Going to an open (or public) ritual the first time can be nervewracking. Fortunately, these events should be designed to welcome new folks, so a few basic tips will help you have a great time. You might also find the general tips for public events helpful.
You might find out about an open ritual through:
- Browsing Witchvox listings for your area
- A posting on a local or regional email list, Facebook group, or other networking group
- A posting in your local esoteric store
- Through a non-ritual networking gathering (like a coffee cauldron or pub moot or meetup)
- Through a friend or someone with similar interests
- Through a group you’re interested in working with
- Through an event like Pagan Pride (which also includes its own rituals.)
Before you go:
Before you show up for an event, you’ll want to prepare a little.
Do a little research:
Who’s putting the event on? Are they associated with a larger group (for example, the Covenant of the Goddess) or is it a smaller group? Is the ritual in the style of a particular tradition, path, or set of practices, or does it include elements from a range of people and paths?
Do they provide any information about the ritual’s focus or intentions? (If you’re not sure about their stated focus, this might not be a good ritual to start with.)
If you have specific medical or mobility needs, make sure you know how the ritual site and plans fit in with your needs. Contact the planners if you have any questions: some sites are great and very accessible, others may have particular limitations.
What do you need?
Some of these are a good idea regardless. Others may be useful for a particular ritual.
First, bring what you need to keep yourself healthy and safe.
- If you have allergies, bring appropriate medication. Ditto asthma. (Ditto anything else where having meds on hand is appropriate).
- If you can’t stand up for a long period, bring a folding chair.
- If you’re outside in cold weather, dress appropriately, and bring a few extra layers.
- If it’s going to be hot out, pack lots of water and other ways to cool off.
- If you’ll be outside, bring (and use!) sunscreen and bug repellent.
- A way to get home (if you’re getting a ride with someone, having bus or cab fare just in case is not a bad thing.)
- Gear to help with sudden weather usually doesn’t hurt.
Second, bring whatever is requested for the ritual. Common requests include:
- A small donation to cover costs (around here, that’s $5 or so for most rituals: bring the right change). If cost is truly an issue, see if there’s some way you can chip in and help clean up at the end or otherwise be useful.
- Any requested items. This might be a donation for a food shelf, an item to be charged in ritual, a container to hold water, etc.
- Appropriate clothing. Some rituals will request certain colors (fire colors at Summer Solstice, or greens at Beltane, for example.) In general, simple clothes (without any logos or otherwise distracting writing on them) and plain slacks or a skirt are a good choice, but you can find a lot more information on my page about what to wear. Make sure your clothes aren’t likely to trip anyone else, or get trail into a fire or candle. Bring a list of ingredients.
- Many rituals will ask that you bring a potluck item. You can find more about this on my page about great potluck choices, but in general, less processed food is better (bread is better than Doritos, in other words).
What not to bring:
- Illegal drugs – they can get the site and the planners in serious trouble.
- Alcohol unless you’re sure it’s okay with the site (many public ritual sites are dry, and other ritual settings prefer to avoid alcohol.) Drink responsibly if you drink, and drinking before ritual is generally considered inappropriate by many groups.
- Anything else forbidden by the site. (For example, sometimes glass containers are forbidden in public parks: usually the ritual planners can tell you what’s okay, and will do so in the event information.)
- Ritual blades unless okay with the event planners. (You might be in close quarters where they could hit someone accidentally, or they might want to avoid making park police nervous: a single blade on the altar is a lot easier to explain than everyone carrying one.)
- Pets – definitely don’t your first time with a group. If you have a service animal, check out my page on accessibility notes. Animals respond differently to group ritual energy sometimes.
You might also want:
- Pen and paper (or the technology equivalent) to write down people’s names, contact info, book recommendations, and all sorts of other things that can come up in conversation.
- Any small hand-held hobbies, if there will be social time after the ritual (knitting, spinning, crocheting, etc.)
- If it’s a day-long event, consider if there’s anything you need – a book or MP3 player if you need a short break somewhere quiet, for example, or specific food needs.
