My first experience of running an outdoor open ritual was on a beach, and it didn't go that well. Although the beach was reasonably secluded and it was late at night, in any public place there is always the risk of passers-by gawping and heckling. On that occasion a bunch of drunks wandered past. One of them pointed at us and shouted: “Look – hippies!” The rest laughed loudly. Things like that rather spoil the mood.
With that experience in mind, when I offered to organise a child-friendly open ritual in a country park on a Saturday afternoon earlier this month, I did my best to avoid potential problems. For a start, I said we should just wear our ordinary clothes. Although it might seem right to put on a robe to do a ritual, robes can look rather like kaftans – and outside a 1960s party that isn’t a cool look.
My next concern was what equipment we should use. There were three things to consider: health and safety as there were young children present; the rules and regulations within the park itself; and what we could comfortably carry up and down the hills from the station and car park to the ritual site out in the wilds. This meant no athames or other sharp knives; no glass bottles, glass chalices or other breakable items; no naked flames – so no candles or incense; nothing too heavy and nothing unnecessary. And, of course, there was fruit juice for the chalice instead of wine.
We used a wooden bowl just with spring water in it for a simple purification before the ritual – asking everyone to dip their fingers in the water like a finger bowl. I didn’t put salt in the water, although it is traditional to add some. Salt is a herbicide and we were later going to pour the water on the ground where grass and wildflowers were growing.
We used a lightweight picnic box as our altar, covered in a cloth; we cast the circle with a wand; we used a wooden plate and wooden goblet for the cakes and fruit juice to share at the end. Being outdoors in the sunshine with the fresh spring air all around us, there was no need for incense or altar candles.
I spent a lot of time wondering what we should use to mark the quarters. Normally we use tea light candles in suitably coloured glass jars – but with the no glass and no naked flames allowed, they were out of the question. My eventual brainwave was to use soft toys of suitable animals. We had a rabbit in the north (the favourite toy of one of the children), an owl in the east, a dragon in the south and a frog in the west. I thought about using a cuddly Cthulhuin the west, but quickly realised that even a plushy eldritch horror from the abyssal deep might not be that child-friendly :)
As for the words of the ritual, we kept them simple. The ritual was to celebrate Earth Day, so we said a few lines from an ancient hymn to Gaia that still seems meaningful today. We sang a few songs with words and tunes that children could easily learn – including Happy Earth Day to the tune of Happy Birthday. Finally, I had filled a felt witch’s hat with slips of paper that had on them things to do to help the environment and asked everyone, including the children, to pick one.
A full-on Wiccan rite it wasn’t, but being out in the open air of the countryside with friends, family and young ones seemed pretty magical itself. The ritual didn’t need to be complicated.
To deal with any potential drunken hecklers I had asked one person to stay outside the ritual, mind our bags and picnic food, and answer any questions if passers-by should ask what we were doing. A few people did walk past, but no one bothered us and everything went to plan.
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