How to create a pagan ritual
Learn how to create a pagan ritual with advice on ritual tools, altar, attire, opening and closing a ritual and more.
Ritual is belief in action. It is taking theory, idea and spiritual commitment, and moving them into the realm of being. Through ritual we express our beliefs and give them life.
Rituals serve all manner of purposes, from the mundane to the magical, but ultimately they serve to express what is within us; to give us an outlet for our spirituality that reveals not only what we believe, but also what those beliefs mean in grand scope of the universe.
While it is true that a ritual can be said to imply any kind of repetitive task, this article is about Pagan Ritual and the religions that use them. So we will be focusing on rituals and magical workings in this regard, providing an insight into what they mean and how to construct your own.
Every religion in the world has it’s rituals of one kind or another and for this reason it would become impractical to even try and list them all here. For this reason I would suggest that you take the time to look into the rituals that are closest to your religious beliefs or otherwise connected to the Gods that you revere.
However, this article isn’t primarily about rituals that already exist, it is about creating your own. Obviously those that are already out there are well worth looking into. If nothing else they can provide great examples that can feed your imagination when creating your own.
Types of Ritual
Among the most common rituals are those used to give reverence to someone or something. This most often means a God or Gods, but can also include ancestors, spirit beings, faeries, dragons or even a certain person within the community, such as a great leader or spiritual advisor.
The key goal in rituals of this sort is that they aim to offer praise and respect to a certain person, people or beings. In most incidents this would involve that individual(s) to be present to receive that honouring, so in the case of Gods and spirits, this often involves summoning them to attendance or holding the ritual in a place sacred to those that are being honoured, such as a temple or sacred grove. Worship in these rituals can be offered in many ways, including sacrifices, offerings, prayer, song and possibly even poetic verse.
Wedding ceremonies extend across just about every culture in some way and exist in many forms in different mythologies. Even the Gods get married in myth, with great celebrations to mark the event (often coupled by some rather extreme honeymoons).
Marriages aren’t always seen to be involving the Gods; sometimes they are merely declarations of a loving union between those involved. However, more often these unions are symbolised by elaborate rituals that are both social and spiritual events for those involved, with the Gods in witness of the union.
People die and worldwide humanity has come to commemorate their passing. Strangely, rites and rituals to mark death are probably more common around the world than those to mark birth.
The commonality between all funerary rites is in some predetermined disposal of the body, either in burial, entombment, burning or mummification. But the rituals themselves that precede or follow this are often intended to mark the life of the individual and help them to cross into the other world with ease. Sometimes the Gods or another spiritual being will be called upon to receive the soul of the deceased and escort them into their next life.
Most of our yearly rituals take place on the same date each year. But some there are some rituals that exist to mark a seasonal event in itself. Ancient Celtic and modern neo-Pagan religions (among others) have many rituals to celebrate the passing of the seasons and these are often envisioned in the lives of the Gods.
The Season holidays of modern Paganism are probably the most well known events that those new to Paganism will encounter first. They will also seem the most familiar, as a large number of them were co-opted by Christianity and have become our more well-known holidays in the West.
Sometimes a party just doesn’t need any other reason. Some religions have rituals that exist for no other reason than to celebrate, raise energy and lift the spirits of the group. These celebrations are often a part of some particular religious event, like honouring a certain God, but in these cases it seems those Gods are honoured by just having the best time that you can have. A good example of these would be the public festivals dedicated to Gods such as Dionysus, which involved several days of partying, drinking and merriment. Or across Europe from our Nordic brethren we have rituals such as the Sumbel, which is a traditional drinking celebration. This celebration can contain many ritual acts, including toasting the Gods, celebrating your past, present and future, and tale-spinning.
In some cases these revelries also serve a dual purpose, such as receiving prophetic visions through drinking and ecstatic dance, as may have been the practice in the ancient Mystery Religions, or setting in motion the events that we desire for the future by declaring them at the toast of a drink before your gathered friends.
Rituals of atonement are pledges of apology and requests for forgiveness. These kinds of rituals are probably less common in Paganism; however the idea of reclaiming ones own honour and dignity through deeds certainly isn’t, as is depicted in the literature surrounding our Pagan ancestors.
