Why I Like Codified Ritual

Generally speaking, I do not attend public rituals.

It started when I began attending rituals outside of my own little group, and had some really terrible experiences. In one ritual, the ritual leader was encouraging people to become warriors for mother earth and he proceeded to have each of the 100 attendees come up individually, take a hold of a machete, and stab viciously at the Earth. I was flabbergasted and more than slightly disturbed. I know what the ritual leader was trying to do (well, maybe, I think I do) but was horrified by how he chose to go about it.

In another, I was dragged across an unknown piece of property at night in 20 degree (F) weather for four hours. By the end of it, I didn’t know which way was up or had any sense of having accomplishing anything. My poor feet didn’t warm up until somewhere around noon the next day.

I had another friend who went to a public ritual recently and ended up laughing so hard at what was happening that she had to leave. She felt terrible about it, but even while telling us about her experience she couldn’t stop giggling as she described the ritual, which was pretty outlandish.

The last public ritual I went to was led by a Voodoo House here in New Orleans, and it was lead by a very established priestess. She also made it clear that it was going to be a codified ritual done by her House. The public was invited and included in the ritual, but the bulk of the ritual was done by the Mambo and Mamba of the House.

Now that was one of the most profound rituals that I have been a part of. But it was because the House did their ritual, the way they would have done it had no public been attending. And they knew how to do ritual!

If you think that you’ve had a bad ritual experience, you probably have. I’m sure it’s happened to most of you. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was when it was appropriate to remove myself from a ritual that was not right for me.

After being Eclectic for so long, one of the big things that convinced me that Wicca was right for me was the codification of the ritual itself. The ritual that I found in my Blue Star Circle had an amazing impact on my ritual experience. I had never before realized what was really supposed to happen in ritual. Having a codified ritual to do every time allows me to know several things.

A. I know what to do: I know where to stand, how to move, what actions to take at specific times, and what words to say. Because of all these things, I can actually focus on the ritual itself. You may think this is funny, but because I’ve got the these physical things down and don’t have to think about them, I can actually get my mind into a ritual mindset, ignore the details of the mundane world and focus on what I am doing spiritually and magically. I’m not standing there worrying about how I’ll respond if the priestess asks me to do something (yes, this has happened to me as a first time guest in a ritual). My mind can just be there, in the moment.

B. I know what to expect: I understand the mindset I need to bring, the deities that I will be working with, the names of the various entities that are called, and that I’ll be working within a Pantheon that I’m comfortable with. I heard a story once from a Priestess of Blue Star’s sister lineage who attended a ritual for feminine strength. They ended up calling Lilith, and the priestess painted everyone’s foreheads with menstrual blood (without explaining this ahead of time). I’m all for feminine strength, but Lilith is not a Goddess that I want to call on, and I certainly do not want some strange woman’s days old menstrual blood on my forehead!

C. I’m working with traditions that I’m comfortable with and that I understand. One of the things that I dislike about general, Eclectic ritual, is that I never know what traditions are going to pop up. I prefer to understand the background of the things I’m doing in ritual so that I know that I’m not upsetting anyone or anything. I also feel extremely uncomfortable when a ritual leader starts trying to call on every God/dess out there without thought to how those deities might get along with each other. I somehow doubt that the Egyptian Sekhmet really wants to have anything to do with the Welsh Henwen. In most public rituals I’ve attended where this has happened, I realize that the ritual leaders were trying to make sure everyone was represented. For me this doesn’t work and I stand through ritual waiting for lightning to strike (which my S. O. actually saw happen once). I like understanding the things I’m doing in ritual. Another friend was telling me that her group said “Thou art Goddess, May you never thirst”. “May you never thirst” comes from the Church of All Worlds. The Church of All Worlds is based on the Science Fiction novel Stranger in a Strange land, so “may you never thirst” is based on the fact that Mars has no water. Why would I care about Mars? I’m working here on Earth. And “Thou art Goddess”? You’re going to call Hekate into your ritual and try to tell her that you, puny mortal, are a Goddess? Really? I know this has become a common practice, but I do not like trying to convince the Goddess of the crossroads that I’m just like her. I’m not.

D. And most importantly, I know exactly what I’m walking into. A usual Blue Star ritual takes about an hour. Depending on the work we’re doing, it might be less or more, but I know that I’m not going to be standing there for an unreasonable amount of time. Anything more than an hour and a half and you probably aren’t paying attention anyway. You can only really focus for so long. And if a ritual leader can’t get the work done in an efficient amount of time, I don’t have much faith in the work they are doing. Yes…there are long and involved rituals out there, but…unless you’re working with an established group that knows exactly what they are doing and know how to work together after doing so for a long period of time, I don’t have much faith in the fact that whatever you’re trying to accomplish is going to get done. I know I could do a long ritual with my coven. I know them and trust them. I don’t think I should be doing rituals like that with strangers. Everyone says that you should enter a Circle with Perfect Love and Perfect Trust, how can I do that with people I don’t know?

