Pagan rituals

Pagan rituals

Through rituals, we attune ourselves to the rhythms of Nature, celebrate, deliberately influence the web of life, deepen the relationship with the Divine, and evolve.

Rituals enrich our lives and aid our spiritual development. They focus energy and awareness, celebrate life in all its forms, and serve as spiritual focal points around which we gather.

Who?

A ritual can be performed by a single person or by many, therefore we have solitary and group rituals. During group rituals, there are usually one priestess and one priest who are performing it, but there can also be two priestesses, two priestesses and a priest, two priests and a priestess, two priests, one priestess, three priestess, etc.

How?

Pagans hold a wide range of diverse rituals. They can be simple and short or elaborate and last for days. Some are quiet, and some are loud with song and dance. Most of the rituals, however, last from one to two hours and follow a certain ritualistic pattern.

When?

Pagan rituals can be private or public, be inside or outside, during sabbats, esbats, or on any occasion that arises from human life passages to creating rituals for healing, divination, or any type of magical work.

Rituals are usually carefully planned, but they can also be lovely when spontaneous. The reason we plan our rituals is to create a certain order and focus our energy without forgetting any of the important parts. It is easy to get lost when the moment takes us, so it is always good to have a supporting structure at hand that guides us. Whether you are creating your own ritual, co-creating it with others, or participating in those that others created, you should always know what you are getting into because you cannot prepare yourself if you lack the knowledge of what it is you should be prepared for. Through rituals, we connect the inner world to the outer ones, merge them together, and create a new experience.


What we do internally affects the world around us, and the world around us affects our inner world. With this notion, nothing is separate, and our inner and outer worlds are intricately tied to one another.

Mat Auryn


Preparing the ritual

When writing a ritual, the first question you need to answer is WHY? I have seen elaborate rituals with beautiful invocations and calling the quarters but without the “main attraction”. If you don’t have a reason to do a ritual, don’t do it. Your work is the central point of the ritual and should have its purpose. The outer parts of the ritual, while important, should serve as a shield and nurture for what you aim to achieve, so plan your ritual carefully.

Preparing the ritual

Relax and accept that creating a ritual is a sacred task that shouldn’t be rushed. Allow yourself to be well-rested and have plenty of time before embarking on that journey of creativity, passion, and spiritual growth.

When writing your ritual, try to first put down the parts of it in a form of a list, and then build on that list by first answering a couple of questions in your mind. How do you want to start it? What will be the way of calling the Elements? Will you invoke or evoke the divine? What will your main work consist of? What symbols and tools will you use? Each part of your ritual should have either a short description or a full detailed explanation with instructions. The choice is yours. It all depends on whether you want to plan every single detail or have a structure in place and see where the energy moves you while you work. My advice is to always have everything planned, and then ignore the plan if the spirit moves you in some other direction. It is better to be prepared and not need it than to need it and not have it in place. Write your invocation/evocation, learn it, and then abandon it. Be comfortable with everything you wrote and know it by heart. Only then can you improvise.

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.

Pablo Picasso

Whether you are creating a ritual only for yourself or for others, be careful with the usage of different gestures and symbols. We use them to help ourselves to focus the energy. If a certain gesture isn’t working for you, don’t use it. For example, hands brought together and touching while open upwards, often symbolize a cup and are used to represent the element of Water. However, to some, that gesture will represent poverty and begging, which is a completely different energy from that one of the Water element. REMEMBER: the entire ritual can be done without moving a muscle and saying a word. Rituals are energetic work. What we do physically is only there because it helps us energetically. We use tools, chants, symbols, gestures, movements to focus and be better. If at any point the gesture is moving you away or deconcentrating, consider replacing it with another one. This could be challenging in covens or when planning group rituals because not everything will work for everyone, but try to have an open mind and let the divine forces guide you. There is always room for a compromise that will be generally accepted.

Carefully choose all the tools that you will need. Gather the candles and something to hold them in. You want to be prepared and safe when using fire. Pick your cloth, colors, clothes, gemstones, altar tools, and read about correspondences to learn what exactly you need to make your ritual even better.

When choosing your clothes, your comfort is important. You can wear your ritual robe, normal clothes or go skyclad (full nude) if you so wish.

