Ritual Tools I Find Useful

Ritual tools are physical objects with which one performs symbolic ritual acts. In more formal “occult” systems there are prescribed sets of these tools, but in Atheopaganism, we’re strictly practical about them; we use what is useful to us.

The items below are things I use in rituals, in combination with objects symbolizing the qualities and attributes I wish to include in a given ritual:

Focus cloths: I like to have cloths I can put down on a table or other surface, upon which I build my Focus. They vary in color by the season (bright pastels for High Spring, e.g., or spider web-patterned black fabric for Hallows).

Asperger: Asperging is the act of sprinkling water or other liquids as a “blessing” of an area, object or person. An asperging setup can be as simple as a bowl of liquid with a sprig of rosemary or other herb to dip in the liquid and then scatter upon the subject, or as ornate as actual asperging bottles (as shown) used in Catholic and Orthodox ceremonies.

Ritual Knife (known in Wicca as an “athame” (uh-THAH-may)): This is a knife which is used to symbolically “cut” things one from another, as in “cutting” a circle in space to define sacred space or to separate something unwanted from the body. You might be surprised how psychologically effective the use of this “knife” can be.

“Moon” knife: This is what I use when actual physical cutting is needed: it is a decorated grape-harvesting knife, which makes it particularly special to the region where I live, and to Pagans generally as it is shaped like the Moon.

Wands: Sometimes it feels more right to use a wand than a knife for invoking a “magic circle”, or for “releasing the magic” into an object, chalice full of liquid, etc. I have several: one of dried kelp, one of oak, one of redwood, as well as a human femur I have used as a wand in Hallows and Underworld rituals. Mine are simple and natural but some people like wands that have symbols or crystals mounted on them.

Chalice: A chalice typically contains water or wine. It can simply stand in to serve as a symbol of the life-giving nature of water, the ocean, etc., or it can also be passed around the circle to share a sip of wine with each participant (if you do that, ask participants who aren’t feeling well to opt out–it’s no fun to spread cold or flu germs)

Censer: A censer is an incense burner. It can be as simple as an oyster or abalone shell, or as ornate as a Roman Catholic censer hanging from chains. You will also want charcoal pellets or discs so you can burn powder and resin incense.

Acheulian handaxe: I don’t necessarily recommend that everyone go out and get one, but this is my favorite ritual tool due to its antiquity and amazing history.

Tingsha, clear-toned bell, chime, tuning fork or singing bowl: A clear, ringing tone can “clear the air”, rendering a sense of purity and stillness. This is useful for establishing a sense of sacred space or “dispelling” something you wish to be rid of.

Ritual mask: Used to create an “otherworldly” quality or to enable you to portray a persona of someone/something other than yourself in a ritual.

Ritual rattle: Useful as a passed “talking tool” or used as an instrument in a group ritual to accompany singing or drumming. Mine has colorful ribbons attached to it, which flare out behind it when it is shaken and create a pleasing effect.

Jewelry (not shown): I have a ritual earring I wear most of the time when I attend public or group rituals: it is a brass snake eating its own tail (an Ouroboros) and coiled into a figure-8, thus forming two symbols for Infinity. I also have a few pieces of ritual jewelry for Hallows, specifically: two rings (an old-fashioned coffin and a ring of skulls) and a skull earring.

Cauldron (not shown): Some rituals involve mixing potions or dissolving/burning unwanted qualities in a cauldron over a fire or filled with water. An iron cauldron is a useful ritual tool.

Sun broom (not shown): a ritual tool created each year at Midsummer “filled with sunlight” and useful for cleansing, purifying and illuminating with virtual “light”.

Colorful and/or cool piece of stone (not shown): a weighty stone (ten pounds or so) is useful for grounding. Just sit cross-legged and heft it into your lap, feel the weight of gravity. A stone can also be useful as a symbol of the Earth.

Cat: Optional, but recommended. Otherwise, what will walk through your Focus, or sit in the middle of it, in the midst of your ritual?

 

What are some of your favorite ritual tools?

 

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Rites of Passage #5: Memorials

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t helpful enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the final installment in the series: Rites of Passage.

Note that the structure outlined below isn’t a formula; it’s a set of guidelines. Feel free to change any or all of its elements to fit best with the community you are serving.

This rite of passage is structured more like a traditional memorial service because funerals typically have more attendees than can be accommodated in an Atheopagan circle. A smaller and more intimate Atheopagan circle might be conducted around the grave before burial (if the body is to be buried), but this post is focused on the memorial rite.

Of all the life passages described in this series, this is the only one that is guaranteed to all of us: we all die. Some of us do so even before we are born. This rite of passage is meant to comfort the living, to celebrate the dead, and to contextualize living and dying in the great story of Life on Earth.

When planning a memorial or funeral service, there are many considerations: what did the deceased feel were their greatest accomplishments in life? How did their atheist spirituality fit in with the rest of their family? What were their wishes for a memorial, if they left them? If for a stillbirth or miscarriage, what are the messages the parent(s) would like to give to the deceased?

