There are variations on how to do a main Wiccan ritual, solitary or with coven members. I will try to cover the basic rituals format, then I want to talk about the different rituals and rites. Specifically, handfasting, drawing down the moon, and so forth. For the sake of this journal, I will not go into different tradition variations because I am not familiar with them all, and there is too many for this journal to go over. So, I will only cover the basic rituals which most Wiccan trads use. (I will be helped by a few authors, but mainly Scott Cunningham’s “Wicca: Guide for the solitary practitioner“. I will also include some of my personal practice.)
How one may do these may differ, for example there are a few ways to cast a circle. There may be different elemental correspondences for the the different directions when calling the guardians. These types of things all vary by location and tradition. If you’re a beginner and confused, I would say research different methods more in depth than this journal and pick what is right for YOU. I cannot tell you.
I will start with holidays known as “Sabbaths” are the major holidays, and “esbats” tend to be like full moon workings once a month. (Twice if you’re lucky.) Some Sabbaths are not even celebrated by all, and may likewise vary between traditions. (Mabon seems to be unpopular in non–American circles, from what I gather.) Since the Sabbaths go by seasonal cycles and was made for people above the equator, people below the equator may have the opposite going on. For example, Beltane is coming up as of this journal for us as we’re in America. But in Australia, Samahin is coming up instead. Likewise, when casting a circle, instead of the traditional clockwise for casting, Australian pagans may use counter clockwise for casting and clockwise for uncasting.
They are 8 major Wiccan holidays and they form a chart called “the wheel of year”. They are called Sabbaths or Sabbats. I have included the chart below, from Sasquatch’s lair blog. (The dates are the traditional dates. Under the equator the opposite would occur, for example, Litha would be celebrated instead of Yule.)
The Wheel of year
The wheel is not just symbolic of the changing of the seasons. The sabbaths tell the stories of the goddess and the god in the life, death, and rebirth process because Wicca is a fertility religion. It has paralells to the dying gods Osiris, Tammuz, and Adonis. With Tammuz (Dumuzi) the shepherd god, he spent six months in the underworld, and six months his sister Gestianna took his place. Some of these holidays are ancient pagan, usually Celtic, in origins, such as Yule and Samhain. Others are not, like Ostara and Mabon, and are modern recollections of the seasons. The wheel of year is popular among pagans, and may be used by non-Wiccan Neopagans.
Yule is around the Christmas season. It is the time of the greatest darkness and the shortest time of the year. Many pagan solar festivals were done around this time, the winter darkness was a celebration of light. In Rome, it was Saturnalia where the agricultural god Saturn was celebrated, as a time of feast and debauchery. In Egypt, it was the time to celebrate the rebirth of Ra, the sun god. In certain cults it was the god Mithras, birthday. In Celtic Neopaganism, based on older practices, it is the part of the symbol of the Oak king vs the Holly king. During this time the Oak king conquers the Holly king, and then reigns until midsummer or Litha. (In some Wiccan traditions the Holly vs Oak king as seen as dual aspects of the Horned God.) In the main Wicca, Yule is sometimes celebrated at dawn to hark the rebirth of the God, the Goddess gives birth to him. Since the God is also the sun, this is why it is done at dawn. However, other Wiccans like to celebrate in the dead of night, between 12-4am.
Around Groundhog’s day in America, (February 1-2) is Imbolc, the festival of lights. In Celtic traditions, this was a time to celebrate the Celtic goddess of fire, home, hearth, poetry, and healing Brigid. She also became a saint in the Catholic church and this day is known as Brigid’s day. Some female Wiccans may use the crown of lit candles to celebrate. In Wicca, however, it is also marks the Goddess and her recovery after giving birth to the God at Yule. It is the returning of the sun and of spring. The Goddess fertilizes the earth, so the beginning of spring can appear. While the God is a young boy, his power is still weak until longer days. The more eclectic Wiccans tend to celebrate a mix of Brigid worship and honoring the God and Goddess. It is traditional to do this at sunset, because Celtic days were to begin then.
