Druidic Ritual Basics
Delineating sacred space
In the Druidic faith, all ground is sacred ground, so it is impossible to ‘create’ sacred space. Instead, we choose to delineate a portion of already-sacred space to ritual use either permanently, or for a certain period of time. Permanent sacred areas may be established on private land, and include such amenities as the planting of a grove of sacred trees, or the erection of a henge or similar structure. Temporary sacred space delineations are accomplished by means of focussed energy and various ritualized movements. One of the simplest forms of this type of ritualized movement consists of circumambulation of the given area while:
- holding a lighted candle
- wafting incense
- sprinkling charged water
Further temporary demarcations may be visually set up with torches, ribbons, or other simple visual markers.
Once the ritual area is appropriately delineated, the ritual participants must be prepared for the upcoming activities. These preparations are completed via the pre-ritual briefings and meditation. The pre-ritual briefing is just that: a briefing to organize everyone’s thoughts to a specific purpose. Questions in regards to timing, organization, and general ritual purpose can be cleared up at this point. Following the briefing, participants use a grounding and centering meditation to bring themselves into a sacred mindset and into harmony with the other participants. This may be accomplished either as a group or separately, with separate meditations being the most commonly used. Often with the individual meditations, a specific focus of meditation may be assigned to the group as a part of the preritual briefing.
After a set period of time, the meditation period will be brought to a close and the participants will be summoned to the ritual area. This summons will take many different forms, the most common two are discussed here. The summons to the ritual area may be made by a musical que: drumming, horns, bells, or a particular piece of music. There is considerable historical precedent for this kind of summons. The other most common summons is a personal one: a designated individual, similar to the Gardnerian/Wiccan “man in black” or “summoner” would verbally announce that ritual was to commence and that persons should assemble.
Once participants have been summoned to the ritual area, they will enter through pre-determined ‘gateways’. In permanently erected ritual areas, these may be physical gateways, or breaks in the boundaries such as hedgerows or tree plantings. In less permanent settings, they may be delineated by some physical indicators, or may only be a position agreed upon by consensus. As the participants enter the gateway’s), they receive a preliminary blessings and/or anointing by either the senior druid or a designate.
Depending upon tradition and circumstances, various symbols may be used in the anointing of the individuals: the forehead may be anointed with the symbols of the three rays of Awen (inspiration), or perhaps the sword-and-chalice imagery of the Celtic Cross. Other sigils may be traced on hands, foreheads and the like. Participants may be sprinkled with sacred water or smudged with the smoke of sacred herbs.
Another special blessing that may be administered to entering participants is that of a blessing cup, or shared hospitality. Each participant sips from an offered common cup of blessing, and ceremonial words are exchanged. This blessing cup may be used with or without the other forms of blessing mentioned above. All methods described aid in establishing a common mindset and focus for the ritual work to come.
Once the participants have entered into the ritual area and settled into their places, the initial welcomes are pronounced. The first offering follows thereafter. This first offering is to the spirits of the place and of the Earth Mother, in acknowledgement of their blessings and in thanks for the use of the ritual area. These may be offering to a sacred fire, but would more commonly be one of cornmeal (or perhaps herbs or even birdseed) scattered to the periphery of the ritual area. An additional thought would be to also pour a libation from the blessing cup used in the entrance ritual.
An additional offering is also made to the “outsiders”, any potentially disruptive entities or energies not desired within the confines of the particular ritual. Many different items may be used for this offering, however the preference would be for sweets and/or alcoholic beverage, as these items appear to be particularly preferred by those types of energies. Out of habit, these offerings are placed in the south of the ritual area, simply because of it’s associations with such totem entities as Coyote and Loki (some of the most ‘chaotic’ and ‘trickster-ish’ entities).
Once these items are settled, the main elements of the ritual can commence. The first major elements of ritual comprise the acknowledgement of the three Celtic realms of existence. The first realm to be so acknowledged is the realm of the Land. In the Celtic cosmos, the Land is the realm of substance, where the clans exist in harmony with the natural world. The second realm, the Sea, is the gateway to the other worlds. Land is seen to float on the surface of a great, spiritual sea. The Sky is a realm of mystery as well as of many Gods – it flows above that of the Sea and the Land. As each realm is acknowledged, an offering is made to the realm, it’s gatekeepers, and its native spirits.