While it is important to be comfortable, clothes serve another purpose during rituals. It is much easier to shift from your normal way of thinking and get into a special mood if you are not wearing your normal clothes but those that were blessed and designed specifically for ritual work. Your mind will automatically react differently. This is the same reason why it is not recommended to meditate in the bed you sleep in. Your mind knows that the place is for sleeping. Similarly, if you have your ritual clothes on, your mind knows what is coming and can more easily slip into higher frequencies. Color plays a significant role too. Each color carries a specific frequency, and while there are specific colors to use for different sabbats, people generally wear white for protection, blessings, and cleansing work, black for banishing, working with ancestors, and protective work, green for growth, abundance, and love, and purple and/or blue for divination or creative work.

Choosing to work skyclad or naked before the gods is an option too. Some covens and groups prefer it in their work, but it is mostly reserved for solitary practice. It has its many advantages, but not everyone is comfortable or ready for that kind of expression of vulnerability. There is nowhere to hide and nothing to hide.

Once you know what you will wear, what you will need, and what you will do, you are ready to start your ritual. Just remember the basic rule of movement: when we are creating, welcoming, opening, growing, then we move naturally as the time itself, clockwise and go to our left. When we are banishing, destroying, closing, cleansing, then we are moving counterclockwise and go to our right. This is why most pagan rituals have cleansing of the space done counterclockwise and all movement within the circle clockwise while the ritual is growing and culminating in its first half and counterclockwise when it is in its second half.

Parts of the ritual

Depending on what kind of explanation you are looking for, we can say that a ritual can have three parts, two parts, eight parts, or however many parts. When we are talking about two parts, that means the main work is one, and everything around it is the second part. Three parts refer to the movement of the energy where the energy is rising, peaking, and calming back down. Eight or however many parts is dissecting the ritual to details with explaining what is what, how, and why. During the ritual, YOU need to be comfortable and happy with what you are doing. This means that you are more than welcome to stick or step back from the “usual” ritualistic form. Different people and groups perform their rituals in different ways with adding or removing something from the list this text will explain.

Remember to follow your own intuition. Use tools, symbols, clothes, and gestures that you are comfortable with.
Divine presence always follows unique creativity.

You will often find how there are eight general parts of the ritual. Sometimes people expand those eight groups into even more categories, but the ritual is usually divided into: cleansing, grounding, casting the circle, calling the Elements, invocation/evocation, main work, blessing the food and drink, closing. We will go deeper into each part and explain the meaning and the purpose behind it.

1. Cleansing

The first part of every ritual is cleansing and blessing the space, ourselves, and the tools we will use. The order of cleansing varies from group to group. Some will cleanse the tools, space, and then themselves, while others will first cleanse the tools, themselves, and then the space.

Cleansing of tools is basically blessing them with your own energy and love and inviting the universal energies to bless and cleanse them too. Once all the tools have been prepared, we move on to using them to cleanse the space and ourselves. People are cleansed and blessed by incense in a way that smoke needs to be around feet and then circle upwards to the head. The same goes for water and salt. This is to purify and bless our energetic centers or chakras. When we are short on time, it is perfectly fine to be smudged over our upper chakras; hearth, throat, third eye, and crown.

Cleansing

When cleansing the space we can use the Elements either in a form of salt and water (female energies of Earth and Water) or in the form of incense for smudging the space (male energies of Air and Fire) or a broom for sweeping counterclockwise and remove energetically all that we do not wish to remain in the space. Many pagans often use energies of male Elements Air and Fire to banish certain energies from the space by loud shouting, clapping, drumming, or generally creating noise after which the space is blessed and purified with energies of female Elements Earth and Water by sprinkling the water and salt.

Male Elements are there to banish all dangers bravely and firmly with loud frequencies of Air and purifying flame and light of Fire, while female Elements will gently cleanse and bless with the love of Water and provide safety and stability with the power of Earth. Personally, it is logical to me that you will first cleanse and bless the tools so you may use them in their best capacity, then you will cleanse and bless yourself so you may be ready to continue on to cleansing and blessing the space you will work in. My logic, of course, is not universal, so follow your own if it suits you better. In group rituals, the fourth part of cleansing are the participants which you will cleanse and bless one by one before they enter the space and walk to their place in the circle. When rituals are larger and have a large number of people, participants can be cleansed and blessed all at the same time, but this is a rare practice. Even though it takes a bit longer, it is always good to individually cleanse people and welcome them into the circle. This is a more personal approach that always provides better results. Once in their place, participants will patiently wait for everyone else in silence and use that time to calm down and spiritually, emotionally, and mentally prepare themselves for the ritual.

