It's common for the endings of most rituals to mirror, in briefer form, their beginnings. Perhaps this brevity is because it is always easier to destroy a pattern than to create it (the basic principle of entropy). Yet because of the levels of power involved, it's safest to unwind the patterns of mana carefully and respectfully. In the Vedic rituals of ancient India, for example, according to Brian K. Smith,
The introductory and concluding rites are likened to the two sides of the chariot and should be symmetrical: "He who makes them equal to one another safely reaches the world of heaven, just as one takes any desired journey by driving a chariot with two sides." [Reflections on Resemblance, Ritual & Religion]
Each step in this phase of the ritual quickly but methodically reverses the steps that grew the liturgy during the first four phases. Parts of the symbolism may also reverse, for example, dancing anticlockwise to unwind mana patterns created by earlier clockwise dancing. Whatever the techniques used, the final result should be an emotionally and aesthetically satisfying sense of closure.
This portion of the ceremony accomplishes two tasks: (a) it shows courtesy to the entities invoked and invited, and (b) it lets the Deity(ies) and the lesser entities, not to mention the people, know that you are winding things down and that they can leave if they wish.
Remember the phrase, "Last in, first out." Farewells are said to the spirits invoked or invited in the reverse of the order by which they arrived. The special divine Guest(s) is/are thanked first, because they are usually the last to appear in the liturgy.
You do not dismiss goddesses and gods. If nothing else, it's rude. True, some ancient Egyptian magicians were supposedly in the habit of bossing their deities around, as were the purported witches in Charles Leland's Aradia, and some modern users of Hoodoo. However, I've always considered these to be corruptions of the earlier states of these religions, something that happens when the magicians involved no longer believe in their deities as deities.
In the fully-developed Afro-American Mesopagan religions, the initiated clergy will sometimes have to urge a possessing deity to leave her/his "horse" (the human being possessed). However, I believe that they do this through reminding the deity of the contractual agreements made at the time of the clergyperson's initiation. It's done with love, courtesy, and respect-not with the typical arrogance of the medieval ceremonial magician (the source of Wiccan-style dismissals).
After the deities, you may say farewell to ancestors, nature spirits, angels, etc., maintaining the reverse order. Eventually this leads to the following.
Having been the first to be formally invited to the ritual, the gatekeeper is the last to be thanked. The Gates Between the Worlds that he/she opened need to be closed. Granted, they will eventually close on their own, after a few hours or days, but in the meantime the lives of the participants may be visited by a wide variety of energies from the Other Side, not all of them pleasant. So it's a good idea to formally ask the gatekeeper to close them as she/he leaves. If any sort of physical activity (such as a dance, or particular gestures) was done to open the gates, a similar activity (symbolically reversed) should be done to close them again. In a Wiccan rite, this step in the ritual would involve the spirits of the four quarters.
Near the beginning of the ritual you pointed out the historical precedents for what you intended to do (the ceremony and any specific thaumaturgical or theurgical workings). Now, in the process of reversing the ritual, you reiterate that what you have done is traditional in some fashion or another, that the deities and the ancestors have been pleased, and that the participants are part of an historic whole stretching into the past and future. Even if your group has only existed a few decades, years, or weeks, you can still refer to ancient habits of thought and behavior that you have imitated, to ancient spirits whom you have worshipped, and/or to ancient customs that you have revived.
It is useful here to also state that others will be doing rituals similar to yours in the future, that those present are part of a continuous line reaching from the distant past to the distant future. This affirmation of continuity will give the participants the necessary sense of connection with the human past, making it easier in the future for them to contact those ancient energies, mortal and immortal. It also provides a sense of validation by strengthening their beliefs that what they are doing is important and will last.
Having told everyone's subconscious mind that the ceremony was properly done from a traditional point of view, and that others will do similar rites in the future, you also need to tell them that it worked in present time as well, that the ritual purpose specified early in the ceremony was indeed accomplished.
Those of you who are familiar with golf, tennis, bowling, baseball, croquet, or any other sport that involves casting or striking a small object away from you, will know about the importance of follow through. You don't just stop moving abruptly the instant the ball is struck or thrown, you continue the bodily motions you were engaged in at that instant. This makes sure that your motions will be smooth and continuous, rather than abrupt and jerky, and thus improves the accuracy of your casting/striking.
