Monday, 1 June 2015

The importance of ecstatic ritual

We, as witches, tend to talk a lot more than we walk.

I think it is easier for us to write or talk about the subject of ritual than to actually have a ritual, and have it be transformative and authentic. Most of us are not able to lead a ritual for others with charisma or conviction, or to inspire others into attaining that state of being. Charisma and inspiration are gifts that are bestowed on those meant to fill those roles, or they are the practiced and learned skills of those who were not born with innate glibness. I say this not to be harsh, but truthful - not everyone is meant to lead a coven or ritual. There are so many other vital roles that need to be filled in both covens and rituals, and yet many want to lead. A bad or unskilled leader makes it difficult for others to connect, and can leave everyone feeling flat and disconnected.

It is possible to reach that point of leadership through hard work and courage. It is so very important that we as witches work towards that goal if we wish to run effective rituals. Even as a solitary practitioner, you need to be able to get yourself into an ecstatic state to access the joy of connectedness in ritual. Going through the motions is fine, but you will find yourself disinterested after a time. To truly connect to the source, you need to be prepared to enter a new state of mind, to let go, and to accept what is.

You need to enter an ecstatic state.

How, you ask, do I do that? Well, dear reader, there are many tools at your disposal.

The four main ways I have found to enter into ecstatic states are:
  • words
  • actions and movement
  • attunement
  • psychedelic substances

Most effective rituals combine some or all of these to allow the celebrant to open themselves to ecstasy.

  • With words, you can use chants, sounds, and music to enter into a more open state. Drumming, singing, humming, chanting - all of these use rhythmic cycles to lull our bodies and minds into an open state. Repetitive beats and words will raise and weave energy and intention - it is why drumming is used to bring someone through a journey in shamanic practice. Our minds will follow that into the bliss. This is one of the most common and effective ways to enter into a trancelike state.

  • With actions and movement, we move with intention. Allowing our bodies to move as they wish to, especially when combine with music, is a great way to open up yourself up. Sometimes people prefer choreographed steps, some prefer to sway or undulate. Listening to your body and allowing it to move as it wishes is the best in utilizing this technique.

  • With attunement, we use meditation and breathing exercises to open our minds to the limitless. Focusing on breath and how the body responds to it, how our lungs feel - it provides enough of a focus to bring us from the mundane into the sublime. Some will rely on smells as well - incense is a powerful tool. If we can get our heads out of the game and into the ritual, we are more connected.

  • When I say psychedelic substances,  I refer to unguents like flying ointments, or plants like salvia or peyote. These are tools that are used to open our minds. Now, I must caution all of you - it is very important to know your own body when utilizing this method. It is not of the faint of heart, and used without respect or care could land you in a hospital. I will give no instructions on how to procure these substances or how to use them. I don't often need to use substances to get into a trancelike state, but I know that many people use these. I recommend Sarah Anne Lawless' writings on flying ointments for those seeking this way.

The ecstatic state causes you to connect with the source - without ecstatic state, you are merely going through the motions. It's like popcorn with no butter. Enjoyable, but missing that special something to make it outstanding. There is nothing wrong with going through the motions - it's a necessary part of a living tradition of witchcraft. If we spent all times in an ecstatic state, we would go crazy. We need to go through the motions of intention - it is another part of the ritual puzzle, the other half of the ritual whole. We need both ecstatic and intention states - not too much or too little of either.

Leading a ritual is a whole other kettle of fish. You need to be able to speak, to lead, and to work hard to ensure that your fellow celebrants connect. When I say you need charisma, I mean you need to be confident and able to hold the attention of others, to act as a guide to the infinite. I always recommend people practice their rituals (especially public ones) ahead of time, so they have a grasp on the vocabulary and can ensure proper inflection. If you think of it like a play, and that you are an actor playing a part, you realize that skilled actors chew the scenery and can captivate. You need to captivate your audience.

How can you get to the point of leading effective ritual? Hard work, practice, and many solitary rituals to find your own way of accessing the ecstatic. We need to walk our own talk before we can be expected to lead others into walking theirs. Finding your own combination of entering ritual, so you feel that connection. For me, I feel it as a pull on my chest - like my very heart tugging me into ritualspace. I find that for me music, drumming, and dance are what gets me to where I need to be. I also rely a lot on smell, so certain incense can be a powerful doorway for me.

I hope this provides some helpful tools and insight. I hope you use your witchcraft for awesome.