Teaching Ritual Performance

Teaching Ritual Performance was designed to assist students to instruct others in ritual performance. In this course students are required to journal their work directing several rituals. Students do not necessarily need to write the rituals, nor do they need to write all the parts for the rituals. In fact, students may find it more challenging to allow others to write the ritual and then simply teach others how to work with the text they are given or come up with on their own.

The primary goal of this course is for students to enhance their skills for directing group ritual performance.

Course Objectives

  1. Students will increase their knowledge and skill in celebrant selection for assigned ritual roles and develop an awareness of how their selection impacts ritual performance.
  2. Students will enhance their skills for effectively directing ritual performances.
  3. Students will develop the skills necessary to effectively instruct the celebrants in working with ritual text, as well as specific elements of ritual performance, including movement, voice, and the internalization of text.

1) Keep a journal of your work directing five rituals, at least two of which must be ADF High Day rituals and all of which must include five or more total celebrants who have been assigned parts. Submit an essay in which you describe how you directed the celebrants in the following ritual performance elements, and what you learned over the period you journaled. (600 words minimum for essay)

1 Intentional movement

Internalized text

3 Vocal projection

4 Diction

5 Use of ritual space 

Use of props 

Beginning following Yule 2015 with Three Cranes Grove we began seriously reviewing and critiquing rituals using the video recordings we’ve been making at each ritual.  This has allowed much more focused teaching to occur.  We’ve been able to really look at what is working in our rituals, and what isn’t, and been able to focus on improvement of very specific things.  

Small, semi-private rituals have been one of my best teaching tools for helping others become more comfortable in their own practice of Our Druidry,  as well as more comfortable in taking parts in the public rituals of Three Cranes Grove Druidry. 

I’ve been leading Hellenic Full Moon rituals since 2013, though they are currently on hiatus, which have a heavy focus on some of the more in-depth practices of our work, including magic, trance, and divination. When I began leading these rituals I had a script that I gave to each person who came, and we worked through the ritual together with me doing the more difficult and magical parts, like Gates, Omen, and Return Flow, and working the rest in round robin.  As we cycled through the year, I slowly pulled away supports.  I stopped giving out a script before hand.  I shuffled the order in which we spoke to let folks take a part they felt comfortable with.  I began specifically asking others, as they were ready, to do those more difficult parts.  

Our Grove’s Druid Moon rituals function similarly.  We follow a different order of ritual for these rites, and that means that some parts are reserved for the priests in the grove, but it is also a very relaxed atmosphere.  It is a no-fail zone for folks taking parts, and we specifically encourage experimentation and trying out new parts during these rites.  Parts are not normally directly assigned for our Druid Moon rites, with the leading Priests generally asking in the ritual who would like to take which part, or sometimes asking specific people to take a specific part.

In both these semi-private ritual scenarios, the biggest boon is cultivating a low-risk environment for learning and practicing new parts. It allows the folk as celebrants to feel comfortable with what they’re doing, and it allows the priest and other ritual leaders to see how each celebrant is progressing, and where to focus whole group, small group, and individual instruction.

Within that focused instruction following our semi-private rituals and our critique of our own ritual videos, some of the areas we have focused on are intentional movement, internalized text, vocal projection, diction, use of ritual space, and use of props.

Intentional movement is important in all rituals, and something we focus on, constantly striving to improve our awareness of planting our feet before beginning to talk.  However, internationalized movement is particularly important at both our Dublin Irish Festival Lughnasadh, where we perform the ritual on a raised stage in front of an audience, and at our Imbolc Rite honoring Brigando.  At the Dublin Irish Festival we prepare by having rehearsals ahead of time.  This is in large part to establish the blocking of the ritual to be sure that each person can be seen when needed for a specific part of the ritual, like the Recreation of the Cosmos and the motions that go along with that, as well as to be sure that when a person is not actively working the ritual parts, they remain as unobtrusive as possible, since they are still on the stage, though seated at the back of it.  At our ritual honoring Brigando, there is a portion of the rite where we recite a poem in honor of her that involves pairs of people working together.  One person reads the line of the poem while the other lights a candle on the altar.  It is important for the movement to be coordinated, and for the person reading to be sure the candle lighter has arrived at the altar before they begin speaking.  This particular working has improved over the years as we’ve polished the procedure.  The most beneficial change has been only having the candle lighter moving, and instead leaving the reader of the poem to remain at their seat while they speak.  The process has been much smoother since that change in 2018.  

Dublin Irish Festival Lughnasadh has also been extremely pivotal for our understanding of internalized text, vocal projection, and diction.  These three aspects go together since they all deal with the way an invocation is being made.  Our Lughnasadh rite is our most formal ritual, and the only one where we highly encourage or require that the text be memorized.  In this case, it becomes especially important for the text to be internalized so that the speech is flowing and emotive, rather than merely recited.  Conversely, in the 2016 Avestan Summer Solstice Rite, the entire ritual was scripted and the folk were given the chance to see the ritual script ahead of time.  Each person was encouraged to read their part aloud several times before the ritual itself.  This way they would be familiar with the text, as well as the muscle memory involved in reading it with emotion.  This also meant they weren’t as strongly tied to the piece of paper with the text on it, and could look up and occasionally make eye contact with their fellow celebrants, as well as be unhindered while making offerings with paper in hand.  Vocal projection and diction also take different nuances in both of these rites.  During the Lughnasadh Rite, the speakers had the benefit of microphones.  This mean that while vocal projection wasn’t as important, clear diction became especially important, since sibilant sounds and voiced consonants would pick up extremely well, and could garble the text spoken.  In the Summer Solstice Rite, vocal projection was more important, being in a ritual that took place in the round.  This meant that it became imperative to have strong vocal projection, clear diction, and a distinct sense of movement and awareness to other people in order to be sure that everyone was able to hear clearly.  We have practiced both vocal projection and diction with simple theater games and vocal warm-up exercises.

