(The following post is a guest post written by Wild Mystic Woman Writer, Trish Finley)
Making your own rituals is a powerful way to claim your spirituality. But for some of us it’s new territory, and a scary place to dip our feet.
I grew up evangelical Christian, where rituals were seen as silly at best and dangerous at worst. When I got to the point in my spiritual journey where I needed ritual, I was lost. Where should I start? What would I use? What should I say, and what if it doesn’t work? Why am I doing this anyways?
I found some answers in reading and research. But mostly? I just tried stuff out to see if it stuck.
Despite the title of this post, my aim is not to tell you how to build a ritual. Only you know what sticks and what doesn’t in your practice. This is just to give you some things to try and a place to start, if you need it.
There are a lot of reasons people perform rituals, but, basically, the purpose of a ritual is to declare an intention. That’s it, and that’s why it’s impossible to mess up. You may find ways that are more effective - for you - and ways that are less effective - for you. But that’s the only requirement: that it works for you.
Below are a few things you may (but by no means must) consider when building your next ritual.
There are four broad intentions that encompass most (not all) rituals:
Release - Do you need to let something go? A person, event, season of life, expectation, fear, grief?
Summoning - Do you need to call something to you? Courage, your power, money, wisdom? This can also be called manifestation.
Connection - Do you have a deity or ancestor you want to connect with? (Think of this one like date night with the divine. You’re just there to get to know one another.)
Remembering - Is there an important date or time of year you want to honor?
Other - Whatever your intention, describe it to yourself as best you can. It may help to write it down.
If you pick up other people’s energy and emotions like I do, or if you work in a field like tarot reading or reiki, developing a releasing ritual is especially important. For example, I light a candle for each client when I start a tarot reading, symbolizing making a connection. Then, when I’m done, I blow it out to symbolize severing the connection and any lingering feelings that went along with it.
It can be helpful to choose a place that’s conducive to your intention. We tend to know where we need to perform the ritual, so if you’re not sure, take a walk or a drive and see where it leads you (even if it leads you back home).
Choosing the place - Do you need privacy? Would you like to be indoors or outdoors? Is there a special place that has spiritual significance for you or relates to your intention? Or a place where you feel particularly at peace?
Creating sacred space - This is where you make a physical home for what you’re about to do in the spiritual realm. You can mark this space with crystal points, rope, salt, smoke, or even just your imagination.
I usually practice ritual at home, where I have privacy to say whatever weird things come out of my mouth. Occasionally, when my feelings are too big to be contained indoors, I go to a lake and draw my sacred space in the dirt beside the water.
Here are some cycles that affect some people’s rituals. Feel your way around them and find out if they are right for you.
Lunar cycle - Do you experience changes in energy around the new or full moon? (This is a big one for me.)
Menstrual cycle - Is there a time in your cycle when it feels right to slow down and perform a ritual?
Astrological calendar - Are you affected by retrogrades, eclipses, or other astrological events? (I particularly pay attention to Mercury retrogrades.)
Religious calendar - Is there a traditional religious calendar you’d like to honor, like the Wheel of the Year or the Church Calendar?
Personal calendar - Are there any personal dates during the year that are important to you, like birthdays or anniversaries? (I celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday every year, usually by smoking pipe tobacco, because his stories have played such a central role in my life.)
Natural calendar - How do the seasons affect your energy?
It may be helpful for you to mark these events on a calendar so you can gauge your energy around them. No two people react the same.
You don’t have to use words, but they can be powerful in helping you focus your intention.
Compose your own words - What is your intention? How can you best express this in words? (It may help to write them down.)
Say what comes in the moment - Does it feel right to spontaneously speak instead of compose words?
Use old words - Is there something that expresses your intention better than you could put it in your own words? Are there words so old and well used that you feel they have additional power behind them?
Names - If you are remembering someone after their death, it may help to say their name aloud.
Hybrid - Does it feel right to include several of these elements?
One weird tip here: Whatever words you decide to use, I’d recommend speaking out loud. It feels really weird, and is why I do most of my rituals at home. But there are two reasons I do it anyways:
The first is that it makes my intention seem more real in the breathing world after I speak it aloud. The second is that, especially when saying what comes in the moment, I’ve surprised myself with what comes out of my mouth. The barriers between spirit and body tend to be thinner during ritual, so you can bring out some pretty rich stuff.
Sound can help build a mood, focus your thoughts, or put you in a different state of mind.
Music - Are there any songs that help build your intention - a religious song that connects you to your deity or a song that reminds you of the person you’re honoring?
