Most people of a religious (as opposed to spiritual) nature engage in a variety of rituals to create a deeper, personal, connection with the Deity, nature, the spiritual realms, or ‘just’ the simple rhythms of the turning seasons. For those of us online, the execution of these rituals has taken on a different aspect, which I will explore throughout this essay, but our needs remain the same.
Rituals create a connection with the Divine, the great Mysteries of existence. But these Mysteries exist whether or not we do rituals. So, truly, rituals exist for US, not for the God/dess. This is true for online rituals as well as physical ones. By following a few simple guidelines, an online ritual can be created to satisfy any need. I believe that rituals should never be thrown together too quickly, as that implies little thought (as opposed to some kinds of spells, which may be conceived and cast almost instantly). A good ritual takes some work, but the more you put into it, the more satisfying it will be. Types of rituals are as varied as human nature can contrive. We in the Pagan community celebrate magickal rituals for nature and personal desires. There are also non-magickal rituals, such as rite of passage (i.e. weddings, funerals and births), connecting rituals, and so forth. For every important religious event (even the tiniest), a celebration is appropriate, and thus ritual is created.
In general, rituals have three similar components:
- Sacred Space is created and the Divine Presence invoked
- The main body of the ritual is performed
- Sacred Space is then closed
I would add the ‘prequel’ components of Planning and Creation.
The first step of ritual writing should be to establish the goal of the ritual — and to keep that goal foremost in creating and enacting the ritual. The most satisfying rituals are the ones which follow the maxim: KISS (Keep It Simple Sweetie). Meandering around on tangents, or spending too much time setting up the Sacred Space bores the participants and detracts from the very reason the ritual is being performed. Your goal may be as simple as celebrating a holiday, a turning point in the season or worshipping a particular deity. It may be as complex as working weather magick or manifesting a situation over time. Whichever the goal is, keep it in mind when creating your ritual.
Most rituals come in one of two flavors: public and private, although a few (very few!) will blur a distinction between the two. At a superficial level, private rituals are those we do individually, and public rituals involve many persons. Looking deeper, we see that private rituals are also those we do for ourselves — there can be more people around during them, but each person does their own ritual. For example, the daily routine of praying towards Mecca several times a day is a private ritual each Muslim performs to attune him/herself to the sanctity of that holy city. Public rituals can involve one person or many, with one person performing a rite on behalf of a community, with while the community may actually stand outside the sacred space of the circle.
Additional considerations at this level are: how many people will participate? This will help in deciding the tone of the ritual. Small groups of people who are comfortable together can have less serious (but just as effective) rituals, since happy, laughing people tend to put more energy into their workings. Another good question is to think about which Deity or Deities to invite. If your ritual is in honor of a particular deity, then this easy, but if directed toward more nebulous forces, you may want to omit any specific Name and instead focus on the entity as Itself. Anything in between should be handled as you believe best. Some people believe that it is not a good idea to mix pantheons (for example, inviting Thor and Hecate for tea and cakes). I, however, believe that you can do what *feels* right.
Ask yourself whether you will raise energy or not. Its nearly blasphemous to say so, but it is not always necessary to raise energy in a ritual, and may in fact, prove counterproductive. (Raising energy is the act of using the elemental energy/Force/Aura/Holy Spirit/whatever-you-want-to-call-it which is present in all things in a focused and directed manner.) If you raise energy but no focus is specified, it may dissipate naturally. Then again, it may not. Weather phenomena in the area, feeling faint, and even sickness can result. Bottom line: energy raising is not a good idea unless you know specifically what you are going to do with it.
As you are thinking about all these possibilities, keep notes, create an outline and fill in as many details as possible. Research Deities, elements, colors, symbols and similar rituals to add depth to your knowledge. Be as detailed as possible in your notes, it will encourage your creativity to flesh out the bones of the ritual and make it completely unique.
So far, creating a ritual for use online is very similar to creating a physical ritual. As we move forward, however things will become increasingly different.
Find a good spot. Online, you have few choices for where to hold a ritual. There is the Cyber Coven Talker,* a group of rooms utilizing telnet (which I have found too confusing to understand how to get too and try out); the YahooGroups’ chat (which are very similar to AOL’s chat rooms); and IRC. I prefer IRC as it is the most flexible in terms of operating systems, modem connections and location.
