Ritual Design: Part I - Your Own Tradition

Living Wicca: A Further Guide for the Solitary Practitioner - Scott Cunningham 1993

Ritual Design: Part I
Your Own Tradition

RITUALS WILL CERTAINLY be an important part of your new tradition. Thus, we’ll be spending some time discussing their creation. Save in rare cases (emergencies), or during spontaneous rites, all Wiccan rituals should include the following:

• Purification of self

• Purification of space

• Creation of sacred space (including the altar)

• Invocation

• Ritual observance (and/or) raising of energy

• Earthing the power

• Thanking the Goddess and God

• Breaking the circle

As you well know, ritual observances certainly aren’t necessary during every single Wiccan ritual, and neither is energy raising (magic). They’re done when appropriate. However, the remaining ritual aspects are vitally necessary if your tradition’s rituals are to be Wiccan.

The exact ways in which you observe these ritual necessities are, of course, up to you. Following is the way one solitary Wiccan might construct her or his basic rituals (allowing for changes depending on the occasion):

• Purification of self (bathe and/or anoint with oil)

• Purification of space (sprinkle fresh water or sweep area)

• Creation of sacred space (set up altar; cast circle with athame; carry around salt, censer, candle, and water)

• Invocation (pray to the Goddess and God, either with memorized invocations or with spontaneous words)

• Ritual observance (perform rituals recorded in the Book of Shadows, if a sabbat or esbat)

• Raising of energy (this Wiccan has chosen not to do so on the sabbats, but performs magic on the full moons)

• Earthing the power (eating crackers and drinking wine, milk, or water)

• Thanking the Goddess and God (in spontaneous words or written words)

• Breaking the circle (cut circle with athame, draw energy back into the knife; disassemble the altar)

This is one method of fulfilling the basic requirements for a Wiccan ritual. Once you’ve found your own, discover precisely how these elements can be fit together in order to create a flowing ritual.


Generally speaking, any Wiccan ritual held at any time other than a sabbat is an esbat. Full moon rituals are esbats, but they aren’t the only esbats. Some traditions hold circles on the new moons as well. These, too, are esbats.

There are many reasons to observe esbats. You may wish to talk to the Goddess, and there’s no better place to do so than safely within a circle. You may have an urgent magical need (such as a friend’s sickness) that demands a circle be held and power raised within it. And, like most Wiccans, you simply may wish to reexperience the serene, otherworldly atmosphere of the circle. That’s okay, too.

Many esbats aren’t preplanned. Still, virtually all follow the basic ritual format outlined above, with one exception: ritual observances aren’t held, and magic may or may not be made. Other than that, it’s the same.

Full moon rituals are a bit different. As you well know, most full moon rituals observed in Wicca today are held, naturally enough, on the full moon. If this isn’t possible, two days prior to or two days after the actual phase is considered to be close enough to the time. Here’s one suggested plan for a full moon esbat:

• Have a purification bath.

• Fumigate the room in which the esbat is to be held with a mixture of sandalwood and frankincense burning on incense charcoal.

• Create the altar with the usual tools. (Some Wiccans use a slightly different altar arrangement for the esbats; others use the same plan for all rites. Additional tools, connecting this occasion with the moon, may include white altar cloths, silver objects, crescent moons, moonstone, white flowers, and other lunar objects.)

• Circle casting. (This usually isn’t different from that used in sabbat rituals.)

• The Goddess (and usually, the God) is asked to be present at the circle.

• The Goddess is invoked in a fairly long, flowery chant that acknowledges her and connects her with the moon (though we don’t specifically pray to the moon). This period of invocation may, alternately, consist of a song either sung or played on an instrument; a dance; even a series of lunar gestures.

• Following this invocation, some Wiccans then meditate upon the moon itself or upon a Goddess image (but such meditation may come later).

• Then, after the meditation, or in its place, a work of magic may be performed to take advantage of the moon’s more powerful force. (We don’t necessarily take lunar energy directly from the moon. But just as the moon rules the tides, so, too, does it rule the tides of our bodily energy. At its full, the moon subtly increases the amount of energy available from our bodies, thus making magic performed during this phase that much more powerful. Women whose menstruation coincides with the full moon may be doubly or triply empowered.)

