Category Archives: Ritual

Druidry ritual and changing yourself

One of the key ways in which a person on the Druid path may seek to change themselves, is through ritual. The act of doing ritual creates change. We may use ritual to set intentions, seek transformation or work magic, but there is a magic worked upon us through ritual that isn’t about the things we set put to do.

Getting into the habit of showing up for seasonal celebration can change a person’s relationship with the seasons. If you’ve lived a modern, insulated life, then going outside to do ritual through the year will change your relationship with the world. Making a conscious decision to stand on the earth and think about the elements, the land, the Gods… or wherever you go with this, will itself change you. Ritual has power because it is a process of creating a different environment so that you create a space in which you can change.

Usually in ritual we create sacred space and time. Now, this is odd in all kinds of ways because I don’t know really how you can have non-sacred space or non-sacred time – there are whole essays to write about this. What we’re doing is not making a bit of land sacred for the few hours we are there. What we are doing is undertaking to engage with a patch of space and time in a sacred way. What changes is not the space, but how we understand and interact with the space.

Get into the habit of showing up to treat a place and time as sacred, and you will change. Show up to talk to spirit, or God, or Awen or however you choose to do it, and you will change – not for the greater part because something is being done to you by gods or spirits, but because the very act of choosing to engage is one that will transform you. How well you can do it, how reliably, how wholeheartedly is what will make the most odds. I think that’s why it matters that you find something that is meaningful to you. I am not much affected by ritual focusing on deity because I have such a lot of trouble with belief. I’ve been much more affected by seeking ways to connect with the land, with trees, the elements, and the wildlife because I don’t need to believe anything much to find that meaningful.

I walk as an act of engagement with the seasons and the land. There’s an aspect of pilgrimage in it, and repeating patterns that, over the years, start to create a ritual feel. There’s showing up, and caring, and acting. I am aware of changes in myself that come from the process of doing this.

Critics of religious practice tend to focus on the lack of evidence for supernatural response to human rituals. I think this may be missing the point. What is most likely to change us in ritual, is the choice to do ritual, and the environments we create for ourselves when we do ritual. It is the process that has definite power. For some people, there will be experiences beyond this. How much of this is because of the passion we bring to ritual I cannot say.

I feel certain that ritual done out of habit and with little care probably doesn’t help a person much. Showing up to mumble unconsidered words and go through motions that have no meaning for us is of course also creating an environment that shapes who we are. It may be a space of complacency, conformity, habit, doing what you think you’re supposed to do. This also shapes a person. Ritual done badly can have just as much impact on who we are as ritual done well.

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A Cord Cutting Ceremony

Today’s blog post is a gift from Charlotte Gush – a Cord Cutting Ceremony that you can find by following this link – https://gallery.mailchimp.com/2f3b5a7799311175e657931c0/files/610d3073-9934-4213-abae-77d4e742731f/Cord_Cutting_Ceremony_1.pdf  

It’s a pdf file, and easy to follow, so if you’re looking for inspiration on the process of letting go, this is for you.

 

And a reminder from me that I’m always open to relevant guest material.


The uneasy side of harvests

Equinoxes have always foxed me. I think in part it’s because there’s very little folk material to draw on for them.  Other festivals have seasonal activities and a wealth of traditions, but the equinoxes don’t. Here we are facing the autumn one. Grain has been harvested, fruit harvests are coming in, root crops will be harvested for some time to come. Often the festival is taken as an opportunity to consider the bounty and the harvests in our own lives, but that isn’t without issue.

When I first came to pagan ritual it was reasonable to assume that no one in the circle would be going hungry. Austerity has pushed so many people towards the edge, that I can’t contemplate harvest now without also thinking about food banks. I can’t assume, if I run a public ritual, that everyone in circle will be able to talk about bounty and harvest. I cannot make a ritual into a place of privilege or pile on the discomfort for those who come along who are really struggling.

This is all quite hypothetical in some ways because I’m not running a public facing ritual this year. But like many Pagans, I’m online talking about how we celebrate the season.

Harvest times weren’t always a cause for ancestral celebration. You don’t have to go back very far for communities to be much more dependent on what they could harvest themselves. International food trade gives many of us insulation in face of poor harvests – those of us who live in more affluent countries. Food shortages tend to push up food prices which can drive poorer regions out of the market.

