For clarification on the duties and definitions of Priest/ess, High Priest/ess, and Ritual Facilitator — My Path to Being a High Priestess.
A Priest/ess or High Priest/ess will often function as a ritual facilitator, but a ritual facilitator might not be a Priest/ess or High Priest/ess.
A Public Ritual, as I’m going to use it for this article, is one where people you might not know well or don’t usually interact with on a regular basis are going to show up because they want to experience a Pagan ‘thing’. While regular groups or covens can certainly benefit from these suggestions, there’s stuff here that’s going to be geared more towards how to work with people you have never met and might not ever see again when the rite has ended.
So here are some tips to help get you started if you’re hosting or planning a ritual for public consumption:
1. Remember that your main function as the leader of a ritual is to facilitate a spiritual experience for your ritual participants. You’re there to guide them, help them, and encourage a wonderful event for all (including yourself — but still mostly for them). If you keep a mindset of service and not grand pooh-bah, you’ll do well.
2. Ritual flows smoothly if it’s prepared for in advance and has a steady plot for everyone to follow. Write out a basic plan for your ritual and then detail it as necessary. Make sure you include in this plan a list of everything you’ll need: supplies, food, drink, and mundane stuff like extra rolls of toilet paper for your bathroom. (Seriously, trust me on that one)
3. Have a pre-ritual ritual chat with your participants where you let everyone know what the ritual will include, basic things you can cover are how you’d like people to respond to calls — you say, “Hail and welcome,” and they respond with, “Hail and welcome,” when quarters/gods are called.
Give a run-down of how the rite will go — “We’re going to start with sprinkling blessed water and waving incense over everyone to cleanse and prepare them for our ritual. Next we’ll do that for the ritual space before ___ casts a circle/creates sacred space. Then we’ll have a group grounding and centering. Next we’ll declare our purpose for the rite and proceed with our ceremony. We’ll be using candles, so be careful of the hot wax. Everyone will approach the altar…” and so forth. Don’t give away key details, keep some stuff a surprise to experience, but make sure everyone knows what they’ll be doing and when. This is especially helpful for first-time participants.
3b. Along with this, go over expected behavior — cell phones off, no leaving the ritual space without a good reason and how to handle that if it must happen, how loud can you get until neighbors are called, did everyone remember to go potty before you get started, etc.
4. Involve the participants as much as possible according to their comfort level. You don’t have to do everything. If you’re planning a full-on Wiccan-style ritual complete with prepping sacred space/casting a circle, cleansing and consecrating the area and participants, quarter calls, deity invocations, having your ritual, communion/cakes & juice, and then dismissing and dismantling everything, let the others do stuff too. It’s simple enough to offer Joey a chance to waft people with incense smoke or MoonPie to sprinkle people with holy water. Use your best judgment.
4b. Engage as much of the body/physical as you can. Lots of folks think that magical ceremonies are all about altered states of consciousness. Yeah, that’s one part, but Pagans also recognize embracing the physical and honoring that. Use things in ritual that engage the senses: scent, taste, sound, touch, sight. The most effective ritual experiences involve the body. Don’t neglect that for the sake of the mind or spirit.
5. Remain calm and confident. Don’t let on that you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Fake it til you make it. Your confidence will help your participants feel safe and confident. After the ritual is done, if you want to confess that this was your first time and you were scared, go for it. People will be all like, “Oh, I had no idea. You did so well.” or if you flubbed a bit, they’ll be more forgiving. But before and during, you are the boss of the sauce.
5b. Speak slowly and clearly so that you can be heard by everyone. It also helps if you think of pitching your voice slightly more deeply than your normal tone to create a more resonant sound. Speak with authority (not bossiness) and confidence.
6. Keep an eye out for times when people are just standing around and not really doing anything. This is why planning out your ritual ahead of time is helpful. You want to limit idleness as much as you can. If you’re planning on a pretty large group, make sure you keep stuff focused so that attention stays on the rite and not on people talking about their dinner plans for the weekend or when they have to get snow tires.
7. Before your ritual, at least a week before the event, make sure you have a headcount and that your participants know what they’re expected to bring, if anything. If possible, talk with them before the ritual to see who would like to do what for the ceremony.
I will be working on separate articles with more info on each of these topics and then link back to this in the near future:
Location — Where is the ritual being held? Is it accessible to everyone? Is there enough space for the altar or altars? Is there enough space for people to move without risk of injury? Are there restrictions on food/beverages, or ritual items like blades, candles, or firepits? Have you reserved the space and ensured there won’t be interruptions? Is it safe — for children/seniors/disabled or people with allergies to food or incense? Is there an alternative location if this one falls through for some reason?
Assistants — Will others be helping you? Have they been prepped for their duties? Do they know what’s expected of them? Do you have contingency plans in case an assistant can’t make it?
Timing — How long will this run? Do you have adequate time for setting up/tearing down? Have you factored in individual parts and how long they will take? Is your space reserved for long enough that you won’t be rushed to finish before you’re finished?
Preparation — Has enough time been given to make sure people can get their schedule cleared? Do people (participants and assistants) know what to wear or what to bring? Do your assistants know what they will be doing/saying? Have you gotten a head-count of people who will be attending? Do you have extra stuff in case more show up than you planned for? Will children be attending and if so, do you have appropriate space/activities for them to participate with?
Participants — Is your ritual simple enough that total newbies can understand it? Is there enough in the ritual for seasoned practitioners to get something out of it? Have you organized a Q&A session for newcomers to feel comfortable and so you can lay out expectations for everyone?
Gear — Do you have all the stuff? Do you have backups for the stuff? Do your assistants have their stuff?
Ritual — Have you outlined your ritual and had a practice run with your assistants? Does everyone know their place so that when it’s time to go, things will flow smoothly? Do you have paper copies of information if that’s needed?
After the Rite — Who is cleaning up? Who is taking care of the food and drink for the feast? Who is handling the mad rush of people who want to talk to the facilitators after the ritual?
There’s a lot that goes into planning and facilitating a ritual. I hope that this has helped you in that area as you go forward.