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Preparation:

Offerings to gather:

Earth Mother: herbs

Outdwellers: beer (to be placed in a separate bowl)

Earth: salt

Sea: water

Sky: incense

Manannan (Gatekeeper): beer

Nature Spirits: bird seed

Ancestors: fruit (apples?)

Gods: Whiskey

Brighid: Token I made

An Dagda: Token I made

Return offerings: Oil

Additional Needs:

Ogham for the omen

Wine for the return flow

A ring for the oath

Before the Ritual: I will purify myself with water and incense.

  1. Processional

We Approach The Sacred Grove

(Words and music by Sean Miller)

We approach the Sacred Grove
With hearts and minds and flesh and bone
Join us now in ways of old
We have come home.

2.      Opening Prayer / Statement of Purpose

I am here today to honor the Kindreds and to make an oath to the ways of Druidism, Irish polytheism, the Old Ways, and the Old Gods.

  1. Purification

[Prayer and offering to be made in the south where an offering bowl will be placed]

Outdwellers!  Powers of chaos!  Although I recognize your purpose in the world, I desire peace for my ritual.  I respectfully ask that you leave me and my rite in peace.  Please accept this beer and let us be.

  1. Honoring the Earth Mother

[I will call to and honor the Earth Mother with a chant]

Earth Mother (Author Unknown)

Earth Mother, we honor your body
Earth Mother, we honor your bones
Earth Mother, we sing to your spirit
Earth Mother, we sing to your stones

[I will then give the Earth Mother a kiss.]

Earth Mother, you are the source of all life.  I am grateful for the many blessings you have bestowed upon me and I give you this offering of herbs in thanks.  Earth mother, I honor you!

 

  1. (Re)Creating the Cosmos
    • Establish the Sacred Center

[This will be done with the Two Powers meditation.  I will speak it aloud.]

    • Acknowledge the three realms

May the Earth not open up and swallow us! [Chanted while an offering of salt is given.]

May the Seas not rise up and drown us! [Chanted while an offering of water is given.]

May the Sky not fall down upon us! [Chanted while an offering of incense is given.]

 

    • Establishing the Vertical Axis:

[I will chant and make the offerings simultaneously.]

Portal Song (Words by Ian Corrigan) –

Come we now to the well
The eye and the mouth of earth
Come we now to the well
And silver we bring
Come we now to the well
The waters of rebirth
Come we now to the well
Together we sing

Chorus:
By fire and by water between the earth and sky
We stand like the world tree ,
Rooted deep, crowned high
By fire and by water between the earth and sky
We stand like the world tree ,
Rooted deep, crowned high

We will kindle a fire
Bless, all and with harm to none
We will kindle a fire
And offering pour
We will kindle a fire
A light ‘neath the moon and sun
We will kindle a fire
Our spirits will soar

Chorus

Gather we at the tree
The root and the crown of all
Gather we at the tree
Below and above
Gather we at the tree
Together we make our call
Gather we at the tree
In wisdom and love

Chorus

 

  1. Opening the Gates

[I will call to Manannan Mac Lir as Gatekeeper.]

I call to Manannan Mac Lir, he who walks between the worlds!  He who rides the waves like horses!  He whose cloak separates the realms!

Manannan, I humbly ask that you allow me to reach the Other World so that I may make offerings and give honor to the Kindreds.  Please protect me as I walk the path and aid me in my rite!  I give you this offering of beer to thank you for your help.

Manannan Mac Lir, I ask that you join your magic with mine, and when our magic is joined: let the fire open as a gate to the upper world; let the bowl open as a gate to the under world, and let the wand grow into the World Tree which connects the upper, middle, and lower worlds.

Let the Gates be open! [I will say this loudly while gesturing with my hands that the Gates have been opened.]

  1. Inviting the Three Kindreds

Nature Spirits

Nature spirits, you have always been with me.  From the beginnings of my life, you have inspired me to be creative and imitate you.  I have always wanted to be one with you, to shape shift into you.  I will forever try to channel your energy so that I can emulate you, my brothers and sisters.  I know that our relationship is imperfect, but every day I try harder to live in better harmony with you.

Please join me as I perform this oath rite.  Nature spirits, please accept this offering of bird seed.  Nature spirits, I honor you!

Triad Chant (Words by Phoenix)

Earth child, Wild one, born of the Earth
Call to us, and sing to us, creatures of the Earth
Ay ya, Ay ya Oh
Ay ya, Ay ya Oh

Ancestors

Ancient Ancestors! The more I study your homelands, the more I honor and respect you, Ancestors, and oh how I long to set my feet upon your homelands so that I can be closer to you.    Every day, I feel your old ways and thought patterns entering into my own.  I am grateful for your lessons.  Recent Ancestors!  As my connection to our older kin grows, I learn to value you more and more, especially those of you who I knew in this realm.  I know that death is not an end and that we are ever entwined.  Rest assured that I will continue to honor you, and that you will always have a bite to eat at Samhain.

Please join me as I perform this oath rite.  Ancestors, please accept this offering of fruit.  Ancestors, I honor you!

Triad Chant (Words by Phoenix)

Ancestors, Spirit, Blood, one with the Earth
Call to us, and dream with us, teach us of our worth
Ay ya, Ay ya Oh
Ay ya, Ay ya Oh

Gods

Shining Ones!  Since I was very young I have felt a connection to you.  Mighty Tuatha de Dannan, it took me awhile to find you, but your pull kept me searching.  I never gave up.  You inspired me to question the status quo, to learn, to create, and to grow as an individual.  You gave art a greater meaning, you gave love a greater meaning, and you gave life a greater meaning.  I will continue to ponder our connection all my days, but rest assured, I will never turn my back on you.  I have felt you too strongly.  Even Gods of other tribes, I have felt them too – felt their arms around me, felt their care for humanity, felt their desire for contact, and felt their existence.  Great Ones, I believe that you inspire me and bless me.  I believe that you protect me and guide me when you feel that I need it.  I believe that I am a part of your tribe in the mortal realm and that, as elders and powerful Druids, you deserve honor, respect, and love.

