To ensure the feeling of connection is achieved, the purpose of the ritual and the format of the ritual should be very clear and easy to follow for all participants. Care should be taken to be sure you will not be disturbed will doing the ritual, for example: turn off the ringer on your phone, hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign, pen up unruly pets, arrange for a sitter for children who are present but will not be attending the ritual.
If the ritual includes reading from a book or other printed matter be sure to have sufficient candle light and consider using larger than normal type when printing materials for use in low light. Ideally the majority of words said, sung or chanted in ritual should be memorized to avoid distraction and achieve the greatest results.
1. The altar:
The altar itself can be round, square, rectangular or even triangular. The altar can be a table, a chair, a tree stump, a bookshelf, the top of a box or trunk (in which you store your tools while they are not in use), or the Earth herself. An altar cloth (if used) should be of a non-flammable material and not so valuable that you will be upset if wax or wine is spilled on it. Avoid loud patterns which will detract from the beauty of the tools placed on it. If you do have a pretty silk scarf or embroidered cloth that you would like to use, but not ruin, have a piece of glass (preferably safety glass) cut to fit your altar top or you will be sure to ruin the cloth with candle wax or burning incense.
2. Altar tools, etc.:
The tools you use in ritual can be old or new, purchased, found, or made by you. If new, especially if you make it yourself, the tool should only need consecrating and charging before use. If the tool is old and/or used, and you are not sure of its origin, cleansing before consecrating and charging is important. If you can not make a tool from scratch consider personalizing it in some way.
Many practitioners of magic avoid using any ferrous (that which
a magnet will attach to) metals on the altar except for the athame
and sword. Because energy is considered to be something akin to
an electrical force, and electrical forces can be affected by
ferrous metals we try to use bronze, copper, pewter, gold, silver,
ceramic, wood or glass for altar tools. Some even go so far as
to be sure there are no ferrous nails or screws in any table they
use for an altar.
The powers of Air, Fire, Water and Earth are used when cleansing, consecrating and charging your tools and other magical objects, so knowledge of the elemental correspondences is essential.
Athames, swords, staves and wands are usually considered male tools, while chalices and cauldrons are usually considered female tools. The shape of each tool is a clue. Of course a person of either gender may use any of these tools and balanced energy is best achieved when a solitary or group consisting of people of all one gender uses at least some tools and/or symbols of the opposite gender.
Remember: Many people consider their magical tools to be intensely personal objects-so never touch anyone else's magical tools without asking permission first. The same goes for magical jewelry. Since the purpose of an object or piece of jewelry may not be obvious it is best to err on the side of caution and ALWAYS ask permission before touching anything which belongs to anyone.
a. Athames and Swords:
Usually not used for cutting any actual objects, but some people use their athame for food preparation or inscribing candles with the belief that the athame then lends its magic to the task at hand. Athames or swords are used for directing energy and may be used for casting the circle, invoking and banishing the elements, and for "cutting" people in and out of the circle. The sword is also traditionally used for "parting the veil" at Samhain. Research by the Farrar's shows that a sword or athame is appropriately used for cutting a wedding (or handfasting) cake even if it is never used for cutting any thing else tangible.
A staff is a large version of the wand. It is typically the same height as its owner. Before choosing a tree from which to make a staff carefully research the magical properties of various types of wood and the methods for ritually cutting the tree. Standard length for a staff equals that of its user's height.
A staff can be used for casting a circle, directing energy, and challenging those entering the circle.
The wand may be used for casting the circle, invoking the elements and for sending energy. Wands may be made of wood, copper, crystal, or combinations of these. Do not choose a wand on looks alone-research the magical properties of each material before including it in your wand. Standard length of a wand is found by measuring from your elbow to the tip of your middle finger.
d: Chalice and cauldron:
The chalice and cauldron are both representative of the womb of the Goddess. A goblet, bowl, small cauldron or shell may be used on the altar to hold water. An additional goblet or chalice for holding wine or juice is usually present as well. The chalice is used during the Symbolic Great Rite and for sharing the liquid libation.
The pentacle may be made from wood, clay, glass, copper, or other natural materials and is etched or otherwise decorated with a pentagram. A copper pentacle or disk is sometimes used to reflect Moonlight onto the Priestess during a "Drawing Down" of the moon.
While it is usually o.k. to buy used altar tools, we do not recommend buying used brooms even though you will find some fascinating ones in antique and thrift shops. A broom tends to collect dirt, both physical and otherworldly and you do not need the burden of dealing with someone else's ickiness. The traditional materials for a magical broom are willow and ash, but any natural materials will do.
