Pagan Assumptions and the Direct Results of Ritual

Results, by Rosa Saw

“There can be no direct results of ritual. The results are always just part of the fabric of all action.”

— Sean Michael Morris

As I prepare for my upcoming appearance at the Sacred Harvest Festival I’ve been giving thought to assumptions I’ve made about Paganism; assumptions that many of us make.

We assume the Wheel of the Year. Many of us assume a circle. We assume nature reverence, but I’m not sure how many of us connect that ideal to our own patterns and habits of consumption. We assume gender for things that (I think) are genderless. We often assume and ascribe a universality to European forms of Paganism, and sometimes take that one step further to assume whiteness where race or ethnicity should play no part.

We make a lot of assumptions.

And I think, to a degree, that’s to be expected. One studies in a tradition and begins to adopt aspects of the worldviews inherent to that tradition. If universality — true universality — is not central to that tradition, you’re bound to pick up certain tribe-specific ways of thinking.

In some respects, the training I received in ADF (which, I should note, was a partial, incomplete training) is one that seeks to inform modern Pagan practices with knowledge about ancient cultures. It works with the Wheel of the Year and is rooted in and influenced by Indo-European practice and worldview. One might say that ADF Druidry it’s prototypically Pagan, even with it’s differences and distinctions from it’s more popular cousin, Wicca.

And ADF assumes, as many modern Pagan traditions do, that rituals (especially public ones) should result in something. At the very least, an ADF ritual is designed to facilitate reverence and piety; the result is often a deeper and more meaningful connection with the Kindred. These rituals can also include some kind of magickal working, but even if there is no intent to do magick there is always the expectation — the assumption — that the ritual should do something (i.e. have a result) in the physical world.

But then there is this idea that rituals are “just part of the fabric of all action.” Rituals, when seen this way, are ordinary, poetic acts that, if done well, draw people into a deeper awareness of the extraordinary reality that already exists everywhere around and inside of them. The rituals themselves aren’t fabricating the awesomeness; they’re simply reminding you that the awesomeness is already there.

That could be result enough.

Perhaps it isn’t so much a question of articulating what results I’d like to get from the ritual I lead at SHF, but rather the intent of the ritual that I should focus on. It seems like intention is the only thing you really have control over when putting this kind of thing together. The results will be what the results will be. That really isn’t up to me. But the intention? That I can (and should) decide in advance.

So my intention is for this ritual to push through my assumptions about what a Pagan ritual can look and feel like; to play with ideas of sound and movement, silence and song; to inspire participants to find a still place within, the place where their creativity is born, and to bring that creativity out in a joyous way.

Here’s the description language of my Sacred Harvest Festival ritual:

Harvest of the Soul

When we harvest, we sing. When we pray, we dance.

This is the season of the harvest, a season to look inward and reap what we have sewn. In this musical, movement-oriented, participatory ritual, we will gather together and make a good song in celebration of the harvest, acknowledging the hardships and rewards of a season of good work.

This all-ages ritual will be influenced by certain aspects of ADF Druidry, and will seek to make welcome participants from a wide variety of Pagan paths. Bring an open heart and open mind, and prepare to lift up your voice in celebration of this sacred time.

Boom. That is my intention. The results aren’t something to concern myself with too much between now and when the festival begins on August 5th. If anything, it’s time to start imagining the “how” of the ritual…

I’m curious —

If you’ve ever designed rituals, what has been your process? Is it important for you to attain some specific result, and is this something you achieve by a magickal working? Are you aware of the assumptions that you regularly make, and do you focus any of your work on challenging those assumptions?


11 responses to “Pagan Assumptions and the Direct Results of Ritual”

  1. al Avatar

    While I believe that the awsomeness is already all around us, ritual is how we tap into it to mold and shape the world arround us. Sometimes the results are direct, sometimes not. Some people need more ritual than others, some need no ritual at all. Some rituals are planed and practiced, some evolve on the fly, and some are directed by the devine. As with all things, each person’s experience is different and dependant on the situation, the environment, and the need. Personaly my ritual is very simple. No big set up, no plan, no special location needed. I THINK of what I want to accomplish and how to accomplish it. I SPEAK my intentions asking the devine for guidance on the rightness of my goal and how to accomplish it. I ACT to accomplish my goals trusting the devine will give me the awesomeness needed to get it done. Simple and direct. Sometimes results are not obvious until viewed in hindsight.