The spring equinox is more of a modern tradition, it happens around March 23rd. A scholar named Bede claimed that this was the time of an obscure Anglo-Saxon goddess named Ostara or Eostre, who was associated with the dawn, eggs, and rabbits. She may be related to Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn. However, there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of Ostara as a goddess. That poses a bit of a problem if you’re more into the reconstruction bit of pagandom. Academics also do not know why Easter or Ostara (the holiday) is associated with eggs and rabbits. Out of all the modern pagan holidays, this is probably the least “pagan” and more Neopagan. None of that should deter you, in my own opinion. in Wicca, it marks the first day of spring. The God stretches and grows into maturity. The Goddess and the God compel the animals to copulate and the plants to germinate. Light and darkness are equal here, and light is beginning to over take the darkness. It is a time of new beginnings and growth. Most Wiccans, like with Imbolc, mix Ostara with the Goddess and God.
Beltane is the anglicized version of a Gaelic May Day festival. (April 30th/May 1st) This is halfway between the spring and summer solstice. In Irish literature it marked the beginning of summer. Bonfires were a huge deal, people and cattle would walk around bonfires, and sometimes even leap over them. Food and drink were offered to the aos si, or the fae (fairies) who live in the mounds. Maypole dancing is a common part of the celebrations, especially with the Germanic tribes and English. Fertility is a focus. With Wicca, this is the part when the God is in his youth after manhood. The God desires the Goddess, they fall in love, and consummate their desires. Beltane marks passions and hopes being consummated as well.
Also, known as midsummer occurs around June 20th. It varies. This is when the fertility is at it’s height. The reproduction powers of the God and Goddess are at their greatest. In history bonfires were lit to protect against evil spirits, witches were also thought to be meeting powerful beings during this time. The celebration of the summer solstice does go back to Neolithic times, and is one of the oldest celebrations. it is celebrated at dawn or at midnight, usually. Midsummer is a time of purification and all sorts of magick.
Also, called Lammas. It is the time of the first harvest and is usually celebrated on August 1st. It is a Gaelic holiday that was once celebrated all throughout Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Mann. It is believed to be pagan in origin and is named after the Celtic god of light, Lugh. Feasting, athletic games, and matchmaking often took place during these times. Coincidentally, around this time in a few cultures, August was associated with the dead and ghosts. In Aztec lore, August was the time for the true day of the dead festivals. The Catholics moved it to November 1st. In Chinese thought, all of August is the “month of ghosts”. In Wiccan thought, the God is slowly losing power as the sun’s power diminishes over time. The Goddess observes the God slowly dying with sadness, but is happy because she is pregnant. Meals are important around this time.
Around September 21 is the Autumn equinox. Not every Wiccan tradition celebrates this one. It is the second of the three harvest festivals and is a time of thankfulness. It’s basically a Neopagan thanksgiving. Day and night are equal again, here. The God prepares to leave his physical body. Nature declines and draws back it’s bounty. The “fire” burns within the Goddess’s womb.
October 31st or Halloween is Samhain. It is probably the most popular and sometimes the most important Neopagan holiday. Halloween is steeped in old Celtic customs. It was originally a Gaelic festival, with Neolithic roots. The veil between this world and the next is thought to be thinnest at the time, so spirits from the otherside are more likely to run rampant. This includes the aos si. The reason people dress up during the time, especially if they are scary, is to confuse the evil spirits brought into the world during the time. Offerings for the dead, ancestors, and the aos si were giving at the times. Similar rituals are done around this time in Mexico, for the day of the dead, and by Neopagans, including Wiccans. This is the sabbath in which the God dies, to be reborn at Yule. It is a time of reflection, especially about death and life.
The term is usually used to refer to coven meetings that are not Sabbats. It is typically referred to as a full moon. However, it may refer to other coven meetings as well. In solitary practice it just refers to full moon rituals.
The idea of such is probably from different sources. However, it is noted in Aradia or the Gospel of Witches in Leland’s English translation.
When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything; p. 6
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead;
And ye shall make the game of Benevento,
Extinguishing the lights, and after that
Shall hold your supper thus:
This had a big impact on Gerald Gardner. Solitary Wiccans will do drawing down the moon rituals during this time, though not always. The full moon is considered a time for great magick.
Moon phases are thought to be very important to some Wiccans, and now also Neopagans. The full moon is a time when some say the Goddess is said to be in her mother aspect and it is good to use healing, intuitive, raising awareness, and any magick related to developing your abilities during this time. The waning moon period is good for baneful magic, banishing spells, and spells to get rid of people or things. The new moon is a good time to do wish fulfillment, new beginnings spells, and focusing on the inner self. This is thought by some to be the Goddess’s crone aspect. The waxing moon is good for bringing love in your life, money spells, and the moon phase to get things done. It is thought to be the Goddess in her maiden form.
