Voice in Ritual

“… the most probable of all my theorems, is that life is ordered by the principles of some religion so peculiar and obscure it has no followers, and none may fathom it, nor know the rituals by which to court its favour.”

Alan Moore

There is no shortage of tools you can buy or make to help you in ritual, but regardless of path, the most powerful one cannot be bought. It is simply your own voice. Voice is a resource available to most of us, and with it we can enrich our celebrations. It costs nothing in terms of money, but calls for energy, time, work and intention, which are all things that add to spiritual practice. Finding your own voice in ritual is a powerful experience in its own right. Speaking well, and hearing words of magic, devotion and celebration come from your lips in convincing, compelling ways changes your sense of self, and the nature of your work. The voice, used well, is the most powerful magical tool we have. Anyone can summon it, and with it, summon wonder.

Where ritual involves multiple participants, spoken word is our means of sharing meaning, and flagging up stages as they occur. We may undertake action, but it is spoken word that shapes ritual. Even working alone, we may offer our words aloud to the gods, the land, the spirits of place.

If you are working from a script, it can be an easy mistake to imagine that the words are all sorted out for you and need no further attention. This is not so. It takes work to bring words to life. Reading clumsily and without confidence or clarity can turn even poetry into dross. If you mean to improvise, then using your voice well is equally important, and you can still prepare by contemplating what you might say in advance.

If you are using a script, try and learn it. Even if you don’t manage it, the greater your familiarity with the words, the smoother and more confident your delivery will be. Take the time to make sure you understand. Words spoken carelessly, with no awareness of, or attention to meaning, have no real power. They do not change us, much less affect anything else. If we do not feel what is said, the utterance is pointless. Contemplate the meaning and intention of each phrase, so that you can speak it from your heart, with passion, conviction and the authority that comes from knowing what you say and why.

If you are not used to public speaking, ritual can be intimidating. A weak voice, stumbling over lines does not make for great ritual. Fear of failure will add to anxiety. This is something that improves with practice, but there are things you can do to improve your speaking.

Before you speak in ritual, you may wish to take a few moments and silently honour or invoke any powers or deities you associate with voice. Speaking in ritual is a profoundly spiritual act, and you can prepare for it in both spiritual and pragmatic ways, often mingling the two together. Treat your voice with the love and respect you would lavish on other tools. Just in recognising its value, you will make it more effective.

Your voice is a musical instrument, and benefits from being looked after. Avoid cloying food and drink before speaking. Water is best – make sure your throat is not dry. Air is vitally important for speech. Take a few moments to breathe deeply. If you are working to a script, then think in advance about the phrasing and make sure you know when to breathe. Sense can be lost in a badly placed breath. Allowing silence while you breathe can add potency, but only if you time it well. Nerves make it easy to tense and shallow breathe, which constricts your voice, so be conscious of this and control your breathing. Focusing on deep breathing helps to maintain calm and eases nerves.

Standing well has a surprising affect on voice. Place your feet at shoulder width and your balance will be better. This will help you feel more confident and reduce distractions. You don’t want to stumble. A wide stance is a confident, grounded pose, which opens your body, ready for the voice to be used. Stand straight. If nerves make you fold in, this will inhibit your voice. Make sure your shoulders are back, chest and stomach able to engage easily with the process of inhaling and exhaling. Be open, so that words can flow through you and from you. Be open to the energies of ritual, to the place you are in and the people around you. Words are intention, and they must pass from you to your companions and the world beyond.

If you speak down to the earth, your words will not carry well. Raise your head. If it’s unsettling to look at others while speaking, look just above them, and let your words rise. Grounded, breathing, and open, taking a strong, confident position, you are ready to use your voice.

Stress and nerves create a temptation to rush. Going at a pace will get it over and done with, but frantic hurrying can mangle and lose words, undermine meaning, and ruin atmospheres. Slower speech gives more time for words to carry and sink in. By dropping speed just a little from normal speech, you create a different atmosphere. Grandeur, solemnity, potency and seriousness are all better carried by slow words. Sincerity, emphasis and precise meanings come through at a slower tempo. If you are working from memory, that pace gives more time for recall, and if you improvise, it allows you to think as you go.

In most group ritual settings you will need more volume than regular conversation requires. Don’t shout if you can possibly avoid it, as that will strain your voice, and allows no nuance of tone or pitch. Instead open your mouth a little wider, shape the ends of words clearly, don’t let them trail off, and raise the volume enough to make sure you are heard. Sometimes pitching your voice a little higher than usual can help to make it carry. It may feel more exposed, but it works.

Let your energy fill your voice. Infuse each line with your deep understanding of what the words mean. Make your passion and sincerity sing out in every line. Speak from your soul, with your essence.

Water has soothed your throat. Earth is beneath your feet. Air fills your lungs. Reach for your inner fire, for your energy and passion, and let the words of ritual flow.

Nimue Brown is an author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. She has her own blog as well as patreon. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. She has published many renowned books on Druidry including Druidry and the Ancestors: Finding our place in our own history and Druidry and Meditation.

3 responses to “Voice in Ritual”

  1. If I may add? One of the most crucial things I’ve learned in acting in theatre and storytelling: take time to enjoy speaking out loud. Ignore the voice in your head that says “Am I doing this right?” And enjoy delivering a script, let it be your gift: to the gods, to the others watching and most of all: to you.

      • You’re very welcome. When I used to run our local moot here in Nottingham, I had to check myself that not everyone was comfortable in public speaking in our open ceremonies.

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