Sound clearing - Sound clearing is when you disperse built up energy using sound waves. Is there a point in the ritual, like the beginning or end, where you’d like to break the energy? What would you like to use to do this - a chime, clapping your hands, an instrument?
(This is particularly useful in releasing rituals.)
Ambient sounds - Do you need sounds in the background to help you focus, like wind in the trees, running water, or soft music?
I tend to gravitate towards old Christian hymns when I’m performing ritual. My family has sung them to me since I was a baby, so they are familiar, and I think there is a buildup of power in a song that’s been sung for centuries. (One of my favorites, Be Thou My Vision, can trace its tune back about 1300 years.)
There are no wrong objects to bring into a ritual. The only requirement is that they are meaningful to you.
Props - These set the mood. Are there any candles, crystals, or decorative elements you’d like to include? Not everything has to mean something - beauty can be reason enough on its own.
Talismans - Are there any objects that remind you of your intention - something that comforts you, an icon of your deity or power, a picture of a loved one? Or, is there a tarot or oracle card that represents your intention? (For example, I’ve used the Ace of Pentacles as a talisman during a ritual to bless someone in their new job.)
Traditional elements - Are there any traditional religious elements you’d like to include, like salt or bread and wine?
Body language doesn’t just communicate with the people around us. It also communicates how we want to feel to ourselves.
Posture - Does is feel right to stand, sit on the floor or in a chair, kneel, bow your forehead to the earth, or lie down?
Hand motions - Are there hand motions you hold as sacred, such as palms together or the sign of the cross? Are there any hand motions that would help you express your intention, like palms to the sky to indicate receiving whatever you’re summoning?
During my rituals, I usually kneel. I see this as a sign of surrender to Spirit, who is greater than me, and acceptance of my own vulnerability in that moment. The only time I kneel in my life is during ritual or prayer, so using that posture helps focus my mind on the task at hand.
Smell can help focus you in the moment and build memories that make your practice richer over time.
Sage - Traditionally used as an energy cleansing herb. You can use the oil, a sage-scented mist, or smoke.
Essential oils - Is there a scent that helps you with your intention, like lavender for calming emotions?
Incense - Used for centuries to indicate sacred presence or purpose. I never burn incense to scent my home - I only use it for ritual so my brain will equate the smell of incense with focusing on spiritual things.
Plants - Are there certain plants you use for sacred or healing purposes? Plants can function as both talismans and scents in rituals.
Smudging - Smudging is the practice of using fragrant smoke to represent intention. You may want to waft smoke over yourself, your space, or certain objects to purify them. I usually do this with incense before drawing cards for a client to clear anything that could negatively impact the reading.
A few final notes:
Breathe - Breathe. Be present. This ritual is for you, so there’s no chance of getting it wrong.
Be safe - Make sure you don’t put open flame near fabric or carpet. Turn on fans if you’re burning incense or sage indoors. Have a plan for extinguishing fires before you begin, just in case.
Respect the environment - If you’re performing a ritual outdoors, put the space back the way you found it. Don’t leave anything behind, and be especially careful with open flame in wooded areas.
(When performing a ritual outside, I try to use objects around me so I don’t accidentally leave something. When I’m done I brush out circles I’ve made in the dirt.)
Make space for doubt - If thoughts like “This is stupid” come up, make space for them. Doubt is not a hindrance - in fact, it can be the tool on which you sharpen your spirituality.
(And you’d better believe I feel stupid when I’m holding a stick of incense in a crystal circle and babbling out loud about whatever I’m releasing. Whatever. I’ll do it anyways, because it helps.)
Make space for whatever feelings arise - Sometimes unexpected feelings come up during rituals. Give yourself space to process them afterward.
It’s ok to try things that don’t work for you - How else will you know what does work?
Be patient - Remember, ritual is just stating an intention. That’s a powerful thing, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll immediately be able to, for example, release grief. It just means you’ve started the process with focus and intention.
I know a little more about what I’m doing when it comes to ritual, but I’m still changing, growing, learning about what works and what doesn’t work for me. My hope in writing this is that you’ll also start experimenting and finding out what practices feed your soul.
May your rituals bring you peace, purpose, growth, and power. And if you have any ritual practices you’d like to share, let me know in the comments!
About Trish Finley
Hi! I’m Trish - writer, tarot reader, walker-in-the-woods, and seeker. I believe in bold love, vulnerability, intuition, and courage. I believe every spiritual journey is sacred, including yours. And I believe in the power of connecting with our fellow wanderers.
Connect with me over at www.trishfinley.com or sign up for my newsletter, where we chat every new and full moon!