Category Archives: Ritual

Making a temporary altar

Photo taken at a Lugnasadh ritual undertaken outside(ish) with night falling. We were in a public place, so, definitely no fires – although I’m increasingly uneasy about making fire the centre of a ritual and would probably choose not to even if I could. The intention was to be properly outside, but there was a thunderstorm, so it didn’t work out like that.

I like to have a focal point at the centre of a circle, and if it’s not going to be a fire, then a temporary altar makes sense. I started with the cloth from my Druid Animal Oracle Cards, which is perfect for this sort of thing. Four small candles in lanterns, because we needed some light, and because that’s a very small amount of fire in a safe and manageable way.

Our three legged golden frog comes to us from Japanese tradition and is part of our ongoing engagement with that culture. He is a recent arrival on the household altar, and brings luck and prosperity, and also a sense of connection with Dr Abbey, who recommended him to us.

There are some seasonal windfalls, and a feather from one of the many jackdaws who frequent the area. Also things other people brought.

As we expect to do this sort of thing again, I will be investing more thought and care in the idea of building a portable altar. It will be interesting considering what to include, how to transport it, and to see how it evolves over time.


My first ritual

The first ritual I was invited to participate in through a moot I attended. At that point I was in my twenties. I was self-identifying as an eclectic Pagan, and I’d read very little about ritual. Back then, there weren’t many books about ritual to be had, and most of what there was, was Wiccan and I had read some and knew it wasn’t for me. I’d also never felt drawn to exploring any kind of solitary ritual.

I was given some lines. I took it all very seriously, learned my lines, thought about what to wear, invested in the idea of ritual and doing something sacred and significant. I was prepared, and wholehearted.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the chap running the ritual. He was not prepared and had not learned his lines. Quarters were called badly, while being read from a script he could barely see because it was dark, which seemed to surprise him. He laughed a lot – probably from nerves. The whole thing was an awkward mess and I felt embarrassed to be offering this to anyone or anything. I spent a lot of time towards the end of the ritual quietly apologising to anything that had been obliged to witness this shambles. 

After the ritual, owls started calling. Some of the participants found this really validating. To me, it felt like forgiveness, for which I was deeply grateful. 

After the ritual, it was also clear that the man running it felt it had gone really well. I did not go back for a second ritual with him. He also talked a lot about how important he felt imagination was for ritual. It’s an idea I rejected on the spot. It’s not enough to imagine. If ritual is going to be meaningful, it has to feel real, on whatever terms that can be a thing for you.


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.