Two rites that make good use of ritual space are our 2016 Beltane Rite and our Cutios Rite each year.  During Beltane we arranged the altar into 4 distinct locations.  Each of the Kindreds had a separate altar a ways away from the main altar.  During the portion of the ritual when evocations to each of the Kindreds were made, the whole of the celebrants processed to each altar to give praise and make their offering. Then, during open offerings, the folk were invited to physically approach each altar that they wished in order to make their personal offerings to the Kindreds.  This rite also required excellent use of vocal projection, so that those who needed to stay by the main altar during the evocations, due to mobility or other issues, could still hear the words being spoken.  We practiced this rite a bit to focus on how and when the movement would occur, as well as where the placement of each altar would be to allow for both room for moving from place to place, but also close enough to the main altar to allow for those who needed to stay stationary to still be involved in the movement.  During our Cutios Rite each year we “dance the flow” to awaken the earth for the springtime.  Since this is one of our smaller, semi-private rites, the area we are in is more intimate.  When dancing the flow, we arrange ourselves in a circle around the fire, chanting and drumming as we move clockwise about the circle.  This is an excellent use of in the round ritual space, and allows for everyone to be involved in the dance.  For those who have mobility issues, we also have opportunities for drumming, clapping, and chanting, as well as a slower paced movement around the fire as needed.  I think one of the biggest obstacles to the use of ritual space is making sure that people of all ages and abilities are taken into account.  It requires careful thought and planning on the part of the ritual team to ensure that none are left out of the experience or singled out during it.  

Finally, use of ritual props can be seen in our Dionysian Yule Rite as well as during our Cantlos and Samonios rites.  During the Yule rite, there was a part of the working where the celebrants processed around the ritual space with props that represented the blessings of Dionysos during the season that he was present at Delphi.  This physical act of being able to touch and interact with these props on the part of the folk added energy and connection to the working.  During the preparation for this rite, focus was put on preparing the types of props, as well as the mood that would be set by the music during the procession.  Looking at the Cantlos and Samonios Rites, the centerpiece of the rite is the Grove’s Ancestor Box.  It is opened at the October Cantlos Rite and closed at the November Samonios Rite.  Part of the job of the presiding priest during these two rites is selecting members of the folk who will undo and redo the bindings that hold the Box shut during the remainder of the year.  I try to choose either those who have not yet had the honor of doing so, or who have experienced a poignant loss over the past year. The Ancestor Box is itself full of ritual props: mementos, photographs, and stories of our Grove’s Beloved Dead.  During the Samonios Rite the folk are invited to come up and touch or view the items within the Box.  They are welcome to take them out and tell a story or remember the Ancestor who the item references.  The use of the ritual props in these two Rites is particularly powerful, since the props are tied so closely to our emotions and memories of our Ancestors.  

All in all, all six of the aspects of ritual theater are important during all rituals, but they are particularly emphasized in certain rites that we perform.  It is important for us to continue examining, critiquing, teaching, and improving all of the aspects so that our rituals are more polished and more powerful as we progress as a grove of talented liturgists.  

2) Write an essay describing how you selected celebrants for ritual parts in the above 5 ritual performances and reflect upon your selections following each ritual performed. (minimum 200 words)

One of the ways we have designed our assignment of ritual parts within the Grove is through a tiered system of progression.  The first set of ritual parts that you undertake are the non-speaking parts of the ritual.  These include things like the purification of folks entering the space and the physical hallowing of the Fire, Well, and Tree.  The second tier of rituals parts that you undertake are the non-magical speaking parts outside the gates.  This includes things like honoring inspiration and the Earth Mother.  The third tier of ritual parts that you undertake are the non-magical speaking parts inside the gates.  This includes things like the Three Kindreds and the Being of the Occasion.  The fourth tier of ritual parts that you undertake are the small magical parts of the ritual.  These include things like the Attunement and Prayer of Sacrifice.  The fifth tier of ritual parts that you undertake are the major magical parts of the ritual.  These include things like the Gates, Omen, and Waters of Life.  It should also be pointed out that we endeavor to be sure that the person who does either the Outdwellers or Omen part in the ritual doesn’t overlap with any other part.  If they are undertaking one of those two ritual parts, it should be the only one that they do.  

When assigning parts based on these tiers, the celebrant will first do that part in one of the semi-private rituals, until they feel comfortable in that part and the overseeing Priest feels they are ready.  Then they will undertake the same tier of parts in a public ritual, again until they feel comfortable and the overseeing Priest feels they are ready. Then they will move up a tier in the semi-private rituals, then public ritual, and so on until they are comfortable in any and all parts of ritual.  Typically in our rites the Grove’s Priests perform the Gates and Return Flow, and the laity covers all other parts.  

This method of distributing parts has worked quite well in establishing a firm foundation for those who are taking parts in ritual.  It provides a no-risk environment for learning and being comfortable with new parts of the ritual, and ensures that each person eventually develops a deep understanding of each of the parts of ritual.  This tier system also allows us to train up a “Druid in Charge” for each rite.  The Druid in Charge partners with the Priest in Charge, and together they work as a team to design the ritual focus and assign out parts for the ritual following the tier system as much as possible.  I have found this method of distributing parts to be effective, fair, and useful in developing well-trained and well-rounded liturgists.  

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