Tag Archives: ritual

Making an altar

Ten years ago and more, altars were part of my life as a Druid. I like having dedicated space in this way. However, for a couple of years I lived on a narrowboat, and there wasn’t any space to dedicate. Horizontal surfaces were at a premium. So there was no altar.

This flat is also small, and horizontal space has also been at a premium. We live and work here – three of us, and for a while, four of us. There have also been cats, and cats and altars do not mix well unless you can keep the one off the other reliably.

The last week has been really hard. There is now no cat, and we’ve been unexpectedly a household of three when three of us thought we were a household of four. It’s complicated, painful and I write this with no clarity on what’s going on. There’s nothing sensible or useful I can do.

My Druidry has always, to some degree, been what I do in self defence.  This is something I may need to look at and rethink. Often I am at my most willing to dig in with magic and spirituality when I am most in trouble. I tend to manifest my Druidry more on the service and creativity side when life is ok.

So, I made an altar space. For the first time, I made a cooperative altar space. In the past, James was simply too young and not really interested in engaging with the spaces I made. He was interested in Druidry as a child, but more the bard stuff and having an invisible fairy dog (it’s a long story).  This is the first time Tom and I have had shared space we felt willing and able to dedicate in this way.

We’ve talked about what should be on a household altar. We’ve put some things together, and talked about how and when to change that. We’ve made a heart space that we haven’t had before in this flat, and we’ve made the decision to give that some priority. I’ve pulled out old ritual kit that’s been stashed and I’ve started thinking about what it means to me to have dedicated sacred space inside the flat, and what I might do with that, and who it is for.

An altar raises all sorts of questions around intent, and connection, who to honour and how. It raises issues about what it makes sense to do symbolically. Who are we inviting in by making offerings? What do we want to change in our lives by doing this?

In part I wanted to change the energy of the space. I wanted to make something good that could be a focus for love, for beauty, for connection. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how to better invite magic and wonder into my life, and this is in part a consequence of that process.

I feel better for doing it. I feel like I’ve reclaimed a part of myself that I’ve not been able to make enough space for in recent years. I feel that making this altar space is an act of commitment to a certain kind of future and an expression of how I want to be in the world. I’ve done all of this from a place of feeling grim and lost, and I’ve done it as an act of dedication to not giving up on myself, on the future, or on hope.


Sexy at Beltane

My experience of sex in Paganism is that too often it feels limited rather than spacious. It being Beltane, I am of course feeling conscious of how hetramormative a lot of Pagan expression around Beltane tends to be. Sex magic and sex in ritual bother me especially – I say this based on what I’ve read, and on symbolic acts in rituals I’ve been to, which no doubt colours my perspective, but it’s not something I’ve done, in no small part because it has never appealed to me.

I’m uneasy about harnessing sex for power or for ritual. It feels limiting. For me, if there’s going to be magic, it’s going to emerge from the unexpected. The magic will be in the moment, and the more contrived that moment is, the less likely I am to find magic in it

I’m uneasy too about the way ideas of sex in ritual and magic focus very much on heterosexual and penetrative sex. Most obviously it excludes queer folk and I’m glad to see more people questioning this every year. It excludes asexual folk as well, and people whose paths have called them to chastity. Focusing on sexual fertility we can miss out on a lot of other forms of fertility. Focusing on sexual love, we can miss out on the many other ways that love can manifest, for us as individuals as well as between people.

Too much focus on sex can take us away from what is sensual, as well. This has been on my mind a lot this week, I’ve posted about dancing and about skin, and I’m currently exploring how to be in my skin more fully as a living being. There are so many things about modern life that encourage us only to show up with our brains. There are a lot of things about how we handle sex culturally that encourage us to only show up with our genitals.

To be a sensual being is to be in a state of physical relationship with the world. It is sun on skin and wind in hair, it is the touch of long grasses, the brush of leaves, as well as what contact we might have with other mammals. Water on skin, bodies in water, the warmth from a fire, the taste of wine… ritual itself offers us the opportunity for all kinds of sensual experiences that we might find sexy but that don’t require us to act in a sexual way.

