First I must repeat that this is just a basic guide; some people may do things in a slightly different order, or even omit parts that they feel are not necessary. The outline below will give you a good point to start from, and with experience and further knowledge you can tailor it to something which suits you.
Before you actually hold a ritual, you need to decide exactly what you are going to do. By reading this page you are already thinking of how to structure your ritual, but more than that you need to have a firm idea in your mind of what you are going to do. This is because magic works more from your thoughts and intentions than it does from the words you say or the actions you take. If you are distracted or only have a vague idea of what your goal is then your magic will be less effective.
To prepare yourself physically for the ritual you may wish to fast beforehand, although this is by no means required. If you do eat, don’t eat so much that it leaves you feeling full, heavy and sleepy. You may also want to cleanse yourself. You could choose to take a full bath, use a basin of water and just wet your face and hands, or use salt water and incense for an element-focused cleansing. Whatever you choose to do, the purpose is to cleanse away any negative or unwanted energies, and to help you focus on the ritual ahead of you, putting aside mundane thoughts. You can also annoint yourself after cleansing to gain an extra boost of a particular kind of energy. These steps aren’t absolutely necessary, but if nothing else they act as a signal to your subconscious mind that you are now preparing to do ritual.
You should prepare the area you will be using for your ritual as well. Ensure it is somewhere that you will not be disturbed, and if working outdoors in a public place, double- and triple-check that you are allowed to be there and that everything you plan to do is okay with the land owner. In any space you are using, physically clean the area beforehand. This could be picking up litter and removing awkward stones outside, or hoovering and straightening up the room indoors. Make sure phones and alarms are turned off, and doors are locked. Cover or remove all clocks or watches; the temptation to sneak a look at the time can be irresistable, but it is an unwanted distraction. The circle that you will be casting is a place between the worlds, and time has no place there.
Make sure that you plan out everything you will ideally need a few days before hand, and then check to see what you’ve actually got at home to work with. You may need candles of various colours – and do you have something to light them with? Incense of different types, and some kind of holder or container. If you’re using loose incense, do you have charcoal for it? You should not use the same kind of charcoal as for outdoor barbecues as lets of fumes that can be dangerous in an enclosed space. You’ll probably find you need a few small bowls or dishes as well; will you use ones you already have or get some particularly for ritual use? These can be used to hold representations of the elements on your altar – loose incense ready to be added to a censer, water and sea salt. Do you have sea salt, which is not the same thing as table salt? Do you have cakes and wine? Most people will also have some kind of representation of deity on their altar, along with their wand, athame, cup and pentacle.
I am writing from a solitary perspective, however this basic outline is equally fitting for group ritual. If you’re working with other people, make sure that they know what will be happening and what will be expected of them. Tell them what steps you will be going through, and what participation you’d like them to get involved in at each step. It’s also very handy to check if your guests have any illnesses or dietary requirements; they may not be up for a long, energetic ritual, may be allergic to something in the food you want to eat, or may prefer a non-alcoholic beverage. You don’t have to change your whole plans if something like this crops up, but if you find out in time then you can make sure that there is an alternative food, drink or way to participate available. On a similar note, if you’ve asked people to bring items with them – be it food or other items for the ritual – it would be wise to have some spare on hand in case someone forgets or hasn’t been able to get it.
Grounding and Centering
After preparations are complete it makes sense that the first real step in your ritual is grounding and centering. Grounding is the process of getting in touch with the Earth, creating a connection to the stable ground beneath you which will allow you to draw on its energy and drain your excess energy back into it. A simple way of grounding is to sit or stand and visualise your energy extending down past your feet – or your spine if you are sitting – and reaching all the way down into the Earth. See the Earth responding and welcoming your energy, moving back up to meet you, holding and supporting you.
Centering is making that same kind of connection with yourself. It is the process of finding out who you are, and where in your body you feel that your centre is located. This doesn’t have to be your actual physical centre; although many people feel their centre is near their solar plexus, others feel their true centre is in their heart or head. Which part of your body do you feel you really live in? To centre yourself, find that spot in your body and then visualise the Earth energy you have already connected with flowing up to it, see it as truly being your centre, with all the energy in your body flowing to or from that place.
If you are working with others you can extend this process to include them – you’ve made a connection with the Earth, and with yourself, it makes sense to connect with the others you are working with as well. Extend the visualisation so that you see your energy flowing out and mixing with everyone else in the room, so that everyone is connected to each other, and to the Earth as well.
This can be a very simple statement that signifies the proper start of proceedings and outlines the reason for the ritual. This is done partly to speak to the subconscious mind; this is what we’ve been waiting for, this is what we’ve been building up to, it starts now! Making a firm statement of intention at the beginning also serves to cement in your mind what it is that you are doing. Words have power, and by you begin to use that power by stating positively and assertively what you are going to achieve in your ritual.