Please join me as I perform this oath rite.  Great ones, please accept this offering of whiskey.  Mighty Gods, I honor you!

Triad Chant (Words by Phoenix)

Shining one, wisdom filled, healers of the Earth
Call to us, and be with us, show us what we’re worth
Ay ya, Ay ya Oh
Ay ya, Ay ya Oh

  1. Offerings to my Patrons

Brighid

Brighid: Goddess of hearth, home, and healing well; Goddess of poetry, crafts, and divination – I call to you!  I invite you here to witness my oath rite.

Brighid, I feel you in the art that I create, in the food that I cook, and in poetry and song.  I feel you in fire and water.  You inspire me to create.  Every day, I strive to honor you and emulate your sacred ways. I hope that our relationship grows.  Brighid, I give you this offering in thanks for your many blessings.  Brighid, I honor you!

An Dagda

An Dagda: laughing God of magic; God of life and death; God of abundance; God of virility – I call to you!  I invite you here to witness my oath rite.

I have felt your presence much this past year.  You always seem to be watching over me, protecting a member of your mortal tribe.  I feel you when I receive gifts, in the cycles of life, and in the arms of my mate.  Every day, I strive for your attitude and humor.  Every day, I strive to honor and emulate your sacred ways.  May our connection grow.  An Dagda, I give you this offering in thanks for your many blessings.  An Dagda, I honor you!

 

  1. Omen

[I will chant while drawing ogham.  Once the ogham has been drawn, I will stop chanting and meditate on the meaning.]

Speak To Me (Words by Phoenix)

Speak to me,
Speak to me Goddesses.
Speak to me,
Speak to me all the Gods.

 

  1. Return Flow

Kindreds, I have given my gifts to you.  And as my tribe says, a gift calls for a gift.  As I have given to you, I know you will send greater blessings to me.  I am forever grateful for them.

[I will hold up a glass of wine and visualize the Kindreds who have gathered standing with me.  I will see their blessings flow into the glass.]

Behold – the waters of life!

[I will drink.]

  1. Oath

Nature Spirits, Ancestors, Gods, and Patrons: I have called you here so that you may hear this oath that I make to you.

Kindreds, I declare to you my devotion to the ways of Druidism and Irish Polytheism.  I declare myself a Pagan, a walker of the old paths, a seeker of the old knowledge.  I worship the Old Gods and honor my ancestors and the spirits of nature.  I believe in the sanctity of life and the value and spirit of Nature.  I swear to the Gods my tribe swears by  to keep the sacred ways and maintain the holy rites.

This ring symbolizes my spirituality.  In the center is the holy spiral, symbolic of the cycles of life.  From childhood through adulthood, I have always been attracted to the spiral.  I would doodle them in notebooks, spin them on the lawn, and trace them in foggy windows.  On either side of the spiral is a triquetra, a symbol of the three realms, the three Kindreds, and many other triads.

This ring is symbolic of my spirituality, and by placing it on my finger, I declare my devotion to my path. Let it be known that Grey Catsidhe is a follower of Druidism, a priestess to the Tuatha de Dannan, and a child of the Earth.

If I should ever fail you by bringing shame to my path or my tribe, may the Earth open up and swallow me, may the Sea rise up to drown me, and may the sky fall down upon me.

Kindreds, witness my devotion!

[I will place the ring on my right middle finger.  My right hand is my most used and thus I pay more attention to it.  The index finger wears a ring from my mother and my ring finger wears a birth stone from my parents.  My middle finger, as the longest finger of my most used hand, becomes a suitable seat for the symbol of my spirituality.  I will end by chanting.]

I Am Of the Earth – by Grey Catsidhe

I am of the Earth

I am of the Earth

I am of the Earth

Oh I am of the Earth…

  1. Thanking the Beings

An Dagda

An Dagda, I am grateful for your joining me.  I hope that you have enjoyed my gifts and that you accept my oath.  Please accept this offering of oil.  I give it to you in love while asking nothing in return.  An Dagda, I thank you!

Brighid

Blessed Brighid, I am grateful for your presence.  I hope that you have enjoyed my gifts and that you accept my oath.  Please accept this offering of oil.  I give it to you in love while asking nothing in return.  Brighid, I thank you!

Shining Ones

Great Gods, I thank you for your presence today.  I hope that you enjoyed my gifts and that you accept my oath.  Please accept this offering of oil.  I give it to you in love while asking nothing in return. Gods, I thank you!

Ancestors

Mighty Dead, I thank you for joining me.  I hope that you have enjoyed my gifts and that you accept my oath.  Please accept this offering of oil.  I give it to you in love while asking nothing in return.  Ancestors, I thank you!

Nature Spirits

Beings of land, sea, and sky, I thank you for joining me.  I hope that you have enjoyed my gifts and that you accept my oath.  Please accept this offering of oil.  I give it to you in love while asking nothing in return.  Nature spirits, I thank you!

  1. Closing the Gates

I call to you once more, Manannan Mac Lir, guardian of the veil!  I thank you for your protection and aid to me as I made my oath rite.  I hope that the offerings I made were to your liking and that you accept my oath.  Please accept this offering of oil in thanks.  I give it to you in love while asking nothing in return.  Manannan, I thank you!

