Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rituals Should Make Sense!

The words we say in ritual should make sense to us. That sounds like a no-brainer, but so often that's just not the case. People try to make ritual sound "more flowery" than necessary, adding archaic sounding language so that things sound "old." There's nothing wrong with saying "thee" or "thou," but it shouldn't become a distraction. If you spend more time worrying about what you are going to say than actually saying something you are going to end up in trouble.

While Ari and I are Gardnerians, we will also always be Eclectic Wiccans, wanting to write our own rituals, use our own gods, and adapt things in ways that work specifically for us. As we get closer to starting our own circle in California we've really begun to talk a lot about ritual, and how it's formed, and what we say during it. We often do things in ritual out of habit, without thinking about them, and much of our discussion has revolved around removing things from ritual that borders on nonsensical or theological inconsistency.

Most of us are familiar with Doreen Valiente's "Charge of the Goddess." I've been using it in ritual for nearly fifteen years, and it's always been a high point of ritual for me. However, it has its share of problems. Just look at the first few lines:

"Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men: Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Cybele, Arianrhod,
Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names."

You might be wondering what the problem is, I think it's glaringly obvious, how many of you worship Melusine*? Melusine is basically a mermaid, and you could make the argument that there are many Melusine's and not just one, like it's a race of water spirit. Do you know how to pronounce Melusine? For years I tended insert the name "Demeter" in place of Melusine, or skip it all together simply because I didn't know what or who Melusine was. Language in ritual is difficult, we tend to accept things just because they are there. While Valiente was certainly a better writer than I, she was writing in the early 1950's, and in this day and age I have to assume I have more access to information about pagan gods and goddesses.

Dione was a Titan and the mother of Aphrodite, not a popular goddess, and it's very likely that many people who read Valiente's Charge think they are calling to Diana, who is already mentioned in the Charge as her Greek counterpart Artemis. I'm not picking on Valiente here, I'm really picking on myself for simply reading something and not truly understanding. If Valiente's Charge is truly going to reflect my beliefs it might be better for me if I change a few things in it.**

"Listen to the words of the Great Mother; she who of old was also called among men:
Artemis, Kali, Athena, Astarte, Sophia, Aphrodite, Freyja, Ariadne, Demeter,
Isis, Dana, Bride and by many other names."

Now this list of deities makes better sense to me. Arianrhod and Cerridwen are more mythological figures than out and out deities, and that's something I've always been uncomfortable with so it makes to me to remove then. (Besides the Cauldron of Cerridwen pops up again later in The Charge.) I've never been a Cyble worshipper, and the Charge is certainly lacking in Norse deities. Sophia the Gnostic Goddess of Wisdom might seem like an odd pick to some, but it speaks to me, and my Goddess is a goddess of wisdom. I included Kali because our Goddess is a goddess of death, that needs to be acknowledged. Ariadne is a selfish choice, somewhat unique to Ari and I, but it makes more sense than Melusine, which brings me back to my original point.

Flipping through Herman Slater's "A Book of Rituals" I'm always struck by some of the language, and that while it sounds cool, it doesn't reflect how I speak, write ritual, or even think. This excerpt is from the circle casting:

"I exorcise thee, O creature of water, that thou cast out from thee all the impurities and uncleanliness of the Spirits of the world of phantasm."

For some people there's a real joy in archaic language, for me archaic language ends up becoming more about remembering archaic language than it does about focusing on what I'm doing. Water is a creature? Did we really just use the word "uncleanliness" there? The world of phantasm? Phantasm is a complex word with many definitions. Some of those definitions are as simple as "a figment of the imagination," but here it's being used (I guess) to represent the world of the dead, or more specifically the evil dead, since many Pagans do place some emphasis on ancestor spirits.

If saying "I exorcise thee" floats your boat then by all means say it, but the point of the exercise here is to simply cleanse the water for use in purification. Some words and phrases are cool to say, "cast out" being one of them, but I can certainly do without saying phantasm most of the time.

"I cleanse the water, the sustainer of life and source of many blessings. I cast out all impurities so that the sacred water might aid us in our rite. Blessed Be!"

Perhaps you like the other version better, which is fine, but to me, my ritual needs to make sense, to be simple, especially when other folks are at who may have never been exposed to the "Spirits of the world of phantasm."

You can write the most exquisite call to the Goddess ever, but if you are using a name of hers that most (or all) are unfamiliar with it's not going to do a lot of good. You can write the earth shattering call to the West, but if you call the undines and no one knows what an undine is . . . . you get the drift right?

*In fairness, in Valiente's day it was far more common to worship creatures and individuals out of folk tales as if they were gods. Many books published in the first half of the last century argued that nearly any creature or character from such tales was a reworked version of a Pagan god. Valiente probably thought she was including the specific name of a goddess with Melusine, but facts and information in 2011 tell me something different. If you want to worship Melusine, go right ahead, I worship Herne whose origins are also in folk-tales. In "Fairy Tale Rituals" Kenny Klein came up with some fantastic rituals using characters like Cinderella and Rose Red, there is no harm in that. It's just that I'm writing ritual for ME, and as such it has to make sense to ME.

**While I would argue that the Charge of the Goddess is holy writ, it's been adapted several times. The earliest printed version we have dates back to Leyland's "Aradia" in 1899. That was in turn adapted by Gerald Gardner, and then by Doreen twice! Starhawk has an adapted version in "The Spiral Dance." It's safe to say that you probably SHOULD adapt it to your own needs.


  1. There used to be a lovely page listing, with historical notes, the various versions of the charge. ( a fascinating discussion on its own) Also, if one is looking at the elements themselves, or the quarter elementals , one needs to look at them as a whole. They,IMHO , need to work together as a unit.
    "Some of the language is purposely archaic, not to hearken back to some ancient time, but to aid in creating an altered state of consciousness. Part of good ritual is the set up, certain tools, certain actions, certain speech, all in an effort to get the mind to go to a certain place.

  2. I agree that if you're writing a ritual you should rewrite freaking everything so that it makes sense to you. The problem with group rituals is that you either have to write something that makes sense to everyone but waters it down for you (which I guess is the best option in many cases) or write something that works more for you but loses everyone else (which might work better depending on the idea). People will use the more "conventional" charges or whatever because they're holding on to the idea that there is one right way to do everything, likely carried over from monotheistic religions. I can't tell you how many times I've been told that someone's church does it the "right" way and everyone else is wrong. When I hear a "pagan" say something similar to that I want to choke them.