Ritual and Disability

Enter your sacred circle from the West, then walk clockwise to North,

Bow and greet the element of Earth, warden of the North,

Follow your circle now to the South, light the candle and greet the element of Fire,

Now to the West…

A familiar sight, no? Most won’t really think anything of this – but if you’re one of roughly 15% of the world’s population with some sort of disability, you may have already encountered at least one problem with this ritual, likely even more. I’m one of that 15%, and I’m going to share with you some tips, tricks and modifications which have helped me in my ritual-weaving years. Hopefully I can help some of you with some new ideas, and even if you’re able bodied, perhaps one or two of these may be handy for you too!

First things first, I’d like to remind everyone there is no such thing as doing ritual “properly”. What it says in the book isn’t “proper” and what your friends do isn’t “proper” either. It’s one way of many to do things, but by no means the one and only “right” or “correct” way. One of the great beauties of Paganism is that we aren’t tied down by rigid rules and dogma, and this means that each individual can vary rituals greatly to meet their needs. Ritual is simply a tool to help you get into the right psychological and physical space to work spiritually or magickally.  It would not matter one jot if you did the whole thing backwards, upside down, or even not at all – provided you are able to achieve the right mental state.

With that out of the way, let’s talk practicalities. First and foremost, all this walking about. There’s a lot of it, isn’t there? Maybe you could use a walker (gets in the way), crutches or a stick (enjoy dropping them and spilling things), or even a wheelchair (so much SPACE required)? Theoretically yes, but as I’ve just pointed out these are naff solutions, and bloody tiring when you might already be wiped as it is. So let’s out with this walking business right now. You can cast a circle, and greet your directions, without having to travel around everywhere (this is also great for those with very limited space). If you’re able to sit on the floor, one easy and cheap solution is simply sitting on the floor in the middle of your circle, and turning yourself to face whichever direction is required of you at the time. This can be tiring, so I recommend putting something under your bum to help you swivel about. A couple of satin pillowcases will help you swivel smoothly, or investing in a “swivel cushion” or “exercise slider” will also help minimise the energy needed to do this. The plus part of being on the floor is that you can easily put things around you, and don’t have to fret about setting up tables.

If that isn’t for you, then I would instead recommend either a swivelling office chair, or even a simple stool without a back. This is a little different, as unless you have four spare tables lying around (and the space to put them in!) you won’t be able to have things like candles/incense/water/crystals around you in an outer circle. If this is better for you, it’ll help a lot to be able to either plonk yourself down in front of your altar or use a small folding table to create a temporary workspace. Then you can place things in the cardinal directions on the table in front of you. You can still swivel around to cast a circle, and to greet the directions, but your tools are in front of you instead of around you.

For some of us, this may still not be accessible. I myself have spent periods of time bedbound, and I know how just how tough it can be to remain connected with ritual in that kind of situation. But worry not! If you are stuck in your bed right now, or maybe the sofa is the only place that’s comfy, make a ritual “grab bag”. Pop the tools you want in it, and keep it somewhere useful (say, a bedside cabinet, or perhaps in a little box nearby). Then when you want to perform a ritual, find a surface such as a foldable table, or a lap tray/bed table and place your tools on it as you want them (I’ll get to alternative tools to replace candles and such in a bit so this can be done safely). Don’t worry about physically moving in a circle or facing directions. You can draw a circle with one arm from your front to your back, then take over with the other to get from the back to the front. When greeting directions, place the tools in the right directions in front of you, and greet from there.

I mentioned tools, and for many people using things like fire won’t be safe, water may get spilled, and cleaning up salt you sprinkled on the damn floor is something you’ve not the energy for, especially not after ritual! I’m a big proponent of finding other ways to represent elements. You can keep a bottle of water with a cap so it doesn’t spill, or perhaps choose something that reminds you of water. A piece of sea glass, something blue, a drawing of a fish. Fire could be an electric candle (I hate them personally) or an ornament of a dragon, maybe even a toy salamander! Air could be a feather, something which smells beautiful to you, or a photo of a bird. Earth can happily be a rock, a crystal, a Gaia statue. Take some time to think of things which you associate with the elements and pick them out. Fire might seem glamorous, but if you’ve got the shakes I’m sure a nice dragon sculpture will be just as fun without setting your house alight (though if you manage that let me know and I’ll buy a dragon egg off you).

Finally, I’d like to talk about the most important and accessible ritual tool – Visualisation. It is so important for spiritual development to work on visualisation, and that is even moreso for those of us with physical limitations. If you’re unable to work due to your disability you may have a very limited income, and perhaps buying all these little bits and bobs is out of your reach. Or maybe you are someone with paralysis or completely debilitating fatigue and doing all this alone is too much. I know many won’t be comfortable asking for the help of others in ritual, and some won’t have people to ask as it is. That is were visualisation comes in. I recommend everyone work on this, as when you can’t sprinkle a circle of salt around you, or have a candle even though you desperately want one, you can visualise your circle around you, or a warm hearth in front of you. I’ve got a few tips to help build visualisation skills which I will pass along.

I would again like to remind everyone that you don’t need a circle of salt. You don’t need a roaring fire. You don’t need a wand, an athame, or a chalice either. The power of ritual doesn’t lie within these tools. The power of ritual and magick is something which lies within yourself. It sounds cheesy but it is the actual truth of the matter. Your intent and your ability to focus is where your power lies. When you hold a wand, work with your athame, or trace a circle in incense, you are imbuing these items with your intent, and that’s what makes it work. You can remove the item entirely and still have a fulfilling ritual experience with just as much power as Sharon down the street who has 6 boxes full of amazing pagan loot.

Visualisation can be tough at first – it doesn’t come naturally for a lot of people, so don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally for you either. Work with your ritual outlines, and when you need to interact with things, visualise the interaction instead of actually physically doing it (I know, I know, and then draw the rest of the damn owl, right?). Visualisation doesn’t necessarily mean literally having the image of something in your mind clearly. It may come in flickers of images, a memory of a smell, a sense of wind on your face, or even simply as an emotion. Very few people can hold solid images in their head for long periods of time. Spend some time, every day, working on visualisation. Close your eyes, or let them lose focus and relax if you’re liable to fall asleep (me), and visualise breathing in a silver smoke, then breathing out a golden one. See the silver fill your lungs, turn to gold, and come out. Alternatively, visualise the flame of a candle, watch it flicker as you breathe near it. Fluttering as you breathe out, steadying, then pulling closer as you breathe in. Breathwork and visualisation are often intertwined and can really assist each other in anchoring and focusing.

A couple more quick tips, then I will away (for now). If you do use a chair to help you, a nice throw or blanket can help make it feel less mundane. Ritual robes are nice but again, if you struggle to dress yourself it isn’t necessary to wear them. Perhaps drape a nice scarf around your neck, don a headpiece, or curl up under a blanket which you reserve for rituals (or you can just stay as you are, I promise you don’t need special garb). My final tip will be to reach out to other disabled pagans! I know I for one will always be delighted to help people overcome obstacles in ritual and find ways around things that’ll work better. I hope some of these suggestions are useful for someone (or maybe even a few of you!) and remember that an effective ritual is one which works for you, not what someone else wrote in a book.

Yours under the Sacred Oak,

Belladonna Hare