There’s an ideal image of a witches’ coven in ritual: A group in matching robes standing around an altar in the moonlight. The altar would be laid with a lovely cloth and be bright with candles with incense smoke curling around simple, beautiful, matching tools. The coven’s hands are held high and they are ready to chant and dance and work magic. It’s an image seen on many Pagan books and magazines. It’s an image I was trying to recreate in the first rituals I did… often to the detriment of the ritual’s content and focus.
Over time, I’ve moved towards focusing on substance over style in my rituals, and the practical needs of my spiritual community has overridden any desire to have our rites look like a magazine cover. Robes went first; we simply didn’t have the desire to all get any sort of special clothing. Next to go was the moonlight; rituals, even ones centered around the moon, sometimes had to be in the afternoon or right after work. Incense was given up due to allergies. Most recently, we’ve given up standing and dancing, at least temporarily. At this year’s Lammas ritual, out of the six people who were able to attend, three were unable to stand without pain and one had her tiny baby with her.
Over the course of adapting rituals to the needs of a group with mobility issues, we’ve learned a few helpful things:
– I’ve found that both the group energy and the mechanics of the ritual work best if everyone’s on the same level: all standing, or all seated in chairs, or all seated on the floor. We try to have chairs that are roughly the same height. If we’re sitting on the floor, an altar that is very low or even just a cloth right on the floor is important so people can see each other and what’s happening.
– If the ritual is going to include holding hands or passing items, it is important to place the chairs close enough together and to choose an altar small enough to fit in the centre, rather than having an altar that’s too big and having people too far apart.
– Getting in and out of a circle of chairs can be awkward, so circle casting is best either done from a stationary position or by walking around the inside of the circle of people if there’s enough room. When planning, be aware that chairs take up more room than standing people, so your room will fill up very quickly.
– If possible, encourage people to sit up straight and at the edge of their chair to keep energy and physical attention on the ritual.
– Cross-calling the quarters: The person calling East sits in the West, therefore facing East, and so on. I saw a group use this technique when doing very large outdoor rituals because it made it easier for the whole group to hear, but it is also really effective in a group where people can’t easily turn to face the quarter being called.
– Dancing might be out, but a lot of other energy raising techniques work just as well in a seated ritual: drumming and chanting, meditations and visualizations, etc. If more movement seems required, there are lots of options with a bit of creativity: clapping, stomping feet, passing items around, and hand and arm gestures.
At Lammas, we made for a very different looking circle than that Wiccan 101 book cover: jeans and t-shirts, sitting in kitchen chairs in a ring around an altar covered with a sarong and cluttered with a diverse collection of tools and a bottle of cinnamon whiskey. But the magic was undeniable.