|Rituals, Symbolism and Magick
A brief essay about the importance of Ritual in Wicca, and the importance of improvisation.
The importance of Ritual should never be underestimated, but understanding why it's important is something that I think should be looked at in a closer light.
When most people write about Wiccan ceremonies or worship, I have often seen a focus on the tools required and the language. They read like an instruction sheet, and usually end up with a lot of newly exposed people putting together a grocery list of materials and ritual items they're going to need. I often feel like they miss the point though.
Ritual should never be about the tool. So an Athame has a brown hilt instead of a black one... and it used to be a steak knife... that shouldn't matter. The key to ritual is not the tools you use (or don't use) but instead the significance that ritual holds for you as a person. If we think of Magick as altering and shaping our energy and how it touches the universe, then it's the person casting the magicks whose personal energy actually does the work. Tools and words are of little meaning to anyone other than the person holding and saying them. They are the illusion we use to trick our own brains into doing what we're asking.
When I was younger and was early on my own path, I carefully constructed an altar. I made sure that I had every tool that I needed, and would use words like "Deosil" and "Widdershins" to describe movements when writing them down. I was following someone else's recipe, and honestly found myself constrained. About a week before my 19th birthday though, I moved into the dorms (sorry, I mean "Residence Hall") at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. No longer did I have privacy... and most importantly, I couldn't have my Athame (a ritual knife for those unfamiliar) in my room by Wisconsin state law (as I was on state property).
So, of course, I smuggled it in.
In my youth I wasn't as openly public about my being a Wiccan, so my altar stayed packed away, and my Athame stayed in it's hiding place. I found myself reorganizing my personal rituals, and rewriting them so they didn't use tools. By the end of the school year I never did get around to unpacking my altar, and I ended up forgetting my original Athame in its hiding spot when I moved out.
Since then I've realized it was the best thing I've ever done. While I see the merit of using a pre-established tradition's rituals, I think that it's important that the first thing that has to be kept in mind is what does the ritual mean. If a person is a solitary practitioner, then that I believe is the only message they need to find from what's been done before. If a person finds that a ritual fits their needs, that's great -- but if it doesn't then rewrite it. Take it from scratch. No matter how old any tradition or ceremony is, there was always some woman or man sitting there trying to figure out what should happen in it in the beginning. Every tradition starts somewhere, so why not start your own?
Creativity is what sparks true Magick, and no one should be afraid to improvise when needed.
Since those early days in the University dormitory, I still never unpacked the altar. Yes, I replaced the original Athame (several times, long story) but beyond initial blessings, never ended up using them again. Yes, for a while I trucked it around with me whenever I moved. But no, it's not in my current apartment, or the last place I lived in either. I think the remaining parts sit in a box buried in storage at my parent's house. I haven't totally abandoned tools, but I find that I build the ones that I need when I need them, and don't follow anyone else's rules about how they are constructed.
I do what feels right.
My advice to someone looking to design or define their own ritual or celebration is to first, make a list and write down what the ritual is about. Are you casting a protective spell? Are you celebrating a Sabbat? Is this an initiation? Once you define the goal, you can begin to fold together the symbolism you want to use to define it. How do you personally relate to the ritual? Once you know those things, write something that expresses it for you. Come up with something that speaks to you on a level so personal you feel it in your bones. When you do that, the connection is at its most real.
And that connection is the whole point.