Category Archives: Ritual

Druidry and Celebration

What should Druids celebrate? The short answer is – anything you find meaningful. While a lot of writing prioritises the 8 festivals model, it’s not the only way to approach celebration as a Druid.

Druidry honours nature. Therefore any aspect of nature that you want to celebrate, you could honour in ritual. Solar events, moon phases, how the seasons manifest where you are. If there are significant local events, you might want to honour those – arrivals and departures of migrating birds, key local crops, wild flowers – whatever feels important.

Druidry honours ancestors of blood. Therefore as a Druid you may find it makes sense to include festivals that your blood ancestors honoured. If you grew up with a different religion that you still respect and want to acknowledge, or if there are festivals that are culturally important to you, or part of your family identity, honour those.

Druidry honours ancestors of place. If it makes sense to honour festivals that relate to your location, go for it. Engaging with the culture around you can make a lot of sense.

Druidry honours ancestors of tradition – if you feel something belongs to your history, honour it. The 8 festivals in the wheel of the year fall into this category, and there might well be festivals from other Pagan traditions that make sense to you.

As Druids we also get to take ourselves seriously, if we want to. If there are important days in your wheel of the year that you need to honour and approach in sacred ways – you should go with that.

Druidry is pragmatic. Meet up when you can. If community celebration is your focus, getting together can be more important than the precise timing.

It’s good to celebrate. It’s good to engage with the world in a joyful way and to connect with other people while doing that. If you run into someone who is dogmatic about what Druids should and shouldn’t be celebrating, try to be compassionate. They probably need to feel in control for some personal reason. They may need the comfort and security some people find in rules and systems. They may not feel confident enough in their own choices to follow those without the affirmation of everyone else being the same.

Your Druidry is your Druidry. Your celebrations are your celebrations. That’s all held by the context of your culture, family background, personal heritage and local landscape. Celebrating is good. Celebrate in any way you find meaningful, soulful, helpful or necessary.


Art and the Altar

What do you offer? While I very much like candles and incense, I’m conscious every time I strike a match that fire is part of the problem at the moment. Humans need to burn less, and burning things as an act of reverence or prayer makes me deeply uneasy. But, what do you do with an altar if you aren’t burning things?

I’ve been experimenting with having an altar space for some months now, and trying to figure out how to do that in a way that makes sense to me. I’m interested in the way altars can function as spiritual instillations – I see plenty of photos online of the sacredness people create by making beauty. Changing what’s on an altar to reflect the season, or a festival, or a specific focus can clearly be a lovely thing to do.

I’m short of space. There is nowhere I can keep things that could be on the altar – either it lives there or it doesn’t. I do bring in seasonal finds, but that’s occasional and it happens when it does. I’ve tried liquid offerings, but I can’t leave them out – I’m clumsy and bump into things, and also there is a cat who at some point is going to get himself to the top of the bookcase.

I’m currently experimenting with the idea of making art for the altar. It’s something I can do at need, for whatever reason occurs to me. I can use it to reflect seasons and festivals. It is an offering of time and care, and it means trying to make something of beauty. It’s a lot cheaper than buying things to put on the altar, and paper doesn’t take much storing.

My first serious attempt at this was a set of three roses for Valentine’s Day. I’m not much into the hetronormative romance as performance. I don’t like commercialism around this day or any of the other social festivals. But, I also had a lot of other things going on and I wanted to honour the idea of love, and this seemed like a way to do it.


The Messy Altar

Back in the autumn we established a household altar space. It was a big decision – being three adults and a small cat in a small flat, space is at a premium. But, it felt right to dedicate space, and it felt necessary. We talked about what we wanted the space for and what we needed it to do, and then we started experimenting.

My son suggested that a non-binary green person would be a good thing to have, and Keith Healing made us a rowan spirit image on rowan wood. Some of my old ritual kit – wooden goblets – have taken up residence, and some small items of personal significance. We’ve brought in seasonal materials, and we’ve improvised trying to find out how best to use this space.

At the moment, the altar is messy – there’s ivy on it we took from a fallen tree, and there’s a sprawling bowl of hyacinths, the perfume from which fills the flat. It’s a chaotic space, and for the first time since we started, I feel like this is how it should be – a bit wild, excessive, and alive.

Altars are highly personal. At the moment, it’s easy to find lots of glamorous online images of altars made with the shiniest and priciest of items. Sometimes this will make sense. But, it’s not about the money spent, it is about making a space for your heart and soul and doing what makes sense to you.


Making an altar

Ten years ago and more, altars were part of my life as a Druid. I like having dedicated space in this way. However, for a couple of years I lived on a narrowboat, and there wasn’t any space to dedicate. Horizontal surfaces were at a premium. So there was no altar.

