Rituals are very personal things. Different traditions have different ways of doing them. What follows is an attempt to explain the basics that are common to most rituals.
I. Before the ritual
I. Before the ritual.
Gather and set up all the items you will need for the ritual, most often symbols for the elements and deities and anything that is called for in a particular ritual as well as a bit of food and something to drink, on the altar. The altar should be placed in the middle of the ritual space (often a nine-foot circle) facing east if possible. East is the most common direction to face an altar since it is the direction of new beginnings, but it is not mandatory and actually changes for specific rituals. If you have less room or no place to put an altar, work with what you have. You are not doing it wrong if you cast your circle on your bed and use a shoebox for an altar. You actually need nothing other than yourself to do a ritual. Many people either meditate or take a relaxing bath to relax them and prepare themselves mentally and spiritually for the ritual. .
If you are doing a group ritual it is a good idea to ask for volunteers to help out by calling the elements or taking some other part in the ritual BEFORE the actual ritual. Seems, obvious, but should be mentioned anyway.
If you choose, have the participants smudge (waft smoke over) themselves with incense smoke or sage to cleanse themselves for the ritual. Have all the participants enter the ritual space.
II. Cast the Circle.
Draw the circle in white or silver light around the participants using your wand athame or finger by walking clockwise around the ritual area starting in the East. East is the most common direction to start a circle, but it is not mandatory and might change for specific rituals. Close the circle by joining the ends with a sideways eight, which is the symbol for eternity, and know by many as a witchs knot. Generally you draw the circle just around where you will be doing your ritual, but I know of one group that draws it so that it includes the bathrooms as well, just in case! It is not a bad idea to bring some incense around with your or smudge the circle with sage while you cast the circle to cleanse it.
At this point you may choose to say something about the meaning of the ritual circle such as, "The circle has no beginning or ending, but rather spins in an unending balance" or "This is a time beyond time in a place beyond place where Dreamworld and the waking world meet." This and many phrases said aloud during group ritual are often followed by "So mote it be" which is said in unison by the group. Whenever I add "So mote it be" after this that is what I am intending.
III. Invite the Elements (Call the Quarters)
Once again it is most common to start in the East, but not mandatory. You might even change where you start depending on the season. Stand facing the direction you are calling. Some people hold their hands out, some hold the symbol chosen to represent that quarter or light a candle that represents it.
Calling the quarters can be as simple as, "Welcome East, Element of Air, Direction of New Beginnings. So mote it be." It can get more complex form here by adding things like, "We ask that you be present at this circle and aid in the manifestation of our prayers (or spells, or wishes)." You could also add more description of the element that is appropriate for the season or your own personal beliefs. In addition you could add deities or animal spirits that are associated with that element. So it could easily become as complex as this, "All Hail the Watchtower of the East, Element of Air, Direction of New Beginnings, gentle breezes and far seeing, Associated with the Eagle Butterfly and all air spirits. We ask that you be present at this circle and aid in the manifestation of our prayers. Merry meet, merry part and merry meet again. So mote it be."
Repeat a greeting made specifically for each direction.
The particular system I follow acknowledges seven directions, East , South, West, North, Above, Below, and Within. Some traditions call just the four quarters. Some call the four quarters and a fifth, center or spirit. Some work with just three elements, water, air and earth. Find the system that works best for you.
IV. Invoke deities (gods and goddesses) and spirits
Once again this can be as simple or complex as you choose. Some people invoke specific deities, others generic ones, others just the Goddess, others just the God. I personally suggest that, at least while you are learning, you invoke both the God and the Goddess if you choose to invoke deity energy at all. It tends to be a more balanced energy if both are invoked rather than just one. Some people, such as I, do not invoke deities at all, but instead just work with animal guides and other positive spirits.
Starting most simply, "Lord and Lady (or God and Goddess), I invite you to please be present at this ritual. So mote it be." You can also add, "and aid in the work we will do," or "and accept our gratitude," or help us on our path" or something similar. In addition to invoking the God and Goddess you may also invoke your animal guide and other positive spirits. I invoke my guardian spirits much the same way as I demonstrated for invoking the deities. Finally you might want to add, "May all spirits who have a positive interest in my happiness and well being feel free to attend this ritual. So mote it be."
V. Just in case
No one is perfect, even those with the best of intentions. I always add, "May all that I do in this circle be good and for the best. So mote it be." This is a fall back, a fail safe, sort of like an acrobats safety net.
VI. Ritual or Spellwork Now is when you add in any particular rituals, ceremonies, or spellwork that you wish. After you do whatever you are going to do it is always nice to just sit, relax, ground your energy and enjoy the energy of the circle.
VII. Cakes and Ale
One of the things that Hearthstone circle does is pass around a cup filled with water, juice or wine. As it passes to each person they name something of themselves they would like to share with their group, for instance, "I give my curiosity." Then they take a sip from the cup saying, "I drink of the gifts of my friends." If you have a cold or just don't want to drink from a group cup you just hold it to your heart.
VIII. Thank and part with the spirits, deities and elements you called
Say thank you and goodbye to all the spirits you called to your circle in the reverse order you called them. So if you called East, South, West, North, God, Goddess, Spirit animal, other positive spirits in that order part with them like this: Positive spirits, Spirit animal, Goddess, God, North, Went, South, East. This can be as simple as "Thank you, East, element of Air, for your presence and aid. Hail and farewell (or merry meet, merry part and merry meet again). So mote it be." You can, as usual, make it more complex if you choose.
IX. Open the Circle
Simply repeat what you did to cast the circle, but in reverse, going counterclockwise undoing the knot (figure eight) first. You can also just undo the knot and break the circle. Then you could say something like, "The circle is open, but unbroken. May all that pass from it go in safety and as friends. So mote it be."
Leave out any ritual elements that need to stay (do not leave burning candles or incense unattended!) and clean the rest up. If you shared cakes and ale now is the time to sprinkle them on the earth somewhere for the spirits.