21 October, 2013

Magick Class' First Ritual

Hey, Readers,

You may have heard me mention before that I am a co-facilitator for a small group/class hosted by my UU church, which we call Magick Class. The class meets once a month (one month I think we met twice, because it fit everyone's schedules better), and is centered around magickal practice of all kinds and cultures. The class is open to the public, but most people who attend are members of our church or personal friends/family of the church-goers so far. Each month we cover a different topic of interest to the group. As you can imagine, everyone was interested in spellcraft and ritual! But we couldn't just dive in and do a ritual, so we spent a few months teaching the class about some basics that go into ritual and spellcraft: cleansing, the elements, symbolism, and Deity concepts and other guides.

Once we got through the what, where, why, how, and back to who, we thought it was time to do our first ritual as a mixed group! We had all already decided that we wanted to do a ritual for our church, and without giving away too many of the exact details or the exact spell that we did, I want to talk about the general experience of creating a ritual this way, in a group of mixed religious background and belief, and then actually performing that ritual.

Our circle, before the ritual.
We had a meeting last month, September, to plan the ritual. Only six people came to that meeting, including one woman's young daughter (6 years old, or so). We planned the ritual around some bare bones, basic structure, in a process I had read about in The Twelve Wild Swans (which I was finishing at the time). In the book they talk about how planning their rituals starts with the "meat," or "tofu" of the ritual, or the main "body" if you will, and then adds the appropriate opening and closing details around that base. Since we knew our main goal for the church, we started with phrasing that in a concise way that would help everyone remain focused on the goal. Then we had to decide, well, what do we want to DO?!

There was some time where those of us who do magick/ritual more often explained some options for how ritual can go--devotion, celebration, magick, and so on. We shared how some rituals are just honoring something or celebrating, while others include a spell of some kind. The group wanted one with a spell, so we wrote that down on the board. Then we asked what that spell would be, and someone suggested baking bread with magickal ingredients for our purpose, and bread also had to do with our goal. We liked this, and agreed that one person would bake the bread with intent and bring it to the ritual, instead of the baking being the ritual itself. Then I offered an idea of a spell I had done with another group for the same intent, where we blessed items with our intent and kept them or scattered them around. Everyone liked this idea, and someone had the perfect items to bring for us, so we wrote down that we would bless these items using a chant/spell and scatter them around the church building and grounds.

Now that we had the "body" of the ritual, it was time to fill in the details from beginning to end. We decided to cleanse the whole church from the outside in. We talked about how that would be done, with sage and sound. Someone said "I think it would be fun to all bring a special scarf and dance around with them as we move around the church," so we wrote that down. The young girl said "I think we should howl like wolves!" and after someone asked, "What do wolves have to do with it?" someone opened up my Animal Spirit book (which I had with me because we had used it in our previous class and I was hoping to fill people in on what they had missed last month) and read from it that wolves symbolize community, among other things. The qualities of the wolf matched our intent, so we said "Great!" and wrote it down on the board. This is how it progressed. I provided the basic structure, which I told them is not the only way of doing ritual but is the general way that I work personally, and the group offered ideas and then said yes or no to each one. We wrote down how the outside cleansing would transition to the inside cleansing, then into the entrance to the circle. We decided where in the church the circle would be! We decided that each element would be called by a different person or group of people (we were hoping for a larger group than six!), and that I would call The Universe instead of any Deity because that was the most common belief for all the people in the group. We decided the bread would be magickal but also for our Simple Feast/Cakes and Ale, and that someone would bring drink. Then for ease of closing, they asked me to do the thanking/releasing of any energies we called and opening of the circle and extinguishing of the chalice (as we would be bringing in the UU tradition of our Flaming Chalice). We also decided that some of us would get there early to set up the items in the circle so that everything was ready to go.

On the night of the ritual, which was this past Tuesday, my car had broken down so one of the other co-facilitators picked me up at work and we got to the church early to set up. We looked in the church supplies to see what we could use, and found many candles in jars that we decided would form the physical boundary of the circle. We placed printed copies of the ritual order around the outside of the circle, so if anyone forgot what came next, we could look and see. As my friend and co-facilitator placed the elemental items she brought at the four quarters, and her daughter and myself arranged the candles in a circular fashion, everyone started saying how it already felt like part of the ritual, even though all we were doing was setting up. People gradually streamed in, carrying their own elemental representations to add to the circle and the items they said they would bring: scarves, bells, drinks and cookies, and more. We looked in the kitchen to find bowls and cups. I had brought my chalice--a new one I purchased at the renaissance festival--to use as a communal cup, but we wanted others in case not everyone was okay with drinking from the same cup. One of the women had extra scarves, so we used one to decorate the center "altar" area of the circle where we would do the working. We got the Flaming Chalice from the church sanctuary to begin and end our rite. All the pieces came together and people were chatting and having fun setting up. When everyone arrived, we handled the practical things like putting on sweaters since we were starting outside, and going to the bathroom so we wouldn't have to go in the middle of ritual! The total count was eight adults, three teenagers, and three children under 12. Yep, we fit 14 people in that little circle! We were expecting more, but a few people couldn't make it.

