27.12.13

Minimalistic Rituals (Devotional and Magical Gestures)

Inspired by my Yule ritual, I decided to write a little something about what I like to call minimalistic rituals, that is those rituals in which no sounds are made and which are completely laid bare of any redundant elements (from ritual tools to decorations). This approach towards rituals is somewhat contradictory to most things written on this blog and in literature because the opposite is usually encouraged: dialogues with deities, chanting, singing, dancing, drumming and other acoustic methods of raising energy. Also, certain ritual aspects are always mentioned: ritual tools, decorations, robes and other things that you "should have". But what to do when you aren't able to do/have any of the above mentioned things? What if you aren't even able to make your own tools and other necessities? Maybe you share your house with someone and can't make noise during the night (if you do your rituals at night), or perhaps you want to do your ritual in private and don't want anyone hearing or disturbing you. One other that may occur is that you simply cannot find the right words to express yourself at a certain moment. This is when you turn to body language. 

Body language sends our unconscious thoughts to those around us and also enables us to equally unconsciously receive information from our surroundings. Certain physical expressions have become customary; we are used to them and can understand their meaning without hesitation. Understanding actions such as these has become intuitive, such as crossed arms ("Don't touch me"), sudden finger-pointing ("He did it!"), shrugging your shoulders ("I don't know"), nodding your head ("Yes") and so on. Of course, these gestures may vary from culture to culture. But just as these gestures have become common among the general population, certain other gestures have nested themselves in magical and ritual practice. It is precisely about these gestures that I will be writing about in this post.

But what about ritual tools, robes, decorations, jewelry...? All of this is unnecessary and is replaceable. Your body alone is enough to replace any important ritual tool and what the body cannot do, the mind can. Jewelry and decorations are just additional elements anyway. If you don't have ritual robes, you can simply work nude (if you work alone, or even in a group is everyone is ok with this), but you can also use any clothes that are clean (although it is recommended that you wear them only inside the circle from then on). 

I would like to begin this post with a question: 

"How is it possible to perform a minimalistic ritual?"

Mental work is an important part of every ritual. Our mind is the one who envisions everything that is necessary, that channels energy towards a certain goal, that takes us into other states of consciousness and with which we form our goals and intentions. All the rest: the words, theatrical elements, tools, clothes, decorations...these are all additional elements which create a nice ambient and thus have a psycho-physical impact on the practitioner. Of course, all of these elements make it easier to fall into a trance, enhance the general effect of the ritual and create the feeling that something uncommon and special is going on. But you can live with all of those additions nonetheless.

As I have already stated, your body can replace almost everything and what your body cannot, the mind can.

I would now like to through all of the segments of a classic Pagan ritual by guiding myself with the typical ritual form. I will attempt to modify everything to make it as minimalistic as possible. 

Ritual Tools

altar - really isn't necessary. If you're performing your ritual outdoors, then you can use any log, but no matter where you are, you can always use the ground itself for both your altar and the circle in which you will be performing the ritual. And besides, why do you even need an altar if you're not going to have anything to put on it? :)

equipment for marking the circle - be it chalk or ropes, it can be useful when working in a group where it is necessary to put a physical "barrier" to make it clear to everyone where the circle ends and begins. This isn't necessary when you work alone because you are the one visualizing the circle, cleansing it, consecrating it and opening it. The circle exists in the physical reality only if it simultaneously exists in your mental reality. Respectively, any physical act or object comes from thought. A problem only exists in group works for which minimalistic rituals aren't an ideal option because all the ritual tools and spoken forms exist to make communication and ritual performance easier. But, in an enclosed space, it is possible to restrict the size of the circle to the size of the room itself or by placing natural objects if you are working outside (such as rocks or staffs) or by using preexistent natural elements (e.g. rocks or trees that naturally form a circle/oval).

