My children’s birthdays have become a rite of passage as much for them as for myself. After all, the years roll for all of us whether we wish it or not. But the day where I became a mother is without question the biggest rite of passage of my life. It will probably have no equal other than the Great Passage that will occur when my earthly days end.

My dearest boy, my first born, turned 6 years old today. It is always emotional for me, not only because he is getting older, but because of how this symbolizes my own birthing into motherhood. For someone like me who was always deeply involved in thought and meditation, motherhood opened me up to the new realm of deep and overwhelming emotion. By becoming a mother, I learned to feel. It taught me compassion and fear and love and amazement.

Yesterday, we did the socially required ritual of the ‘children’s birthday party’: a first for us, I am still just barely recovering. I don’t think I was that stressed on my wedding day!

Tonight, we spent a quiet evening together. After the kids were in bed, I retreated to my room and made an offering to the Almighty for the blessing that is my son. I offered the only present I felt appropriate for the birth a firstborn son: frankincense and myrrh. I thanked my Lord for granting me such a precious ward and the Great Mother for keeping us in her care.

I digressed a bit. Let’s get back to our study group and ritual design.

 

Now that you did all your preliminary introduction (quarter calls, circle casting and deity invocation), you are ready to get to what you really set up for: your main rite. There are two main types of events: 1) ritual celebration and 2) magical working.

For a ritual celebration, you are commemorating an event usually associated with the passing of the seasons or a rite of passage. This doesn’t mean that you cannot do magic, but the main goal is not to materialize an intent. It is to bear witness, to sit in sacred space, to celebrate, to worship, give thanks and to receive wisdom. This is usually done on a Sabbat, where we celebrate the passing of the seasons and remember different tales of wisdom from our Traditions. Esbat rituals can also be seen as such, although magical workings are more common because the energy of the moon, either in its full or dark, lends itself to this kind of work. Many public rituals would fall into the category of ritual celebrations. A ritual celebration usually figuratively relates the event that is commemorated. There is a symbolic participation in the re-enactment of this event, either through drama and chanting or through a semi-magical working. One example is to write the things we have harvested over the last year and place it in a cauldron. While we are not necessarily raising energy, we are making a personal offering to the gods as a sign of gratitude. On Samhain, we often draw Tarot cards as a sign of things to come over the year. These are symbolic acts that draw power to ourselves without actively raising and sending out energy.

 

Magical workings are essentially done in solitary or within a familiar group. This implies some form of energy raising and sending to achieve a desired effect. Doing this is difficult in a large group with people of different backgrounds because it requires a common understanding of the energy raising method. That is why it tends to be kept in closed working groups or alone. The important thing is to have a clear intent of what you want to achieve and to symbolically represent it through your personal correspondences. If you are doing a ritual for mental peace, you want to set your altar with items that bring that in. Don’t put all your faith in books of spells. If the color for mental peace is purple for you, don’t go and put a white candle on your altar. This is what makes magic specific. You represent yourself and your intent with your own images. If red roses have a bad connotation for you, don’t include them in a spell for love. Use another herb or flower that triggers that feeling. There are many ways to do this. I recommend starting with a simple ritual and add elements as you go along. And keep records of everything so you can see what works for you and what does not.

 

A simple ritual

Here are a few suggestions of where to start.

1)      After having done your introduction, simply sit and open yourself up to receiving whatever wisdom comes. It may be words, images, feelings.

2)      Pick an intent. Choose a color that matches this intent. Place a candle of this color on your altar. You may choose to anoint it with oil that matches this intent or inscribe symbols or words on the candle. Let it burn down either in one shot or in sections over the next few days.

3)      For a ritual celebration, with Samhain just behind us, divination is a traditional activity. If you have a Tarot deck, pick a card that represents what awaits over the coming year. If you don’t have a Tarot deck, you may let a few drops of ink in a bowl of water or some tea leaves and see what images you pick up.

Enjoy!

Blessings everyone! I’ve been away for work over the last couple of weeks. Every time that I take such an extended leave from my writing, it brings home the fact that it has become such a life-giving part of my life and that the interactions I get with all of you are worth a million!