In many ways this outlines a crucial difference between Pagan religions and Abrahamic religions, as Paganism very often prefers the idea of making up for the mistakes you make, as opposed to simply confessing them. However, that being said, there are still examples (mostly in folklore or myth) of people making offering and sacrifices to the Gods and other beings in order to atone for some mistake they have made. But mythology also implies that Pagan Gods don’t always take kindly to being offended; often conjuring up some rather imaginative punishments for those that offend them the most.
Rituals of this type are probably among the most fun, at least for those who like to take centre stage. In these rituals, those gathered assume the roles of certain figures (usually mythological) and either through a script or through improvisation, they act out a scene or story that is related to those characters. These rituals are to celebrate those being imitated and to directly show the lessons that their tales teach us.
These days rituals of this kind aren’t all that common, but in some form they can occasionally be found in modern practices, but usually without such a focused structure. The one that you will probably be most familiar with is the Nativity play, though this isn’t Pagan, but similar play acting is also used by Masons and to some degree, Wiccans (among others). However, just because it isn’t all that common doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use play acting yourself, assuming you can get others to share your act.
Purification rituals are fairly common in Paganism, especially tribal based religions. Rituals like this can be utilised with the intent of purifying the body, mind and soul. They tend to act as a way to focus the will of the individual and in some way make them better, cleaner and worthy of taking part in other things.
A ritual of purification you may be aware of is a baptism, where a person symbolically cleans themselves of sin so that they may continue in the religion. However, in Paganism baptisms can be performed using any element, especially water and fire.
But Purification rituals needn’t be focused on a person, they can also be performed on a place in the form of a Consecration. In doing this a location is cleansed in the same way, often for the sake of performing other rituals work there. Consecrated ground is generally considered to be Sacred Space, such as ritual circles, burial mounds or sacred groves.
Similar to purification rituals, but with a different intent. Where purification is used to rid a person of some kind of negative element about themselves, an Anointment is a way to prepare a person for a larger working.
When anointed the individual is made ready to receive a connection to the larger powers of the universe, having been marked as worthy of this kind of connection. In this way it is a focus for the mind and spirit of the person, allowing them to enter into the ritual mindset that they will need in order to connect to the spiritual energies around them.
Rites of Passage
There are a great many Rites of Passage in life and our many world cultures have made some exceptional rituals to celebrate them. A rite of passage is designed to mark the passing from one point in life, into another of notable significance. This could be the passage into adulthood, an initiation into a group, the marked onset of old age, a personal Dedication ritual, or the ascension to a certain position of prestige.
Constructing a Ritual
With a good idea of what you believe and the path that you wish to follow, you can begin to construct rituals in accordance to your beliefs. If you are lucky then you will already have some idea as to the kind of rituals that are practiced in your religion. If so then this step by step guide will act as a source to help you put your beliefs into action.
What do I want to do?
This is the most obvious first consideration. There is no point in even considering a ritual if you haven’t a clue of what it is that you are trying to achieve. Look into the beliefs of your religion and use the examples above as a way to steer you onto the kind of thing that you wish to do.
Remember, entering into a ritual practice is not just a dull repetition of words and actions that you have written down in advance, it is an expression of your inner self, as such, ritual is a way to adjust your mindset and use the practice to not only impact your own psychology, but also a way to leave a lasting mark on the spiritual environment around you.
If any ritual is done correctly, then the person or people doing it will be putting their energies, thoughts and feelings into the ritual, speaking from their heart and attempting to really make it mean something. Because of this, a successful ritual can’t help but leave an impression upon the surrounding spiritual landscape, even if only for a short time.
This is important to consider, because if you are going to apply that much of yourself into something then you should really understand what it is you are doing and perhaps more importantly, why you are doing it. If, however, you are not putting your whole heart into the ritual, then is there really any point in doing it?
So when asking yourself what you want to do in your ritual, remember to consider what that means. Once you understand that, you will have the groundwork for where the rest of your ritual is heading.
Where shall I hold my Ritual?
Among many Pagan traditions there is a practice in which the place that you hold a ritual should either have sacred significance, or otherwise be prepared as sacred space for the purpose of the ritual.