candles - if it is the altar candle or the quarter candles, they aren't physically necessary for us because alternate sources of light always exist (be it moonlight, sunlight or artificial light in a room). Symbolically speaking, you can also manage without them. The altar candle, among other things, symbolizes you, your wishes, your energy, and all that symbolism is just additional because you (with your wishes and energy) are already present in the circle. The quarter candles are there to indicate the perimeter of the circle (which I talked about in the previous point), or symbolize the four elements. They can be replaced by the practitioner visualizing the elements (which is done anyway in the Calling of the Quarters ritual).

symbols of the God and Goddess - it is always nice to have an artistic depiction of deities which will remind us of them and give us the impression of their presence, but it is even better when we actually feel their presence in and around us (which is achieved by real and powerful invocations which are achieved in time and with practice). In Paganism, it is usually thought that each person is also the God and the Goddess (or that they are at least a part of every person). According to this belief, they are always present in the circle. 

athamé/wand, sword and staff - no matter what you use them for (invocations, channeling energy, opening the circle etc.), all of these tools can be replaced by the index finger or the whole hand. After all, they are simply mediators which transfer energy from point A to point B. Energy can be channeled equally as well by using direct methods (i.e. the human body). 

salt and water (and bowls) - logically, bowls for water and salt aren't needed if you don't plan to use water or salt. But why wouldn't you need water and salt? They are usually used as symbols of two elements (water and earth). The same explanation goes for that as for the quarter candles so I won't repeat myself. But what if they are used to cleanse the ritual space? Well this is very simple; there are many ways to cleanse the ritual space and only a small part of them is physical. You can cleanse a space by using only your thoughts, or by simply channeling energy and using various visualizations (the most common is visualizing white light being directed towards something or filling something).

incense - it is used for the same purposes and salt and water so the same explanations apply.

matches/a lighter - they simply aren't necessary if you don't have anything to light with them.

pentacle - it usually represents the element of earth which can again be visualized. If it is taken as a symbol of the unity of all the elements or as the symbol of the spirit then it is also unnecessary because all of the elements can be brought into the circle with a quality invocation (they are then in the same place, they work harmoniously and are in this sense already unified), and your spirit (the fifth element) is already present since you are in the circle yourself.

goblet and plate (food and drinks) - if you don't have neither food nor drinks, then you won't need either. I believe it is always better to have food and drinks simply so the ritual can have a core and to make it easier for you to earth yourself. But earthing can be done by visualizing, practicing breathing exercises and with physical movements. If we take the food and drinks to be the objects into which energy is channeled (this is always good because that energy is directly taken into the body by consuming the food and drink) it is also replaceable because energy can always be channeled directly into the practitioner(s). In order to do this, it is only necessary to change the direction in which the energy is channeled. 

ritual oil - it is used rarely enough as it is (and by few practitioners), mostly for special occasions. When it is used, it serves to bless and cleanse a person. Blessings can also be given simply by laying your hands on a person, by saying a request which is directed towards a deity and so on. Cleansing can be done in the same ways and by visualizing or even by performing certain physical acts (for example taking a ritual bath before the ritual begins).

I have already explained what you can do if you don't have any ritual robes and the other tools and decorations are simply unnecessary because they can all be replaced by quality visualizations (or they can simply be ignored and not even used in the ritual). 

Casting the Circle

Cleansing the space - this can be done by visualizing. In stead of walking around the ritual space with a broom/censer, you walk empty-handed and visualize all the negative energy dispersing and feel the air around you becoming lighter. If you feel the need to substantiate this with physical actions, feel free to wave your hands as if imitating the way the broom moves. 

Blessing gesture
Blessing - every blessing can be performed by simply laying your hands on (or just above) the person/object being blessed. In stead of saying what you are doing out loud or asking a deity for help out loud, simply do this in your mind. A settled blessing gesture does exist and it is performed by raising the palm of the dominant hand (so the right palm if you're right-handed or the left palm if your left-handed) and directing it towards the person/object being blessed. In case you are the one being blessed, you can turn both your palms upwards and bend your arms at the elbows (so your elbows are at your hips). 
The gesture for receiving a blessing

Centering and grounding - both of these actions are performed by using visualizations during which nothing has to be said and for which no ritual tools are needed. You can find excellent techniques for both actions in the previous post on ritual from under the subtitle "Opening the Circle". 