The broom is used for clearing the circle of all negativity and mundane thoughts.
A Censer is usually a ceramic or metal vessel for holding sand and a block of special charcoal for burning granular incense on. This type of censer is also good for cone incense. Be sure to use sand in the censor and a heat-proof coaster under it to prevent burns.
If the incense will be carried around the circle be sure the censor is easy to handle. If stick incense is used it can be removed from its holder for purposes of censing.
The food shared during the ritual should be a wholesome example of the bounty of the Earth - a gift from the gods to us. Making the cakes from scratch is ideal. If this is not possible buy some crackers, cookies or bread with as many pure ingredients as possible or use slices of fresh fruit. Have a libation dish on the altar for setting aside portions of the cakes to give to the gods when the ritual has ended. This can be done by placing the offering under a tree, burying it or placing it in a stream or the sea.
The traditional liquid libation used in a Wiccan ritual is wine or ale but many people find it more appropriate to substitute juice or other non-alcoholic beverages. The Chalice used by the High Priestess may be passed around the Circle or, if there is concern about passing germs around each person should bring his or her own cup or one should be provided for each person. A libation bowl or cup for an offering of wine to the gods should also be available. Do not mix the offerings of wine and cakes together!
Elemental representations and tools associated with each element to be placed on the altar:
Air: Censer with incense; athame
Fire: Red candle; wand
Water: Dish, cup or cauldron of water; chalice of wine or juice
Earth: Dish of salt; pentacle
Symbols of the Goddess: Candle (white, silver, or female shape) and a representation of a goddess in the form of a statue, shell, or other feminine object.
Symbols of the God: Candle (white, gold, or male shape) and a representation of a god in the form of a statue, antler, or other masculine object.
Other items which are also on the altar: Bell; candle snuffer; small candle for lighting other candles; pantacle (cake plate); libation dish(es); Book of Shadows; Optional: additional candles; flowers; other items for specific rituals.
To be placed near the altar: Broom; staff; sword
3. Steps of Ritual
Before each step of a ritual pause and connect in your mind with those who have done this exact step before back to the beginning of our Craft. Connect with yourself and the times you have done this step before. If it is the first time you have done it - tell yourself you will remember this moment and connect with it in the future. All movement around the Circle should be deosil except for taking up the Circle or work for removing negativity. Some people say goodbye to the elements widdershins as well. How you do each step is up to you - but all steps should be included in one way or another. Try rearranging some of the steps of ritual until they feel right to you.
a. Ritual Bath and/or Anointing
Most people prepare for a ritual by cleansing themselves both physically and psychically.
This can be an actual bath or a hand bath to cleanse away mundane thoughts and worries and prepare mentally for ritual. You can bless the water with the four elements and/or add magical to the bath. Brushing your teeth before ritual is another way of making a distinction between the sacred acts you are about to perform and the rest of your day.
Going into circle with a clean body and clean robe is also a way of showing respect to the gods and the others in the circle. However: if you will be attending a ritual where all participants are expected to use the same ritual bath water (this is rare except within a coven) you are expected to take a bath or shower at home first - the ritual bath is NOT for physical cleansing.
Before entering the Circle, or when you first arrive you can anoint yourself with oil or some other special preparation (the Priest or Priestess will anoint everyone in a group Circle). The anointing is usually done by dipping a finger in the oil and drawing a Pentagram on the forehead (third eye) or over the heart. Remember: essential oils are highly concentrated and she be diluted with a vegetable oil before using or they can burn or cause allergic reactions.
Wiccans who like to blend Native American customs into their rituals will frequently use "smudging" as part of the pre-Circle cleansing. This is done with the smoke from a burning bundle of sage and/or sweetgrass. The smoke is wafted over each person using a fan or feathers.
b. Blessing of Water and Salt:
Water is cleansed by removing negativity - and blessed with positive thoughts. Try for three of each which relate to aspects of Water and the West. Dip your finger or athame into the water and physically cast a few drops of water out three times while saying something like, "I cast out all confusion, fear, and negativity", and the, while holding your finger or athame in the dish of water say, "May this water be blessed with love, nurturing, and understanding".
Salt is already pure so does not need cleansing. We ask the Salt to lend its energy and purity in blessing and consecrating our Circle.
Three pinches of Salt are added to the Water. This can be done with your fingers or with the tip of your athame. Stir deosil while visualizing the elements of Water and Earth coming together and forming a purified mixture which is representative of the salt water in our tears, in the womb and in the ocean.
