The following essay by Romany Rivers won 1st place in the fifth week of our 2014 Celtx Competition.
The Essence of Ritual by Romany Rivers
“It’s experiential. A profoundly personal act even when shared, ritual reconditions our perspective. It is the practice of reminding ourselves of the value and power of living. It is that moment in which we stop and, looking around, understand that life is sacred.”
Emma Restall Orr ‘Ritual - A Guide to Love, Life and Inspiration’
There is an abundance of books and resources available in this day and age that can share the step by step process of ritual. We are told where to stand, what actions to take, when to speak, when to be silent. With the greatest will in the world, without the experiential essence of ritual, these words remain words. The actions remain actions. The silence remains silence. This book you hold in your hands is filled with such words, hundreds of words, thousands of words, and the combination of these words holds power. Each sound, each word, each phrase holds power. Yet they do not hold THE power. Without you and your conscious energetic connection to the Divine they remain vibrant, inspiring, thought provoking, energetic, but devoid of Divinity, unable to manifest change beyond their natural environmental impact. You are the power. You are part of the Divine, of the all that is, of the all that was, of the all that will be. You are the essence of ritual.
Ritual comes in three main forms, celebrations of nature, magical rites, and rites of passage. Celebrations of nature include the traditional Sabbats that mark the passage of the Wheel of the Year, as well as any celebration of the Divine within seasonal cycles, planting and harvesting blessings, and communing with natures deep mysteries. Since Witches see the Divine as immanent within nature, such celebrations allow for a glimpse of the Gods as they manifest within our world and offer a chance to connect with the Gods energetic journeys so visibly reflected within the seasons.
Magical rites are usually held to coincide with lunar phases, and involve a deep connection with the power of consciousness, the energetic systems of the universe, divine and spiritual powers. Most often these rites are used to manifest positive change and healing, although magical rites can and do cover a wide range of subjects.
Rites of passage are very important in most Pagan paths and cover a wide range of acknowledgements for life transitions and milestones. Hatches, matches and dispatches – Baby Blessings, Marriages and Funerals – are most commonly understood as a Rite of Passage, but many other transitions are marked within the Witchcraft community, including traditional initiation ceremonies, spiritual transitions and life transitions from one phase to another, such as maiden to mother and mother to crone.
Pagans as a rule are very creative, and many rituals and celebrations are formed by weaving these threads together. For many, any ritual act is a magical act, any celebration of life transition is also a celebration of seasonal cycles, any celebration of nature is also a celebration of the Divine in many forms, and any connection with the Divine is a magical act.
How does one describe not the steps, actions and words of ritual, but that almost intangible connection that separates theatre and performance from the sacred play? It is as unique as each practitioner. I stand solitary in my home based ritual room, surrounded by the objects of my creativity and learning. I stand in the loosely formed circle of my peers, still buzzing and chatting prior to the nights rite. I stand under the moon and gaze up at her impassive face as the breeze chills and thrills my warm skin. I stand. I breathe in. I breathe out. I breathe in deeply. I breathe out the days stress, and worry, and anxieties. I breathe in the stillness. And then, I can feel it. The otherworldly sensation of falling away, falling out of myself, out of the world, out of time, out of space and yet feeling more rooted into my own body and spirit, deeply rooted in the earth beneath me, rooted into the web of connectivity. I relax into it. I revel in the deep abundant well of joy I can feel. The mundane slips away, yet also falls into sharp relief for all that it is. I accept it all and then let it go. In this space that is no place, and at this time outside of linear time, I simply am who I am. And who I am is Divine.
To me, this is the true essence of ritual. The pure undiluted connection to all that is sacred. The understanding of Divinity and our own Divine spirit. The ability to consciously connect and affect the web of energy around us and within us. The words we speak, the techniques we employ, the practices we use are all powerful in their own way, but this deep rooted connection is what gives our rituals true meaning. Some of the words within these pages are designed to help affirm that connection, to wake up our own sleepy spirits, and to access the energy all around us. Some of these words need that connection with divine energy to give them life and meaning. Only you can know what works for you as a spiritual practitioner. I humbly offer my own experiences and inspirations to you, and by doing so I extend my connection to the earth beneath my feet and to my kith and kin who honour her.
