritual, most of my altars are permanent or semipermanent, and might have pieces of them moved around whenever I do ritual. For example, my main and longest-standing altar consists of a white marble disk on raised feet, surrounded by elemental representations in the four directions, crystals, candles, my wand, various items for Aphrodite, items that I would like blessed, and a few long-running spells. It is typically tucked away in a little alcove in my living room, but I might bring out some or all of the pieces into a central space when I want to do a ritual so that I can move in a circle around the altar, more easily meditate in front of it, et cetera. When I am finished with the ritual, I put all of the pieces back in their more permanent home.
I have intentionally created altars, but I have also had a few altars to particular deities just spontaneously happen. A candle here, a trinket there, and *poof* – Suddenly there is an altar to Hermes! I encourage you to be open to spontaneity.
I go more in-depth into some altar considerations in my series of posts An Altar for Aphrodite.
Casting a Circle
Depending on your particular tradition and/or your ritual purpose, casting a circle may or may not be a part of your spiritual practice. Casting a circle has a few different purposes: it creates a container for your ritual and any energy you raise within it, it serves as a boundary between the magickal and the mundane, and it can provide protection.
For me, whether or not I cast a circle really depends on my ritual purpose. If I am going to be raising a lot of energy or need to focus for meditation, I will absolutely cast a circle. A circle is also a must for me if I will be journeying or if the magick I am doing is very serious in nature.
I personally start in the North when I cast a circle, but I know a lot of folks who start in the East. You may also choose another direction depending on your ritual purpose and personal preference. What you visualize may also change depending on your ritual purpose. I usually envision a circle of white light coming from my hand/wand, and eventually expanding to form a sphere when I have finished. If I need extra protection, the white light might instead be thorny vines or fire.
You can use tools to cast a circle, such as a wand or athame, or you can just use your hand, depending on your comfort level and what tools you have available. You will generally walk clockwise around your space once or three times (depending on how big your space is), while reciting your words of choice.
If you cast a circle, you will need to take it down again at the end of your ritual, generally by walking counterclockwise once and reciting words to dissolve the circle. You will visualize the barrier (light, fire, et cetera) being dissolved into the air or the earth.
Inviting the Elements
Many of the Pagans I know work with elemental energies that generally correspond to the directions. I talked a bit about how the elements might show up in your practice in my post on Elements and Offerings. Experiment with a few different approaches and see what works best for you.
I personally work with four elements that correspond to each of the four directions: Earth – North, Air – East, Fire – South, and Water – West. I will have a representation of each element at its directional spot on my altar. I will tailor my calling and releasing of the quarters to my ritual purpose, inviting each element in and asking for a blessing that is specific to the element’s domain and relevant to my ritual purpose.
Some representations for Earth include: crystals, a jar of dirt, sand, wood, pentacle, salt, stones/rocks, seeds, plants, flowers, leaves, herbs, and really anything from nature.
Some themes and correspondences for Earth include: Grounding, centering, protection, prosperity, abundance, stability, the physical realm, family, the body, boundaries, home and hearth, nurturing, sustenance, food, shelter, strength, resilience, warding, shielding, craftsmanship, tools, and practical skills.
Some representations for Air include: incense (sticks, loose burning, or charcoal), essential oil diffuser, feather, dandelion seeds, other winged seeds such as maple or tulip poplar/yellow poplar/tuliptree, tumbleweeds, a fan, and windchimes.
Some themes and correspondences for Air include: Inspiration, communication, adaptability, change, travel, invigoration, creation, intellect, knowledge, wisdom, thoughts, freedom, creativity, breath, expansion, cleansing, the mental realm, the mind, dreams, beginnings, social situations, problem-solving, multitasking, technology, work, play, levity, messages, charm, and social skills.
Some representations of Fire include: candles, a fire pit/fire ring, electric tealights, sun imagery, and matches.
Some themes and correspondences for Fire include: Love, passion, creation, destruction, joy, happiness, transformation, change, cleansing, creativity, drive, ambition, goals, sexuality, sensuality, self-expression, manifestation, the spiritual realm, the spirit, romance, play, laughter, warmth, letting go, boundaries, rebirth, confidence, ferocity, and overcoming challenges.
Some representations of Water include: cup/chalice/glass/bowl of water, fresh water, salt water, ocean water, river water, spring water, rosewater, and tea.
Some themes and correspondences for Water include: Healing, love, adaptability, letting go, cleansing, emotions, nourishment, intuition, the emotional realm, introspection, reflection, divination, creativity, transition, rebirth, endings, compassion, rejuvenation, dreams, rest, recharging, emotional skills, and flow.
You may have noticed that some of the elements have similar themes and correspondences. Each element’s influence or perspective on a particular topic will be different. For example, both Fire and Water have a theme of “Letting Go” – For Fire, this may be a more intense “burn it to the ground/sever the connection” version of letting go, while for water it may be a more peaceful release surrounded by supportive healing energy.
At the conclusion of your ritual, you will need to “release” the elements and quarters in the reverse order in which you called them.
You’ve prepared your ritual, figured out when you want to perform it, cleansed your space, cast a circle, and called in the elements! Now you are ready for the Invocation, which will be covered in my next post.
Please note: If you are looking at some of my ritual outlines or rituals elsewhere, they will likely start with Casting a Circle or Inviting the Elements as part of the official ritual script. If you are leading or attending a group ritual, this is likely the point in the process where all of the attendees will be brought into the space and the official ritual will “start.” However, as you have read, there is a lot that goes into ritual before this as well, and some of those parts also fit under the theme of “Creating Sacred Space,” which is why I included them together in this article.