For our ancestors this may have involved worshipping in sacred groves or maybe amongst the standing stones across Europe. But these days such things aren’t too easy to come buy. While it is true that you can feel free to practice in a woodland clearing that provides you with a sense of spiritual significance, it is often far more practical to simply set aside some easily accessible space and sanctify it. In modern witchcraft, this practice is usually achieved through sweeping an area to rid it of negative energies and then casting a Magic Circle.
Ceremonial Magicians, on the other hand, tend to set aside some space in their home to use as a permanent temple or sacred space. For some of us this isn’t a practical option and so a temporary temple can be made that may be quickly erected when needed.
We’ll discuss how to create Sacred Space shortly.
When should I perform it?
Rituals are generally held in order to mark an event of some sort, so of course it makes sense to perform your ritual to coincide with the event you are marking. Seasonal Rituals are perhaps the most obvious examples, held in order to mark the significance of the changing seasons or some other celestial event. For rituals with a little more flexibility, there are other aspects that you may want to consider when determining the timing of your ritual. Some examples may be the day of the week, the position of the Moon (or other planets) and the time of day or night. Considering these kinds of things can also be useful for magical works, so if you intend on working magic in your ritual, it may be a good idea to take timing into account for that reason.
Different phases of the Moon are said to be appropriate times for different kind of workings. For example, in some traditions of Wicca, monthly Esbats would ideally be held on the Full Moon. But the Moon can play a part in the timing of a ritual in other ways, too.
New Moon: The Dark Moon, invisible to the eye, is a time of preparation. The Moon is yet to be reborn, so rituals and magic concerning new beginnings are best performed at this time. In some traditions this time is seen as a time of rest when no magics are worked, but in others it may be looked upon as a good time for beginning new ventures. Perhaps if you were planning some kind of Dedication Ritual, this would be the best time, as it is a for examination of hidden things and mysteries, as well as new beginnings.
Waxing Moon: When the moon becomes visible again and is in a state of growth, this is known as its “waxing” time. Workings that focus on growth and development may be best suited to this time, but as such it can also be a time for improvement in situations of love and general blessings, with the idea that as the moon grows, so too will the strength of the blessing. At this phase in the Moon’s cycle, it is manifest once more and so it is a good time to do rituals and magic, which are geared towards bringing something into being or drawing things close to you.
Full Moon: The Moon is full and pregnant now, bursting with light and power. This time is good for a great many workings, especially those concerning female and Goddess energies. The cycle of the Moon can be compared to female menstrual cycle and at this time it is at the height of its majesty. This makes it a good time for fertility rites and calling upon female deities. In addition, because the moon is at the fullest point in its cycle, it is a good time to focus on culminations and the fruition of any other things you have been working towards. This is when the energies of the pregnant moon are ready to help all your plans peak and deliver the greatest bounty. The Full Moon has long had a reputation for affecting people’s minds, causing a temporary lunacy. Perhaps this is why the Full Moon is often seen as a good time for revelry and merriment. Many also see the Full Moon as appropriate for the exploration of their psychic potential and the development of that part of themselves.
Waning Moon: As the moon shrinks and recedes back into darkness, it symbolises a movement towards death. Because of this it is a good time to perform magics and rituals that focus upon endings. This is a time of destruction, as the moon starts to disappear again, so workings in that theme are well placed now. Stopping unwanted habits, breaking curses and ending relationships are good examples of workings for this time. It can also be a time to rest and take a break from things. Some may see this as a good time for contacting the dead, but others would consider such things better suited to either the Full Moon or New Moon.
Days of the Week
The days of the week are seen as significant in many ways. Firstly, the days themselves are names after certain Gods and so if working with these Gods that might be a good time to petition them. Otherwise, the days also have other correspondences.
Monday: The day of the Moon. Thusly it is good for work that involves female issues, emotions and the Mysteries. Unsurprisingly, this day is ruled by the Moon.
Tuesday: Tyr’s Day. Tyr was a Norse God, noted for his great valour in combat and his incredible honesty. He was willing to sacrifice his hand so that the Gods could bind the great wolf Fenrir. The Romans marked this day by the God Mars, who is still the planet associated with Tuesday. Workings for this day have definitely picked up the traits of Tyr and Mars, as today is regarded as a good time for works of discipline, courage, athletics and passion.
