Thoughts on Ritual – Group and Solo

Nov 26th, 2017 | By | Category: Articles

Ritual has never been a major piece of my daily practice. A lot of that comes from being intimidated by the knowledge that others had, during my early years as a Pagan. People called the quarters with no script in hand. Their words flowed naturally. The chants and songs done during the ritual were well known – seemingly – by all but myself. My “guide” to what ritual was about was being handed a printed copy of the script. No explanation of the reasons behind this motion or that saying. No discussion of what each role was or the meaning that it had within the scope of the ritual. Were I to describe my feelings before, during and after a ritual it would be “confusion”, “chaos”, “non-comprehension”.

Over time, repetition, and the kindness of a few others who understood those unspoken feelings – I learned a bit more about ritual, its components, and meanings. I only wish I had Rachel Patterson’s book “The Art of Ritual” back in 1986. I may still have been lost over the patterns and some of the meaning behind what a particular ritual may have meant, but I would have understood and comprehended the basics far better. I have reviewed Rachel’s amazing book before on my own blog. In rereading her book a few nights ago, I came across a fundamental question – not what does ritual mean, but what does ritual mean TO ME.

On page sixty-six of her book, Rachel notes:

Rituals can be held for any reason. The more traditional ones are to celebrate the turning of the wheel and the sabbath, that includes rites of passage, to recognize the seasons, for spell work any kind, to meditate, to work with particular deities or, as we have done before with our coven, to work with the elements or a particular intent (such as prosperity). [1]

I have attended and participated in many of these types of rituals within a group. Each year in early Spring, I attended the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana to celebrate Alban Eilir. At my first East Coast Gathering, I did my Bardic Grade initiation, and since then have participated in the initiations of other individuals entering the Bardic Grade. Earlier this year, I was initiated into the Ovate Grade training. All are rites of passage. I have attended ADF rituals in south-central Texas, and a handful of rituals at the Pantheacon and Many Gods West conferences. Each ritual was different in its feeling, pattern, and overall meaning/intent, but each were a celebration of all of us that attended, our individual Paths, a remembrance of our Ancestors and for those of us that added such intent to our moment within each ritual, our dedication to the Gods and Goddesses.

Now, that measures out the public and group part of rituals or me – a solo Pagan. My individual rituals, held within my daily practice and in my observance of the Wheel of the Year, are quite different. Most of my rituals are off-the-cuff, and literally spur-of-the-moment parts of my practice. One particular daily ritual that I talk about quite a bit is actually one of the simplest ones that I have. Each morning, I greet the rising sun as the start of my day. Most of the time, I do this outdoors, standing in my backyard. Surely, my neighbors may think I am barking mad when I stand in the yard, looking to the east, and raise my coffee cup in salute to the first strains of sunlight peeking over the treetops. I do this on sunny days or cloudy. If it is raining, I do this from my back porch. If its cold (below 32F is cold to me) I stand at the window of my office (the only east-facing window I have in the entire house) and do the same. If I happen to get up after the sunrise, I still find a way to greet the sun.

It is a simple ritual. However, it is the start of my day. For me, its a thank you for the start of yet another day in my life. At fifty-two, I am thankful for every day that I have on this side of the veil. When I start a day without doing this process, I feel at sorts with who I am. Almost as if I am out of balance, and for a Libra – born nearly at the mid-point of the sign – balance means everything to me. Without it, my day never seems to be ‘right”. Now, all of that might be in my head – a psychological concept…but as Dumbledore once told Harry “…just because its all in your head doesn’t make it any less real.”

So for me, this one daily ritual has a lot of meaning and context for me. Celebrating points within the Wheel of the Year serves as a reminder for folks as well. In agricultural aspects, there were points to celebrate – the planting of the field, the harvesting of the field, the plowing of the field to ready it for the next year. And each of these points in the Wheel of the Year can serve as other types of “weigh stations” in our lives. I tend to use Samhain as a form of “New Year’s” where I look back on what I managed to accomplish over the year, and what I didn’t. And then evaluate what I would like to do in the coming year, as well as a rudimentary plan on how to accomplish those goals. That has become a yearly ritual for me, as reliable in its scope as eating Lentils and cabbage seems to be on New Year’s Day in parts of the world.

Perhaps, we do our rituals because it is a comfort to us. We do the same things because we feel comfort in knowing things can be the same. Or, we do a ritual to appease the Gods. Or to appease ourselves. I find a ritual to be more than a comfort to me. It is a manner in which to show my proper respect to the Gods, the Spirits of Place, the Ancestors, and to my fellow Pagans. We celebrate in a group because we believe. We believe in what these rituals represent – a connection to the world around us. A celebration of that connection. A growing of that connection to a stronger tie…with our environment, with our fellow Pagans, and with ourselves. And while the ritual is important, it is only one part of many that make us who we are.    –T /|\

[1] Patterson, Rachel. The Art of Ritual. Moon Books, 2016.

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