Marking the circle - to find a suitable replacement for chalk or ropes, have a look at the suggestions under the subtitle "Ritual tools" in this post. In stead of using an athamé to mark the circle's perimeter, you can use your index finger which you will keep directed towards the floor while walking on the envisioned perimeter. While doing this, it is best if you visualize a shining white/light blue line appearing on the floor where you direct your index finger. If you tend to visualize a sphere in stead of a circle, then you can visualize the sphere slowly being fulfilled with this same light (and thus being built). By doing this, you have actually visualized the protection of the circle

Lighting the candles and marking the circle with the physical elements can be left out here because we don't have the necessary tools for this. Also, the circle can (and will) be marked by the elements later on during the invocation of the elements. 

The gesture of the third eye
(the position of the hands from your
perspective before placing them
on the forehead)
Greeting - before beginning the ritual, certain greeting forms can be directed towards the other ritual attendants and present energies. They are usually spoken, although a fitting gesture also exists and it is called the gesture of the third eye. It is primarily used to greet all those that attend the ritual but is also effective at opening the sixth chakra (also known as the third eye). It is performed by kneeling before the altar and contracting the non-dominant hand into a fist (that would be your left hand if you're right-handed or your right hand if you are left-handed). The non-dominant hand is then clasped from above with the dominant hand. Both hands are kept clasped like this and the thumbs (which are crossed) are placed onto the forehead about where the third eye should be (slightly above the midpoint of the eyebrows). This greeting is usually performed by the director of the ritual (the priest and/or priestess).

Invoking the Elements

When invoking the elements, it is always a good idea to visualize them (and in doing so, you are actually inviting them to join you). You can imagine their elementals which embody them or the reflection of the elements in natural phenomena. You can also personify them; this may even make it easier for some of you. But by all means find a method that suits you.

Common tools using in invocations are the athamé and wand which can be replaced by the index finger. You can simply hold your hand in the air with the index finger stretched (the other fingers clasped into the fist), pointing towards the cardinal point which corresponds to the particular element you wish to invoke. Some go a step further and in stead of simply outstretching their index finger draw a pentagram in the air. Each element has two corresponding pentagrams - an invoking pentagram (which is used in this case) and a banishing pentagram (which is used for releasing the quarters. Everyone has their own way of memorizing these pentagrams (if they decide to use them) and I'm sure that you will find your own method. :)


If you don't feel like memorizing all of these pentagrams, then there are other gestures which you can use to invoke the elements (and release them). The following gestures are common in Paganism:

Air
The thumbs are interlocked and the other fingers spread out (the palms facing the practitioner). You can "wave" your fingers as if imitating the flapping wings of a bird or butterfly. This gesture is known as garuda mudra in yoga. 

Fire

Since I wasn't able to find one pictures to explain this gesture, I had to manage with two. To perform this gesture, the flat palm of the non-dominant hand should be placed on the chest (as in the left picture) and the dominant hand should be clenched into a fist, fully extended in the air and raised about 45° (as in the right picture but slightly more straightened out).


Water
Both palms should be slightly contracted and turned upwards as if trying to grab water (as in the picture). As far as I know, the height of the hands/arms isn't important so I recommend you keep them at a height which is comfortable to you.

Earth
The gesture of the element of earth is very similar to the gesture of air. It is different in the fact that the palms should face from the practitioner (that is, towards the floor) and the fingers tightly kept together (although they are straight as in the air gesture, and the thumbs are interlocked in the same way). 
Each of the above mentioned gestures has its alchemical equivalent. These alchemical gestures are actually imitations of the alchemical symbols of the four elements made with the hands. 

Air

The tips of the thumbs and the index fingers touch to form an upward-facing triangle. The middle fingers are joined to form a line which divides the triangle into two parts along the middle. The ring finger and pinky can follow the index finger (as in the left picture, which is more traditional), but I have also come across a variation in which they follow the middle finger (as in the right picture which is usually easier and more natural for the fingers).

Fire
This is almost the same gesture as for the element of air. It differs only in that the middle finger (and ring finger and pinky) follow the index finger. Basically, the hand should form a normal upward-facing triangle.