• After the energy has been raised and sent toward its destination, many Wiccans will sit, meditate, pray, or simply relax.

• Next, the Wiccan grounds herself or himself by eating the traditional crescent-shaped cakes4 and by sipping wine, apple cider, lemonade, or juice.

• Finally, the Goddess and God are thanked for attending the rites, the circle is broken, and the altar tools are safely put away.

This general full-moon ritual structure can be personalized in many ways, according to your desires and spiritual needs. You may wish to jot down some ideas for your own full moon rituals.

Invocations can be obtained from a number of books (see the reading list at the end of this chapter), and you can use any that appeal to you. For the full moon, however, use only those that invoke the Goddess in her lunar aspect.

You may also wish to create your own invocations. The best are in rhyme, or in carefully constructed, soothing, flowing language.


Sabbats are quite different. As you’ve probably seen from reading published sabbat rituals, there’s little agreement as to each holiday’s meanings and appropriate ritual actions. Some sabbat rites have been heavily influenced by a specific culture; others are more generic. Certain sabbat ritual cycles are directly related to a tradition’s sacred stories concerning the Goddess and God; in other traditions, little mythic information is evident in the sabbat scripts.

In any case, most published sabbat rituals are designed for groups. Since you can’t be at two places at once in the circle, it’s difficult to act out seasonal plays, or to respond to your own statements, without feeling quite silly. What to do? Write your own.

Keep these things in mind:

Wicca’s vaguely British/Middle Eastern cultural framework can be used to determine sabbat themes (and often is). These include: birth of the God (sun) at Yule; the Goddess’s recovery at Imbolc; the coming of spring (Ostara); the mating or wedding of the Goddess and God (Beltane); the coming of summer (Litha); the first harvest (Lughnasadh); the second harvest (Mabon); the death of the God (Samhain).

There are few other options. You may create your own mythic story of the Goddess and the God (intertwined with the seasons, the sun, and the moon) based on the below list of basic, seasonal symbolism of the sabbats:

Yule: Renewal and rebirth during winter

Imbolc: The festival of lights (to encourage the sun’s return)

Ostara: The start of spring

Beltane: The return of full-blown fertility

Litha: Great, magical power

Lughnasadh: Harvest and thanksgiving

Mabon: Second harvest and mysteries

Samhain: The end of summer; the dead are honored

In your new myth, each sabbat should, in light of Wiccan tradition, have something to do with the actual agricultural and/or astronomical phenomena that are then occurring. To ignore this would be to deny the night’s (or day’s) special power. This would invalidate any reason for a ritual’s observance. In other words: don’t stray too far from the path. Frankly, it’s best to utilize traditional sabbat symbolism and to write new rituals that celebrate this heritage.

The basic structure of sabbat rites can be divided into two parts: spoken words and ritual actions. The spoken words are nearly always directly related to the sabbat. The Goddess is invoked on Imbolc as the Lady of Fertility; farewells are said to the God at Samhain. Additionally, words may be spoken by the Wiccan of the internal changes that occur at the sabbats.

In creating your own tradition, you may choose to use appropriate passages from published sabbat rituals. Alternately, you may write your own words. The second method is certainly best, but many beautiful sabbat prayers and words have been printed, and I see no reason why you shouldn’t incorporate them in your new tradition if you’re comfortable doing so, and if the words move you.

Ritual actions are just as important a part of sabbats as are words. Here are some familiar ones for each holiday:5

Yule: Fires are lit within cauldrons; candles may be carried around the circle; trees or potted evergreens may be honored as symbols of continuing fertility of the earth; a Yule log may be lit if a fire is physically within the circle.

Imbolc: Candles or torches are lit and held in circle, and are usually carried around the altar at some point; a symbol of the wheel is placed on the altar; ritual blessing and planting of seeds in pots in the circle with requests to the Goddess and God.

