Introduction - What is a Ritual?
The dictionary definition of ritual is as follows:
- a prescribed order for performing a ritual ceremony, especially one characteristic of a particular religion or Church.
- a series of actions or type of behaviour regularly and invariably followed by someone.
In essence rituals are repetitive conscious actions undertaken because of tradition, religious or otherwise. When we keep repeating the same action, in the same order, we run the risk of it becoming habit and we may lose sight of the reason for its practice. A Magical ritual should never be performed just "Because it's what our ancestors did" or "Because it's what I was told I needed to do". As with all things in Magic, it is important to question why you are performing it. Why did our ancestors do it? Why do you need to do it? If you are performing any Magical act without a full understanding of its purpose and uses, you will not be doing it consciously, it becomes a habit.
The Danger of Ritual
This is how I practiced my seasonal celebrations for years. I had learned from printed materials how to perform the eight fire festivals of neo-Paganism according to how the order I belonged to had written it. It seemed set in stone and I hadn't yet acquired the critical thinking skills which led me to study deeper. I would parade around in a circle and with a wand, athame, staff or my fingers, trace a circle which I visualised as a blue light, because that's how I'd been told to do it. I would 'Call the quarters' in the same manner and like many other people starting out on a Pagan path in the 90s, I would read pre-defined ceremonies from a piece of A4 paper and expect something Magical to happen. What happened is that I got bored.
For me, rituals, spell work and seasonal celebrations should be done with feeling, not monotone reading from a sheet of paper! I was practicing Witchcraft and Druidry not attending a Church on Sunday! Why were we dragging ourselves into the woods in often awful weather at all hours of the day and night, surrounded by the beauty and ferocity of nature, just to read from a sheet that someone had printed off, handed down through the aeons since about 1988?
I had no idea whether the ritual acts I had read were ancient in origin or whether they would ensure the success of my work or afford me proper protection from any mischievous or malevolent beings attracted to the Magical energies I was attempting to channel.
The Danger of Experimentation
We can assume that the rites and celebrations written in the majority of neo-Pagan books and courses are at least grounded in older work, and most often they hold elements taken from the works of Aleister Crowley, Eliphas Levi, S. L. MacGregor Mathers and other well known, well practiced authors. So we can often assume that what we are reading is safe to work with, so long as we work through the material properly, rather than skipping to the 'good bits'.
Make no mistake the energies and spirits with which we are attempting to work are very real and so are the spirits with which we would rather not engage. We are cautioned in older materials to guard ourselves against 'evil' spirits and while the neo-Pagan scene may deny the existence of hostile spirits and claim that 'they're not evil, they're just misunderstood', I can assure you that they do exist and their intentions are not 'light and love'. This is part of the reason for the strict set of practices written into ancient Grimoires; they are tried and tested methods for guaranteeing success and for maximising protection. To remove some of the elements from a ritual can indeed have calamitous effects.
License to Depart
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