This really doesn’t have to be long-winded or complicated, especially if you are working alone. If you are with others you may want to make more of the fact that ritual is starting now! and give more information on the events about to take place, but as everyone should have been briefed beforehand this is still not truly necessary. It is perfectly acceptable to say something like;
I have come here on this full moon night to worship the old Gods.
Consecrating the Elements
The four elements are represented on the altar by physical objects. I use salt water and incense, but the principal of consecration remains the same for other objects. You can choose to use your wand or athame to trace out the invoking pentagrams over each element, or you could use your hands to hold the object or place them above it. If you choose to use a pentagram you could either use the particular one for that element, or use the Earth one for all invoking done. You could speak words out loud, or use gestures to communicate your intentions.
The basic idea of consecration is to declare that the object being consecrated is special and set apart for a particular, sacred purpose. Your words or gestures should declare what you are doing, how you are doing it and what you want from it. They don’t have to be long-winded or fanciful – the following would be fine;
By the power of the Old Gods, I charge and consecrate you element of air. Bring your special blessings to my ritual tonight.
This says how you are doing the consecration – by the power of the Old Gods, what you are actually doing – charging and consecrating the element of air, and what you hope to achieve – the special blessings of air. Whatever wording you use for one element, you should use the same format for all four, to achieve balance between them. You should also consider the order you visit the elements in; air-fire-water-earth follows the pattern of the four directions, but you may feel a different order is more appropriate.
Once you have consecrated the salt and water, combine the two in one plate so you can use them for cleansing later. Once you have consecrated the dry incense as the element of air, light it and consecrate the flame as the element of fire. You can use the smoking incense for censing later.
Casting the Circle
The circle is a magical energy barrier, which serves a double purpose of containing the energies that are raised within it until they are ready to be sent out, and keeping all unwanted energies out. You could trace this out on the floor beforehand using rope, pebbles or chalk, or just put something at the four directions to mark them. If you’re working with other people this could be particularly useful so that everyone knows exactly where the circle is. Even when working alone you must keep track of where your circle is cast so that you do not accidentally step through it. Nothing terrible will happen to you, but you will damage and hence weaken your circle.
When you know where the circle will be on the floor, take your wand, athame or index finger and prepare to cast the circle itself. You will visualise energy flowing from you and building the walls of the circle as you walk around its perimeter. Starting in the East – or the direction that makes most sense to you – move in a clockwise direction and visualise the energy of the circle swirling in a clockwise way as well. Go from East to South, West and North and finally come back around to East. This finishes the circle properly, so you don’t end up with a Pac-Man circle;
Once you have created the circle I believe it makes a lot of sense to cleanse and cense it. Not everyone will cast a circle in this way – many will walk it just once, and leave it at that. Some other people may walk it any number of times; six or even nine times is not unheard of. As well as three being an important number, I think that it is logical to walk the circle three times – one to draw it as above, then once with salt and water sprinkled on it to cleanse and purify it, then a third time with incense to bless it.
You can say something as you draw, sprinkle and cense the circle, or you can let your actions speak for you. You might want to say something to affirm the purpose of the circle and the purification and blessings that you are hoping for. Whatever you say at one stage, try to say something similar for the other parts. For example;
By the power of the Old Gods, I draw this circle to protect and contain the energies raised herein. So mote it be.
By the elements of Water and Earth, I sprinkle this circle to cleanse and purify it. So mote it be.
By the elements of Air and Fire, I cense this circle to bless and sweeten it. So mote it be.
For more information, check out this page on circle casting.
Call the Quarters
Now that the circle is cast many people will call the “quarters” to ask for their help and protection during the coming ritual. Exactly what you call upon depends on your personal preference. You might call on the elements themselves, associating each with a fixed direction. As you already have the four elements present in your circle though, in the form of salt water and incense, you may wish to call upon the elementals – the spirits associated with each particular element. You can read more about the elemental spirits here. Be aware that these spirits are composed solely of the element they are said to inhabit and as such will not and can not exhibit traits associated with other elements. Fire cannot be slow and grounded. Water cannot think things through logically. If you call upon them be clear and firm, and state exactly what you need from them. Ensure that when you are finished you dismiss them just as firmly. This is not the same as rudely; thank them for their presence and then ask them to leave.
You might instead choose to call on the Guardians, otherwordly beings said to serve the Gods. They are thought to each be connected to a particular element, but they are not composed solely of that element as the elementals are. They are thought to be intelligent and equal to human beings, although very different from them. The Guardians are sometimes said to inhabit Watchtowers, but they can be thought of more as Gatekeepers. They come to our circle to protect us, each one guarding a different direction, and the circle itself can be seen as the gate between our world and the world of the Gods.