Water
This is an identical gesture to the fire gesture, except the triangle should face downwards.






Earth
This is the same from as with the air gesture, except the triangle should face downwards.






Invoking the Goddess and God

The welcoming gesture
Even though it is common to perform any invocations by speaking out loud, this can be done in the mind also. Other segments of the invocations can be done without any modifications, for instance visualizations and dancing. But you can read more on those in the previous post on ritual form. For those parts of the invocation which can be replaced by physical movements, certain gestures have been established in Pagan practice.

While reading an invocation (or in this case speaking it to oneself; in the mind), it is common for the practitioner to stand in the welcoming pose (i.e. the welcoming gesture). It is used to greet the gods and bid them welcome into the circle. It is performed by the practitioner standing with feet apart as naturally as possible and keeping the arms outstretched at the height of the shoulders (thus forming a T shape with the body).

Gestures for Invoking the Gods

Two common gestures exist in Pagan practice and they are the Osiris pose (a.k.a. the gesture of the God) and the gesture of the Mother (a.k.a. the gesture of the Goddess).

The Osiris pose/the
gesture of the God
The Osiris pose is performed by standing with feet firmly together and crossing the forearms over the chest to form an X shape (with the dominant hand on top of the non-dominant hand). The palms are usually flat, but they can be clasped into fists if the practitioner decides to hold certain symbols of the God in them (Osiris is usually depicted with a crook and a flail, while it is more common nowadays for the practitioner to hold the athamé and the wand - two ritual tools which symbolize the God). This pose celebrates masculinity, male fertility, spirituality and reincarnation (which is an integral part of the Osiris myth).

The gesture of the Mother is similar to the gesture of receiving a blessing because both arms should be bent in the elbows and kept in front of the hips. The palms should face upwards and the feet placed shoulder-width apart. This pose will often vary in the width of the placement of the feet so don't be surprised if you come across such modifications. 

The Sabbat/Esbat Ritual

Gestures for Celebrating the Gods

Greeting the deities who are being celebrated that particular day is a common practice during the Sabbat and/or Esbat celebration. This can be done by using one/some of the following gestures in stead of speaking (although you can speak in your mind). 

The horns gesture
Both the God and the Goddess have their own celebratory gestures which are used to greet them. Each of them symbolizes their physical characteristics or mythological attributes. These gestures are the gesture of the God (a.k.a. the horns gesture) which represents the classical depiction of the God and the fig gesture which symbolizes the vulva (which makes this gesture a symbol of female fertility and sexuality). 

The fig gesture
The horns gesture is made by contracting the hand into the fist and extending the little finger and index finger upwards. The thumb should cover the middle and ring finger. 

The fig gesture is made by forming a fist and placing the thumb between the index finger and middle finger.

The Moon gesture (except the hands
should be at eye level)
Three more gestures exist for celebrating the Goddess. They are similar because they are all connected to the Moon. The first gesture is called the Moon gesture and it is performed by raising the hands at eye-level, turning the palms towards each other and bending them as if you are holding a ball.

The crescent Moon gesture
The second in this category is the crescent Moon gesture. In order to perform it, the fingers simply have to be bent to from the letter C. This is usually done with the dominant hand which is raised in the air. The thumb and index finger should be bent to form the letter C, while the other three fingers should be clenched into the fist.

The Triple Moon gesture (but without
the crescent Moon gestures which
complete it)
The last of the three gestures is called the Triple Moon gesture. It resembles the pose in the photograph, but has a few additional elements. The forearms should be crossed on the chest thus forming the letter X (as in the picture). The dominant arm should be over the non-dominant one. The addition to the photograph is that both hands should form the crescent Moon gesture. The two hands then represent the waning and waxing phase of the Moon, while the empty space between them (or better said the heart) symbolizes the full Moon. This shape is known as the Triple Goddess symbol.

The Sun gesture

Another gesture which is used to revere a certain deity and which is adequate for almost any deity (but especially those connected to the Sun) is the Sun gesture. It is similar to the welcoming gesture, but the arms should be lifted up high into the air and spread shoulder-width apart. The head should also face the sky.