Wednesday: Odin’s Day (Woden’s Day). Odin was the All Father, chief among the Norse Gods. He was seen to be the wisest of the Gods and tore out his own eye so that he might obtain the secrets of the Runes, which were later gifted to mankind. Wednesday is ruled by the planet Mercury, who also shares some connection to the naming of the day from the Latin. This day has attained correspondences with both Odin and Mercury. It is seen as seen as a good day for workings regarding wisdom and artistic pursuits, but also communication and travel.
Thursday: Thor’s Day. Thor was a God of Thunder and struck down his enemies using the magical hammer, Mjolnir. Thursday was attributed to Jupiter by the Romans. Jupiter, as an equivalent to Thor in the naming of the day, also wielded the power of the thunderbolt. The alignment of this day has kept more in connection to Jupiter (which is its ruling planet), than it has to Thor. Thusly this day is good for workings that focus on leadership, prosperity, wealth and health.
Friday: Frigg’s Day. Frigg is the wife of Odin and a Goddess associated with love, marriage, fertility and motherhood. It is no surprise then that she should become the equivalent to Venus who marked this day for the Romans. Venus is still the ruling planet of this day, which is why this day is best used for workings of love, romance, friendship, sex and beauty.
Saturday: Saturn’s Day. This is the only day that has retained a directly Roman name, in their God Saturn. Saturn was the God of the harvest and so this day can be seen to be a time to reap rewards of labour and to put an end to work for a time. Pretty appropriate for the start of the weekend, really. However, Saturn is comparable also to the Greek God Cronus, the ruler of the Golden Age of man. Cronus’ mythology shows him as a conqueror who attempts to gain and maintain his power. This day mirrors that to a degree, as it is seen as good time for workings that involve removing obstacles and addressing problems.
Sunday: The Day of the Sun. Of course this day is rather unsurprisingly aligned with the Sun. As the Sun is the ruler of the sky, today is a day for authority, success and sovereignty. Preceding the feminine alignment of Monday, Sunday has masculine connections and so is a good time for performing workings that relate to men.
Night and Day
To some, the different hours of the day hold different astrological connections. However, listing these out as well could take up a severe amount of space that just isn’t constructive to this article, so instead we’ll look at the basic principles of Night and Day.
Day time: As the Sun is in the sky, this is obviously the best time for any kind of working that relates to the Sun. But that doesn’t mean that it is the only time when you can work with these energies. The daytime is light and exposed, so it is a good time for open celebrations, especially those that you don’t mind being public. As a very male orientated time it is well disposed for celebrations of virility and athletic activities.
The Sun is also very significant for Solstice and Equinox rituals, in which the entire point is to use the passage of the Sun as the ritual focus, marking the shortest and longest days of the year, as the Sun enters its lowest and highest phases.
Night time: Night is for private functions and secret gatherings. As a time of darkness it is closely connected to the Mysteries, so it is well suited to these kinds of rituals. The Moon is the ruler of the night, serving as the light in the darkness. As mentioned, the moon is aligned to feminine energies and so the night is well disposed to working with feminine energies. But there is no reason you shouldn’t work with these energies at other times, too.
The night also reveals to us the constellations of the stars and so it is a good time for considering other astrological works.
One may wish to take into account other aspects of timing, such as astrological alignments and mystical numerology. If these things interest you at all then I would recommend looking into books on these subjects or otherwise checking the internet. Various paths may place different significance to different numbers, times and heavenly events, so to make things easier, first look to see if your specific religion/path has any teachings regarding these things.
What do I need?
Preparation really is the key to any successful ritual. Really, there is no worse situation to be in than to reach a crucial moment in a ritual only to discover you have left something important in your kitchen or forgotten to prepare appropriate words for that part.
Preparing a ritual is in itself a very significant part of the entire process, not only for the obvious need to know what you are going to do, but also because in the preparation of a ritual you are forced to give some thought into what each and every step in that ritual signifies and consider why you will be performing each bit.
For the solo practitioner this gives a situation where there shouldn’t be anything in the ritual that doesn’t hold some kind of personal significance, while for the group based ritual the members have the opportunity to attain an understanding of a ritual from many different perspectives and even learn about new things in context to the ritual.
