True Magic is knowledge, and experience. It is doing what needs to be done, helping those you can, comforting those you can’t, protecting those who need it, and giving voice to those who have none. That is the real magic that changes the world. That is the Pagan Way – honoring the Earth and every living thing in it.
Sometimes, however we may feel a need to perform a ritual, whether it is simply to honor the Sabbats and Esbats, or to perform a marriage or celebrate a birth, and occasionally to walk those who are passing to the next world.
Rituals can be used for other things too, but before you perform any ritual, ask yourself if there is a simpler, more direct way to reach your goal? If you still need to perform a ritual, then this guide should help you.
What is the Purpose?
When preparing a ritual its purpose and method of execution must be clearly defined. The ritual should be carefully choreographed ahead of time, partly to avoid confusion, partly to ensure clarity of purpose, but mostly out of respect for the deities and spiritual watchers that will be expected to sit through it! The Priest and Priestess will normally confer and prepare an appropriate ritual once the purpose has been decided upon, then share it with the other key players within the ritual who will be responsible for ensuring its smooth execution. This typically includes the Summoner and the Handmaiden, and any other people that will primarily involved in the rite (for example the bride and groom in a hand-fasting).
Charge of the Summoner
The Summoner, or “Fetch” as he is often called, is used to communicate between covens, to protect the circle and its participants, and to challenge those who would enter the circle. Typically, he will carry a staff and will thump it on the ground three times at the start of the ritual, and ask each person (except the Priest, Priestess and handmaiden) their name, and how they intend to behave during the ritual. This has evolved into ‘What is your name and how do you enter?’. When challenged, you may provide your birth name, given name, chosen name or secret name. The answer to the question ‘how do you enter?’ should be short and honest, and should reflect your state of mind. ‘With perfect love and perfect trust’ is a common response to give, but make sure you understand what that means – a state of mind without expectations, prejudices or dis-ease.
Here is a typical Summoner’s Charge, which is spoken by the Summoner after calling people to attention.
“THE PRESENCE OF THE GODDESS EXTENDS EVERYWHERE
THROUGH MANY STANGE, MAGICKAL AND BEAUTIFUL WORLDS.
TO ALL PLACES OF WILDERNESS, ENCHANTMENT AND FREEDOM.
THE GOD IS WITH US THROUGH ALL OF OUR LIVES
WHEREVER WE FIND OURSELVES, HE IS THERE, GUIDING AND PROTECTING.
FOR WE HAVE ASKED:
LET THE PAGANS DWELL TOGETHER IN LOVE & UNITY,
IN LOYALTY & TRUST
THINKING NO EVIL OF ONE ANOTHER
LET COMPASSION TEMPER JUSTICE,
AND LET JUSTICE BALANCE COMPASSION
BE SERENE & DILIGENT,
WISE & TEMPERATE,
SECURE & STRONG
FOR THERE IS A BLESSING ON ALL WHO WORSHIP THE HORNED GOD AND THE MOTHER GODDESS.
ENTER NOW, WHO WILL DO SO
IN THE SPIRIT OF THE CIRCLE.”
The summoner then asks each person:
“WHAT IS YOUR NAME AND HOW DO YOU ENTER?”
The handmaiden has many duties. She will greet and annoint those whom the Summoner has permitted to enter the circle. She assists in preparation and execution of the ritual, and sweeps the ground to sanctify it for the rite ahead. As she travels around the circle sweeping, it is common practice for her to touch the heel of those who have gathered, to sweep any evil or negative energy from them.
This is a traditional Besom Sweep chant, spoken by the handmaiden as she sweeps the circle
Besom, besom long and lithe
Made from ash and willow withe
Tied with thongs of willow bark
In running stream at moonset dark.
With a pentagram in dighted
As the ritual fire is lighted;
Sweep ye circle, deosil,
Sweep out evil, sweep out ill.
Make the round of the ground
Where we do the Lady’s will.
Besom, besom, Lady’s broom
Sweep out darkness, sweep out doom
Rid ye Lady’s hallowed ground
Of demons, imps, and Hell’s red hound.
Then set ye down on Her green earth
By running stream or Mistress hearth,
Til called once more on Moon or Sabbat night
To cleanse once more the dancing site
Some call them Quarters, others Watchtowers, or Guardians or Elementals. In any event they represent the four elements, and in some cases the fifth element – Spirit. Their energies are brought into the circle to provide depth, power, balance and witnesses to the proceedings. Each quarter is usually offered something representing their domain, e.g. incense for air, a candle for fire, water for water (strangely enough) and salt for earth. Some traditions use candles, or an offering to a specific deity that has dominion over that element.
Since we’re starting to move into oathbound territory, we’re not going to provide examples for these next few sections (sorry), however there are plenty of books that you can find some powerful calls in to use. A couple we recommend are by Raymond Buckland:
The Priest and Priestess typically call upon the God and Goddess to join their rite. Sometimes it is a generic call to ‘Our Lord God’ and ‘Our Lady Goddess’. In other cases, depending on the coven or Sabbat, specific deities may be called. In some traditions this is also known as the Charge of the God/Goddess. It is also quite common to recognize that one deity may have different names in different pantheons (Cerridwyn, Persephone etc) and call on all their aspects as the circle is cast.
The ritual food is blessed by the priest and priestess. This usually consists of wine or ale, cakes or bread, or items suitable to the ritual or sabbat. Once blessed, it is normally passed around between all those in the circle, so each may partake of the offering. Once this is complete, the remainder is usually placed in a libation bowl and then offered to the gods.
Depending on the purpose of the ritual, it is common to use the combined energies of all those in the circle to add power to the rite. This is why the manner in which you enter the circle is important. A chant is frequently used to achieve this energy raising, often while the priest and priestess are performing the working that forms the focal point of the ritual. The chants are usually repeated over and over, slowly and quietly at first then louder and faster, until then energy reaches the appropriate level to ‘power’ the workings.
This example of a power chant is quite commonly heard at public rituals:
Air, I am.
Fire, I am.
Water, Earth and Spirit,
Once the deities have departed, the elements (quarters, watchtowers etc). Are then also dismissed. Again, they are thanked for their presence and then bid farewell.
This method varies from tradition to tradition, and again some people get a bit touchy about oath-bound stuff (a debate for another article perhaps).
Opening the Circle
With all non-physical entities now departed from the circle, the Priest or Priestess will perform an appropriate action to signify that the circle is open once more.
A typical ritual may end with all present speaking a brief closing poem or song, like this commonly used one:
The circle is open , but unbroken,
May the peace of the Goddess and God
Go in our hearts,
Merry meet, and merry part.
And merry meet again. Blessed beThis rite is ended. So mote it be.
All are then free to depart from the ritual.