1. Your new book is The Witch's Wheel of the Year, which includes three all-new rituals for each Sabbat, including one for covens, one for circles, and one for solitary practitioners. What inspired you to write the book?
There should be a very easy answer to this, but it's actually kind of involved. In October of 2017 I was at a book store in Michigan (Hi Artes and Craft!) and the question of, "What are you going to write next?" came up. At the time I was still working on what would become Transformative Witchcraft, so I hadn't quite figured out the answer to that, but I responded with something like, "A ritual book?" and everyone there got excited, and it made me think I was heading in the right direction on that next project.
When I finally started sketching out the book in March of 2018 I knew I wanted to create a book about the sabbats that accomplished a few specific goals. The first part was that I wanted the rituals to be interactive and give people something to do in them. I've been to way too many "rituals" that are nothing more than guided meditations and end with everyone getting a flower for no particular purpose.
Whether or not we think about it, as a community we engage in three types of sabbat rituals. There are solitary rituals, rituals we do for small groups, and then the rituals we do for big groups. I've done rituals for myself (one person, obviously) and for four hundred people, and the skill sets that are involved in each are completely different. So, I wanted to touch on how to enact a successful ritual, and what the challenges are for each of the three types. (In the book I call them "solitary," "coven," and "circle" rituals, respectively.)
There's also some history in the book, as well: stuff on how the Wheel of the Year evolved, where the names of the sabbats originated, and when exactly Witches celebrate the New Year. There are also mini-histories for each sabbat, and I like them because they specifically focus on the sabbats. When I first started writing those I found myself writing about how Saturnalia evolved into Christmas (which you can read more about in Llewellyn's Little Book of Yule, which I also wrote, coming out fall 2020!), and I think that's interesting, but what's more important is how we celebrate Yule today, and to a lesser extent, how Yule was celebrated 1800 years ago.
I always try to write the kind of things I'd have liked to read twenty years ago. And, back then I could have really used a lot of help with ritual creation.
2. Why are rituals such an important part of Witchcraft?
Rituals connect us to things, and connection is one of the things I value most in Witchcraft. Our rituals connect us with deities, our ancestors, and other higher powers, the change of the seasons and the Wheel of the Year, the practice of magick, and our communities.
One of the things I love most about Witch ritual is that I can celebrate the return of the light at Imbolc, honor Brigid, work powerful magick, and do it while bonding with my coven. Having all of those elements in one rite makes the spells we weave so much more powerful. Ritual is also a language that we share together as rituals and Pagans. There are a lot of different Witches and Pagan groups, and we all do ritual in a variety of ways, but there are a lot of familiar elements beyond the language and techniques used.
3. What (if any) previous experience do readers need before performing the rituals in The Witch's Wheel of the Year?
None. I think the first quarter of the book opens up with some really good advice on how to do rituals and what they should accomplish. The rituals in the interior of the book, especially the solitary ones, are super-easy to do, while offering something that I hope people will find uplifting and substantial.
And one of the things I'm proudest of in the book is that it attempts to illustrate the idea that "there are no absolutes in Witchcraft." Want to call the quarters before casting the circle? That's fine. Want to start in the West instead of the East or North? Go right ahead! There are also some rituals in the book in the style of Traditional Witchcraft, pointing out that Witch-ritual doesn't just have to be Wiccan-centric.
There's a lot of other stuff in the book for people who are experienced Witches. There are the history parts, but ideas for rituals, and then some of my own rituals which I think are pretty good. The idea of a putting a ritual book together isn't to say, "Here's my ritual, do it this way," but instead to provide some inspiration and ideas for doing one's own rituals.
4. Your previous book is Transformative Witchcraft, which also included original rituals. What inspires you in your ritual creation?
I try to write ritual with an end goal in mind. If the ritual is about Beltane or the Great Rite, the ritual exists in service to those ideas. When writing a Beltane ritual, I think about where we are in the Wheel of the Year, and how we can connect to that energy. Anything that's not in service to that end goal doesn't need to be in the rite.
For me it always comes back to connection. Whether it's a Dionysus Ritual or a somber Samhain rite, it all comes back to connection. How do we connect to the dead? How do we connect to Big D? I usually figure those things out by going on long walks with my wife Ari, who lets me ramble about ritual for thirty minutes.
Most rituals begin with the germ of an idea, and from there it's built upon. For the initiation ritual in Transformative Witchcraft I kept coming back to the idea of "as above so below" as a rule in magick and even our experiences with certain deities. So, if you can come up with a thesis statement for a ritual and then build everything you do around that, you'll probably be OK.
Fear is probably the last part when it comes to ritual creation. I simply don't want my rituals to suck, and the idea of presenting something awful or boring fuels me to do the best I can. I've had a few duds, but not even every Queen song is earth-shatteringly great.
5. What do you hope readers will take away from The Witch's Wheel of the Year?
First of off, I hope that it inspires people to do more rituals, either alone or with groups. Magick and spells are great, but seasonal rites have been associated with Witchcraft since the very beginning. So I hope people are inspired "to do."
I also hope it helps people put together better and more effective rituals. If you are leading open rituals in your area that's a really important gateway for people. If your ritual doesn't work a new seeker might never come back. So, there's a big responsibility that comes with doing those sorts of things, and as a community there aren't a lot of resources to help get those sorts of rituals right. I hope my book helps.