Bless and consecrate the Circle with the water and salt mixture. Hold vessel of water in one hand while you walk deosil around the Circle sprinkling as you go with the other hand or with a bunch of herbs. The Circle can be blessed with Water and Earth (salt) separately if desired. Some Wiccans like to asperge the people in the Circle as well as the Circle itself.
Sweeping is done by the Handmaiden if there is one - the Priestess if there is not, or anyone doing a solitary ritual. Connect with those who have swept before. Go around the circle three times. While the circle is being swept everyone in the Circle should lend their energies to assist with sweeping the circle clean of all negativity. Go around the circle either once or three times. Be sure to store your broom with the bristles up - so that the magic doesn't fall out.
Do not just grab any old stick of incense for your Circle. Know what is in it, and know the magical significance of each ingredient. Beyrl's "Master Book of Herbalism", and Cunningham's, "Incense, Oils and Brews" are good sources for incense recipes and correspondences.
Bless and consecrate the Circle with incense which represents air and fire. The Circle can be blessed with Air and Fire separately if desired. Again, the people within the Circle may be censed as well.
Incense is also considered to be an offering to the gods and/or a means for carrying messages to the gods.
f. Casting of the circle:
In some traditions Casting is done with the wand, in others it is done with the athame. Research and decide which is right for you. Lacking either you can use one or two fingers. When to do the Casting also varies from tradition to tradition. Whenever directing energy for any purpose be sure to draw the energy from the Earth, the Moon, Sun, etc., rather than depleting your own energy.
The Circle is usually cast by walking around it three times while visualizing an increasing amount of protection. Some visualize the Circle more as a sphere. This can be particularly helpful if you are conducting the Circle in an area you are not completely familiar with or comfortable with. A circle can be cast by walking around just once if enough energy is put into it. This is frequently the choice for especially large circles or when the circle is being cast by someone who is physically challenged.
Some Wiccans consider the circle "cast" through the process of calling the quarters or other actions and do not do a separate circling casting with the wand or athame.
g. Calling the Quarters:
Invite the spirits of each direction and/or element into the Circle. Again, this varies with tradition - some start with the North, others with the East. Really feel the characteristics of each element as you invite them in. Some traditions use a short guided meditation to help the entire group visualize and feel each element which is invited into the Circle.
Each quarter can be acknowledged by tracing a pentagram in the air, bowing, blowing a kiss or anything else which feels appropriate. Some traditions call or "set" Watchtowers at the quarters which are occupied by the elementals.
h. Calling the God and Goddess:
Some people adopt a God and Goddess pair which they work with exclusively. Others invite a different God and Goddess for each ritual or each type of ritual depending on its purpose. Ideally you should research the God and Goddess you intend to invite and know their characteristics. If you are not sure who to call by name at first just say "God and Goddess" or "Lord and Lady". It is customary to light a candle and/or ring a bell as each is invited into your Circle.
i. Statement of Intent:
State the purpose of your ritual. (Full Moon, New Moon, Samhain, for Healing, for a Handfasting, etc.)
j. The heart of the ritual:
This is where you work magic, or do healings, consecrations, etc.
This is a time for just talking and sharing stories and events. Talk is usually confined to matters of a spiritual or psychic nature though each group can set its own guidelines. This part is not necessary, but can help bring a group closer together.
l. Wine and cakes (or cakes and ale):
This sharing of wine and cakes is also known as the "Symbolic Great Rite". The Priest and Priestess use the Chalice and Athame to represent the union of the God and Goddess, man and woman, etc. This is also a way of grounding energy raised during the ritual. There is usually a toast done to the gods so do not drink all of your beverage immediately. Wine is the standard beverage used in the Chalice but juice, water or even milk may be substituted. Be sure to return a little of your wine and a piece of your cake (libations) to the Earth by placing it under a tree or burying it if possible. If your living circumstances do not permit this then visualize doing it. As with much in the craft - it is the thought that counts.
j. Closing the Circle:
Thank the God and Goddess and the spirits of the elements and say goodbye to them. Then take up the circle and/or visualize it sinking back into the Earth. If you have candles lit around the perimeter of your circle you can extinguish these as you send the circle back into the Earth. The Circle is usually ended with the words, "Merry Meet, Merry Part, and Merry Meet Again!" followed by lots of hugging. If you are not comfortable with hugging just say, "I'm not used to hugging yet," or something to that effect. Everyone will (or should) understand. Not all of us go into the Craft as huggers, but we usually end up that way.