2. Grounding

This part of the ritual has a purpose of calming us and preparing for what is to come. Rituals are sacred energetic practice that we need to be ready for. Just as we need to have the energy to run or concentration to work, we need to be grounded to take part in rituals. The term grounding means we are connecting with the Element of Earth by letting our roots go deep and strong to the warm and loving center of the planet.

Grounding

Grounding is usually achieved through meditation. While it is not necessary that the meditation has the actual grounding visualization, for it will serve its purpose without it too, it is better if it does. We first need to focus on our breath or our heartbeat and gently allow our physical and then spiritual body to enter into a relaxed state of being. We are safe, powerful, healthy, and happy. We are ready to shift from our daily lives to our ritual practice. The outer world becomes farther and farther in our mind as we focus on the now and start truly experiencing the moment we are in. Grounding serves another purpose too. It is not only to relax us but to keep us safe and bound to Earth during the ritual so that no matter how far we spiritually travel during our work, we can always safely return to Mother Earth for our roots will keep us connected to Her at all times.

When we are ready, our meditation and grounding experience will gently transform into proclaiming the purpose of the ritual. We will gently open our eyes and speak our truth. We will say who we are and why we are here, what do we plan to achieve, and in what way. This part needs to be verbalized, and it can be either prepared in advance so that we can read it, or it can spontaneously come from the hearth.

Cleansing and grounding are often considered non-ritualistic parts of the ritual, and there are even those who state how the “real” ritual doesn’t start until the circle has been cast. This is why you will sometimes see people casting the circle first and then cleansing the space and doing the grounding. I’ve participated in rituals done both ways and have found how being cleansed and grounded helps to cast a better and stronger circle.

3. Casting the Circle

To get the most important thing out of the way first, the Circle is not actually a circle. It is a sphere. We call it the Circle for several reasons. One is because everything is arranged in a circle from people to tools, the other is because the circle represents the indestructible infinite movement of energy, there is the circular nature of life in physical and spiritual form, and so on, and so on. But the fact remains that the circle is actually an energy sphere in which center we are standing. It goes around us, under us, and above us. The Circle is, therefore, a sacred space in all three dimensions.

The purpose of casting the Circle is to create a space with raised energy. It will protect us spiritually during our ritual work. It is holy ground, and it is home. It is a barrier between worlds.

Casting the Circle

A Circle can be cast by using our athame (ceremonial dagger), wand, any pointed crystal, staff, or just our hands. The tool is there to help us channel and focus the energy, but it is not mandatory for once again, you are doing energy work, and physical tools are there to help you. Nothing more. The classical way of casting a Circle is to walk once / three times / nine times clockwise while pointing the tool to the ground and then lifting it a bit higher every circle you walk. Your first walk would be with the tool pointed to the ground, while the last one will be with it pointed to the sky. The number of circles you make depends on you and how many of them you need to complete your energy sphere.

As mentioned before, the Circle is an energy sphere, so you will need to move that energy from somewhere and focus it up so that it forms an invisible barrier of dense energy. You need to only create the outer sphere, for the space within the sphere will be blessed, clean, and protected. When you are doing this, you will first visualize it, and just by doing the visualization, your space will be blessed. In time, you will feel the energy wall raising and even see it clearly. You will feel the energy move and build up. The energy in our loving Universe is constant. The law of conservation of energy cannot be broken. There is no creating of energy or destroying it. There is only transforming. This means that the energy for your circle has to come from somewhere. NEVER work with your own energy, not in casting the Circle nor in any other work. This is not only exhausting and dangerous, but it is completely unnecessary. The Universe is abundant, and the Universe provides. You can choose from plenty of sources to “borrow” and transform the energy needed for your Circle.

