A ritual has a few basic parts and purposes. These are beside those for which you are doing the ritual in the first place.
They all have a part to play though. First there's the circle itself. It has two purposes. The first is to protect
those within it's confines from negative energy interrupting them or their work and from entities that wish to do them
harm. The second is to raise and contain energy or power for magickal practices. Then there are the symbols used. A
ritual doesn't need to be extremely complex with all sorts of symbols, but at least a few do help. Their main function
is to provide the subliminal mind a way to help focus and channel the energy for whatever working is being done. The
tools used also have functions and purposes (described below). Rhythmic and rhyming chants also help the subconscious
mind to work in harmony with the conscious mind.
This all may sound very complex but as I said it doesn't need to be. There are even those who forgo using a ritual at
all. But, I don't suggest it unless you have been practicing for quite a long time and are very skilled.
No matter what the function of the ritual though, you need a place to hold it. This is called a "sacred space". A place
where magick is worked, meditation is done, and divination is performed. This place is charged with the individual or
coven's own energy through both use and consecration.
Now, a sacred space can be almost anywhere you feel comfortable doing the ritual. Ideally Pagans prefer to do their
workings outside in nature. However, this isn't always possible for so many reasons. One might live in a city, or an
area where it's still dangerous to practice openly. Weather can get in the way many times as well. I don't know about
you but I don't consider a healing ritual to be doing much good if I get frostbite or pneumonia in the process. Also,
some people may not want their family members to know that they do rituals at all. In these cases, the sacred space is
charged, but an altar isn't kept there permanently. In my own home, my rituals are usually done in the living room.
It's more for privacy than anything else since I like to do them skyclad (naked). I don't think my neighbors or the
military police would appreciate me doing a skyclad ritual in my backyard! Especially since the fence isn't very high.
When I really want to work outside, however, I'll do so on a beach or on some cliffs or a park or something. (I'm NOT
skyclad for those. Couldn't you just see it? "Well umm...officer, I...ummm...")
How does one make a sacred space you ask? Well, first the area is usually consecrated and charged. First you want to
banish any unwanted energy from the room/area. Lighting cleansing incense that is meant for such an hour before using the
space is good. Especially if the space is in your home and is used daily for regular living. Then, just before the
ritual do the following (it's good to do this before every ritual). First I take some blessed salt water (which is
blessed just before this...I'll go more into that later also) and sprinkle it around the space saying, "I cleanse this
space with earth and water." If I'm about to do a ritual I cleanse anyone who is joining and then have them cleanse me
(If I'm alone I just cleanse myself) saying, "I cleanse thee with earth and water." I also anoint my head (and the heads
of the others if they are present) with the water. I do the same for my heart, palms, feet, and the nape of the neck.
Then take a lit cleansing incense, a sage wand is best, and walk around the space again allowing the power of the incense
to fill the area some while saying, "I charge this space with air and fire." Do the same to yourself and/or others
saying "I charge thee with air and fire." It is also important to picture the elements actually doing these things in
your head. Visualize this using whatever images work for you. Then begin the ritual.
I said it before and I'll say it again because it's important. Make sure that you are comfortable with the space you are
using. Your not being comfortable could be because of a host of reasons. Perhaps the area has some unwanted energy or
spirit there or something. Who knows. Try cleansing it. If that doesn't work and you still don't feel comfortable find
another place. It may be harder, but you'll know it when you find it. When working with the spiritual your gut instinct
will usually lead you rightly.
Ok, now that the basic foundation is done the next step is to set up an altar. This would be set up prior to lighting
the cleansing incense if you didn't have it already set up. Where to face the altar depends on many things. Partially
what tradition you practice, where you live (the elements work with different directions in the Southern Hemisphere than
in the Northern.), and what you are doing. Traditionally it's either placed in the North or in the East. In the picture
below is how one might set up their altar if they were facing the North. Keep in mind that not everything in the drawing
is 100% necessary. You don't have to go broke just so you can do a ritual either. Most people spend many years
collecting tools and jewelry for ritual use. This includes altar materials. Some people (referred to as "Kitchen Witches")
will use ordinary household items for the altar and magick. Some people don't even use an altar at alldepending on what
the ritual is for.
1. Altar Candle
2. Goddess Statue
3. God Statue
4. Altar Candle
5. Incense Holder
6. Anointing Oil
8. Cake Dish
10. Water Bowl
13. Salt Dish
14. White-Handled Knife
Keep in mind that this is just how it is sometimes set up. For each of the elements you can have items symbolizing them
if you wish. On my altar I have a mortar and pestle for Earth, a fairie for Air, a dragon for Fire, and a conch shell
for Water. When I don't have a ritual going I have a candle representing each of the elements there too. When I'm doing
a ritual the candles sit in the Four Corners of the circle.
