A Druid ritual may appear complex and confusing to an outsider. This primer will cover some of the basics so that you will be able to get the most out of rituals that you attend. It will cover some of the basic ideas behind druidism so that you can understand why we choose to do things in the way that we do. It will also include some of my own opinions. It is your right, and perhaps your duty to disagree with me or ADF or anyone else.
1. Everyone is capable of praying to the Gods and Goddesses (the Shining Ones) and acting as their own clergy. Some of us are better at being clergy than others. This does not mean that you need them to worship or that you should not participate in a ritual. ADF has a long and difficult training program aimed at producing the best clergy possible. Here in Mud, Fire, Wind, Spirit no one has completed this program; the clergy people that you see performing our rituals are there because of hard work and merit, or because they were the only people who wanted to do it.
2. Druidism is public worship for relatively large groups. This affects our rituals on a purely practical level. We do not draw a circle because someone will have to go to the bathroom. Or if someone arrives late we want them to be able to join us. Anyone can attend our rituals, there are limits but as long as someone is not disruptive or is a danger to someone else they may attend. A ritual for 20 people will be different than a ritual for 200 people.
3. The way that we worship should change. It must change to deal with different situations. It must change so that it is constantly fresh and exciting.
4. With all this change everyone must still be on the same sheet of music. This is not easy. A ritual briefing is given before each ritual. Written copies of the ritual may be handed out. One of the functions of the weekly ritual is to develop a core group that is familiar with the basic ritual.
5. What you get out of a ritual depends on what you put into a ritual. We want the people who worship with us to get the most out of a ritual as possible. Therefore we let them participate as much as possible. You may do everything from the offerings to invoking a personal deity to taking on the role of clergy.
6. People aren't perfect. You are allowed to make mistakes.
Who's in charge here?
Every Grove has at least three officers, a scribe/secretary a pursewarden/treasurer a Senior druid/head honcho. These officers are elected on a yearly basis. Most rituals have three people acting as clergy: the Bard who is in charge of music, the Ritual Organizer who is overall responsible for the ritual, and the Seer who is in charge of divination. The people who act as clergy change from ritual to ritual. They are selected by common agreement. We usually go with our best on High Holy Days or when the ritual is considered very important such as a healing. You will find out who is acting as clergy in the ritual briefing.
A Ritual Outline
The Ritual Briefing is given by the Ritual Organizer before the ritual begins. This will be a brief outline of the ritual including the chants and songs that will be used. At this time it will be decided who will do the offerings and the Bard and Seer will be chosen or introduced. Drafting newcomers to do an offering is common. At the end of the briefing the ritual begins with a procession to where the ritual will be. This allows the ritual site to be set up beforehand and kept ready for the ritual. This also lets everyone know that the ritual is now started. The procession and chanting also helps us to go into a ritual state of mind and builds group unity. The procession usually circles the ritual site perhaps several times to allow all of the group to arrive and kind of shake out as to where they want to stand. Some of the ritual participants need to wind up standing at certain places so don't be surprised if they step out of the procession and wait for it to end.
When the procession stops an earth mother prayer or offering is given. A short meditation is given to build group unity and again prepare us for the ritual.
An offering to the outsiders will be made. This offering is to the negative forces of the universe or forces unfriendly to us. The offering should be respectful enough so that they dont get pissed off but it should also make it clear that we know what they are and want nothing to do with them. Just as the Shining Ones exist in us so to do the negative forces exist in us therefor during the outsider offering it is a good time to set the negative parts of ourselves aside and perhaps leave them there. There is one more reason that we should have some respect for the outsiders, even though we ally ourselves with the Shining Ones, the forces of love and creation: this world we live in could not exist without the forces of destruction and decay. The participants are purified usually with a sage stick (if you are allergic or have asthma let the Ritual organizer know).