Ostara: A fire is lit in the circle with appropriate words during the rite itself—not before.

Beltane: Weaving ribbons (not traditional, but a solitary version of creating and dancing the Maypole); bonfire leaping; the blowing of horns.

Litha: Cauldron, ringed with flowers (or filled with fresh water and flowers); sword plunged into cauldron; bonfire leaping; drying herbs over the balefire.

Lughnasadh: Bread is eaten, tossed into flames, or otherwise used in ritual; wheat may be woven into Goddess images or symbols.

Mabon: Fruit is praised as proof of the Goddess’s and God’s love; a ritual sprinkling of leaves.

Samhain: Scrying in smoke, candle flame or fire; calling the departed ones; leaving food outside after ritual for the dead.

There are symbols, specialized tools, and colors associated with each sabbat that can also be used to create the sabbat rites of your new tradition. Here’s a list of some of these:

Yule: The colors are green and red. A wheel symbol (which can easily be made from a wreath or a wreath form; use your imagination); evergreens; Yule log; small tree (potted).

Imbolc: The colors are white, or green and white, or blue. A dish of snow; evergreens; candles.

Ostara: The color is white. A potted plant; cauldron or bonfire.

Beltane: The color is white. Fresh flowers; cauldron filled with flowers. Mirrors are also appropriate.

Litha: The color is white. Mugwort. Mirrors to capture the sun (or the flames of the fire).

Lughnasadh: The colors are red and orange. Corn dollies; special loaves of bread; grain.

Mabon: The colors are red and brown. Pinecones; acorns; wheat; dried leaves.

Samhain: The colors are red or black. Pomegranates; pumpkins; apples.

You may wish to follow the plan below in creating your tradition’s sabbat rituals.

• Write the name of each sabbat on a separate piece of paper.

• Jot down notes regarding each sabbat’s significance (see reading list at the end of this chapter).

• Decide which of these influences is of special importance; the ones that seem to flow from one sabbat to another.

• Begin with Yule. Read every ritual that you can find for this sabbat. Afterward, leave the books open to the correct pages and study the rituals together. What are their common themes? Which structures or ritual actions do you enjoy the most? Next, read the lists of ritual actions and ritual symbols I’ve given above. On the page entitled “Yule,” write down your choices of Yule actions, symbols, and ritual structure that most appeal to you.

• Continue this process for each of the remaining seven sabbats. Realize that you probably won’t be able to do this in one night.

• Find, borrow, or write your own words for each sabbat. Don’t be hesitant to borrow or adapt printed invocations—it’s an old Wiccan habit. Use extra pages if necessary. Work through the sabbats in the same order, recording the words that you’ve chosen for each ritual occasion. Don’t rush this; these words may very well become the heart of your Wiccan rites.

• Finally, “marry” the elements that you’ve assembled for Yule into a presentable ritual. Write out your ritual. Include the symbols, the colors (if appropriate, for altar cloths, candles, etc.), the words, and ritual actions. Repeat this process for the rest of the sabbats.

• Fine-tune the rituals. Add “cast the circle” and any other ritual instructions that you’ve left out.

• Copy the rituals into your Book of Shadows and be prepared to make further corrections or changes as you feel fit.

• Finally, during the next year, try your rituals on the appropriate dates.

Creating the sabbat rituals is a challenging process that requires thought, research, and time. The ultimate result, a set of workable sabbat rituals specifically designed to meet your needs, is clearly worth the effort. Creating your own sabbat rituals is a wonderful way to demonstrate your devotion to Wicca.






