Ritual aftercare is one of those things that’s not discussed nearly as often as it probably should be. I learned a lot of it by being around after group rituals, and needing to figure out not just what helped me, but what other people might need.
When we do ritual and magic, we’re asking our bodies (and our minds, and our souls) to do a complicated set of things.
Just like we might need to take care of ourselves after something else complicated or strenuous (whether that’s an athletic competition, a performance, moving house, starting a new job, dealing with a crisis in our family), we may need to take some extra care of ourselves after some rituals.
You probably don’t need to make a big fuss about this after every ritual. Over time, you’ll get a sense for what kinds of rituals are more routine for you, and which ones will need some extra care. (The next section will help with that, too.)
There are some things it’s good to do routinely. Just like you might make sure to drink some extra water when you work out, or massage your feet when you’ve been on them all day, there are some good habits to have after ritual.
- Balance out your energy (by centering and grounding) as relevant.
- Drink water or something else hydrating and soothing.
- Eat food that takes time to digest (protein or denser high-fiber carbohydrates are good) to help grounding.
- Don’t push yourself physically or mentally for a bit.
- And if you need to drive or do something else that requires concentration, give yourself time to come fully back from the ritual mindset before you do that.
Most of the time, those things will be great and more than enough. But sometimes you might need a bit more support.
When you need a little more
Different rituals will affect you differently. (And the same ritual can affect people very differently, too.) Part of why everyone tells you to keep notes on your practice is so you can learn what your own patterns are with this. However, it’s more common to need some more aftercare in some situations.
Something really new
New stuff takes more energy and focus to manage, so we may be more drained afterwards, and need to take care of ourselves a bit better. When you first learn how to cast circle, for example, you’re doing a whole lot of new things besides the magic itself. Doing more new things is going to take more energy and focus, and you’re probably going to be more worn out afterwards.
High intensity or high stakes
My classic example for this is an initiation ritual – basically, it’s a big deal, and we have one chance to get it right (because repeating the ritual, knowing what’s going to happen, changes some things.) It’s like a big extra special birthday party. We fairly naturally want to put extra energy into making sure things go right for those special occasions.
You might consider a particular ritual high stakes if it’s based on a particular timing (that won’t happen again any time soon) or there’s urgency to it (you need a solution or help now).
Obviously things that involve lots of strong or intense emotions are more likely to be tiring or require a bit more recovery time. These can be wonderful emotions – joy, happiness, love, compassion – or more difficult ones like grief, catharsis, and so on.
Your particular situation
Sometimes we’re under periods of greater stress or demand in other parts of our lives. If you’re going through a big change in your life (even a really good one), give yourself some additional time and care afterwards. Examples include when you’re moving, starting or ending a job or school, at the beginning or end of a relationship. If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you also want to be careful.
Some kinds of personal situations are more ongoing. These are often easier because we have a good idea how they affect us, and what we find easier or harder.
Chronic health issues are a thing many of us deal with, whether we’re doing ritual or not. If you have chronic health issues, especially related to stamina, energy, or fatigue, you may find that you need to regularly plan in more recovery time around rituals.
I’ve had chronic health issues around stamina and fatigue for a decade now (they’re mostly well-managed these days, but they’re still part of my daily life and planning needs.)
At times in my life when they’ve been worse, I’ve had to stretch out ritual work over multiple days – a day to plan, a day to set things up, a day for ritual, a day to take things down. As you might guess, I didn’t do more demanding ritual very often.
Your other commitments are also a factor. If you work a physically or emotionally demanding job, you’re going to have less capacity left over at the end of the day than someone with the same general capacity who doesn’t do those things.
If you have young kids, you’re usually dealing with multiple compelling time-sensitive demands in a way that someone with older kids or no kids might not be. Other people are helping elders in their households or communities with various things.
All that energy comes from somewhere, and it can affect how much recovery time you need for other more demanding activities.
Before the ritual
If you know you’re going to be doing a ritual that might be more demanding, you can help yourself out in advance. Things that can help include:
Put things together for aftercare. See the suggestions below for my personal preferences and some other ideas.
Clear your calendar around the ritual. If you know you have a more intense ritual, don’t plan on doing a lot of other stuff the couple of days before and after.
I try to clear out any of the annoyingly exhausting errands (grocery shopping, laundry, etc.) so I don’t have to do to do them right around the same time as ritual prep or recovery. I make sure I have options for a few days of low-demand meals. That sort of thing. Sometimes I don’t need that, but when I do it’s a huge help.
Consider support options. In most cases, rituals are not going to be shockingly life-changing all in a moment. But they can bring up some strong unexpected emotions, sometimes in ways we don’t expect.
It can be a good idea to think through what your options are if you need to talk it through. That might be a partner, a friend, a counsellor or therapist if you already have a relationship with one.
If you’re doing a ritual that’s strongly related to a past traumatic incident, don’t dive fully into it without support. If you regularly talk to a therapist, check with them about options. Otherwise, do a little research in advance to see what hotlines or resources might be able to help you out if you need a bit more support afterwards.
What you do to support yourself will depend a lot on you, your situation, and the specific ritual. In general, things fall into three broad groups: physical, emotional, and energetic.
Take care of your physical body! It’s just helped you do a bunch of things.
Food: Eating after a ritual is a great way to help ground out excess energy, but many people find their appetite is a bit different after a more demanding ritual.