Weaving Words of Power
“To bind the spell every time `
Let the spell be spoke in rhyme”
- The Wiccan Rede
The use of language in ritual is an often undervalued or misunderstood technique. Much attention is placed upon intention and Will, without which our magic fails to be effective or affective. Energy follows thought, and as such we focus on refining, honing and harnessing our thoughts, threading our thoughts with clear intention and strength of Will. Mahatma Gandhi said “Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions.” Words become thought, and thought becomes word, the two are interlinked and both greatly impact our actions. When we disregard the importance of verbal or written language within ritual, we do a great disservice to ourselves and to the Divine. Spoken language is not just a method of communicating our intention, desires or Will, it is by its very nature an energetic technique. When your mother told you ‘It is not what you said, it is how you said it’, she was tapping into the importance of tone, key, inflection, and energetic influence of your speech. Words can hurt or heal, and the way we communicate with others can shape our present and future relationships. It is a lesson we learn as children, and a lesson that many practitioners are relearning on their magical path. Adding depth to the idea of tone and inflection, we can also observe how each individual syllable is a distinct sound and the combination of sounds within a sentence creates a unique energetic signature. Spoken language is at its core, sound vibration. These vibrations carry energetic influence into the world around us. When we are conscious not only of what we say, but how we say it, we add to our magic by creating a deliberate weaving of energy expressed through sound. We create words of power.
From the Hermetic philosophers who taught that one of the seven principles of the universe is vibration, ‘Nothing rests; everything moves; everything vibrates’; to Buddhist teachings of sound, prayers and mantras creating both internal and external effects; and all the way to modern principles of string theory, we can see the potential impact of spoken language. When language is broken into its simplest interpretation of pure sound, the greatest minds all point to the deep mystery of energetic and physical effect created by the unique vibration of sound. The complexities we add to this root vibration by combining sounds and attributing meaning to every combination, gives us the beauty and magic of language.
Sound Influencing Matter
Dr. Hans Jenny, a Swiss medical doctor and scientist, completed some fascinating experiments on the study of wave phenomena, which he called Cymatics (from the Greek Kyma, meaning ‘wave’). The importance and influence of vibration and sound on physical matter can be clearly seen in these simple and elegant experiments. In the 1960’s Dr. Jenny placed sand, fluid and powders on metal plates which were then vibrated with a frequency generator and speaker. Different frequencies produced beautiful and often intricate geometric images and patterns that were unique to each individual vibration. When the sound vibration stopped pulsing through the substance, the images collapsed back into their original state. For many practitioners of magic and for practitioners of science, these experiments show that there is a clear impact of sound on matter, that different frequencies produce different results, that sound can alter form, that sound can maintain form, and that sound can create form.
The Written Word Influencing Matter
Dr. Masaru Emoto is well known for his experimentation with water crystals, and his book series Messages from Water are filled with stunning images of water crystals affected by sound vibration, spoken word and positive prayer. Dr. Emoto carried the concept of sound vibration further, by looking at the energy of the written word as a harnessed thought and how that thought would impact water crystals. He placed labels on bottles of water that expressed human emotions and ideas, some positive and some negative such as ‘Thank you’, ‘Love’, ‘You make me sick’, and ‘I will kill you’. There is no measurable physical action in these experiments, and yet the water crystals responded to the words – positive messages created beautiful geometric crystals, whilst negative messages created malformed or chaotic crystals. Dr. Emoto’s experiments have been repeated by many research groups in more controlled circumstances, often with statistically significant results. These experiments show the power of the written word over reality, for each word contains the vibrational frequency of our consciousness.
Within Pagan practice the most common understanding of sound vibration is likely to come from the field of numerology. Within numerology we learn that each letter is a set symbol for a sound, that each sound has a set rate of vibration that can be scientifically measured, and that each vibrational measurement uses a number to represent it. Every letters numbered place in the alphabet is its rate of vibration. By using numerology we learn to uncover the vibration and energetic influence of particular words. This can be an excellent tool for the practitioner to harness a particular rate of vibration or to invoke a certain energy during ritual.