[Offering is made.]

Manannan, son of Lir, I ask that your join your magic with mine.  When our magic is joined, let the gate to the upper world be but a candle.  Let the gate to the under world be but a bowl.  And let the tree that connects the upper, middle, and lower worlds be but a branch.  Let everything be as it once was.

Let the Gates be closed!

[The closing of the Gates will be accompanied by a hand gesture.]

  1. Thanking the Earth Mother

Earth Mother, source of life, I thank you for your blessings as you witnessed my rite.  I hope that my gifts and my oath have been acceptable.  To you, I give all remaining offerings as it is your due.  Earth Mother, I thank you!

  1. Closing the Rite

Walk With Wisdom (Words by Sable)

Walk with wisdom, from this hallowed place.
Walk not in sorrow, our roots shall ere embrace.
May strength be your brother, and honor be your friend,
And luck be your lover, until we meet again.

 

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Ireland has captured my imagination, for better or for worse.  A few years earlier, I never would have believed that I would be seriously studying Irish lore, Irish history, considering learning the Irish language, and worshiping the Irish Gods.  A few years ago, the Irish Gods were “the strange Gods with even stranger names.”  In a society that seems to idolize the Greeks and Romans, we’re just more familiar with their mythology and history.  As a fledgling Pagan, I really tried to make those cultures central to my worship.  In the end, Ireland finally got the attention I now realize it was trying to get all along.

It isn’t that I hated Ireland as a younger me.  In fact, I was very much enamored with anything medieval, and Ireland started to attract me then.  In middle school I went through a phase where I had to read about medieval castles, swords, history, and clothing. I was obsessed with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin.  Above all, I was captivated by Irish music, especially harp music.

Upon finding ADF I felt like I was already feeling a call from the Tuatha de Danann.  I wasn’t sure what to do with this calling, but ADF gave me helpful hints and I began to read voraciously about Ireland.  My interest in medieval culture came back, along with an even greater interest in Ancient Ireland.  At first, the books I read were confusing.  Again, I was dealing with “those strange Gods with the even stranger names.”  As I went along, I soon realized that I was growing more and more familiar, and thus comfortable, with the culture and the Gods.

I first realized how akin the old Irish ideas about the world were to my own.  The Irish respected and even venerated nature as do I.  They didn’t see a separation of the mundane and the magical/spiritual, and nor do I.  The old Irish were polytheistic and so am I.  They felt that art, knowledge, and truth were some of the most important and powerful things, and so do I.  Yet there was more than that.  Something just clicked.

Before I knew it, the ADF rituals started to make sense.  When I first attended a grove, although it was a lovely experience, I was reminded of long, Catholic masses full of mystery.  Through studying the lore and history, I realized that there was a pattern being followed.  I started to understand Gatekeepers, the three realms, the three Kindreds, and so many other theological subjects within ADF through a Celtic, especially Irish, frame of mind.  Somehow, during the voracious reading I was doing, I started to internalize the culture bit by bit.  I found that I believed in the Otherworld, fairies, and even found myself a bit fearful of the Pooka around Samhain.  I pray to the Gods and thank them often.  Slowly but surely, Irish concepts are leaking into my art.  I’ve been sewing dolls that resemble the Tuatha de Danann and incorporating spirals into my projects.   The number three has become very important to me.  I don’t feel like I forced myself to think in this way – I believe that it happened slowly and over time.  I know I will never actually be Irish, but I think it’s important to have a good grasp of a pantheon’s culture, and through the study of said culture, I find myself adopting its ways, however small.  I intend to continue my Irish cultural studies and I’m sure that, by doing so, my perception of the world will shift even more.

Academics aside, I do put a lot of effort into spiritual practice as well.  I try to meditate as often as possible.  It’s sometimes difficult to make the time, but when I do it is very relaxing and refreshing.  I am hoping to study trance in the near future.

I now have a lovely altar in my room.  Every day, usually at night, I perform a simple daily devotional in which I light candles for the Three Kindreds.  I’ve started to form a relationship with the Goddess Brighid and her father The Dagda.  I have representations of them on my altar, a doll of Brighid that I made and a large rock I found on a hike which I dedicated to The Dagda.  I think about their influence in my life a lot and try to learn as much about them as I can.  In Brighid’s case, I’ve joined a flame-keeping group and light a special candle for her each month.  I also feel that practicing a form of art is a way to worship Brighid as she is a Goddess of creativity and crafts.  I bought a small lap harp at an Irish Festival a year ago.  It seemed appropriate because of my love of Irish harp playing and The Dagda’s relationship to harps.  Every so often, I pick the instrument up and attempt to learn something new which I feel is a way to honor him. I pray a lot as well.  In some ways that may be a carry-over from my Catholic upbringing, but I don’t see praying as a negative thing.  I believe that talking to the Gods strengthens our bonds with them.  Every morning, I have a prayer ritual in which I put on the Brighid talisman I have while saying:

I thank the Three Kindreds for their guidance, protection, blessings, and inspiration.

May they continue to bless myself, those I love, and the land,

And may I honor them with all I say and do.

Before meals, I say a prayer of thanks that was inspired by Isaac Bonewits’ book Pagan Man:

I thank the Earth Mother for the food before me,

I thank the men and women who toiled in field, farm, and kitchen to bring this meal to me,

And I thank the plants and animals that had to die so that I could live.

