I made a mistake this week.
I assigned the creation and completion of a solitary ritual to the students in the Atheopaganism U. class, and neglected to cover how to take care of yourself before and after a ritual. One of the students had a very powerful experience in her ritual, and then spent hours unable to sleep thereafter.
In all my writing here at the Atheopaganism site, I have completely overlooked the basic physical/psychological preparation and post-ritual self care that are necessary for health and safety. These are practices I engage in myself–it just never occurred to me to write about them.
So here goes.
Depending on their contents, rituals can be physically taxing. They can work up your feelings and metabolic and heart rates, and simply attaining and being in the Ritual State of focus, presence, emotion and awareness can burn a lot of calories.
Accordingly, we need to take care of our bodies and our minds prior to and following a ritual.
Pre-Arrival phase: Generally speaking, it is good to prepare for a ritual by eating a light, healthy snack of some kind, like a piece of fruit, and ensuring that you are sufficiently hydrated. Get a good night of sleep the night before if at all possible.
There are exceptions to these rules. Sometimes fasting is employed in the lead-up to a ritual, or sleep deprivation, or both. These can contribute to a ritual being very powerful, but are also dangerous unless thorough grounding and return to a normal state are employed after the ritual’s closing.
Hydration is always a must. Have water available for participants during a ritual and be sure you are sipping water, whether or not you feel you need it.
Post-Benediction phase: After a ritual, you may find yourself feeling lightheaded or dreamy, still in the Ritual State, or you may have had a profound emotional experience that is still lingering with you. The limbic system of the brain is highly activated during the Ritual State; this creates an altered state of consciousness which can be dangerous when it comes to engaging with physical reality: do not, for example, jump right in a car and drive while in this state.
Instead, do what you can to “ground” or re-orient your body and mind to an ordinary state of consciousness.
Eat something hearty. Touch the soles of your feet or your bare palms flat against the Earth and just breathe for a few minutes, concentrating on your breath going in and out. Then sit quietly and just notice your surroundings: pay particular attention to their details. Soon, you will feel more “normal” and will be able to go about the business of cleaning up from the ritual and moving on with your day or night.
The Ritual State is pleasurable and powerful, but it is also an altered state of consciousness and should not be combined with operating heavy machinery or other dangerous activities. Be sure to take care of yourself as you conduct your ritual work.