These gestures, which are intended to celebrate deities, don't have to be used only in this part of the ritual. I believe that they can be used whenever you wish to show respect to a certain deity, or simply when mentioning them (or in this case thinking of them). 

Magical Gestures

Magical works are usually performed inside the Sabbat/Esbat celebration. They don't have to be connected to any deity and don't even need to have a devotional background. This is why I have separated them from the rest of the post.

According to general definitions, magic is the ability of controlling (channeling) energy towards a certain goal with the intention of changing something in the physical world. Since magic is directly connected to energy control, you can decide to perform magic only this way and no other, that is with no "aids" (candles, dolls, cords, talismans etc.). In order to channel energy, certain methods are used to first raise this energy such as the Cone of Power in groups. In order to perform the Cone of Power,  no actual tools or speech is needed (although sounds often play an important role). If working in a group, it is significantly harder to achieve harmonious raising of energy without using some signals, but if working alone or with one or two more people, then this is possible. You can find more methods of raising energy here, but for this occasion, I would recommend you stick to visualizations (which you would use anyway), chanting to yourself (find a word/phrase which best summarizes your intention and repeat it to yourself) and certain breathing techniques and methods of regulating the heart beat. The last two methods are often used in Shamanism to speed up the switch from one state of consciousness to another and they are performed by simulating hyperventilation (try to breath fast but only on your nose, just be careful not to overdo it so keep a regular rhythm and only quicken or slow down the pace according to the needs and abilities of your organism...nobody wants you to faint or get sick in any other way!).

I feel that there is no need to emphasize magical gestures because I believe that they come naturally. A typical example of body language in magic is the moment when the whole body leans forward when directing energy into/towards something (the hands often follow the body and shoot forward with the palms outstretched). Sudden pointing of the index finger towards someone/something is thought to be an extremely powerful, but also dangerous gesture so its use is not recommended (similar gestures are connected to curses which are in no way supported in Paganism).

Cakes and Wine

This part of the ritual is intended for returning to reality and earthing. Food and drinks should be of great help in this (and they really are), but consuming them isn't the only method of earthing. Visualizations are a great alternative even here, so I would recommend a visualization from a previous post on raising group energy. This is actually a technique of letting out excess energy into the land in the following manner: you imagine a ball of white light sliding from your vertex, down your spine and through your tailbone (if you are sitting) or your feet (if you are standing) into the earth. This energy is actually the same energy which you borrow from the land in the visualization of centering and grounding (which is performed at the beginning of the ritual). It once more returns to the earth from which it came.

Thanking the Goddess and God

As the ritual is slowly coming to an end here, it is necessary to bid farewell to all the entities and energies which joined you in the ritual and among them the Goddess and God (or better said any deities which you invoked). You can thank them by saying a few words of thanks to yourself and performing one of the appropriate gestures for celebrating the gods.

Releasing the Elements

The elements should be released in the same matter as they were invoked, that is by using the index finger to address a particular element (i.e. by turning towards that element's cardinal point; east for air, south for fire, west for water and north for earth). You can choose whether or not you will draw the pentagrams, use one of the gestures from this post or simply release them by speaking a few words to yourself.

Releasing the Circle

If, at the beginning of the ritual, you visualized the circle/sphere being filled with a white/blue light, then now is the time to imagine this light slowly fading (be it in the whole sphere or just on the perimeter of the circle). Basically, whichever visualization you used at the beginning of the ritual, you envision the opposite at the end. It is common for the practitioner to pass along the perimeter of the circle with their athamé/wand directed at the floor, but the index finger is used in stead of these tools for this occasion. The most important thing for this process is that you are constantly aware that you are releasing the circle and ending the ritual (if it makes things easier, you can even say this to yourself a few times).


Even though you may never decide to perform a minimalistic ritual, I hope that you will at least use some of the gestures mentioned in this post and sense an improvement in your rituals.
For now, I wish you the best of luck with your future works!
Yours,
Witch's Cat

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