Many people learn to perform rituals in a variety of ways. Usually this involves discussing the structure and the mechanics of the ritual, who does what, where and when, and leaves off the most important part: HOW.
How the ritual is performed by those leading it determines if it will be a powerful experience for both those participating in it and those witnessing it. After a good ritual you leave and say “that was a good ritual”. After a great ritual, you have been changed. You might feel different, look at the world differently, feel a closer connection to Spirit or any number of profound changes that you remember for years or forever.
Here are some of the factors that can transform good ritual into great ritual.
Effective Ritual Concepts
Once you know what you are going to do in ritual, it is important to know how to do it.
One of the most important parts of ritual is Authenticity. This means that you can’t just say it, you have to mean it. You can’t just pretend it, you have to do it. In other words, you have to make ritual real.
For the best results, make people part of the ritual, not just spectators. Here is a simple formula for doing this:
- Have them bring something: a thought, an idea, a fear, a gift, a feeling.
- Do something with what they bring: take it away, trade it, give it, offer it, transform it.
- Give them something to leave with: a memory, a token, a new idea, a transformed feeling, a new relationship with Self, Man, Nature or Spirit.
This works even in a ritual purely of worship: have them bring a gift of love, adoration or devotion, give them a way to offer it, have them understand and feel how it has been transformed into something new and valued, and leave them knowing it has been accepted.
Effective Ritual Techniques
DON’T READ IT! – The single most atmosphere-killing thing you can do in a ritual is read something off a sheet of paper. Experienced ritual goers often reflexively tune out when they see a sheet of paper in hand, expecting it to be read. If you want help to remember what to say, jot notes on your hand or put a sheet of paper on the alter and glance at it for cues without picking it up. Words from the heart, even if not as eloquently written as words on a page, will keep your participants’ attention far better than reading.
If you have announcements or other things that require reading, try to do it outside of the ritual itself, either before or after. This also helps to differentiate between “mundane” and “ritual” activities.
Short is Good– It is okay to have a short ritual. A ritual should be as long as it needs to be, and no longer. Don’t pad a ritual with unnecessary things just to make it fill a time slot. It will be noticed, even if unconsciously, that this “padding” doesn’t really go and breaks the flow of the rite.
Being vs. Doing – Don’t just do something, be what you are doing. If you are in the Priest/ess role, don’t just ‘do the Priest/ess stuff’, but Be the Priest/ess. It is a subtle, but vital difference that will be picked up unconsciously by the people at your ritual. It is not only about being in the moment, but being what you are at that moment.
Becoming vs. Pretending – Don’t just say “I am the symbol of the God/dess Whomever”. Actually become them for the purposes of your ritual. Speak in the first person as their voice, walk as they would walk, act as they would act, think as they would think. Become them. Speak confidently, “I am the God/dess Whomever” and it will carry far more impact with those present.
Modeling vs. Telling – Don’t just tell people what they should do, show them. If you want people to walk with confidence to the altar and pick up a stone, you do it first and show them what you want. People are social creatures and inherently good at doing what others have already done. By showing people what to do, they see exactly how to do it. It removes their apprehension and worries of doing something wrong, because they’ve already seen how to do it. It also removes peoples’ fear of ‘going first’ at something, because you have already done it.
Experiencing vs. Witnessing – Involve the people at your ritual in your ritual. Don’t just have them watch it, have them be a part of it. At the end of it you want them to say “That felt powerful” not “That looked good”. Effective ritual is about involvement, not just watching it happen to other people.
Experiential vs. Intellectual – Teaching is generally an intellectual exercise. Ritual is an experiential exercise. It is important to keep this in mind and not spend lots of time in ritual teaching things. Ritual is the time for people to experience things, either that you have taught about before or will teach about later. Do not occupy the rational mind too deeply in ritual. Engage the creative mind and allow it to experience new things in new ways, or old things in comfortable ways, depending on your focus. But make it something to be experienced, not learned.
Sharing vs. Teaching – Teaching is what you do in a class. Sharing is where you open yourself up to others and allow them to look inside and see how you work. Effective ritual happens when you allow your true self to be seen by those present. Be “human.” Don’t tell them about you, let them see it. Let them join you, somehow, in whatever you are doing. They will feel a part of it, and a part of you.
Many of the above distinctions are very subtle, but humans are subtle creatures and these seemingly tiny differences can completely change the tone and effectiveness of what you do.
Remember, when you are performing a ritual, you are performing a Service.
It may be a service to Spirit. It may be to those present. It may be to yourself.
Most likely, it is all of them at the same time.
Perform your Service well.
Ritual Creation Worksheet
I have created the Ritual Creation Worksheet to help you organize and record aspects of many types of rituals. You are free to use and share it with your groups and students.