Pets in Ritual: Some Basics
Author: Bronwen Forbes
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that you want your pet in ritual with you, and not that he or she has wandered in by accident. That being the case, here are some things you need to consider and plan for.
If you normally cast a circle as part of your magickal workings, and if you have issues with pets casually crossing that magical barrier, you need to figure out in advance how to keep your furry friend from leaving once you’ve started. A dog can be leashed and kept in your circle. So, in some instances, can a ferret, a rabbit, or an iguana. But a cat isn’t likely to take too kindly to a harness or collar and a leash. And if your cat is anything like mine, he will yowl like he’s dying if you put him in a carrier.
What are you going to do? Frankly, you’ve got two choices: either resign yourself to the idea that a cat is going to cross the energy barrier you’ve erected but not affect it, or shut your cat away so he or she can’t participate.
Our cat likes to patrol the perimeter of the circle, but he never comes near the altar. Maybe he’s keeping an eye out for unwelcome entities. I really don’t know. His predecessor used to lie in the center of ritual space with the attitude, “You may all now commence adoring me.”
By the way, if you plan to have your dog in ritual, it’s a good idea to let him or her go outside and do his business beforehand. Nothing interrupts a good ritual like one of the participants barking because he needs to potty!
Something else to consider on this same topic: for obvious reasons, small puppies aren’t the best participants in long rituals, say, longer than thirty minutes. For lengthy sabbats or esbats, take your puppy out beforehand, and then crate him or her (or whatever you do at night) during the ritual. Post-ritual pee and poop cleanups when you’re trying to dismantle the altar and get the ritual feast ready just aren’t fun.
Speaking of altars, if you like to have an altar or shrine set up at all times, you might want to consider setting it up where an inquisitive cat or teething puppy can’t get to it. Cats love to knock things off altars. Puppies like to chew things – and they don’t care if it’s your $70 wand, your favorite Buddha statue (true story) , or a chew toy.
When I first started doing ritual, my cat at the time loved nothing better than to yukk up a hairball on my altar. Needless to say, a hairball was so not the kind of offering I wanted to make to my Gods! If your pets are doing your altar more harm than good, consider moving it to a pet-free room or large closet with a firmly latching door, or to a wall shelf strategically placed where Kitty can’t comfortably jump to.
If you frequently invite newcomers, especially people who are new to Paganism, to your ritual, you may notice that your pet chooses to sit on or next to that person while you all ground and center. This frequently happens in my group, and the newcomer always reports that the pet’s presence helped them feel less nervous, and they were better able to follow the grounding and centering meditation.
Another note about newcomers to your ritual: inform them at the time of invitation that you have pets, and what kind. That way, if they have serious allergies or major phobias, they know ahead of time and can choose for themselves how they want to deal with it, i.e. take antihistamines or not accept the invite.
We share our home with a shaggy, extra large old-fashioned German shepherd, and we always warn people that there’s a HUGE, LONG-HAIRED dog in the house! Karl is a complete goofball who wouldn’t hurt a soul (and in fact, is totally, utterly, and completely devoted to our four-year-old) , but he sheds constantly and weighs approximately 120 pounds. That way, people who don’t think dog hair counts as a condiment (despite the fact that we regularly dust and vacuum) or who might be too scared to concentrate on ritual with a humongous wolf-looking creature in the house can choose in advance not to come.
For safety’s sake, consider making some adjustments to the placement of Cakes and Wine during your ritual. Most of us are used to setting the cakes and drink on the altar – or under it, if the altar is too small. Let me tell you: with pets actively participating in ritual, that doesn’t work! Remember that alcohol, grapes (including grape juice) , raisins, any sort citrus fruit or juice, and chocolate are extremely toxic to cats and dogs.
Besides, do you really want to drink out of a chalice after your toilet-drinking, butt-sniffing dog had a sip? Or eat a cookie she’s licked? I didn’t think so! Put the stuff somewhere your furry friend can’t reach, like a nearby bookshelf or table. That way, all the humans can partake without grossing out – or poisoning the pet.
Maybe you could also have some water and dog and cat treats for your furry participants to enjoy during Cakes and Wine! I have heard that people who invite their ferrets or rabbits into ritual provide a small plate with a couple of raisins or lettuce on it.
With a little pre-planning, adult pets and carefully supervised kittens and puppies can be delightful, useful, and meaningful participants in your rituals. But always leave yourself the option of letting them out – and keeping them out – if they get too rowdy or otherwise disruptive.
Our ritual room is also where we keep our dogs’ crates, and for the most part they’re voluntarily hanging out in their crates (with the doors open) when we do ritual. We know the ritual is a success if the dogs are snoring!