The holding of a ritual is no trifling matter. Not only does it require thought and planning, but a careful consideration of ‘Place’. We should also decide upon any ritual implements to be used, and, if needed, masks and images.
In theory, a ritual can be held anywhere, and in practice we may have to settle for places that are less than ideal. Nevertheless every attempt should be made to ensure that the place of the rite is felt to be somewhere special, or, by a dedication, has been made so. Ideal of course are woods, preferably old woods of deciduous trees. Open places, moorlands, heaths, stone circles and any fragments of the wild that have been left to us by the exploiters and despoilers of our landscape. Even if it is indoors and in a city the site should be carefully considered. The atmosphere of a place is of paramount importance. We all know that there are places which repel and are unfriendly, sometimes even downright hostile. Any scintilla of doubt about a location should effectively rule it out for ritual. T. C. Lethbridge in his perceptive book Ghost and Ghoul, has discussed this problem of influences at some length, and in this connection it might be helpful to study it.
Once great care was given to the siting of houses, temples, and other buildings. Our word for this is Geomancy, an art being rediscovered here in the recent upsurge of interest in ‘Earth Studies’ and sites of power such as old stone circles. In China the art is still practised, and is known as ‘Feng Shui’. It means building to take advantage of the natural flow of landscape, harmonising with it not opposing. In a recent TV Programme about Hong Kong, there was the example of an ill-sited sentry box which so attracted unfriendly forces that sentries had committed suicide there, and not surprisingly no other soldiers would inhabit it. In desperation the authorities called in an expert on feng shui, who quickly sorted the matter by realigning the sentry box to attract more favourable forces.
There is also the matter of emanations from the Earth itself, strange lights and peculiar apparitions in the heavens. These fathered the very widespread idea of ‘dragons’, and such creatures are found in the lore of many lands. Such phenomena, well enough attested, (I have seen and experienced ball lightning myself), have given rise to the tales of flying saucers, though there seems no evidence to associate them with extra-terrestrials. They seem very much of this Earth and part of Her being. It is held by many that sites along such ‘Dragon Paths’ are peculiarly suitable for rituals. What it all comes down to is that our world is felt to be an entity in its own right, and to have its own purposes. Therefore it would be very foolish of us who dwell on its surface not to attempt to live and work in harmony with its being. An important expression of this idea can be found in J. E. Lovelock’s book Gaia. Again and similarly the Chinese with their concept of ‘Tao’ consider the totality of their environment and the necessity of being ‘with it’, co-operating, not opposing the natural world around us.
As I write this I am sitting in a very old house that has been carefully aligned to two mountains, one on either side. It has been cleverly situated so that the North South axis meets the winter with a shielding wall, the South being windowed, sunny and friendly. As a result the place has an aura of benign calm, influences that are remarked upon by all who visit it. The surrounding garden which used one time to be a sheep pen is also similarly blessed. Yet I lived and carried out rituals in London for many years. Many places can be sanctified and by repetition of ritual observances, and by good and holy intentions, can become, as it were, infected by them. Stones, rocks, areas in old woodland, (and there are still some such in and near London), and buildings can become charged and retain emotional and spiritual forces for our good; concrete never. Stone circles are still felt to be most powerful for rituals; the stones seeming to have some definable yet spiritual charge. I, and others with me, felt this ‘magic’ strongly when we carried out the ritual of the Hallows at the Rollright Stones; for we must remember that these places were dancing grounds for centuries, and it is in the dances of our rituals that we both re-charge the stones and take from them their power to unite us, exalt us, and cleanse us both spiritually and mentally. Dowsers can get decided reactions from such stones much as they can from fresh running water, which is also a power source creating what Lethbridge called a ‘Naiad Field’. Witches knew all about this when, as often, they chose to work and meet by mill streams. Salt, and salt water is a powerful neutraliser of spiritual influences, particularly bad ones. We recognise this when we throw salt over our shoulders to avert bad luck, and when we dedicate a new ritual site it should be so cleansed at the outset.
When we have decided that a site is suitable; and I suggest that one of the best tests is to go there and sit quietly for one hour at least and upon three several occasions; we may proceed upon the Dedication. I feel that this ceremony is best carried out either at the time of one of the Waxing Year Festivals, and should be a precursor to it, or at the time of the New Moon. Both occasions are propitious being concerned with light, life and growth.
The area of the rite should be ritually cleansed by being censed. Herbs for this purpose are readily available, or the equally widespread joss-sticks can be used. Salt, the reason for its use having been explained above, should be sprinkled around the perimeter of the area, and to the four quarters. A small altar should be set up in the centre of the area with its shorter axis aligned roughly North and South. The altar should, if possible, have upon it an image of the Goddess, or a representative symbol of Her. Another emblem can be chosen to represent the God.
After the area has been cleansed, the images should also be censed and lustrated. The rest of the water should then be sprinkled around the area. Suitable prayers should be offered. They should not be in any set form unless so wanted. What is necessary is that they should be heartfelt and carry the messages of gratitude for birth, the quickening to life, the hope for wisdom, and the final prayer for the presence of the Deities to bring with Them the magic spirit to the circle. Each attender should then be presented with an ash staff, as token of the spiritual pilgrimage that is started here. The ash is a premier wood of paganism, and has many attributes. In Norse legend it is the world tree, Ygdrassil, the habitat of Woden who is the God of Wisdom. It is associated with horses, because of its buds, and is a prime symbol of beginning and intention. Its domestic use is widespread as the handle of many garden implements, and more interestingly it is the stick of the classical ‘witches broomstick’. Therefore it is in many senses a travelling tree.
Each attender then places his staff before the altar, kneels and individually makes a dedication to the Goddess and the Gods, declaring themselves ready to begin the spiritual journey in that place of rite, and to practice in their lives the virtues and the lessons that they learn there.
The staffs are then taken up and processed 9 times leftwise around the altar in honour of the Goddess, and 8 times sunwise in honour of the God.
We have now completed the first ritual. The marking out of a place apart, somewhere special, which whatever other use we may put it to, particularly if it has to be indoors, is always there to be awoken at the beginning of any ceremony.
For the closing or the awakening of any circle we need to use a sword or knife. The closing is simple. The knife is scored outwards across the circle three times to the North, South, East and West. The awakening is performed by scoring with the circumference three times to the four quarters, or by tracing the circumference out three times with knife point. This simple ceremony can precede any ritual.
Having considered and decided upon our place or places, before we can carry out the rituals, we need to consider what tools we may need.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White
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