How To Be An Effective Ritual Leader
And Help Make Magick Happen!
A ritual leader needs to know how to plan a ritual. But there's a lot more to it than simply planning, especially when you're working with a bunch of other people of varying levels of ability (as in almost every Wiccan ritual).
This article offers some tips on effective ritual leadership.
Let's start by reviewing what Wiccan ritual is meant to accomplish. After all, when we know our destination, it's easier to figure out how to get there!
The Function of Wiccan Ritual
"Ritual" in other religions often means "empty, ancient routines that were originally done for symbolic reasons which are long forgotten."
This is not true of Wiccan ritual. This kind of magick ritual
has very specific functions....
- To help you focus and increase concentration
- To shift consciousness and access the Shaman/Magician/Divine Within
- To open the connection between the worlds: Earth and spirit, human and Divine
- To make changes on a deep level of reality
- To ground magick in the physical world and body
- To create safety and protection during magical work
- To weave a community or relationship into deeper intimacy, understanding, respect, love, harmony, and strength
- To celebrate the seasons of life: the Wiccan Sabbats, the Full Moon Esbats, and the human rites of passage
Ritual is not absolutely required in Wicca or Magick. But it is helpful. It allows you to make the changes you want, more effectively and safely.
As a ritual leader, keep in mind this basic function of ritual.
The Ritual Leader's Role
As the ritual leader, you hold the reins. But that doesn't mean you control things. It means you have special abilities that allow you to serve the Coven's needs
- You plan the ritual, so there is a clear focus
- You organise people so that the ritual takes place
- You set the stage for transformation to occur
- You inspire people to participate
- You engage the soul-self, what Reclaiming calls the magickal-child-self, of the participants
- You set the standard of behaviour
- You are the cornerstone that grounds the energy of the ritual
- You guide the ritual to successful magick
A ritual's leader is the flame, and the Coven or Circle is the candle. Without good leadership, the ritual is cold and inert. With too much control, the group-soul's aspirations are burnt away.
But with a good balance of guidance and openness, and a healthy dose of inspirational energy, the ritual leader can set the group energy afire, and everyone is transformed!
Let's face it... many times rituals just happen. It's not uncommon for people to lack the time or energy to put together a really solid ritual. Or even have a designated ritual leader. And that's okay.
It's just that — unless all those in the Coven or Circle are highly skilled and
closely aligned in style and intention — such impromptu rituals can lack that magickal oomph.
By contrast, thorough preparation is a stepping stone to a really great ritual.
This is the greatest gift you can offer your Coven or Circle as a ritual leader.
Plan out the ritual ahead of time. This is not necessarily done alone; most often a small group of people will plan together, bouncing ideas off each other and generating some very creative rituals!
But the key here is to know what the ritual is going to be before you start. For example...
- What's the intention?
- What methods will the Coven / Circle use to manifest that intention?
- What songs are applicable? Learn them well, if you're not already familiar with them.
- Decide what deities to invite, and how to call the power of the directions / elements that will serve the intention
- What decorations and props will deepen the experience of this ritual?
- Arrange for people to fill the various ritual roles
- Help these assistants to figure out what they'll be doing
And now that it's well-thought out, here's the real trick...
Hold on oh-so-lightly to the planned agenda!
Let It Evolve Spontaneously
It's also vital that there is room to move with the inspiration of the moment.
There are several reasons for this, starting with the most important: if you want a ritual that really gets people involved
, they must be able to contribute to it.
Everyone helps shape a ritual in small ways, and this makes them an integral part of it. The ritual is then not just following someone else's directions, but something that comes from each and every heart.
It makes the ritual alive, and real... and thus powerful.
There are limits, of course...
- If it gets too chaotic,
- If people have divergent goals or ideas, or
- If it degenerates into more of a coffee klatch,
then the energy is lost and magick fizzles out.
How does a ritual leader know when to call everyone back to the agenda? There's no rule about this. There's not even a guideline. You can only know this by keeping your finger on the pulse of the group-soul.
When the ritual is still alive
and moving, you can go with it.
