At some point in the journey there comes a time when you feel like you're ready to go beyond just reading and talking and to proceed to actually doing something - in this case, to performing rituals. There are plenty of pre-written rituals available in books and on the net, so is it only a case of taking the texts in one hand and starting to do ritual? Well, that is one approach and nobody is saying that it couldn't be a workable and useful one. However, here I'm going to suggest a somewhat different approach - one stating from the idea that it's good to not only know how something is done, but also why it is done.
Discover the Background
When you're practicing your religion and magick alone you are lacking people (out of your own desire or simply due to the lack of a suitable group) who would be teaching you the basics hands-on. So, your own initiative is of prime importance. Texts and descriptions of rituals tell a lot, but they don't always explain the background closely.
To start your own ritual project, you need to research -- with the help of various sources -- the basic meaning of ritual you have selected: why you are supposed to say what is said in the ritual and why you're supposed to do what is said you should do. In every well-constructed ritual the words and gestures mean something. You will get so much more out of the ritual when you are aware of those meanings. Do not settle for knowing the right words -- know why you are supposed to say them. Do not (for example) just call on certain deities -- find out why you are calling them in this particular ritual. Do not think gestures are just gestures -- know what they mean. All this may take time, but it is worth it.
Learn the Ritual
You can do a ritual while holding the script in front of your nose, but it won't be that smoothly done.
You can split the ritual into suitable sized pieces, rehearsing them one by one until you know them by heart. This way you can eliminate the "but.... do I really remember what I'm supposed to do?" factor by the time you move to actually doing the ritual and concentrate on the actual rite. Rehearsing and refining gestures can make a nice evening of study. Going over the texts in your mind can give you something worthwhile to do while you are, say, waiting for the bus to arrive. When the little pieces are going smoothly, you can combine them to larger fragments and finally piece all the fragments together to form a whole.
When you are at that stage, you can go through the whole ritual "without the spirit" - that is, without trying to achieve anything other than rehearsing - as many times as you need.
Make It Yours
When you have actually performed the ritual so many times it goes smoothly and gives the results it is supposed to give, it's time to make the ritual yours. In this context, making the ritual yours doesn't mean developing your own versions of the texts and gestures, as writing your own ritual is quite another subject. You could compare this to the world of acting, as rituals could be likened to plays. Psychodramas, one could say. The same play can be performed in a multiple of ways, even if nobody changed a single word in it. Each actor past the stage of mimicking another actor's style brings in his or her own interpretation, making the role alive.
When you're only starting out, you are always more or less a "mimicker" while doing rituals other people have written. With the confidence brought on by doing ritual, you can little by little develop into a "virtuoso" of your own religion and magick working.
Originally published in Finnish in Vox Paganorum
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