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13 April 2015

oh ritual

I can't tell, when I write "oh ritual," whether I'm shaking my head at the wayward child ("Oh, Ritual, what did you do now?") or uttering an expletive after stubbing my toe ("Oh Ritual! That hurt!").

For now, I'll just leave it unpunctuated and undefined.

What does an animist with shamanic tendencies do when called upon to write a ritual?

Well, my first step was to load up the ol' google machine. Which, of course, got me about a bazillion Wiccan rituals that were in no way appropriate for what I wanted to do.

Oh, yeah, I'm trying to write a ritual for a handfasting. My handfasting. With Archer. Which means it has to honor the spiritual paths of Archer and me. Neither of us is remotely Wiccan. We're not really Druids, either. Nor is either of us really Asatru or Heathen, though I wander that way sometimes.


Where are all the animist rituals? (Wait for it...) Oh. Right. There aren't any. I'm starting to realize that none of the animist writers I read talk about doing rituals. This doesn't mean they don't do them, it's just that they're not talking about it. Not in the same way that you see Wiccan rituals all over the internet. The animist writer might mention having done a brief private ritual for this or that, but the ritual is so intensely personal and specific to their purpose that it doesn't translate, or they just can't/won't describe it at all.

Do animists do rituals? Is it just that I haven't found the ones who do?

With the clock ticking on designing this handfasting ritual, I thought about the elements I wanted to include. To shape these elements, I looked at examples of - yes - Wiccan rituals, Heathen blots, and Druidic rites (these were what I could find online and in the texts I own). I didn't necessarily use the forms I found; more often, I used them to craft an outline from negative space (to use an artist's term). That is, the examples of formalized ritual from other paths showed me what I wanted to avoid. Those were what not to do, while still being related somehow to what I did want to do.

To further complicate things, I wanted the ritual to also be meaningful to the other participants: a few of our closest friends and family, who aren't necessarily pagan at all (though luckily, none of them would be in any way offended by our pagan ways).

So here's what I did: I took all the things I did want, and tried to craft them into something that made sense to people not on the same path as either Archer or me, while shaping the intent of the ritual in such a way that it made me happy.

Example A: What to do about the elements? I haven't called quarters for my private rituals in probably more than a decade. I don't feel the need to call them, because they're already here. Always. They're part of me. I don't call my hand when I want to pick up a glass, either. In my way of seeing things, these energies we work with are not distant sprites to be called (or not) on our whim. They're integral to ourselves, to our world, to everything. But I do want to acknowledge the presence of those energies within us, and draw them to our attention because I think doing so strengthens the sense of commitment we will endow in our oath. 
So, if I'm not going to call the elemental energies into the circle (the casting of the circle is another thing I don't do... I'll come back to that) maybe I can call them from within ourselves, thereby bringing our own connections into play, and preparing us individually for making the handfasting oath. Here's what I have come up with, so far, for that:
From Within, we call Air: clarifying our thought and speech.
From Within, we call Fire: clearing the way for new life.
From Within, we call Water: rising from our greatest depths.
From Within, we call Earth: standing solid to house us.  

So that's what I've been struggling with for the past two weeks.
Oh and I'm working on a home blessing ritual that Archer and my son can participate in with me.
Oh and a dear friend of mine asked me to collaborate with a couple other friends to write a ritual for her coven, for Beltaine. Obviously I said I would, because I love her.
It's all rituals and cowbells up in here, folks. And me with no predilection for candle waving.

This morning, I saw the new prompt for the Pagan Experience. It goes, "Ritual - What is your definition of the word “ritual”? What are your rituals- mundane and spiritual? How do they inform each other? Is ritual a necessary component to spiritual practice?"
And I thought, I should write a response to that one. Maybe it'll help me figure out how to write this damn beautiful/wonderous/pile-o-awesome handfasting ritual.

This afternoon, while working on this very post by looking through my blog feed to avoid doing any actual writing, this post from Lupa, one of my favorite modern pagan authors (translation: one of the ones whose path I feel has the most affinity with my own path), came up in my feed. In it, she says, "there are things I’ve left behind me as I’ve carried along my path. Rituals, for example. I no longer do much in the way of formal ritual, unless it’s a very special occasion." And I thought, "Me too!" I remember doing tons of rituals when I was a baby pagan and had just learned of Wicca. I'd be sitting there with candle and Cunningham's in my fists, trying to breath properly and connect with a Lord and a Lady I wouldn't have known from Adam and Eve.

