Water- it not only covers 70% of the Earth's surface, but makes up 90% of our bodies as well. We can live for over a week without food, but without water we would die very quickly. luckily for us, it constantly bubbles up out of the ground, washes up onto the shores, and falls down upon our very heads. How wonderful! And as if that isn't enough, it is also the main ingredient in whisky and beer.
Since water is so very important in every other area of our lives, it makes sense that water would be crucial to our Mythology, Cosmology and Ritual as well. This article will explore some of the methods we've developed in Red Oak Grove to use Sacred Water. We will discuss what water means to us, where we got our Sacred Water, some of the special containers we use to hold our Water, what we do with it, and how we take care of it. This article should give you many ideas of ways you can use Sacred Water to enhance the meaning and power of your own Rites.
(By the way, since we're from New Jersey we pronounce it: 'WOOD-ur', but you can say it any way you want.)
Water itself is a magical thing: a combination of two very flammable gases. It's somehow a liquid at room temperature and hard as stone when frozen. In all three states, it's colorless, but when sunlight shines through it, it refracts a brilliant, multi-colored rainbow that can be seen for miles.
The three states of water, solid, liquid and gas, can be seen as symbols of the three Realms Land, Sea and Sky. The Sea is commonly associated with the Ancestor Kindred and is seen both flowing beneath the Land and surrounding it.
In Red Oak Grove we use water to purify both people and place and as a symbolic vessel for the Ancestors and Their Blessings. We use the symbol of the Well as one of the three Gates to the Otherworld and as a special home or symbol of our beloved Goddess Brigedd.
When we first began working together as a Grove, we got some bottled distilled water to use in our Ritual. We consecrated it by the simple act of intentionally devoting its use to a religious ceremony. Since it was being set aside for the exclusive use of the Kindred, it was, therefore, sacred (cut off) from mundane use. During the Ritual, this water was blessed for the Kindred, so it became even more special and precious. You wouldn't pour something like that down the drain, would you? Of course not. We saved it and it became our Sacred Water.
We used this same Water at the next Rite, and the one after that. As time went by, we occasionally got together with other Groves to do combined Rituals. We would always bring our Sacred Water, and if the other Grove brought theirs, we would pour them together in a little private ceremony before the public Rite. Our Waters would mingle and mix on the Altar and be used and blessed together in the Ritual. When the people dispersed, we would carefully divide the Hallowed Waters between the Groves and take them home.
At Wellspring 1998, we did this with about 12 Groves who also brought water from home. In addition, the water was charged by the very powerful magical working and the combined will of everyone there.
A small amount of our Water came from the Atlantic Ocean, gathered at different ceremonial times. For example, last Spring Equinox at dawn, we went to the beach, planted a staff in a dune, lit a candle, and scooped some sea water up in a shell. We did a short but powerful Ritual, thanking Brigedd for the return of the warmth to the land. We took some of this water home with us to add to our Sacred Water.
During our Rituals, the majority of the Sacred Water is in a bowl in the bottom of our Well. Our Well looks like a real well, with a peaked roof and a turn-crank. It's really a lawn ornament, purchased at a garden supply store, and stands about 2 feet high. We have decorated the roof supports with plastic ivy. There is a silver ladle in the bowl of Water. We also have a large glass pitcher full of plain fresh water sitting next to the Well.
Before the Ritual, we ladle some Sacred Water from the Shell into the Ancestor Bowl. This is one of three special Bowls used during the Kindred Invocations, described below.
Once the Ritual begins, the people have been called together, and the Outsiders have been honored, we begin the purification. D2 picks up the pitcher of fresh water and Dl ladles three scoops of Sacred Water into it, visualizing the blessing and sanctifying of the Water. D2 then pours some of the water onto the hands of D1 and hands him a clean white hand towel. Dl takes the pitcher, pours water onto the hands of D2, and hands her the towel.
The celebrants are asked to turn and face the outside of the circle and hold out their hands. They are told to turn back toward the circle once they have been purified. Dl walks around the circle, constantly trickling water onto the ground from the pitcher. The celebrants extend their hands forward into the stream of water as it goes by. D2 follows with the towel so they can dry their hands.
This process not only purifies the people with Sacred Water, it makes the Ritual area Sacred by cutting it off from normal space with a symbolic barrier of water. In effect, the Sacred Ritual Space is now an 'Island' surrounded by Sacred Water.
We also honor water when we Open the Gates. To help us, we call upon Manawydan ap Llyr, who is cognate with Manannan mac Lir, Lord of the Sea.