Famine is still a thing. We have the means to feed everyone, but not the will. We’ve decided that profit is more important than human life or comfort. In rich countries, we’re willing to let people starve and suffer long term from malnutrition. We’re willing to let people in difficulty around the world go hungry if they can’t pay for food. We’re happy to have them growing non-food items for our market places rather than food supplies they can live on.

This is not something any of us can fix by individual action. We can however start questioning the way money and resources move around. We can challenge the priorities. What good is all of our growth and development if we can’t solve the most basic problems? What good is our technology and knowledge if people go hungry? Harvests are a matter of luck as much as anything else. Your climate and where you live also play a part. Why do we think it’s ok for the lucky to get rich at the expense of the unlucky?


Checking in

I’m a big fan of regularly taking stock of what’s going on. It’s the sort of thing you can do on your own, but which often works better when you have someone to check in with. I find it relevant in all aspects of life, and useful for making sure things are going as I want them to. It’s an antidote to getting distracted, losing your way, running out of ideas and getting overwhelmed.

When we check in with each other, it’s a process that affirms and builds relationship. For this to work the ‘how are you’ of standard greeting has to be meant. You have to have room to say, and hear more than an empty ‘fine thank you’ and it has to be balanced. If people really care, and listen to each other and speak honestly, that process of checking in can be really effective. Being heard, recognised, understood can do a lot to alleviate discomfort. It may lead to help or advice. It gives us all the chance to be there for each other.

We can give the same attention in non-verbal check ins with places, creatures, tools. A pause to see how things really are, and how we feel and what we’re bringing in can make a lot of odds.

Rituals provide a very natural space for a Pagan check in. In smaller groups, giving people time to say a few words about where they are and how life is for them can help that transition into ritual mode, and also help people bond and support each other. In bigger circles, inviting people to offer one word that says what they’re bringing gives people opportunity to check in with themselves and have something heard.

Any formal social gathering can include check in time. We used to do it when the contemplative Druids sat each month and I found it really helpful for getting things into perspective. Witnessing for each other also helps us make sense our own experiences as we put them in a context bigger than personal experience.

It doesn’t have to be about spiritual practice, either. I’m looking at developing a space for writing and works in progress, and I think the check in may be a good ingredient there. Having time to reflect on where you are with your work and how you feel about it can be really useful.

When there’s a lot going on, we tend to talk about it – it may take over. The check in can help keep that in balance. When there’s not much obviously going on, we may be quieter, but reflecting on the fallow patches can be enlightening in its own way, and opens us up to seeing bigger patterns in our lives. The experience of other people’s struggles and victories, busy times and quiet times helps put our lives into perspective.

We can of course do this for each other on social media, with no other framework at all.

We can also do it privately, without input from anyone else. A little solitary ritual or meditation space is all it takes to check in with yourself and ask how you are doing. If you don’t want it to be too much about you, then you can check in with something else – a house plant, a pet, or just reflecting on how things appear to be going for the people around you.

I think a reflective life is a life lived more fully and with more awareness. Conscious reflection on what’s going on, what we want, where we’ve been and where we are going is how we keep on track. It’s important to take a step back fairly regularly and look at the bigger picture of your life, and at your life in the context of other lives.


Making dedications

Making dedications in a ritual context is a powerful process if you get it right. Even if you are solitary, ritual can give a sense of being witnessed, and of your dedication being held by something bigger than yourself. It can add weight and impetus to a project, and help you bring a sense of sacredness into your life.

The dedication itself is a good process for turning vague ideas into deliberate plans of action. In moving towards making a dedication, you are organising your thoughts, feelings, priorities and values. Figuring all this out is a good thing to do. What do you need to dedicate yourself to? What needs more of your time? What, in the immediate future, is going to be your sacred purpose?

Generally I’m a big fan of improvising in ritual, but not where vows and dedications are concerned. It is really important to spend time with this in advance. Figure out what you need to say and what you are willing to bind yourself to. Figure out how bound you need to be, and how much flexibility you need. It tends to work better if you don’t tie yourself down too precisely, and it is important to be realistic. “I dedicate myself to becoming an amazing artist” may not be realistic. “I’m going to draw something from nature every day for the next month” is totally realistic and will make you a better artist.

