As far as rituals go, I will admit that I am stricter than most and strongly prefer formal, traditional rituals as opposed to those that are more casual and relaxed. However, not all groups work the same way and I adapt whenever I need to. Over the years I have led and attended countless rituals, and there are a number of things I think need to be addressed. Depending on the structure of your coven or magickal group, whether it is casual or formal, some of these may or may not apply. These are just my own observations, you may choose to agree or disagree…
As much as I prefer the traditional robes, the hooded cloaks, the ceremony and pageantry of formal ritual, there are many groups who are more casual with their requirements in ritual attire. What you wear to a ritual will depend on a number of factors. For rituals that are open to the public, casual attire is usually acceptable unless otherwise specified, but those who wish to wear robes and cloaks are welcome to do so. Formal groups, whether public/outdoor or private/indoor will require traditional robes, cloaks and formal ritual wear no matter the weather. This is my personal preference, but admittedly I am more traditional than others,(even though it does get a bit uncomfortable when outdoors in 90 degree heat!)
Casual groups are more relaxed with their requirements and will be less strict in what attendees wear to ritual. Another factor is the amount of space available. Some groups who meet in homes have very little space, with not much room for flowing robes and cloaks. In these cases it would not be practical to wear them, especially when lighting candles or if there is going to be lots of movement. Groups who practice ‘SkyClad’ (clad only by the sky, naked) perform rituals in the nude. Although I see nothing wrong with this at all, it is not my practice and I have never participated naked in rituals, public or private. I am honestly much too self-conscious about my body. For my private rituals at home, I have special clothing set aside for this purpose, and I often wear my robes for these.
My personal opinion is that those who are leading a ritual, whether High Priest/ess or someone else, should always be dressed in proper ritual attire, whether your group is casual or formal, at least until the ritual is over. It doesn’t have to be a long, flowing robe, as long as it is something that sets you apart as the one guiding the others between the worlds. Rituals are sacred acts, it is not something we do for play or just to have fun. If I attend your ritual and you’re wearing jeans and a t-shirt, I will find it difficult to believe you are taking it seriously. (I said I was strict).
When you attend a ritual, you may notice the beautiful altar decorated with various tools and magickal items. The general rule is, you may look but don’t touch. Why? First of all, they are not yours. Secondly, all of these items have been carefully chosen for the ritual, and have been placed where they are placed for a reason. They have been consecrated and magickally prepared with specific energies and intentions. By touching or handling them, your own energies can interfere with them and have adverse effects on the ritual. Leave them alone! Look but do not touch. It is very rude to walk up to someone’s altar and start picking things up. I understand some folks are not aware of this, but I am happy to gently remind them…
Ritual gatherings don’t have to be solemn and quiet, they are celebrations, of course. However, there comes a point when it’s time to get serious. There is usually a social time before the circle is cast when people can chat and get to know one another. Likewise, when the ritual has ended and the circle has been released, there is a time of feasting and socializing.
But when you are standing in the circle, it is a different matter. Why?
We are about to create sacred space, we are preparing to call on divine forces, and this is where your mind and energies should be focused. It is not a time to be discussing with the person next to you what you’re doing later, what you’re making for dinner tonight or what you watched on TV. Again, this is not a game. When we are in the circle, we are supposed to be of one mind and in one accord. Focus all your attention on why we are here and the purpose for the ritual. Everything else can wait until later. A good circle-caster can cast the circle strong enough to overcome any random energies, but when those in the circle are not focused, it makes his/her task much harder. This is why I like to start my rituals with a group meditation to help get everyone on the same page and in a proper ritual state of consciousness.
CELLPHONES AND ELECTRONICS
When you are standing in the magick circle, please turn your cellphone OFF. Electrical energies can interfere with the energies we are raising in the circle. Magick is delicate. Everything has to be precise and strongly directed for it to be effective. We are focusing on specific intentions and directing our energies toward their manifestation, and when a cellphone starts ringing, this causes a rift in the energy. It would be best for you to stand outside the circle, or perhaps not attend this one if you think you may be urgently needed elsewhere. I know some people like to bring their laptops into the circle (to play music or to read ritual notes, etc), but I am very leery of this practice and personally would not recommend it.
ENTERING OR LEAVING A CIRCLE
When we cast the circle, we create an invisible, energetic boundary between the physical and muggle worlds. The circle contains the energy we raise within it, and blocks out any harmful energies that we do not want. If you arrive late to a ritual and the circle has already been cast, don’t just find a spot next to someone. Please wait for the High Priest/ess or assigned person to create a doorway for you to enter. Likewise, if you need to leave the circle for whatever reason (restroom?) , wait until someone creates a doorway for you to exit and re-enter when you return, By just walking into the circle, you have broken the boundary, and the circle may need to be re-cast. We are working with unseen energies, and it is imperative that everything remain in place.
If you want to take pictures, please get the permission of the High Priest/ess and others present before doing so. You may be asked to stand outside the circle to take photos, or you may be asked to wait until the ritual is over. Rituals are sacred occasions, and not everyone will be willing for you to take photos that will be posted on Facebook or wherever else. Also, there may be people present who do not wish to be in your photos. Not everyone who attends a ritual is “out of the broom closet”, and would prefer not to have their faces all over the internet attending a ritual. My personal view is that I don’t really mind if people take photos before or after the ritual, I think it is important that we show others how we practice, but we must also be sensitive to others who are present and may not want their photo taken.
Again, rituals are sacred occasions, and there is often a time of sharing when people ask for healing or guidance. Many times people share things that are deeply personal. Please respect the sacred space we have created, and respect the privacy of those in the circle, do not share their personal matters with others when the ritual has ended.
ARRIVE ON TIME
I am very strict on this issue, and it has annoyed people in the past, but I am unyielding on this one. When I plan rituals, I announce them plenty of time in advance, so that those who wish to attend have sufficient time to arrange their schedules so they can be there. There really is no excuse other than “I don’t want to go”. My rule is, if you think you’re going to be more than 20 minutes late, it is best not to come, and we’ll see you at the next one. I do understand people have jobs, family responsibilities, etc, however, there was ample time for planning, making arrangements to leave work early if necessary, etc. If you miss 20 minutes, you’ve missed alot. It is true that rituals don’t always start on time, and I will wait a few minutes for people who are caught in traffic, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere. It isn’t fair to keep everyone else waiting because you’re going to be 20 minutes late.
Understand that when you attend a ritual, they may do it differently than you. It doesn’t mean they’re doing it wrong, they just do it a different way than you do. There are numerous methods of circle-casting, and countless ways to lead ritual. Each ritual is as different and unique as the person leading it, with elements from many different traditions and practices. Respect those differences, and acknowledge that even if it is not how you were taught, or what you prefer, it can still be meaningful and you just might learn something and make a few new friends.
RESPECT THE SACRED
Remember, rituals are sacred occasions where we work with unseen energies to create change and transformation. We invite the divine to join with us, as well as elemental forces, spirit guides and animal totems. It is a highly-charged spiritual gathering. Yes, you can laugh, you can have fun, but it is also a time to honor and respect the sacredness of the event. Please treat it as such.