Some opt for using the energy of Earth and see it raise up and “stack up” until it fills the sphere. Others use the Universal energy flow drawing it directly from the source. There are even groups who cast their Circles with Elements and those who cast it with divine energy and call their deities to build the Circle for them. When working with Elements, each Element will hold one-quarter of the space with their energies combined and intertwined at half-quarters. Divine Circles are powerful spaces in which you may feel a bit drunk when standing inside them. You need to decide for yourself which energy source you will use.

To help your energy work, use physical representations of the Circle. You can physically mark the Circle with flowers, salt, fruit, candles, rope, sand, chalk, etc.

4. Calling in Elements

A more generic term would be Calling in the Quarters because not everyone works with Elements. By Quarters, you can work with one of three things: Elements, Watchtowers, or Guardians. Whatever you choose, be sure to stick with it along the way, and do not call the Element on one quarter and a Guardian at the next. Your decision needs to be based on what you want to achieve, so some knowledge about these things is required. A Watchtower is a watching presence that will witness your ritual. And while Watchtowers are associated with cardinal directions, they are not associated with the corresponding energy of the Element. This is why they are rarely summoned into the ritual, for they will not be a part of it, only a witness, a watcher. A common practice is to greet the Watchtower or acknowledge that we are standing in front of it and then call in either the Guardians or the Elements or in some cases both.

Watchtower, Guardian, Element

A Guardian is a protector, an intermediary between the worlds. Outside of ritual, Guardians have little interest in people. They protect the ritual from danger coming from their direction and coming from their element. Since Enochian magic (16th-century, John Dee and Edward Kelley) and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (19th-century, William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell) had a great influence on modern-day paganism, there is a table of Elements and their correspondences from 1986 by Israel Regardie (a principal reliable source on the Dawn who wrote fifteen books on the subject of occultism) which is still used and referenced among some groups where the Kings of Elements are their Guardians. Today’s term Guardian is a shortening of the Enochian phrase Guardian of the Watchtower. The guardians were given the names Paralda (Air), Djin (Fire), Niksa (Water), and Ghob (Earth). These names you may or may not use. Covens and groups of pagans who rely heavily on order and strict ritualistic form usually work with these or different names. Some Celtic groups work with Gwydion for east/Air, Brigit for south/Fire, Manannan for west/Water, and Arianrhod for north/Earth.

Since Golden Dawn has a wide range of correspondences with angels, rulers, archangels, etc., not only Kings are viewed as Guardians. To some, Guardians are in the celestial realm and are viewed as archangels or angels.

Most pagans, however, have their own views on Guardians, how they look, behave, and can even have their own names for them. Usually, Elements with feminine energies have female Guardians (Earth and Water) while Elements with masculine energies have male Guardians (Fire and Air). It is recommended that before working with Guardians within the Circle you first develop a relationship with them for they can also be powerful allies and teachers that could come in dreams and visions and offer their guidance. In a more simplistic representation and symbolism, when we light a candle at a quarter, the candle itself represents the Watchtower while the flame is the Guardian. Follow your own path. You will find how pagans have Elements, Guardians, Watchtowers, Elements, Elementals, and Rulers of the Element, and they work with all or some of them in different ways.

Personally, my work includes Guardians and Elements. Watchtowers are portals that Guardians protect. They are in front of the four kingdoms of Elements. Once in the realm of the Element, there are no kings, queens, angels, and whatnot because the primal energy has no ruler. It is a ruler in its own right. The four Elements are the archetypes, elemental forces, and building blocks of everything.  However, there are many people who believe and work with Rulers of each Element in their various forms. You can read more about this topic here: The Elements.

Call the Elements into your Circle.
Rejoice in their protective and powerful energies that will aid you in your work.

When you know with what you will work, there is one more thing you need to decide on first and that is where to start. Honestly, you can start whenever you want, at any cardinal point and then go clockwise to others. However, there are two points that are used as starting ones more often than others. Those are the east and the north. You will stand in front of that cardinal point in your circle, call the Quarter, and welcome it. You may express your admiration and/or ask for protection. Speak from your heart or don’t speak at all. Sing or recite a poem, read what you have prepared to honor the Element, play an instrument, or quietly call and welcome the Element in.