Dedications do not have to be forever, and it can be better to put a time frame on them and check in with them and see how it’s going. Do it for a month and report back to your sacred space. Do it for a year even. Give yourself room to put the dedication down when the work is done. “I dedicate my life to the protection of this wood” might not be the right answer – you could lose that fight. “I will fight for this woodland for as long as it takes to protect it, for as long as these trees remain’ is a much more functional sort of dedication.

If you make a dedication and then can’t keep it, honour that. Come back to your ritual space and speak of what has happened and why. Reword your dedication and start again. Don’t leave something hanging and unfulfilled, that won’t do you any good.

If you dedicate to something with an end point, celebrate the end point.

Dedications can strengthen resolve and help us work out how best to serve. If you work in a group, then hearing and supporting each other’s dedications can be inspiring and creates practical ways in which you can support each other. This kind of process can help a person be bolder, push the edges of their comfort zone, and find out who and what they want to be.


Magic and ritual

In witchcraft traditions, ritual (as far as I can tell from the outside) is what you do in order that a group of people can do magic together. There’s also an aspect of celebrating the seasons and honouring deity and the natural world.

Ritual for Druids is often more about the celebration, and less about deliberate intent to perform magic. There are groups and individuals who approach Druid ritual for magical purposes, but my experience has been that the majority gather to celebrate, above and beyond all else. It’s one of the reasons Druid rituals are more family friendly, because there isn’t the same demand for deep focus and intensity that collective spellwork requires.

Having said that, Druid ritual has the capacity for magic. It is more likely to be an emergent property rather than something intentioned. I’ve seen that magic take many forms, here are a few examples.

A growing sense of connection and community that changes how people relate to each other.

Empowering participants such that they find their own voices and creativity and are able to stand in their own power.

Connecting people with the land and seasons in a way that radically impacts on who they are and what they do.

Giving power to vows, dedications, offerings and intentions such that a person is more inspired to see it through, more invested and more able. Bringing the sacred to our commitments.

Feeling witnessed, heard, seen and held in the context of ritual space can be an incredible and transformative experience for a person.

Inspiration / awen, shared or individual, arising within the ritual can lead to wild creativity and improvisation, and again can change people in all kinds of ways.

A sense of the numinous can be a consequence of ritual.

If you’ve got any other examples you’d like to add, do please pile into the comments section.


Druidry and not so much ritual

For some time now, I’ve not being doing ritual. I had a few years when, living on a narrowboat I was so very close to the natural world, and so very far from other Druids that seasonal ritual made little sense. In recent years living in Stroud, there have been various forays into the possibility of seasonal ritual, but nothing has formalised. I find that I enjoy having the eight rounds of community gathering in a year.

There are things I definitely like about ritual – community, sharing bard stuff, getting outside together, and any gestures towards making beauty in some way. I hate scripts, and I’m not very easy with standard ritual language any more. It’s too formal, it feels weird. I’m wary of any kind of ritual structure that puts some people in charge in priestly roles and has others cast as onlookers. I want proper anarchy in my circles – no titles.

Once again I find myself asking how to make ritual work for me. Last year we tried holding bardic sessions at the full moon, but by October it was far too cold to be standing around at night. Given the people I hang out with, food and bardic contributions are a certainty. I’m intending to experiment a bit with talking sticks (well, a talking spoon is more likely…)

The very word ‘ritual’ suggests repetition, but repetition is problematic. It can create a firm underpinning, but it can equally dull people into careless lethargic states. It can help people connect, but you can end up connecting with the abstract ideas of the ritual and not with the experience of being alive and in a place on a day. High ritual language can empower, but it can also exclude. It can inspire, but it can oppress. There are no neat answers to this.

I’ve yet to find what I want from rituals. Even so, I can’t quite let go of the idea of them, I keep coming back to seasonal celebration and trying to figure out how I want it to be.


The validation of ritual

I’ve had periods of doing a lot of ritual, and periods of doing none, and at the moment am marking the seasons but not always in conventionally ritualistic ways. Looking back over the last fifteen years or so, I realise there’s a validation aspect to ritual that has had considerable value to me, but that I also feel ambivalent about.

Nothing makes me feel as much like a proper Pagan Druid as getting into circle with a bunch of people and doing a ritual eight times a year. I don’t even have much respect for the wheel of the year and the eight festivals as a concept, I never know what to do with equinoxes, but even so I find the act of doing ritual with fellow Pagans profoundly affirming.

