For those who are starting out on an Atheopagan path—or any Pagan path—it can be bewildering to know how to start a practice.
Fortunately, Atheopaganism is in many ways easier to “learn” than other Pagan paths, because there aren’t any procedural rules about how to do things, and you don’t have to have anyone else teach or “initiate” you to get started. You can and should craft your practice to fit you: to be consistent with the climate where you live, the symbols and meanings that matter to you. You don’t need to learn tables of correspondences or memorize invocations or learn the metaphorical associations of the four directions of the compass (though you can, of course, if you like).
All you need to know is what you find meaningful: your loves, your passions, your dreams, even your fears and angers. All are rich fodder for creating rituals and observances.
Still, that’s a two-edge sword, isn’t it: lots of freedom, but at the same time an intimidating blank slate, all but crying out but what do I DO?
Thus, this post. If you’re just starting out, or struggling with creating rituals, this post is for you.
I recommend that when starting a practice, a newcomer do three things, in this order:
- Create a Focus, or altar;
- Conduct a first personal ritual; and
- Contemplate the meanings of and decide how they would like to celebrate the 8 sabbaths of the Wheel of the Year.*
As you can see, there are links to other posts about the first and third elements. This one is specifically focused on how to plan your first ritual. You can also consult the Atheopagan Ritual Primer, which goes into more details about the various phases and elements of effective ritual.
So…how do you do that? Here’s a simple step-by-step for ritual planning. You’ll need a pad and paper to sketch out the structure of your ritual:
- To begin with, what is the purpose of your ritual? Is it a sabbath celebration, or a full moon observance, or a ritual to heal some inner hurt? A ritual for guidance and wisdom, or to align yourself with an intended purpose? Write out the purpose of your ritual as a short sentence.
- Next, what are the themes of your ritual? Write out the thematic elements of your ritual as short phrases around the sentence describing its purpose.
- What’s the atmosphere you intend for the ritual? Is it hushed and fervent, or happy and upbeat, or spooky and witchy, or solemn and grave? Jot down adjectives that describe how you would like the ritual to feel.
- What symbols are meaningful to you in relation to that theme and atmosphere? What objects, tools, processes, or metaphors do you associate with the theme and atmosphere? List them.
- What sensory experiences do you associate with the theme? Sight/sound/scent/taste/touch? List those, too: it’s important to engage multiple senses so the brain can settle into the Ritual State: a heightened state of presence and creativity also known by artists as flow.
- What activities do you associate with the themes and meanings of the ritual? List them, too.
All of these things are raw materials for your ritual.
Next, from these materials and on a fresh sheet of paper, create an outline. There is a structure recommended in the Ritual Primer which isn’t required, but it’s tested and true: it will work. Its elements are Arrival, Qualities and Intentions, Working or “Deep Play”, Gratitude and Benediction. The linked posts go into detail about each phase.
Remember–in conducting a ritual, you seek to provoke the Ritual State: a feeling. It is a state of heightened awareness and presence. There isn’t a “wrong way” to do it–what works for you is the right way.
Lay out a special Focus for your rituals using the symbols, tools and objects you have identified. Prepare yourself: perhaps take a shower, and/or don a special garment or jewelry. And then begin.
And if the outline for the ritual you have developed turns out not to feel right, toss it! Improvise and go with what you feel.
Now, this is a process for creating a solo ritual—one you do by yourself. If you’re planning a group ritual, you follow a similar planning process while adding some additional considerations:
- How many participants will there be? Practically speaking, does the ritual concept work for that many people? What if fewer or more show up—can the ritual accommodate that?
- How will participants be engaged during the ritual? Rituals work best when there is a minimum of standing around watching others do something. Give others things to do—see the above-linked post on Deep Play for suggestions.
- How would you like participants to feel, emotionally—especially during the Working, the “meat” of the ritual?
- How will you engage their senses? Does the ritual impact participants on multiple sensory levels?
- Will you share food and drink? If so, what?
- What are the logistics of the activities you have planned? Are there materials which must be distributed to participants? If so, how will you do that? Will you need something to light a fire or candles with? Will you need a corkscrew? What about a vessel in which to pass a beverage (or will there be individual servings)? Go over every step of the ritual to be sure you will have the tools and advanced planning so everything can go smoothly.
- Consider the ability and comfort level of participants. Some may need to sit, particularly if the ritual lasts longer than 15 minutes or so. How will the ritual be for people who can’t see or hear well? Make sure participants understand that you are considerate of their needs and it’s okay for them to use a chair or otherwise take care of themselves.
- How does your ritual concept square with inclusiveness? Did you assume a “male and female” sex binary (as in, all the women do one thing and all the men something else)—this can be excluding of people who are nonbinary or genderfluid. Are you equating “black and white” with “bad and good”? Just think about what your ritual might look like to people who aren’t like you, and be considerate.
- Along those lines, will Pagans of other paths feel welcome? That doesn’t mean you need to invoke gods, but…well, you don’t need to insult the idea of them, either!
- Does the ritual work as a cohesive whole? Are all the elements consistent with the purpose, the theme, and the sensory and symbolic associations?
Adjust your outline to take these questions into consideration. Recruit others to help you with different parts of the ritual, so it’s not a “one-person show”. And have fun!
*You don’t have to do this all at once. You can do some general planning around what the seasonal celebrations mean to you, and then wait until each sabbath approaches to plan details of your observances. After your first year of practice, you will have a calendar of rituals for your Wheel of the Year!