Rituals give meaning to life
Rituals are a part of all of our lives. Some are religious in nature, but many more are just the normal ways we go through each day. Not really thinking about them unless our established routine is altered in some way.
Pagans as a whole do love their rituals. The majority of Pagans I have talked to over the years grew up or somehow were exposed to the more ritualistic religions, the ones with all the smells and bells, and they have incorporated that background into their Pagan beliefs.
I am going to look closer at three major life events and tell you about the rituals I have created and used for these important occasions: welcoming a new baby, marriage and parting.
In some communities this means a Baptism, a Wiccaning, or some other form of ceremony. They can take place on the day of birth or
at any point after. In some cultures this doesn’t happen, and the child doesn’t take its place in society, until it has reached 1 or 2 years of age.
The modern baby shower has roots in ancient Greece and Egypt. These rituals helped to initiate a woman into her new role as a mother and strengthened the bonds between a newborn child and the larger community.
In a ritual from ancient Greece:
On the fifth or seventh day after birth, the child would be welcomed by a ceremony called Amphidromia (Running Round) in which the father would walk around the hearth several times, symbolizing the infant’s integration into the household. In a ritual called Dekate (Tenth Day) the mother would return to her place in society marked by a meal attended by her close relatives and friends.
A History of Baby Showers
This ritual served to not only introduce the child to the larger community, but also to acknowledge the father’s place in that child’s life.
A Welcoming Ritual
I wrote this particular ritual first after Thing 1* was born and we used it as his naming ceremony then for his younger brother’s naming ceremony 3 years later. His uncle and aunt agreed to be God- and Goddess-parents for both children and were included as part of the ritual. He was held by his grandmother.
Circle created in usual fashion.
We gather together today as a circle of friends to welcome one of our own back to the community. In past lives we have lived, loved, and fought together. It is with great rejoicing that we greet one who has returned: Thing 2.
His spirit is one with us, as he has shown by choosing to reincarnate in this time and place. But his body is new, and must be introduced to our ways.
There are many paths, and each must find his own; therefore we do not seek to bind Thing 2 to one path while he is still too young to choose. Rather we ask the Gods, who know all paths and to whom all paths lead, to bless, protect and prepare him through the years of his childhood; so that when at last he is truly grown, he shall know without doubt or fear which path is his and shall tread it gladly.
It is here in childhood that we most feel the love and power of the universe, the miracle that has brought this child here today, the ever-changing cycle of life. From here, the child will grow in the love of all those that are gathered. Thing 2, may you live a life that is full, and one that will meet its full potential. May your strength and courage protect you in misfortune, and may your heart sing in the happy times. May you be blessed with wisdom, health and happiness.
I bless this child with fire and air (lightly waft incense over the baby)
I bless this child with earth and water (lightly sprinkle salt water over baby).
Both: Welcome, Thing 2!
HP (Facing Godmother):
Do you, (name) promise to be a friend to Thing 2 throughout his childhood, to aid and guide him as he shall need; and in concord with his parents, to watch over him and love him as if he were your own, until he is ready to choose his own path?
HPS (Facing Godfather):
Do you, (name), promise to be a friend to Thing 2 throughout his childhood, to aid and guide him as he shall need; and in concord with his parents, to watch over him and love him as if he were your own, until he is ready to choose his own path?
People are now given a chance to voice their wishes and desires for Thing 2.
Circle is closed.
*To protect their privacy online, I use my children’s nicknames, Thing 1 and Thing 2, which were taken from the characters in a book by Dr Suess.
The ritual of marriage is probably the best known. Whether civil or religious in focus, a marriage serves to indicate to society that two
people have joined together to create a partnership.
Marriage serves many roles in society. They have been used to strengthen bonds between different families in a community or different tribes in extended communities. They have been used to ensure the parentage of offspring. And to seal treaties between nations.
Marriage for love is actually a quite modern idea even in western culture.