  2. Horizon Avatar

    I’ve put a lot of thought into this as my path has changed of late. I’m preparing for a Lughnasa ritual because I think rituals, as an activity of remembering, of honoring, of being actively engaged, is important. Yet….as I write this I question why I feel compelled to follow the Wheel of the Year.

    Living in a climate that doesn’t chime well with the British climate inspired Wheel of the Year, and
    being a city dweller with no real connection to farming and harvests and for example, lambing season and celebrating cows and milk because I don’t eat or drink either, the Wheel of the Year rings hollow for me because I really don’t feel the celebration of planting seeds, harvesting wheat, driving the cows to summer pastures, etc. in my bones. Certainly I understand the importance of this for our ancestors….and I understand the importance of farmers who provide us with food today…but I’m not a farmer….I need rites which celebrate different aspects of life. And I find this can be rare in pagan communities–many who appear wedded to a long ago past and revel in creating rituals as if they still lived in the Iron Age.

    Yet, here I sit planning my Lughnasa ritual. Because I feel the need for structure I guess. And I haven’t developed a routine structure for myself yet that would substitute for the Wheel of the Year–but I’m working on doing exactly that.

    The other thing I struggled with is the embrace of quid pro quo in ritual as if the purpose of the ritual is to offer up something to the gods in order to get something in return. This was just too commercially crass for me and I was never able to come to grips with it. And maybe in the past this made sense–people did feel the need to make business deals with the gods and instead of cutting deals with a business lunch, they did it during community rituals. It was today’s equivalent of buying insurance. But I feel this is a very real assumption….people think they need to get something tangible out of it.

    My rituals of late involve remembering, honoring, and attempting to engage the spirits and ancient powers and that is the be all and end all of it. The point is to celebrate the summer breezes, to honor the ancestors, to ask the quaking aspen to whisper its secrets in my ears. I enter the ritual space to honor the dew on the morning grass, to wish the hawk well as he glides on the wind currents, and to invoke ancestral memories of lore, myth and legend insofar as they are timeless teachings. I do this to more deeply connect with the earth and all the existences upon it. Not to get loot from the gods in return for the loot I give them.

    This all said…I think the challenge is to create a ritual which allows each participant to garner something immensely timely and personal for themselves. To do this would mean the elimination of concrete references to the Wheel of the Year and instead incorporate abstract references which are applicable to all times and conditions. For instance, honoring the breezes which blow the cobwebs from our minds and paying respect to ancient powers which have crafted this world which allow us to be fed and nurtured. That sort of thing….things where it makes no difference which gods one worships if any, doesn’t matter if one is a farmer or a librarian or a hip hop artist–things we can all feel in common and have meaning for us–in a way lambing season does not.

    I rambled a bit…hope this makes sense.

  3. Conor O'Bryan Warren Avatar
    Conor O’Bryan Warren

    I often act as the heir for the rituals for my proto-demos, and thus I often design the rituals. Of course, we hope for certain things to occur as a result of the ritual (though, we do have a saying “Move your hand along with Athena’s” nothing is going to just happen if you don’t put the effort to make it happen) but primarily rituals that I (and many other Hellenists) design are designed to uphold, grow, and foster tradition and give the Gods their due. Simple as that. They are acts of worship, of piety, and of reverence towards the Gods. Whether or not *I* get anything out of it doesn’t matter, what matters is that I’ve done my duty and given the Gods what they are due for blessing me, my family, my lover, my state, and my country with. Of course, this is oversimplifying things a bit (a lot), but I’m tipsy and need to go to bed. But that is the gist of it.

  4. Judy Olson Avatar
    Judy Olson

    I believe intent is the most important factor when designing ritual. Result is not within our control. I have been creating large group ritual with Nels Linde for some 10 years now. In my experience a small number of folk are too skeptical or jaded to be affected, a majority will have a positive response, and some middle ground of people will be transported, transformed. Bring a box of tissues for them. When writing ritual for SHF The only assumption I make is there will be a high degree of ritual savviness. The magick we work with is the magick of a community learning to be human together. Our festivants do the rest. They will welcome your ritual. I can’t wait!

  5. Mystic Comfort Avatar

    When I create ritual, I am always thinking about the experience or healing I want to create, for myself, or another person or group. Sometimes magic is a part of that.

