Ritual Planning Or Help – I Want To Do A Public Ritual But Don’t Know How
“Sincerity is no substitute for competence.”
– Isaac Bonewits
Rituals that Work –
Purpose of Ritual:
So why do a ritual at all, particularly a public ritual? After all, you are giving friends, acquaintances and total strangers a chance to judge whether you and your group really know what you are doing. Is it worth the risk of embarrassing yourselves in front of a crowd?
Actually, yes, it is. When you offer a public ritual you are performing a valuable service. Of all the many reasons for a public ritual, these two are the most essential. First, you are giving the community a venue to come together and strengthen bonds. Secondly, you are creating a “thin place” between the worlds of the material and the immaterial. When we have ritual we set up the conditions where you and those who join you in ritual can put aside the cares and distractions of the mundane and touch the face of Deity. Of the two, that may be the essential reason for public rituals. And as a gift to the Gods and the community, we should do that as well as possible.
Planning: (Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How)
Planning is the key word. A good public rite doesn’t happen by accident. As our former HPS said “A good Witch can pull it out of her a** and make it shiny.” True enough, but how do you get that good? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall – practice. But don’t practice your mistakes. Visualize what you want, then work to manifest it. As the old cliché says, success is 10% inspiration; 90% perspiration.
Why are you doing this ritual, as opposed to ritual in general? What is the purpose behind the ritual? Are you celebrating a seasonal festival, blessing, or a thanksgiving? Is it going to be a unity ritual, or one to affect a community healing? Once you determine the purpose you can better focus on what you will do.
Who is going to be available to actually do the ritual/perform the various roles? Before planning an elaborate, “cast of thousands” ritual, you need to determine things such as how many people in your group do you have to work with and what are their capabilities? If you decide to ask others (non-members of your coven, grove, etc.) to help, will you be able to depend on them? Do you really need a large cast or will a small one serve the purpose of the ritual just as well?
What are you going to do? A good, solid ritual outline is essential to a successful ritual. Outlines are normally the bare bones of a ritual. Once you have the framework set, you can flesh out the finer points of the ritual.
It is important to remember: Neo-Pagan myths, particularly seasonal myths, are drawn from many historical, traditional and folkloric sources. Pick one set with which to work. If you try to include all the myths associated with the season you will have an incoherent mess.
Focusing on a few elements is essential. If you try to include elements that would not normally mix you will only confuse things. Additionally, if you throw in too many activities you can bog down the ritual and take the focus away from the purpose – creating a thin place where the community can touch Deity. Ceremonies of transitions (handfastings, Wiccanings, passing over, etc), community announcements, children’s activities, recognition of individual contributions to the community are all well and good, but they do not belong in the main ritual. They should be done separately before or after ritual, or at another venue entirely.
What to include in your ritual outline depends on the overall purpose of your ritual, as well as how general or tradition-specific you want it to be. Since ritual in its most elemental is sacred theater, you need to have a specific beginning, middle and ending. Casting a magical circle, calling the quarters/elements, invoking the God and the Goddess are standard beginnings across many traditions and paths. Similarly, bidding farewell to the Deities, releasing the quarters/elements and opening the magical circle are also recognized endings. The middle is where the bulk of your sacred theater will occur, and where you are called to be the most creative.
Where – or as they say in the real estate business “location, location, location.”
Where are you going to hold your ritual? Do you want to have it in a public park, or in a local community center? Can it be reserved? If so, make a reservation. Don’t assume that it will be available on the date of the ritual.
What are the restrictions, if any? Will they interfere with what you have planned? (Open fires, loud music, etc.) Can you work within these limits, or would it be better to find a different place?
Should you hold it at a private (someone’s home) vs. public property? There are some advantages to having your ritual on private property. You can have more control over a private location and possibility allow for activities that would not be permitted at a public park or community center. On the other hand, the word “public” means just that – the public is going to know where you live. And while your friends and coven mates may all be wonderful people, there are, ahem, “interesting” folks in every community and you may not want to give them your street address. Another thought is how visible you will be from your front or back yard. Not everyone wants their neighbors leaning over the back fence saying “Hey, what’s going on?” during ritual!
The last objection may also apply to some “public” locations (see “reservations”). Does a jogging path run through the middle of it? Is it right next to the basketball courts, or the Baptist swimming pool? Whether you use a public or private venue, make sure you go to the location and check it out. Check for accessibility, view to the walk-by public, parking, whether a new person can find it easily, does it have a street address to plug into an Internet mapping program (yahoomaps, google maps, mapquest) or can it be easily located on a physical map, and so forth.
If your ritual is located outdoors, what is your “fallback” in the case of inclement weather? Is there a shelter you can use?
When will you hold this ritual? Will it be during daylight hours, or do you plan to have it at nighttime? (If night, keep in mind that most “public” location – parks, etc. – close at dark.)
“Pagan Standard Time” is a given. Allow enough flexibility in your schedule to provide for this, but also remember that some people really may have other plans later in the day (or may have to get up and go to work the next day, if a night-time ritual!). Don’t penalize those who do show up on time. Include the starting time in your announcements and stick fairly close to that.
