I have had many years of experience participating in and leading rituals; in the Celtic Tradition, with Native-Americans, and within an occult lodge. Ritual is meant to be a spontaneous celebration of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. An honoring of the Earth Mother.
The difference between earth-based spirituality, such as the Celtic Tradition, and organized religions, such as Catholicism, is that spirituality comes from the heart and is spontaneous, whereas religion comes from the head and is carefully planned.
In a religious ceremony every aspect is carefully orchestrated. In a spiritual ceremony there is always a beginning and an ending, but what happens in-between is spontaneous.
For example, in a religious ceremony the songs are prescribed, the hymns are written in a book in case you forget the words, and everyone knows what to do, where to be, when to stand, when to sit, and when to go home.
In a spiritual ceremony you know you are going to build a wicker man for Lugnasah. You’ve gathered the sticks and straw and prepared an area for the ritual to take place. You know you’re going to burn the wicker man at the end of the ritual. But how he is to be built, who builds him, who dances with him, who sings and what songs are sung before he goes to the fire, is anybody's guess.
My advice for those of you reading these words, who wish to participate in ritual, is to ignore the books, toss the “rules” and “procedures” to the wind, decide how you want to begin (a prayer of thanks to the Earth Mother is always a good way to begin, but don’t make this a rule you have to follow), and decide how you want to end (but not necessarily at what time!), gather a few friends, and try to find space for dancing and singing … what you sing and how you dance is not important as long as it comes from the heart. As one of my teachers, Sobonfu Malidomi, once told me, "Those who can’t dance are dead."
Try not to become a prisoner of your own or someone else’s rules, including mine.