Renewal and rebirth during winter

Fires lit, candles carried around the circle, Yule log

Colors are green and red. Wheel symbol, evergreens, Yule log, small potted tree


Festival of lights

Candles lit and held in circle, blessing of seeds, wheel symbol placed on altar

Colors are white, green and white, or blue. Dish of snow; evergreens; candles


The start of spring

Fire is lit in circle during (not before) rite itself

Color is white. Potted plant; cauldron or balefire


The return of fertility

Weaving ribbons, bonfire leaping, horn blowing

Color is white. Fresh flowers; cauldron filled with flowers; mirrors


Great, magical power

Flower-ringed cauldron, sword plunged into cauldron, bonfire leaping, herb-drying

Color is white. Mugwort; mirrors to capture the sun (or the flames of the fire)


Harvest and thanksgiving

Bread eaten and thrown into fire, grains woven into Goddess and God symbols

Colors are red and orange. Corn dollies; special loaves

of bread; grain


Second harvest and mysteries

Fruit is honored; ritual sprinkling of leaves

Colors are red and brown. Pinecones; acorns; wheat; dried leaves


The end of summer; the dead are honored

Scrying in smoke, candle flame, fire, or mirror; calling departed ones; leave food outside after ritual

Colors are red or black. Pomegranates; pumpkins; apples


Following these guidelines to fashion your esbat and sabbat rituals will create basically Wiccan rituals. Breaking with such traditional patterns could, however, lead you into decidedly non-Wiccan territory.

Just as one bolt of cloth can be cut and stitched into a huge variety of objects, from pillowcases to teddy bears to clothing, so, too, can Wiccan ritual be fashioned in many ways. However, if you wish to make a shirt from that cloth but decide not to include sleeves, you won’t end up with a shirt.

A new Wiccan tradition’s rituals must also be carefully crafted, following established forms, to avoid sewing a shirt that can’t be worn. Though Wiccan ritual structure is a bit loose, those aspects of it that are set must be followed if you’re to continue practicing Wicca.

These words aren’t meant to frighten you. Creating a new Wiccan tradition can be difficult. It requires attention to detail and a bit of imagination and creativity—but this creative thought must be placed within a Wiccan context. If not, you’ll simply be creating a new religion.

Suggested Reading

(For additional publication information regarding these books, see the bibliography.)

For background information regarding esbats, see:

Valiente,An ABC of Witchcraft, pages 135—137.

Guiley,The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, pages 113—114.

For actual esbat and full moon ritual texts, see:

Valiente,Witchcraft For Tomorrow, pages 168—170.

Buckland,Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft, pages 61—62.

Buckland,The Tree, pages 50—53.

Slater,A Book of Pagan Rituals. (The rite termed “Pagan Ritual For General Use” on pages 8—10 is essentially an esbat; pages 55—57 contain a pagan solitary full moon rite. Please note: these aren’t strictly Wiccan rituals.)

Cunningham,Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, pages 124—126.

For background information concerning the sabbats, see:

Valiente,An ABC of Witchcraft, pages 406—408.

Farrar,What Witches Do, pages 95—107.

Farrar and Farrar,Eight Sabbats for Witches, pages 61—150.

Guiley,The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft, pages 288—290.

Frazer,The Golden Bough, pages 705—763. (Bear in mind that much of what Frazer discusses isn’t performed by Wiccans. However, these words preserve proof of the ancient existence of the Pagan fire festivals that eventually evolved into what we know today as the sabbats. This section of the book is virtually required reading for all Wiccans.)

Burland,Echoes of Magic. (The entire book is of great interest. Unfortunately, it’s now impossible to find and was never printed in the U.S. Check libraries—that’s where I found a copy.)

For actual sabbat ritual scripts, see:

Starhawk,The Spiral Dance. (Pages 169—183 contain a full set of eight sabbat rites.)

Z Budapest,The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries. (The God isn’t included.)

Farrar and Farrar,Eight Sabbats for Witches, pages 61—150.

Buckland,The Tree. (Pages 57—77 include eight complete sabbat rites.)

Slater (editor),A Book of Pagan Rituals. (Written for noninitiates. Pages 23—42 nominally describe Wiccan group sabbat rituals; here termed “The Eight Grove Festivals.” Pages 58—79 include complete solitary rituals, which is one of the reasons for this book’s popularity. This isn’t strictly Wiccan, but it’s pretty close.)

Cunningham,Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner. (This book includes eight solitary sabbat rites on pages 127—143.)

4. For a tasty recipe, see Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, p. 152.

5. These basic ritual actions have been culled from many Books of Shadows.