Calling the Guardians is the most traditional way of calling the quarters, and you may find a lot of example text that uses quite complicated language. This is great to use if you like the sound of it, and fine to change if not. Your ritual should make one cohesive whole, and so if you’ve used simple language in other parts, it’s most appropriate to stick with the same style now. You could say something like the following;
Hail to you, Guardian of the East and keeper of the powers of Air. I call upon you this night to help and protect me in my full moon ritual. Bring to me your gifts of knowledge, skill and learning and join me in worship of the God and Goddess. Welcome and Blessed Be.
Begin in the East – or whatever direction makes most sense to you – and move around the circle in a clockwise direction so that you call East, then South, West and North before moving back to East to complete the circle – avoiding pac-man circle again. As you say the invocation at each direction you could light a candle placed there before casting the circle, or you could make an invoking pentagram. If you used an element-specific invoking pentagram for consecrating the elements, then use that specific one for each direction. If you used the Earth pentagram for all invoking, use it again at each direction. Once you’ve reached East again, face it and for a moment think on the fact that the Guardians, or whoever you called upon, have come and are now present with you in your circle.
Invoking the Gods
You can invoke a specific God or Goddess, or simply call upon the Lord and Lady. Whoever you call upon, your invocation should be as specific as possible, and will likely be the wordiest part of your ritual so far. You are inviting a God to attend your ritual, and while there is no need for obsequious, self-effacing speech, it is good to be descriptive and generous with praise. You want your invitation to be appealing after all. Your invocation should also clearly communicate your need. This can be as simple as so that they may enjoy the ritual you will perform in their honour, or you may have a specific request if you are conducting a ritual with a magical purpose. The following is a simple invocation to the Lord and Lady;
Beloved Goddess of many faces, lady of the changing moon, skilled maiden huntress, nourishing mother of the earth, wise and noble crone, be here with me this night. Beloved God of many faces, master of the wild hunt, two-faced one, lord of death and rebirth, bringer of light, be here with me this night. Beloved Lord and Lady, join me in this circle and enjoy the ritual I shall perform in your honour.
If you are invoking a specific deity, do your homework beforehand. Not only can you discover traditional associations for that God or Goddess, but you may find existing invocational texts which have survived from the days when that deity was widely worshipped. You can use these in whole or part, or adapt them to suit your needs. As with calling the quarters, if the feel of the traditional text doesn’t fit with your ritual it is better to adapt it than having it seem jarringly out of place. You can also study the culture that the deity was part of to identify incenses, colours, music, instruments and more that would be appropriate, and that you can encorporate into your invocation and/or your ritual as a whole.
As you finish the invocation, know that deity is now present with you in the circle. If you’re working with others then you may want to actually state this out loud, just so everyone is on the same page. This might be particularly important if you are chanting an invocation, or if people are making music; you can clearly signify when this invocation is complete and the God(s) have arrived.
Giving an Offering
If you were chanting, singing or making music it’s a natural continuation to offer this joyful noise to the Gods. In a group you may want to take a small pause so that everyone can refocus, but if you’re working alone you can just carry right on, knowing that your music is now an offering to the God(s) who have arrived.
Other kinds of offering can be more specific to the deity you have invoked, for example; traditional incenses, an object favoured by the deity, or food and drink enjoyed by that deity. You can also make a quieter kind of offering by chanting or intoning a word or vowel sound. You could even give a silent prayer to the deity; this is just as valid an option as a round of raucous drumming and dancing.
After you have made your offering – your joyful music has risen to a peak and been released, you have said any words you want over an object being offered, your prayer or meditation has finished, whatever you chose to do – have faith and believe that it has been accepted by the God(s).
Cakes and Wine
Now that your offering has been accepted, you in turn will receive the blessings of the God(s). This is a very symbolic part of the ritual, and I’m only going to touch on that deeper meaning here. If you are working with a group then you will normally have the High Priestess hold the cup, and the High Priest hold the athame. When working solitary you have to manage both yourself, but it does not make things too complicated.
The athame is held above the cup of wine, and slowly lowered into it until the tip is in the wine. This act is symbolising the union between the God – the penetrative athame, and the Goddess – the receptive cup. This joining of two opposing forces, their sacred union, is very powerful and the wine becomes imbued with that power and made sacred itself. The athame is then removed from the cup and used to sprinkle drops of wine on the cakes. If you’re in a group and have several cakes, make sure that every one receives at least one drop of wine. The now-sacred wine is used to conscrate the cakes, which it does simply by touching them.
You could say some simple words along with the actions, to illustrate the symbolic nature of the union. For example;
Taking the cup: I am the Goddess and the cup.
Taking the athame: I am the God and the blade.
Lowering the athame towards the cup: I am the God and the cup.
Holding athame just above cup: I am the Goddess and the blade.
Lowering athame into wine: I am both and I am one. Behold the act of life.
