Since Paganism celebrates the uniqueness of the individual; and the strength of diversity, it is no surprise that each person practices Paganism in their own way. Yet religious observance in the form of rituals is a common part of Pagan practice regardless of tradition. Here, we’ll look at the ways that Pagans practice their religions; and the general steps that make up most Pagan rituals.
Paganism in Practice
Every Pagan’s practice is unique to them. Even for two people who belong to the same tradition, the ways they approach their religions day-to-day will differ. Also, within the framework of a shared religious context, people have different spiritual needs.
The subject of prayer is a bit contentious in Paganism. Some people find it to be a rewarding and valuable part of their practices, while others consider it needless; as we are each able to engage in direct communication with the Gods. Yet, for some, prayer can be a useful piece of religious technology; helping strengthen feelings of connection and resolve during spiritual challenges. Whether, and how often, a Pagan prays and to Whom is entirely up to them.
While Pagans vary in how much they come together in person; we are a community that has very much taken to the Internet and rely upon it as a way to learn, share; and strengthen our community and individual practices. Between blogs, community sites, news sites; and hundreds of thousands of Pagans visible on social media; an active and thriving Pagan community is available to us all; regardless of where we live. A few minutes spent on any search engine can easily yield more results; than you could ever hope to sort through.
Devotion to the Gods can take many forms; it isn’t merely relegated to formal ritual in front of an altar. We can honor the Gods and strengthen our connection to; Them when we think of Them and research the ways that ancient peoples perceived and honored; Them just as much as we do when we make offerings to Them. And those offerings can take many forms. They can be food and drink; but they can also be in the form of embodied activities such as song and dance, art, volunteering at a shelter, time spent in nature picking up trash and restoring the landscape, archery, handcrafts; or running. In this way, Pagans may worship the Gods daily and not just on recognized religious holidays.
Actively learning about our traditions and Gods through study, sharing; and direct experience makes up the bulk of Pagan practice for many people.
Divination is a way for us to check in on the energy currents active in our lives; and many Pagans utilize divination on a daily basis. More than just fortune telling; divination is a way for you to learn more about yourself, to communicate with spirits such as your ancestors, and to gain another perspective on important issues you’re facing. Tarot, oracle cards, runes, ogham, throwing the bones, pendulums, scrying; and geomancy are a few types of divination Pagans may use.
The ease of meditation; paired with the calm and clarity of mind that it brings; makes it a common practice for many Pagans. It is an adaptive practice that all can engage in regardless of tradition.
For many Pagans, working magick forms a significant part of their spiritual practice. This may look like daily energy exercises to strengthen psychic skills and sensitivity, regular astral travel; energy work as part of a larger energy-healing practice, the creation of charms and talismans for oneself and others; or simple enchantment of meals for good health and vitality.
Most Pagans practice as solitaries, and many do so by choice; yet it is also common for Pagans to come together as a community in a variety of ways. However, some Pagans will never gather with others; this doesn’t negatively impact their ability to be Pagan.
The Goals of Gathering
When planning a group ritual, there are a number of factors to keep in mind. Regardless of their purpose, group rituals are first and foremost for the group. Even in a Heathen blót, for example; in which the purpose of the ritual is to sacrifice to the Gods, the ritual is a means for those individuals to come together as a community and honor the Gods. The ritual must be designed to accommodate the needs of the individuals involved; otherwise they can’t fulfill the purpose of the ritual.
These accommodations include making sure:
•the ritual has clearly defined start and end times;
•the ritual is hosted at an easily accessible location;
•there are plenty of chairs (with arms and without arms) available for people who can’t stand for long periods of time;
•there is a handicap-accessible bathroom available and stocked with plenty of toiletries;
•all ritual food is labeled with the ingredients noted for those who have food allergies;
•and paper copies of the ritual format and any spoken parts are available for everyone.
An important part of group ritual, too; is ensuring that everyone knows what is going to happen before the ritual begins. There is no spiritual benefit to anyone involved in deciding mid-ritual to change things up; and call in new spirits or deities or suddenly take the participants on an intense journey to the Underworld. This not only betrays trust but also betrays consent. We each have a right to decide what spirits and deities we engage with; and in what magickal work we want to participate.
Ritual Steps and Procedures
However, not all traditions refer to their formal religious observances as rituals. Instead, it may be more common to refer to the ritual by the specific category it falls under within that tradition. These are rituals to sacrifice to and honor the Gods and to strengthen the community, respectively. It’s important to also note that exact steps for a ritual may vary depending upon the tradition. We’ll explore general ritual steps shortly, but it isn’t unusual for a tradition to not include all of these steps or to include additional steps.
Although a ritual generally follows set steps, in practice, it can be quite spontaneous and organic for solitary Pagans. There will be times when you will be out in nature and feel moved by the beauty of the place and very connected to the Gods. This is a perfect moment to recognize the sacredness of the land and honor your connection to the Gods through an impromptu ritual, perhaps involving an offering of your water; a song, or a simple moment of quiet meditation to open yourself to the presence and words of the Gods, as well as any land spirits.
