I have been doing this ritual stuff since my early teens, which means that I’ve had a lot of practice and gotten pretty good at it. I have all of the necessary steps memorized and an innate sense of flow and rhythm. I know what works, and what doesn’t, and why.
I have not imposed an official ritual style for the Starry Bull tradition; instead I’ve given folks the broad parameters of what to do and let them fill in the rest with their own unique style and if they don’t know what to do I’ve encouraged them to experiment so that they can figure out what the best method for them and for our Gods and Spirits happens to be.
Which is fine if you already have experience and some aptitude for ritual, but if you’re coming to this with a blank slate it can be really easy to get lost, overwhelmed and frustrated. Sometimes I forget how daunting all of this can be for beginners.
While some folks have expressed a desire for ritual scripts I will not be providing them. I think that builds up bad habits and can be distracting and limiting, especially when you’re in ritual space. What I will do is walk you through an example of the sort of rituals that I perform.
For me ritual begins well before it actually starts. In fact I’ve been known to spend a couple hours in prep with the ritual itself done in under thirty minutes. That slow, focused build up helps blur the boundary between ordinary and sacred time as well as enables me get into a proper headspace. I don’t know about you, but my life can be downright stressful with a ridiculous amount of distractions and it’s important to put all of that aside when you come before the Gods and Spirits.
And that, primarily, is what we are doing in ritual. Oh, there’s different types of ritual for different needs and occasions but what I’m talking about here is religious and devotional ritual. So as you’re getting ready try to focus your mind on what you’re about to do, which is celebrate and engage with one or more members of our pantheon.
Who are they?
Which of their forms are you trying to engage with?
What prior experience do you have with them?
What do you know about them and how do you know that?
What stories are told about them within our tradition?
What experiences have others described?
What are their preferences and dislikes?
Why are you doing this and what do you hope to get out of it?
These are the sorts of things you should be thinking about as you get ready. Any time that you feel yourself getting distracted or bogged down by other stuff, go over these questions and they will help you get back on track.
Music is central to a lot of what I do, both in and outside of ritual, so I like to have something appropriate playing while getting ready. Choose the music carefully so that it’s reflective of the mood you’re trying to strike and consistent with the nature of the beings you are honoring. Just because I happen to like a certain song doesn’t mean that my Gods or Spirits will and if I’m doing something somber and serious listening to theme songs from 80s cartoon shows probably isn’t a very appropriate choice. Probably.
As I’m getting ready I like to go over what I intend to do a final time, read over any prayers or hymns so that they are fresh in my brain even if I intend to read them during ritual as opposed to just reciting extemporaneously, make sure that I have all of the necessary supplies on hand and prepare the shrine if I’m doing stuff indoors. That means clearing away any offerings that may still be there from the last ritual, making sure everything like dishes and shrine cloths are clean and arranged nicely, that there’s enough room to do what I’ll need to and that fresh candles and incense are ready to go. Some people might want to purify the shrine at this stage with chernips, Florida water, sand, barley, a smudge stick, incense or whatever their preferred method happens to be – I generally don’t if it’s a permanent shrine and only do so for occasional shrines when I get a strong push that it’s necessary. I figure that the shrine becomes imbued with the power and presence of the divinity being honored and if permanent they have altered its structure to be more conducive for them and I don’t really want to fuck with that. However other people tend to be more concerned with purity than I am so it’s an entirely appropriate step to take at this time. I do generally “prime” the shrine by burning some incense and lightning candles, even though I’m not yet actively engaged in ritual. I feel that this is like switching on an “open for business” sign and is also a signal to myself that we’re getting closer to serious ritual time so nothing extraneous should be allowed to creep into my consciousness from this point forward. Likewise I may change the music I’m listening to to help hasten the transition into ritual mode.
At this point I finish preparing myself. I run through what I plan to do during the ritual a final time and I make sure that my head is screwed on appropriately i.e. I’m not distracted, in a bad place mentally or emotionally, properly open and receptive to the Gods and Spirits and so forth. If there’s something I need to do in order to get that way (such as smoke a bowl, drink some wine, read something or listen to a particular song) I do so. Then I make sure that I am physically ready, which generally consists of taking a pre-ritual bath or shower during which I recite a benediction I came up with back when I was serving as an oracular priest and spend some time meditating and setting my intent. Then I dress in clean and appropriate clothing (I am restricted to blacks, reds, whites and greys generally but also have special attire I wear for my more formal rites) and if I feel it’s necessary I may do some added purifications. Lastly I put on some of my ritual jewelry and depending on the nature and formality of the rite may wear a stephanos or garland-crown.
And now I’m ready to ritual. Though I rarely do a full pompe or procession, as I approach the shrine I am conscious of coming into the presence of the holy. I light any remaining candles and incense and then formally greet the divinity, using a variety of simple stock phrases I’ve come up with over the years. I then pour out the libations and place all of the offerings I’ve brought for them on or before the shrine, depending on how crowded it is and how much I’m giving to them. Then I either praise them with my own words or read off a hymn (either something I or another community member has written or one of the Orphic or Homeric Hymns) and then do some on the spot praying or petitioning, as seems appropriate.
Depending on the nature of the rite I may then just spend some time being open to them and basking in their presence or go into an assortment of devotional activities such as dancing, sacred movement, talking with them, listening to music, singing, a variety of ecstatic techniques, magic, divination, consuming drugs or drinking, bloodletting, reading appropriate material, doing something creative such as crafts or writing, or specific activities determined by the nature of the rite. Often I go through several of these and like to keep things open, loose, free-flowing and spontaneous. When I am finished with that I spend some more time just being in their presence and when I feel like the ritual is done I thank them for everything and begin gradually transitioning back into ordinary awareness, one of the first steps being the removal of my stephanos. I usually leave the candles and incense going until this point, and if I will be around afterwards may let them burn until they are done.
I do not have elaborate closing procedures as I generally find that rude with this sort of devotional rite – I wouldn’t make a feast for a friend and then tell them to get the fuck out once we were done eating, so why would I treat my Gods and Spirits with that level of disrespect? A simple but effective though non-offensive way to close the rite is to ring a bell (something that can be done to open it as well.)
And, with some variation depending on the nature of the rite and why I’m doing it, that’s what my style of worship consists of, at least when I’m in front of my home shrine. I have a slightly different approach when I’m doing things outdoors or with other people. I tend to be a little more formal in a group setting, for instance.