My ritual attire was my work clothing, plus my Spider pendant and scarf/shawl.
The ritual itself went very well and was a lot of fun. Since everyone had done the cleansing class the first month, or had been smudged at some other time in their lives, it was easy to start with my friend Moon smudging everyone in turn. Her teenage son played a drum next to her to set the beat, and the rest of us drummed, clapped, or rang bells along with him as everyone was cleansed. When everyone was cleansed, we set off in a sunwise circle around the whole church building, playing drums, clapping and ringing bells, and howling like wolves! We have very understanding neighbors, haha. When we got back to the front door, we had to wait for the whole group to catch up and someone started a chant of "Om/Aum" which everyone naturally picked up. When we all got there, we went inside and cleansed the church from end to end, turning on lights, drumming and clapping and chanting and ringing bells and smudging. Then the lights were turned off as the candles were lit (My friend's son and I were lighting candles, and as he reached to light his stick from a flame I just lit, his stick TOOK my entire flame right out of my candle!), and we prepared to enter the circle. It took a few reminders for us to get the littler kids to not step back outside the circle, but we moved in using multiple circles to cast, called the elements using everyone's original, prepared invocation, and I invited the Universe and lit our Chalice. Then it was time for the spell working and chant, which honestly, the few of us who were there early had written right before! We used a well known chant, We Are a Circle, and wrote a verse to it which stated our intent for the spellworking. We chanted this over the items numerous times, and I had the kids kneel with me on the floor to get closer to the bowl of cleansing water with the items, to pull the energy the adults were raising above us, down down down into the bowl! It engaged them more than when they were just standing, since they weren't able to pick up on the words of the chant. We did this until the energy died down. Then we broke bread and shared apple cider from my chalice or from the individual cups, which I explained was also my new chalice's initiation as it had not before been used! This was our grounding. After that, I did my usual thanking/releasing/opening, which is to say that I improvised based on a basic structure I use, and made it applicable to the group and our individual intent. I referenced back to the chant that we did to solidify it in everyone's minds. Afterward, the circle open, we had more drinks and snacks as we scattered the items around the church in hidden areas. Moon and I took the remaining breads and cider set aside during the ritual, and the ash from the smudge stick, outside as the offering.

During the ritual, we acknowledged issues and gave instruction as it came up. This is a learning group, so we didn't see a problem with things like "Hey, we never decided how we would actually cleanse the items. Should one person do this? Who should do that?" We laughed at our oversight and I suggested a plan of action. "How about I pour the water into the bowl, you add the salts, and then everyone takes some of the items and puts them into the bowl?" As we started that, someone else said, "May I suggest that everyone hold the item in their hand for a minute first, to charge it with our intent, and then put it into the bowl?" And so we did. Then the person who was going to lead the chant started, and I said "Wait, let's make sure ALL the items are in the bowl so they are all charged. Who would like to charge the last items and add them?" Some people reached for them and did that. We passed around a sheet of paper for everyone to read the words of the chant as we tried to pick them up. Things like that! This was by no means perfect, but it went smoothly because we all knew it was a learning environment. When I started to thank the elements, people raised their hands to ask questions first! As I did it, the kids raised their hands to ask more! It was a great experience, and I think everyone enjoyed it because we did it together. It had a plan behind it, so that no one would feel like we were floundering in the dark, but people did improvise and add things as they saw fit, and it worked very well.

Our circle, after the ritual.
So what is the point of this post? I guess, for one, I want to share it because it was a fun learning experience for me as well as for my group. And two, it lets you know a bit more about what I do in my personal life as far as teaching/learning/group work. This is my learning group, whereas I do get together from time to time with an informal circle of witches, which is still eclectic and variable, but everyone in that group has their own personal practice already and identifies as pagan/witch and already knows the basic things we are just getting to learn about in Magick Class. And three, I want it to be a sort of encouragement for those of my viewers/readers who may be concerned about what ritual is, or what it can be. Was this a traditional ritual? Not in ANY sense! But was it a ritual? Of course. And the cool thing is that some of the people who participated in this ritual are pretty much brand new to magick, and they were still able to participate in a way that they felt comfortable with. We built the ritual to fulfill that, from the invocation of the Universe instead of particular deities (which I do a lot anyway, which is why I offered it as an option) to the inclusion of separate drinking glasses. We come from different religious and spiritual backgrounds, but we were able to work together toward a common goal for our church. And we had a great time doing it.


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