The ADF discussion group on FB was recentlly abuzz with a discussion on the gatekeeper concept within our liturgy. It’s a hot topic for some – whether it should be required in ADF liturgy, whether or not it’s an Indo-European concept, etc, etc, etc… I’ve been working on Liturgy 1, part of my Initiate training in ADF, so between that and the FB discussion, I couldn’t help but reflect on the gatekeeper and what it means to me and my rituals.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, Isaac Bonewits briefly describes gatekeepers in his book Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals That Work:
The creation of a ritual center is often symbolized in Paleo-, Meso-, and Neopagan ceremonies as opening the Gates Between the Worlds. This is usually accomplished by calling upon a particular spirit who is a gatekeeper, and who is easy to contact, since he/she is usually halfway into this world already. The gatekeeper is then asked to open the gates, which she/he usually does with little fuss (32).
Pagans may envision this gatekeeper differently depending on the purpose/desires for the ritual, one’s personal or grove hearth culture, and one’s tradition. Wiccans, for example, often call spirits in the four directions, be they elementals, guardians of watchtowers, or even angels. Though I’ve never heard them referred to as such in Wiccan circles, these spirits are gatekeepers (32). In ADF Druidic rites, many will call on messenger spirits or even psychopomps. The wonderful thing coming out of the online discussions seems to be that the gatekeeper concept does not have to be set in stone. Some suggest thinking of the gatekeeper is a guardian during our rites. Others see him or her as a facilitator – a spirit who can help you access the Otherworlds, but does not automatically assume that we can’t do it on our own.
Personally, I work with Manannán mac Lir, Irish God of the sea, lord of magic, and arguably an excellent gatekeeper! Muin Mound Grove often calls to Manannán as well, and that’s where I first started to make my acquaintance with him. Personal study and experience has lead me to develop a relationship with him as a gatekeeper deity and, now, a patron to my Druidic studies. His association with water connects him with the Otherworld, and yet many stories show him interacting with humans such as Cuchulainn and Bran. One of my favorite stories features Cormac Mac Airt whom Manannán actually transports to the Otherworld, usually with the aid of a silver wand that tinkles like bells.
In my personal rites, I usually don’t call to Manannán as a gatekeeper unless I am doing some serious magical workings. I was intrigued and yet not surprised to learn that others in ADF view the gatekeeper as a guardian – and indeed that’s how I consider him. My usual devotionals are very basic; they involve grounding and centering, prayers of thanks, and offerings. As they are done at my altar, a place I’ve been working at for years now, I feel that it’s sufficiently warded from most negativity. When I need to do something other than basic devotionals or prayers, I then acknowledge the Outsiders, the powers of chaos, and ask them to leave me in peace. In case asking nicely isn’t enough, I call the gatekeeper, Manannán, and ask that he aid me in my rite – no only in the magic I’m working, but in warding it from any chaos and negativity. I occasionally use a bell wand I made through inspiration of the Cormac story. I will ring it and walk a circle while chanting “Let the gates be open!”
I’ve taken my ideas about Manannán as a guardian to my protogrove. I had been leading rituals in the same way I was taught – using physical gestures and asking Manannán to help me open the gates. I began to sense a bit of a disconnect between the actions and the ritual participants. Many are new to Druidism, so that has been part of it, and I was struggling with how to help everyone better experience the gates. I wanted it to be understood and meaningful – else why bother? For our Spring Equinox ritual, I decided to approach the opening and closing of the gates as part of the Two Powers meditation. I lead everyone through the usual meditation and then, inspired by Ian Corrigan’s work in the Nine Moons material, I asked that everyone view the water and fire combine into mist that enveloped us. Out of the mist came a wizened, wizard of a man - Manannán mac Lir! He stood as guardian of the Otherworld but also was there to facilitate the magic of envisioning the fire and well as gates opening and closing.
Everyone reported that this was very successful and they definitely felt an inner transition. I’m very excited by this development and intend to experiment with it further as our concept of the gatekeeper evolves. Some other ADFers are suggesting that Brighid would make a very appropriate gatekeeper given her association with fire and water and I find myself agreeing! I feel pulled to join in this experimentation as well since Brighid is my patroness, but I do not want to end my growing relationship with Manannán either. Perhaps I will approach Brighid that way during my flame keeping rites and see what happens. Those times, I usually do not call to a gatekeeper. They are very informal and hearth-centered – but we shall see! Perhaps in looking to Brighid as not only guardian of my home, but as a facilitator to greater spiritual awareness, I will grow.