A mini-ethnography of a Pagan/Wiccan Ritual
Sociology 352- Qualitative Methods
In our society, pagans and wiccans are stereotyped as hippies or witches.
While I was talking with them they asked me what I thought they would be like and if
they lived up to their stereotypes. In this paper I want to show what an actual
pagan/wiccan ritual is like. I went to the Ostara Ritual which is one of the names
attached to the spring equinox. It is said that the word „Ostara‟ comes from the
Germanic goddess of spring, Eostre. It is a time of exuberance and fertility, a
celebration of the abundance of nature. The Ostara Ritual is normally held between
March 20th-22nd because that is when the Spring Equinox is.
My research objective was to go to an unfamiliar religious setting and
observe what happens. Another objective was to show the real side of Pagans and
Wiccans and what does happen during one of the rituals that they perform.
I found this group through one of my high school friends, she is the high
priestess and I knew they would be great for my research. I went into this research
as an observer as participant, which means I participated in the ritual but was
there mainly for observing the ritual. The members of the Pagan Alliance knew why
I was there and helped me understand what all went on during the ritual, they
explained most everything which was very helpful to this research. It seemed like
they have never had a researcher watch over one of their rituals because they kept
asking me questions about why I was there and how they could help. I feel like they
were genuinely happy I was there and that I was doing research on them and
getting them out on paper as correctly as I could. I didn‟t use names in this paper
to protect them.
Description of location and props
This ritual was at one of the members‟ house, the High Priestess. The High
Priestess is 21 years old. They way you become a High Priestess and running your
own coven a person has to do three years of study in the ways of pagan/wiccan. If
someone wanted to be ordained and be able to marry people they would have to
go through programs, some are online. The house is a little house by a lake near
St. Cloud. The ritual was set up when I got there, it was in the living room the
windows were open to let the air in. At the end of this paper will be a picture of the
set up but it will be described in detail here. The living room had a pillar at each of
the directions, North, South, East, and West with an alter in the middle. East
represents air, South represents fire, West represents water and North represents
earth. On each pillar had a candle with the representing color for the element-East
yellow, South red, West blue, and North green. On the alter there was two candles
representing spirit a pentigal, chalice (holds offering), cauldron (holds the offering,
herbs, incents, and potions), athame (double ended knife, which directs the energy),
and a wand (which invokes the energy to the ritual). At the end of the paper will be
a picture of the set up of the altar. The whole room was filled with flowers, incents,
and pictures of some ritualistic things that were typical of this time of year.
Description of people
Most everyone that came to this ritual was in ritual garb, which is what a
person is supposed to wear to and during a pagan/wiccan ritual. The garb
depends on what the ritual is about, this ritual is more formal than the ritual in
May. Most every girl had flowers in her hair, most outfits had bells on them. One
person wore an Egyptian style outfit of black and gold. Another wore a Greek style
outfit, which is white with gold ropes that wrapped around her. One girl had made
her own ritual garb, it was made out of feathers which was a tribute to Native
American culture with a mask she made too. The High Priestess was wearing a
Celtic outfit that was mostly green with some embroidered leaves and flowers. The
High Priest was wearing an outfit of spring colors, light pinks, blues, greens, and
yellows. Some of the others were wearing casual clothes, which I questioned the
High Priestess about this and she told me that they were newer members. Most of
the outfits had some significance to their religious background, The High
Priestess‟ background was Celtic, the one with the feathers choose to follow a
more Native American Pagan background. Everyone there wore some type of
symbol of pagan/wiccan, which I have pictures of at the end of this paper. Some of
those symbols are Pentigal, Mother Goddess, and Goddess.
The Ritual started out with everyone standing in their places, one at the
North pillar, one at the South pillar, one at the West pillar, and one at the East
pillar. The High Priestess and High Priest at the Altar and the „extras‟, like me,
stood in the circle between each of the elements. The High Priest started off the
ritual by „smudging‟ the room, which means they cleansed the room of any bad
spirits that could affect the ritual. Smudging involves a stick with incents on one
end that they lit, blew out and wafted the smoke around the whole room. Smudging
is important to this ritual because smudging is a way to get rid of evil or negative
spirits so that there isn‟t anything that would interrupt their ritual in any negative
When the smudging was done the people with elements picked up their
candles and the High Priestess walked up to the girl in the East holding the Air
candle and said something like, “Spirits of the east, air, protect this circle and
ritual and help us bless and give thanks to Mother Earth.” She lit her candle after
saying that and then moved on to the boy in the South holding the Fire candle, did
the same type of prayer but aimed at the spirit of fire and lit his candle. She walked
to the girl in the West holding the Water candle prayed to the spirit of water and lit
her candle. Walked to the girl in the North holding the Earth candle said the prayer
aimed at the earth and lit the candle. Walked back to the altar stood next to the
High Priest where he was holding the Spirit candle and prayed to the spirit and lit
his candle. Now the circle is cast and no one is supposed to leave the circle.
Now the High Priest and Priestess started talking about what this time of
year means, which is about birth and renewal. Then the High Priestess asked the
Goddess for her blessing and walked around the circle the same way as before,
East- South- West- North- and altar, with the offering. The offering is just food, but
it consisted of candied flowers, sugared rose petals and milk. She put the Chalice
to the lips of each person and they drank straight out of the Chalice which was the
milk and put one or two of the candied flowers and sugared rose petals on their
tongue. When everyone had eaten some, the rest of the offering was put into the
caldron and was burnt.
When that was done it was time to close the circle, the High Priestess went
in the opposite direction as before. She walked to the North and said something
like, “Earth, we thank you for protecting us and this ritual from outside things. We
are grateful for your help, you are free to go.” The person holding that candle blew
out his or her candle when the prayer was done. She then moved on to the West,
then South, and East did the same thing but for that particular element. Then she
moved back to the alter where the High Priest was and she thanked Spirit for
accompanying their ritual and he blew out the candle.
This concluded the ritual and everyone put their candles back on their
pillar. The High Priest then thanked everyone for coming and told everyone that it
was a good ritual. Then they had a potluck supper and everyone feasted on deviled
eggs, Irish Soda Bread, lasagna, apples, a vegie platter, apple cider, coffee, and
some other foods I didn‟t quite know what they were. This is when I had a chance to
talk to them, ask questions, and take quick notes of what I had witnessed.
For me it seemed like everything they did, every movement, every word
spoken, had a meaning or reason for doing it because of this reason Symbolic
Interactionist Theory would be applied.
I feel the Functional Theory could be applied to this particular
pagan/wiccan ritual too because this ritual is done in the same way every year.
Change doesn‟t happen in this ritual, other than what incents might be used or what
offering is provided.
I feel this research is valid for a few different reasons: one is that I used
Participant feedback to help my research and to make sure I got the ritual correct.
Another is that I used Reflexivity to stay aware of any biases I might have.
Limitations of this research would be that I went to a small ritual of college
students, which could mean they did something wrong or different than what more
experienced pagans/wiccans do. Another would be that I couldn‟t take notes
during the ritual and couldn‟t take in every bit of information and remember how
everything went exactly.
Images and setups
Goddess Pendent Pentigal Mother Goddess
(Moonstone- femininity, love) (Protection)