Ritual Planning Or Help – I Want To Do A Public Ritual But Don’t Know How

Ritual Planning Or Help – I Want To Do A Public Ritual But Don’t Know How

Author:   Zorya  

“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!

How Do You Know A Magical Working “Took”?

How Do You Know A Magical Working “Took”?

Author:   Bronwen Forbes   

I ran across this question on a Pagan forum the other day, and it got me thinking back to when I was new at all this ritual and magic and witchcraft stuff – was that really half a lifetime ago? – and so unsure of my ability to do even a basic working. Fortunately for me, the Gods I chose to invoke were kind, patient, and tolerant of my novice fumbling, as were my teachers and fellow students.

There are actually several ways to know whether or not a ritual or a magical working “worked” or “took.” Some are immediate; some are long-term. In general, sabbat observances and celebrations don’t have the success bar set very high. If you feel like you’ve “done” Litha, or Mabon, then that’s good enough — whether you’ve participated in a three-hour ritual or simply prepared a satisfying barbecue in the back yard for your friends and family.

The first (and sometimes only) indication you have that your spell or ritual was a success is to ask yourself: How do I feel? Do you feel better than you did before the ritual started, or do you feel worse? If you feel better, i.e. less worried, less frightened, more confident, more energetic, calmer, happier or whatever then, at least on some level, the magical working was a success (I’m assuming no one is stupid enough to actually do a working to increase worry, fear, low self-esteem, lethargy, nerves, or sadness) .

Paganism and Witchcraft do have one thing in common with all other religions, and that is to offer comfort and a life raft to the practitioner in times of troubled waters. So if you’re done with your spell or ritual and you feel better, that should that tell you something.

Also, sometimes you just know. There’s almost an audible “click” that means, “Message received. Action forthcoming.” In fact, it sounds a lot like the “click” you hear when you meet someone for the first time and then say to an old friend, “I don’t know, we just clicked!” That click.

If you aren’t already, you should start keeping an informal log or journal of what magic and rituals you do when, and what result (s) you hope to achieve. For one thing, it’s a good idea to keep track of what happens. Say you do a magical working for an easing of financial difficulties. You write it down in your log and forget about it.

Three months later you look back and realize that, since you did that working, you’ve gotten a small raise at work, a nice tax refund from the federal government, and all of your Pagan 101 books that you posted for sale on amazon.com have actually sold! Does that sound like your spell was successful? It does to me!

Another good reason to keep a log or journal of the specifics of your workings is that, if the rite is a good one, and it works — two or three months down the road — you can re-create the working years in the future, if you find yourself in the same situation. Even better, you can share the basics with a friend who might, say, be in a dire financial situation just like you were and isn’t sure what to do, magically speaking, to fix it.

Sometimes, though, with big workings on big issues like, “I want to move to another part of the country, ” or “I want a child, ” one ritual or one spellcasting just isn’t going to have enough “oomph” to help you accomplish what you want. You may need to wait a few weeks (one lunar cycle is good) and do another one. And another one on the next major holiday. And another one on the next holiday after that…

For a big working, I suggest you vary the details slightly in order to cover all the different aspects of the issue. For example, if you want to move across the country, try doing one working to choose your new location wisely and help you get yourself and your stuff there safely, another working to get a job that will take you there (or be waiting for you when you get there) , and still another working to help you find good friends and a congenial community once you arrive. They are all rituals to help you move across the country, but each one focuses on a different aspect of the moving process.

How do you know whether or not you need to repeat the working more than once? Same way you get to perform on stage at Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

Unfortunately, when you’re talking about magic and ritual, there is no box you can check like there is on your email to indicate message received and read. And it really doesn’t matter how carefully you prepare and how well you execute your working. Some things just aren’t to be – at least right now. Does this mean that your time and effort and energy were for nothing? No. It just means that energy has been “banked” somewhere, and is waiting for more favorable conditions to act.

Patience is more than a virtue, here. It’s a necessity.

Let me give you an example: ten years ago, I was doing regular intense workings in order to find love, or for love to find me. But no matter how many losers I hopefully dated, the time was not yet right. But the day I woke up (and I don’t mean in the morning) and realized that one of my oldest friends was Mr. Right, all that energy that I’d sent out and the Gods had stored for me fueled one heck of an intense courtship!

Within 3 months I packed up and moved to where he was currently living. A year later we were married. As of this writing, we’ve been happily wed for over eight years.

When the time is right for the working to “take” – be assured, it will!