Now, the question for me is, what am I affirming when I do ritual? I can find the ritual itself fairly superficial, and have no woo-woo type experiences at all and still feel significantly validated. Is it the effect of being with other Pagans openly? That seems fine to me as a thing to benefit from. Is it some kind of affirmation that I am all shiny and spiritual and special? I worry about this. I worry about how easy it is to have supposedly spiritual things turn out to be just epic ego massage. If I think something is good for me, is it really good for me? Is it ok to take the ego boost? I’m not swimming in self confidence…

I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years thinking about what it is that we get out of religions and spiritual practices (Spirituality Without Structure is one of the many consequences of this). How much of what we get out of ritual is on purely human terms and not really about the divine at all? How much is it about connecting with people? How much can we do to connect with the land and the seasons when investing a couple of hours eight times a year? Lots of questions, no real answers.


Druid rituals

When I first came to Druidry, quite some years ago, I was really excited about doing ritual. I prepared in advance, I learned anything I was going to contribute, I chose offerings with great thought, planned what I would wear, made bread especially and so on and so forth. My own enthusiastic participation gave a sense of importance to ritual, and I got a lot out of doing it, at first.

I was lucky enough to be able to do ritual with a number of groups in different places. What I found was that plenty of the people attending weren’t putting everything they had into ritual. They didn’t learn the words, they brought pre-packaged food to share, they entered ritual space chatting, not in the state of awe and reverence I was trying to cultivate. Some of them chatted once the ritual had begun. Many turned up late.

I learned that it isn’t easy doing ritual as a deeply involved personal practice when the people around you are simply having a nice day out and some social time. For a while, I was resentful of this.

Over the years I softened at the edges, and I started to see how much most people needed that gentle time in the woods or sacred sites or other outside places. They needed the time to catch up with other Pagans – I couldn’t ask people to rock up and do all night vigils, they needed time to be with each other. I came to see ritual as primarily a community activity. My role in it shifted from the quest for personal enlightenment towards a role of serving and facilitating the people who wanted to be there. I brought talking sticks and toasting goblets so that people could share what they needed to say, and be witnessed.

I never got on with solitary rituals. Left to myself, there are other, simpler and more private things I will do. I figured out, eventually, that this is because I thrive on having an audience. Give me a bunch of people in front of whom I can look all spiritual, and I’ll play up to the role. There are plenty of people who want to watch ritual as a form of theatrical action, rather than do their own thing. It’s easy to get grumpy about what other people are doing, or not doing, and not look at your own crap. ‘Look at me, I’m being all spiritual here’ is not the most spiritual of things to be doing, after all.


Fox rituals

I don’t know how long the fox had been watching us, but he had stopped in the middle of the footpath to observe our approach. We’d been mostly looking up into the trees on the off-chance of owlets, and it took me a while to register the scrutiny, and longer again to spot him in the gloom. We stopped, and he stayed put, a length of fox across the middle of the path, eyeing us up. We said hi. We managed to hold that position for more seconds, and then the fox took off into the trees.

We saw him twice on the way home – each time he emerged from the undergrowth some yards ahead of us, trotted briskly down the path and then disappeared into the gloom. It was clearly the same fox – he’s pretty distinctive. A large male, skinny but clearly in good shape, with some distinctive white markings. We see him regularly – he saunters past our flat some nights, and we see him in the fields a well. Like us, he’s a creature of the borders between town and country. I guess he’s seen, or smelled us about, too.

It struck me, walking home, what a difference there is between saying ‘hail spirits of this place’ in a ritual and ‘hello Mr Fox’ in an encounter. We also stopped to say hi to a rabbit, who also watched us but did not run away. My feeling of being present, of being part of life on the path rather than just an observer or something passing through, was intense. I felt the connection I’d tried to make in ritual. I wonder about the way ritual helps us to engage with what’s going on, but is also a barrier simply because it is an elaborate human construct designed to move at its own pace.

In a Pagan ritual, often what we’re trying to do is connect with the season, and with the natural world. I’ve been walking the same path intermittently for years now – more evenings in the summer, earlier in the winter, the odd night excursion. I know who to expect where and when, broadly speaking. We’ve become creatures who use the path, along with the deer and numerous birds. We stop for them, and they carry on – last night two robins engaged in a strange song and dance routine that seemed very intimate. When they hopped into the leaf litter, their plumage and the gloom conspired to make them into uncanny, magical patterns of movement.

The fox no doubt has his own nightly rituals.