It is a fundamental need of the human condition that we express by way of sacred or secular ritual those moments which have greatest meaning and influence upon our lives. Like all religions, most pagan religions use ritual in the celebration of its mysteries. Ritual is used to commune ever more deeply with the wisdom and love of the old gods and the divine forces of nature.
Rituals take many forms in the different pagan religions and practices and are perhaps one of the least understood aspect of the paganism. Below are described three main expressions of ritual practice employed by pagans.
Celebrations of Nature:
Paganism often sees the divine as manifest in all nature. For pagans, the turning pattern of the seasons is a mirror in which to see reflections of the many changing faces of the old gods. Pagans often celebrate seasonal festivals to commune with nature’s mysteries. By way of myth, poetry and ritual drama, pagans enact simple rituals as acts of worship and joyful celebration.
Rituals used to create magic are a means of contacting the deeper powers of consciousness and wider spiritual powers that may assist in resolving life crises or in working acts of healing. Among Wiccans, all magical work is guided by a fundamental ethic that it should in no way be of harm to others. Rituals with a more magical intent will usually be held to coincide with particular phases of the Lunar cycle. Contrary to common belief among outsiders, not all pagans believe in magic.
Rites of Passage:
Rites of passage form an important part of the ritual practice of most pagan religions (an in fact a major part of most religions and cultural groups in general). There are rituals for marriage, for blessing new born children and requiem rites for those who have died. Rituals of initiation are another example of a rite of passage used by pagans and often those who join a tradition will pass through such a ceremony. Not all pagan traditions practice initiation; but those which do may also give further initiations to mark new stages in spiritual growth.
These three strands of ritual practice are often woven together. For many pagans, rituals are acts of magic and celebration; rites of passage leading to ever deeper communion with nature and of the divine. Each of the pagan religions uses particular symbolism and has its own preferred methods of working rituals. However, pagans as a whole are highly creative and ritual forms are often changed to reflect personal needs and a deepening understanding of the natural world. Paganism is not dogmatic and sees ritual as a means to an end and not an end in itself.