This flat is also small, and horizontal space has also been at a premium. We live and work here – three of us, and for a while, four of us. There have also been cats, and cats and altars do not mix well unless you can keep the one off the other reliably.

The last week has been really hard. There is now no cat, and we’ve been unexpectedly a household of three when three of us thought we were a household of four. It’s complicated, painful and I write this with no clarity on what’s going on. There’s nothing sensible or useful I can do.

My Druidry has always, to some degree, been what I do in self defence.  This is something I may need to look at and rethink. Often I am at my most willing to dig in with magic and spirituality when I am most in trouble. I tend to manifest my Druidry more on the service and creativity side when life is ok.

So, I made an altar space. For the first time, I made a cooperative altar space. In the past, James was simply too young and not really interested in engaging with the spaces I made. He was interested in Druidry as a child, but more the bard stuff and having an invisible fairy dog (it’s a long story).  This is the first time Tom and I have had shared space we felt willing and able to dedicate in this way.

We’ve talked about what should be on a household altar. We’ve put some things together, and talked about how and when to change that. We’ve made a heart space that we haven’t had before in this flat, and we’ve made the decision to give that some priority. I’ve pulled out old ritual kit that’s been stashed and I’ve started thinking about what it means to me to have dedicated sacred space inside the flat, and what I might do with that, and who it is for.

An altar raises all sorts of questions around intent, and connection, who to honour and how. It raises issues about what it makes sense to do symbolically. Who are we inviting in by making offerings? What do we want to change in our lives by doing this?

In part I wanted to change the energy of the space. I wanted to make something good that could be a focus for love, for beauty, for connection. I’ve been thinking a lot this year about how to better invite magic and wonder into my life, and this is in part a consequence of that process.

I feel better for doing it. I feel like I’ve reclaimed a part of myself that I’ve not been able to make enough space for in recent years. I feel that making this altar space is an act of commitment to a certain kind of future and an expression of how I want to be in the world. I’ve done all of this from a place of feeling grim and lost, and I’ve done it as an act of dedication to not giving up on myself, on the future, or on hope.


Rites of passage

What is a rite of passage? The conventional definitions have a lot to do with our sex lives – birth, coming of age, marriage, with death the inevitable finale. Of course this means that some people would only have the chance to celebrate birth and death. I think there’s a lot to be said for taking a far more individual approach to rites of passage.

What do we need to honour, process or celebrate? What life events do we need witnessing and recognising by our families and communities? Looked at on these terms, the standard rites of passage are about relationships with the community changing. New arrivals, new adults, official relationships and death.  We need our wider networks to support us around these things, certainly.

There are many things that can radically change a person – things we seek and things we do not. Qualifications, injuries, work changes, recovery, friendship breakups, moving house, divorce. There are challenges and victories we encounter every day where we may need the witnessing and support  of those closest to us, at the very least.

Faced with a large and life changing event we don’t all default to wanting to gather our people together for a ritual to mark it. If you are doing regular community rituals though, it is a good thing to hold a space where people can say what’s going on for them and have that heard and acknowledged.

Some of our most life changing experiences may be too personal to want to share in this way. We may not always be comfortable with the changes happening to us. We may not be confident of support from our community or immediate family. It’s worth thinking about how our life changes impact on our relationships, and what we might do to support each other at such times.

It’s also worth thinking about what kind of community space we have to support dramatic life changes that don’t fit with whatever narratives we’ve had to that point. Life changing events can also be community changing events, and when we make space for these personal changes we also give our communities chance to grow, mature and become more interesting.


Parting Songs

Folk music is resplendent with leaving songs, or parting songs. Some traditional, many written more recently by people who wanted their own way to finish a set or an evening. There’s something rather wonderful about songs whose nature it is to round up a night and create closure.

For me, these finishing songs are important rituals. I’ve also used them at funerals, where I feel they work well indeed. I’d quite like to be sung out with this one…

 

I’ve sung this one since childhood. This is an especially nice version…

 

I sang this one at my grandmother’s funeral, which was about this time of year, I realise. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I’m very glad I did it. She had a deep love of shanties and tall ships, it was the only thing to sing her out with. And she used to sing it herself.

 

(I’m not going anywhere, but I sang a parting song for someone today, and their power is very much on my mind).


Lessons from the boar

When I met the wild boar, he showed me with his tusks how to break myself open, how to spill and bleed. Sacred dismemberment, messy, painful and full of lessons that must be studied over a year and a day. “Learn to do it willingly,” he said. “Learn to rip your guts out and tear your heart to pieces. He did not say why.  Did not tell me what it would achieve. What we might find there. What good it would do.