You are probably wondering what I mean by "Elements" and "Four Corners". Well, although I will go into more detail with
that in another part of this section, I'll explain the basics now so you don't get confused. There are 5 basic elements
that make up the universe. They are Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Spirit. These elements are aligned with the directions
North, South, East, and West. Here is how they are usually placed and the colors that most use to represent them (these
colors are sometimes different):
During the conjuring of a magickal circle the spirits who govern each of these elements are called. They are sometimes
referred to as "Watchtowers." Calling them is called "Casting the Quarters" or "Calling the Quarters." They have a very
big purpose for the circle. They create a balance of energies and they watch over and protect the circle. They witness
the rites done. This may or may not sound like much to you, but it actually is a very big deal. For more information on
these please look at the Elements page.
A lot of people ask about what they should wear to a ritual. Truthfully, unless you're working with a coven who has
strict rules (most don't for guests) it probably won't really matter. Many solitaries (pagans who do not belong to a
coven) and covens like to do rituals and ceremonies skyclad or naked. Many also have special robes that can be made or
bought. The color of the robe depends on the individual who owns it, and also with coven protocol. Some covens reserve
certain colors for certain levels. Some don't. Also, you can wear street clothes if you are more comfortable that way.
If you are not skyclad then the clothing you wear should not be constricting. Many people like to wear robes with long
flowing sleeves. This is ok if you don't have any candles lit. If you do have them lit then just beware of them. You
don't want to start a fire! Again, the most important thing is that you are comfortable.
* There is always a lot of discussion on the placings of the elements in a circle. This particular
placement is used by a lot of people even when their surroundings don't warrant it. However, a lot of people don't agree
on where Earth and Air should be placed. When the elements section is finally written you will find that Earth is feminine
and Air is masculine. Water and Fire are also feminine and masculine respectively. So, it should stand to reason that
they are opposite their respective genders. You decide.
"A ritual tool is a psychological aid to concentration and to synchronizing the psychic effort of a group working
together; its symbolism is archetypal in nature and therefore activates the Unconscious in partnership with the purposeful
Ego; and through consecration and constant use, it acquires a helpful psychic charge of its own."~The Witch's Bible by
Janet and Stewart Farrar
Choosing a tool for ritual use is very personal. It's important not to haggle over the price or use one that has a
negative history. A good psychometrist should be able to tell if it does. But, for those who either aren't good at
psychometry or can't do it at all, just go with your instincts. Choose tools which feel right to you. Most say that
their favorite tools are the ones that "call out" to them. After all, the tools are used in ritual and generally (with
the exception of those called 'kitchen witches') used only for that purpose.
Any knife that suits the owner can be his or her athame. This is the most personal choice of all the tools used in the craft and it is considered bad form to touch a witch's knife without permission. It has been called the 'true witch's weapon' and is used to draw circles, draw down the moon, call up spirits, and charge other items. Traditionally the handle is black but this is a personal choice. I have seen athames that are black handled as well as those with bone for the handle. Also, it is usually made out of steel although I have seen a beautiful one made out of copper. The hilt and blade may or may not contain certain symbols, which is also the owner's choice. Athame's are purely ritual tools and should never be used for cutting or acts of aggression. It is essentially a masculine symbol, as seen in the Consecration of the Wine. The athame also represents the element of Fire.
The sword and the athame are fully exchangeable in ritual settings. It is also masculine and represents the element fire. Swords are generally used in covens and less in personal rites. However, this is also the person's choice
The wand represents the element of Air. It can be regarded as masculine because it has a phallic shape. It is used in place of the athame or sword where a gentler tool would be better. This is another tool, which is sometimes marked with symbols that are personal to the user. The traditional length of a wand is from elbow to fingertip of the owner. For a coven wand, eighteen inches is a good average.
The Cup or Chalice
The cup represents the element of Water and is the feminine symbol. It's purpose is to hold the wine or mead (juice works for those who can't have alcohol), in which it is consecrated and passed around. For those covens who use the 'Symbolic Great Rite' it represents the woman.
This is the primary Earth symbol. Because of the symbol of the Earth mother the pentacle can be assumed to be feminine. It is the centerpiece of the altar and objects are consecrated on it. The water and salt bowls, too, are placed on it for blessing. Some covens, however, do not use a salt bowl directly but put the salt directly on the pentacle, bless it, and then tip the salt into the water. An interesting fact is that in the persecution days, the pentacle used to be inscribed on wax for each Circle, so that it could be destroyed afterwards as a dangerous piece of evidence. Today it is a disc of metal, usually copper, and is normally five or six inches in diameter. It may have markings on it if if the owner or coven wishes it.
Incense belongs to the element of Air. The aroma is intended to help create an atmosphere suited to the particular occasion and sometimes magickal purposes as well. Putting it on a charcoal ring, which is already burning, burns the incense. The censer itself may be anything from a little metal bowl on legs to a splendid ecclesiastical object hanging from chains. Be careful as they can get unexpectedly hot!!
The White-Handled Knife
This is a working tool--literally! It is used for any actual cutting or inscribing which has to be done in the Circle. Unlike the athame it should be kept sharp.