10 Tips for Amazing Public Rituals
Recently I have been reading the banter between two bloggers on www.Patheos.com about public ritual. Reading these articles shows an interesting display of opinion between two experienced practitioners. I also find the two viewpoints make sense.
If you are interested, I have links to two of the articles so you can form your own opinion. One makes a case for conducting poor or mediocre public rituals http://www.patheos.com/blogs/panmankey/2016/09/do-your-bad-pagan-ritual/ while the other feels public rituals should “knock your socks off” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2016/09/05/lowered-expectations-is-not-the-answer-to-bad-pagan-rituals .
As usual, my opinion is somewhere in the middle. While I agree that public ritual is not always going to be the transcendent experience you might expect or intend; I do feel that as leaders we should try very hard to make it over the top. In saying this, I also recognize that in trying to make it “over the top” we also run the risk of catastrophic failure.
Regardless, we should give public ritual our all simply because public ritual is often the only kind of ritual many Pagans will ever experience. Then for others, this might be their first taste of how a ritual might look and feel. We should want to give them something to remember.
The issue comes when we try too hard, are unorganized and make things overly complicated. Simply put, any ritual is personal, and this is why it is so difficult to conduct one in a public setting. Not everyone who attends a public ritual is going to understand or related to everything you do or believe. Each leader, HP or elder conducting a public ritual is most likely seeing things from a very different vantage point compared to you or me.
We are all at a different point on our religious, spiritual and magickal paths. Knowing this helps us realize that any one element of a ritual can mean something very different each individual in attendance. Even if we had the same training, we all experience concepts and spiritual transcendence very differently.
We also run a risk of losing the meaning and experience when we make public rituals too simplistic. An overly generalized ritual will not move a group of strangers to the point of religious awareness and transcendence. When we overly generalize spiritual or religious experiences, we lose a vital piece of the puzzle. To “dumb it down” dilutes the purpose of religious and spiritual ceremonies, making them pointless and weak.
Instead of debating the topic, I thought I would offer you tips on conducting a successful public ritual. I want to offer you some tips that will help you create an engaging experience for everyone involved. Some of my suggestions will be common practices for conducting any ritual, while others (I find) are often glossed over.
1. Come from a place of PASSION! It’s all about the energy you bring to the party. Your presence is going to be one of the most important things to your public ritual. But this is a double-edged sword, you want to steer clear of seeming arrogant. Conducting any kind of religious service or ritual is an act that must come from the heart and a place of passion.
Remember it is not about you. It’s about the process and the experience. It’s about allowing Divinity to flow through you as your passion becomes the fuel for the experience. You are a conduit for the message being relayed. As leaders and energy workers we should be the first to embody this. We are conduits for the Divine, it is as simple and as difficult as that.
If you can’t summon the passion necessary, then step back and let someone else take the reins for a while. Your energy will make or break the whole thing. If you go in half-hearted, guess what you are going to get? Yep! You guessed it, a dull and boring experience for you and those around you. If you go in with an “I’m all mighty” attitude, guess what? People will pick up on that, and this doesn’t usually provide a positive long-term outcome.
So literally, stand up. You would be surprised how many HPs I have seen sitting down throughout the entire ritual. Now don’t get me wrong if there is a medical condition at play here where the HP cannot stand, then there are adjustments that can be made. One example is to have an apprentice or initiate move around the circle summoning the energy necessary for the ritual, acting in place of the HP. The key is to move through the circle and engage with each person in attendance. This encourages those around you to be present and excited about what is to come.
Another reason I recommend this is because in a large setting it can be difficult or impossible to hear the leader’s instructions. By walking the circle, you allow yourself to be heard.
So stand up and walk. Allow yourself to be heard and allow your energy to move those around you. By doing this, you are getting your participants excited about the process. You are making your presence very evident, and this is an important element in any ritual. Your participants should be interested in and moved by what you have to offer.
2. Be the leader you are expected to be. Be the leader you are positioning yourself to be.
As you are moving around your circle, you should be telling everyone what they should do and what they should expect. If you want the participants to do specific things for the ritual like call, cast, invoke, etc. then explain yourself, and the process clearly.
Don’t assume that everyone there knows exactly what they should do and when. Keep in mind that there are many different ways any one person might conduct the ritual. Some don’t call and cast, and those who do may do it in very different ways. Your way is not the only way, and this is why you need to be completely clear about what you expect to happen, when, how and where.
Sometimes this means you will have to demonstrate to the crowd what you mean and how things should look. This works wonders!
Also, before the ritual explain how you expect your participants to dress and what items they should bring to the ceremony. Be very clear with your instructions. If you have to send an email beforehand or host a meeting with your co-leaders before the big day, do it! If you need to make a flyer, do it.
Communication is essential for inclusion. Clear and open communication is essential for creating community.
3. Find an activity that everyone can easily do together. Most people dislike and some truly hate lectures. Lectures are rarely exciting and let’s face it they have a tendency to put people to sleep. In most cases, this is not what you want in your ritual.
While some aspects need to be told, don’t make your speech, monologue or story too long and especially don’t make it the whole ritual. You will lose people FAST. Your activity can be a simple chant, dance, or motion like taking a calculated and deliberate step in a particular direction.
Let me give you an example. One public ritual I conducted (and would very much like to do again) was a protection ritual for a specific area of land that was threatened. Part of the ritual was to have everyone stand in a tight circle facing outward with their hands extended. As we went through the visualization and chant, I instructed the crowd to step forward away from the center of the circle.
Each time the chant verse was complete we all took one step forward away from the center of the circle, making our circle larger and larger with each step. It was easy peasy and totally effective.
I encourage you to incorporate activities but keep them simple. Overly complicating these things will result in people becoming confused and lost. This is how your ceremony breaks down, and the experience becomes void.
