How to handle ritual text?

One of the easier bits of shared-practice discussion I’ve had in the founding of the Shiny New Group has been about figuring out how to handle ritual texts.

The options:

There’s a spectrum.

  • Some groups memorise everything (i.e. there’s a prewritten script, but everyone works in ritual from memory.)
  • Some groups work from a written script, with notes used during ritual.
  • Some groups write things out in advance for planning, but then memorise or improvise in the ritual as makes sense.
  • Some groups figure out the goal of the ritual, but then collaboratively create (often referred to as co-creating) the ritual together. (In this last one, ritual roles or methods may not be assigned: people step forward to take on the roles they want to do, and do them as they see fit.)
  • Some groups combine one or more of these.

My past experience:

The group I’ve hived from is closest to #2:

  • Ritual roles are determined in advance (though people may find out about smaller ones that don’t require advance preparation when they arrive for ritual.)
  • The ritual is pre-planned, and the working, explanations, ritual texts, and such are pre-written, and used basically intact. There’s some discussion of how to read from cards/script without burying your nose in it, and keeping the energy going.
  • Everyone with a significant ritual role (HPS, HP, handmaiden, summoner, sometimes other roles) gets a copy of the ritual, and works from that.
  • That while things are pre-written, there’s still a fair bit of room for seeing how things go – a lot of working notes would say “X, Y, or Z may happen now” and we’d run with whatever made sense.
  • Deity and ancestor invitations are generally not pre-written (though someone who is new to doing them may write something up for reference in case they blank while doing it.)
  • Some parts of the ritual (blessing text, circle cast, songs, quarter calls) are memorised over time. (Most people can do them fairly comfortably by memory by the time of their initiation or not long thereafter.)

There’s a lot of benefits to this – especially in a teaching group, and where sometimes people can’t be at a given ritual, or you may have guests with varying levels of experience.

What benefits?

  • You can preplan more, and discuss anything that might be an issue for specific students or guests (or things to do to avoid confusion or problems.)
  • People can take on roles they do not yet have fully memorised (which requires a high level of comfort)
  • Those learning larger roles within the ritual (such as someone beginning as handmaiden) could see clearly what was expected of them in advance during the ritual, and plan ahead better.
  • It allows for a lot of conversation about ritual design (since we’d have a script to go over before ritual.)

There’s also some less useful parts.

Working from a script or cards requires a lot of work to *prepare* them (my HPS usually did 2-4 sets of cards, with different parts highlighted, plus often a separate sheet for people with smaller roles that was generic. (And then there’s the cutting them apart, keeping track of them, keeping them in order, etc.) There are times this is very useful (something like an initiation, where it’s a ritual that isn’t done often, and there are a lot of specific sequence details and wording to keep track of), but it can be a lot of work to do for every ritual.

And, of course, some people will get ‘caught’ by reading off a sheet. We actually rarely had this problem, but it does take some training and practice to read with feeling and attention to the group energy while you’re looking at a card. It’s not an common skill without practice.

Our choices:

Our choice so far has been to work far more organically. (Of course, this is a lot easier when there’s only two of you, and you’ve been working together for over 6 years in various forms…)

  • We set our general focus for the ritual well in advance (i.e. we can say “Next moon’s ritual will be focusing on X and probably involving Y”) We like this: it gives us a chance to mentally prepare and roll around different ideas without time pressure.
  • A few weeks before the ritual, we figure out precisely what we want to do for the working, and how we want to approach it.
  • We keep notes, but we have not (so far) written up formal scripts. I do send out an outline of what we need to remember to bring/have ready, but that’s about it.
  • We have some standard texts (circle cast, a few songs, etc.) but in most other cases, we’re improvising.
  • We’re also (so far) not pre-writing the welcome comments, or even specific meditations (because, by default, if one of us is reading the medication, we can’t both be doing it equally: we’ve done shared-meditations where we both share what we’re seeing, though, or where one of us has talked through a set-up, and then we both have time to explore.)

We’ll obviously continue to adapt (especially when we we add more people) but I like the combination of advance preparation (everyone, going in, knows what the focus and intention will be well in advance) and openness to trying out different ways to get there when it’s appropriate. (It also means that if we get a brilliant idea in the last week before ritual, we don’t have to scramble to get scripts together: we just note what we want to do and run with it.)

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