My Samhain was quite different from the past few years. For the first time in a long time, I went to a public ritual with the rest of the Wiccan community. Up to now, my contact with the Pagan community was limited to Crescent Moon and a few offshoots. My spiritual circle extended to a few spirit-minded healers, shamans and psychics. But this was the first time that I attended a public Wiccan ritual that was not organized or run by students of Crescent Moon or its affiliate teachers. I had other plans for that evening, but something within yearned to celebrate in a purely Wiccan way. I was curious of how it would feel.

There were over one hundred people at this ritual, most of whom I did not know. I had met some of the organizing members at Gaia gathering in May. I have to lift my witch hat to these people who pulled an amazing feat. It is difficult enough to lead an open ritual with people who are not familiar with one another. They lived up to the challenge of a huge crowd, with people of different backgrounds, different levels of knowledge of the Craft, from the seasoned practitioners to the merely curious. It flowed seamlessly, they took the time to explain the proceedings at the beginning so that everyone would be on the same page and the ceremony was simply poignant.

I had been removed from the organized Pagan community for more than 5 years, while I lived up north. All this time, I spent writing and forging my own identity and practice. Coming back to Montreal and reconnecting with the Pagan world brought home a few things. First and foremost, I realized how varied the community was and how established. And those who adhere to Wicca as a religion really live it. Some have lived this way for decades, so that they are no longer just dabbler and explorers. They are Wiccan in all its expressions. Their rituals are organized, their wording shared. They share common songs and expressions. As the organizers explained before the ritual, the ritual was conducted in a pure Wiccan style. Having studied in an eclectic setting with a little bit of this and little bit of that, this was not something that I was used to. But it made me understand a little more some of the backlash that I got when the book came out. There is a purely Wiccan tradition and I have a tendency of forgetting that.

This being said, the ritual was beautiful. The symbolism and the songs brought me back to what I had looked for from the beginning: the raw connection to the earth cycles and the Goddess. We chanted about death and passing, we called our ancestors and asked for guidance for the coming year. So, I found there what I came to find. But at the same time, I looked around at the people gathered there (OK it was Samhain and everyone looks a little odd dressed up…), but I did not feel like these were MY people. There were a number of the usual suspects: the dark, the eccentric, the dramatic, the seekers, the curious, and for sure the priests and priestesses of a Craft that needs to be preserved. There were also some of the people that I was also used to in my initial circles. In a crowd of over one hundred, it is obvious that I could not talk to everyone and learn their stories. But I would have liked to do that, just to know how all these people had gotten to be in the same place that night.

As I looked over the crowd, it struck me that I have a Tradition of my own that may differ quite a bit from a purely Wiccan practice. Part of that is the eclectic background that we may share as Christian Pagans or Witches. Another part is that we have a Christian tradition that inspires the kind of liturgy that we may include in our rituals. This includes a certain attitude and way of attending that may differ from Wiccan practice.

Maybe we are our own tribe…

On this Samhain, may the ones you loved be with you and may the new year bless you with the inner fire of Spirit!

Another topic I wanted to come back to was the topic of the altar. I realized part way through my teaching of ritual that I had forgotten to talk about how to set it up.

First off, I would like to make a distinction between an altar and a shrine. Many people use the term altar to relate to both, but I like to make that distinction. An altar is a place, usually a table top, where you perform a rite (magical or otherwise). A shrine is a place that is usually set up on a permanent basis to honor a deity or a tradition. I have a shrine in my living room that honors my tradition, where I put representations of my Lord and Lady, some devotional objects and objects that remind me of my path. When I do a ritual, I will set up a different space, usually the living table or the floor in my office and will use that as an altar. If I use the floor, I usually set up an altar cloth. For the living table, I don’t. Suffice to say that an altar or shrine is very personal and is meant to represent you in the higher spheres. So, it is really your own to build and create.