Here is a general outline for an Atheopagan memorial service:

Gathering/Arrival: play music that was loved by the deceased during this period*. It doesn’t have to be sad music! A memorial is a celebration of a life.

Welcoming remarks by you, the officiant. Bid everyone welcome and ask them to be seated. Welcome the family in particular, and if there are any “dignitaries” or special friends to the family, welcome them, too. Have everyone take a deep breath, and blow it out: we are here, in this place today, in the presence of the profound reality that is death. In our sorrow, we come together today to celebrate the life of ________.

Poem or prose reading celebrating the magnificence of existence: This is where the “Pagan” part of the ritual comes in. It is a reminder of the beauty of Life on Earth, in this extraordinary Cosmos. That we live here, surrounded by wonders, for a brief time, and then dissolve back into the Cosmos from which we came.

Musical Interlude: A song or instrumental piece–guests may be invited to sing along if the organizers wish it.  Be sure to provide music sheets to guests if you choose this option.

Eulogy: A prepared speech to memorialize and celebrate the life of the deceased. Usually delivered by a family member or close friend. May include description of the deceased’s Atheopaganism and what it meant to them, and/or any final words the deceased left behind for their community.

Poem or prose reading: Some good nontheist choices are available here.

Officiant invites guests up to share personal memories

Personal Memories: spontaneous memories shared by guests

Musical Interlude: another song or instrumental piece, possibly with guests singing.

Benediction: (Literally, “saying a good word”): a closing statement by the officiant acknowledging the love and respect that has been expressed for the deceased, gratitude for the deceased’s life, with well-wishes for the family and loved ones, an adjuration to embrace our precious lives, and an invitation to the reception following the memorial (or burial service if that is to follow).

Restart gathering music as attendees stand and prepare to leave.

 

 

*Or as chosen by the parent(s), if this is a stillbirth or miscarriage memorial

Rites of Passage #4: Elderhood

Some time ago, I wrote a piece about Atheopagan Rites of Passage. In it, I described life milestones that might be celebrated by an Atheopagan, and which we as Atheopagan “clergy” (we’re all clergy, since we have none) might be asked to officiate over.

On reflection, it occured to me that just talking about these rites of passage probably isn’t enough: that having some guidelines for each such rite would be helpful to the community. So here is the fourth installment in the series: Rites of Passage.

The Passage to Elderhood occurs when the subject thereof feels ready to take on that identity. There is no hard and fast rule about an age at which a person is an “elder”; some may never feel that they are.

Personally, I have decided that when I turn 60, it’ll be time for mine.

This Rite is one of acknowledgement. In it, the achievements and efforts of the person along the way to becoming an Elder are recognized and celebrated. There is no “ordeal” involved; the subject has already lived many ordeals and survived them.

The passage into elderhood should be conducted by a circle of friends and family. The organizers may choose to include only those who have attained adulthood, or also to include younger members of the subject’s loved ones.

This ritual should be conducted in a comfortable, convivial environment. Age has privileges! Comfortable seats in a circle about the subject (also comfortably seated, perhaps in a swiveling chair so they can turn to face each speaker) are appropriate. This ritual doesn’t have a single “officiant”, but rather is a shared activity of all participants.

Arrival (Speaker 1): We are here, atop the accumulation of time. In their life, _________ has seen a, b, c, d, e, f… (list historical, cultural and technological changes). We come to this moment now filled with memories, with history. We arrive in this moment rich with hard-won knowledge. We are here, now, on Planet Earth at this very moment, the Now, to celebrate our kindred who is becoming Elder.

Qualities (Speaker 2): May we be imbued with kindness as we do this. May we be filled with courage and honesty. May we remember what is valuable to remember, and share what we have learned. May Love, and Truth, and Beauty, and the Sacred Cosmos inform our words and deeds.

Working: each segment taken by a different speaker.

We acknowledge your struggle: Speaker 3 invites the new Elder to tell a story involving personal emotional challenge.

We acknowledge your work: Speaker 4 invites the new Elder to tell a story about their career and creative efforts.

We acknowledge your wisdom: Speaker 5 states the ways they have seen the new Elder demonstrate wisdom.

We acknowledge the value you have to contribute going forward: All speakers state the ways they see the new Elder contributing to the world and the community. If gifts are to be given, they are given here.

New Elder speaks on their commitments to contribute going forward, their interests, and their passions.

Gratitude: While passing around food and drink, members of the circle express gratitude for the admirable qualities of the new Elder. When it is their turn, the new Elder expresses gratitude for the things in life that have brought it to the point of Elderhood.

Benediction (Speaker 1): We are grateful to the Cosmos for our lives, to the good Earth and human innovation for the longevity which has led us to reach this point in our lives. In the names of Love, and Life, and Beauty, and Truth, we welcome into the world the Elder ___________, our kindred. May we go forth in wisdom and joy!