by Selena Fox
Rituals are an important part of spiritual practice for Pagans of many paths and places. Through rituals, Pagans attune themselves to the rhythms of Nature, create community, celebrate life passages, and make magic. Through rituals, Pagans deepen their relationship with the Divine in one or more sacred forms. Through rituals, Pagan culture flourishes and evolves.
Pagan rituals are diverse. They can range from simple to elaborate in scope and from casual to formal in style. A ritual may be performed by a single person or by many. Some rituals are done only after much planning, while others emerge spontaneously. Some Pagan group rituals are scripted, theatrical performances done by a few with the rest observing. Other group rites are interactive and improvisational, with all participants actively involved. Within some paths of Paganism, certain rituals have become standardized and repeatedly performed. Other Pagan rites evolve over time and are modified each time they are done to keep them fresh. Sometimes, Pagans create rituals for specific purposes and perform them only once. Pagan rituals may be short in duration, lasting only a few minutes. Or, Pagan rituals may be very long and extend over several days. Most rituals are between one and two hours in length.
Some Pagan rites are performed in silence, some are predominantly quiet, and others are noisy and exuberant, with cheering, singing, and drumming. Most Pagan rites have a mixture of sounds and volumes and include chanting and rhythm making, as well as some time for silent meditation. Most Pagan rituals are visually colorful and include one or more altars and the use of ritual tools, such as wands, incense, chalices, pentacles, crystals, and cauldrons. Many Pagans dress up for rituals in colorful garb, such as robes, capes, garland crowns, necklaces, and other jewelry. Other Pagans wear street clothes, body paint, or go skyclad, wearing nothing at all.
Pagan rites usually include the use of ritual gestures, dance, and other forms of movement. However, some Pagan rituals are imaginal and done only through visualization in the mind.
Pagan rituals vary in purpose and goals. Some rituals have a single purpose; others include several. Some primarily are focused on deity worship. Some are healing rituals. Some are celebratory. Other ritual purposes include cleansing, protection, consecration, healing, divination, thanksgiving, and community building. Sometimes, a Pagan ritual is held as its own event. Or, a ritual may be part of a sequence of rituals held over time or part of a pattern of rites held simultaneously at many locations. Some rituals are held within the context of multi-day Pagan gatherings.
Pagan rituals take place in a variety of private and public settings, inside and outdoors. Most Pagans perform personal and family rites in their homes and many have a household altar that serves as a focal point for rites. Some Pagan rituals happen at small and large group festivals and other events held at public parks, campgrounds, hotels, and conference centers. Some Pagans make pilgrimages to do rituals at ancient Pagan holy places, such as Avebury in England, Newgrange in Ireland, and Delphi in Greece. Others journey to contemporary Pagan centers such as Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in Wisconsin in the USA, to do rituals. Some Pagans rituals are virtual and take place on the internet.
Pagan rituals take place during the day, at night, and throughout the year. Pagan Sabbat rituals mark the cycle of Sun and Seasons, also known as the Wheel of the Year. Most Pagan paths honor the start of each season with rituals for Fall Equinox, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, and Summer Solstice. Many Pagans also celebrate the Celtic Fire Festivals at seasonal midpoints — Samhain (mid-Fall), Imbolc (mid-Winter), Beltane (mid-Spring) and Lughnassad (mid-Summer). In addition, there are lunar Pagan rites marking the New Moon and Full Moon, and the Waxing and Waning Quarter Moons. Some Pagans also perform daily rites, such as greeting the day, greeting the night, meal blessings, and dream incubation before sleep. Many Pagan perform rituals on their birthdays and at other special occasions such as anniversaries.
Some Pagan rituals celebrate human life passages. At the beginning of life, there are rites to enhance fertility, aid conception, bless pregnancy, facilitate birthing, and welcome and name the newborn. Some child blessing rites are performed during infancy and some later in childhood. Pagan coming of age rituals mark the passage into early adulthood. Croning and Saging rituals mark their passage into older adulthood. Other Pagan life passage rites are weddings, sometimes called handfastings. There also handpartings, Pagan divorce rituals. At the end of life there are Pagan crossing over rituals, wakes, funerals, burials, scattering of cremains, and memorial services.
Pagan rituals of many types and purposes focus awareness and energy. Rituals can serve as spiritual focal points for individuals and groups, strengthening connections with dimensions of self, with others, with deities and other sacred forces, and with Nature as a whole. Rituals enrich life and aid spiritual development.
Circle Sanctuary, Barneveld, Wisconsin