Once the realms have thus been acknowledged and offerings made, the gateways are summoned (or conjured) open, permitting the three worlds/realms to simultaneously exist within the ritual space. This bears resemblance to the Wiccan ritual effort of creating a time and place within the ritual circle that is completely removed from ‘ordinary’ time and space: “a time that is not a time, a place that is not a place”. However, in Druidic practice the opposite is the case. Druidic sacred space and opening of the realm gateways, is practiced to place the participants within all time and all places (the appropriate quotation for this then becomes “all time is now, and all space is here”). There is no true linear time in Druidic practice. Time is seen as circular, or even web-like: no beginning, no ending, and myriad different permutations. The methods of “anchoring” and traversing these three realms lies within the context of the Sacred Tree. This tree is an axis between the three realms, via which the trained practitioner may journey to experience other realities. Within and around the Sacred Tree (or Tree of Life, if you prefer), exists the essence of the Divine Spirit: the sacred Fire, the manifestation of the Sacred Dragon Energy.
At this point, any special magical workings would be inserted into the standard ritual format. The ritual processes should be inserted smoothly into the balance of the ritual format. The activities will segue without difficulty if written in a similar tone.
After these specific ritual elements are completed, the next appropriate step is that of the giving up of offerings to the Gods. These offerings may consist of many items such as herbs, foods, oils and other items. Generally these items will be offered to the ritual fire, previously established using the nine sacred woods. Omens may be taken from how these offerings burn; the movements of the flames themselves or of the smoke. Omen-takings are not limited to the sacred fire, but may be taken from any appropriate source available at that time. The final offering given up to the Gods is considered to be the ‘dire offering’, that of blood or flesh. In ancient times, this would have involved the sacrifice of a live animal, or in some cases a human being.
This type of sacrifice is not acceptable today because of the multitude of different offerings available to modern Druid practitioners. The blood sacrifice offered upon the modern Druid’s need-fire is a simple offering of meat. Anything from hotdogs to steaks/roasts is acceptable and appropriate. After all other sacrifices have been burned, the fire is “brought up” quickly – that is, caused to burn quite hot for a brief period of time in order to burn off all residue, then a grill or spit is place appropriately over the fire. The meat offering is then ritually placed on/over the fire. When the meat is cooked, or durring the cooking process, a portion of meat is dropped completely into the fire, to be consumed by the flames entirely. The balance of the meat is given to the celebrants as a portion of the feasting after ritual. This process has great precident in many cultures, including the Judaic faith (‘kosher’ foods are ritually processed, and actually offered in sacrifice to their God). This method of sacrifice to the fire (what really amounts to a sacrificial Barbeque) also helps to aleviate problems realted to the open fire. While many localities regulate the use of outdoor fires, or entirely prohibit outdoor burning, if the fire is for the purpose of cooking, many areas permit such fires without restriction.
Here, I insert a ‘nod’ not only to the ancient progenitors of our faith, but also to the more recent impetus for these ideas. DragonHart Coven, a British-traditional group with whom I practiced years ago, used an open fire pit in the back yard of their covenstead for rituals. In that locale, ‘open burning’ was prohibited. So at every ritual, cooking forks and marshmallows became a familiar – if never used – addition. If problems arose, those articles could have been produced as evidence that the fire in the fire pit was for cooking – a non-restricted fire use. In keeping with the Druidic Code of Ethics, when we incorporated this particular fire offering into the rituals, we would truly be using the fire for those reasons.
The closure of the ritual follows a similar, albeit reversed, path as that of the construction. The sacred tree is once again reverenced, the previously conjured gates are closed, and appropriate honours are paid to any personal or clan divinities previously called upon. A clear, concise closure of the ritual is made, and any surplus energies are grounded in an appropriate manner. The ritual participants are then dismissed to the feasting area (which of course is centre pieced/highlighted by the previous meat offering) for feasting and merriment.
The preparation of the ritual feast involves somewhat more than just the presentation of the fire offering as the main course. Ideally, most of the items for the ritual feast will be provided “pot-lick” by most or all of the participants. Foods may range from simple to more complex: there is very little that would be considered inappropriate for a ritual feast. Common items will always include fresh fruits and vegetables, and various baked goods – both sweet and savoury. With outdoor rituals, particularly in warm weather, it is probably best to avoid foods which must be kept at a certain – very cold- or -very hot- temperature to avoid spoilage. These would most particularly include such things as products containing mayonnaise, or cold cuts. By observing these few cautions, it is possible to have a grand feasting without food poisoning.