It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re not interested in food for a bit. Food uses a lot of physical energy to digest, and if we’ve been in a less physical mode, it can take our bodies a little while to catch up.
Try a small amount of salt on your tongue or a small amount of something sweet. Often this will help restart your body’s connection to taste and digestion. I’m fond of chocolate (a square or two of good chocolate is a great thing to keep in your post-ritual kit.)
One of my friends and I are convinced that there are fundamentally two groups of witches: omnivores and vegetarians. Whichever you, know what you are, and have some food that works for you. It can be really difficult to be the opposite kind from most people at a ritual potluck.
My basic practice is to bring a food that would satisfy a bunch of my needs, and have a bit of bonus cheese/protein and more to drink with me for my personal use.
Water or other hydration: It’s a good idea to rehydrate after ritual. Water or herbal teas are often ideal. Things with caffeine can keep you up or disrupt your sleep cycles a bit, but caffeine is also modestly dehydrating. After particularly demanding rituals, you may want to consider a sports or electrolyte drink. I’m partial to fizzy water or seltzer with a little bit of flavouring as my default.
Alcohol or other substances may affect you a bit differently for a bit (usually until you’ve slept and had a meal or two), so it’s usually a good idea to avoid them until you get a sense of your other reactions, and go lightly on them.
Consider a mild painkiller. If you’re prone to achiness or other minor physical pains, consider taking an over the counter painkiller when you’re done with ritual. Something that’s anti-inflammatory can do a lot to help you sleep more comfortably and reduce pain and discomfort the next day.
For longer rituals, I take something either right before or right after ritual. I prefer naproxen sodium (since you can get it in a 12 hour dose where I live which will take me through to the next morning), but ibuprofen or acetaminophen or something else of that kind can work well too, whatever you prefer. (Obviously, if you shouldn’t take these things for some reason, don’t.)
Warm or cool. Baths are great if you have one available. Some people also find heating pads or cooling pads very helpful for taking care of their bodies, depending on your particular needs and possible aches. Foot baths or peppermint foot lotion can be amazing after a ritual that’s had you on your feet for a long time.
Don’t feel you need to clean everything up immediately. Some rituals can involve a lot of physical strain – lots of standing or moving around, for example.
If you finish ritual and your feet hurt or the rest of you hurts, focus on cleaning up the things that aren’t safe to leave out.
Sometimes that’s everything (if you’re in a rented space), but if you are working in a private home, triage it to clean up the things that need immediate cleaning or tending, or that might get knocked over by the cat, but leave the more fussy things (changing out candles, for example) for another time.
Get some rest. You may feel a bit of a buzz after ritual (see the “Energetic” section below for more), but often taking it easy and relaxing doing something undemanding and getting sleep are great ways to help yourself recover.
Intense ritual can obviously raise strong emotions. Sometimes that’s the point of the ritual, sometimes it’s an effect of doing potent magic and ritual work. If you already have someone you might want to talk to if something comes up (partner, friend, counsellor or therapist, etc.) you may want to give them a heads
Responses you’re used to or expect, do whatever makes sense for those. Some people find particular kinds of distraction or relaxation helpful. Other people find leaning into it a little, journalling or talking to someone, helps a lot.
You may have less expected reaction for you. This happens sometimes, so it can be good to have a plan in advance, as mentioned above.
Keep notes. It can be hard sometimes to figure out what’s the effect of the ritual (sometimes that you intended), what’s a reaction to the exertion of the ritual, what’s a reaction to secondary aspects (like maybe a particular piece of it brought up new issues or concerns for you that hit you harder).
I like to write down what I’m feeling shortly after the ritual (just long enough to use the restroom and get something to drink), before I go to bed, and the next day. (Making special note of any dreams). For really important rituals like initiations, I make a point of journalling a week and a month after about how I’m feeling.
If you’re normally a ‘do it the quick way’ person, try spending a few minutes focusing on the centering and grounding. After an intense ritual, I often find I need to do it once, to get to a point I can do the post-ritual care, and then do it again an hour or two later so I can fully relax and rest and begin to recover.
It is also possible to take energy from an intense ritual and store it for later use – this can take a little bit of practice and experimentation.
A post-ritual kit
Here’s what I keep handy for after rituals:
- Rehydrating things to drink (fizzy water and herbal tea routinely, if I’m planning on a complex ritual I’ll make sure I’ve got some sort of electrolyte sports drink option handy.)
- Food that takes minimal preparation (for intense ritual, this involves red meat for me, but also some supporting starches and vegetables.)
- A bit of chocolate, in case I need to get connected to my body again.
- Some salt (handy in case I need to get myself back in my body faster)
- Naproxen sodium or ibuprofen (to reduce next-morning aches and pains)
- The usual comforts of home – a bed I sleep well in, pillows that work for me, ways to keep my bedroom at the temperature I prefer.
- Knowing where my standard meds are (asthma inhaler, in my case…)
Your kit should look a bit different, but these things are a great start.
If I’m doing ritual somewhere else (other than my home), I also include:
- Clear directions to get back home (pre-saved on my phone or written out, whatever works for the situation). Just in case the GPS app fails.
- Plenty of phone charge and maybe a backup charger brick.
- More water than I think I need to drink (usually a backup bottle)
- Some sort of portable food – protein bars, packaged cheese and sausage, etc. that is reasonably room-temperature stable.
Written in September 2020 and posted October 10, 2020