4. Find your courage: Far worse than public speaking, is conducting a public ritual.
Public ritual is damn scary. You are about to bare your soul to people you don’t even know. This should terrify anyone. I still get nervous about conducting public rituals, and I have done plenty over the years.
Take a breath and remember, this ritual is not about you. It is about the subject of your ritual and the people around you. It is about creating a meaningful experience for everyone. Getting over the fear of conducting a public ceremony is not easy, and while this fear diminishes over time and with experience; I am not sure it ever truly goes away.
I have found that when I allow my ego to take a rest and invite Divinity to take over, the ritual seems to go on autopilot (so to speak). Everything seems to flow. To tell you the truth often I don’t even remember any details afterward. I go off the accounts of those who were there as observers and participants. When I allow Divinity to work through me, Magick happens, and everything comes into place.
The key is to let go.
5. Do what is close to your heart. Do what is authentic to you. Do what will ignite your fire within.
Making things too general will result in a ritual that is bland and unsavory. Show people what you are made of and what your path is about. When you express your passion, they will sit up and take notice. Sure not everyone will “get” what you are doing but that is where being present and giving clear instruction will help break down that awkward barrier toward gaining understanding.
I have another example for you from personal experience. I was trained in a tradition where we use a Latin style language to call, cast and invoke. So when I was asked to perform a Beltane ritual with the Dragon Ritual Drummers, I was terrified.
I thought to myself, “How can I call and cast when no one knows what the hell I am saying?” To further complicate things, I did this in a continuous song. As I saw it, this could go two ways; really awesome or complete failure.
So, I printed out the translation on several sheets of paper and handed them out to the crowd of 50 or more people surrounding the circle. Some had to share a sheet, but that’s okay. As my mom always said, “If there is a will there is a way.”
After the ritual, many people came up to me telling me how much they appreciated the translation. They felt included! This simple gesture deepened their experience and helped them relate to what I was doing. This example shows us how doing what is close to our heart and doing it with clear communication works wonders for a public ritual.
6. Be Prepared and organized: Just as you would if you were conducting a private ritual; know what, when, who and how.
Sometimes this might mean you begin prepping a week (or more) before the ritual. Perhaps it means you go out to the location and see for yourself how much room you have, and scope out where you might place your altar and so on.
Make a list of the items you need to bring. Run through your ritual, rehearse it. Maybe practice a little with those who will be leading with you. Take some time to set up the altar to make sure all the elements you want to present fit and look appealing. Make sure you have all of your ducks in a row so you can spend more time finding your center rather than searching for your lighter for the candles.
7. Become proficient and have confidence in your abilities: I’m going to be very honest here. If you do not have confidence or proficiency in what you are about to do, don’t do it.
To some, this may seem harsh, but if you want to make an impact you need to summon your confidence, and you must know what you are doing.
If you are not ready, then don’t force yourself. Instead, take some time to practice with those you know well and trust within a private setting. This is where going through a degree training or apprentice training program will benefit you. After you become proficient in your private workings, then you are ready to move to public ritual.
On the same note, I am not sure anyone is truly ever “ready” to bare their soul to strangers. It does seem to take a particular type of person or personality to do this readily. The good news is you can become this kind of person with time and work. For some this comes from personal conviction, for others it comes with experience. There is a process and at some point, you will have to rip off the proverbial band-aid. This is especially true for your first few public rituals.
I can’t say this enough – Not only do you needed to believe in what you are doing, but you also need to have proficiency in what you do; again this comes with time and practice. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. If you go out there fumbling around and unorganized, you will not be taken seriously.
8. A long ritual is not always the best ritual: Keep it simple, your ritual doesn’t have to last 3-hours or more. Respect those you are standing before you and don’t waste their time.
Keeping people longer than necessary does not make a good ritual. Again, you will lose people. Some will get bored and check their watches every five minutes praying for you to end their agony.
The circumstances and venue of your ritual will determine the length. Don’t get me wrong, I have been in rituals lasting many hours that were very engaging and transcendent. I have been in rituals that lasted 60-minutes that created the same effect. I have also been in rituals where it did not matter how long it lasted because any length of time was simply too long.
If you are good at engaging people and setting up activities that get your group involved, then the length of your ritual will become less evident. Most people will not mind the length as long as they remain interested. But it is always a wise idea to not take up more time than in necessary.
The key here is to do enough to get your point a crossed while you keep your crowd interested in the subject.
9. Keep it simple: Knocking their socks off doesn’t require an overly complicated process or a laundry list of activities. When things get overly complicated we lose our place, we deflect our focus, and most importantly we lose those we are leading.
Again, people get bored. We live in a fast-paced society, and we cannot expect everyone in our circle to have the same ability (we might have) for slowing down to live in the moment of as we raise spiritual vibrations.
Keeping your ritual simple, (without dumbing it down too far) is essential to keeping people on topic and on task. Often the most elegant and meaningful rituals only have a few steps and elements to them. Most importantly they have one central focus. There is a balance you must strike here, and you will not know the measure of this until you are in the circle. Which brings me to my next point…
10. Keep it relevant: As I mentioned, staying on topic is essential to keeping your circle focused. Pick one topic, two if absolutely necessary, and stick to it. Don’t allow it to go off into too many other directions. Don’t allow others to interject (unless relevant to the working) while you are in the circle. Deflecting from your ritual’s purpose will create chaos and confusion.
So there you have 10 tips for planning and conducting your public ritual. These tips are a great springboard to get you started. I could give you plenty of additional tips, but then that would be making this post a little too lengthy, and I don’t want to lose you.
At the very least, these tips offer some perspective on the process. I hope you enjoyed this point of view and will give it a go sometime.