I have clutched my hands to my stomach so hard, not wanting to be pulled apart. I have guarded my ribs and avoided what goring I could. There is something unavoidably sexual in the violence of a male tusk invading a female body and I never wanted that brutality, or that femininity. Is it possible to be torn on other terms?

I have been coming to this the wrong way. It is not about how much I am willing to suffer; for art, for love, for Druidry. The quest is for a breakthrough, an opening, but not as wounding or victimhood. No more lessons in pain. To do this to myself, willingly.

Because my guts were where the shame lived, and a lifetime of hurting. Cut that open. Pull it apart. Dig out the vicious shards of barbed wire grafted into tender flesh. Leave the body to heal. Do it willingly. Embrace the sacred wounding and take out what never belonged there. Choose it.

And what of my heart? What happens if I take the tusks to my heart? If I invite them in? A whole country folded inwards, needing to open out. A galaxy of self waiting to be born. The prospect of birthing it as bloody, messy, painful as any birth has ever been.

All of it is terrifying. All of it is too much. All of it is unthinkable. The boar is waiting, because we both know that I have already decided what to do.


Sexy at Beltane

My experience of sex in Paganism is that too often it feels limited rather than spacious. It being Beltane, I am of course feeling conscious of how hetramormative a lot of Pagan expression around Beltane tends to be. Sex magic and sex in ritual bother me especially – I say this based on what I’ve read, and on symbolic acts in rituals I’ve been to, which no doubt colours my perspective, but it’s not something I’ve done, in no small part because it has never appealed to me.

I’m uneasy about harnessing sex for power or for ritual. It feels limiting. For me, if there’s going to be magic, it’s going to emerge from the unexpected. The magic will be in the moment, and the more contrived that moment is, the less likely I am to find magic in it

I’m uneasy too about the way ideas of sex in ritual and magic focus very much on heterosexual and penetrative sex. Most obviously it excludes queer folk and I’m glad to see more people questioning this every year. It excludes asexual folk as well, and people whose paths have called them to chastity. Focusing on sexual fertility we can miss out on a lot of other forms of fertility. Focusing on sexual love, we can miss out on the many other ways that love can manifest, for us as individuals as well as between people.

Too much focus on sex can take us away from what is sensual, as well. This has been on my mind a lot this week, I’ve posted about dancing and about skin, and I’m currently exploring how to be in my skin more fully as a living being. There are so many things about modern life that encourage us only to show up with our brains. There are a lot of things about how we handle sex culturally that encourage us to only show up with our genitals.

To be a sensual being is to be in a state of physical relationship with the world. It is sun on skin and wind in hair, it is the touch of long grasses, the brush of leaves, as well as what contact we might have with other mammals. Water on skin, bodies in water, the warmth from a fire, the taste of wine… ritual itself offers us the opportunity for all kinds of sensual experiences that we might find sexy but that don’t require us to act in a sexual way.

I’m interested in how to broaden the possibilities. To be sexy without necessarily having to be sexual. To be sensual without necessarily having to be sexy. To be sexy and sensual and sexual all at the same time. To chose how that works, how to express and explore and share it – that seems powerful to me. It seems like a path towards personal transformation and a path that could open up all kinds of magical experience for me. It calls for spaciousness. It raises the question of what we get if we use sex in a ritual context, versus what we might get if we explore the sensual potential of ritual actions to open to the way for whatever magic then follows.


Cloak of Happiness Ritual

A Guest Post by Ing Venning

 

GOAL To create a shield that will protect us and remind us of happy memories in times of stress or sorrow.

 

AUDIENCE – Kids often enjoy this meditation, but anyone can participate. Ideally, you will have a speaker (who may or may not act as a quarter caller) and at least a handful of participants. This ritual can be adapted for use with only one or two people, however.

 

PREPARATION [Optional: You may wish to give each of the quarter callers some feathers, a scarf, a handful of soft grass or some other object that is soft and flowing.]

 

RITUAL

 

SPEAKER: Please sit or lie down in a comfortable position with your legs and arms uncrossed.  Begin to breathe slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Let the air fill and invigorate your whole body.  As you inhale, feel the air enter your air passages, your lungs, even your stomach.  When you exhale, these areas will contract.  Then inhale again, then exhale.  Rise and fall.  Just like that – slowly and steadily.

Shake your shoulders, your hips, your knees – not forcibly but gently.  Shake off annoyance, anger, and oppression.  Shake yourself outside of the world and into a time made only of one moment looping back upon itself.  A timeless moment in which you are free to breathe gently.  A place where you can relax.

