The first ritual I attended (many years ago) was scripted. I had the script in advance and worked hard to learn all the things I was supposed to say, seeking to understand them so that I could express them as meaningfully as possible. I was very serious and wet behind the ears, and it all seemed hugely important. Come the big night, and I found that the man leading the ritual had not learned the script – even for basic things like calling the quarters. There was no magic. My own words were stilted and awkward. It was horrendous, meaningless, and almost put me off group ritual altogether.
Over the years I’ve worked with various degrees of scripted and not scripted rituals. I am increasingly of the belief that ritual should be improvised in the moment, based (perhaps) on a shape that has been agreed on in advance. Having a script puts a physical object between the person(s) holding it and everyone, and everything else. It is a barrier. It is also a thing to hide behind. Nature frequently hasn’t read the script in advance, and won’t reliably go along with it anyway. Sometimes the mood and weather on the day are totally at odds with what was planned. Not having a script gives you the freedom to go with what is happening.
Scripts in ritual are a safety net, a comfort blanket. They make the ritual predictable. That’s dull. They make it comfortable. Is that what ritual is for? I think ritual should be wild, exciting, challenging. It should be an adventure, unpredictable, different every time. Having a clear structure and plan for what to say may be reassuring, but do you really want that, year on year? It would be limiting.
Standing outside, in a circle of likeminded folk, what better time is there to be open to inspiration? Clear your mind, listen to the birds, the wind, the voices of soil and spirits of place. Truly connect, respect and be open. No amount of script can give you that. If this means there are long silent pauses in ritual, that’s fine, and not a thing to be afraid of. Let the words come in their own time. Let them flow with the currents and energies of your working space, coming from your heart.
I’ve been working with more freeform ritual for some time now, inviting people to improvise. When leading that kind of ritual, it means you must explain quickly and clearly what is needed, and give people a bit of time to think. Sometimes we break circle and go out into the woods in ones and twos to meditate, experience and find inspiration. Then we return and share, speaking words we found amongst the trees. Raw poetry, alive with the energy of the moment, is usually the result. Having no script, we have not decided in advance who will speak, and it makes it easier for everyone to find their voice in ritual and contribute to the gathering. Scripts put authority into the hands of the few – without them, there is more equality in circle.
Improvised ritual is truly beautiful thing. It’s a leap in the dark, every time, but if you are open and trust, and take your inspiration from what is around you, then it flows beautifully. I come away from such gatherings feeling inspired in ways that stay with me and feed into other aspects of my life. It’s a powerful way of working, and I very much recommend it.