I’m interested in how to broaden the possibilities. To be sexy without necessarily having to be sexual. To be sensual without necessarily having to be sexy. To be sexy and sensual and sexual all at the same time. To chose how that works, how to express and explore and share it – that seems powerful to me. It seems like a path towards personal transformation and a path that could open up all kinds of magical experience for me. It calls for spaciousness. It raises the question of what we get if we use sex in a ritual context, versus what we might get if we explore the sensual potential of ritual actions to open to the way for whatever magic then follows.


Cloak of Happiness Ritual

A Guest Post by Ing Venning

 

GOAL To create a shield that will protect us and remind us of happy memories in times of stress or sorrow.

 

AUDIENCE – Kids often enjoy this meditation, but anyone can participate. Ideally, you will have a speaker (who may or may not act as a quarter caller) and at least a handful of participants. This ritual can be adapted for use with only one or two people, however.

 

PREPARATION [Optional: You may wish to give each of the quarter callers some feathers, a scarf, a handful of soft grass or some other object that is soft and flowing.]

 

RITUAL

 

SPEAKER: Please sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your legs and arms uncrossed.  Begin to breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Let the air fill and invigorate your whole body.  As you inhale, feel the air enter your air passages, your lungs, even your stomach.  When you exhale, these areas will contract.  Then inhale again, then exhale.  Rise and fall.  Just like that – slowly and steadily.

Shake your shoulders, your hips, your knees – not forcibly but gently.  Shake off annoyance, anger, and oppression.  Shake yourself outside of the world and into a time made only of one moment looping back upon itself.  A timeless moment in which you are free to breathe gently.  A place where you can relax.

Feel your aura expanding, moving outward so that it radiates in spokes around you.  It will grow until it is quite expansive but not so that it overlaps with the auras of others unless they wish it.  Each one of our aura spokes grabs hold of the very molecules around us and grounds us in their polar charges.  Feel yourself drifting along in a current of particles, at peace and connected to everything around you.

[Deosil movement]

NORTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt safe and supported as you welcome the spirits of the earth into this sacred space.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

EAST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt inspired and awed.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SOUTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt energetic and powerful.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

WEST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, bring your happiness and your peace and be welcome in our circle.  Let us share our joy.

Slowly, in your trance, move your hand back and forth.  Back and forth as you breathe in and out.  Back and forth as one weaves a tapestry or sews a cloak.  Back and forth as one strokes a lover or massages a newborn.  Let each thread harness and harbor a cherished memory.  We are building up a pattern, weaving a cloak of happiness.

Our memories protect us without overprotecting us.  Our cloak is very light, yet its effect is profound.  It can warm us when we’re cold and cool us when we’re stifling.  It can ease the pain of depression, of anxiety, of anger.  It brings more joy and contentment into our lives by connecting us to the upper world or overworld; it can also redistribute emotions so they flow in balance.  Our cloaks will never block us from suffering that can make our lives better, but it has the power to keep any challenge from becoming overwhelming; its magic moderates our feelings.

Now that your cloak is woven, try it on.  [At this point, quarter callers or the speaker may wish to brush participants’ backs or necks with their soft, flowing material.]  It fits snugly and comfortably.  It even sings – you have to strain to hear the song, for it’s very soft, but it’s also filled with joy.  Look at the fabric you’ve woven.  You’ve skillfully woven happy scenes that make you smile, even when all around you seems lost or hopeless.  Revel in these good memories and the cloak they’ve produced.

Now that the cloak is woven and has been placed about your body, feel it sink into your aura and adjust its energy.  The cloak will stay with you – a gentle, benign influence – even when you remove your physical clothing.  It will stay to help you feel good, to help you smile, to help you relax even in stressful conditions.  This is your Cloak of Happiness.