4. Ritual without tools
Using ritual tools helps us focus on what we are trying to accomplish. Tools are fun to collect and nice to look at but they are not essential elements for doing ritual. The only essential tool for ritual is your mind.
a. Astral ritual:
An entire ritual can be done in your astral temple. Use the "Steps of Ritual" handout, or any ritual you wish. Close your eyes, relax, and go to a quiet, safe place. Once there you can proceed to set up an altar as simply or elaborately as you choose. As with any ritual take steps to ensure you will not be interrupted (i.e. unplug phone, wait until kids are asleep, etc.)
b. Meditation ritual:
Light one candle, or choose one sacred object to focus on. Sit and clear your mind. Center and ground. Focus on the Air and some of its qualities. Focus on Fire (the candle, the warmth of the Sun, the warmth of a pet or your own body). Focus on water (the sound of rain, an aquarium of fish, how the ocean looked and felt and smelled the last time you saw it). Focus on Earth (the solid feel of the Earth or floor beneath you, any metals or stones you are wearing). When you have acknowledged the elements invite the God and/or Goddess as you know them to be with you while you meditate. When you are finished thank the God and Goddess and the elements for their presence during your ritual.
c. Everyday rituals:
Let any task become a ritual. While you work at your job or hobby, while you clean your home or your car, while you are gardening or working out, while you are taking a walk: think about the elements-Air, Fire, Water and Earth and the ways in which they make themselves known as you go about these tasks. It is this acknowledgement and appreciation of the sacred in the everyday things we do that indicates the shift in consciousness necessary for us to understand all of the mysteries of life. "Finding the sacred in the everyday" is discussed further in -"Wicca as a way of life (living magically). "
5. Raising and grounding energy:
We all have energy within our bodies which we are constantly
using and replenishing. As long as we lead fairly healthy lives
and keep a positive outlook we are keeping our energy batteries
charged. But what if we need more energy than that which we have
stored in our bodies? Where do we get extra energy? What if we
find our energy depleted below normal levels either gradually
or suddenly? Concentration, chanting, drumming, dancing, etc.
are all ways to raise energy.
From where do we raise the energy? In Wicca we believe the energy is found in nature: in the elementals in the Earth, Moon, Sun and within the gods and goddesses. We also believe that it is essential to develop a good relationship with the gods, the elementals and nature in order to learn how this energy works.
Failure to ground excess energy can lead to disorientation or a headache which can be severe (We have seen it happen). Squat or kneel and place palms flat on the ground or floor and allow the energy to drain down into the Earth.
Some group exercises include: sticky hands; passing objects; passing energy; chanting.
"Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali . . . Inana"
(Try picturing these goddesses and feeling how the energy varies with each one as you sing the chant)
Isis: Egyptian. Daughter of Earth god Geb and sky goddess Nut. Isis married her brother, the fertility god Osiris.
Astarte: Canaanite version of Ishtar; fertility goddess. Also Greek form of the name Ashtart. Rameses II had a temple to her and she and Isis were said to be firm friends.
Diana: Roman equivalent of the Greek Moon and Nature goddess Artemis. Under Christianity, she became the goddess of underground witches, whom the Church condemned for believing they rode at night "with Diana, the goddess of pagans". Doreen Valienete suggests that one reason why the name Diana appealed to pagans was that dianna and diona were Celtic words meaning 'divine, brilliant'. In still-surviving Tuscany witch legend, Diana is the original supreme goddess and mother of Aradia by Lucifer.
Hecate: Greek. A Moon goddess, an Underworld goddess and a goddess of magic. Said to be a protector of flocks and sailors.
Demeter: Greek goddess of the fruitful Earth, especially of barley. Mother of Persephone.
Kali: Hindu, Tibetan, Nepalese. A terrible but necessary destroyer, particularly of demons, but also a powerful creative force. A spiritual figure for freedom and independence.
Inanna: Sumerian Queen of Heaven, mother goddess of love, grain, date-palm, oracular, battle, weaving and wine.
Planting, growing or harvesting:
"Horned One, Lover, Son, leaper in the corn
Deep in the Mother die and be reborn."
"Full Moon shining bright, midnight on the water
Oh, Aradia, Diana's silver daughter."
"Air I am. Fire I am. Water, Earth and Spirit I am."
"We all come from the Goddess, and to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain . . . flowing to the ocean."
"Earth my body, Water my blood, Air my breath and Fire my spirit."
Take an inventory of your altar tools. Do you have everything you need? Where did you get each item? Think about the elemental associations of each of your tools and/or whether it is associated with a god or goddess. Read "The Witches Bible" by Janet and Stewart Farrar for examples of traditional Wiccan rituals.