Exploring spirituality somewhere between the Emerald Isle and the Black Land....

Monday, March 3, 2014

Polytheism 101: Ritual

The third post in my "Polytheism 101" series will cover the basics of ritual. Though I will be referencing certain Kemetic viewpoints in regards to ritual, the actions and ideas behind them will be the same for any practicing polytheist. I feel I should also note that though this series is called "Polytheism 101," the ideas and methods shared here can be applied to just about any Pagan path.

There are a number of actions that many polytheistic/recon rituals share, and I have listed them below. These are what I consider to be the basic steps to performing a ritual.

Calling the deity
Before starting your ritual, you may find that it helps to invite your deities to join you. Some people call them by playing an instrument, ringing a bell, singing, or chanting. Others say a simple prayer, such as "Sekhmet, O powerful One, please join me for this ritual." Many also find it fitting to greet the deity with a bow. You can do any or all of these things. The most I do is ring a bell and call the deity's name before bowing.

Lighting the candle
In a Kemetic sense, the candle flame is representative of the sun and therefore the victory of Ra as he emerges from the underworld (or the forces of ma'at as they defeat the forces of isfet). Lighting the candle is also symbolic of Zep-tepi, The First Time, when Ra (or Atum, or whichever creator deity floats your boat) came into being and everything began. This isn't too far off from the meaning of the ritual flame in other traditions. The flame establishes the beginning of the ritual as the beginning of something new and significant, and/or the establishment of something powerful and good over the symbolic darkness. If you want to say a prayer while lighting a candle, something like "As Shapsu rises over the horizon, I light this candle" or "I light this candle for you, O Morrighan. May it shine as victoriously as you" will do.

Offering the incense
I read somewhere - and I can't remember for the life of me where exactly - that that the Egyptian word for incense (senetjer) means "to make divine." Whether or not this is true, and whether or not you follow a Kemetic path specifically, that phrase is fitting. Incense marks a space and moment as being sacred, and is very much beloved by the gods. And if you are anything like me, it goes a long way in putting you in a ritualistic headspace. I think it's also worth noting at this point that while both a candle and incense can be given as offerings in and of them selves, they both serve the purpose of establishing sacred space. For this reason I consider them to be ritual tools as much as they are offerings. If you wish, you can say something along the lines of, "I offer this incense to you, O Wepwawet. May its scent please you."

Libations are liquid offerings which are poured into a dish or, if your ritual is outdoors, onto the ground itself. Wine is commonly used, but other liquors, water, or milk can also be used. Since my practice is primarily Kemetic, I use water. In this context, the libation represents the life-giving abundance of the inundation. Of course, the theme of abundance and refreshment still works with other pantheons. You can accompany your libation with a prayer like "O Dadga, I pour this libation for you, that it will rejuvinate you."

Giving the food offering
At this point, it is time to give the food offerings. I often accompany these offerings with a prayer. You can say something simple, such as "O Brighid, please accept these offerings. May they satisfy and strengthen you." Only a small amount of food is needed to give to the gods. If you are having a feast as part of your ritual, you may choose to offer the entirety of the feast to the gods, in which case you would still give them their own portion of food.

Ritual action
Now is the time to perform your magic, meditate, pray, feast, or do whatever it is that you are performing the ritual to do. If consuming the food offerings is part of your practice, you will either eat them at this point, or wait until sometime after the ritual has concluded to return to the shrine and eat them. Kemetics call this "reverting the offerings," and only requires a simple prayer before you eat them, like "O Bast, receive your offerings from me." The majority of my rituals are done for the sole purpose of giving offerings to my gods, so I usually just take a couple of minutes here to pray, meditate, or just sit there quietly and enjoy the deity's company.

Closing the ritual
Kemetics know this as "removing the foot." Thank and bid farewell to the gods, extinguish the candle, and remove the libation and food offerings (or offering dishes if you have consumed them as part of the ritual action). If you intend to eat the offerings later, leave them at the shrine until you are ready to do so. Once you are ready to leave the shrine space, bow, then take a few steps backwards before turning away from the shrine.

And that's pretty much it. Hopefully now you're ready to perform your own rituals with confidence!

Other posts in the Polytheism 101 series include "Building a Shrine" and "Offerings."

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