Welcome to our circle

In Druid rituals, and other Pagan gatherings, we tend to start by inviting other beings in. The powers of the four directions, the three worlds, the spirits of place, ancestors, perhaps our gods. “Hail and welcome” we call out in cheerful unison. I gather other traditions will summon the guardians of the watchtowers and call to other things, welcoming them in or demanding their presence.
I am increasingly uneasy about this.

The elements exist. Earth, air, fire and water are present in this world in any habitable place where you might realistically try and have a ritual. Spirits of place, by their very nature are that which exists in a place. Our ancestors we bring with us, in our DNA. None of these things are absent when we start a ritual. Maybe the gods are absent, but that’s a whole other conversation about the nature of deity that I’d like to skip over for now.

When we walk into a space to do ritual, everything else is already there. We are the incomers. We are the oblivious ones who need to open our awareness, to actually think about the earth beneath our feet and the sky above our heads. What we do when we call to the spirits of place is not, in any real sense, invite them to join us. They were there already. It is their place. What we actually need to be doing, is opening ourselves to being more aware of everything that is not us, and that is not part of our more mundane concerns.

Nature is always with us, in the air we breathe, the materials we use. No matter how deeply we go into human constructs, every last thing humans make, has been constructed from the natural world. We are never away from nature. What we frequently are, is oblivious to it. Therefore when we enter a ritual space, asking nature to show up is utterly ridiculous. What we need to be doing is shifting our own perceptions, and to do that, we need a completely different ritual language.

Modern Paganism has, to a large extent, grown out of magical organisations where the point was very much to try and conjure and control. We’re inherited habits of language and speech from those traditions, and we use them without really looking at what they mean, how they position us in relation to the natural world, and whether they are of much use.

You do not need to summon the spirits of the earth. The earth is there, underneath you, every step of the way. All you need to do is become aware of it. The air is with you, in every breath drawn. The fire of the sun drives all life upon this earth. There is water in your own body, and usually in everything around you, too. These things exist, they do not need summoning. If you postulate ‘spirits of the earth’ as something not universally present in the earth but coming from ‘away’ and needing raising up, make sure at least that you understand how your cosmology works, and why you think the important bits of nature are somewhere else and not immediately available to you. I am suspicious of that thought form, too, it encourages us not to see this world as inherently magical, inherently sacred, but to imagine all spiritual stuff is ‘away’.

Not recognising what is here, in this earth, this air, underpins a lot of human abuses. We need to take the land beneath our feet a lot more seriously as a species, and we would benefit from doing that in our rituals, too.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

19 responses to “Welcome to our circle

  • Potia

    Yes and double yes!! Any chance of a copy of this as a short article for the rites and rituals section of the TDN website at http://druidnetwork.org/what-is-druidry/rites-and-rituals/

    Or indeed anything else that you have that you would be willing to have added to the site?

    Pretty please 🙂

  • kelitomlin

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    That is all 😀

  • lornasmithers

    Mmm tricky one! I can certainly see how it might be seen as darned rude to enter a space, impose a group’s existence on it then hail and welcome spirits already there. Particularly if when calling the quarters the pond’s in the east, the sun’s in the west and the wind’s blowing from the south.

    However because most human groups don’t acknowledge spirits of place and make them part of gathering I do think it’s important that they are addressed so they know they’re welcome and their participation will be honoured should they wish to join the proceedings.

    • Nimue Brown

      I have a lot of trouble calling to directions when they don’t square with the geography. Some kind of addressing, acknowledging makes a lot of sense to me, but it’s the exact tone and language. Mine increasingly goes ‘hello hills, hello sky, hello dead people’… I find the faux-archaic really uncomfortable too.

  • Linda

    I agree with what you say here and am very glad to see someone else saying it. The idea that we have to make some special effort to connect with a nature that is separate from us and the place we are in is an example of a serious disconnect in the way modern people experience the world. As you say, nature is in everything and every moment of our lives. We are nature but we see ourselves (and spirit) as separate — no wonder our world is in a mess.

  • Running Elk

    Surprised this hasn’t caused more of a stir… 😉

  • Kathleen Gstalter

    I do agree. I remember my first ritual, I memorized everything but when it came time the words felt off to me….. I shifted from “calling” to acknowledging in a heartbeat, and it felt right. I’ve stuck with this ever since. I do ask any Deities to come, letting them know they are welcomed, but the rest is more aligning myself and offering a greeting. It is a difference in attitude I guess. It works for me, I guess not all would agree, but I fully understand your heart in this.

  • Sylvia Pearson

    Well said, concise and clear, thankyou.

  • verdant1

    Thnak you for putting your finger so clearly and precisely on something that;’s subconsciously bothered me for a long time – perhaps that’s why I don’t do much ritual…
    Maybe it’s time to try thanking the elements and spirtis of place for letting us be there?

  • locksley2010

    Wow, I never thought of it like that. This makes a lot of sense!

  • joannavanderhoeven

    A world of yes. On the rare occasions when I do cast a circle, I hail the spirits of the four quarters and let them know that they are honoured. I do not invite them in, nor do I dismiss them when I am done. It always has smacked of arrogance and ignorance, for me, to do otherwise… x

  • angharadlois

    I’ve been mulling this over (as I often am, with your posts!) – I share the same suspicion of that thought form. As an alternative approach, I really like Bobcat’s call to the elements & spirits of place: “witness and inspire this rite”.

    • Nimue Brown

      That can feel a bit demanding, to me. I’m not going to assume anything else is necessarily interested. The language of honouring and appreciation sits better with me.

      • angharadlois

        Yes, it is a bit peremptory, isn’t it? Hmm. Again, thinking back to what I *really* do when I’m out connecting with the landscape on my own, the thought most often communicated is “thank you”. A good prompt to start writing my own rituals based on what really feels important, rather than following the formula. Thanks for the inspiration and the challenge!

  • Ziixxxitria

    I have been mostly disconnected from other pagans and druids when coming into my own beliefs, but when I have tried to take the patterns of others, they don’t always fit. One of those is asking everything to show up.

    What I’ve taken to doing is asking for connection. I like to ask before an important meal, for example (usually quietly to myself while my family would say grace). It would go something like this:

    Please connect us with the Earth as we nourish our bodies.
    Please connect us with the Water cycles as we drink refreshments.
    Please connect us with Fire as warmth fills our bellies and home.
    Please connect us with the Air as we enjoy these wonderful fragrances.
    Blessings to our host for giving us a happy space, and to the cook(s) for providing a good meal.

    Then finish with whatever suits me best at the time. Usually “With harm to none may this be done, thank you.”

    This serves me well, both in having to think about what I am doing that might align with things, and in the quiet moment of trying to step away from everything else and connect again.

  • alcsmith

    I’ve just read this over on the Druid Network and wanted to come over and say how happy I felt to read it. I’m still dabbling at the edges of druid life but have practised within Ecopsychology for a few years. I have come to use the term ‘rest of nature’ rather than ‘other’ or ‘non-human’, and to argue that even cars, for example, are part of nature because they were created within and through nature. So to shift to an emphasis on us humans becoming aware of, rather than calling in, the rest of nature, just makes so much sense to me. ‘It’ is already there where we are.

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