[Widdershins movement]

WEST CALLER: Farewell to the west, but not to its happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved will remain with you.

SOUTH CALLER: Farewell to the south, but not to its happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt energetic and powerful will remain with you.

EAST CALLER: Farewell to the east, but not to its happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt inspired and awed will remain with you.

NORTH CALLER: Farewell to the north, but not to its happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt safe and supported will remain with you.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, thanks for the energy you’ve given.  May it stay within the cloaks you’ve blessed us with.  The circle opens, but it never breaks.

Slowly return to your mundane body, but you need not let go of the good feelings we’ve evoked here in our circle.  Those will go with us, insulating us from harm but never blocking us from the emotions we need to feel and the energy we need to understand and grow.

If it helps you to return, tap a solid object, snap your fingers, give a shout, or do something else that affirms your presence in the mundane world again.  Welcome back.

May each and every one of you be blessed.  Thanks for being part of our circle.  Go from here in peace and great contentment.

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Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. He has published three novels featuring pagan protagonists, a sampler of his work, and several short stories. He will be publishing two more novels, a collection of (mostly) retellings, and a volume of poetry in 2020. You can read the sampler of his work and his first novel for free; just visit https://ingvenning.com/


Notes on the Use of Mystic Rhythm

A guest post by Ing Venning

Many kinds of spirit work involve rhythmic patterns: drum circling, sacred movement, chanting, writing verse, sacred sex, and a number of others. Indeed, energy itself is constantly being described as being in motion, as flowing or ebbing, as pulsating, as vibrating. If energy can exist in completely static form, then that form must surely be quite rare.

We should, therefore, consider what energy patterns are most appropriate for the task at hand. Some tasks don’t require much thought. Most people can easily fall into a meditative pattern of slow, regular breathing without much conscious preparation. Likewise, it’s easy to go along with a chant, dance or song lead by someone else (assuming they are competent at what they’re doing). But what should we do if we need to facilitate rhythmic energy work? I find a handful of factors – namely, numerology, accent, and the balance of tension and release – to be key to the process.

There are a number of important numerical patterns associated with common spiritual practices. There are four or five components in most systems of magical elements. There are four (or three apparent) phases of the moon. There are three aspects of many deities. There is an in-out duality to breathing for meditation and a trinity of worlds in many geocosmic systems. We can use these sacred numbers, associated with patterns of accent or emphasis, to inspire our spiritual practices.

Here are a couple of examples:

– Alma is hosting a drum circle on the night of the full moon. In her practice, there are four main phases of the moon. Therefore, she decides to enact a drumbeat in 4/4 time (each measure, or musical section, has four beats). If we begin with the new moon, the full moon is the third phase. Alma decides to honor the full moon by accenting each third beat. Her musical pattern sounds something like this:

da da DUM da/ da da DUM da/ da da DUM da

(If she only recognized three moon phases – or recognized the new moon as a dark or hidden phase – she might opt for the following pattern in 3/4 time: da DUM da/ da DUM da/ da DUM da.)

The drummers create variations, of course, but they are anchored by this rhythm in honor of the full moon.

Another example:

– Sylvan is facilitating a ritual where people will share their musical talents with both worlds. He decides that, instead of calling the quarters, he will dance them. Like Alma in the first example, he chooses a four-based pattern (but, in his case, to honor the elements), but he decides to shift the accent to honor each particular element when he is summoning the energy for its quarter. His pattern might, therefore, go something like this:

DUM da da da (at air quarter)

da DUM da da (at fire quarter)

da da DUM da (at water quarter)

da da da DUM (at earth quarter)

 

As he dances each of the quarters, he makes a significant motion (a twirl, a jump, an arabesque) on the accented beat in honor of that quarter.

Considerations of phrasing and accent are also very important to the practice of writing spiritual poetry.

