How To Build Meaningful Rituals
We love the idea of witchy rituals. Chances are when you think of them, you think of the roaring bonfire, cauldron, smoke, and hooded robes, all beneath a full moon. Who wouldn't want to take part? But most of the time, the rituals we do are far less dramatic. It doesn't make them any less meaningful or important, but we must disengage the idea of what we think they should be instead of what they actually look like.
That isn't to say that we don't have dramatic rituals, we absolutely do, but rituals don't look like just one thing.
Judaism is rich with rituals. We often forget as we're in it, that to the outside eye, our practices are far more ritualistic than many other common practices seen within other religions.
Standing around a table at Shabbat, you forget that not everyone understands why you light candles as night falls. Why we bring the light in towards us three times, usually wearing some sort of veil upon our heads. Why we cover our eyes, wash our hands three times and say a special prayer only to uncover our loaf of ritualistic bread that had part of the dough sacrificed to the fire. It is easy to forget that all of these things are rituals, and it is up to you to make them as meaningful as possible.
If we look into Judaism, we see rituals constantly, but people can still feel disconnected when they arrive at a holiday and don't know how to approach it. I was bombarded with requests for Rosh HaShanah rituals, which I did here, and I am sure that as I keep going, I will write about rituals for other holidays.
Until then, I leave you with my basic guide to building rituals for yourself:
Creating a circle. Often called casting a circle, creating a circle has long been part of Jewish tradition. For example, in Ashkenazi tradition, a bride circles her groom 3 or 7 times, both auspicious numbers, in order to create a protective barrier from demons and entities. This can tie in to protection, or protection could be done separately.
image from Gershon Winkler's "The Magic of the Ordinary"
Ritual hand washing. The prayer of Al Netilat YaDayim is an extremely common one in Judaism. We purify our hands constantly and this method is frequently used before, during, and after ritual.
Mikveh. The ritual cleansing using water, particularly flowing, natural water. This immersion in water is considered incredibly sacred, cleansing, and purifying.
Grounding. There are many methods of grounding, each serving to ground yourself to the Earth and the physical realm. There are many ways to do this, but a popular method is to envision a silver cord stemming from the nape of your neck and extending down through your tailbone into the center of the earth, tethering you there.
Cleansing with smoke, scents, or sound. The use of incense and burnt herbs has long existed in Judaism (pre and post Beit HaMikdash), as well as the use of fragrant herbs and spices. Sound has also been used (example: the Shofar, the sound of tambourines, etc).
Candles. From Shabbat and Channukah to Yarzeit candles, lighting a flame has been a part of Jewish ritual for centuries. Infuse your ritual with intention by making your own candles or anointing them with herbs or oils. Any color candle is perfectly accessible.
Prayer. Of course, for many of us, prayer is an integral part of a routine. This is entirely subjective. Some begin with full prayers while others may use parts that resonate.
Creating Rituals on Your Own
What do you seek to gain from the ritual? Why are you doing it in the first place? Each ritual should have a purpose. Building the rest of the ritual will come from that purpose.
Think about the time. As we've discussed in my blog on the months of the year, which you can read here, each month is known for it's own quality. However, the times of the month can be useful as well. The new moon is a time for new projects, new energies, and manifestation. Right before the new moon, as the moon is waning, is known to be an auspicious time to release energy. The full moon is the mid-point of the month, making it a good time to re-evaluate, cleanse, and find peace. As a disclaimer, this is not universal, nor is it a hard and fast rule. Should you feel it appropriate to manifest at the full moon and re-evaluate at the new moon, that is up to you.
Think about what kind of ritual you'd like to create for yourself. What prayers would you like to include? Candle lighting? Blessing foods? Burning items? Besamim (fragrant spices)? Think about what you are looking to create and gather the appropriate materials. Sometimes, this means no tools at all. It can be a simple as sitting beneath the sky and breathing, or as elaborate as ritual wear and a bonfire. It entirely depends on how you feel and what your goal is.
What holiday is it? Depending on the holiday, there may already be rituals that you can take part in. Example: Rosh HaShanah has tashlich, Purim has making Mishloach Manot, etc.
Think about what is meaningful to you about this holiday? What specifically are you celebrating or honoring?
Tailor your goals to that of the holiday. Let them co-exist and harmonize to allow you to reach your goal.
Use the list above in conjunction with each holiday.
There are practices that exist that may not have been mentioned in this blog post, but that does not mean they are not valid. This is merely an outline for building your own rituals. It is not a requirement, nor is it a standard that you have to set yourself to.
Build practices that nourish you. Try new things, explore, enjoy, connect.
NOTICE: This blog is opinionated and based in my own experiences. There are many ways to build ritual, this is merely my advice. I urge you to take what nourishes you and leave what does not.