The subject of rituals is one that is regularly raised within the pagan community. Most discussions tend to centre around public ritual, a subject that I raised myself within The Druid Network recently after experiencing a public ritual whilst attending Druid 2013. The public perception of pagan public ritual is very much coloured by the stereotyping of the media, people in various dress codes and, usually, all stood in a circle either invoking or sometimes singing. Such stereotyping leaves some people very much uncomfortable with the idea of actually participating with one, even if they actually share the beliefs of the group.
I believe there should be a place for public ritual, afterall, the public rituals of some of the other religions of the world, when viewed from outside, are equally strange in my opinion. The key for me is good planning and good communication both through, during and ending of the ritual. There are, however, subtle differences within the genre of public ritual. Generalized Wiccan style rituals are probably the most recognizable types, conforming to a certain degree with the stereotyping portrayed within the media.
Public ritual when performed by a group of people who are very much in tune and trust with each other, move the ritual away from the stereotypical formularic rite to one with a more focussed intention. The public aspect for this type of ritual is more to do with “doing it out in a specific environment” as opposed to a ritual for general consumption. The public aspect of this type of ritual is almost incidental.
It has been my experience that for a considerable number of pagans, and probably more so for Druids than the general pagan community, private ritual is the most common type of ritual. Sometimes the people involved probably don’t consider what they are doing as ritualistic as such. There are many people out there whose interactions with their environment, if viewed, would be considered to be of a type that would fit well into a pagan definition. However, for these people, the idea of what they are doing being considerd both ritualistic or spiritual is anathema. For whatever reasons, though I suspect mostly experiential, they choose to value these interactions outside the framework of a spirituality or religion.
My own move back into Druidry has been facilitated by private ritual. My own definition of what constitutes a private ritual is one that is definately removed from public ritual. Whereas the general public ritual will always have an element that is for public consumption and there are some for whom this interaction with ritual is very much welcomed, the smaller group ritual moves this concept into a more focussed communal action that is more concerned with specific group objectives. The private ritual tends to be more flexible than either of these two types of ritual. The main requirement being that the individual is out in the environment. This can lead to far more opportunities and can even be initialized by other parties ( especially non human communities).
One definition of a ritual is ” putting aside a period of time in which to connect with the energies of life”. This definition, I would suggest, is very much geared to private ritual, which as I have suggested, affords many more opportunities to connect with that which is just beneath the surface. It affords us the opportunity to place our everyday concerns to one side and experience that which flows around, above and through us. It can “ground” us and in my experience, create the conditions for communications and experiences.
I think it is safe to say that most people when out walking in their local natural environment (though not neccessaily exclusively so) can experience a moving of perceptions or thoughts. I have experienced this for myself throughout my life, from the earliest memories in my childhood to the latest memory from a few seconds ago. One thing that private ritual has now revealed to me, is the method by which I can interact with my environment in a more proactive role as opposed to the predominately passive role experienced before. Indeed, this revelation through private ritual has defined my move back to Druidry and as such, I can state that I would not now be considering myself Druid without both this revelation and the revealed proactive activity I can now engage with.