Image by Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr)
A handfasting, simply done, uses a cord to join two people together. It is a symbolic event, indicating that two will now be working together as one. Like two oxen in a yoke, if they pull together much work gets done but if they pull separately, utter chaos is created.
Some components of a handfasting are still in use within churches in Scotland where a couple can opt to have their wrists bound together as part of the marriage ceremony. It is from the handfasting ritual that we get the phrase “tying the knot” used as a euphamism for marriage.
The handfasting used for my husband and myself was not written by me. Many parts of it have been taken from Janet and Stewart Farrar‘s book, A Witches’ Bible: The Complete Witches Handbook. It includes Doreen Valiente’s Wiccan Charge of the Goddess.
After the opening, the bride and groom are escorted from the room, and the cauldron is placed in the west and the broom is laid by the altar. The Bride and Groom are then brought to the west corner of the circle.
PRIESTESS: Who comes to be joined together in the presence of the Goddess? What is your name, Man?
GROOM: My name is _________.
PRIEST: Who comes to be joined together in the presence of the God? What is your name, Woman?
BRIDE: My name is _________.
PRIESTESS: “______ and ______, we greet you with joy”
The bride and groom stand next to each other in the west with the Priestess and Priest on each side.
PRIESTESS: Unity is balance, and balance is unity. Hear then, and understand.
She picks up the wand
PRIESTESS: The wand that I hold is the symbol of Air. Know and remember that this is the element of Life, of intelligence, of the inspiration which moves us onwards. By this wand of Air, we bring to your handfasting the power of the Mind.
The Priest picks up the sword
PRIEST: The sword that I hold is the symbol of Fire, Know and remember that this is the element of Light, of energy, of the vigour which runs through our veins. By this sword of Fire, we bring to your handfasting the power of Will.
The Priestess picks up the chalice
PRIESTESS: The chalice that I hold is the symbol of Water. Know and remember, that this is the element of Love, of growth, of the fruitfulness of the Great Mother. By this chalice of Water, we bring to you handfasting the power of Desire.
The Priest picks up the pentacle
PRIEST: The pentacle that I hold is the symbol of Earth, Know and remember, that this is the element of Law, of endurance, of the understanding which cannot be shaken. By this pentacle of Earth, we bring to your handfasting the power of the Steadfast.
PRIEST: Listen to the words of the Great Mother; She who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Athene, Aphrodite, Cerridwen, Bride, Innana, Maeve and Isis. And many other names.
PRIESTESS: When ever you have need of anything, once in the month and better it be when the moon is full, then shall you assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me, who am Queen of all Witches. There shall you assemble, you who are fain to learn all sorcery, yet have not won its deepest secrets; to these will I teach things that are yet unknown. And you shall be free from slavery and as a sign that you are truly free, you shall be naked in your rites; and you shall dance, sing, feast, make music and love, all in my praise. For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on earth; for my law is love unto all beings. Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever towards it; let nothing stop you or turn you aside. For mine is the secret door which opens upon the Land of Youth, and mine is the cup of the wine of life, and the Cauldron of Cerridwen, which is the Holy Grail of immortality. I am the gracious Goddess, who gives the gift of joy to the heart of man. Upon earth, I give the knowledge of the spirt eternal; and beyond death, I give peace, and freedom, and reunion with those who have gone before. Nor do I demand sacrifice; for behold I am the Mother of all living, and my love is poured out ipon the earth.
PRIEST: Hear now the words of the Star Goddess: She in the dust of whose feet are the hosts of heaven, and whose body encircles the universe.
PRIESTESS: I who am the beauty of the green earth, and the white Moon among the stars, and the mystery of the waters, and the desire of the heart of man, call unto your soul. Arise, and come to me. For I am the soul of nature, who gives life to the universe. From me all things proceed, and to me all things must return; and before my face, beloved of Gods and of men, let your innermost divine self be enfolded in the rapture of the infinite. Let my worship be within the heart that rejoices; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you. And you who thinks to seek for me, know your seeking and yearning shall avail you not unless you know the mystery; that if that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without. For behold, I have been with you from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.
