Personal Ritual Building

by Doyenne Rowan Nightshade

What does it mean to create a ritual for yourself? It can be as elaborate or as pared down as suits you and/or the purpose for the ritual. When I first decided to formally commit myself to the path of paganism, I did a very short and to-the-point commitment ritual that I took from Ann Moura’s Green Witchcraft book. At the time, I felt uncomfortable with rituals that seemed overly ceremonious, but as I became more familiar with public ritual my attitude toward that changed somewhat. I am still not likely to cast circle or call directions in my personal rituals (though I know many others who do), but I might create a working altar that includes objects to represent the elements, and my personal workings have become more elaborate overall.

For me, the size and scope of my personal rituals reflect what I’m trying to accomplish. One of my simplest rituals involved listening to Irish folk music, drinking Irish whiskey, toasting to friendship, lighting a candle and burning a piece of gnome-shaped incense on a silver dish dressed with lace. On the other end of things, I have also done a more complex ritual to help strengthen the connection between my Bloodroot Honey sisters, at a time when were been plagued with difficulties. That ritual began with my writing an affirmative statement about our sisterhood on magically charged paper. I then dressed a spring-green candle with oils and herbs and sterling rose petals for joy, beauty, new growth, love, and integrity. I placed the paper under the candle dish and surrounded the dish with a necklace I have with a heart charm on it. Next to the dish I placed a rune stone with ‘othala’ inscribed on it to emphasize family and group unity and order, and a yellow apatite for improved communication and the release of stored anger. Then I lit the candle, concentrated my energy toward the highest resolution of all, and set it free to do its work. I have also gone to the cemetery at night and drunk mugwort tea, buried food offerings for the ancestors, and gathered dirt under the moonlight as a personal ritual for Samhain. A friend of mine did a prosperity ritual, under the tutelage of Lady Yeshe Rabbit, that included burning a green seven-day candle, carrying prosperity herbs in his pockets, and “feeding” iron filings every day to a magnetite stone that he carried in a pouch around his neck. One of the key elements for that ritual was actually the daily reinforcement of the spell by feeding the stone.

Other personal rituals might have all the formal components of major public ritual, including casting a circle, calling directions/elements, calling ancestors and allies, invoking deity, and then moving on to the main working. One of the first steps, when building your own ritual, would be to determine exactly what you’re trying to do. It’s better to be clear about one thing than to try to cram too many goals into a single ritual. After all, you can always create another ritual!

Once you’ve established your intended purpose, determine whether or not you feel you are in safe space. Maybe you live in a house with roommates and you don’t feel that any place is really your own. In that case, you probably would want to delineate some sort of sacred space for yourself. Then again, maybe you want a circle to contain the energy so it will build up until you’re ready to release it all at once at the end. A circle can be drawn purely energetically, or, if you’re uncertain about your ability to do that, you can draw a tangible circle with salt or flowers or stones, or sprinkle blessed water to designate your safe space. Now, do you want to send out your intention to the four quarters of the earth/entire universe utilizing all possible channels? Calling directions would be useful for that. Calling in ancestors to guide you through some difficult choices or when you feel you need wisdom would be an excellent idea. Plant and animal guides or allies might help you connect with your instincts or feel your more intuitive, less intellectual side. Invoking your patron deity could help to add strength to your working, or you could invoke another deity who has dominion over the realm of your desired goal.

Once you have created safe space for yourself and invoked all appropriate energies, you can move on to the heart of the matter: the spell or goal of your ritual. The design of that piece of the ritual is completely open-ended and may include candle magic, dancing, singing or chanting, burning things (always one of my favorite activities), divination, washing or asperging, making a charm, etc., etc. You should also consider some sort of release of energy afterward to send out your intention and also to give yourself the space to “come down” from the peak of the ritual. This is actually a great place for a song or gentle movement of some sort. At the end, release all those you have called and open the circle. It is done, it is done, it is done done done!

Congratulations, you are now a ritualist.