  6. Lupa Avatar

    My most recent ritual was a big group affair at the solstice. Throughout the entire process, from concept to design to change to action, my intent was to create opportunities for transformation and connection for the participants. More specifically, I wanted them to have an opportunity to see how the sun–that big ball of burning gases in the sky–was absolutely crucial to everything here, and not to be taken for granted.

    Note that I didn’t say “I want to make them see X and Y and Z”. One of the things that I’ve learned as a mental health counselor is that I cannot make other people change. My role is to offer resources, guidance, and context. It is the other person–the client, the ritual participant–who is the one to actively make the change happen. So I don’t focus on results, at least not until after the fact when I reflect. I focus primarily on process.

    And even now, when I do solo ritual, I’m not about “I need this effect to occur”. Rather, it’s more about the relationships with the beings of the world I am interacting with, and letting those develop organically. I don’t do much formal ritual any more; I’m more inclined to simply act with intent on a daily basis, with less expectation and more open invitation as to what results.

  7. Tasha Rose Avatar
    Tasha Rose

    We were just talking about the idea of letting an intention dictate what happens in the ritual organically, IN the ritual.

    I write ritual for SHF and for other happenings and have been a ritualist for many years now and the challenge in large group is always engaging the assumptions. You nailed it.

    It’s hard. It’s really hard. I write based on how I am led by Spirit and when I am not feeling led, I can’t just write as it doesn’t feel authentic and like the participants will benefit from it.

    I really like that this ritual is based on intent. It might make heads spin a little, but maybe that’s what we need?

  8. dashifen Avatar

    Intent is key. The ritual team that I was a part of in Illinois specifically tried to determine a purpose, an intent, for what we were doing. One time, we left it vague and decided to try and determine the intent at the time of the ritual using all participants (approx 25) to try and figure it out and that went fairly poorly. Too many competing ideas, not necessarily enough understanding of the difference between intent and results (some focused on the latter over the former), etc. It’s been my experience that all we can do is define intent and, in the end, the results are fairly personal and largely subjective so there’s not much we can do other than try to facilitate.

  9. thesilverspiral Avatar

    In my tradition, the Wheel of the Year is important to us, and we use it in our coven as a way to recognize and make sacred the changes that all life must go through. We are born, we live, we grow full and strong, age begins to set in and wither our strength, we die, we rest, we are born. The point of it is to keep our spirits in this temporal sacred space, to be mindful of the changes of the earth and the changes in our life. The result with every such Sabbat ritual is to recognize with awe and joy where the earth is in this cycle and to reflect upon the cycles in our own life.

    Another part of the point, beyond just keeping ourselves in a constant appreciation for the Earth and it’s cycles is to DO things in accordance with the time of year we are in. We don’t harvest fruits in the spring, we don’t sow seeds in the fall. In witchcraft, we recognize the energies of the earth, the moon, the sun, the planets as real, vital, and important forces which we can tap into and channel into our own goals. I use the energy of the Sabbats typically for my bigger, more long-term goals, and use the energy of the moon and planets for more of my immediate goals. I do spellwork for growth in my long-term projects around Imbolc, I do spellwork to reap a good harvest around Lughnasadh, I do spellwork which allows me to connect with and communicate with the spirits of the dead around Samhain.

  10. worthyadvisor Avatar

    When I design rituals, I’m usually thinking about the intent of the ritual and the audience. Some of the smaller “day to day” rituals are usually for myself or my coven, and the rituals usually have some sort of purpose behind them (eg: healing, divination, influence of outcomes, etc…). However, when I do bigger rituals, I’m thinking more of what I want the audience to experience. I also do a lot of interfaith work, so my assumptions, particularly that people know about Wicca (my particular path), are always challenged. For example, I did an interfaith service at City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco (a radically inclusive Christian church in SF with several pagan-Christian members of many stripes). Much of what the other congregants know about Wicca, and the other traditions present, is really small, so I had to figure a way to introduce these traditions in a way that the audience (the congregation) would be able to relate to. I couldn’t do a full on circle casting, nor could we do a full on Lucumi working. So, instead, since giving testimony (telling stories) is important, I decided to have as many people as I could get tell stories from their traditions. It was an amazing service, and really touched a lot of people. I suppose, when it comes right down to it, you can’t take things for granted, and you need to know who and what you’re doing things for.

  11. Nicole Youngman Avatar
    Nicole Youngman

    Write more about “We assume gender for things that (I think) are genderless.” That’s very very important and it’s one of the things that continues to drive me crazy.

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