PRIEST: Golden Aphrodite, come not as the virgin, the victim but as the Awakener, The Desirous One. As the other world She calls, and the All-Father commences the courtship. She awakens Him to desire, and the worlds are created. How powerful is She, Golden Aphrodite, the awakener of manhood!
PRIESTESS: But all these things are one thing. All the Goddessess are one Goddess, and we call Her Isis, the All-woman, in whose nature all natural things are found; virgin and desirous by turn; giver of life and bringer-in of death. She is the cause of all creation, for She awakens the desire of the All-Father, and for Her sake He creates.Likewise, the wise call all women Isis.
PRIEST: In the face of every woman, let man look for the features of the Great Goddess, watching Her phases through the flow and return of the tides to which his soul answers; listening for Her call.
PRIESTESS: O daughter of Isis, adore the Goddess, and in Her name give the call that awakens and rejoices. So shall you be blessed of the Goddess, and live with the fullness of life. Let the Bride show forth the Goddess to him who loves her. Let her assume the crown of the underworld. Let her arise all glorious and golden from the sea of the primordial and call to him to come forth, to come to her. Let her do these things in the name of the Goddess, and she shall be even as the Goddess unto him; for the Goddess will speak through her. All Powerful shall she be on the Inner, as crowned Persephone; and all Powerful on the Outer, as golden Aphrodite. So shall she be a priestess in the eyes of the worshipper of the Goddess, who by his faith and dedication shall find the Goddess in her. For the Rite of Isis is life, the Goddess drawn down to her worshippers, her power enters into them, and they become the substance of the sacrament.
Priestess ties a red ribbon around the couples’ hands…. binding them together
PRIESTESS: May this red binding remind you of your commitment here today….may you forever after be bound in love and hope, joy and happiness, friendship and communication, May this binding hold your love together through the trials and joys of life.
PRIEST (to the bride): Say after me : By seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf
and flower and fruit, by life and love, in the name of the Goddess, I, _____, take you ______, to my hand, my heart and my spirit, at the setting of the sun and the rising of the stars. Nor shall death part us; for in the fullness of time we will be born again at the same time and in the same place as each other; and we will meet, and know and remember, and love again.
PRIESTESS(to the groom): Say after me: By seed and root, by bud and stem, by leaf and flower and fruit, by life and love, in the name of the Goddess, I, _____, take you ______, to my hand, my heart and my spirit, at the setting of the sun and the rising of the stars. Nor shall death part us; for in the fullness of time we will be born again at the same time and in the same place as each other; and we will meet, and know and remember, and love again.
The red binding is taken off and handed to the couple to place above their bed. The exchange of rings may also take place.
PRIEST: Let the sun and the moon and the stars, and these our brothers and sisters, bear witness; that ______ and ______ have been joined together in the sight of the God and the Goddess. And may the God and the Goddess bless them, as we do ourselves. So Mote it be.
The Priestess, lays the broom down in front of the couple and the couple jump over the broom…all assembled hug, kiss and congratulate the couple.
Sadly, sometimes marriages and handfasting have to end. It can be difficult releasing the attachments formed when two people bond together. This is a ritual I used when I severed my marriage.
I did this ritual alone, but one could involve friends and family. It can be done by either partner in the marriage. When I work alone I don’t tend to use many words.
A ritual circle was created.
I took the handfasting cord and wrapped it in a figure 8 around 2 candles which represented my ex-husband and me.
I set the intention that as the candles moved further apart, our bond would move further apart as well.
I moved the candles a bit further part each day, rewrapping the cord each time in the figure-8. By the end of 7 days, the candles were at their maximum distance apart and instead of wrapping the cord I laid it out straight between the 2 candles.
Each day over the 7 days, I burnt the candles for 15 minutes. 1 minute for every year we were together. At the end of the week, both candles were burnt down to a stub.
I then took the cord and cut it in half.
I disposed of the cord and the candle stubs as quicky as possible afterwards to remove them from my home.