Now for standard practice: An altar (for ritual), usually has a representation of each element, two candles for your deities and all the tools you will use during your main rite. Everything else is up to you. You may choose a certain color for your altar cloth (or none at all). You may choose certain tools, like an athame (which is a ritual blade) or a wand or a chalice. In Wiccan rituals, the athame and the chalice are standard tools. The blade represents the male element (as a phallic symbol) and the chalice represents the female womb. When both are combined, you get a symbolic Great Rite, a mating of the God and Goddess to produce all there is. It is not a custom that I have gotten used to, but if it feels right, then it is for you. My altars have the simple elements and the candles and whatever I need for my main event. I usually bring the elemental representation with me when I call the Quarters and I leave it in each corner. So essentially all that is left are the candles and the tools for my main event.

Another common practice is the cakes and ale. You may have a chalice of wine (or juice or tea) and a plate of cakes (or bread) to share after your rite is done. This is standard Wiccan practice and it fits quite well in a Christian Pagan practice as well, for obvious reasons.

The important thing is that you feel comfortable and that you have all you need to do your ritual. Witchcraft is a very practical spirituality. So a little hint before you go into it: Don’t forget the matches!

Two Candles

Image via Wikipedia

Once your circle is cast, you invite your deity figures to come in and bless your rite. The concept of deity is complex in a Christian Pagan setting and I would like to give that topic full attention soon. So bear with me on this for now. Suffice to say that you want to invite that which blesses you in your rite and in your life. You may already have a name and a face for this essence, or it might be just that, an essence. Nothing comes into being without the Great Source. This is why I always invite it to bring life to my rituals. You can do spells without invoking deity. Then you draw solely from the elements at hand in your spell (like the energy of the earth, of herbs, of a flame, etc…) I walked into Witchcraft with the intent to live a practice that honors the Divine. That is why I call on that Divine source to assist me in my rites.

Traditionally, there are two white candles on the altar: one for the god and one for the goddess. I realize just now that I did not talk about the altar at all. I’ll save that for later as well. (Please somebody remind me if I forget…) As you light your deity candles, much as you invited the quarters, you invite and honor your God and Goddess. You may wish to welcome them with any words you might see fit and that inspire you (or you may do it silently or chanting or in tongues, or any other way, for that matter) My invocations have changed over the years as my religious practice and the definition of myself changed with regards to that other realm. It is nice to keep track of these in your grimoire/book of shadows to see how you have changed over the years.

Lately, I welcome my Lord and Lady in the following way:

‘Blessed art thou, Lord of all Creation for giving us the Mysteries,

That we are made in your image, co-creators of all that is and divine in essence;

And blessed art thou, Holy Mother, Gardian of Heaven and Earth,

from whose womb all blessings flow so that we may know Life;

All glory to you Lord Jesus for giving us the teachings of the most High,

Guide me with your wisdom.

Hail Mary of Magdala, Holy Priestess of Our Lord,

Bless your servant who humbly presents herself to you.

All glory to you for thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory forever and ever.’

**Amen**

Magic Circle

Image by Rebecca-Lee via Flickr

Casting a circle is a pretty standard way to structure a ritual or a spell. There are many ways to do it and I vary it as inspiration strikes me. There are many reasons for casting a circle: 1) for protection, 2) for delineating sacred space, 3) for moving us from this world into a state of ‘in-between-ness’ with the other world, 4) to contain the energy that we raise so that it is able to build up and be sent to our intended target.

Is a circle always necessary? Not really. A very simple candle spell may not need to have a circle cast if you do not feel that it needs protection or special representation ‘in between’. If the energy is meant to simple spill out from that burning candle, maybe there is no need to contain it. One thing that can be done, on the other hand, is put a circle just around the candle, so that you are free to walk around without disturbing your magic. But I would always cast a circle for a ritual and certainly for any kind of journeying or spell that requires extra security measures.

Casting a circle is a bit of a misnomer. What you are really trying to cast is a sphere or a big energy bubble that surrounds your magical working. It is like the protection spell that the aurors put around Hogwarts in the last installment of Harry Potter.  Again, there are many ways to do this, but in essence it requires two things: 1) ability to visualize (we’ve done this already, right?) and 2) ability to project energy.

