Group ritual for Wiccans is quite different from solitary ritual and requires an understanding not only of constructing the Temple in an appropriate way (which won't be discussed here), but of the spiritual needs of the participants. In talking with folks on the internet, it has become apparent to me that there are a lot of people who a) don't have access to formal training and b) do have access to folks who would like to form a grove or study group, but don't know how to proceed. Please note that I didn't say “form a coven.” A coven, by definition, is led by trained and licensed Wiccan clergy. However, a circle, study group, or grove can be made up of anyone who wishes to come together for the purpose of deepening their Wiccan practice and celebrating the Sabbats and Esbats together.
To that end, I'd like to discuss the anatomy of a meaningful ritual so that folks can make the best use of their time together and come away with a sense of having connected to the Gods and to one another in a valuable way. To do this, I'm going to use the metaphor of a sandwich.
The Bread: This is what happens first and last, and it consists of building the energetic temple at the beginning and dismantling it at the end. It's what we do when we cast a circle and then drop the circle at the conclusion of our rite. I'm not going to get into technique here. There are plenty of books on this subject. The main idea is that you and your group should have an agreed-upon basic structure for the construction of the Temple. For those who are interested in studying this, I heartily recommend reading Kaatryn MacMorgan-Douglas's “The Circle, Cubed,” from Covenstead Press.
The Mayo (or the Veganaise): This is the statement of intention that is necessary to inform everyone who has gathered why you have created the Temple and of what the rite will consist. It comes after the circle is cast and before you've done anything else. Why is this important? It's important because each person in your circle is giving freely of her/his own energy for this ritual and they a) deserve to assess whether they wish to contribute and b) need to know what the heck's going on so they can contribute.
The Meat (or the Field Roast!): This is the heart of your rite. It should have direct and clear meaning regarding the reason for the ritual. Is it a Sabbat? Then this portion of the rite should be a way of celebrating the Sabbat. Is it an Esbat? Then the “meat” should pertain to the energy of the moon phase (new or full) and be meaningful for the current place on the Wheel of the Year. This is usually a way of connecting to the God and Goddess. It can be a meditation to visit the Deities on the astral plane, an invocation (if you are trained), a ritual activity, or a study of the myths of the God and Goddess Whom you honor in your rite as they pertain to the Sabbat or Esbat. Example: At Lughnassah, a “bread man” can be made with a phallus filled with bird seed. The “man” can be named “john barleycorn” and then “slain” to represent the sacrifice of the Grain God to make our bread. The power is raised in the group and then someone plunges an athame into the phallus, spilling the seed on the ground.
The Lettuce (and tomato...yum): This is something that makes your sandwich...er, ritual... “yummier.” It can be a team building exercise (everyone join hands in a random way and then unwind yourselves without breaking the chain), an energy game (send a squeeze of the hand around the circle and then switch directions!), a sharing exercise (in 3 words, tell us how your life has been since we last met), or a solemn exercise (taking vows for the new moon or the Sabbat...what will you do personally to serve the Gods?).
The Pickle (everyone knows that pickles are important): At a Sabbat especially, people feel the need to “take something away” from their ritual experience. I love to give something to folks to take the energy of the Sabbat home.
Samhain: Have people write on a piece of paper what will “die” to them this Samhain and burn it in a cauldron of fire, then take a river rock from a cauldron of water to signify the new things that will come into their lives from beyond the Veil. The rock can go on folks' personal altars as a reminder of what will be “born” to them in the coming year.
Yule: Create small vials of “sun oil” by combining a few drops of solar essential oil such as cinnamon, orange, or frankincense with a carrier like jojoba. Have the group charge them with a power raising chant. Each person takes home a vial to connect with the new sun's energies for personal strength.
Imbolc: Give each person a chime candle and pass a flame around the circle. Members can take their candle home to light their “hearth fire” on their personal altar.
Ostara: Boil up a bunch of eggs (if you are not vegan) and have people decorate them with markers in designs to signify what they wish to “plant” in the coming year (vegans can fill hollow plastic eggs with wishes). People can bury their egg in their garden at home or cast it into running water to bring their desires to fruition (the paper wishes from plastic eggs can be buried).
Beltaine: Cut a doorway in the circle or extend it. Give the men (or those who identify with male energy) various bolts and the women (or those who identify with female energy) various lug nuts. Have folks figure out whose bolt fits with whose nut and then tie them together for a 3 legged race (this only works for outdoor rituals, obviously). Give a prize to the winners. People take the nut or bolt home and place on their altars for spiritual fertility in the coming year.
Litha: Bless cut flowers and send them home with folks to bring summer energy to their houses.
Lughnassah: Have each person bake a tiny biscuit or loaf of bread. Empower with chant or dance and then exchange them. The same can be done with single bottles of beer.
Mabon: Tie ribbons on apples to hang on doorways as a symbolic way to “call the Pagans home” for Harvest Home. Conversely, make “Brighid's crosses” or corn dollies with corn husks.
The Skewer that holds it all together: The symbolic Great Rite, done with the chalice of wine and the athame, is a metaphorical union of Goddess and God. Bless the cakes with the “fertilized” wine and share the simple feast with those in attendance.
And of course, we can't forget feasting after the ritual! That's the very best part! So there you have it folks...a crash course in ideas for your study group, circle, or grove. Happy circling!
O.K., I can't get this durned thing to space right. Sorry about that.