I never fail to be affected by a good magical ritual/ceremony. Over the years I have been part of many and each have had a beneficial affects and effects, in some way or another, often only tangible sometime after the event.
Last Friday I was not in a happy or healthy state of mind. I had been having a particularly difficult panic attack that had continued for more than two days. They don’t happen often these days and when one does sneak up on me the tendency generally is to run to the furthest reaches of my psychological cave and hide. However, I was due to go out that evening and join my grove in a ceremony, to immerse ourselves in and honour the aspects of autumn. This being part of a year long journey to find deeper aspects of the seasons and how we view them from a spiritual stand point; to miss the ceremony would have broken the journey. Also, this is a group of people that I have worked with over many years. Within the group there is a strong sense of trust that comes from long term familiarity and a profound honesty of communication, which enables us to fully engage our personal thoughts and feelings, whilst being part of a group journey. So, despite my fervent wish to retreat, I committed myself to make the forty minute drive to the woods and take part in the ceremony.
As I sat, post ceremony, watching everyone bathed in the warm glow of the dancing fire, passing around the nibbles and immersed in a hubbub of genial banter, I realised that my panic attack had subsided. I was at peace in myself again.
It set me thinking again about the whole purpose of ritual and ceremony. I feel I should point out that I tend make a separation of the words ritual and ceremony, though they are intimately related, for me, they are subtly different. Ritual is something done in the same way each and every time, whilst a ceremony will have some ritualistic aspects the content of each might be quite different from another. Either way the result, more often than not, seems to be the same, a shifting of psychological state that can go on to have a tangible effect on every day life.
The times I spend in sacred space is a way to focus, spiritually and magically, on a particular energy, above and beyond any idle musing I might engage in, it is a process that changes me fundamentally. It could be a rite of passage that I share with my community and loved ones, such as a wedding or funeral, or, perhaps, a more intimate ceremony, say, dedicating myself to a new work path or celebrating a particular phase of the moon. Whatever the case, these times require me to come out of my everyday thought patterns, to explore the nuances of the subject and relate them to my own existence in the grand scheme of life. Though I may not be the focus of the ritual, nor even a fundamental cog in the working of it, it cannot help but influence my deep psychology for that short time.
There’s something to be said for building personal magical rituals that can be used time and again as a tool for accessing ones powers of perception, healing and connection. These days my own small rituals afford me time, as well as a safe space, for refocusing my thoughts, my emotional well being and my attitudes to life in general, more than almost anything else I have found. Within the ritual circle there is the containment and building of personal energy, from the beginning when the circle is cast and the spirits of the elements are invited to be with me, through to the end when I thank them for their presence and take the circle down, I feel free to express myself fully, to petition the ancestors or the Gods for their assistance, to meditate or path work, maybe even shape shift, if I have a mind too. I am whole, true to myself and unfettered by the constraints of a modern existence. Normal time and space are suspended. There I can stand at the centre of a world full of raw potential and open myself to all possibilities – what happens next is entirely up to me. In that liminal place I become the magical force I need to change my world. It is a powerful feeling and one that has helped me time and time again over the years whenever I have felt life slipping into places I fear or have no control over.
Like good art, poetry or music, the art of ritual is also a subjective experience. What one person might gain may be quite different to another. Many people feel the visual aspects enhance the magical effect of a rite, whilst others feel robes and tools detract from the whole purpose. However, for me the true magic happens when the logistics of the ritual are planned, understood and catered to with elegance, allowing any movement within the circle to flow and when all the participants of the rite are encouraged to speak their own words with emotional freedom and passion.
The killer of magic in the circle, in my opinion, is worry – worry about saying the wrong words, worry about not wearing the right thing or what people might think of you. So what if you don’t say what is on your piece of paper, is it what’s in your heart? And so what if you call the wrong direction or walk the wrong way around the circle, just laugh and carry on. It is very unlikely the Gods will strike you with a lightning bolt. As long as there is a balance of mirth and reverence within the circle it will be a relaxed and powerful place in which to perform magic.
Whether one is dressed to the nines and tooled up, in jeans and a tee shirt or stripped bare with nothing between you and the moonlight, there is nothing more magical, moving or inspiring to be part of than a non-scripted, elegant and passionate ritual.