Deeper into Lupa's article, she shares this gem: "When I did formal rituals before, a lot of my purpose was to find connection to the sacred. Now I recognize that I am immersed in the sacred at all times, and my goal is not to find the sacred but to remind myself of it, both in thought and action."

Yes. Yes. Yes. So much YES. Exactly! So if I can just get the handfasting (and other rituals) to reflect that idea, I'll be alright.

(Incidentally, later in that same paragraph Lupa mentions working out of Cunningham's Guide for the Solitary Practitioner in her early days. I lol'd, companionably, with the mental image of that book cover burned into my retinas.) 


Yeah, I'll probably post all about the handfasting when I get it all figured out. No worries, y'all.
And I'll post the ritual I come up with for the house blessing, too.

By the way, I'm sharing this over at the Pagan Experience. Then I'm gonna read what everyone else over there has to say about the subject. Happy reading!


Oh crap, I forgot to get back to you on the circle casting thing.
Well, basically I feel like every space is sacred, so it's a bit arrogant to say I'm creating sacred space, eh? But there are practical reasons too. For one thing (and Lupa describes this in her article, linked above, too), I just don't need it anymore. I can focus on the sacred without the activities of creating a circle. Also I don't want to cut off the 'outside' world from what I'm doing 'inside' the circle. I'm seeking connection, so why cut myself off? Anyway that's my take on it. 


  1. Holy crap, all that, yes! You verbalized that all in a way I have been struggling with. I tend to think of circle as a filter. Keep out the distractions and let in the important stuff, like the dog that wanders in and out ;)

    1. Yep. Dogs are why I don't sit on the floor to do rituals any more, lol

  2. Katy,

    I truly understand your situation & I have "been there," not for a "handfasting," but plenty of other ceremonial quandaries where I developed something from what seemed like nothing (yet it is all already there, you simply need to find a way tap it).

    I am currently obsessed with the writings of Austin Osman Spare who, after a brief stint in the Ceremonial Magick milieu (& also allegedly "trained" as a youth by a traditional Witch), developed his own system & mythos. Some of it is amazing, some might be bat-guano crazy, but his words came to mind immediately when I read your thoughts above:

    "Know all ritual, ceremony, conditions, as arbitrary (you have yourself to please), a hindrance and confusion; their origin was for amusement, later for the purpose of deceiving other from knowing the truth and inducing ignorance; and as always happens their high priests were the more deceived themselves. He who deceives another deceives himself much more. Therefore know the Charlatans by their love of rich robes, ceremony, ritual, magical retirements, absurd conditions, and other stupidity, too numerous to relate. Their entire doctrine a boastful display, a cowardice hungering for notoriety; their standard everything unnecessary, their certain failure assured. Hence it is that those with some natural ability quickly lose it by their teaching. They can only dogmatise, implant and multiply that which is entirely superficial. Were I a teacher I should not act as master, as knowing more, the pupil could lay no claim to discipleship. Assimilating slowly, he would not be conscious of his learning, he would not repeat the vital mistake; without fear he would accomplish with ease. The only teaching possible is to show a man how to learn from his own wisdom, and to utilise his ignorance and mistakes. Not by obscuring his vision and intention by righteousness."

    In other words, follow your heart, instincts, intuition & it will be just exactly right. Much luck to you. :)

    1. "It is all already there, you simply need to find a way to tap it." - I forget that, when I start trying to do things like this. That reminder is always timely, always helpful.

      What a great passage from Spare! ( Who I hadn't heard before. I'll have to check him out.) It reminds me of something I read today, in a Terry Pratchett's "Equal Rites," regarding the nature of most magic: "It isn't what you know, it's what other people don't know."

      But, this part of the passage you shared is my favorite: "The only teaching possible is to show a man how to learn from his own wisdom, and to utilise his ignorance and mistakes. Not by obscuring his vision and intention by righteousness."

      Thanks for the confidence. :)