I also have a special prayer that I say to myself when I am on the road, taking a walk, or doing any sort of traveling.  While I don’t necessarily focus on a Gaulish culture, Cernunos has always been very important to me as the Lord of Animals.  And in my readings, I’ve learned that Lugh is a protector of travelers and merchants.  Whenever I transport myself in any way I say, “May Lugh and Cernunos protect me while I travel.”

Aside from my bedroom altar, there are also a couple of shrines I’ve set up outside.  One is right outside the door.  Using a pot, soil, and a fairy statue, I created a shrine for the house spirit.  I felt that it was important for her shrine to be situated in a threshold of sorts because I see her as both a protector of the indoors and the outdoors around my home.  I always acknowledge her as I enter and exit my home.  I sometimes leave offerings of flowers, petals, stones, or other such things.  Further back, as you walk into the forest behind my home, there is another shrine I set up.  I like to give offerings to the Kindreds there, and I feel that it is an especially sacred spot because once, while meditating under that tree, I opened my eyes to see a whole herd of deer standing around me.  It was truly amazing and I felt that the ground was sacred because of that experience.    However, due to the leafy and uneven consistency of the forest floor, I generally don’t do my full rituals there because a flame of any sort would seem dangerous.  I tend to perform outside rituals by my garden under an oak tree using a candle to represent the fire.

Luckily, there are a few groves in Upstate NY.  As of yet, there isn’t one in my hometown of Utica, but I started to visit Muin Mound in Syracuse.  I felt immediately welcomed there.  They tend to perform Celtic rituals for Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnasadh, and Norse rituals for the Solstices and Equinoxes.  This is interesting for me because I get to learn about another culture besides my own.  The experiences with them have helped solidify a lot of my thoughts on ADF.  Seeing an ADF ritual performed is more helpful to me than reading about one.  It’s helped me to become more familiar and comfortable with the liturgy.  So much so, in fact, that I’ve lead two Druidic rituals for the local Pagan alliance in Utica – one for Imbolc and one for Beltaine.  While I was nervous about them, they were successful and well-received.  I now feel a calling to become a clergy member within ADF and serve my local Pagan community.  This calling has grown especially strong now that I know there are at least three other ADF members in Utica who would love to see a grove form.

In the meantime, I’ve helped to organize a study group with the other local ADF members.  We are just starting out, but I hope to see it evolve.  In the meantime, it is a place to discuss our spirituality with likeminded individuals. I hope that we can begin performing some rituals, but at the same time, I hope to continue visiting Muin Mound and other groves to keep things fresh and to help inspire me.

I feel very comfortable with my hearth culture.  My world is now full of spirals, Gods, and hidden places of power, and I feel very connected to some of my ancestors.  That is…  some.  While I feel very at home with the Tuatha de Dannan and my Irish hearth culture, my ancestry is not just Celtic but also Germanic.  There are times when I feel little tugs from Norse Gods, like Thor, and I feel that it is because I’m ignoring a part of my genes.  Here and there, I’ve picked up a book on Germanic culture and lore.  I hope to one day figure out how to balance between these two hearth cultures.  It will take some time, study, and practice, but I’m sure that I will be able to do it.

As I near completing my Dedicant Program I look forward to the future and what it brings to my soul.  I can see myself serving my community, growing as an artist through spirituality, learning more and more about the world around me, growing more adept at meditation, and learning Irish.  I hope that I am one day able to help lead a nemeton and provide guidance for future Druids.  ADF has given me reason to want to serve the Pagan community at large rather than just myself.

 

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It was always easy for me to connect with The Nature Spirits.  Upon reflection, I must confess that it was the Nature Spirits who originally helped me decide to turn to Paganism.  I’ve always been an environmentalist.  At a very early age, I started to learn about animals, ecosystems, and the huge amount of damage humans were inflicting upon the Earth Mother and her children.  At the age of five, I was making “Save the Rainforest” posters with crayons and construction paper.  I hung these at the local ice cream and candy shop.  At the age of eight, I became a “beady-eyed vegetarian” and only ate white meat.  At seventeen, I became a full-fledged vegetarian and am still one to this day for environmental reasons.

My parents raised me to care about nature to some degree or another.  My mother taught me compassion for all living things.  I was warned to never to step on an ant because, one day, I might be that ant.  I learned very quickly that animals do have a soul and emotions.
Even now I can’t help but put myself in their place and imagine how they feel.  My father taught me how to grow gardens full of vegetables. Out of his interest in camping, he taught me simple survival techniques such as fishing, boating, and how to make fires.  He always did so with reverence.  He was a volunteer fireman and taught me that nature, like fire, was to be honored and respected because, just as it could give life, it could also take it away.

I took the teachings of my parents to the next level and came to the conclusion that nature was worthy of worship.  I discovered Paganism around the same time I was becoming a full-fledged vegetarian.  I was amazed that there were contemporary religions in existence that not only honored but worshiped the Earth Mother and her creatures.  I felt like I had come home. This went along well with my maturing environmentalism and vegetarianism.  While I will be the first to say that Pagans aren’t required to be vegetarians (nor should all vegetarians be Pagan!), I do think that environmentalism and, therefore, conscious eating, should be a requirement.  This also isn’t to say that all environmentalists must give up eating meat – simply that it’s important for us to consider where our food comes from.  This train of thinking carried me to vegetarianism, but if it carries others to hunt for or raise their own meat, I believe that those are also conscious, eco-friendly approaches to eating.