This stage is the opportunity to learn and expand your understanding of what you are doing, so feel free to take your time and really put your mind into your ritual.
The best way to prepare your ritual is to write it down, planning it step by step on paper so that you can get a real impression of how it is going to run and everything you will be doing. Treat your ritual like a script, complete with dialogue and stage directions. Learn it as best you can so that your ritual goes smoothly.
Scripting out your ritual also provides you with the additional benefit of giving you a hard copy that outlines everything else you will need for your ritual. Go through it and use it as a way to make a list of all the tools, ingredients and similar items that you will need, so that you can get them all gathered together ready before you begin.
Having taken the time to script out your ritual, you should already be aware of what tools you will need in order to perform it. But more importantly, you should have had an opportunity to examine their significance.
In rituals we use a great many tools that serve a variety of purposes. Some tools are purely practical, while others are used because of what they signify. Common examples of these kinds of tools are as follows:
Effigies: An effigy is a small statue or image and in rituals they are often used to represent different Gods. When used, an effigy can be a focus for prayers, petitions or the attendance of a deity. Effigies show how that figure is deemed to be important and may even be thought of as presiding over the ritual. Instead of effigies some people will simply use lit candles to represent their deities and this is absolutely fine. If you feel this is more appropriate for you, then by all means do so.
It is important to understand that when effigies are used, they are not offered any kind of worship themselves. No, the effigy is merely a representation of that God or Goddess and any worship offered is to the actual deity and not the statue.
Censers, Incense and Offerings
If your ritual is intended to give worship then it may be appropriate to make some kind of offering or sacrifice. Incense is a common offering in many religions, with certain scents thought of as being pleasing to the Gods. If you intend on doing this then you will need to make sure you have the appropriate incense, as well as a burner or censer with which to use it. The smoke from incense can also be used to represent the element of Air or for some it may be used to help purify an area. However, some people simply find that incense just makes for a more pleasant environment in which to work.
An altar is like the workbench of a ritual. Although not all rituals will use altars, those that do may use them a great variety of ways. Generally speaking, a ritual that uses an altar revolves around the altar. That is, the altar makes up a very central point of the ritual, if not for symbolic reason, then for sheer practical reasons of having a place to put all other tools. An altar may serve as a place to keep tools, make offerings and direct the ritual from.
Magical Tools as Ritual tools
The same tools that may be used in magical acts often all serve as ritual tools, as well. Blades, drinking vessels, wands, etc. can and do serve purposes beyond the magical. Some may serve to indicate who is leading a ritual or who is responsible for certain tasks, while others can have their own distinct ritual uses.
Examine the tools of your path and see if any of them are appropriate to your ritual.
In rituals designed to mark certain seasonal celebrations, there are often a variety of decorations that are added to houses and ritual spaces in order to add to the festivities. Tinsel, Jack O’Lanterns, holly and mistletoe are good examples of season adornments that can be added to a ritual and in some cases putting up these decorations can be a ritual in and of itself.
Along with magical and ritual tools, you have to consider the practical things you will need, such as torches for finding your way to outdoor rituals, candle holders and rubbish bags. It’s the practical tools that can catch a lot of people out the first time round. Need to light candles? Make sure you have a lighter or matches. Need to cut food? Make sure you have a knife. Will you be drinking in your ritual? Be sure to bring cups. It’s the little things like this that can turn an otherwise well planned ritual into chaos and disorder.
You might like to consider certain ingestible ingredients for your ritual, such as drink, cakes or bread. Indeed, some rituals revolve around the idea of consuming food and drink, or otherwise have an official meal that takes place after the main ritual itself.
Alternatively, you may need to consider ingredients in regards to spell components, if you are intending on working magic during a ritual.
Ritual dress can be a big part of any working. Robes, cords and jewellery help you to get in the right frame of mind, as well as signifying that the ritual is something special that deserves its own proper dress. In addition, some items of clothing can be symbolic in their own right, both for the individual wearing them and for use in the actual ritual. Ritual dress can also mean costumes used for play acting, which can be anything from crowns and animals skins, to full on character regalia.
