As we all know, ADF is committed to public ritual. That commitment impels us to consider how we may best serve the community. As Chief of the Seers Guild, I presented a workshop on Divination in public ritual at Desert Magic Festival. This practice takes place in many different forms, most obviously in oracular practices such as Oracular Seidh. Though there are many schools of thought on the purpose of divination as a part of public ritual, I think it best suits the purposes of this forum to stick to ADF style ritual.
I'll begin with the purpose of the Omen in the ADF liturgy. It seems that we began with a purpose that was connected to the kindred's reception of the offerings we've given. However, after over twenty years of public worship, this purpose has evolved and grown.
It was my original feeling that the power inherent in asking the gods how we've done in the process of sacrificing to them was far more powerful than simply asking them for an omen. The suspense and trust involved in asking for that approval is palpable in the moment of the return flow. And it has quantifiable results when the omen is unfavorable. I have heard more than one transformative tale from members who worked up the courage to offer something in response to the omen and these stories make this a more than viable method of public omen-taking.
That being said, I've grown to have a new regard for a different purpose (and focus) for the omen in ADF Public Ritual. The purpose that seems to be gaining popularity as we hit our young adult years is simply to ascertain the nature of the blessings we are about to receive from the kindred. With this purpose, the omen is taken and often used to charge the blessing cup before it is sent around to the people.
(This is a practice I picked up from Ian Corrigan after a unity rite at Summerland Gathering. He placed three fire sources around the blessing cup and put the three omens into a sentence while lighting the flames, using three matches. Ever since seeing the magic behind that use of the omen I have leaned more heavily towards using the omen more as a message from the three kindred to the people.)
Having discussed two of the purposes for taking the omen in ADF ritual, I'd like to mention a few ways to call for these omens. A common example of a reading to check the reception of the offerings is similar to the 'past, present, future' reading that many folks use for personal divination. In this reading, I ask 'What Brought us?' and pull a 'few'. (A few is another name for a single symbol, particularly a single Ogham.)
The second question is 'How is our Offering received?' and the third is 'What blessing or Challenge do the kindred offer us?' This reading really does cover several bases. We learn what the most important aspect of our gathering is; how our offerings have been used and taken; and we are given the specifics on the blessing to come. If this last symbol is negative, we know that they offer a challenge and drinking the cup means that we accept the challenge.
Possibly the most common method of taking the omen to learn the specific nature of the Kindreds' blessing is to pull a symbol from each of the three. We ask what the Ancestors, Nature Spirits and Shining Ones offer us in return for our sacrifices and worship.
This reading has the added benefit of being enhanced by the three realms and the three representations of the gates aligned with it. For example, the symbol drawn for the Ancestors will correlate with the well and the past; the Nature Spirits, the tree and the present; and the Shining Ones are the fire and the future. As mentioned above, this reading also makes the 'charging' of the blessing cup a little more magical.
Having discussed the purpose and the method of taking the omen, let's focus on the appropriate tools. It is my sincere feeling that Seers in Our Own Druidry should rely upon well known oracles or 'symbol sets' when taking the omen at the beginning of the return flow. (This happens after the final prayer of sacrifice. The flow turns from us offering to them to them offering back. Thus, continuing our relationship through the principle of *ghosti, exemplified by the phrase – 'A Gift calls for a Gift!') Though I do work with oracular modes of divination, including channeling, I believe that this work best fits as a magical working and is not the best mode of taking the main omen.
My reason for feeling this way has to do with the responsibility of the Seer to be accountable to the people. If s/he uses a symbol set, they are offering everyone the opportunity to share fully in the power of the omen. In ritual a seer can only say so much, but if the people know what symbols have been drawn they will be able to seek out deeper understanding of their own, thus strengthening the lasting power of the ritual they have attended. This keeps the seer humble as well, and, being a seer myself, I find this extremely valuable.
I am not able to take responsibility for my personal prowess as a diviner if I am simply pulling symbols from a bag. I also feel that channeling is such a questionable practice to so many of the folk who may gather in our groves and halls, that we are placing a barrier between them and acceptance of the omen thus, between them and the kindred.