Eating local vegetables and fruits has also become important to me.  While it’s harder to do so in the winter, I do my best to purchase organic food to avoid chemicals. My goal is to one day eat locally and within season.  Some environmentally-minded friends and I are going to learn how to can and preserve food this autumn so that we can eat local food in the winter.  In the meantime, I’m working on a small vegetable garden.  Working with the soil, water, and sun to bring life out of little seeds has helped me to connect to the life cycles of nature.  Politically, I’ve started to write letters concerning agriculture and the environment to my representatives, and I am currently working on a letter to send to a local Pagan Pride event in regards to the food offered.

I feel lucky to have grown up in a largely rural area.  While I’m certainly not a scholar on the local flora and fauna, I’m always surprised when Pagan authors suggest that a good way to start forming a relationship with the Earth is to learn about such things as what type of birds live in one’s area, what the first flowers to appear in the spring are, and what plants you can eat.  I sometimes take it for granted that I was able to observe these things first hand or learn about them from knowledgeable adults.  I’ve always been a student of nature but I still have much to learn.  I have an interest in sustainable living and thus I would like to learn about the many edible plants in my own yard.  I’ve purchased some books and have gone to some workshops, resulting in some interesting experimental salads!

In addition to healthy, conscious eating habits, my fiancé and I are also trying to be conscious consumers.  We do our best to recycle, research products, and find eco-friendly merchandise.  I’ve switched to eco-friendly deodorants, shampoos, makeup, and toothpaste.  We are also trying to switch to eco-friendly cleaning products.  At the same time, we know it’s important not to waste and so we continue to use those products that we already own.  We have also made an effort to reduce the number of plastic bags we use by limiting how much we purchase, carrying products without a bag, or using reusable canvas bags.  As far as cars are concerned, we share my little Saturn and get 30-35 mpg. We try to carpool or walk to as many places as possible.  It’s difficult where work is concerned, but I believe that every little bit helps and that even baby steps are a step in the right direction.

I said that I still have much to learn.  Some of my latest lessons in nature have come from the city.  My fiancé lives in the city of Utica and I spend a lot of time at his apartment.  These past few years have presented new lessons – lessons about the flora and fauna of the city. I’m now learning that people in the city aren’t as cut off from nature as I once believed.  In fact I think that urban Pagans who are able to find a connection in a city are probably more appreciative than those of us who live in the country.  The more time I spend in the city, the more I’ve come to appreciate the value of my parents’ forested backyard.  I’ve started to consciously look for examples of nature within the city so that I can maintain my connection.  I pay attention to what the trees are doing, I notice and praise the dandelions poking through the sidewalk, and I smile when I see a skunk ambling across the street at night.  Nature spirits are everywhere and one need only look.

My practical experiences are very spiritual.  When I first started to read about ancient Pagans, I remember reading about how they didn’t categorize activities as either spiritual or mundane – they were all spiritual in some way.  I feel myself entering that frame of mind.  When I am in my garden watering the seedlings, I am engaging in an age-old ritual and connecting to the spirits of the land.  When it rains, I thank the rain because it is helping everything to grow.  When it snows, I pray that the snow spirits will be kind to me.  I think that, while I’ve always had animistic tendencies, Druidry has helped me to develop them to the point where I really do feel that everything has some sort of soul or energy.  I feel intertwined with it all and it makes me even more aware of the delicate balance that exists on Earth.  My conscious efforts to be an eco-minded consumer are ways of affirming my connection and devotion to the Earth Mother and her children.

Of course I also feel happiness simply existing in nature.  I love to go for walks in the forest behind my home.  I have a little shrine set up by a tree – a boundary marker, really.  I feel that it is the true entrance into the forest.  I make offerings there from time to time and visit often to feel the presence of the unseen world around me.  I love to meditate outside, to feel the wind through my hair, to make offerings to the fairies. I feel more alive in the forests, mountains, and lakes. In many ways, the Nature Spirits are my first love and it only makes sense for me to dedicate my life to them as a priestess.  However, without the acts of conscious eating and consuming, the offerings and nature walks would be little more than empty gestures.  ADF has helped me to see that my life’s work is, above all else, to honor, worship, and serve the spirits of Earth.

 

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Learning to perform the Two Powers Meditation was not difficult for me.  As a former Wiccan I was often exposed to different meditations and guided visualizations.  One of the most common meditations, the Tree of Life, shares some characteristics of the Two Powers Meditation of ADF.  Each asks us to reach into the upper and lower realms and absorb some of that world’s energy.  It wasn’t until I started working with the ADF model that I began to consider the symbolic implications of such an exercise.

Regardless of whether I stand or sit, I first feel myself firmly on the Earth’s surface.  I take three deep breaths to establish a mindset.  In this way I am telling myself that it is time to work and think in the symbolic world – the spiritual world.  I feel myself connected to the middle realm – to Midgar, if I may use the term from Norse cosmology.  Two Powers or Tree of Life, I think of myself as the world tree – as Yggdrasil or the Bile. I am suspended between the depth of the underworld and the sky.  I am of the earth and live in a realm of plants, soil, and animals. Whether I see myself as a human being or the actual tree, I am still very much a being of the middle world, pressing my body into the underworld and stretching up to the upperworld.

I imagine that the powers of the underworld are always available to us.  They are deep beneath the surface for spiritual taproots to drink up and they undulate across the earth to seep through our feet.  I experience the energy as a pulse or vibration that crawls (and sometimes shoots) up my legs.  It spirals in my loins, heart, and skull.  This power is both chaotic and ordered.  I imagine the first current as water.  It has the disruptive potential of a tsunami or raging rapids, yet it is also the same calming, healing, and organized power that trickles out of the earth in the form of sacred wells and rivers – the same forces that determine where many settlements are located.  It is the playfulness of the otter and the wisdom of the salmon.  The energies of the underworld are therefore powerful and deep, calming and healing.  Because of the underworld’s association with the dead, this current has a connection to such energies – the potential for rejuvenation and transformation.  The energies are the mysteries of Hades and the creative potential of dwarven smiths.  It is as masculine as the cauldron of An Dagda and as feminine as the holy waters of the Boyne.

