It's your first time at a pagan, Wiccan or Witchcraft ritual! How exciting! But then the nerves kick in: You're new to this whole ritual thing and you have no idea what to expect or what to do. It's okay! Here's a quick list of etiquette that will be helpful at most rituals to help you feel more prepared!
1. Wear appropriate and respectful clothing.
I'm all for wearing whatever it is that expresses you. No one should ever tell you what is and isn't right for your body. That being said, you should always dress appropriately for the weather and, particularly if the ritual is in a small area or with a lot of people, avoid large hats or fluffy garments that may be distracting or hazards. Wearing something associated with the ritual is helpful - a color or pattern that's a common theme is great - but certainly not necessary. And if you like going skyclad (nude), I would avoid it for the first one just in case. When it doubt, ask the coven, circle or grove leading the ritual!
2. If you have children, ensure they're allowed at ritual and, while there, please mind them.
First and foremost, ensure children are welcome to the ritual you plan on attending. Post on the event invite or talk to a coven member before bringing your kids along. If it's okay for you to bring them, please mind them. No one expects young children to sit still or be totally silent for a long duration of time. No one expects a baby to not cry. Most, if not all, family-friendly coven events will likely be extremely understanding of most situations involving a child as long as you remain the parent. That being said, children who are totally out of control, running about the circle and touching things they shouldn't are simply unacceptable. Ritual leaders, no matter how much they love children, did not sign up to be babysitters. If a child breaks into a tantrum or cannot be controlled, as can happen with even the most behaved children, simply get someone's attention to excuse you from the circle or, in a large, crowded situation, excuse yourself.
"Usually, disruptions are a small child crying for their mom or dad. Most times, that parent steps up and takes the child. Otherwise, others in the circle close by snuggle the child and provide love for them." -Anonymous, identifying as a ritual leader.
3. If you need to bring something, ensure you bring it.
Pay attention to the event invite or ask the ritual leader if you need to bring anything. Some rituals include a potluck or want you to bring an item of special importance with you. It is a courtesy that you bring these things so you can give back or participate. Some rituals may request a small fee to cover the space they've rented and/or the materials. If it's a required fee, don't show up with no money. If it's a donation, it's still proper etiquette to try to give at least a little something if you can. Just don't let financial issues stop you from attending a donation-based or love offering ritual. I'm sure they'd rather have you there than your money.
If you don't know what those things are or they aren't a part of your practice, don't worry about it too much up front. The ritual itself may include grounding, centering and cleansing for you, but not all will. If you are knowledgeable enough to do these things on your own, I would suggest it to be a good idea. Especially in a public ritual setting where there are a wide array of energies at play and you never know what kind of day the person next to you has had, being fully prepared to share your energy before arriving on site is extremely helpful. Consider it an extra step of courtesy.
5. Always be on time.
I'm sure you've heard of the phrase "Pagan Standard Time." If you haven't, it's the general concept that pagans are naturally 20-30 minutes late to things. Don't be one of those pagans. Being late to events is highly disrespectful to not only those running the event but the others attending. No one wants to stand around waiting for someone to show up and, once the circle is cast (if there is one), it's extremely rude to break it. If you do find yourself running behind, try contacting the ritual leader. If you can't do that or you show up after the circle is cast, simply observe outside of the circle until ritual is over.
"We once had a cell phone go off during the offering to the God and Goddess and the individual stepped out of circle to answer it. They were later taken aside and told why that wasn't allowed. And if they did it again, then they would be asked to not come to anymore circles." -Anonymous, identifying as a member of the leading coven, circle or grove.
6. Always turn off or silence your phone before ritual.
Nothing is more frustrating than being in the moment full of energy as you raise a circle and then hearing someone's chirping ringtone loudly in the silence. It can make or break someone's experience. Don't take said experience away from them and put your phone on mute. If you are at fault because you've forgotten, try not to interrupt the ritual and quickly silence your phone. If the ritual leader seems upset, apologize quickly and move on. The idea is to be as minimal of a distraction as possible.
7. If you have any allergies to something, opt out or let someone know quietly.
You should never put yourself in danger if your health conflicts with the circle. I have skipped on bread a number of times because I have Celiac Disease and no one has ever blinked twice. I usually just either pass the plate along or hold my hand up and they skip me. Pretty simple! Certainly, no one wants to hurt you during ritual, so ensure your safety and the safety of those around you by politely opting out. If you have a more severe allergy or need to know the ingredients of something, talk to the ritual leader or one of the covenmates before ritual.
