Stepping into ritual space

How do we enter ritual space, let go of the cares of daily life and become open to magic, divinity and that which is sacred to us? When I wrote about Glamour in Paganism a few days ago, one person in the comments picked up on the issue that kit and setting are important in how people transition into ritual space. It’s a valid point, and one that stands looking at. How do we enter ritual space?

Dedicated clothes and objects can help create a sense of specialness, of time out of time. Many people find this really helps them, and I don’t want to invalidate that experience, but I think there’s an alternative that is worth exploring. The trouble with depending on ritual kit is that you can only respond in a Pagan way when you’ve set out to do so, and it makes it that bit harder to express your spirituality in the heat of the moment. Without robes, cloak, wand, crystal, or whatever else you normally need, how are you going to handle it if you get an unexpected experience, or have a sudden personal crisis where a bit of Druidry in self defence would not go amiss?

For me the key thing is spirits of place. Other traditions call them land wights, genius loci, faeries, elementals, and a host of other things. However you understand the idea of that which is spirit and present in the land, is what you need to work with here. Atheist pagans can just take this literally and work with whatever is present – trees, rocks, grass, soil, it’s all good.

For me, the transition into ritual is a transition into awareness of the spirits of place. I do this primarily by taking the time to go in and be with the place. Sitting, strolling, standing as the weather and ground conditions dictate. I look and listen. I feel the air on my skin and I taste it. I think about who and what came here before me, and I open myself to the place. I listen to the songs of its birds, or if it’s what I’ve got, to the hum of the traffic. I look at the sky, because no matter where you are there is sky. If you insist on doing ritual in a cave or a cellar, there’s still sky outside before you enter that space. Sun or moon, rain or shine, the sky brings nature to the most urban of spaces. It can permeate into our indoor rituals, even.

I breathe slowly. I notice what it’s like to be in my body, in this place. I feel out my body reactions to the space. I look for beauty and inspiration, for hope, but I do not ignore anything that is tough for me – the cutting down of trees, the dead things, the absences and the silences. Often at this point I become aware of the absence of great hooves, and recognise that I will not see aurochs.

This kind of transition can be developed by working with a single object, holding it, meditating on it and connecting with it. Improvised altars made from found objects, including human detritus, can be part of the engagement process. Making mandalas, or sculptures out of found items, or just gathering twigs for the fire all help us to be present and part of the place. In recognising the sacredness of the smallest things, the magic of the living, breathing world, we transition. We step out of the ordinary mindset that sees nature as something to use and place as backdrop, and we step into the world of life and detail, and from there, ritual is a lot easier and flows more readily.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Stepping into ritual space

  • shelleylorraine

    Out in nature, it’s a lot easier to feel a spiritual connection. Ideally, a pagan should be able to find this anywhere as needed. But for new pagans starting out, unless they are out in a natural surrounding far from everyday life, the ritual kit thing helps as a stepping stone to more independent practice, imo. I believe that after enough time and practice, the spiritual connection will become natural and easy to find, rather than that a person would become dependent on the aesthetics of their environment. This isn’t to say that a pagan “needs” any of this to start out – only that it makes the beginning of the journey a bit easier and increases motivation to try. Especially when authentic spiritual work and meditation, etc, can be a very daunting and discouraging task for a new pagan. Still, as I commented before – the change of ritual environment doesn’t need to be based on store-bought over-priced commodities. Just a simple adjustment to daily space with things already owned is sufficient. I mean, sure, the appeal for the fancy things all laid out pretty and whimsical in a new-age store is hard to ignore – but these aren’t necessary by any means. Of course, I am not entirely confident in the opinion that the “things” won’t develop into a dependancy. It’s only a theory of sorts that the things should work to aid progress and eventual independence from them.

  • treegod

    The dojo in martial arts is considered in some ways a “sacred place”. You can’t enter with shoes, and in some there are certain ettiquette that has to be observed upon entering. It marks for me the moment when the work begins and that I should concentrate on that.

    In Ecopsychology we’re taught to ask “permission” of a natural place, following the non-verbal signals of the body (“natural attractions”) to verify what the place is “telling” us.

    I think this transition is important, but I think it’s also important not to create a bubble of it, in that you only live this within that moment or place. In OBOD ritual we’re taught to say “may memory hold what eye and ear have gained”, and I think it’s important that whatever we experience in-circle can be integrated into life out-circle, not just left behind.

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