There is a constant need in man to relate to the world and the universe around him, and as far as he perceives it, to express his understanding in ritual and myth. From the obvious cycles of night and day, the phases of the moon, the place of the sun in the heavens, the unfolding story of the seasons, and the nature of our surroundings and their impact on our lives, our beliefs and our apprehensions of the Gods are formed. Also they have to take into account our observed behaviour and the patterns of thought, whether conscious or unconscious, that trigger our responses to our perceived universe and the condition of man within it.
Naturally religious rites have always varied to the circumstances, both physical and spiritual, of the people. They have all tried at many levels to explain the workings of our minds and souls. It is from such apprehensions that the stories of the Gods have been fashioned and great and enduring works of art, drama, music and literature have arisen.
One of the prime movers of our minds is myth. If rightly understood it can be our key to self understanding and psychological wholeness; and because myth and ritual are rooted in the structure of the human psyche, any pattern of religious belief can only be a re-phrasing of eternal themes tailored, as they must be, to new needs and circumstances.
The powers of myth are deployed through the story of the Gods and our relationship with them and the Goddess who is above them. Dance, music, mime and drama keep their ancient powers ever fresh because they speak to our deepest selves and of our relationships with nature and the felt magic that is at the heart of the universe.
In pagan ritual we participate in the myth and its drama. Small groups act better than large ones. Great crowds and congregations are prone to hysteria at one extreme and boredom at the other. Either way they are soul dangers. A small group can preserve precious individuality; yet because it acts as a group it can become more than the sum of its parts and can be perceived as such. Each attender makes a contribution to the rite, but at the same time takes from it some nourishment for the soul. This magic process is one of healing. It also cleanses our perceptions of the deeper parts of our minds and souls. As a friend of mine once said, “It clears the bugs out of your mind”.
So we must consider our myths. In such a complex society as ours we find it hard to countenance simplicity, for too many judge cleverness by complexity; but the simplest beliefs are often the best starting point. If these simple ideas are based on sound psychological ground, deeper insights and more elaborate structures of thought will arise; and all this without loss of spontaneity, for as is the case with saints and mystics of all religions, no matter how spiritually advanced they may have been, the essential simplicities, far from being eroded, are fortified by deeper perceptions.
Our myths are seasonal. This means that our festivals are local to that place and deal with the passage of the year and our lives at that place. Our Goddess and Gods are the ones we are used to, though Their attributes have been modified by time and evolution. Yet the tale they tell, complete with variations, is of wide validity. A pagan perceives that his rituals are relative. One place or time should not impose upon another patterns that do not fit it. Also no pattern is, or should be, totally stable: it grows as the group and its members grow. We should not torture ourselves, or do damage to our psychic environment attempting to adapt to a sterile rite dictated by a central monolithic authority or dogmatic system of thought.
My own experience of pagan ritual is through observance of a basic myth. I have not included any matter I have not experienced. Its theology is simple and needs no apology.
In discussing each festival, I have therefore outlined the basics in a Preamble to the rite. Then follows the ritual proper. I have appended to each rite, by way of further explication, a Sermon which is designed to bring out any lessons the rite teaches and to be a commentary on its significance for our own spiritual journey.
It can be remarked that much of the material here is related to ‘Witchcraft’ (a term fast losing its pejorative connotation). Much of so-called Witchcraft was merely the truncated survival of pagan thought and practice. What we know of it comes from its persecutors and suppressors and a few survivals in ritual, custom and chant. Wherever these remnants still have validity and vitality they occur in one form or another in the text. After all the theology is not too different, and I have many times been surprised that a ritual practice evolved on the spot, as it were, has been later found to have precise parallels in the past history of pagan worship.
So it is intended that any user of this volume will be able, using his own wit and dedication, to discover a path to the love of the Goddess and the due respect and regard we owe the Gods. Therefore it is fitting that we begin our ritual journey by considering the basic myth and the names we can give to the Goddess and the Gods. Before starting out we must consider the places where we carry out our rites and the implements we will need to express fully their significance.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White