The goal of ritual is to put your conscious mind at rest and to bring your unconscious mind forward. This has never happened to me in a public ritual. Usually public rituals just make me cringe and feel uncomfortable. Religion is personal. While I like what most people are trying to do with public ritual, for me it’s just best to avoid them.

So it’s extremely ironic that I will be priestessing our community’s Oestara ritual this year (blame the S.O. on this one!). I will be doing a Blue Star ritual, not an Eclectic ritual. But I hope that I don’t forget my own experiences and that I can make it as worthwhile a ritual as the Voodoo ritual that I went to last year.

A Blue Star Altar

A Blue Star Altar

8 thoughts on “Why I Like Codified Ritual

  1. lisaspiral says:

    I think that it’s easy to forget that rituals can have different purposes. I agree that a codified ritual has more potential for depth for all the reasons you’ve stated. I agree that there are plenty of poorly thought out eclectic rituals done in public settings. However, a well done eclectic ritual can unite a diverse community in ways a codified ritual may not. A well done eclectic ritual will build on what the community holds in common, whether that is attendance at a festival, a commonality of experience, or an acknowledgment of place (seasonal). A codified ritual in this situation is either done as demonstration/education or inherently leaves the community untrained in the ritual as separate and apart from the officiants. It can, as you’ve experienced, have a profound impact and is often a good way to entice new members, but it is not the unifier that an eclectic ritual can be.

    • I think the unfortunate part is that it’s pretty hard to find someone who knows and understands ritual well enough to do a really great Eclectic ritual for a diverse group of people. I think Eclectic ritual for a public gathering has to be a really delicate balance of a lot of things and not many can pull it off. While I like the idea behind public ritual, it’s just really rare for me personally to find a public ritual that doesn’t upset me in some way. I know a lot of people who only go to public rituals and love them and that’s wonderful, but public ritual is just not generally the thing for me.

      Teo Bishop wrote a blog earlier this year about being ashamed at a Pagan Pride day (http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/archives/i-felt-ashamed-at-pagan-pride/). He talks about a lot of the issues that he had with the event and these are just a few of the things that I’ve seen come up in public ritual. People just don’t think enough. Jason Mankey also wrote a great blog about how to do public ritual and Jason’s rituals are some of the few public ones that I will go to, because he can balance the needs of a diverse group and still do an awesome ritual. (I can’t find that link at the moment, if I do, I will post it).

      Personally, I guess I just can’t walk into ritual completely blind and have a great experience. I admire people who can.

  2. Yes sometimes going to an open eclectic ritual is like going to a sports stadium without knowing whether it is going to be soccer or baseball. And I cannot stand when the priest/ess evokes or tries to invoke European and Mesoamerican and African deities at the same time. Might as well go to a United Nations party without everyone not drinking alcohol, lol. That stabbing the earth with a machete to help heal it is like turning loose Jason and his chainsaw at a Greenpeace meeting. I think codified rituals are for groups of people and eclectic rituals more for just you and yr mate out in the woods or yr temple by yourselves. BTW nice altar setup for Ostara. BB.

    • That was actually our altar for Litha last year…and the BS altar does not change all that much (obviously it’s different for inner court and I wouldn’t be sharing that publicly!) but thanks!

  3. Eddie says:

    This reminds me of why I stopped attending ADF rituals – they always ran two to three hours, most of which were taken up by complaining rather than doing ritual; no one discussed beforehand which gods would be called to; no one discussed what individuals should do physically, and, in the case that had me finally leaving, the leader told me I had to draw an oracle for the ancestors that were summoned – something I couldn’t do because of separate religious obligations and agreements – and became angry when I told him no. Even though he didn’t discuss that beforehand. The leader always expected us to lead the ritual with him but never bothered to help us learn it. It was consistently a wreck.

    Though, thanks to that, I’ve learned -a lot- about how not to do ritual.

  4. […] found this interesting post entitled Why I Like Codified Ritual on the A Practical Owl in a Wiccan World blog. I have to agree with most everything she wrote, and […]

  5. […] (I couldn’t have said this better, so I’m just quoting it wholesale…be sure to read the rest of her post).  And that means finding the ritual elements that work for you, so that you can repeat them until […]

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