 

Exercise in energy projection

Usually, people have one hand that is better at projecting energy (i.e. pushing energy out) and one hand better at receiving energy (i.e. energy coming in). The latter is also known as sensing.  We’ve worked a little bit with energy when we watched our energy field move from one hand to the other.  You should have felt energy vibrate in your hands then, either as warmth, tingling, numbness, etc…

Center and ground, drawing up energy through your roots. Now reach out your hands with palms facing forward. Which hand feels like it wants to shoot out the energy? Which hand feels like it wants to take in energy? You may see your hands move automatically with one pushing forward and the other cupping as if holding something. Test it out and see which one is your receptive hand and which one is your projective hand.

 

Back to casting circles.

Draw up energy and direct it around your space. The most basic circle is to walk around the space with hand outstretched (projective hand) and to leave a trail of energy as you walk. I am giving the example with the hand because it is often the most natural, but you may do it any way you want as long as you direct energy and you are able to feel its presence there. Some people use a specific ritual tool (like a wand or staff). I usually have my hand outstretched towards the floor and also leave a trail through my feet as I walk. At the end of my walk, I lift my hand up and then down, to ensure that the sphere is complete on top and on bottom. Some traditions will have an incantation. You can use sound, Tarot cards, elements, specific visualizations… As long as you direct energy and that that energy stays there. For rituals that need extra protection, I will walk the circle three times around. I have been taught to start my circle casting in the North. I know that some traditions start in the East. As I’ve written before, it is a matter of internal coherence.

Another issue is where to cast the circle. Walking through the circle weakens the energy so you want to avoid unwanted circulation. As I’ve said before, you can cast it only around your candle, which leaves you free to walk around the house as you wish. For a solitary rite, you can walk around your altar leaving enough room to sit in front. For a group ritual, you have options. You can simply surround the group. I feel the smaller the circle is, the more condensed the energy becomes and it is easier to raise energy. So I would not cast an unnecessary large circle. For a public ritual with people of various levels of understanding of ritual etiquette and with lots of ins and outs, I would probably cast to the walls of the room, which leaves enough room for people to circulate while still offering protection and a space between the worlds. For group rituals, there is often a warden who stands outside the circle to monitor the proceedings and to offer assistance in case of emergency. It is also his/her responsibility to test the circle and ensure that it is airtight. He/she would also be in charge of letting people in or out of the circle if needed.

Quarters are called, circle is cast. We are now between the worlds.

Calling quarters refers to the act of inviting entities to supply the ritual with specific life forces. They act as pillars in the four corners and help protect and structure the rite at hand. I use elemental representations to call quarters, as I have been taught:  Earth for north, Air for east, Fire for south and Water for east. I also call the archangels to aid me in my rites: Raphael in the north, Gabriel in the east, Michael in the south and Uriel in the west. I have already discussed at length my choice for assigning these archangels to these positions on a past post called Angels.

Element symbols used by the ancient philosophe...

Image via Wikipedia

Each tradition and working coven will have a standard way of calling quarters. Some witches even start their quarter calls in the East, following the sun axis. My calls may change for specific occasions. What is important in calling quarters is to really invite the element to stand in that specific spot. We have already done the elemental exploration so they should feel familiar. So when you stand in the north, you should feel the musty smell of earth, and the breeze of air and the scorching fire a

nd the spray of the ocean. At times, I did my elemental dances in each corner to summon the essence of

each element. But a standard call for me would be something like this:

 

Hail and welcome, element of Earth, guardian of the gates of the North and hail Raphael, archangel of healing. Pray bring strength and growth to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Air, guardian of the gates of the East and hail Archangel Gabriel, holy messenger. Pray bring inspiration and wisdom to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Fire, guardian of the gates of the South and hail Archangel Michael, holy warrior. Pray bring passion and courage to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.

 

Hail and welcome, element of Water, guardian of the gates of the West and hail Archangel Uriel, angel of peace. Pray bring love and compassion to this sacred rite. Hail and welcome.