Effective Remote Ritual, Part 1: Sight


Hawkfire is nearing its third birthday as both an idea and an experiment. It is a primarily online Gardnerian Outer Court (OC) and Inner Court (IC) created to facilitate access and training for those who could not acquire it in other ways. 

But Hawkfire only became a coven proper three weeks ago when we welcomed our first initiate into the Craft. The initiation happened in meatspace at the covenstead in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was followed by a week of nightly ritual, cramming in as much in-person training as possible. (Y’all, I’m tired. But it was also great.) If there’s a way to do effective Inner Court ritual online, Hawkfire’s first initiate is the perfect collaborator on this project. As we get things going over the next year, I’ll share with interested Initiates what we’re discovering and how we’re problem-solving different elements of the IC ritual. But I’d love to hear from others working on these same problems. (I’m 100% sure we’re not the only ones trying to make online IC work!)

This post is the first of a series on practical methods for online ritual. Much of what makes online OC ritual effective will translate to IC ritual, not to mention eclectic and non-Wiccan ritual practices. I hope these tried-and-tested insights are helpful. And, again, for those working through these same challenges, please do share your discoveries, either privately or in the comments!


Wicca is experiential. It is also sensual, in that it is of the senses. 

We’ve discovered that improving the ritual practice online is anchored around a shared sensory experience of this Craft. Being visual animals, this first blog post is dedicated to the sense of sight.

However, there are many considerations when on-boarding new participants to on-line ritual. The final post in this series will focus on those considerations, which are especially important for both coven leaders and Seekers considering on-line group practice.  

But first, let’s dig into the practicalities of the visual experience within an on-line magical practice.

Sorceress and her laptop (generated with Stable Diffusion, obvs obvs.)
Sorceress and her laptop (generated with Stable Diffusion, obvs obvs.)

1. Video Conference Software

We currently conduct our online rituals via Zoom, although I’m frequently evaluating other software. We’ve used WebEx and Google Meets in the past with good results, and I will be testing both Telegram and Signal in the near future. There are a lot of options right now (thanks, global pandemic!) but the primary points of consideration are sound quality; security; image quality, consistency, and layout; and cross-platform compatibility.  (I’ll revisit sound in a separate blog post because that’s been an Entire Thing.)

Security

Security is essential to mystery traditions broadly, but also for the privacy of participants. End-to-end encryption is essential and (mostly) standard these days. While it’s unlikely somebody will want to snoop in on your weird witchcraft cult, end-to-end encryption is the equivalent of making sure your door is locked. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Zoom wasn’t end-to-end encrypted so we used WebEx. Once Zoom added this feature and began to show its robustness for both image and sound, we switched over. Software security is only part of the equation, however. 

There’s nothing to prevent a user from screen-capturing everyone, which presents a unique privacy challenge in online rituals. Getting to know a Seeker ahead of inviting them to your home is always important, but there are additional privacy risks to others when the ritual is online. Additionally, I have OC members practice skyclad at some point before initiation. (This is understandably not universal to Outer Courts, by the way, but was part of my own training and I’ve found this approach invaluable.) Trusting everyone on a skyclad Zoom call is of utmost importance. This process cannot be rushed, and that trust is built slowly over time. It requires both patience and excellent communication skills.

Image quality, consistency, and layout

Having your image freeze mid-invoking pentagram is disconcerting for everyone, so a reliable and consistent video stream is also important. Unfortunately, the software is only part of that calculus. The bandwidth of individual participants plays a big role and Seekers may have limited control over that. Here in Charlotte, fiber is rapidly becoming the norm: I can easily conduct Zoom ritual while my husband and son both stream movies in other rooms. But for those running on broadband, this can be a challenge. Zoom is pretty good about adjusting for slower connections, but it’s something I’m frequently researching as software evolves faster than the hardware.

“Cakes and Wine” is the section of ritual when we sit around the altar, talk, enjoy each other’s company, and unpack whatever happened in the ritual and our unfolding understanding of this practice.  For me, this is the most important part of OC ritual and is key to assessing the progress of both the group and individual members. Simulating that sense of sitting around a common space relies on a grid layout (think Brady Bunch heads.) It’s essential to see everyone at once, but to also see their individual faces large enough to read their expressions by candlelight. While we’ve experimented with smartphones in the past (and they work in a pinch) if a tablet or laptop is available, the larger screen helps a lot. 

Cross-platform compatibility

Some folks use phones, some iPads, some Chromebooks — so finding software that works across multiple devices and operating systems is an important accessibility issue. While software like Zoom works fairly well across devices, others lack key features such as grid layouts on phones or audio settings.

Witches love cell phones. (Stable Diffusion)
Witches love cell phones. (Stable Diffusion)

2. Phone/Laptop Placement

Since Cakes and Wine is the heart of the OC ritual and where the real ‘work’ happens, being able to see each other as if we were physically sitting around an altar and sharing space is essential.  As mentioned, the grid layout is important, but there’s meatspace work to be done as well.  