- If you have food allergies, you should bring food you know you can eat. Chances are, there will be options of some kind at the potluck, but bringing your own food to supplement is a good idea.
When you arrive:
Take a moment to say hi.
Usually there will be someone welcoming people at the entrance to the event. This is a great time to let them know that this is your first ritual, or your first ritual in this area, or whatever. They’ll probably tell you where important things like the ritual space, the bathrooms, and the donation bucket are, but if not, look for yourself.
Ask if you can look at the altars or ritual items before you do.
The group may be finishing setting things up, or they may prefer people not enter the ritual space until the ritual. Don’t touch or move anything on the altars – the people using those items need to know exactly where they are to help the ritual flow smoothly.
If there’s a pre-ritual introduction, listen closely.
They’ll give you useful information about the ritual, and also maybe point out good people to be aware of (like people you can ask for help if you need it.)
Make sure your cell phone is turned off.
Also anything else that might unexpectedly make noise. Before ritual is also a good time to go to the bathroom, and done anything else that might get in the way of ritual.
Have good manners:
Mostly, these are like any other good manners: meant to help you and the people you’re talking to feel comfortable and able to focus on what you’re doing together.
Most Wiccan-based rituals create a sacred circle.
It’s considered very rude to cross this without being ‘cut out’ (having a door made for you), and that should only be done if something truly can’t wait (like a medical emergency.) Rituals will usually either identify who can help with this, or make it clear that they don’t cast circle.
You will probably see people in ritual doing various things.
Kissing their hand and raising it, making a gesture with their hand, etc. You don’t need to do these things (and if you don’t understand them, you probably shouldn’t do them anyway.) Standing respectfully is just fine. However, it is a good idea to turn the same direction everyone else is facing.
Many Wiccan-based rituals ask people to turn clockwise in circle.
This is meant to help increase the energy of the ritual. You’ll often see people go the ‘long way round’ to get from one point in the circle to the other. If you forget, don’t panic, though.
Be aware of others around you.
Keep any long skirts/cloaks out from under other people’s feet. Smiles and laughter are often a part of ritual, but it should be related to what’s going on: don’t talk about unrelated things (like the baseball game, the weather, the latest gossip) while ritual is taking place. (And don’t joke around if the ritual is more serious or solemn.)
If you don’t wish to participate in a particular part of the ritual, decline politely and quietly.
Say, taking ritual drink if you have a cold – you can take whatever is offered, nod your head over it, and return it without drinking. (If you don’t drink alcohol, many groups pass both an alcoholic and nonalcoholic chalice, and this is usually explained in the introduction.) Or quietly keep your hands at your side. If people are going around naming things, you can simply say “Pass” if you don’t want to share in public, or think your thing to yourself, and then say whatever phrase indicates you’re adding your energy or done with that thing.
If you’re not used to energy work, you may feel a little odd.
You might feel jittery (like you’ve had too much caffeine), you might feel unlike yourself (spacy, distant, etc.) This can be a sign that you need help grounding energy from the ritual. Ask one of the ritual planners for help. (Some other tips will be up on this site in the near future.)
Eating dense food (protein, dense carbohydrates) is usually helpful.
Don’t dive for the potluck table.
Usually there’ll be a short period where people take off some of their ritual gear, move chairs, use the bathroom, etc. Some groups do a blessing of the potluck food. If you don’t need to do any of those things, asking if you can help finish putting things out is a nice thing to do.
Give the ritual planners a chance to catch their breath.
Let them eat and drink and sit down before you ask them anything about the ritual. (Putting on a ritual is a lot of work!) Once they’ve done that, though, you should be able to ask any questions you have about what happened.
The time after ritual is usually a combination of social time and clean-up.
It should be fine to ask a small group who are chatting “Hi, this is my first time here… mind if I join you?” They may say “Oh, we need to catch up about something” – don’t take that personally, and try another group. Asking the ritual planners can help you get connected to like minded people.
Offering to help with clean up is great.
It’s a lovely way to make friends and be appreciated. (Often, this is moderately physical work, like moving chairs or picking up trash, but there are often less energetic tasks to be done.)
[last edited December 26, 2016]