Scripts in Ritual

When planning a ritual, one of the first things to consider is whether you want to work from a script. If you go for the scripted option, you need to consider whether you’re going to commit it to memory, or read it on the day. My personal preference is for improvised ritual, but there are times – especially with celebrant work – when a script may be more appropriate. I thought I’d lay out what I see as the pluses and minuses of using scripts – do bear in mind that I have a bias here!

The major advantage of using a script is that everyone knows what they are doing, can agree to it in advance, can see what they need to bring, don’t have to remember words, and have some protection against the anxieties of performing ritual. However, the issue of who creates the script is an interesting one, and putting words into other people’s mouths is a job fraught with difficulty. If there isn’t agreement, there is difficulty. Having a script and an intention that everyone learns it can work, but if anyone forgets their lines, the flow can be lost. People used to working with scripts find it harder to improvise if lines are forgotten or circumstances change. Reading from a script is fine if you have good light and dry weather – outdoors this doesn’t always work out.

Scripts tie you to a plan, and sometimes on the day, the weather, the vibe or recent events can totally throw that out. I’ve had Lugnasadh rituals that felt autumnal, and Indian Summer autumns where the equinox was uncomfortably hot. We’ve hit Beltain with too many folks troubled and distressed in their personal lives for any talk of ‘sap rising’ to make sense. Not having a script gives you the space to respond on the day to whatever is happening. A script can also be a barrier between folk in the circle, anyone without ‘lines’ will feel unable to contribute, and if you give other people words, they may need up saying things they neither feel nor mean, damaging the emotional integrity of the ritual.

The downside to flying without a script is that it’s always a tad chaotic and you don’t get smooth ritual drama. Sometimes you get exquisite, improvised poetry, sometimes it’s awkward. People have no idea what to do. To make it work, you either need a small, trusting group where people aren’t self conscious, or you need at least one person confident enough to hold the ritual together and shape it in the moment, without a script. Folk who have learned ritual by doing it in the company of other improvisers can usually do this themselves.

Sometimes it works well to give participants their own bit of script – people contributing to a handfasting may need lines, for example, but the ritual itself can flow around them unscripted, held by the celebrant. If there are dedications to be made, a script for that section may make sense. It’s not an all or nothing choice, you can mix free flowing ritual with scripted ritual to suit your needs. You can start wholly scripted and move away from that as participants become more confident. There is no one right way of doing things – what matters is finding an approach suitable for the group of people you have.