When I lift up my hands, fingers outstretched, I call on the energies of the sky – the upperworld.  I reach to the sun and guiding stars.  I cannot say that I feel a temperature from the underworld current but I definitely feel a heat from the upperworld.  It is subtle but there.  Like the first power, the second pulses and sometimes shoots through my body, spiraling in my skull, heart, and loins.  I see it as fire.  It is the chaotic energy of a wildfire or an explosive star, yet it is also the protective campfire and meditative candle.  It is the transformative flame of the alchemists’ lab and Ceridwen’s cooking fire.  It is the passionate energy of lovers, the rage of a warrior in battle, and the inspirational fire in the head.  It is the might of dueling dragons and the all encompassing sight of the high-flying eagle.  It has the masculine energy of Helios’ chariot and Lugh’s spear, but the feminine energy of Brighid and Vesta’s sacred flames and protective hearth fires.

I believe that the primary difference between the Two Powers is that one is more visible and accessible to us.  The powers of the upper world are equated to the sky.  Although the numerous stars that appear at night are distant to us, we can see them and we know our place within the vastness of their territory.  The sun and moon, which are even more noticeable, determine our daily routines.  A layman can look up and try to predict the weather.  The underworld, on the other hand, though equated with water (something very visible to us) seems more concerned with what lies below the land and the surface of the water.  It is very mysterious to us.  The plants grow out of it, caves delve deeply within it, and we bury our dead there.  We cannot quite grasp it in the way we can the upperworld.  That is not to say that the heavens don’t offer any wonder or mystery, but the underworld is certainly more hidden and, I think, spiritually harder to access in a comprehensive way.  This is why the ancients were both amazed and fearful of their blacksmiths, the priests and artisans of the underworld.

When I perform the Two Powers I am able to concentrate on and experience the deep symbolism of the energies.  I believe that the exercise is called the Two Powers because we call on the energies of the upperworld and underworld into ourselves, we being of the middle world – a third power.  Yet as beings familiar with the middle world, it is the powers of the upper and lower realms that truly inspire, empower, and awaken us, hence two powers rather than three.  We are already the third and we seek union with the other two.  By connecting with the upperworld and underworld, I am essentially recreating the cosmology I believe in and thus deepening my spiritual understanding of the other worlds.  The Two Powers not only connect me to the literal realms of upper, lower, and middle worlds, but to the spiritual realms of the Three Kindreds.  This is a wonderful exercise for simple meditations, and it also works well in ritual as it reminds all who participate of our interconnectivity with the realms and Kindreds.

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Creating a shrine was not a difficult requirement for me as I’ve been making altars for a few years.  The challenge, however, was making an altar in accordance with a hearth culture and within a Druidic framework.  Having started on a Pagan path through Wicca, I was used to having certain articles on my altar.  When I realized that Wicca was not the path for me, I abandoned some of the traditional tools, such as the athame, and turned my altar into a mishmash of significance.  It was only through the deep introspection and study of mythology encouraged by ADF that I was able to build a shrine that was truly important to me and symbolic of my faith.

When I first started to think about putting together an altar for ADF, I knew it would have to be different from my past altars.  It would require space for offering bowls, something I’d never dealt with before.  My altars used to be built on top of slender bookshelves.  After moving into a new apartment, I decided to use an old vanity that I was not using.

My altar is in the kitchen, the hearth of my home, near the stove.  In the very center of my altar is a representation of the Bile, the world tree.  It is a wand I made from an apple branch, wire, and silver bells, similar to the wand given to Cormac in Irish mythology.  To the right of the tree is a doll/statue I made to represent Brighid.  Below her is a dish with a candle so that I can keep her flame once every month. To the Bile’s left is a large stone representing An Dagda.  I found the stone during a hike I dedicated to him.  Atop the stone is a ring of black twine that is also significant from that hike.  Behind the stone is a lap harp I bought at an Irish Festival.  It always reminds me of An Dagda and his harp of seasons.  Perhaps I will learn to play it one day and I will be able to incorporate it into my rituals!

There is also a representation of the fire and the well on my altar in the form of a candle and a cauldron.  Towards the front of the altar are three small bowls containing tea lights that represent the three Kindreds.  The center candle represents the Gods while the right candle represents the ancestors and the left represents the nature spirits.  In addition to these there is a fourth bowl on the altar into which offerings are given.  There are also a few small incense holders. Everything sits atop a beautiful green altar cloth with black Celtic knots swirling over its surface.  On the wall above my altar are photos of some of my ancestors and a candle that I can light when I want to specifically pay homage to them.  I think the photos serve as poignant reminders of my ancestors and enable me to really connect with them spiritually and emotionally.

All of the items on my altar are significant because they represent something spiritually important whether it’s symbolic of a deity, spirit, or simply the connection I have to the other world or my hearth culture. Seeing these symbols reconnects me and mentally prepares me for the rituals and mediations held before the altar.

I don’t feel that my altar is complete.  There are many improvements that I would like to make to it.  To begin with, I would like to locate more photos of ancestors to put on my wall.  I would also like to find better storage compartments for underneath the altar.  Currently all of my candles are in a cardboard box and everything else is in baskets just sitting there, vulnerable to my two curious cats and all of the fur they shed.  I also look forward to the day when I have a larger home and will have room to expand my altar.  Perhaps I will move it from the kitchen area to the living room to make it more central and accessible to larger worship.  Ideally, it would have its own room one day, complete with prayer mats, a library of Pagan-related books, and soundproof walls for meditation.  One can dream, right?

