Having decided that we wanted a ritual structure of our own and that we wanted to use our own words instead of those of other traditions as much as possible, my spiritual family, the Silver Spiral Collective, set out to revamp how we do what we do.
We started out on our email list. We set up an email thread for each part of the ritual: cleansing the space and welcoming participants, casting and cutting the circle, grounding, calling and thanking the elements/quarters, invoking and thanking deity, and blessing the food and drink. Everyone who wanted to contributed to each thread with their own writing from past rituals or new pieces of writing designed just for this. There was some discussion and variations suggested, but for the most part, writing was simply posted without comment in preparation for our in-person discussion night.
Just before the discussion night, I copied and pasted the ideas from each thread into a single document, sorted by ritual component and stripped of author’s names. When we gathered together, we each had a copy of this document and a pen. We also came equipped with some understanding of each others beliefs from our previous discussion nights, a history of working together (some of us have been circling together for over 16 years), and an openness and lack of ego.
This could have been a very difficult process without that last part. I take pride in my rituals and I usually like my own writing; I assume this is the same for most people who write group rituals. Unless you believe that you are channelling the ritual directly from the divine, it is your work and by presenting to a group in a religious context, you are saying that it is worthy of being part of their spirituality. You have to believe that you have something to offer in order to put on a ritual. If even one person had come into our discussion night wanting to push their words on the group, it probably would have been a much less productive and satisfying evening, but everyone came in with open minds. Though I had sometimes forgotten who the author of each piece was, in the cases where I did remember, it was never the author who spoke up that that was their favourite; someone else always had to speak for it.
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts at scheduling, not everyone was able to make it to the discussion. Luckily, the people who write the most rituals for the Collective were all able to attend, and it was agreed that nothing would be set in stone; whatever we came up with would be subject to everyone’s approval and that feedback and re-writing was expected as we used the structure in upcoming rituals.
We did each ritual component separately, working through the ritual in order. First, one person would read all of the pieces of writing for that section out loud. Then we would gradually eliminate some of the options as being too specific to the ritual they were originally written for, too difficult to recite smoothly or too long for our purpose, or not quite matching the beliefs of the group. This was done very gently, with lots of “I love this, but…” and I know my feelings weren’t hurt when my words got struck off some lists very early. When we were left with fewer options, we dissected them and what we liked about each one, then started combining bits from each in different combinations until we found something that was both pleasing to our ears and to our spirits. Sometimes the end result was almost exactly one of the original pieces of writing, sometimes it was a combination of multiple pieces, and sometimes we almost ended up writing something entirely new together. We spent a lot of time reading the drafts out loud over and over again, teasing out how a single word added or eliminated changed the rhythm or the meaning.
In the course of discussing opening procedures for rituals, we did stumble upon an odd little thing: not all of us agreed about the purpose of something we’d been doing as part of our rituals for years! When writing the original Silver Spiral ritual structure, Teresa and I had encorporated a meditation taken from a different tradition. We’d been guests in that tradition’s rituals a couple of times and enjoyed the meditation. In discussing what to replace it with, we discovered that Teresa thought of the meditation as a personal grounding exercise to encourage each individual to be completely present, while I had always thought of it as a uniting meditation meant to bring everyone’s energy and states of mind together. It was a revelation to find out that the meditation we’d been doing together for probably a decade or more meant such different things to each of us and yet worked for both of us anyway. A quick poll of the rest of the group found that the group was split about 50/50. As a group, we wrote a short meditation that incorporated elements of both, but with an emphasis on the individual grounding aspect because our re-written circle casting already had a number of uniting elements.
By the end of the evening, we had a working draft: Silver Spiral Ritual Structure 2.0. We used it in several rituals and after each one, we checked in with each other about how it was working. There were several weaknesses that we could only see once the structure was being used. For example, our circle cutting procedure was too short and felt perfunctory in version 2.0, and then was too long and drawn out in version 2.1. Our 2.2 version might be just right, but it will need to be tried at least one more time before we know for sure. As well, we have decided that we want to include a more formal procedure for our offerings to deity during our food and drink portion of the ritual. This is an interesting development, actually, because we had no such procedure in ritual structure 1.0; offerings were made somewhat casually after everything had been passed around and some of whatever was left was set aside or was simply left in the goblet or dish to be taken outside after. But during the trial runs of 2.0 and 2.1, the idea of a dedicated offering bowl and a planned way of making offerings was suggested and seemed to be universally agreed to; it seems like an idea whose time has come for us. I added an offering to our 2014 Imbolc ritual, which was the first to use ritual structure 2.2, and now we will discuss and refine that.
The process of developing a ritual structure that is satisfying to everyone has highlighted the things we all have in common (though individually we may all call different powers at the quarters at different times, we all agree on the elements as one good option) and the places where we diverge (the order in which the elements are thanked: same as when calling or reversed?). Sometimes seeking consensus means watering down everything to the lowest common denominator, so I was watching for that tendency going into the discussion night, but I don’t feel that that’s what happened. Those of us who prefer more elaborate calls and invocations definitely had to compromise some in the spirit of making everything adaptable to a variety of ritual themes and easy to remember, but I feel that we did keep things flexible enough to allow for precision in calling when desired. In the end, we built a suitable container for more challenging ritual content; a way to gracefully get into the same mental and spiritual space together and to deliberately bring ourselves back out. It was what we were seeking when we kicked off this process with some questions about what we believe.
I doubt we’ll ever be done and have a final and forever ritual structure. In fact, I hope we keep evolving it to meet the needs of new members and our future selves. I expect there will be Silver Spiral Ritual Structure 2.4 and 2.5… and maybe 3.0 one day. And maybe “our big questions” parts 4 through 10 or more; there’s always more to discuss and learn about each other and ourselves.
Series to date:
Our big questions – part 1
Our big questions – part 2
Our big questions – part 4: circling from awkward to graceful (and back)