Having kicked around the Pagan and magick-practicing community for fifteen years, I have asked one question no less than a hundred times: “What, to you, makes for an enjoyable and meaningful ritual?”
The most common first answer is, “When I write and lead it myself.”
If you push beyond that first response, and clarify that you want to know what rituals put on by other people are enjoyable, however, the answers are enlightening. Here is what they said:
10. “I recognize what is going on, and it makes sense to me.”
People love tradition. They love it when they know what to expect. They also love authenticity. More than that, however, no one wants to feel lost. Using a ritual form that everyone recognizes, surprisingly, does not solve the problem, when you are putting on a ritual for people you are not practicing with regularly. Even groups within the same tradition may do things slightly differently. Having hand-outs, and going over the ritual in advance can go a long way to helping people know what to do. It does not matter how awesome your ritual is if no one can follow along.
9. “I learned something.”
People like to walk away feeling a little more bad ass then when they came. If they picked up a new technique or idea, that can mean a lot to them. If you are doing something unusual or unique, explain it! People will appreciate the candor. On that note, different ways of presenting information, and different aspects of the ritual, will appeal to people with different learning styles. Make sure to hit all the senses!
There is a reason that Starhawk’s Spiral Dance event opens a full hour and a half before the start of ritual for altar viewing. People want to see the altar! The pageantry of ritual is enjoyable. A well-set altar (or altars, depending on your tradition), props, costumes and tools are all part of the visual aspect of a ritual, and can really enhance the enjoyment of the people who attend your ritual.
When people really start to rave about a ritual, they talk about dance. People moving together is not only a wonderful way to build a sense of togetherness, but also eases people into an altered state of consciousness.
Ceremonial Magicians “vibrate” or sing their words of power. Wiccans have chants.
The Ancient Greeks had their Paeans. I was once told by a ritual attendee regarding a ritual, that, “If I thought there would be music like that at every ritual, I’d come every time.” Anything rhythmic, or with a repeating pattern, and anything resonant, will also help achieve an altered state of consciousness.
5. “I Got My 5 Minutes of Fame”
Psychologically, humans are creatures who crave attention. This isn’t selfish or bad. In fact, there is nothing bad, at all, about wanting attention. The desire to have other humans listen to you, look at you, and touch you begins at birth, and governs all of our social interactions. A successful ritual takes advantage of this human urge, and gives each person a chance to be in some way acknowledged.
Giving everyone a chance to offer words of prayer, or setting up a dance where each person looks each other person in the eyes is a way to fulfill to this need. Other techniques include a procession where each person has an opportunity to step into the center, and do a ritual action.
No one wants to be invisible.
4. “There was this awesome thing that happened”
People love to know what’s going on, and to be able to follow along. Sometimes surprises are good, too, though. One Feri ritual I went to secretly had a melodic gong in the center of their set-up. I was delighted when I heard it go off. Another ritual had surprise bubbles. Still another sounded a surprise ram’s horn. Attendees were surprised, and pleased. So long as the surprises are flourishes, rather than surprise invocation, or surprise hazing, the element of surprise, too, can be a great way to enhance an altered state.
3. A personal connection with the clergy.
If a single person, or a small handful of people, are running a ritual, taking time to have someone personally attend to each person who bothered to show up to a ritual can go a long way to making the experience meaningful for them. Make sure you have enough clergy running a ritual that this is possible. Perhaps you purify each person as they come into the space, or anoint each person with oil, or have someone serve each person wine. If the clergy takes the time to reach out to each person, the people tend to inherently feel that the clergy are doing a better job than if they don’t.
2. Raising lots of energy.
This, of course, is the most common thing that people rave about. Drumming, dancing, charing, singing and words of power go a long
way to raise energy, but another small trick to kicking a ritual up a notch is careful preparation of the space (or ritual objects, if you don’t have access to the space in advance). You probably already know that casting a circle with an athame can go a long way to holding energy, and you may have noticed that the circle you cast is much more powerful when it involves visualizing the boundaries that you are creating. Carefully and ritually visualizing other constructs, such as godforms, elemental platonic solids (in the four directions, if that is the sort of thing that you do), or other sacred forms also helps. Building thought forms of an appropriate kind helps the energy you raise to stick around even better than just circle casting alone.
1. The deity was clearly present
Obviously, having a direct experience of the deity or deities called is the singularly most important thing to most people who attend a ritual, but you don’t necessarily have to aspect, channel, or embody the deity to pull this off. The single biggest thing you can do to ensure that a deity will show up, is to invite them before hand. If you formally request their attendance earlier in the day, or earlier in the week, the deity will show up more strongly than if you don’t. If you do this before the rush to prepare for the ritual even starts, you may have the luxury of asking them how you can best help them to manifest for other people, and actually get a response.