Through conscious awareness of the words that we use and the vibrational frequency they contain, we can tailor our words to better reflect our intent and Will. However the Pagan practitioner may not have, nor need, a full understanding of the many and varied theories regarding sound and vibration, and yet can still appreciate the importance of language during ritual. Experimentation with tone, pitch, rhyme, alliteration, inflection, tempo, harmony and song, can all yield some interesting energetic results. Starting with simple chants we can easily feel the difference between a short, sharp chant that increases our heart rate and sends blood rushing around our body, and a gentle, flowing chant that lowers our blood pressure and clears our mind. Both styles may raise energy, but they do so in very different ways and have very different influences on our physical form. Speeches that have gone down in history do so because of the incredible impact they have on the mental and emotional state of the listeners, and may also have tapped into magical techniques that create resonance with the energy of the crowd. Matching the tempo and rhythm of such speeches, as well as utilising changes in pitch and tone, may replicate the impact felt by the listeners. Using melody and harmony can create gentle but definite physical and emotional response for the magical practitioner, one only has to listen to Gregorian chanting or pitch perfect unaccompanied singing and witness the physical reaction of goosebumps arising on your skin or tears welling in your eyes to understand the power of sound affecting the physical. With the ever increasing literacy within our world, language both written and verbal may have lost its sense of magic and secrecy, but as practitioners who seek the deeper mysteries we will uncover and understand the essence of language as an expression of intent, Will, and creation.
Techniques for weaving words of power
Repetition in ritual is a common technique for raising awareness and energy, either by repeating particular sounds or words, or by repeating entire chants. Repetition is a unifying device used in all poetry, either with repetition of sound, syllable, word, phrase, line, stanza, or metrical pattern, and can be found in religious chants of many cultures. In fact, repetition can often reinforce or even replace the meter in poetry, creating a rhythm that develops into cadence or song. Repeating a particular word or phrase implies importance to the conscious mind and builds upon the ideal or concept the repeating phrase or word portrays.
Alliteration is a form of repetition using a singular sound at the beginning of several words within a sentence, and is also known as ‘front rhyme’. This form of repetition can be very catchy, and serves as a great method of remembering a chant or invocation. It is a technique often employed by marketing and advertising companies, because quite honestly it works. Aside from the practical application of assisting us in remembering our ritual words, alliteration also offers us the opportunity to harness the energetic influence of a particular sound by layering that sound over and over. This technique can be tied into others, such as numerology, by searching for a single letter or sound that encompasses some aspect of your ritual or magical working and then using that to create the words of your ritual. Consciously harnessing the energy you desire by starting each word or phrase with that energy and repeating it throughout your ritual.
Rhyme is one of the most commonly used techniques in ritual writing, although in some sense that can be unfortunate. I have seen practitioners attempt to work within rhyming couplets and as a result their desire to ‘make it fit’ actually harms the content of their work. It is, in my honest opinion, a far better thing to write with conscious awareness of what you say and how you say it than to try and use words that offer you a rhyme and no more. Of course, for those who have a natural ability with language, rhyming beautifully and also conveying the exact message they wish to may seem an easy task – but it is not for everyone. Rhyming is a fantastic tool for oral traditions to pass on information, as the mind more easily remembers and recalls the repetition of rhyme than of plain prose. Rhyming couplets have often been used in theatre to bind or end a scene or an act, as a way of signifying the completion, importance or release of the actions previously portrayed. Within magic, rhymes are often used in spellcraft in a similar manner of binding and completing the energy. Again, rhyme is a form of repetition, although more commonly found in the words or syllables at the end of a sentence. This sound then becomes your end note, the final point of reference for the energy you are raising. As such, it is important that the repetition of your final sound be relevant to your magical workings.
Tempo is usually considered a musical term, but it also relates to the speed or pace evident in your ritual words. Chanting is a prime example of tempo in action. Many chants will start slowly, with clear and evenly paced words. The pace may increase gradually, or with each round of the chant becoming more rapid, and may also be accompanied by vigorous hand clapping, stamping, dancing or drumming. The tempo increases to the point of impossibility, when it is no longer possible to maintain the speed of the chant with speech, and the frenetic energy raised is released in a crescendo of sound or a sudden silence. Pay close attention to the tempo of your words, for it will greatly affect the emotional state and energy levels of ritual participants. Be practical too, a long winded chant will not work well if you intend to increase the tempo to raise energy. Tempo can be measured by beats per minute, the same way your heart rate is measured, and the two are linked. The faster paced chants will increase your heart rate as your body seeks to match the tempo of your chant, and conversely you can create a calming effect upon the body if you consciously design a slow paced chant. Reading your words aloud is a good way of discovering the natural tempo of your text, and if you seek to increase or decrease the tempo you can experiment by reading aloud, changing the pace and listening to how your own body reacts.
