Why I Don’t Write Ritual Scripts

I’m asked pretty frequently for sample Atheopagan group (as opposed to solitary) ritual scripts, and I never deliver them. Here’s why.

I don’t write ritual scripts. I have hardly ever been to a group ritual where leaders/facilitators “read their lines” (or had obviously memorized them) that didn’t feel like a waste of my time, and I don’t want my rituals to be like that. I want them to be engaged and juicy and alive.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe in ritual structure, and I don’t think rituals should just consist of people “winging it”. Preparation is necessary. Knowing the concepts and images that you want to communicate is important.

But reading from a script is really problematic. Lighting is always an issue, and having one hand tied up with holding the script limits the somatic freedom of the reader. Eye contact with participants becomes impossible, and that really lets the air out of the balloon of the group energy. And people don’t speak as they write; written lines can often sound stilted, or pompous, or excessively flowery.

Memorization, too, is not optimal. How many times have we listened to someone reciting something memorized, only to have them stop abruptly, unable to remember the next line? Suddenly the flow of the moment is broken and the illusion of spontaneous speech is destroyed. Even after they get going again, something has been lost. And the nervousness of performing in public makes that kind of interruption that much more likely.

An outline is enough, in my opinion. An outline that can be written on an index card. But for most of us, that outline will only work if we practice beforehand. 

Which, I know, is kind of a radical proposal for many Pagans.

Spontaneity is good. Extemporaneous speaking, if you’re good at it, comes from the heart and allows you to engage with participants while speaking. But if there are key images or concepts the ritual needs you to communicate in a given piece of speaking, stand in front of a mirror and practice your extemporizing. You’ll come up with turns of phrase that you’ll like, and you can use them in the actual ritual.

There are exceptions to the reading rule. Sometimes you want to introduce a short quote or a piece of poetry or prose into a ritual, and you can’t memorize it. Well, practice it first, at the very least, so your reading of it is fervent, heartfelt and from you, rather than from a piece of paper. And read it from a binder, a book or something better than a flimsy sheet of paper flopping around. Give it some dignity.

Ritual skills come to the fore when you’re freed from a script: not only speaking, but movementsinging, perhaps even rhythm. If you’re grounded and skilled, you can move and build the emotional energy and cohesion of a group without a memorized script.

Another reason I don’t write ritual scripts is that it’s easy to get carried away with them, writing long blocks of text that are hard to memorize and boring to watch someone read. Rituals work best when everyone is engaged, not just watching others do stuff. Many of us have issues with backs or feet or knees such that just standing and watching is actually painful. So short speeches are best.

I tend to use a very simple ritual structure: Arrival, Invoking Qualities and Intentions, Deep Play (“Working”), Gratitude, Benediction. These are all described in detail in the Atheopagan Ritual Primer and in the linked posts. I find that this structure works well to sink participants into the Ritual State of enhanced Presence, or “flow”. Typically, most of the “speechifying” is in the Arrival phase, when grounding and establishment of sacred space are the agenda.

You can fit that structure on an index card, with enough keyword reminders to keep you on track.

We do rituals to feel good, to heal ourselves, to focus our intentions and resolve, to transform that within us which is ripe for change. We don’t do them to stand around through lifeless speeches. So learn those ritual skills! Become a public speaker, a singer, a drummer, a dancer. Engage your body and your mind and bring them to the ritual circle with you as you lead all or part of a ritual. Your alive presence there will accomplish much more than any written speech, however beautiful.

So there it is: why I don’t write ritual scripts. I write outlines, but not scripts. But more than anything else, I prepare myself to be ready to deliver the messages with which I am charged by a given ritual. You have to be skilled to “just wing it” in ritual; if you’re not there yet, give yourself the best chance of success by preparing ahead of time.

Best of luck with your rituals, however simple or complex!

 

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The Sun Broom—A Ritual Tool

The Sun broom is both a Midsummer ritual and a tool you can use ritually around the year.

You will need:

  • A piece of tree branch for a handle. Don’t hurt a tree; go for a hike and find something that has already fallen to the ground.
  • Thin ribbon or strong twine for binding grasses to the handle.
  • A bunch of long strands of dry grass.

I harvest the grass at the height of the day on Midsummer—the peak of the power of the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere. In my particular area, wild oats grow very tall, so I use those, mostly. I bind them to the handle with the ribbon, singing we all come from the infinite Sun, forever and ever and ever. 

Be certain to bind the grasses tightly to the handle—they may look dry but will dry out further and shrink. Otherwise the grass bundle could fly off the handle in mid-use, which undermines the solemnity of the enterprise.

Once constructed, I leave the broom to sit in the Sun until sunset on Midsummer, “charging” in the high summer Sun.

The next day, use your Sun broom to virtually “sweep” your home, moving from room to room and sweeping the air to bring light and warmth to every corner. You might sing (or hum) “Here Comes the Sun” or “I Can See Clearly Now” while doing so.

This is a ritual I like to repeat in the dead of winter. When things start feeling really gray and cold, it feels good to trot out the Sun broom and give the house a once-over, remembering summer and warmth. And you can always use it if things around the house are feeling icky and need some of that cleansing, illuminating sunshine.

The Sun broom is a great tool for drawing a circle to create sacred space at the beginning of the Midsummer ritual, too…or any time it feels like the Sun’s power would be welcome. The Sun broom is a prominent part of my Midsummer ritual Focus, as well.

The next year, do it again! Unwrap the bindings and let last year’s grasses go back into the Earth, and cut a new bundle to rebind your broom.

Enjoy your Sun broom, and may it bring you a sense of strength and power and warming light throughout the year!

An Atheopagan Table of Correspondences

In many of the Pagan books circulating out there, a large chunk of the pages are devoted to “tables of correspondences”. These tables identify particular herbs, gems and minerals, incense scents, foods, and other materials with particular emotions, life experiences, times of year, and so forth.

Well, I didn’t want Atheopagans to be left out on this sort of thing, so I’ve rigorously compiled the Atheopagan Table of Correspondences below from the great dusty volumes of the Atheopagan Book of Shadows that reside on my Focus.

Enjoy! 😀

 

Material          Correspondences                         

Color (any):  Whatever you think it means.

Herb (any):   Whatever you think it means.

Stone (any):  Whatever you think it means.

Incense (any): Whatever you think it means.

Essential Oil (any):  Whatever you think it means.

Food (any):   Whatever you think it means.

Metal (any):   Whatever you think it means.

(Of course, if you disagree with any of these, feel free to substitute whatever you think best)