When we invoke and honor the Three Kindred, we use three bowls, each one different. For the Nature Spirits, we use a rough clay bowl filled with local soil, and for the Gods, we use a brass bowl containing a glowing charcoal briquette upon which we sprinkle granulated incense. The Ancestor Bowl is a small white ceramic bowl, decorated with a sea shell pattern. My mother made it before she died (if she had made it after she died, we'd really have something special!) It rests on a small hand-woven blue mat which was given to my mother's sister on a trip to Wales. My aunt gave it to me just before she died when I told her I was a Druid. So you can see that this bowl has plenty of associations to the Ancestors.
After the Nature Spirit invocation, the appointed celebrant goes to the Altar, holds the Ancestor Bowl up high and says:
Mothers and Fathers,
Old Ones, and Ancestors,
I reach across the Veil with my words and call to You
Mothers and Fathers of our Families,
Parents of our Parent's Parents,
I call you into this Sacred Water.
Old Ones of this Land,
Loving Tribes of Caretakers,
I call you into this Sacred Water.
Ancestors of our Culture,
Ancient worshipers of our Gods,
I call you into this Sacred Water.
I call you with the water of the deep blue oceans,
I call you with the water of the gentle rains,
I call you with the water of the darkest wells.
I bid you: Enter this Water now!
That we may be Blessed, Guided and Inspired by our Communion with you.
Gadael hi bod! (Welsh for "Let it be!)
The Celebrant then walks around the circle and blesses each person with the Water by dipping their finger in it and making the Awen mark (three lines radiating down from a central point) on their forehead and saying:
With this Water,
Celebrate your Communion
with the Ancestors.
After the Kindred and the special Deities of the occasion are called, and after praises are offered to Them and an Omen is taken, we share the Waters of Life. There is a pair of large matching goblets on the Altar. Whisky (Gaelic for Water of Life!) is poured into one of them and water from the pitcher into the other. Remember, this water had three scoops of Sacred Water added to it just before the purification of the people. The goblets are held up, everyone concentrates upon them, and the Kindred are invited to send their blessings into them- into the Waters of Life. Dl makes the pronouncement:
Behold! The Waters of Life!
The goblets are passed around the circle, with each person drinking or pouring a few drops onto the ground, as they wish. When the first person chokes on the whisky, we always say, "don't worry, the 'Chaser of Life' is coming around right behind it!"
While we always manage to finish the blessed whisky, we try to leave a few sips of the water to pour back into the Well. We might change that and put some of the water back into the Well before we pass it around.
When the Ritual is over, and the people have dispersed, we pour the water from the Ancestor Bowl, and any remaining in the goblet, back into the bowl in the Well. This all goes into a special 16 oz. plastic jug we use to store the Sacred Water (or is divided with the other Grove(s) who brought their water), then we top off the jug with water from the pitcher.
The next day I perform another short ritual in my kitchen: I strain the Sacred Water through a paper coffee filter to remove bits of dirt and leaves which always find their way in. I then boil the Water for five minutes to disinfect it and then filter it once again. The jug is also washed out with boiling water. Then the Sacred water is put back in the jug and once again topped off, this time with distilled water, and kept in my refrigerator until the next Ritual
Those are the procedures that we follow for every Ritual we do. There are also a few special uses for Sacred Water that we do from time to time.
When a new Magical Tool is added to the Grove collection, or someone brings a personal Magical Tool that they want to purify, bless, and dedicate, we will use our Sacred Water It can both purify and bless, but it can't dedicate, only- we can do that.
Once we went to a group campsite and felt an unwelcome and unwelcoming presence in a covered pavilion. We used our Sacred Water to purify the pavilion and banish any Spirits that didn't wish to celebrate with us. Afterward, it felt clean.
Emerald Dragyn, Senior Druid of the Grove of the Midnight Sun, and I used our Sacred Waters to purify the Bride and Groom at a Handfasting we conducted last Samhain. I've been asked to do a Pagan baptism this Spring, and I will use the Water for that. I believe it would also be very effective to use in Healing Magic.
As you can see, we have a pretty elaborate and complicated procedure for using our Sacred Water. It is obviously a lot of work and requires quite a bit of determined attention to detail, but we believe that one of the purposes of Ritual is to show the Kindred how much They mean to us. If we make it all easy and convenient, we aren't showing that we care very much. To some extent, I think the more time you take for Ritual preparations and performance, the better it works.
We are very proud of our Sacred Water and treat it like the extremely precious substance it is. Feel free to adopt or adapt any of our ideas that you like or use your own inspiration to develop other ways of handling this special symbol and marvelous stuff. May the Sacred Waters flow in you!