This is why I recommend that all ADF seers use a symbol set for taking the main omen. If they'd like to incorporate less quantifiable modes of divination into the magical workings of the rite, however, I am all for that. (And have employed it myself to great success.)
DISCLAIMER: It should, however, be understood that channeling for public ritual should only be undertaken by people with vast experience with trance work that has included methods for 'going away' and 'coming back'. And should be considered along the lines of swimming alone in the ocean – never channel without a reliable and fully trained 'ground' who can bring you back out of trance.
Now, as for which symbol sets you should use for ADF public ritual, there are plenty of choices. I tend to lean towards the ones that we have some idea may have been used for divination by the ancients. Of course we have no real evidence that they used Ogham or Runes in exactly the same way we do today, but we do know that they cast lots, which is basically what we do when we pull a rune from a bag. This method is called sortilege and it applies to any symbol set – including the Greek Alphabet, Tarot and Animal Oracle decks.
As I've already made quite clear, sortilege is the method I most recommend for taking the omen in an ADF rite. I know many people feel strongly that you must learn one of the older divination sets for rituals in the Celtic, Greek or Norse hearth cultures; however, I feel that tarot is fine for use in a public ritual.
I would only say this about tarot: The concepts found in 20-24 symbols are usually stronger and more easily grasped by the gathered folk than the concepts included in a deck of 78 cards. Not to mention the fact that the ogham are tied to trees, which is lovely for us druids, and the runes are a very powerful magical system to boot. There's just more bang for the buck, I feel.
There is also a great power in sacrificing your time and energy to learning a new divination set simply for use in public ritual. So, can you use the tarot for ADF Public Ritual? Of course you can! (We'd rather see you up there taking omens than not.) However, does the Seer's Guild encourage you to learn older symbol sets? Of course we do! (NOTE: I do consider animal oracle decks to be the only substitute we have to animal omenry and prefer that method to classic tarot, personally.)
Now for a few tips to reading for Public Ritual: As with any ritual, presentation has a great deal to do with the impact you will make on the people gathered. This being the case, think about what you can do to make the moment before you take the omen somehow different or more magical. Is there a piece of jewelry or clothing that you put on as part of the process of drawing the symbols? Is there a prayer you could say or chant you could sing that would help the folk to send energy towards you as you choose lots?
Some people have had some success with reciting Odin's speech about sacrificing for the runes in Havamol (in the Poetic Edda). This gives the people a sense that you know what you are doing when you step forward to take the omen. (Even if you think you don't!) And, please don't just pull your cards out of a tattered old box. Wrap them in silk. Place your runes in a beautiful bag. These things will help people to travel with you as you seek guidance from the three kindred.
Be sure to speak clearly and be as concise as possible. Practice taking the omen at home by speaking out loud. (This makes a big difference in your comfort level when you do end up in front of people.) And, finally, for presentation, don't be afraid to use humor. The omen is a serious part of ritual, but that doesn't mean that you can't relax and use humor to help communicate the blessings of the spirits!
For a few final ideas on making your work as a seer deepen; try taking omens before and after ritual as well. This gives you an opportunity to consider the things that float around the performance of the ritual itself. Be sure to write these down in the same place that you keep your omens for ritual.
Speaking of which, the best, most productive, most reliable way to excel as a seer is to commit to keeping a journal of all the omens you've taken AND go back regularly to read them. Be sure to write down any results that seem to tie to past omens as well. This is how you build the language you use as a seer to understand the gods. This way, in future, you'll know what certain things mean.
If, every time you pull the Needfire rune you run out of milk, then, eventually you will know to check your milk supply when that rune shows up. (Sure, other people pull it in times of great stress, but, maybe for you it only means – make sure your fridge is stocked.) This may or may not be the sort of thing you'd share in public ritual, but it does help to build a working relationship with your divination tool.
Well, this article is longer than I expected and I've only grazed upon the things that characterize reading for ADF Public Ritual. So, it must be time for a shameless plug. If you are interested in learning more or discussing the ideas in this article further, please join the Seers Guild. It is open to any ADF member and our list can be found in the members section of the ADF website under Forums.