Wiccan tools of trade
Wiccans have four main tools; the pentacle to represent the element of earth, the athame or knife to represent the element of fire, (Sometimes a sword), the wand to represent the element of air, and the chalice to represent the element of water. Other tools, which are not a requirement, is the boline or knife for carving and cutting, the censer for incense, the sourge, which you shouldn’t worry about if you’re not in a coven, cingulum, another thing not to worry about if you’re solitary, the cauldron which is similar to the chalice, but has multiple uses including making incense, and using a fire proof container, and finally the besom or the broom used to sweep and clean away negativity, as well as in handfasting ceremonies. Candles, statuary/images of gods, and incense is also important. Most of these tools are concentrated or blessed, and charged with power before usage. If you’re on a budget you can always substitute, like using a kitchen knife for an athame, until you can afford the proper tools. Also, if you do not have a wand, you can use your finger in the meantime. Things like salt, candles, candle holders, incense, and the works can be found at many dollar stores in America to help get you started.
There are many ways to set up altars. If you have images or statues of the gods, if only one it can be in the middle surrounded by items of the seasons, while of the god and goddess, the goddess is usually on the left and the god on the right. Altars are very personal, and may or may not include your personal tools at the moment. They can also be temporary and do not have to be permanent.
Wiccan ritual magick format
For the purposes of this journal, I am only covering solitary formats. If planning a ritual, you need to write down what you need to do. You may want to ground and center yourself before the ritual, and many solitaries take a shower before the ritual for purification reasons. In coven format, they may gather a group of people to cast a circle. However, since we’re only talking about solitary it is not needed. Circles can be cast indoors and outdoors. There are many explanations given why they are cast. The main one is for protection from outside sources. The one I like, is top raise energy in the circle, and then release it for the spell. For this purpose, I will direct you to this link on how to cast a circle. It includes pictures. I will say that you can take your athame and cut through the circle if you have to go through it, without breaking it. Something the link doesn’t mentioned.
You will also have to call quarters, the guardians of the different directions. The elemental aspects of these directions differ depending on the tradition. I like north is earth, south is fire, east is air, and west is water, myself. I usually do my ritual facing east and then going clockwise.
Inside the circle you can do any sort of practice from chakra works, to different spells, to meditations. Even just simply honoring the God and Goddess. There is no requirement. Afterwards, say good bye to whatever beings you called upon and release the circle by going counter clockwise. This will release the energy that was trapped in the circle so your spell can work.
Just so you know for future reference, this is high magick which is more ceremonial in nature. Low magick, also called folk magic, or even natural magick which is considered the opposite of ceremonial magick, doesn’t require an elaborate ceremony such as this to cast. It’s more along the lines of saying incantations to raise energy or lighting a candle for a simple spells, without casting a circle or calling quarters and the like.
Other important Wiccan ceremonies
Initiation or dedication
Initiation is when you are initiated formally into a Wiccan tradition and recognized. The main two, Gardnerian and Alexanderian, have 3 degrees of initiations. I do not know if other trads have more than that. Once you’re in your 3rd degree, you can start your own coven and branch off, if you want. Dedication is solitary and is just about self-dedicating to Wicca and the gods.
Drawing down the moon
Drawing down the moon is a ceremony performed by the high priestess of a coven, mostly likely on a full moon, where she draws the moon Goddess into her body. She enters a trance to do this. The Goddess than speaks through her. In some versions the High Priest may do this as well for the God. In solitary format, this is done alone. I would not advise beginners do this.
The Great Rite
The Great Rite is a ceremony performed in a coven which requires sexual intercourse to raise the energy between the male and female. It is a rare ceremony and is usually performed when the coven is in need spiritual intervention. It does not involve 1st or 2nd degree members and it is usually done by the High Priest and Priestess, or a couple who is in the 3rd degree. No one should pressure anyone to do this rite, and it is extremely uncommon. If a coven is trying to pressure you into this or anyone else, or say this sort of thing is for initiation reasons, leave. It is not a healthy coven. In solitary practice this may be done symbolically by putting the athame into the chalice.
Handfasting is based in an old Celtic ceremony where a couple may be committed for a year and a day. It is sort of like a temporary marriage or commitment of sorts.
As with other religions Wicca has marriage ceremonies, funeral rites, baby dedications, and even ‘parting of ways’ (divorce). These may vary with trads.