Here is an example:

– Mary has decided to write a poem that honors the sacred feminine and sacred masculine in the context of the elements, describing how the elements must balance inside each of the two before they can, in turn, balance with each other. She opts for a poem that switches back and forth between iambic and trochaic tetrameter. She chooses tetrameter because this kind of verse has four feet (in honor of the four elements); she chooses to switch between iambic and trochaic because they emphasize the different accents in sets of two syllables (one for each foot). She decides to accent the first beat of some feet (trochaic tetrameter) to honor male energy and to accent the second beat of other feet (iambic tetrameter) to honor female energy.

A “male” verse might read:

Echoes reach us, brightly spinning

Air, please tell me how to begin.

Fire, come kiss me. Touch me, wake me.

Stir the cauldron, season freedom.

 

(Roughly – DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, DUM da/ DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, etc.)

A “female” verse might read:

The river sweetly flows beside

Where water sings and lilacs grow,

Where trees thrive long and blind moles dwell.

Come, stir the cauldron, lullaby.

 

(Roughly – da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM/ da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, etc.)

Last – but by no means least – is the consideration of how to balance tension and release. The principle of their management, in fact, is quite central to many concerns in life. We build a decent character by balancing relaxation and work. We forge a good novel by balancing exposition and climax. We create a fulfilling orgasm by balancing foreplay and intercourse proper. We can apply the same principles to spirit work.

Our goal is to build toward the climax of our work (whether that be invoking a deity, casting a healing spell, reaching the fastest tempo of the drum circle, etc.). But we cannot simply rush headlong toward our goal. We need context; a progress of nothing but tension will make the tension stop seeming tense and will create an anti-climax. We need to build by raising our tension and then relaxing it – but not quite as much as we raised it. We then continue to raise and relax our energy – always moving toward the final climax, which will be followed by a period of deep relaxation.

Here is an example:

– Herne is facilitating a sex magic ritual. He asks participants to chat with each other beforehand, but only about trivialities. He then encourages participants to touch each other over their clothing and kiss for a few minutes, after which he asks participants to separate and talk to each other about their most interesting sexual experience. Next, he requests that participants undress and touch each other sexually. Next, he asks them to sit while cuddling and talk about a sexual experience they’ve always wanted to try. He follows this by asking them to proceed to performing fellatio on each other, but then asks them to back away to touching if they near orgasm. Finally, after edging (almost reaching orgasm and then backing off to make the final orgasm more powerful) several times, he allows them to climax as they invoke deity. By building tension, releasing it, then building it again toward orgasm, the facilitator will help participants to reach a better climax, both in terms of body and spirit.

This is not an exhaustive piece and won’t prepare you for every situation involving spirit work and rhythm, for there are simply too many to document. I do hope, however, that it leaves you more conscious of the role that rhythmic patterns play – both in your mundane life and your life of the spirit.

 

Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. His first two books (an eclectic sampler of his work and the first novel in a portal fantasy series featuring pagan protagonists) are available for free through https://ingvenning.com/


The ritual of writing

There are a great many small joys and privileges that come from working at a Pagan publishing house. I get to read all sorts of books ahead of release. I get to help new authors break in, and more established authors reach further. I get to help. There’s an immense joy in seeing a writer winning – a first time author with a breakthrough title, an author whose been slogging away at it for years finally getting the attention they deserve. This is not always the work I am paid to do, this is sometimes stuff I do in my own time, because I can.

A few years ago, Andrew Anderson submitted a manuscript to Moon Books. It wasn’t something we could publish – it was simply too short. I liked his ideas and his writing style, so I dropped him an email with some pointers about what might work and get picked up – I’m not the person making those decisions, but I know how publishers operate. To my immense joy, he came back with a new book, and it clearly was one that we could put out. This month it is released.

The ritual of writing is a book for bards, and for anyone else using the written word as part of their creative spiritual life. Anyone inclined to write rituals, spells, prayers or meditations will find something they can use in this book. For anyone who wants to use writing as a focus for their spiritual journey, this book is resplendent with tools and ideas. It’s an ideal read for anyone on the Druid path and a natural companion book if you’re doing the OBOD Bardic grade. That Andrew is studying in the Ovate grade with OBOD should come as no surprise!