I have enjoyed creating my Druidic altar.  It has become such a significant focal point in my spiritual life.  Never before did I interact with an altar on a daily basis.  Never before was an altar so important to me.  The altar is not only a shrine to the Kindreds, but a peaceful sanctuary for me.

 

 

My altar as of March 2010.

I moved my altar in the autumn of 2010. Here it is incomplete.

 

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Clifton, Chas S.  Her Hidden Children The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.  Lanham:

AltaMira Press, 2006.

Many of us come to Paganism with an interest in ancient history.  We wonder who and how our ancestors worshiped and we attempt to follow in their footsteps.  I can speak for myself when I say that when I began studying Wicca in high school I was not interested in Paganism’s modern history until I reached a point in my spiritual journey where I started to wonder why certain things were done.  Her Hidden Children the Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton attempts to explain the evolution of modern Paganism in ways that are both respectful and honest.

The important thing to remember when studying Paganism is that it is a spiritual path made up of many different religious outlooks.  Not everyone can agree on what Paganism is as a whole and so the movement must be looked at as an organism made up of many smaller cells.  Clifton successfully compares modern Paganism to an island teeming with diversity.  Just as everything is connected and dependent on one another in an ecological biosphere, so too are the modern Pagan movements connected.  Each Pagan path shares certain commonalities, whether it is a group of founders, cultural inspiration, similar ritual patterns, or the similarity of existing outside of the major five world religions.  Clifton’s goal is to examine Pagan literature as he believes that a study of the writing is the only way we have to map the evolution and growth of the movement. It is in this way that he is able to piece together the history of modern American Paganism.

Clifton’s main focus is Wicca.  It cannot be denied that Wicca has played a significant role in popularizing Paganism in general.  Like many forms of Paganism, its history starts outside of America – in Europe – with a man named Gerald Gardner who, by publishing Witchcraft Today, allowed for society to start thinking about Paganism (14).  Since then, numerous authors have written on “the craft” including Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, and Cunningham.  Clifton argues that literature has been paramount to the spread of Wiccan thought and practice (13).  Since so many Wiccans are solitary practitioners, they rely on the written word to teach and learn more often than not. Clifton’s discussion on Wicca’s history is worth reading due to Wicca’s influence on Paganism as a whole.  The elders of the movement, dead and living, possess such interesting characters that one cannot help but admire them for their eccentricity.  Just as interesting is the transformation that Wicca has undertaken from a coven-centered religion to a diverse buffet of traditions with many eclectic solitaries.  The availability of literature has played a significant role in this growth and change, but the increasingly sexy portrayal of witches in the media, as discussed in the chapter “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture”, has helped as well.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book takes an in-depth look at Paganism’s relationship with nature.  I read this chapter shortly after taking part in a heated forum discussion on just that topic.  My experience on the Pagan forum was a revelation – not all Pagans identify with the title “nature religion.”  Many felt that their religion did not focus on nature but rather on magic or cultural heritage.  Others, like myself, argued that all of those things were part of nature.  Clifton explores this situation and suggests that there are three categories of “nature religion.”  He calls these “Cosmic Nature,” “Gaian Nature,” and “Erotic” or “Embodied Nature.”  Simply put, Cosmic Nature is concerned with magic and energy, Gaian Nature explores the philosophy of the Earth as a deity, and Erotic Nature involves sexual pleasure.  It is interesting to explore the different approaches to nature taken by other spiritual paths within Paganism, but the inherent message from Clifton is that concept of Paganism being a Nature Religion is  largely an American phenomenon with connections to the growing environmentalist movement (41).  However it must be understood that not all Pagan faiths are concerned with nature in the same way that some Wiccans and Druids are.

The book includes a chapter dedicated to other modern Pagan movements, but the discussion is very limited.  Clifton summarizes such movements as The Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, The Church of All Worlds, The Council of Themis, and, finally, modern Druidism.  I was surprised that there was not a larger discussion on Reconstructionists (although they received brief mentions scattered throughout the book), Asatru, Modern Shamanism, or Chaos Magic.  Some of these movements, especially Asatru, have become incredibly influential in the Neo-Pagan world.  Clifton’s discussion on Druidism, while very interesting and helpful in understanding the development and inspiration for Ár nDraíocht Féin, seemed to fall short of other Druidic traditions.  The Henge of Keltria is only mentioned, and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids seems nowhere to be found despite its having American members and an obvious influence on the modern Druidic movement.  If Clifton were to release a later edition, my suggestion to him would be to include a chapter on Druidism as well as a chapter on Astaru and Heathenism.  His chapter on other Pagan paths should be dedicated to the less understood, less discussed paths such as chaos magic and Christian Witches.

Despite the minor quips I’ve expressed, Her Hidden Children was an immensely enjoyable book with a lot of important information.  The writing style was very straightforward and easy to understand.  At times, the book was a page turner simply because of Clifton’s narrative style and the interesting facts he presented.

Her Hidden Children has been helpful in understanding the development of Wicca, Druidism, and Paganism as a whole within the United States.  It does not change my spirituality in any way, but it does make me a wiser, more informed, more tolerant person.  I think that, if Paganism is to remain a strong, growing religion, the diverse paths will have to celebrate their differences while embracing their similarities in order to unite for the common good.  This book serves as an excellent starting point for just that.

 

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Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,

2003.