There are two ways you can look at this. One is the raise of the energy during the ritual and lifting your frequency up. This would be going from the solid Element of Earth up to Air and you would start at the northern quarter. The other, more common way, is bringing the divine energies down to us, “lowering” them into our Circle from Air to Earth. By following this logic, you would start at the eastern quarter. It is easier to call the energies to us than it is to bring us to their level, so starting from the east is often a common way for most pagan groups. Also, everything starts with a thought, a spark of Air energy, and as the Sun rises in the East, we too start our ritual journey from that direction.

You can place symbols representing each Element on the quarters and light a candle once you are done inviting them in. If you so wish, you can also make invoking pentagrams at each quarter. These movements are sometimes seen as the unlocking patterns in front of the Watchtowers after which the Element is free to step inside your Circle, although some people will view them as the holly bond that connects them with the Element and marks the union of love and protection.

5. Invocation / Evocation

Invocation and/or evocation is the work with deities, God, Goddess, or both. Saying one thing and meaning another may cause a bit of a dysfunction in the ritual, for words have power just as thoughts do. Usually, the God is evoced/invoced first, and the Goddess second. There are several explanations for this. My favorite one is that Goddess has a grand entrance in all her glory after the God has first “checked” if it is indeed safe and fine for her to appear. There is a correlation between this and a common etiquette where a man will always enter first into bars, clubs, restaurants, and new places to check if it is safe for a woman to enter before he holds the door for her and lets her in.

Invocation / Evocation

Evocation is inviting the God and Goddess into the Circle. We are calling upon them and asking them to join the ritual. Invocation is channeling and a form of voluntary possession where the God/Goddess speaks and works through us. We absorb their particular energies and deliver their message. There is no invocation before some type of evocation or calling first. The Gods cannot speak through you if you first do not call them to do so. Here, the act of calling the deity to come is the act of evocing while the manifestation of the deity in ourselves is the act of invocing.

Some pagan practices, particularly a lot of Wiccan ones, believe how only a man can invoce the Goddess into a female. You may choose to follow this philosophy from Gerald Gardner, or you may (like me) consider it to be BS (with all due respect to those who do believe it to be true). You need no one but yourself to call either the Goddess or the God into you.

Evocation is usually written beforehand, but it can be spoken from the hearth when you are welcoming the God and Goddess into your circle. But when it comes to invocation, the jury is still out, so to speak. There are people who write the invocation and then either memorize it and recite it or, even worse, read it off the piece of paper. Assuming that you know what a deity will speak through you is, in my humble opinion, nothing short of blasphemy. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with you doing it like that. I am simply pointing out that it should be called evocation and not invocation if you are doing it that way. A simple rule of thumb is, if you wrote what you are going to say, you are not necessarily invoking. I choose the word necessarily here because there are those (some of my friends included) who will argue how the deity may choose to speak the words you have prepared for them in advance. My question here is, what’s the point? Besides the pure egoistic pleasure of having the Gods speaking the words that we have arrogantly written for them, is there anything else to be gained here? Wouldn’t it be more useful to serve as their vessel and allow for Their message to come through? Never mind me and my rant. You do you and, as always, follow your own path.

If you have plenty of experience with rituals, I invite you to ponder on the previous paragraph and the linguistics behind certain terms. If you are new, stick to evocation 😉

6. The main work

All that was done before this is the “intro”. Your main work is the reason why you are doing the ritual in the first place, so plan it carefully. You can work with spells, divination, candles, mirrors, perform the Great Rite, connect with your ancestors or spirit guides, do manifestation work, healing, prosperity work, spiritual or shamanic journeys, knot magic, herbal magic, the Cone of Power… The list goes on and on. When looking at the ritual as a whole, a lot of organized groups will have the previous steps similar or the same as parts of their regular practice. What changes is the main work between the opening and the closing of the ritual. This doesn’t mean that you have to have the same ritual every time. Let the spirit move you and your creativity flow freely.

Pagan rituals

The central part of the ritual should not be rushed or skipped over. Plan in advance and prepare everything you need. Concentrate and let your power shine. Move the energies and manifest that what you wish.