After the wine and cakes have been consecrated a libation should be made. The blessings of the Gods are in the cakes and wine now, but it is polite and respectful to offer the first drink and food to the Gods. This does not necessarily have to be the particular God(s) you invoked for the ritual. Instead you could choose another specific deity, or just offer to the Lord and Lady. If you do not have a good reason for choosing a different God though, it makes sense to libate to the one you have invoked.
A libation is a small amount of drink or food, offered to the Gods before you eat or drink yourself. Indoors this offering can be put on a libation plate or bowl – take it outside later – outdoors it could be poured directly onto the Earth or thrown in a fire. You could say something simple as you pour, just stating who you are offering the libation to.
After everyone in your group has made a libation – pretty quick if you’re solitary – you can eat and drink yourself, but be aware that there is more ritual to go yet. Now that you have received the blessings of the God(s) you are going to use them. You shouldn’t eat so much that you feel heavy and sleepy, and you certainly should not drink so much wine that you become drunk, although a single glass may give you a nice relaxed and open state.
In a group situation it may be helpful to make another declaration at this point, bringing everyone’s focus togther before moving onto any other ritual working you have planned. If you are celebrating a holiday then do that work first before moving onto to any other kind of magic work. In a similar fashion to raising power as an offering for the Gods, you will want to raise power again to accomplish your magical working. By doing this again, coupled with the blessings you have received from the cakes and wine, you can work some very potent magic.
This part of the ritual can be used for a range of other activities as well. After your magical working for example you could have a discussion, story telling or some games. You could use the time for divination or meditation, or you could make more music. You could even have some kind of performance planned, where people get involved in scripted or free-form role playing. This part of the ritual can last as long as you want it to, but you should probably call an end to it when the focus of the group starts to turn to mundane matters, or if solitary when your attention starts to waver.
Thanking the Gods
Thank the Gods for their attendance in the reverse order to which you invoked them – during your ritual work you may have called on additional deities, and these should be thanked and bid farewell before those you invoked after calling the quarters. This just helps the whole ritual feel more balanced – everything called or opened is closed or bid farewell in the reverse order. Speaking of balanced, your closing speeches should be of the same tone as your opening ones. If you used an elaborate traditional invocation, you should use an equally formal farewell. If you invoked a specific deity from a particular pantheon, you cannot use a generic, eclectic farewell. A simple farewell to the Lord and Lady is as follows;
Beloved Goddess of many faces, thank you for attending my ritual this night. Beloved God of many faces, thank you for attending my ritual this night. Beloved Lord and Lady, farewell!
Dismissing the Quarters
When dismissing the quarters, the same rules apply as for bidding the Gods farewell; the language should match what you used to call the quarters in the first place, you should use the banishing pentagram for each one that corresponds with the invoking pentagram you used – if you used one at all. Hopefully it goes without saying that if you called the Guardians, you dismiss the Guardians – not the elements, or elementals! A simple dismissal is as follows;
Guardian of the East and keeper of the powers of Air! I thank you for your help and protection in my full moon ritual. Thank you for bringing your gifts and joining me in worship of the God and Goddess. Hail and farewell, Guardian of the East.
Releasing the Circle
Once the quarters are dismissed, move to the direction you started in when you cast your circle. In my example, this is East. Take a moment to think back to the grounding and centering visualisations you did at the very start of the ritual. If you are working with other people then you may want to take this opportunity to visualise your energy gently unwinding from theirs. This shouldn’t act to break the bonds of your group, but just bring you back from being merged to the point where you had one common thought and aim. The connection you have with your true centre, and the connection with the Earth needn’t be broken though. Instead focus on the connection you still have with the earth – through the floor of your building if necessary.
Take your wand, athame or index finger – whatever you used to cast the circle in the first place. Walk clockwise around the circle, visualising the energy from the circle flowing back into you, and draining through you back into the ground. When you reach the point you started at, make sure you’ve taken down the complete circle and sent the energy back to the earth. You can shake your hands and stamp your feet to clear away the feeling of any excess energy hanging on to you.
Ending the Ritual
If you are working with a group you may want to formally announce the ritual is over, marking the point where people fully return to the mundane, physical world. Anyone present may feel the need to ground excess energy, not just the person who took down the circle, and they could do this by stamping, clapping, laughing or some other immediate, solid, earthy action.
Now you have the fun of clean up. Ash in the censer and candle stubs can be reused, as can consecrated salt. Clean up around the area, taking care of candle wax and other bits that may have spilled. The libations can now be taken outside and poured on the ground, as can the salt water from the altar.
Now is probably not the best time to start evaluating what you have just done. Make a mental note of anything you think was important, but for now just enjoy the good atmosphere you’re feeling. The next day you can dig out your book of shadows and start working through any ideas, thoughts or insights you have.