This metaphor works well for casting spells instead of objects. This is true even for purely theurgical workings in which you are, in essence, casting a spell upon yourself, and thus for worship ceremonies in which you have received a spell cast upon you by the deity(ies). The way you follow through in a ritual is by proclaiming that the blessings have been received, the spell is already working, etc. This affirmation of success alerts your subconscious to stop receiving and/or sending mana. Just as importantly, it tells your subconscious to let go of the target(s) psychically. Without this letting go, your subconscious is likely to continue worrying at the target(s) long after the ritual is over, which usually has the effect of draining away the mana sent, often ruining the results. So you need to have your conscious mind say to your subconscious mind (and any spirits who might be listening), "Hey! It worked!"
The affirmations of continuity and success can also be seen as the culmination of a pattern of announcing, doing, and reporting that describes most of the ceremony in process, as well as many successful speeches, dramas, and other forms of storytelling.
Now it's necessary to bring people back in touch with their normal state of consciousness, regardless of whether you have done a spell casting, a rite of passage, or neither. Otherwise folks will drift in their altered states indefinitely, and the mana absorbed and/or channeled will not be properly "digested." At this point the presiding clergy should remind the participants to refocus their attention by thinking about what they've been doing, feeling the emotions that have been generated as a result, and sensing their physical connections to the realm of mortals again. This recovery process will continue through the rest of the ceremony, gradually returning everyone to ordinary states of being (though we hope in an improved condition).
In keeping with the unwinding process, it's now necessary to go through these steps: to unmerge the group mind, to disconnect the psychic links (though some will remain in potentia), to return the participants to a more mundane consciousness, and to recenter them within themselves as unique individuals. This is usually done through a guided meditation of some sort, which should use phrases and internal patterns similar to the ones used at the beginning of the ceremony when the group mind was created.
It often occurs that one or more participants may have been overloaded with energy during the ceremony, and may have more left at this point than they can handle. Now is the time to drain off that excess mana. This can be done as a part of the regrounding meditation just described, and/or in conjunction with a special act done with some clear symbolism, such as pouring out any remaining sacred fluids upon the earth.
The excess mana, from the participants and/or the leftover consecrated liquids, is drained away into the ground beneath the participants. This is not a libation, although it sometimes is called that, since technically libations are sacred offerings of food and/or drink, given to the Gods or other spirits as part of a religious or mundane meal, or as a sacrifice within a liturgy (a literal feeding of the deities). The excess mana should be given to the Earth with the intent that the immediate physical area be healed of any harm that has been done to its ecosystem. With indoor rites, the liquids should be saved and taken outside immediately afterward. In effect, this is one last spell being cast by the participants, and all the usual laws of magic apply. That's why the energy is focused locally and not given to the Earth as a whole—the latter would be too vague a target for effective magic. As time goes by, people using the same site for their liturgies will notice that it's greener and healthier than when they began.
Some people, however, prefer to drain off any excess mana into their ceremonial tools, thus strengthening them for future use.
Your ritual space will need to be deconsecrated, unless you are lucky enough to have a temple building or sacred grove that you are confident will remain holy. Deconsecration of temporary space is necessary to prevent outsiders from wandering through a charged area and accidentally connecting up with the psychic links of the folks who have been worshipping there. More importantly, it is necessary to announce to the subconscious minds of the participants that they are back in the real world of day-to-day life again.
This can be done by symbolically opening a door or gate to the outside world, cutting across the line of a cast circle with a sword, saying "Let us go forth into the world," or by other symbolic ways of reconnecting to mundane space. This step is often combined with the next.
Just as each ritual needs a clear-cut beginning, it also needs an equally definite ending—an overt cue to each person's subconscious that it's no longer magic time. So announce that "this ceremony is over" verbally, then follow up with snuffing out the candles, ringing a bell, having a recessional away from the site, or playing a special piece of music.
If you started the ritual with a specific sound, such as a bell ringing or a horn blast, this same sound should be the last one of the liturgy. This brings the ceremony full circle.
Next: After the Rite
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Last updated on Monday, April 11, 2011.
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