Everyone sets up their camera (i.e. their phone, computer, or webcam) on the North side of the altar facing the South, with the participant sitting on the South side of the altar. This facilitates the Brady Bunch grid layout available on the video conferencing software. The downside is that when participants stand up (to salute the quarters, for example) it’s a lot of mid-section shots. Re-positioning the camera to a higher angle may or may not be trivial.  

Additionally, camera placement is heavily affected by individual space limitations. I have one Seeker who lives in a dense urban center where physical space is at a premium. Another has an entire room to themselves. But getting the camera placement uniform is worth the process of revision and experimentation. It also necessarily rests on the shoulders of the Seekers. Even having the camera set off at an angle can be disconcerting, but sometimes it’s the best a Seeker can do. 

Finally, if Coven leaders have the resources, I recommend setting up two devices when introducing new Seekers to the ritual: one at the North side of the altar (again, with the HPS and HP in the South), and one high in a corner of the room to offer a view the entire ritual space. I’ll revisit onboarding new Seekers in another post, but being able to see what the HPS is doing in the space (where and when she’s walking, what pentagrams she’s drawing, etc.) is especially helpful for new members. Once everyone ‘gets’ the ritual (more or less, anyway) I ditch the corner camera.

Working table of the technologically-inclined occultist. (Stable Diffusion)
Working table of the technologically-inclined occultist. (Stable Diffusion)

3. Altar Set-Up

For Hawkfire’s OC, I ask all Seekers to have something they can use for each of the following: 

  • an altar (which can be a table, an egg crate, a cardboard box – physical space and income dictate this object).
  • an athame (again, this is flexible to income restrictions)
  • a pentacle (a piece of paper works)
  • a cup of salt
  • a cup of water
  • loose incense (I’ll revisit in another post)
  • a censor or fire-safe dish with charcoal (ditto to above)
  • flowers
  • a ‘goddess’ candle (preferably a white taper or a candle that can last three hours)
  • a ‘goddess’ candle (ditto to above)
  • cakes and ale (I’ll revisit in another post)
  • cup and dish (for the cakes and ale)
  • libation bowl
  • quarter candles (these should ideally last at least three hours) 

I’ll come back to the online ritual use of each of these objects in a future post, but general uniformity between the altars goes a long way in providing a communal experience. 

Having truly identical altars is neither possible nor, I’ve decided, desirable.  One person’s pentacle may be laser-engraved wood and another’s may be a marker drawing on paper. But both work effective magic in group-based ritual. Repeatedly working with these objects in the online group ritual magically charges them in much the same way as re-using an athame solidifies its magical patterning. The magic of group practice is unique, and this has been an unexpected benefit with online practice. Seekers are (hopefully) engaging with the OC ritual material in their solitary practices as well, and so the entire physical altar set-up becomes a lovely bridge between the group-based practice and its solitary counterpart.

Magical time and space travel. (Stable Diffusion)

4. Light and Time Zones

Hawkfire currently has four people spread out across nine time zones, and this has turned out to be one of the biggest challenges to effective online ritual practice. 

In meatspace, sunset dictates the ritual time. Typically folks arrive at the High Priestess’ house in the afternoon with the ritual beginning anytime after sunset. In the first OC, I decided that ritual needed to start as close to sunset as possible for me

This was a mistake and cost me a wonderful Seeker who was forced to stay up until the wee hours of the morning (on work nights, no less). In hindsight, I wasn’t confident I had the magical oomph to make online ritual work. I leaned heavily on my magical triggers, such as performing ritual after sunset. 

It was a hard lesson learned, but I’m also a more confident witch and priestess today. I learned the importance of magical performance with or without triggers. If you need to perform emergency magic, for example, but you’re stuck in traffic an hour from home, that doesn’t stop the need for the emergency magic. The digital context doesn’t make the need for effective magic any less, but also doesn’t throw up any real barriers either.

Since Charlotte is in the middle-time zone, we circle at 3 pm. It’s 9pm for the member furthest east and noon for the one furthest west. Not great, but not terrible and we’ve been able to circle every other week this way.  

Additionally, since it’s daylight in Charlotte at 3 pm, blackout curtains are the magical win. When my ritual space is just as dark and candlelit as my initiate’s in Europe, it helps us feel closer to the same magical time and space.


In the next post, I’ll continue working through the senses: Sound, Smell, Taste, and Touch. I’ll then wrap up with a post about the practical use of tools magically and offer suggestions for onboarding new Seekers.

Workspace interior design goals. (Stable Diffusion)

One response to “Effective Remote Ritual, Part 1: Sight”

  1. Ideally I would like a mashup between gather.town and Zoom for online workings with visual contact.

    We also found it very effective doing a circle over the phone (no visuals, just audio) but that was with a group of experienced initiates.

    Liked by 1 person

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