“Ritual … is a space and time that is set aside in which the participant is radically engaged with all their senses, and is promoting Beauty, giving thanks, celebrating the Holy Body, aspiring towards Awareness, and creating/maintaining Sacred Relationship.”
— Ruby Sara
Neo-Pagan rituals use stylized actions, mytho-poetic language, and evocative imagery, including invocations of deities, recitations of myths, and sacramental acts, like lighting candles, libations, etc., which are all imbued with a sense of mystery and the sacred. The goal of Neo-Pagan ritual is to restore our divine connection with the natural world, with our deeper Selves, and with each other.
In psychological terms, the goal of Neo-Pagan ritual is to evoke powerful affective responses for the therapeutic purpose of incarnating, exploring, and consecrating the archetypal patterns of the unconscious, so as to resolve the intrapsychical conflicts created by the dissociation of the shadow components of the psyche caused by Western guilt culture, and to effect a healing reintegration which restores in us the link to the wellspring of psycho-spiritual power. Margot Adler explains in her book, Drawing Down the Moon, that ritual aims to do on the unconscious level what politics aims to do on the conscious level: transform individuals and society.
“We are talking about the rituals that people create to get in touch with those powerful parts of themselves that cannot be experienced on a verbal level. These are parts of our being that have often been scorned and suppressed. Rituals are also created to acknowledge on this deeper level the movements of the seasons and the natural world, and to celebrate life and its processes.”
Z. Budapest explains it this way:
“The purpose of ritual is to wake up the old mind in us, to put it to work. The old ones inside us, the collective consciousness, the many lives, the divine eternal parts, the senses and parts of the brain that have been ignored. Those parts do not speak English. They do not care about television. But they do understand candlelight and colors. They do understand nature.”
Dolores LaChapelle argues that ritual is essential to creating intimate, conscious relationship with the places where we dwell. It is no coincidence, she says, that native societies tend both to be ecologically sustainable and to have a rich ceremonial life. “We have tried to relate to the world around us through only the left side of our brain, and we are clearly failing” writes LaChapelle, “If we are to re-establish a viable relationship, we need to rediscover the wisdom of these other cultures who know that their relationship to the land and to the natural world required the whole of their being.” According to LaChapelle, festivals and other rituals “connect the conscious with the unconscious, the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the cortex with the older three brains … as well as connecting the human with the non-human — the earth, the sky, the animals and plants.”
The most common form of Neo-Pagan ritual is the celebration of the Wheel of the Year, eight annual rituals which correspond with annual solar events and seasonal changes, as well as corresponding psycho-spiritual cycles of ascent and decline and growth and stagnation.
The Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year
The Quartered Circle and the Four Elements
Grounding and Centering
Exoteric and Esoteric Ritual