It is a useful magical and intellectual exercise to examine each segment of your ritual structure, and ask yourself why you do it in the particular way that you do. Why do we sweep the circle, consecrate it with water, salt, and incense, cast it with a sword, and so on? What is the function and symbolism of each of these actions? Can they be improved – either in the sense of making them more magically effective, more reflective of reality, or more inclusive?
The circle is swept to prepare the space for ritual. This was also done in mumming plays to prepare the space for the performance. Participants in the ritual should pay attention while the sweeping is happening, because it helps to clear the mind of mundane concerns and get ready for ritual.
I always sweep the circle in the same way that I would sweep the kitchen floor: sweep the whole area, sweeping the dirt into the middle and then out of the door.
The mundane concerns that get left outside the circle are things like worrying whether you got all your shopping done, or what you are going to do at work next week. Core aspects of your identity and being, such as your sexual orientation, do not get left outside the circle.
Casting the circle
The circle creates a safe space, a filter bubble that excludes malign influences but allows in good energies.
Consecrating the elements
Some groups only consecrate water and salt, and not incense. This is derived from magical traditions where Water and Earth are regarded as ‘feminine’ elements and therefore in need of more consecration. We consecrate incense as well.
When consecrating the participants in the ritual with water/salt and incense, there are many ways of being more inclusive than having a priest consecrate all the men and a priestess consecrating all the women. You can have a person of any gender consecrating everyone; or you can use a different pair of polarities, such as introvert / extrovert, or morning person / evening person.
Calling the quarters
Some groups and traditions calls the “Lords of the Watchtowers”. I avoid gendering the four elements and refer to them as ‘powers’ (e.g. Powers of Fire). I also ask them politely to join us in the circle, rather than summoning them peremptorily to attend. This was suggested by Fred Lamond in his book Fifty Years of Wicca.
This can be done in many different ways – dancing, chanting, visualising, and many more. My personal favourite is making balls of energy and merging them together. Dancing in a circle makes me dizzy. You can raise power using polarity, resonance, or synergy.
A person of any gender can invoke a deity of any gender onto another person of any gender. Deities don’t necessarily have gender the same way we do; nor do they have biological sex (though we may perceive them as having it). There are many legends of deities changing gender (e.g. Vertumnus) and sex (e.g. Loki), or having more than one gender (e.g. Shiva, Ardhanadishwara).
Cakes and Wine
Cakes and wine can be consecrated by two people of any gender, using the words “as the athame is to the lover, so the cup is to the beloved”.
We also use the two chalices ritual, devised by me in 1995, further developed by a group of LGBT ritual participants in 2015, and based on the Temperance card in the Tarot.
Considerations when writing a ritual or workshop
- Who will be taking part? Do they have any specific requirements for accessibility or inclusion? (sexual orientation, gender identity, food allergies, disabled access)
- Does the ritual have somewhere between 3 and 7 symbols? (Most people can hold about 5 ideas in their head at any one time, so more symbolism than that is too much.)
- Does the symbolism include everyone? (e.g. if you are talking about rites of passage, does this include transitioning, coming out, same-sex weddings/handfastings, and the psychological aspects of coming of age ceremonies?)
- Have you alternated between activities that involve standing up or dancing, and activities that involve sitting or lying down?
- Is there an accessible alternative to activities (e.g. kneeling) that some people find physically difficult?
- If your ritual involves extemporising, do the participants have sufficient knowledge of the symbolism to feel comfortable?
- Can the participants opt out of anything that makes them feel uncomfortable?
- Yvonne Aburrow, Dark Mirror: the inner work of witchcraft (forthcoming)
- Yvonne Aburrow, The Night Journey: witchcraft as transformation (forthcoming)
- Thista Minai, Casting a queer circle
- Jo Green, Queer Paganism
- Health and safety in ritual