When it droops, you can guide it back to power.
That's where a High Priestesses's
real skill becomes apparent! Not only does an experienced ritual leader know when and where to guide the Coven / Circle, but she has the skill to lead the way gently and inspire rather than command others to follow.
As discussed in How to Make Ritual That Is Magick
, authenticity is vital to ritual. As a ritual leader, this translates into how you function as Priestess.
- You need to be yourself, of course. But you should be your best self.
Give yourself permission to be the person you wish you could become, and even pretend to be this person. Such "pretense" is actually authentic, because in fact you ARE your best self, even if you don't always show it.
- Lead by example. Show people what to do, lead the way.
This is far more effective than describing what you want people to do and waiting for someone to have the courage to try it and see if they understood you correctly.
Plus, they won't have to worry about going first, because you'll have already filled that role.
- Make your words and actions real. As ritual leader, you especially must have power and truth in everything you do.
Whatever you say, feel and believe in the truth in it.
Whatever you do, feel and believe the reality of it!
That will make the experience much more authentic to everyone, including yourself, and the Divine.
One practical aspect of this is that you must speak from the heart. If you are worried you won't remember what to say, then PRACTICE it. Memorise it if necessary, but allow for it to come out a little differently in ritual. You can even put some notes on a piece of paper on the altar if necessary, or write on your hand, or whatever you feel you must do, except for one thing...
- Do Not Read From A Piece of Paper!
This immediately kills the spontaneity and sincerity of what you are saying. This, in turn, will lose people's attention and engagement, and disperse the energy.
Far better to let go completely and ask the Goddess to be in charge of what comes out of your mouth, than to be reading your lines.
The best thing is to know what you want to say, and let it come out with feeling and sincerity in the moment.
(If you're serious about being a ritual leader, I very much recommend spending some time with Toastmasters to get practice in these skills. Nothing else equals their training, in a warm and supportive atmosphere.)
- BE the roles you play.
When you are acting as Priestess, know yourself as Priestess. Let yourself fully be the Priestess.
When you are aspecting the Goddess or God, BE that deity. Put yourself into the role, and let the Divine speak through you.
Again, this may seem inauthentic because it's role-playing. But the truth is, you ARE a Priestess. And you ARE the Divine ... at least, you have all the deities within you, somewhere.
So rather than pretending, you are really just letting this aspect of yourself come forward for a while and take centre stage, while the false-you, your ego/mind consciousness, steps back and shuts up.
The key here is that, as the ritual leader, you must be authentic to your deepest, highest Self. That is an obligation you owe to everyone who participates in the ritual, as well as to yourself and the Divine.
It's also one of the greatest gifts you could give yourself.
These are some general guidelines, to help make your Wiccan ritual more magickal.
- Keep it short. All things being equal, a short ritual is always preferable to a long one. For one thing, it keeps people focused and keeps things moving.
Zsuzsanna Budapest says, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that ritual shouldn't be more than an hour long, or the Gods get bored and leave.
She makes a good point. It's difficult to sustain human (if not Divine) concentration much longer than that. A good ritual stops while people are still engaged, not after attention has faded away.
- Have one focus / intention. The more goals you bring in, the longer it will take to cover them all AND the more diffuse the magickal energy will be, spread out among all the different goals.
- Keep things that belong in the mundane world out of Sacred Space. By that I mean save announcements and other "outside" matters for after the Circle is opened.
- Save teaching for another time. Ritual is a time for experiencing magick and connection with the Divine, not for learning how to invoke directions or any other of the subtle practices.
If you absolutely MUST teach people something, it should be no longer than 3 minutes long. Or, better, make it part of the ritual, something everyone can learn by experience rather than discussion.
- Stay in the Sacred Space within your mind. If you are coming from that deep source, your actions and words will be congruent, and they will call the others into deeper spiritual experience.
- Leave your ego at the door. Let the Divine speak through you, and guide you. You may be amazed at the power of the rituals when you do this.
With Brightest Blessings,
Next Article on Wiccan Ritual: Planning an Engaging Pagan Ritual
Effective Ritual Leader