Ritual is an important part of Pagan practice and a way for you to formally acknowledge the sacred in your life. It is a way of reaffirming faith, as it is a means for you to focus intently on your connection to forces much larger than yourself. This means for you to honor and be with the Gods, to raise energy to effect changes in your life and the world around you. You need to come together with community and work to create change on a local and global level, to confront the darkest parts of yourself and bring them into the light so you can heal and grow. Ritual is how you stand in a world that can feel so very hectic and choking at times and reclaim your right to live with purpose and with a focus on the sacred.
There is no right or wrong way to do ritual. Mistakes can happen, yes, but your Gods are far more concerned with your efforts and what you choose to do than with whether or not you remembered to bless the ritual wine before pouring it out.
As long as you approach ritual for what it is—a way for you to touch the sacred—you cannot do it wrong. But, nonetheless, be sure to turn off your phone before a group ritual begins. How focused can you be on calling the Gods and raising energy if you’re trying to get the perfect photo of the altar? Above all, be present for the ritual; after all, that’s why you’re there in the first place.
Grounding, Centering, and Purifying
Prior to ritual, it is customary in many traditions to perform some sort of purification of the participants and of the space in which the ritual is held (if held indoors; outdoor spaces do not require purification or cleansing). This may involve the use of smoldered herbs, such as in incense, to individually bathe the space and the participants in order to remove miasma (ritual pollution and energy that could prove disruptive in the ritual). It can also involve sprinkling the space and participants with consecrated water, using a bell to energetically cleanse the area, or sprinkling consecrated salt around the ritual space.
Some groups and individuals may also perform energetic exercises such as grounding, where the individual establishes an energetic link between themselves and the Earth below and between themselves and the sky above, creating a complete energetic circuit. This has the effect of balancing the energies within the body and removing excess energy. From there, centering exercises may be done. These move your focus from being too externally or too internally focused and instead place your awareness at that point where the physical body, the mind and emotions, and the spirit body meet. This induces a calm yet attentive state that is conducive to ritual.
Delineating Sacred Space
The ritual typically begins with the creation of sacred space. This phrasing can seem odd, as Pagans hold that all of the natural world is sacred, yet when we create sacred space as part of a ritual, we are setting that space aside from the everyday and focusing energies toward the purpose of the ritual.
This creates an energetic ring that then extends into a sphere, setting the ritual space between the worlds. The casting of a circle or creation of a nemeton has the effect of creating an energetic boundary, changing the way that participants experience time, and aids in maintaining concentration and focus.
Not all traditions will create sacred space in such a fashion, and those that do may not do so for every ritual. Some traditions will instead bless or hallow the space to make it fit for the Gods but will not go to such lengths to alter the energy of the space.
Calling the Powers
In Wiccan rituals, this will typically begin by calling the Elements: spirits of Earth and direction of north, spirits of Air and direction of east, spirits of Fire and direction of south, and spirits of Water and direction of west. Druids may call the powers of land, sky, and sea to bless and watch the ritual. The word evoke is the proper term, as it means to call a spirit or deity to you but outside of your body, such as when we invite the Gods to be present during ritual.
In a solitary ritual, you will be calling all spirits and deities on your own, using whatever means you feel most comfortable with or that They require of you (in the case of the Gods).
Purpose of the Ritual
Remembering that ritual is a general term for a Pagan religious service, what happens at this point can vary greatly. It could involve the celebration of a rite of passage, perhaps the dedication of a new member to that group. Or it could involve ritual theater as part of celebrating one of the Sabbats, such as a dramatic play inspired by the Eleusinian mysteries and performed at the Autumnal Equinox.
This is also when any magick is worked. In traditions that embrace Oracular work, the Gods will be invoked into the body of a spirit worker or medium and then speak through that person’s lips, delivering guidance and wisdom. The group may also work together to raise energy toward a common goal, perhaps sending healing energy to one of their members or working to create change on a larger scale, such as to influence lawmakers on issues relating to the land and marginalized peoples.
Blessing and Sharing
A common part of group rituals is the sharing of food and drink. In some traditions, this is a way for us to express gratitude for the abundance of the Earth and to communally acknowledge the ways in which the Gods are active in our lives. There is also something so beautifully intimate about sharing food and drink with each other. It creates bonds where none had been and strengthens bonds that otherwise have grown weak. It is a moment in which we experience one another as true equals.
This food and drink are typically first blessed. In a solitary ritual, you can do this by holding your hands over the food and/or drink and asking that the Gods bless them, using these or similar words:
[Deity], bless this food and drink that, as it nourishes my body, Your presence in my life may nourish my mind and spirit.
Thanking and Farewells
Other spirits and beings who have been called to the ritual space will then also be thanked for coming. This may involve additional libations and offerings, such as water or incense.
Some traditions may recite words to denote that the ritual has come to a close and calling a final blessing onto the participants, perhaps that all may depart in peace or that all may leave with the love of the Gods in their hearts. (Note that there is no set verbiage or protocol across all traditions.)