Feel your aura expanding, moving outward so that it radiates in spokes around you.  It will grow until it is quite expansive but not so that it overlaps with the auras of others unless they wish it.  Each one of our aura spokes grabs hold of the very molecules around us and grounds us in their polar charges.  Feel yourself drifting along in a current of particles, at peace and connected to everything around you.

[Deosil movement]

NORTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt safe and supported as you welcome the spirits of the earth into this sacred space.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

EAST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt inspired and awed.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SOUTH CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt energetic and powerful.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

WEST CALLER: Welcome, happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Remember times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved.  Only thoughts and spirits that bring no harm may enter.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, bring your happiness and your peace and be welcome in our circle.  Let us share our joy.

Slowly, in your trance, move your hand back and forth.  Back and forth as you breathe in and out.  Back and forth as one weaves a tapestry or sews a cloak.  Back and forth as one strokes a lover or massages a newborn.  Let each thread harness and harbor a cherished memory.  We are building up a pattern, weaving a cloak of happiness.

Our memories protect us without overprotecting us.  Our cloak is very light, yet its effect is profound.  It can warm us when we’re cold and cool us when we’re stifling.  It can ease the pain of depression, of anxiety, of anger.  It brings more joy and contentment into our lives by connecting us to the upper world or overworld; it can also redistribute emotions so they flow in balance.  Our cloaks will never block us from suffering that can make our lives better, but it has the power to keep any challenge from becoming overwhelming; its magic moderates our feelings.

Now that your cloak is woven, try it on.  [At this point, quarter callers or the speaker may wish to brush participants’ backs or necks with their soft, flowing material.]  It fits snugly and comfortably.  It even sings – you have to strain to hear the song, for it’s very soft, but it’s also filled with joy.  Look at the fabric you’ve woven.  You’ve skillfully woven happy scenes that make you smile, even when all around you seems lost or hopeless.  Revel in these good memories and the cloak they’ve produced.

Now that the cloak is woven and has been placed about your body, feel it sink into your aura and adjust its energy.  The cloak will stay with you – a gentle, benign influence – even when you remove your physical clothing.  It will stay to help you feel good, to help you smile, to help you relax even in stressful conditions.  This is your Cloak of Happiness.

[Widdershins movement]

WEST CALLER: Farewell to the west, but not to its happy memories of the water and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt at peace and unconditionally loved will remain with you.

SOUTH CALLER: Farewell to the south, but not to its happy memories of the fire and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt energetic and powerful will remain with you.

EAST CALLER: Farewell to the east, but not to its happy memories of the air and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt inspired and awed will remain with you.

NORTH CALLER: Farewell to the north, but not to its happy memories of the earth and its dwellers.  Memories of times when you felt safe and supported will remain with you.

SPEAKER: Laughing gods and goddesses, thanks for the energy you’ve given.  May it stay within the cloaks you’ve blessed us with.  The circle opens, but it never breaks.

Slowly return to your mundane body, but you need not let go of the good feelings we’ve evoked here in our circle.  Those will go with us, insulating us from harm but never blocking us from the emotions we need to feel and the energy we need to understand and grow.

If it helps you to return, tap a solid object, snap your fingers, give a shout, or do something else that affirms your presence in the mundane world again.  Welcome back.

May each and every one of you be blessed.  Thanks for being part of our circle.  Go from here in peace and great contentment.

+++

Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. He has published three novels featuring pagan protagonists, a sampler of his work, and several short stories. He will be publishing two more novels, a collection of (mostly) retellings, and a volume of poetry in 2020. You can read the sampler of his work and his first novel for free; just visit https://ingvenning.com/


Notes on the Use of Mystic Rhythm

A guest post by Ing Venning

Many kinds of spirit work involve rhythmic patterns: drum circling, sacred movement, chanting, writing verse, sacred sex, and a number of others. Indeed, energy itself is constantly being described as being in motion, as flowing or ebbing, as pulsating, as vibrating. If energy can exist in completely static form, then that form must surely be quite rare.

We should, therefore, consider what energy patterns are most appropriate for the task at hand. Some tasks don’t require much thought. Most people can easily fall into a meditative pattern of slow, regular breathing without much conscious preparation. Likewise, it’s easy to go along with a chant, dance or song lead by someone else (assuming they are competent at what they’re doing). But what should we do if we need to facilitate rhythmic energy work? I find a handful of factors – namely, numerology, accent, and the balance of tension and release – to be key to the process.

There are a number of important numerical patterns associated with common spiritual practices. There are four or five components in most systems of magical elements. There are four (or three apparent) phases of the moon. There are three aspects of many deities. There is an in-out duality to breathing for meditation and a trinity of worlds in many geocosmic systems. We can use these sacred numbers, associated with patterns of accent or emphasis, to inspire our spiritual practices.