How are you going to do it? “How” is related to “what,” but more detailed. This is where you get down to the nuts and bolts of the ritual.
Finalize the beginning and the ending of your ritual plan and fill out the details of the middle. Who is going to play which roles? Are you going to write out dialog or give the players the general framework and let them develop their own dialog? Will your Sacred Theater be highly structured or more freeform? With which format are you more comfortable? Which one do you think will do the most to create the “thin place?”
Whichever you choose, make sure you have a few rehearsals before the day of the ritual. Rehearsals are important. They allow the dramatis personae to become comfortable with their roles in the ritual and help them get a feel for the flow of the action. Rehearsals also help the group to see what works, what doesn’t work and fine tune the overall presentation. For example, if you have a scripted ritual with specific lines for the participants a rehearsal with let you see if the script sounds as good as it looks on paper. The lines may be very beautiful and sound wonderful when you read them in your head, but if the participants can’t wrap their tongues around them, well, it won’t be pretty.
It’s not a public rite if nobody comes. Don’t forget to get the word out early and often. With the ease of communication afforded by the Internet, you can reach a large number of people online as well as those who hear of your ritual through conventional means. A very good Internet resource for publicizing your ritual is a posting on your state or country page on The Witches Voice (www.witchvox.com). Other avenues include local message board such as the ones found on Yahoo (www.groups.yahoo.com), MSN (www.groups.msn.com), AOL (www.groups.aol.com) or Google (www.groups.google.com). When posting on local message boards, be sure to post an initial announcement, usually a month or two prior to the event and at least one reminder closer to the date of the ritual.
To reach folks who are not “connected” try posting flyers at local Pagan or metaphysical stores, and on public bulletin boards at local community colleges, university or public libraries. If you are in contact with other covens and Pagan groups in the area extend them a personal invitation to come to the ritual.
On the day of the ritual make sure you get there early enough to set things up before your guests show up, so that you can welcome them, talk to “newbies” who may have questions and socialize. If you have extensive set up for the ritual you may want to designate one of your number to act as an official host to welcome people as they arrive.
Speak up! Use dramatic gestures. This is Sacred Theater. If anyone in your group has training in theater arts, ask them to help/train/direct the others. Don’t be afraid to go a bit “over the top.” And have fun with the ritual. One reason you are there is to enjoy what you are doing.
Get the “audience” involved but don’t expect them to do anything that is too complicated. Give the group a pre-ritual briefing of anything that you want them to do or that they may need to know about the ritual. If you have songs, keep them simple. Try to pick songs that your “Pagan on the street” might know, but don’t be afraid to teach the group a new song before you go into the ritual space.
What can go wrong? What will you do when it does? Anything and everything can go wrong before and during the ritual. Weather can go from warm and sunny to cold and rainy in the blink of an eye. Key participants could be no shows. Things fall over, come apart, or break during the rite – Maypoles falls over. Candles won’t stay lit outdoors. (Recommended: Don’t use them if daylight; use “jar candles” at night.)
Make sure you have a back up plan in case of bad weather, missing “performers,” forgotten items, and so forth.
When the Party’s Over…
Review your ritual. What worked? What didn’t? Why?
Don’t “finger point” at coven members for the things that didn’t work. Treat this phase as a learning experience for the coven, not a blame session. Do a written “after action” report and include it in the coven’s Book of Shadows. Don’t assume you will remember all your recommended changes when you are ready to do your next public ritual.
Reviewing other people’s rituals – yes, it’s alright to critique them with an eye to improving your own rituals. What did you like? Write it down to use next time you perform. What didn’t you like? Make sure you don’t do it! Note: If I write nasty things about someone’s ritual on a public e-mail list, that’s bashing, and it’s not nice. Critiquing rituals in private (in coven!) is constructive.
Try your best to make this a dispassionate review. Just because something isn’t “your cup of tea” doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. Remember that you are offering constructive, not destructive criticism.
Strive for Excellence:
A public ritual is your gift to the Gods as well as to your community. Take pride in what you have done, but always look for ways to do even better next time.
Miscellaneous Do’s and Don’ts:
Don’t read. (But, if you must, have enough copies for everyone to have their own copy of their lines!)
We recommend assigning roles and letting people write their own lines. (Why? It’s easier to remember something you’ve written yourself.)
Keep to the point; better short and sweet than long and drawn out.
In Winged Pharaoh Joan Grant has two of her characters talk about a poem that one of them has written, and this applies to any sort of presentation: “Better a bracelet that fit’s the wearer than a necklace so long that one trips over it.”
Being a Good Guest:
Attending someone else’s ritual? Go! Nothing hurts worse than planning the best ritual you can, then sitting there hoping that someone will show up.
Leave “personal issues” you may be having with anyone else in the community at home.
Clean up after yourself
After the ritual, go home (so others can, too).
In conclusion, public rituals can be emotionally fulfilling, spiritually uplifting and a whole lot of fun! A well planned ritual will be remembered fondly by both your group and the local community for a long time. Don’t be afraid, just do it!