Magic in Rituals
You may wish to perform magic during a ritual and this is completely fine. Indeed, some rituals have no purpose beyond working magic. The only real consideration to take into account when wanting to work magic as part of a ritual is whether or not the magic you are considering is appropriate to the rest of the ritual that is taking place. After all, a spell designed to help you quit smoking wouldn’t really sit too well within a ritual designed to celebrate the birth of a God.
Performing magics within a ritual when the two are not compatible to each other can undermine both the ritual and the magic you are trying to create. One brings forth one mindset while the other would require a sudden shift into another desire and mentality. Basically, when you create your ritual space, you do so with an intent and it is best to stay within the alignment of that intent.
Indeed, your mentality is something that is worth keeping in mind with regard to rituals and magic, and a good reason not to overdo the use of spell work in a ceremony. But then there are also the practical implications of having more to remember and the problems with space on your altar. Your ritual space will only be so big and trying to do lots of spells all at once will just create clutter, both mentally and physically in your ritual space.
However, there is no reason why you can’t work magics as part of a ritual even if you have no singular intention for it. Lots of groups use rituals as an opportunity to raise power within their circle and then direct it out into the universe with nothing more than “positive intent”.
Spells in themselves often take the shape of rituals in their own right. As such they can be designed along similar guidelines, although there may be more things to consider in regards to how, when and why you are casting the spell.
But as far as designing your spells goes, it is also worth thinking about how your magical methods will fit into the rituals you are already doing. Consider if you will need extra tools for your spell or whether you will require additional items. If you do need additional items, will you be able to easily make space for them in your ritual space?
Perhaps more importantly though, is the method you will use to weave your spell. Some methods may not be practical in your ritual space, such as drumming and dancing, which could require more space than you have and possibly annoy your neighbours if you will be working inside. So be sure to consider the hidden variables when designing your spells working.
An example of an Honouring Ritual
Here is an example for a Ritual layout which you can use as a guide to creating your own similar rituals. This ritual is designed for honouring the Gods, but also includes the use of basic magic. However, this simple layout can be adapted for a great variety of rituals. Feel free to experiment and find what is best for you.
Before You Begin
Before you begin your ritual it is common to take time cleaning your tools, the ritual space and cleaning yourself. Much of the time this is a method for focusing your mind towards the work you are soon to engage in.
Cleaning Tools: Spending time in silence cleaning your tools is a way to focus your mind as a method of meditation. As you sit cleaning your ritual tools you rest your mind upon them, contemplating what they are and how they are about to be used. You will consider their symbolism and reaffirm your connection to these items, charging them with your own energies as you clean them.
Bathing: Ritual bathing can be a significant part of preparing for your ritual. It allows you to not only clean yourself (preferable for skyclad rituals), but also to “cleanse” your mind of distractions. This is like a small purification ritual before moving into your larger working.
Cleaning the Ritual Space: Sweeping, anointing and preparing the space for your ritual is in itself a significant act. It announces that something special is about to take place there and that the area is being made suitable for it. This cleansing is not just for brushing away dust and dirt, though, it is more about ridding the area of any energies that may be unwanted in the space of the ritual.
Preparing the Altar
The altar is the work-space of a ritual and the usually the central point of the ritual’s Sacred Space. As the focal point of the ritual, the altar becomes the place the gives your ritual direction, as it is a place to keep your ritual tools, ingredients and any offering that you may be using.
Depending upon your tradition, the placement of your altar may be significant. It has become common custom in many groups to place the altar facing North, however some people may find more significance in having a South facing altar. Others may change the position of their altar depending on the rite that is being performed.
North: North is customary to some Traditions as it was seen as the home of the Gods and so any altar that is facing North is automatically aligned towards the Gods and ready to worship them.
East: The East is the point from which the Sun rises every day and so a lot of Traditions place their altar facing East and begin their rituals in that quarter, as the origin of light and revelation.
South: The South is the high-point of the sun, associated with passion and energy. Not many Traditions place their altar in the South, but some groups may choose this position for certain rituals.
West: Altars in the West are suited to workings of deep emotion and the subconscious. The sun sets in the West and as the place of darkness it is associated with the Mysteries.
When preparing your altar, make sure that you have placed upon it or around it, all items that you will need for your ritual, including any tools, effigies and seasonal adornments.
