Notes for Large Rituals

Russell Williams and Rowan Fairgrove

These are notes we brought to our Covenant of the Goddess Leadership Institute workshop on large rituals, augmented with some of the experience shared by other participants. We certainly don't intend them as authoritative pronouncements; they are ideas you may find it useful to consider when planning a large ritual. We feel that pre-planning and theater are very important to the success of a ritual, especially in large groups, so we included suggestions that go beyond the religious aspects.

RP = rehearsed participant -- those involved in planning the ritual
UP = unrehearsed participant -- those invited by the RPs

A. Logistics

Things to think about regarding the site and the preparations for the ritual.

The Site:

  1. Be aware of what the site conditions will be at ritual time -- dark? windy? cold? wet?
  2. What do you need to bring -- religious items? signage and tape/tacks? first aid kit?
  3. Do you need insurance? For major events a liability waiver is a good idea, but it's not legal protection.
  4. A public site may require security people to deal with curious passersby, park rangers, or police.

The Guests:

Who is coming and how does that affect your ritual plans?

  1. Tell UPs about things to bring, wear, eat, or not.
  2. If you're going to pass cakes and wine have several platters and chalices. Consider having non-alcoholic chalices as well as wine, in consideration of children and people who should not or choose not to drink alcohol.
  3. Are children or infants welcome? Any special provisions necessary for them? Do you envision childcare or actual participation in the ritual?
  4. If there will be disabled people attending, make any necessary special arrangements. Remember plans that will help a hearing-impaired UP won't do much for a mobility-limited UP - it helps to know what to expect in your community.

B. Theater

Good theater isn't enough for good ritual, but bad theater can ruin an otherwise great ritual and dissipate all magical power.

  1. Know your lines. If you must read, be sure light is adequate and you're familiar with the lines.
  2. Be prepared. Be aware when ritual is planned how much rehearsal will be needed. Any complex staging will require on-site rehearsal.
  3. Make sure UPs can see and hear. A softspoken voice goes unheard on a windy hilltop, and a small fire doesn't cast much light on a moonless night.
  4. Be sure any movements for UPs are doable in the light available.
  5. The more people you have, the simpler you need to keep things that everyone needs to do -- it's hard to teach a lot of people a complicated song or chant.
  6. Don't have long periods of waiting around. Start reasonably on time.
  7. If you have a procession, put the slowest people first.
  8. Warn UPs of things they'll be expected to do or guide them when the time comes. Don't leave them to fumble or wonder what's going on or what's appropriate.
  9. With more than a few (20? 30?) people it's impractical to have people do something one at a time.
  10. A 200 person circle is BIG. If you're going to go around the circle 3 or 5 times with various implements, either have something going on, or overlap.
  11. Don't make UPs stand for long periods of time.
  12. Think about how the power dance will work. Is there enough space? It's hard to get a big circle of people to rotate; a spiral is much easier.
  13. Surprise can be a very effective ritual element.
  14. Be prepared for things to go wrong -- they will.

C. Religion

Most of the religious aspects apply equally to small groups.

  1. Explain meaning. Before is OK, worked into the content is better.
  2. Explain purpose if other than celebration. Before is mandatory -- it's unethical (but not unheard of) to get people into circle and then at the point of power raising announce that the power is going to some political goal.
  3. Make UPs feel welcome. It's hard to let down your shields and raise energy if you're having that awkward "I really haven't met the host of this party" feeling.
  4. Beware of (unintentionally) turning the ritual into a performance by the RPs or simply a sequence of chants/songs by the UPs.
  5. Involve the UPs. Movement is especially good. So is having each person DO something (throw flowers or burn a piece of paper with things to banish, for instance). Songs, chants, and call-response are other methods.
  6. Rehearse chants or songs the UPs are supposed to do.
  7. Very few rituals will work equally well for 7, 20 and 300 people.
  8. Internalize the ritual instead of just memorizing it so you are open to improvising and moving with the energy flows.
  9. If a ritual is particularly complex, or long, plan for choices or omissions depending on how the energy's going.

D. After Ritual

Critiquing your rituals - how can you make the next one better?

  1. Don't critique a ritual right away -- wait a day or two. Critiquing during or immediately after a ritual can drain the energy.
  2. No matter what you do, a large ritual isn't going to work for everybody.
  3. Most people are too polite to tell you that a ritual raised no energy, and even a relatively dead ritual works for some people. Ask friends whom you trust not "how was it," but "what could we do even better next time."
© 1985, revisions, © 1996 Russell Williams/Rowan Fairgrove

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