The gates between the worlds are then opened. At this point we should be in a sacred state of mind but also in what we call Sacred Space. The gates are open, we stand underneath the sacred Tree, the forces of magic can flow and the Shining ones can more easily be with us hear us and bless us. A series of offerings are then made. They usually go in this order:
Fire: An elemental spirit and gate to the upper world. A companion to man since time out of mind. The spark of inspiration is one of this element's gifts. Therefor Fire symbolizes the power of thought.
Water or the Sacred Well: An elemental also that serves as a gate to the lower world. The symbol of our emotions. The Sacred Well is a powerful symbol of rebirth.
The Sacred Tree: We are Druids and trees have many things to teach us. This tree is special it stands at the center of everything and exists as we hope to do in all of the worlds. Standing beneath the Sacred Tree is one of the ways to enter sacred space. It serves as a gate to both the upper and lower worlds and our world as well. It also a symbol of the completeness of creation. Some people call existing in all the worlds as being centered.
The next three offerings are usually in a chalice and are then passed around the group so that all may share in the offering.
The Ancestors: All that we are is built on their successes and failures. To me this is to all of the ancestors, the good the bad and the ugly. Our ancestors of our blood and of thought, and also the ancient ones of the land.
The Nature Spirits: The fairy and the wee folk the spirits of animals and plants and of the wild places. Nymphs and Dryads Oh My!
The Shining Ones: All of the Gods and Goddesses, the forces of creation and love. The best of us. Bread is also offered to the Shining Ones along with the chalice. Pass the bread first.
We now enter the organized chaos part of the ritual. This is the time when anyone can make a praise offering or invoke a patron or matron deity or some element that they have been working with. A lot of this time is used for simply saying thanks. This is also the period that we would do magic if needed. At the end of this period the Seer will do a reading to see if the offerings have been acccepted and what kind of blessings have been given in return.
All that we have invoked or made offerings to will be thanked and asked to stay or go as they will in reverse order. There are two exceptions here: the Outsiders because we never invited them, and the Earth Mother because she is always with us. The gates are closed and the ritual is ended. At the end of the ritual we may sing a song to ground out any energy that was raised.
The How To Part
So you have been asked to make an offering. What do you do? There are levels upon levels to this but we will begin in the beginning with the simple stuff and since this is a basic primer we will end there too. It does not really matter what you say or how well you say it, what matters is that you say it with feeling and are sincere. Try to put yourself into the words. You have two responsibilities here. One is to yourself, to say what you want to say the way you want to say it. Your second responsibility is to your fellow worshipers. For them you should try to speak loudly and clearly so that they can hear the offering being made.
But first you want to say what you want to say. Offerings usually follow this formula. First you say who you are making an offering to, followed by a brief description of who or what your making an offering to, not only the common meanings but also what it means to you. At the end say what it is you are offering and light the incense, pour the nectar, or pass the cup, or whatever. You can say this simply or with poetry. You can say it in another language just as long as you translate. Some people do very well right off others take longer. It really does not matter. What is important is that you do your best. I usually take a brief moment to collect my thoughts before I begin and if I stumble I don't let that throw me; I just continue on. If they want perfection they are in the wrong place.
Be aware that there are more advanced ways to do this. In the future you can learn them if you want to but this is a good place to start and adequate for our needs.
Saying goodbye is just as easy. Say thank you and that we have to go but that the spirits may go or stay as they choose.
A lot of people know very little about meditation. This is a real shame because it is a very useful tool not only for magic and worship but many everyday things like relieving stress or controlling difficult emotions. I would urge you to learn more about it. Buy a book and ask members of the grove for help. For now simply try to relax breath normally or in the recommended pattern and let your mind imagine what the person leading the meditation is saying. It's normal to have stray thoughts go through your mind; don't let them distract you. You may move faster or slower than the meditation guide is going, that's not a problem. Go with the flow until you are where you need to be. You will find that this gets easier with practice.
I hope that you enjoy many rituals with us. Blessed Be.
Arnold A. Brooks, Pursewarden
Mud, Fire, Wind, Spirit Grove, ADF