"We do our best to accommodate these allergies and even lifestyle choices (like someone who elects to be Vegetarian). All the food is clearly labeled with its ingredients so everyone is aware of what is in it. [...] I prefer people to be very blunt, straight up, and honest about any allergies or elected lifestyles (ie, Vegetarian/Vegan)." -Anonymous, identifying as a member of the leading coven, circle or grove.
8. Once the circle is formed, please don't leave the circle for any reason other than an emergency.
Circles are sacred spaces formed by protective energy that can easily be disturbed by your passing in and out of said space. In general, try to use the bathroom before ritual so you're not needing to go during, turn your phone off and only leave if you have a strict emergency. If it's a small event between circle, grove or coven mates, have someone "let" you out by creating a door. Don't attempt to do this yourself; ask someone involved in the ritual to do it for you. If you're at a larger event where that's not possible and it is truly an emergency, you can simply leave. However, your best solution is to try to get the attention of a circle or covenmate that isn't the primary leader. In fact, if your emergency is dire enough, you may find that the community will come to your aide! That being said, if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, that does indeed constitute as an emergency and leaving is always your best option.
"Always protect vulnerable people in the circle. That's the biggest priority-- creating safe space for all participants to be in Spirit." -Lauren Kelly, Ritual Leader
9. Do not take pictures unless permitted.
If you'd like to take picture before, during or after ritual, please ask the ritual leader first. Ensure they make an announcement about pictures being taken and posted online in case some attendants aren't open about their beliefs. If the ritual leader can't make an announcement or forgets but has okayed your photographing, try to make an announcement yourself before ritual begins. Never disrupt a ritual by taking flash photography, using a noisy camera or making a photographing announcement in circle.
"Taking photos without permission is the most common ritual etiquette faux pas I see. Not everyone elects to be out of the broom closet and some cannot. So please please please always ask before photographing." -Walks, member of the leading coven, circle or grove.
10. Do not interrupt or talk over the ritual leader, or make chatter during ritual.
In general, unless you're prompted by song, chant or response, it's best to remain silent during ritual. If you don't understand what's going on, wait until after ritual to discuss it with the ritual leader. You can always opt out of spell work if you don't understand the instructions. And, as always, if something makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, leave. However, if you're standing there chit-chatting with your friends, you're not only being disrespectful of the ritual leaders but you're also making it difficult for those around you to participate in and listen to ritual. Don't be that person.
11. Watch the people around you for clues as to what you should be doing.
If everyone faces west, that's probably your signal to face west. In general, try not to move counterclockwise within the circle unless instructed to do so. Not everyone follows this rule, but it's polite to do so unless instructed otherwise. If people around you start chanting, chant with them if you feel comfortable. If everyone around you raises their hands, raise yours if you feel comfortable. You'd be surprised what you can pick up from those you're standing next to! And, as always, if you're very unsure, you can always speak to the ritual leader before the ritual starts to get an idea of how things go.
"Find someone who has been to one before and follow suit. Be open to the experience. Standing is preferable. If you are "in" circle, you are a part of the energy. Please be mindful of the energy you bring into the space." -Anonymous, identifying as a ritual leader.
12. Do not touch anything you are not expressly asked to touch.
This includes everything from altar items to candles to chalices and divination tools. Consider everyone's magickal and personal possessions 100% off limits unless it's handed to you or offered to you. Most items involved in ritual are sacred and have been cleansed and/or charged with a specific intent. Your touching that item could add your own personal intent, however unintentionally. So unless you are handed, offered or told to touch an item, don't.
13. Give the ritual your full attention.
I cannot stress this enough. I can't tell you how many public rituals I've gone to where, once I get home to sort photos, I see attendants at the edge of the circle sitting or lying on the ground looking completely disinterested or bored. By all means, if you cannot stand for the full ritual due to a medical condition, sit! But if the ritual is the standing kind and you are physically capable of standing for the duration of it, then stand. And certainly don't look disinterested or distracted. Don't play with your phone, don't chat with someone else and don't meander off into your own head. Try to stay present for the entire length of the ritual. Whoever is leading it most assuredly put a lot of time, effort and perhaps even money into the ritual you're attending. The least you can do is participate by giving it your full attention. Even if you're not an active participant, you're then missing out on an opportunity to learn. What a shame.
Know that not every ritual is going to be the same nor inspire you the same way every time but be open to the experience nonetheless. -Walks, member of the leading coven, circle or grove.
Good luck on your first ritual experience and enjoy!