Rhythm is the pattern of speech and silence, the dance of ebb and flow within your words. In language, rhythm is all about timing. Using techniques of rhyme and alliteration can produce a particular rhythm naturally, but you can also use a conscious method of pausing at intervals to invoke an ebb and flow of energy. A good rhythm can be very hypnotic, and can bring about a sense of trance or otherworldliness to both the speaker and the listener. Rhythm and tempo both play important roles in guided meditation, allowing the body to relax and the mind to alter its state of awareness comfortably. If a meditation lacks rhythm, the mind constantly jumps back into conscious awareness, but a gentle rhythm acts like a lullaby to a baby and soothes the soul with safety and security.
The Sound of Silence
Vocalisation of our intent and Will is very important within ritual, but so is silence. Silence allows the sound vibrations you produce to hang in the air, to be accepted and absorbed by nature, or to be returned in echoed frequency. Silence gives us the chance to connect with and release the energy we are raising, and offers us the opportunity of hearing and feeling the Divine response to our energetic influence. Silence is also impossible. Even when we stop speaking, our body and spirit hum with the billions of vibrations that make up the cells of our physical and spiritual existence. With or without speech, we are a symphony of sound. Silencing our words allows us time to focus on the energy that we are sharing with the world through our very act of being, and gives us a better understanding of our thoughts and the interaction of our consciousness with the universe around us.
Song (tone, pitch, key)
Singing, with or without musical accompaniment, is a fabulous method of combining many different sound techniques in one form. The art of singing as a connection to the Divine can be found in many cultures throughout history, and it is easy to see how the Divine inspires such beautiful, enduring and uplifting melodies. If you have an aptitude for music, I would strongly suggest that you explore the possibility of creating a ritual of sound, music and song. Song allows us to utilise different vibrational frequencies at the same time, by harnessing the sound vibration created by the tone and pitch of the singer, and by harnessing the sound vibration of the word itself. With song, there is endless variation and combination of sound vibration, and an opportunity of layering frequencies through the art of harmonising with others.
Resonance is the physics effect of periodic intervals of a frequency matching and amplifying the frequency of oscillation of a structure. The energy is stored within the structure and increases the rate of vibration. This effect can be seen in the dramatic examples of opera singers producing vocals that exactly replicate the frequency of a glass, causing the glass to vibrate at an ever increasing rate until the structure collapses and shatters. Resonance is taken into account during the building of structures such as bridges, for important reasons. The dramatic and terrifying collapse of the Takoma Bridge is an example of large scale resonance in action, with a simple shift in air current causing a seemly solid and stable structure to ripple and bend. Resonance in ritual can be used to increase and amplify the energy you are raising, and can be as simple as the use of a single sound such as ‘Om’ repeated in tone and duration to build and increase the energy, or the layering of sounds from singing bowls that resonate in varying frequencies. The art of effectively using resonance can build powerful spirals of energy that deeply affect both the physical and spiritual forms. The word resonance has also slipped into modern usage to explain the deep connection we feel with a concept or idea. This too is an energetic concept. As Dr. Emoto shows us through his experiments with water, a concept or idea carries its own energetic vibration and as such it is perfectly reasonable that we can resonate with it and feel its truth, when we recognise, accept and amplify the energy.
Language as Creation
In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Many creation myths begin with the word, a sound, a vibration that sparks the creation of all things. Even the scientific principle starts with a Big Bang, the sound impact of which we are still discovering and learning about in our amazing universe. We too are creators of reality, and it is our words, our sound vibrations, that manifest change. We, as magical practitioners, must be aware of both the definition and meaning of our chosen words and their root energy to shape our spells or rituals, and understand that the act of combining words to create our rituals is an act of magic in itself. Words are sounds, sounds are vibration, vibration is energy, energy is magic. The language of ritual is the art of creation through vibration.
Romany Rivers is a British Witch, Reiki Master and artist currently residing in Nova Scotia, pursuing dreams of a family-focused and creative life. A resident poet with Moon Books, Romany has just published her first books: Poison Pen Letters to Myself is released on 30th May 2014 (currently available to preorder) and The Woven Word: A Book of Invocations and Inspirations is due to be released later in the year. Romany is a contributor to several Pagan anthologies and magazines. When not writing, creating or running around after two energetic children, Romany turns her hand to community projects that provide family support. You can find hr online and on Facebook.