I’m personally delighted to see a book exploring creativity as ritual process in this way. I’m excited to see a new and innovative addition to contemporary Druid thinking. I’m looking forward to seeing what Andrew does next. I feel honoured to have had the chance to be part of his story.

The ritual of writing is available anywhere that sells books. here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ritual-Writing-Spiritual-Practice/dp/1789041538 


Druidry and relationship with space

Capitalism encourages us to think of places in terms of ownership. The laws of ‘the land’ also focus on the rights of the owner, not of the inhabitant. It’s worth noting that in most places, the ownership of land can be traced back to violence and conquest.

When I wrote recently about spirits of place, I touched on the idea of ownership. Having had time to think about this properly, I realise that when I wrote ‘ownership’ what I meant was belonging. Or a kind of ownership that also involved being owned. A depth of relationship with a specific place, or places, that binds you to that place, and that place to you.

If you do ritual regularly at a specific site, you may come to feel that sense of ownership/being owned, and that can make it hard to see other people doing ritual in the same space. This is one of the big problems with choosing to do ritual at famous sites. No one has the right to own Avebury, or Stonehenge, or anywhere else on that kind of scale. As with all relationships, our relationships with places are open to possessiveness and jealousy, and what we feel most keenly may not bring out the best in us.

If you want a relationship with place that is personal, where you own and feel owned – then small and local is the way to go. You probably won’t have to share your grove in the woods with any other ritualists.

To feel belonging is to feel part of a community of place. When we belong, we don’t have to feel rivalry with anything else that also belongs. That includes other people. Any number of beings – seen and unseen – can belong to a place. It’s a more spacious idea than ownership, which capitalism has taught us to see as individual. Belonging does not free us from conflict though – especially if others come in and act like they own the place when they have no real relationship with it.

Belonging takes time and the investment of care and attention. It means getting to know the space and the community of living beings already in it. It means recognising that you are not more important than the other beings that belong to the place. It means not giving yourself instant authority by imagining you know what the land or the spirits of place really want. To belong you have to be a bit more humble, and not invested in putting human activity centre stage. Belonging means not trying to use your relationship with the land and its community as a power base to further your own ends.

Belonging is a subtle, quiet process that takes time. It is not the same as the short term excitement of finding a place resonant or welcoming. It’s what you do in the years after that moment.


Making pledges to show the love

I’m a big fan of making pledges in rituals with other people. It’s a simple, powerful act to do it alone, but when you are witnessed by your community, it adds weight to the pledge. Humans are better at feedback than Gods. Also, hearing other people’s pledges is often inspiring, and being able to come back and say how those pledges are going, affirms the work undertaken and helps you keep going.

I’ve made space for pledge making in ritual circles, and have seen the process in action. People who are new to all this will pledge things like growing herbs, or being more diligent with the recycling. Those further along the path to living lightly make more radical pledges. Over a few seasons, the people who were aspiring to recycle will become more involved too.

It is a powerful thing to speak to whatever you hold sacred and make a promise. If you’ve been having trouble really making the effort with something, pledging as a sacred act can give you the focus to see it through. It’s one thing to let yourself off the hook for making small car journeys when you could have walked, and very different to have promised your Gods, your ancestors or the land that you would do this differently. It’s also different when your community of people has heard your pledge. We like to look good for each other. We get a lot of emotional rewards from the good opinion of others. Ritual with humans tends to make us want to offer more impressive pledges, and to see them through so that we can tell people we saw them through.

Radical green change to enable sustainable living can feel a bit hair-shirt. If we feel we’re suffering by sacrificing, there’s less incentive to keep going. Emotional rewards from your human community can really help offset this. If people are impressed by you, then what you’re doing becomes more meaningful. The trouble with being green is that we tend not to see any immediate consequences of it – because most of us don’t see landfill sites, or plastic islands in the ocean, and we have no personal measure of air pollution or carbon excess. And even if we did, our own bit would be hard to spot in the grand scheme of things. That our efforts are both tiny and important is hard to work with.