Creating Sacred Space
Sacred space is the difference between somewhere that you could hold a ritual and somewhere that is worthy of your ritual.
The term “Sacred Space” can mean many things to may people and the methods for creating it can vary from tradition to tradition. Some religions will have temples or churches that are built and are sacred spaces unto themselves, and some Pagans will similarly have a temple set up in their house, if they are lucky. But for many Pagans the matter of creating Sacred Space involves doing so each time they hold a ritual.
Sacred Space is basically taking the area of your ritual and before you begin, marking it in some way in order to consecrate it to your purpose. This can be a simple symbolic act, perhaps involving a small dedication to the Gods, or it can be a significant part of the ritual itself, in which surrounding and personal energies are drawn together in order to align the space to your working.
The act of creating Sacred Space is common to a good majority of Pagan paths and they all have their own ways of doing it, which despite appearing different in their methods, remain extremely similar in their theory and intent. Here are a few examples:
Asatru: The most common method in Asatru for creating Sacred Space before a ritual is called “The Hammer Rite”. This rite itself is a Neo-Pagan development, but believed by many to be based around the symbolism of Mjollnir, the hammer of Thor.
This rite usually involves a dual declaration, one towards the altar and one facing away from it (covering both directions of the ritual space), in which the person calls upon the hammer to sanctify the space. This is sometimes coupled with the striking of a hammer in each direction.
Kemeticism: In the Kemetic religion, the Sacred Space is created by purifying the Shrine (akin to the altar, here). This is done by physically cleaning the Shrine and the area around it and then touching each object on the Shrine with a mixture of water and Natron. Natron is a substance natural to Egypt, but can be made at home by combining baking soda and salt. As the objects are touched and cleansed, the Kemetic concentrates on making the area a place that is suitable for the Gods to visit.
Wicca: Ritual Sacred Space is created in Wicca through the casting of a Magic Circle. This is done by magically drawing in the energies that naturally surround the caster and projecting them into a protective circle. The area within this Circle will be the Sacred Space of the ritual. In addition to this, Wiccans call upon the services of supernatural beings of the Elements to act as guardians and observers at the four cardinal points of the Circle; North, East, South and West.
The building of the Circle is very much a ritual unto itself and as such forms a significant part of the greater ritual workings that will take place within it.
When we create Sacred Space we are seen to do so on multiple levels, cleansing the area on the physical plane and on the spiritual plane, while also clearing our own minds so that we may be better disposed towards what we are about to do. It is an act of purification and consecration, making the area worthy of our ritual and aligned towards it, while simultaneously doing the same to ourselves.
Opening Your Ritual
With your altar prepared and your Sacred Space cast, it is now time to begin your ritual.
As this is a ritual to honour the Gods, it is necessary to begin by declaring to whom you are dedicating the ritual and inviting them to attend. After all, there is no point in throwing a party for someone if you don’t invite them along.
This part of the ritual is a statement of why you are holding the ritual and a formal request for the guest of honour to join you in the Sacred Space that you have prepared.
Once you have called to your God or Goddess (or both), it may be appropriate to officially mark their attendance; perhaps by lighting a candle in their honour.
If you are lucky enough to own one, you may want to sound the formal opening of the ritual with the blowing of a Ritual Horn.
Now you have the attendance (or at least the attention) of your desired deity, it is time to really begin the Honouring itself.
A statement of recognition is a good way to start, declaring the way in which you personally understand that deity, who they are and what they do. This could be followed with a respectable talk of your own relationship with that deity and what they mean to you.
After this it is a good time to give thanks, letting the God or Goddess in question, know what you are grateful for and what you would like to personally thank them for. What has their presence in your life brought to you? How has your life changed thanks to them? What do they do that you most respect and admire?
Honouring your deity needn’t be restricted to a simple verbal declaration. This is a chance to really express your honour for you deity in the best way that you can. Feel free to give offerings to your God or Goddess, perhaps in the form of food or incense.
For those offering food, it can sometimes be a question as to what you should do with the food. Well, that may very well depend on the God that you are worshipping. If you are honouring a God that is notably charitable and gives high regard to acts of kindness, then perhaps you could gather together the food after the ritual and take it down to a local homeless shelter or otherwise donate it to those more in need of it (unopened, of course).
