In theory, you can do a ritual anywhere. In practice some locations are deeply impractical while others might lead to arrest. Some places, in their beauty, invite spiritual responses. Others, particularly those degraded by human activity, encourage us to look away and move on.
Many Pagans are attracted to ancient sites. There is something resonant about going to the places of our ancestors, even though we don’t really know much about what they did there. For me, that as readily includes churches and cathedrals, but I know that wouldn’t speak to all Pagans. The thing about ancient sites, is that they also attract tourists. My first Avebury ritual was a bit of a system-shock on that score. Up until then, I’d been used to private, secretive rituals. Suddenly, we were a tourist attraction. It made me uncomfortable and self-conscious, and it was some years before I became in any way easy about using that space.
For me, acoustics are a big part of the ritual location. I like to be able to hear everyone in circle, and I favour rituals with a strong bardic element. Acoustics out of doors are tricky things, but more sheltered spots with less sound from other sources are a good place to start. Windswept hilltops are all very good for romance and drama, but totally useless for singing. I’ll go into potential ritual spaces and sing to them. This is the easiest way to find out how sound behaves in the space. It’s also a way of engaging with the space and getting a sense of whether ritual would work there. I also learn quickly if I feel comfortable – if singing in a location is a source of self-consciousness and ill-ease, then rituals are not going to work.
I like to know the history of a place I’m working in. That might not be ancient history, but everywhere has a past. One of my favourite locations for years was a former landfill site, grassed over in the centre of a wood. The history of interaction between people and land was complex there in so many ways – a mix of ancient woodland and inappropriate conifer planting, and the landfill. It was, nonetheless, a friendly, easy place to work. In more anonymous patches of woodland, the age of the trees and the nature of the undergrowth has given me a sense of what may have been there before.
There are ancient sites I have visited and simply found too intimidating. I don’t know what the history was, but I had no sense of being welcome. I have learned along the way that I like the presence of trees. Partly for the companionship and presence, partly for the shelter, trees make for better ritual spaces. I’ve shouted myself hoarse across the windswept open spaces of Avebury, but I’ve never had that problem in a wood. My absolute preference is for beech trees, but I also feel comfortable in spaces where oak and apple feature significantly. I can’t imagine doing a ritual in a conifer wood, unless someone else asked me to.
I’ve done rituals underground, in a car park, in a museum, on hilltops, in gardens… there is no one right answer here, only what suits the people and place. Different spaces suit different people. You can add accessibility to the list of factors there – how do you get to the area of the site, how do you get to the exact point for doing ritual. Some people are a good deal more mobile than others, some need resources to hand. Big, open spaces with no nearby toilets are a real difficulty for many women.
The important thing is to figure out what your practical needs are, and what works for you, and which spaces will be accepting of what you intend. There is no one right place to do rituals, there is no tidy answer, only the quest for personal connection and for places where communities can engage with each other, and with the land.