Tips for Attending a Pagan Ritual

Are you attending a Pagan event for the first time?. Image © Matt Cardy/Getty Images; Licensed to About.com

Perhaps you're not Wiccan, but you've been invited by your friend to join in her coven's next circle. Or maybe your buddy from work has invited you to his upcoming Pagan celebration at the park. You want to participate, but have no idea how Pagans behave, or what the proper protocol is for a non-Pagan attending a ceremony. Or perhaps you are a Pagan, but you've been invited to attend a ritual with a group that's brand new to you.

So now what do you do?

Believe it or not, most rules of common sense and courtesy apply here, just as they would apply to you attending any other religious service. For starters, it's important to be respectful. For a non-member to be invited to a coven's ritual -- which are often members-only events -- is a privilege and an honor. Have the courtesy to show up on time. Although you may hear jokes about "Pagan Standard Time", which is the practice of getting there twenty minutes late for everything, be punctual. Typically, there's an arrival time when everyone shows up, and then another time designated for when ritual will start. If you arrive too late, you might find the doors locked and no one answering your knock.

When you do arrive, you may see people who look different or downright unusual. If you see someone wearing Ren-Faire garb, long white robes, Spock ears, a pink tutu, or even nothing at all, don't stare.

Try not to make assumptions about people based on what they're wearing (or, as the case may be, not wearing). You should ask the person who invited you what the proper attire is for the ceremony beforehand. You may be welcome to show up in sweatpants and a t-shirt, or it may be more formal than that.

Ask in advance, and react accordingly. It's a good idea, also, to ask if there's something you should bring. You may be invited to make an offering, or contribute food for people to eat after ritual.

When you enter the ceremonial area, you may be anointed with oil or smudged with sage. It's also possible that the High Priestess (HPs) or some other member of the group will welcome you with the words, "How do you enter the circle?" The proper answer is typically, in Wiccan groups, "In perfect love and perfect trust." Other Pagan groups that are not Wiccan may use a question and answer that is more tradition-specific. You may wish to check with the friend beforehand. Once you are in the ritual space, walk in a clockwise direction unless otherwise directed.

Bear in mind that an open circle is not a Wicca 101 class. In other words, there's going to be stuff done and said that you don't understand -- but the middle of ritual is not the time to ask for explanations. If there's something you're unfamiliar with or would like more information on, wait until after the ceremony has concluded to ask your questions. Don't raise your hand in the middle of things and say, "Hey, why are you waving that knife around?"

If things are happening that are making you feel uncomfortable -- whether it's the words being spoken or just the general energy of the circle -- ask someone to cut you out of the circle. This is a formal way of you exiting the circle without disrupting the energy for everyone else. Although not all groups and traditions require this, it's polite to ask before stepping away from the group.

If you've never attended a Pagan or Wiccan ceremony before, try to remember that for many Pagan traditions, joy and laughter is often a part of ceremony. While Wiccans and Pagans do indeed honor their gods and goddesses, they also understand that a little levity is good for the soul. While in many religions, solemnity and somberness is the rule, in Wicca you may find it's the exception. Wiccans and Pagans typically will tell you that the universe has a sense of humor, so if someone drops an athame or sets their robe sleeve on fire, it's all just part of the ritual experience, and it's okay to find it amusing.

A few things to remember here -- again, all matters of common courtesy. First, don't touch anything on the altar unless you are invited to. Second, don't handle anyone else's tools without permission -- what may look like just a plain old rock to you may be a crystal that another individual has charged with their energy. Remember the basic rule of kindergarten: don't touch things that aren't yours.

Also, don't be alarmed or surprised if you begin to feel a little strange -- some people new to a circle may feel dizzy, lightheaded, or even a bit jittery. If this happens to you, don't panic -- a lot of energy can be raised within the circle, and if you're not familiar with the experience, it can feel pretty weird. Let someone know how you're feeling -- without leaving the circle -- and they'll help you get "grounded" and back to normal.

Once the ritual is over, there are often refreshments and drinks. In many traditions, the High Priestess takes the first bite before anyone else may eat or drink -- be sure to watch and see what everyone else is doing before shoveling any food in your mouth.

Finally, be sure to thank your host for allowing you to attend their ritual. If you're interested in learning more about the group and their practices, this is a good time to mention it. If the High Priestess invites you back, consider it a great honor indeed!