Each Summer Solstice the news media releases a handful of articles on a modern group of Druids worshipping near Stonehenge.  The photos are of regular looking people wearing long white robes and sometimes white head coverings that look more akin to Egyptian head dresses.  They stand in a circle and perform their ritual to the Gods.  One has to ask whether what they are doing is historically accurate or not.  To answer such questions, Peter Berresford Ellis’ book, A Brief History of the Druids, is an excellent starting point.

Ellis’ book is earnest in admitting that he does not know everything about the Druids.  In fact, there is very little in which he could possibly know in our modern times.  Relying on archaeology, linguistics, history, and lore, Ellis explains what is and isn’t known about this mysterious group of people while debunking several myths at the same time.  The book is organized in such a way that he starts with a generalized introduction and then narrows the topic down chapter by chapter.

He begins by describing what is generally thought about the Druids.  Most of our perceptions are shaped by the reports of foreigners such as Caesar and Pliny and are therefore often full of anti-Celtic propaganda (11).  Much of the remaining evidence comes from Christianized Celts.  Everything else must be surmised through linguistics and archaeology for the Druids left no literature of their own due to a taboo against writing (13).  It is therefore difficult to fully understand the Druids.  Everything examined must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt.

Having provided a few disclaimers, Ellis explores the world of the Celts beginning with what little is known of their origins.  These people lived “north of the Alps … from Ireland and Britain in the west, as far east as the central plains of what is now Turkey” (23).    They are defined as Celts based on the similarities of the languages they used which survive today as modern Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton (25).  The Celts, Ellis explains, lived in a society divided by classes: workers, artisans, warriors, and the Druids who represented the highest level of academia in Celtic society (29).

So what of the Druids themselves and where do they come from?  Ellis first delves into the etymology of the word Druid to come to various possibilities.  The first is that the word Druid means “oak knowledge” as drus is Greek for “an oak” and wid means “to know” (37).  Another meaning could be “immersed in knowledge” due to the similarities found between old Celtic and Sanskrit words for water and dew.  Either way, the Druids are already connected with knowledge, trees, and water – three very important things in both ancient and modern Druidry.  However the Druids evolved, they came to be the priestly class who oversaw religious, judicial, medical, political, scientific, and educational matters of the Celtic people.  According to the Greeks and Romans, the Druids were divided into three subclasses: Druids, Vates, and Bards.  The Druids were basically the teachers, philosophers, and scientists.  Meanwhile, the Vates focused more on nature and divination and the Bards were historians, musicians, and poets (51).  This special class of intellectuals, which was made up of both men and women (91) held a lot of power – so much so that not even a king was allowed to speak before a Druid (75).

No discussion of the Druids would be complete without a chapter or two dedicated to their religion and rituals.  So many of the ancient texts refer to them as performing mysterious rites and worshipping various deities that we know religion played a large role in the life of a Druid.  Ellis explains that the Celts were polytheists although several modern men have tried to mold the Druids into proto-Christians who worshiped a single God (114).  There are actually over three hundred known Celtic deities, and several are localized meaning that they are associated with only one place (114).  There are a few Gods who were known in many places.  Ellis provides brief descriptions of some of the better known deities such as Danu, Dagda, Bel, Cernunos, Nuada, Lugh, Taranis, Ogma, and the Mórrígán.  Although the explanations are short, they are fitting for a work dedicated to the Druids rather than the Gods.  There is the possibility that the sudden deluge of Celtic Gods and mythology could confuse and overwhelm a novice, but I’ve found that further reading will help to better familiarize the curious mind.

In dissecting the wisdom of the Druids, Ellis breaks the chapter down topic by topic so that we are given an in-depth look at what we know of their skill in various areas such as magic, astrology, and medicine.  I found this section of the book to be the driest, possibly because I am most interested in the Druids’ function as priests rather than judges and astronomers.  However the section should not be overlooked as it truly shows the rich knowledge of the Druids. They were not simply a barbarian people as the Romans were so fond of thinking.  The Celts and their Druids were very well versed in science and enjoyed many accomplishments.  Anyone of Celtic background should feel a sense of pride when reading about such feats.

A Brief History of the Druids should be essential reading material for anyone aspiring to the knowledge of the Druids.  It first provides a good historical background of the people we in ADF are hoping to emulate and also grounds us in our practice by providing the context for our rituals.  Ellis’ discussions of holy wells, trees, divination, and fire in connection to the landscape, festivals, and mythology help to make sense of our liturgical practices.  A good understanding of why a person practices what he or she does is essential for a truly spiritual, intelligent, and introspective human being. Aspiring Druids should hope to be all three of those things.

The book ends with a discussion on the Druidic revival that has been going on for a few hundred years.  It is an interesting although lacking explanation of modern Druidry.  I say that because Ellis focuses on the romantic Druidic groups and only briefly mentions the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, one of the largest Druidic groups today.  There is no reference to Ár nDraíocht Féin or even Celtic Reconstructionists.  This is too bad because he leaves the unknowing reader under the impression that many modern Druidic groups rely on poor research to create their traditions.  He ends the book by reminding the reader that many Celtic countries are forgetting their language and losing their social customs which is truly sad.  He bemoans the fact that many modern Druids are more concerned with the esoteric aspects of Druidry and not the cultural.  I believe that this is a legitimate concern, however, once more, by failing to explore Ár nDraíocht Féin or Celtic Reconstructionism he is overlooking groups who do require learning about the cultures and at least a minimal amount of language study.  Although students of Druidry must be aware of the historical realities of their Druidic homelands, I feel that the pessimistic ending spoiled what was otherwise a very well-written, informative book.

 

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