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revised 16 May 2001

...alone for the moment

Sorry, I know you just want to get on with it, but working alone is the best way to start. The aims are to get used to the basic working methods, train yourself to awaken and release sexual energies and to work with imagery. Besides, if you don't know your own body, how can you possibly know anyone else's? You'll need a space to exercise in and sufficient time for the exercise. With a little effort and ingenuity the space can be just about anywhere: what you can't trade off is the time. You will probably need an hour or more. Don't rush it; if you don't have that much time now, put all this aside for later.

You need to set up an area to practice. Ideally, you want a quiet room with low lighting: preferably not pitch dark but not blazing light either. Preferably, this will contain a bed or floor space where you can relax full length, with cushions, pillows or whatever you would usually use for comfort. The area should be warm enough to be comfortable when you're lying still, naked, for an extended period. In the end, though, all of these are to allow you to concentrate on the task in hand and if you have to make compromises, then with proper preparation that's quite possible.

It's time now to start building the imagery. This is pretty much a personal thing and props need to be kept fairly simple: the aim is to build imagery in the brain, but here's one idea. Society being what it is, the most likely time to be doing this is in the evening and having a pitch-dark room doesn't work too well, at first at any rate. So, make a virtue out of necessity. A candle is a good idea, but you'll need to leave it unattended for a few minutes and it's nicer to have the room prepared completely for your return. So, perhaps a floating votive candle. If you put it in a big glass bowl of water, it can be safely left, and you could add a single blossom floating in the water. You could use incense as well, if you find that it helps. Here, we are grouping symbols. In straight behavioural psychology terms the imagery will be a trigger, and the blossom, the candle and the incense will make it easier to recapture the state of mind next time.

"Make yourself comfortable" - remember that this will take some time. Now, it's time to bathe. A ritual bath (shower, wash, whatever is possible) is always a good idea. It gets you physically clean, but equally it provides a break between the mundane and the start of the ritual. Sacred wells are usually associated with legends about aiding fertility, curing eyesight problems and so on. Many of these are true: where fresh water and good nutrition are lacking, clean water can work a multitude of miracles. Equally, a sacred well is a place of peace. It may seem trite to consider that you're washing your troubles away, but if you can get into the right frame of mind, it's also true.

Now you're ready to roll. (If you're already bored, this might not be the path for you...) A small drink to start with helps emphasise the feeling. Opinions differ on abstinence from alcohol and other drugs before ritual, just as they do on abstinence from sex or orgasm. Personally, I feel that if a glass of wine at the start of the ritual will make the moment more special, then that's a good idea. However, some of the heroes who went in search of maidens took vows to consume only bread and water, and a break from alcohol never hurt anyone, so marking the moment with a special tea or fruit drink works equally well. Pour just a tiny amount into the bowl, if you have one, before you drink - paying reverence to the sense of place, giving thanks to the divinity within and without.

The relaxation and breathing techniques will come up again and again in these descriptions, so I've put them into a separate page. For this exercise, you should already be familiar with relaxing and counting breaths, to the point where the slow breathing and counting part is at the same time natural and all-consuming. First relax, then get yourself into the breathing light stage. Spend as long as you feel you need at this stage, probably at least ten minutes.

Now - finally - begin to touch your body sensually and gently. Start at the centre of the chest: feel the connection with the heart and the energy flowing. Maintain the level of relaxation and breathing, but at the same time, feel the sensual nature of the touch. Move slowly down to the navel, feeling the connection as you did when starting the relaxation exercise. Keep your touches detached but intimate. Note the nature of the touch, feel the warmth, understand how they mix together in the brain. Move out to the neck and other parts of your body, feeling the linkage, noting the change in the sensations. Allow yourself to focus on the pleasure and expand it to fill your body. Go slowly. The exercise will work better if you go at half the speed...

Think of the well, your approach to it, the feelings of entering a safe, sacred place which can relax, invigorate and heal. It's enclosed, without being confining, a haven: the water is cool and clear and there's space to bathe. Perhaps it has a paved area so that you can sit on the side and dangle your legs in the cool water. Savour whatever sensations occur. It may be that, as you concentrate on your breathing, the light, the well and your body, you'll start to experience voices, images or thoughts as if you were overhearing them whilst holding another conversation. Don't strain to catch them yet: they'll come more fully when they're ready.

Move your hands to your chest or breasts and the genitals. Begin a gentle exploration, revelling in each touch, every sensation. Notice the feel of the movement over your skin, how hard or soft the various areas are. Enjoy the whole of your body: adjust your touch to create a wholly pleasurable experience. Don't actually masturbate: this aim is to make a ritual of touching, to know your own body and gain experience with giving and receiving sensual touch. It's important to learn both to give and to receive that sensuality: this energy is the basic force with which the future rituals will operate.

Once again, take your time: for some people, the ability to take time for this is the most important thing to learn. If what you're doing seems silly or irrelevant, strange or wrong, examine why that might be. There is little point in continuing if you feel somehow unhealthy about the whole thing, but little point in stopping if a period of reflection will tell you why you feel it unhealthy, and change the way you feel. Continue for up to forty minutes, safe in the sacred space of the well, experiencing the pleasure: let the well itself answer any questions you have. To deny something is no better than to embrace it: to embrace it no better than to deny it. If you feel irrevocably drawn to masturbate, then, as Gerald Gardner said: "If the first time or two they do stay a while to worship Aphrodite, 'tis only a day or two lost, and the intense pleasure they obtain only leads them again to the mysteries of Hermes, their souls more attuned to the great search". You'll need to perform the exercise/ritual again, but you may well feel drawn to do that anyway. Examine why you felt that need.

End the ritual as you began. If necessary, restore yourself to the breathing light stage. Once again visualise the light, energy, beauty, kindness and love entering your body with each breath. Do this for a few minutes and then, with a conscious effort, bid farewell to the guardian of the place, leave, and ground yourself.

Grounding is important. Just as bathing and the drink mark the start of the ritual, "grounding" tells the brain that the ritual is ended. Coffee or a cold drink, fruit, hugs, or even stamping your foot hard and saying "it is ended" should all work. Blow out the candle if you used one. Before everything fades completely, though, write up your thoughts. If you already keep a diary or dream journal you'll be familiar with getting your thoughts recorded whilst they're still fresh, but it will be sensible to start a new book or a new file for these rituals. Record your images and feelings. Don't over-analyse everything, something which means one thing today, may mean something completely different in six months. For anyone whose job involves writing, this will most certainly complete the grounding process.

If you're with a partner, you should perform the ritual separately, but, after writing up, you should discuss the whole thing, what you felt and saw and what it means for you both. It's probably not a good idea to share the journals at this stage, unless you already do so in other contexts, but there's little point in proceeding without discussing the whole thing in some detail.

Now, it's fine to have a drink, make love or masturbate as you see fit. It would be strange if you didn't feel that way. You may well want to repeat the exercise before continuing. As Gerald Gardner suggests in the Sabbat rituals in his 1957 Book of Shadows:

"Sometimes the cauldron is relighted several times for this purpose."

When you feel you're ready, and not before, here are two rituals aimed fairly and squarely at the genitals. You can use these alone, but they are designed to be worked with a partner. They are the adoration of the graal and the adoration of the rod. You should be able to work out for yourself which is which.

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