Ritual spaces follow other rules than our everyday life — they are magical circles: “temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart” in the words of the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga who first coined the term in 1938. In these magical circles, we are invited to act differently, explore ourselves and our relationship to others and the world. We can create distance to our everyday, see it from a different perspective, play with its part, and choose to reconfigure the elements that make up our life. Moving in and out of magic circles can be a strong and deep experience — sometimes even transformational.
Even though most rituals come with clear rules and/or instructions, it can be tough to navigate them. They follow other rules than what we are used to from our everyday and thus provoke experiences that we would not encounter normally. That’s why we enter rituals — to enrich our everyday life. But because they are so different, we miss practice on how to face the challenges that we encounter in them.
Throughout the years I have participated and held many different magical circles. And while each new magical circle that I enter still makes me a bit nervous, I have found helpful guidelines that I fall back on whenever I feel too overwhelmed.
I have compiled these guidelines into agreements I make with myself — both for the rituals I am hosting and also rituals I am participating in. At the same time they also function as a general code of conduct for my ritual practice. Hence they are called The 7 Agreements of Ritual Practice. I hope you find those helpful, or that they inspire you to create agreements for your own ritual practice.
I share the list of all seven agreements below. I have highlighted the text in italic that I like to read out loud. In the paragraph below each agreement I have provided some further commentary on why the agreement is there.
The 7 Agreements
Agreement of Truth
I own the truth of my experience and make no claims to the truth of other people’s experience.
‘Owning an experience’ is an expression I have borrowed from Circling, and it means that I make myself responsible for the entirety of what I am experiencing in any given moment. In the context of a ritual I also take it as a reminder to have full confidence that my experience of a situation is true, even though the experience of another facilitator or another participant is different to mine, i.e. that someone finds an exercise easy to do while it is difficult for me. It goes without saying then that I cannot claim to know what experience someone else is having.
Agreement of Compassion
I practice non-judgment and exercise compassion towards others and myself.
What comes up during a ritual will not always be pleasant. We might face darker sides of ourselves and others, parts of us we are not proud of, feel ashamed of, that we deem “ugly”, or consider socially “detestable”. I believe that we need to meet these parts of ourselves, and listen to what they have to say. Rituals are a good place to do that (and also a reason for me why I join rituals). If we meet these darker sides of ourselves, we sometimes experience shame, guilt, or even self-loathing. In order not to be absorbed by these feelings, we need to remain compassionate and loving towards ourselves and others. Our darker sides are there for a reason, and if we meet them with care we can begin to understand what they have to tell us. No matter what, you are always worthy of being loved. Practicing this agreement towards others is often easier than to yourself.
Agreement of Acknowledgement
I allow every experience to be real and acknowledged, even the scariest and most uncomfortable ones. I do not need to engage with them more than acknowledging them.
This agreement addresses a similar assumption as the Agreement of Compassion in that rituals can create uncomfortable moments and surface difficult emotions and feelings. While I think they will come back to you worse if you decide to forcefully push them aside, I also believe that it makes no sense to meet all darker sides at once and in every moment. Sometimes it is enough to acknowledge that they are there, to become conscious of them, and return to them another time. Maybe because you don’t feel safe enough right now, maybe because you don’t have space for it, maybe because you can’t go deeper with it at this point. Check in with yourself how much you can handle in given a moment, and be okay with bookmarking some things for a later point. In my opinion, it is also an act of compassion to acknowledge that not everything can be processed at all times.
Agreement of Embodiment
I pay attention to my sensual sensations and bodily responses, and listen to what they have to tell me.
The body has its own language and voice, and we sometimes fail to listen to it. Often bodily responses can tell us a lot about how we are actually feeling, while our mental judgement is clouded by expectations and assumptions about ourselves. You could, for example, think that a certain exercise is easy for you (because you consider yourself to be open and adventurous) but you realize that your hands are sweaty. So maybe there is something here that makes you nervous, something that you have difficulties to admit. Another benefit of listening to your body is that it allows you to stay present and not mentally wander off. One of the most popular technique is to focus on your breath.
Agreement of Boundaries
I pay attention to my own and other people’s boundaries, aiming to be a safe container for everyone involved.
Boundaries are there to keep us safe and relaxed, and being grounded is the foundation to meeting the more difficult parts of yourself. Knowing where our boundaries are can be difficult even in everyday life — this becomes all the more difficult when we are in a ritual space. While a clearly structured space helps respecting yours and other people’s boundaries, interactions and the flow of the ritual might make boundaries less obvious. And to some degree the transformational power of a ritual also comes from challenging our own comfort zone. Nevertheless, maintaining an awareness for your own and other people’s boundaries is key for a constructive experience. As a general rule of thumb I advise to decrease the speed of “moving” (that can mean physical movements but also the speed with which you communicate), the blurrier a situation feels. In some cases, this means to bend the rules of the space. If, for example, you are supposed to be silent but are not sure whether someone else feels comfortable with what is happening, asking them how they are doing can be the right course of action.
Agreement of Guidance
I trust my guidance and allow myself to follow any impulse that arises in me (with respect to the Agreement of Boundaries).
Rituals are, to some degree, scripted events that create a container to explore and play. And sometimes we notice that what the ritual invites us to do is actually not what we feel like doing. This can go two ways: 1. The ritual invites for an action that you don’t feel ready for. In this case, following your guidance means to refuse the invitation. You can also refuse an invitation midway. 2. The constraints of the ritual feel limiting. Maybe you want to express yourself differently than what the ritual invites for, maybe the flow of events leads you into a different action than what was agreed. This happens quite often for me when I do rituals on my own. All of a sudden I want to do something else than what I agreed with myself before. Following your guidance in this case means to break/bend the script if that allows for a freer expression. This does not mean, however, to do whatever you want, especially in a group setting. Other people’s boundaries and respecting the flow of the ritual should still be considered.
Agreement of Surprise
I invite the non-conceivable and unbelievable to surprise and transform me.
This agreement is important for transformations. If we do not allow our beliefs and conceptions about the world and ourselves to expand, it is impossible to invite change into our lives. A fundamental principle in Chaos Magick is that your belief is a tool. Whether or not Chaos Magick is for you is not important here — important is understand how much your belief can enable and disable you. If you, for example, keep saying to yourself that you are not worthy to be loved, there can be dozens of people saying “I love you” straight to your face and it will not change a thing.
You can also read this article on Medium.