Alternatively, the food can be consumed by you after the ritual is over, with the spiritual essence of the food having been offered up, you can now feast of its worldly essence. On the other hand, if you are performing your ritual outdoors, you could simply leave it there (but don’t litter) and no doubt animals will make lunch of it before the day is done (or possibly someone else.).
But your offering needn’t be restricted to things like food and drink. This is, after all, supposed to be a personal declaration, so feel free to make it personal. Your offering could be a piece of artwork, a dance, a song, flowers or anything else that you consider appropriate.
Reflect upon the mythology of your God or Goddess to understand the kind of things that they like and give them something that would be appreciated. But also reflect upon your own talents so that you can offer something that truly forms a closer connection between you and your deity. Make it special.
When the main part of your ritual is done, use this time to perform any spell workings that you have worked out in advance. If you have used dance or song to honour your God, then you may want to also use this as a way to build a Cone of Power to empower your magic. This way, the magic that you perform is in keeping with the way in which the rest of the ritual has been held and it can even be used to seek the blessings of your chosen God when it comes to work your magic.
Give thanks and close the ritual
When you are done thank your deity for coming and announce the end of your ritual. This needn’t be too long-winded and can quite easily be summed up in a sentence or two, maybe with the ring of a bell or beat of a drum to signify that the ritual is complete.
Finally, dismiss any other attendees such as ancestors and other spirits, if they were invited to attend and if you cast a Magic Circle, be sure to close it.
After Your Ritual
Once your ritual is finished, there are still things to do. If you work with a permanent ritual space, be sure to tidy it up after your ritual. There is no reason to get into bad habits. The altar has a strong connection to your spiritual subconscious, so if you get into the habit of keeping it cluttered and messy, then it is a mark to your personal discipline and will begin to reflect on your attitude and focus in future rituals. In short, stop bad habits before they begin. If you are going to try and maintain a permanent altar, then you should do it properly.
If you have performed your ritual outdoors, then make sure that you have properly cleaned up after yourself! It can be lovely to enact a ritual in a beautiful woodland clearing, but just make sure that you leave it just as beautiful as you found it. Take all litter, ritual bits and personal belongings away with you.
Any temporary altars should be dismantled and cleared away, making especially sure that all candles are extinguished and that no incense has been left burning. Your ritual tools should be cleaned and returned to a safe and special place, as well.
After a ritual it is a good idea to Ground yourself, especially if magic has been worked during that ritual. Grounding a method by which we allow the energies f the ritual to drain away and leave us, so that we are not affected by them after the ritual. Grounding also allows us to replenish our own energies by removing our mental focus away from the ritual and into a regular mode of thinking. This way we do not continue to expend our energies haphazardly through unintentional acts of thought. Instead we can replenish our reserves by taking in new energies to replace those we have already spent, drawing them from food, drink and the Earth beneath us.
The process of clearing away and cleaning on the other end of the ritual can act as a good way to ground you. It brings you slowly out of your ritual mindset and allows you move your thoughts towards mentally establishing that the ritual is over and it is time to move on.
Many Traditions enjoy a good meal after a ritual in order to help ground them. This refreshes their minds, fills their bellies and replaces lost energies from the ritual or spell work.
A Grounding Meditation
If you feel like you need to, you can do a short meditation to Ground yourself as well. This short meditation is simply to do and doesn’t take long at all. I would also recommend ending it with a nice drink and some food.
Sit cross legged on the floor, as close to the ground as possible and close your eyes.
Feel your bottom against the ground and visualise how your spine curves in at the end, like a tail. Picture this tail taking root in the ground beneath you, slowly digging downwards like the roots of a plant, connecting you to the Earth.
Imagine that your root is going deep into the Earth and then when it is firmly rooted down, that natural curve takes a hold, securing you there.
You are now part of the Earth. You are one with the Earth and its energies and your root will act like a plant, taking in the energies of the Earth and feeding them back up to you.
Imagine these energies filling you up, let them replenish you.
Once you feel refreshes and ready, simply pull back your roots and sit for a moment. Get comfortable and let yourself feel healthier and fuller.
You are refreshed and ground. Open your eyes, stand, stretch and have a nice drink.