Archive for the ‘ritual tools’ Category

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


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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A recent conversation inspired this post.  I was talking with a group of (mostly) Wiccans and eclectic Pagans.  They all have varying amounts of experience and knowledge.  Many of them adhere to the belief that a magic practitioner should possess two knives – the athame, the ritual knife, and the boleen, the “practical” or “mundane” knife which is used for cutting herbs, wood, etc...    If you know me well, you know that I hate those words when juxtaposed to magic as if magic couldn’t be practical or mundane, or as if your everyday actions couldn’t be magical and therefore meaningful.  If you believe that such a distinction is an important practice, by all means continue!  You must remember that I’m a Druid and our practices are, sometimes, different from those of Wicca*.

When I first started to study Paganism, I went to the usual suspects – the Llewellyn 101 books.  They were very nearly clones and I tired of them.  They came with the usual chapters on ritual tools – a shopping list of sorts.  Every book said the same thing – one knife for energy work, and one knife for practical work.  Some of them attempted to explain this because of some tradition they couldn’t easily explain – as if every magician that ever was did exactly that.  So much for being a real witch and thinking for yourself!  Some of the books explained that to cut an object with your ritual knife would somehow tarnish the athame.  Really?  Now I could, perhaps, understand if you were more interested in transcending earthly bonds, but a majority of Pagans I know are adamant about being an Earth-based religion.  How can you claim to celebrate the beauty and magic of the world around you while somehow declaring contact with earthly things like herbs or stone to be profane?  That makes no sense to me.  If you are offended, I do not mean to be harsh, but plenty of Pagans point out the inconsistencies in Christianity.  If we’re going to be critical of other religious practices, we must first be critical of our own or else we will never grow.

I have a knife.  I use it for ritual purposes and I consider the gathering of herbs and the carving of tools and charms to be a ritual.  I do use kitchen knives and I suppose, in that sense, I do own more than one ritual knife.  Like kitchen witches, I believe that working in the kitchen on even a lowly bowl of gruel is magic.  Preparing the food is magic.  Peeling the veggies is magic.  Chopping them is magic.  Removing the inedible bits is magic.  I believe that the world is magic – the whole world – not just the ritual circle.  Are some things more magical?  Sure, but everything has magic and putting one in contact with the other will not somehow tarnish it.  Trust me.  It may change the energy or transform it (I don’t advice touching lava with your ritual knife!), but it won’t make the knife profane unless you yourself ritualize such an action and declare it so.  If you are comfortable doing that, by all means continue (I can understand how keeping one knife strictly for ritual space would work as a mental key), but in my belief and practice, magic is spiritual and physical.  My knife follows me outside of my sacred space into the larger, shared sacred space of the world.  Do I sometimes work with one aspect instead of another?  Sure.  Trance is one way where I move more on the spiritual plane than the physical – but I am still seeing the spirit world as I would the physical world.  Our perception is based on the physical and it seems incredibly hard to escape.  I don’t believe the two can easily be separated – if that’s even possible.  To me, they are interconnected.  They are like inhaling and exhaling – each part of the same life processes.  If I use different knives, it’s because I don’t want the potentially poisonous juices of an herb to mix with my food.  That is all.  Primarily, I use one knife in my ritual – the knife I use to carve sigils into candles; the knife I use to harvest herbs; the knife I use to cut twine in the garden; the knife I use to carve ogham; the knife I carry on my nature walks in case I need to defend myself.  I use that knife for so much and I believe that it is infused with a lot of energy.  It has the green energy of the garden, the fiery energy of hearthside crafts, the metallic energy of protection, and the wild energy from beyond the hedge.  Through such frequent use, it is one of my most important tools.  It is as multi-talented as Lugh or Brighid.  My practice is very influenced by ancient Irish belief and multitalented spirits were and are highly valued!

And let us be sensible.  Imagine yourself generations back.  If not a wealthy ceremonial magician with ties to masons and aristocratic patrons, you were probably a wise man or woman of some sort.  You were poor like most people.  You were lucky if you could afford one knife, let alone two.  Your magic was practical.  If you want a knife dedicated to a very specific goal, and only want it to be filled with energy relating to that one practice or occasion*** – go for it!  I’m certain that your knife will be filled with power through such consecration and use, and that it will be exceptionally helpful to you in that goal.  Me?  I like my kitchen witch, multi-talented approach.  🙂

In the end, all one can say is, “To each his or her own!”

* You also must remember that not all Druids practice or believe the same.  I’m highly influenced by ADF, CR, and, most recently, traditional witchcraft.

*** I know of knives or sickles only used for initiation or the harvesting of one type of plant, for example.

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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I can’t wait until I’m getting regular paychecks again.  I’ll feel like I can genuinely buy some of the things I would like for wildcrafting:

  • coconut oil
  • arrowroot 
  • bees wax
  • resins
  • various essential oils
  • various glass and metal containers containers
  • charcoal rounds
I want to be able to make more of my own salves, tinctures, beauty products, cleaning products, and incense.  
Today I harvested some juniper and created smudge sticks.  They look lovely and are currently hanging in my art/ritual room to dry as you can see in the photo below.  My coughing hasn’t stopped (although I think it’s getting better) so long meditation is difficult and trance is out of the question.  That doesn’t mean I can’t be productive and spiritual!

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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My cough hasn’t completely gone away, meaning I haven’t been able to meditate again.  I made up for it ten-fold by going into the forest for a long time by myself.  Something about the experience feels meditative in some way – very peaceful and clarifying.  There’s also an exhilaration born from excitement, personal triumph, and fear of the unknown.

I made offerings to the genius loci, talked to the plants and animals, and sat for a long time basking in the glow of the sun with a dragonfly.  I also found more fly agaric which I admired.

My purpose for going into the woods today, aside from the desire to commune with nature, was to find a suitable branch for a staff.  I found such a branch and, judging by the trees I found it near, it looks to be from a red or silver maple.  I need to make further observations before I’m sure which.  All the same, I think it will be a fine staff for practical and magical purposes.  I’ve already started to remove the bark.  I’m not sure what I’ll carve into it yet.  It’s something I’ll have to meditate on.

When I can meditate again.  :S

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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