Some Ritual Etiquette

Once upon a time, long, long ago, people would gather in groups for social interaction. They had parties, attended performances and sporting events, and some of them, the Pagan ones, held group rituals.

Perhaps soon, they will begin doing such things again. In the hope of that happy day, here are some of the many considerations when inviting people to join you for a gathering and ritual.

In the invitation, let people know what to expect, especially if there are non-Pagans in your invitation list. You can’t “ambush” people into participating in a ritual–they have to want to be there. So for example, if you’re having a Sabbath feast for Harvest, you might say in your invitation, “We’ll be offering celebratory toasts to the Harvest season before digging into a delicious meal made with fresh local ingredients.” If you will be gathering outdoors, be sure to warn people to prepare for expected weather and, if you’re going to be in the Sun, to bring a hat.

At the event itself, let people know what is going to happen. After a period of casual socializing, gather guests and explain the process of the ritual, so participants aren’t surprised when asked to do something.

Give guests a way to contribute. Ritual isn’t a spectator sport; it’s a participatory activity that hopefully engages all who are involved. So inviting guests to contribute a quality or intention, or something they are grateful for or hope for in the coming season is a way to make them part of the co-creation of your ritual.

Know your invitees, and be considerate of them. Rituals are meant to resonate with the deep parts of participants’ minds and selves, and as the organizer, it’s your job to ensure that invitees feel included and seen. Your ritual shouldn’t include, for example, heteronormative ideas of conventional “masculinity” and “femininity” if your invitees include a range of gender identities and sexual orientations.* Be inclusive in your ritual design and make sure that people can see themselves in the symbolism invoked.

As an Atheopagan, your rituals are likely not to invoke the names or images of deities. That’s actually more inclusive for people unaccustomed to Pagan rituals.

Likewise, be cognizant of varying dietary wishes and needs. If your feast is a potluck, remind people that if they have special dietary needs, they should bring something they know they can eat. But if you are providing the meal, make sure there is something for a vegan or a gluten-free person to enjoy.

Honor the wishes of those who choose not to participate. It’s fine if some of your guests don’t want to engage in your planned ritual activity. As always, affirmative consent is essential.

Before your ritual begins, turn off your phone, and ask that others do the same. Beeps and boops and ringtones are disruptive. Phones and other electronic gadgets should be put away.

Make your ritual accessible. Standing in a circle holding hands is nice for most, but not all can do it–and even many of those who might do it for ten minutes can’t do it for a half-hour. Ensure that there are ways for those who are differently abled to participate.

Children must be accommodated. If possible, it’s best not to have infants present, as if crying they can be very disruptive, but toddlers and young children must be allowed to participate or not as they wish. If they just want to run around, let them but be sure that their parents understand that they must supervise them. Older children and teens may well wish to participate, but shouldn’t be coerced to do so. Communities include the very young, and our rituals must be flexible (and not pompous) enough to accept some little ones running underfoot.

Do your own preparation. Before guests arrive, ensure you and other ritual leaders are grounded, relaxed and prepared.

Be punctual. Be considerate of the time of others, and that means being ready for guests when they arrive, and punctually start the ritual at the appointed time. The theory of “Pagan Standard Time” (chronic lateness among Pagans) is a rude, irresponsible abomination–don’t perpetuate it.

Photography during a ritual is generally considered to be bad form. During social time is fine if guests agree to be photographed, but let guests know that otherwise, they should not take pictures.

*I would suggest that such heteronormative “polarities” (such as the “sacred masculine” and “sacred feminine”) are outdated, and should be avoided generally, as we don’t ever really know for certain how our participants identify and these frameworks reinforce harmful stereotypes. They ignore the complex spectra of gender identity, expression and sexual orientation, and in so doing ignore, erase and insult people who aren’t cisgendered, heterosexual men and women.

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