If you want to make sacrifices to your Gods, (or anything else you hold sacred) then your sustainable life choices are some of the most powerful things you can offer up right now. If the Gods can smell your incense, they can also smell the fumes from your car. If you recognise the Earth as a sacred being, or as a mother Goddess, then the landfill, the plastic and the air pollution are what we do to her sacred body. We honour her when we pledge not to harm her.

If you’re looking for inspiration, try the spinner on this website – https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/spin-the-love

If you don’t have a ritual space to share your pledges in, use the internet. Talk about what you are doing. Inspire other people through your action. Watch out for #showthelove during February.


Being a spirit of place

Standard Druid ritual has us, somewhere near the beginning, saying things like ‘hail spirits of this place, spirits of land and sky and whatever else lives here. Hail and welcome.” We make our circles, and we welcome the spirits of place into the space. This is something I’ve felt uneasy about for a while.

Recently, I had an experience of being cast in a similar role. I came into a space I have a longstanding relationship with, and where I work. Someone I have never seen in that space before but who happened to have got there first, thanked me for being there and welcomed me in. The whole approach gave them the appearance of owning the space, and cast me as the outsider.  It was not a happy or comfortable experience. It was the exact opposite of feeling honoured or respected.

Respect for spirits of place begins with the recognition that they are intrinsic to the space while you have come into their space. It also depends on recognition that they are part of the space, and you are probably not. Or you are less so.

If you are doing ritual in your own home, think about how you would welcome a person who also shares your home to share ritual space with you. It may make sense to acknowledge that you are the one making ritual space, in your shared space and to asking them to join in.

If you were in someone else’s home holding a ritual space, you wouldn’t thank them for being there. You’d thank them for hosting the ritual space. You’d thank them for letting you run a ritual space in their home.

It is all too easy to rock up to a place you want to use for ritual and act like you own it. Even when you have legal possession of a place, it is important to remember that any spirits of place you may call on won’t see it that way. If you want to honour them as the spirits of place, your recognition of their relationship with the place will be a key part of that.

I can say with some confidence that being in a place where you feel you belong and having someone who is not of that place welcome you as though you were an outsider and the place was theirs, is not a good way to start. It does not create feelings of warmth and delight. It may create feelings of annoyance, resentment, and worse.

I’ve stood in too many circles that have said ‘we bid you hail, and welcome.’ I don’t think this is the right language for creating meaningful relationships.


Paganism for the planet

How planet friendly is your life?

What is there that you do, or own, that you know isn’t sustainable? If those things are a consequence of your wealth and privilege, what stories are you telling yourself to keep on with them?

How hard would it be to make changes? What would it cost you in terms of time, energy, and resources?

If you have a Pagan practice, consider making changes as offerings. If you are the sort of person to make offerings in rituals, or at altars, consider what you give. Does the planet need you to burn incense? Do the Gods really want your cut flowers? The effort and personal cost of living in a more environmentally friendly way might be a much more powerful thing to offer up.

If you can’t give something up entirely, try cutting back. Dedicate a day in the week to this, perhaps.

Try giving up the things that are a barrier to experiencing the real world first hand. Planes and cars are obvious examples. Walking and cycling will bring you into stronger relationship with the natural world. If you can’t be mobile in this way, look for the least power intensive way of getting about.

Consider what you put into the water, and what is done to the soil on your behalf. Consider what is burned for you, and what you put into the air. Change your relationship with the elements by treating them with greater care. Try dedicating to care for them when you next honour them in ritual.

Giving things up can be hard. It can feel difficult and challenging. You may find that easier if you take it on as an act of spiritual dedication instead. Every time you give something up, you are reducing the harm you do. Reframe your sacrifice, and it might look a good deal more attractive.


Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.