So you’re writing a ritual. Staring at a blank screen or sheet of paper can be daunting. Here’s a few tips to get started.
Get yourself in the mood. If you’re writing a ritual for a festival, read and/or listen to stuff — stories, songs, podcasts, poems, articles, other rituals about or relating to the festival. If your ritual theme is not festival-related, read around the theme in the same way.
What is the theme of your ritual? Other than the festival itself, what is the main idea you want to get across? For example, Beltane can be about love in all its forms, or it can be about creativity. Imbolc can be about the first intimations of spring (in the UK anyway, where there are snowdrops coming up then); in Canada the land is still very much in the grip of winter, so the ritual could be about maintaining the fire on the hearth, like the perpetual flame of Brighid. Check out my post on inclusive themes for seasonal rituals for ideas.
Identify some key symbols for your ritual. Somewhere between 3 and 7 is about right; any more and the ritual will probably be too complicated. How will the symbols be represented in the ritual?
How many speaking parts do you need? Can you double them up or split them up into more parts if you get more or less people than you expected?
It doesn’t have to rhyme. Good prose is always better than bad rhyme. If you absolutely have to make it rhyme (and my advice is, don’t), then use a decent metre, like iambic pentameter, and don’t force the rhymes by changing the word order in the sentences or putting in phrases that don’t fit.
‘Twas in the year of 1869, and on the 19th of November,
Which the people in Southern Germany will long remember,
The great rain-storm which for twenty hours did pour down,
That the rivers were overflowed and petty streams all around.
I do, however, tend to put line breaks in where there are natural pauses in the prose, because if people are reading from the script, it makes it easier to read it well.
The one exception to the “don’t make it rhyme” rule is spells and energy-raising chants. Because these go straight to the part of your brain that responds to rhythm and symbols and other non-verbal cues, and that’s most likely the part of your brain that produces magic, a bit of rhythm and rhyme is a good thing here. It is not absolutely necessary – other poetic tools are also useful, like assonance, alliteration, and rhythm – but provided the rhymes are not cheesy or forced, it can be powerful.
Practical considerations. If you have your participants holding too many things at a time (like two candles at once, or a candle and a wand), things can get difficult. It’s also important to consider health and safety.
Props list and dramatis personae. Put a list of the props you will need, including ritual tools, candles, incense, etc, at the top of the the script. Put a list of the characters who appear in your script.
Something for everyone. Make sure that everyone who wants a part in the ritual gets to participate (this mainly applies to small group rituals rather than large public ones). If you have a part of the ritual where someone is giving an oracle to individuals, make sure there’s something for the other participants to do, whether it’s a chant, or a circle dance, or making something, or drawing mandalas, or whatever: something to keep the energy of the ritual flowing.
Once you have written your ritual, read it aloud. Check for unfamiliar words that people might not know how to pronounce. Make sure you know how to pronounce them (hint: deosil is pronounced “jeshl”, not “day-o-sil”). Check that you have created something that can be read easily. I once made the mistake of splicing together some 18th and 19th century poems for a ritual. It did not work.
Invocations. It is good to write the lines for invoking the deity as part of your script; but not so good to write lines for the deity to speak. Let the deity speak through the invoked-on person. If nothing happens, they can just cross their arms to indicate that no words came through.
Allow for extemporization. Encourage people to extemporize rather than scripting the quarter calls. It is a good idea to start and finish your quarter call with the same words each time in order to provide a frame and a sense of continuity.