Here are a couple of examples:

– Alma is hosting a drum circle on the night of the full moon. In her practice, there are four main phases of the moon. Therefore, she decides to enact a drumbeat in 4/4 time (each measure, or musical section, has four beats). If we begin with the new moon, the full moon is the third phase. Alma decides to honor the full moon by accenting each third beat. Her musical pattern sounds something like this:

da da DUM da/ da da DUM da/ da da DUM da

(If she only recognized three moon phases – or recognized the new moon as a dark or hidden phase – she might opt for the following pattern in 3/4 time: da DUM da/ da DUM da/ da DUM da.)

The drummers create variations, of course, but they are anchored by this rhythm in honor of the full moon.

Another example:

– Sylvan is facilitating a ritual where people will share their musical talents with both worlds. He decides that, instead of calling the quarters, he will dance them. Like Alma in the first example, he chooses a four-based pattern (but, in his case, to honor the elements), but he decides to shift the accent to honor each particular element when he is summoning the energy for its quarter. His pattern might, therefore, go something like this:

DUM da da da (at air quarter)

da DUM da da (at fire quarter)

da da DUM da (at water quarter)

da da da DUM (at earth quarter)

 

As he dances each of the quarters, he makes a significant motion (a twirl, a jump, an arabesque) on the accented beat in honor of that quarter.

Considerations of phrasing and accent are also very important to the practice of writing spiritual poetry.

Here is an example:

– Mary has decided to write a poem that honors the sacred feminine and sacred masculine in the context of the elements, describing how the elements must balance inside each of the two before they can, in turn, balance with each other. She opts for a poem that switches back and forth between iambic and trochaic tetrameter. She chooses tetrameter because this kind of verse has four feet (in honor of the four elements); she chooses to switch between iambic and trochaic because they emphasize the different accents in sets of two syllables (one for each foot). She decides to accent the first beat of some feet (trochaic tetrameter) to honor male energy and to accent the second beat of other feet (iambic tetrameter) to honor female energy.

A “male” verse might read:

Echoes reach us, brightly spinning

Air, please tell me how to begin.

Fire, come kiss me. Touch me, wake me.

Stir the cauldron, season freedom.

 

(Roughly – DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, DUM da/ DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, DUM da, etc.)

A “female” verse might read:

The river sweetly flows beside

Where water sings and lilacs grow,

Where trees thrive long and blind moles dwell.

Come, stir the cauldron, lullaby.

 

(Roughly – da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM/ da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, etc.)

Last – but by no means least – is the consideration of how to balance tension and release. The principle of their management, in fact, is quite central to many concerns in life. We build a decent character by balancing relaxation and work. We forge a good novel by balancing exposition and climax. We create a fulfilling orgasm by balancing foreplay and intercourse proper. We can apply the same principles to spirit work.

Our goal is to build toward the climax of our work (whether that be invoking a deity, casting a healing spell, reaching the fastest tempo of the drum circle, etc.). But we cannot simply rush headlong toward our goal. We need context; a progress of nothing but tension will make the tension stop seeming tense and will create an anti-climax. We need to build by raising our tension and then relaxing it – but not quite as much as we raised it. We then continue to raise and relax our energy – always moving toward the final climax, which will be followed by a period of deep relaxation.

Here is an example:

– Herne is facilitating a sex magic ritual. He asks participants to chat with each other beforehand, but only about trivialities. He then encourages participants to touch each other over their clothing and kiss for a few minutes, after which he asks participants to separate and talk to each other about their most interesting sexual experience. Next, he requests that participants undress and touch each other sexually. Next, he asks them to sit while cuddling and talk about a sexual experience they’ve always wanted to try. He follows this by asking them to proceed to performing fellatio on each other, but then asks them to back away to touching if they near orgasm. Finally, after edging (almost reaching orgasm and then backing off to make the final orgasm more powerful) several times, he allows them to climax as they invoke deity. By building tension, releasing it, then building it again toward orgasm, the facilitator will help participants to reach a better climax, both in terms of body and spirit.

This is not an exhaustive piece and won’t prepare you for every situation involving spirit work and rhythm, for there are simply too many to document. I do hope, however, that it leaves you more conscious of the role that rhythmic patterns play – both in your mundane life and your life of the spirit.

 

Ing Venning is a pagan indie author who draws upon his experiences of being multiply different from the mainstream. His first two books (an eclectic sampler of his work and the first novel in a portal fantasy series featuring pagan protagonists) are available for free through https://ingvenning.com/