How to Design & Use Ritual For Healing Work
Our healing journeys can take us to the wild and weird, and beyond. In Western esotericism, ritual is one way that many healers reach these liminal bounds of existence.
Ritual can refer to repetitive behaviors we consciously or unconsciously engage in. It could include daily meditation or a morning cup of coffee. Maybe you observe solar or lunar holidays by spending some time outdoors experiencing nature. Ritual can also refer to more transpersonal, magical, or devotional work, such as the ritual ceremonies that have developed within Western mystery traditions. These rituals allow us to momentarily step out of our day-to-day lives and reprogram our minds on a more symbolic level.
If you have the time and years to devote to study, learning a specific ritual tradition may benefit you on your journey.
introducing the Ritual Format
But many people don't have that kind of time to offer a tradition so outside the bounds of the dominant culture they find themselves living in. And I think that's okay. The conditions of this world sometimes necessitate that we each step into a role as priestess, healer, and counselor for ourselves or our families. This post distills some of what I've learned over the years into a simple format that may aid you in this type of work.
There are five key steps ritual work includes:
Creating Sacred Space
Releasing Sacred Space
As you experiment with this kind of work, you may find additional steps to be more suited to your intentions. Modifications to the parameters I'm about to describe may also make the ritual more effective for you.
Especially if you choose to study in a specific tradition, be mindful of what your goals are. If personal healing or transpersonal growth are more important to you than preserving a specific tradition's dogma, you may encounter friction as you advance under certain teachers, just as you would in any religious tradition.
beginning your ritual
When we think about preparing ourselves for a healing ritual, I've found it's helpful to think about how I would prepare for a therapy session. You might write down your intentions for the session as well as any fears, desires, or anxieties. You might take stock of how you are feeling in the present moment, and note any recent dietary, stress, or other psychosomatic experiences. Notes on the current weather and Moon phase may also be useful. Before proceeding, you'll also want to have a clear idea of what the rest of your ritual will look like.
Some folks also find it helpful to take a shower, put on clothes set aside specifically for ritual, or, for that matter, to undress entirely. Herbs like lavender, lemongrass, mugwort, or sage may also be used to cleanse your body with smoke before ritual work.
Our sacred space is the place where we're going to be doing our ritual work. In many Western mystery traditions, sacred spaces are distinguished from the rooms they are in by the drawing of a circle and an acknowledgement of the four cardinal directions or elements. Using a length of cord to create a visible circle around you for the duration of ritual can help to keep your mind focused, as well as contribute to your sense of safety.
If this is your first experience of this type of work, it may be helpful to light a single candle in each of the four 'corners' of your circle. This meditative process will help reiterate that you are entering a special place to do special work. As you become more comfortable, you may try different colors of candles or different objects in these locations to create the space you need to work in.
When it comes to the heart of the ritual, we really need to have a clear idea of what we're intending to accomplish. This is the time to reset your mind, to be free of doubts, and to reclaim the psychological power to take back control of your life.
Think of this part of the ritual as a conversation with your mind on a symbolic level. You have now stepped out of yourself in a manner of thinking, and are making changes here to the way you will function in your day-to-day life when you return.
Your magic may include repeating a set of affirmations, having a conversation with an ancestral or guardian spirit, setting a magical intention for the coming weeks, or entering an altered state of consciousness in search of answers. Depending on the nature of this work, this section of your ritual will be different. For instance, to connect with an ancestral or guardian spirit, you may find it useful to decorate your sacred space with images and objects you associate with the spirit. Reading poetry, letters, or myths may also help you connect. This work may be intimate and solemn or provocative and flamboyant.
Whatever the intended pace or goalposts of your ritual work, consider this section like dancing to a really great song or being intimate with a lover. Give the work a beginning, a climax, and an ending. Re-evaluate and edit the effectiveness of the ritual later.
When you're finished there are two important steps left to perform. First you need to bring yourself back to the day-to-day world, slowly. This may be a good time to write down any notes you have from the ritual work--feelings, experiences, ideas. Give thanks to the spirits and energies worked with in the proceeding section, tell them to go back to where they come from, then extinguish the candles of your circle one at a time. Opening the circle should be your last action in the ritual.
Finally, you'll want to ground your energy. My process for this starts by putting away all of the objects I have used for ritual. Sometimes I will even sweep over the space I used with a broom. We want to make it feel like its serving an everyday purpose again, not a magical one. When I'm finished with that, I like to go outside and put my bare hands and feet on the ground. Others I know find success by washing their hands or even taking a shower. This is the time to return to your functional 'norm.'
Revising the work
From here you can get going in a steady direction of your choosing. You may find that this format works well for you. Alternatively, you may discover a need to learn in depth in a specific tradition. You may walk away from ritual with a ton of unanswered philosophical questions, or you may come back feeling nothing at all.
My free advice to everyone is to listen to the voice in your heart. Go where the process takes you, leave behind what no longer serves you. Remember that you are in control of your mind and your reactions in life. Let your power be your guide in the magic you work.
Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org