Choose a venue and set the time and date of the ritual, make sure you inform all the participants. Once you have gathered online, it is a good idea to hold a quick ‘walk though’ of the ritual. Let them know about the specific responses that will be used, and whether they should visualize certain imagery. There may be newcomers who will need more detail about how the ritual will flow, and what behavior is expected and accepted. Much of this is set by the style: formal or informal.
Clearing Sacred Space
Now you can create sacred space. First, have everyone cast a personal circle around themselves, their altar and their computer. Although the online group will not use an altar, per se, their individual ones become metaphors for the groups’ altar. Then create sacred space online — either following one leader (perhaps the High Priestess), a group of people (the ritual leaders), have the entire group do it. Someone may stand at the center and banish negativity, or s/he may walk the perimeter of the space. The point is that whatever method is used to make the ritual area holy should be simple, brief, and should be symbolic or obvious to the participants.
Creativity and responsibility go hand in hand for circle casting and creating sacred space. If done correctly, this will provide a sense of relaxation and focus for your group as you will leave the mundane for the special. Bear in mind that it is not the main part of the ritual, so do not drag it on too long. (I’m sure we have all been in those long drawn out circle castings where every being, spirit, watchtower, element, and so forth were called forth. By the time we reached the heart of the ritual, we had forgotten its purpose — maybe the ritual’s creators did as well?). If Magick is not being done, then there is no need to call quarters, or in any way invoke “circle guardians.” A simple clearing and consecration of sacred space, or even a declaration of “Where we stand is sacred space” will suffice.
Once you are working in sacred space, any Gods, Goddesses, androgynous/asexual Deities, spirits, or whatever should be Invoked. Regarding rituals revolving around the turning of the seasons, pick deities with which you are comfortable, and who have a connection with the holiday you are celebrating. Actually, when done as a celebration only, I have found that gods and goddesses of various pantheons seem to get along well. The discretion should be made by the ritual leader: some persons prefer to keep the pantheons separate in every ritual. In any case, keep the Invocations simple, but reverent. Nothing can spoil a ritual more than a half-hearted or joking Invocation, or one which drags on for fifteen minutes. (“What was that Goddess’ name again?”) Personally, I find it distasteful and rude to “summon, stir, and call forth” the deity. I prefer to “ask that they be present” for our ritual.
Main Body of the Ritual
Here is where you outline and notes come into play. The structure of the ritual will depend on the outcome desired. What seems to work best is to have the entire ritual focus upon one big thing which represents the goal (magick raising, ritual drama, a sermon, a guided meditation, and so forth) and to build everything toward this goal. The whole ritual builds to a climax, like a good book, and then tapers off quickly before everybody gets tired and bored. This is where creativity comes in. Be creative with your rituals. Try new things. Avoid unnecessary silliness. There is a fine line somewhere between a new and different ritual and a strange, whacky stage play.
Involve your audience
The true mark of a successful ritual lies in its ability to motivate its participants. Simply watching a priest talking to or about a god is fine, but so is sleep, which is what your participants will do if you do not involve them. Many physical rituals allow their participants to sing, dance, or chant, but that is more difficult to do online. I find that having participants chant aloud (while typing), making responses throughout the ritual, or duplicating the leader’s motions keeps them present and involved. The worst thing ever is to create a long expository poem/paen or other passage which goes on so long that your participants get dropped off line due to inactivity. Keep your activities focused on some aspect of your Goal. If you do not choose chants or activities that everyone knows, take the to teach them something new. In fact a good “passion play” regarding the changing of the seasons is a great way to involve your group.
Closing Sacred Space
The God/dess farewells should mirror the Invocations. Symmetry is not a requirement, but a sense of balance in our ritual lives ‘evens out’ the unbalanced parts of our mundane world. There is a great deal of freedom of choice here. In some Ceremonial Magick circles, the Guardians are banished in the reverse order of their calling. Other traditions simply cut the circle open, saying: “The circle is open, but unbroken” In a non-magickal circle, the simple statement that, “The circle/sacred space is released” is sufficient.
Very simply, a good rule of thumb in keeping your ritual interesting is to remember that there are other people here. No ritual is more boring than the one watched from the outside, while participating from the inside. Rituals bring humans to the level of the Gods, they are a bridge linking the inner and outer worlds.
Lisa Mc Sherry
* A site that has been in existence for some time now. It is no way affiliated with myself.
Published on The Virtual Pagan (thevirtualpagan.org), circa 2002.