Most religions and spiritual practices have rituals. Rituals can be very personal things. They can be as simple as a word of prayer when one wakes up. Different traditions have different versions of rituals. There are, however, basics that are common to many structured pagan rituals where a sacred space is needed. These steps can all be done in your head or in full regalia with theatrical impact in mind.
I. Before the ritual
Gather and set up all the items you will need for the ritual, most often symbols for the elements and deities and anything that is called for in a particular ritual as well as a bit of food and something to drink, on the altar if you are using one. It should be placed in the middle of the ritual space (often a nine-foot circle) facing east if possible. East is the most common direction to face an altar since it is the direction of new beginnings, but it is not mandatory and changes for specific rituals. If you have less room or no place to put an altar, work with what you have. It is not wrong if you cast your circle on your bed and use a shoebox for an altar. In reality you need nothing other than yourself to do a ritual. Many people either meditate or take a relaxing bath before beginning a ritual.
One common practice at the beginning of a ritual is to have the participants smudge (waft smoke over) themselves with incense smoke or sage to cleanse themselves for the ritual. Have all the participants enter the ritual space.
II. Cast the circle
Draw the circle in your mind in white or silver light around the participants using your wand, athame (ritual knife), or finger by walking clockwise around the ritual area starting in the east unless you have reason to start elsewhere. Close the circle by joining the ends with a sideways eight, which is the symbol for eternity, and know by many as a witch’s knot. Although nine feet in diameter is classic, your circle can be as large or small as you need it to be. You may also bring some incense around with your or smudge the circle with sage while you cast the circle to cleanse it.
At this point you may choose to say something about the meaning of the ritual circle such as, “The circle has no beginning or ending, but rather spins in an unending balance” or “This is a time beyond time in a place beyond place where Dreamworld and the waking world meet.” This and many phrases said aloud during group ritual are often followed by “So mote it be” which is said in unison by the group.
III. Invite the elements (Call the quarters)
Once again it is most common to start in the East, but not mandatory. Stand facing the direction you are calling. Some people hold their hands out, some hold the symbol chosen to represent that quarter or light a candle that represents it.
Calling the quarters can be as simple as, “Welcome East, Element of Air, Direction of New Beginnings. So mote it be,” or even just “Welcome the spirits of the East.” It can get more complex from there by adding things like, “We ask that you be present at this circle and aid in the manifestation of our prayers (or spells, or wishes).” You could also add more description of the element that is appropriate for the season or your own personal beliefs. In addition you could add deities or animal spirits that are associated with that element. It could easily become as complex as this, “All Hail the Watchtower of the East, Element of Air, Direction of New Beginnings, gentle breezes and far seeing, Associated with the Eagle, Butterfly and all air spirits. We ask that you be present at this circle and aid in the manifestation of our prayers. Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again. So mote it be.”
Repeat a greeting made specifically for each direction to each direction. Different systems acknowledge different numbers of directions. Some hold that there are seven directions, East , South, West, North, Above, Below, and Within. Some traditions call just the four quarters. Some call the four quarters and a fifth, center or spirit. Some work with just three elements, water, air and earth. Find the system that works best for you.
IV. Invoke deities (gods and goddesses) and spirits
Once again this can be as simple or complex as you choose. Some people invoke specific deities, others generic ones, others just the Goddess, others just the God. Some people do not invoke deities at all, but instead just work with animal guides and other positive spirits.
Starting most simply, “Lord and Lady (or God and Goddess), I invite you to please be present at this ritual. So mote it be.” You can also add, “and aid in the work we will do,” or “and accept our gratitude,” or “help us on our path” or something similar. In addition to invoking the God and Goddess you may also invoke your animal guide and other positive spirits. Finally you might want to add, “May all spirits who have a positive interest in my (or our) happiness and well being feel free to attend this ritual. So mote it be.”
V. Just in case
No one is perfect, even those with the best of intentions. It is always a good idea to add, “May all that I do in this circle be good and for the best. So mote it be.” This is a fall back, a fail safe, sort of like an acrobat’s safety net.
VI. Ceremonies or spellwork
Now is when you add in any particular ceremonies or spellwork that you wish. After you do whatever you are going to do it is always nice to just sit, relax, ground your energy and enjoy the energy of the circle.
VII. Cakes and ale
VIII. Thank and part with the spirits, deities and elements you called
Say thank you and goodbye to all the spirits you called to your circle in the reverse order you called them. So if you called East, South, West, North, God, Goddess, Spirit animal, other positive spirits in that order part with them like this: Positive spirits, Spirit animal, Goddess, God, North, West, South, East. This can be as simple as “Thank you, East, Element of Air, for your presence and aid. Hail and farewell (or merry meet, merry part and merry meet again). So mote it be.” You can, of course, make it more complex if you choose.
IX. Open the circle
Simply repeat what you did to cast the circle, but in reverse, going counterclockwise undoing the knot (figure eight) first. You can also just undo the knot and break the circle. Then you could say something like, “The circle is open, but unbroken. May all that pass from it go in safety and as friends. So mote it be.”
Leave out any ritual elements that need to stay (do not leave burning candles or incense unattended!) and clean the rest up. If you shared cakes and ale now is the time to offer the spirits their share by leaving the offerings on the earth somewhere for the spirits.