There are many resources, from books to online sites, that you can consult for help and guidance, but your own creative work should play a crucial role. You can find more information about specific types of work at the end of this text. May it serve you well.

7. Blessing the food and drink

This part of the ritual is by some considered the last part before the closing and by others the first part of the closing and lowering the energies. There is also a third way to look at it, as the continuation of the main work. Some people will even merge it into the main work by performing a Cone of Power and directing the energy into the food and drink. In group rituals, priest and priestess can bless it, they can call upon the God and Goddess to bless it, or the whole group can provide their blessing. In solitary work, you either bless it yourself or, similarly to group rituals, ask the divine energies to bless it for you.

When it comes to the kinds of food and drink, it is up to you. You could have an elaborate spread of foods, or you could have simple cookies that you prepared. Traditionally, there should always be some kind of wheat product such as bread or cookies because it represents the golden abundance of harvest from Mother Earth. You can drink wine, beer, water, milk, or fruit juices. There is no general rule, but you will find that most pagan rituals will have a chalice with wine.

Blessing the food and drink

Always leave an offering for the Gods. After your ritual is over, you can place the rest of your food and drink in the fire, bury it, or leave it somewhere in the forest. When doing so, toast the Gods, thank them for their presence in your life and say a few words in their honor. Keep your relationship with the divine respectful and loving.

When the food and drink have been blessed, they are there to be consumed. This is usually a part in the ritual that is easy-going, happy, and joyful. In group rituals, people may talk, laugh, exchange experiences, and even sing and dance. It could also be done in silence, but eating the blessed food and drink is a festive experience that gives us energy and strength. It wakes, refreshes, and even rejuvenates us. You can (will be able to) find different pagan recipes on this website that you can try. Cooking for the ritual falls in the “preparing for the ritual” category, but it holds a special place. It is a transformative work, and those who prepare food for group rituals are always respected and held in high regard. They are trusted and appreciated for they communicate with the divine and elemental energies while they cook and share their creation with others.

8. Closing

After we eat and drink, the ritual slowly transforms into its closing phase. Everything before the main work of the ritual is performed backward. We will say our thanks to the God and Goddess, release the Elements from the circle, and lower the Circle. Sometimes there will be a final mediation to correspond with the initial grounding process, and sometimes the ritual will simply end with some kind of farewell saying or a blessing of all participants. When closing, we are moving counterclockwise or in the reverse order from which we were doing things in the ritual before the main work. We will therefore first thank the Goddess and then the God, and our releasing of the Elements will start with the last Element we have welcomed in the Circle. If we started from the east and finished at the north, we would now release the Element on the north first and finish with the east. If we were using invoking pentagrams when we were welcoming the Elements, now we would use the banishing ones.

Specific rituals

In everything written above, I am sure that you noticed how it is more philosophical than literal with the lack of actual instructions on what to do and how. There are several reasons for this. While I did want to share my views on the ritual form and bits and pieces of knowledge, I am not capable of telling you everything there is and choose not to tell you everything that I do know. Some ritual forms are specific to certain covens and groups. It would be disrespectful to tell something that isn’t mine to be told even though I’ve taken part in it. I am sure you will find a lot of resources around the physical kingdom of the Air Element, or what most people call the internet, but use it as a source of inspiration and guidance. Try to opt for creating your own rituals, whether on your own or together with a group you are working in.

Below are some of the specific rituals (again, not in their full and detailed form) which you can also work with and build on. The texts describing them will be focused on the main parts of the ritual, but you can always come back here to refresh your understanding of everything that ritual holds.

Solitary vs. Group ritual

Group rituals can be wonderful when all participants share a common goal and are focused in the same direction. The energy rises exponentially, and all benefit from it. The spirit of the source rejoices in the expansion of itself in all directions, for it is brought upon by friendship and collaboration of those who know…

Mirror work

Working with mirrors is working with the element of Water. It is all about reflection and what lies behind that reflection. Water is an element connected with our emotions, unconscious mind, and psychic abilities, so it is natural that it’s the element used for connecting with our soul…

Knot magic

Knot magic

Coming soon…

Cone of Power

Cone of Power

Coming soon…

The Great Rite

The Great Rite

Coming soon…

Drawing down the Moon

Drawing down the Moon

Coming soon…