Free Spirit Gathering Ritual Retrospective

Free Spirit Gathering Ritual Retrospective

Free Spirit Gathering (FSG) is an annual Pagan gathering in northern Maryland with an attendance of about 700 people each year. The opening, closing and main rituals are coordinated by the planning committee, but a number of other groups offer both open and closed rituals. Mugwort Grove has traditionally held their Midsummer high day ritual at FSG. This year the planning committee decided to try to get a number of the attending different groups to jointly plan and perform an eclectic main ritual for all the folk. They promptly went out into the Wiccan community to elicit help. Four months later, unable to find even 2 groups to willing to work together, a committee member suggested a main ritual performed by the ADF Groves of the area.

Although initial coordination between the Groves was rough, planning went smoothly once a central planning group was formed from core members of each of the area Groves (Mugwort, Cedar Light, and Raven Hawk). Each of the groves has their own style of performing the ADF liturgy, and we realized early on that this could not be a Grove-specific ritual. It had to be something totally different. Step one was to go back to the standard liturgy and design a ritual from ground up.

The challenge was to create a ritual that would speak to all the participants, regardless of background. With that in mind, we carefully chose the deities, the songs, the visual effects, and the sound effects. We realized that at any given time, some of the folk would either not be able to see or hear everything that was transpiring; therefore, every effort was made to facilitate broad range visual effects.

A series of workshops were taught by ADF members to facilitate understanding of ADF, Druidism, and the Main Ritual. They were as follows:


Choreography & Movement– Panel Discussion led by Will Pierson

Dragons and Fairies and Giants, Oh My!– Skip Ellison

Druidism through the Ages– Skip Ellison

Holy Wells in Ireland and Britain– Doreen Motheral

Signs & Omens– Panel Discussion led by Will Pierson

Danu Pathworking– Kathryn Donaldson


The Role of the Magician in ADF– Skip Ellison

Pre-Ritual Briefing: Structure and Design of the Ritual – Caryn Laney-MacLuan

Intention & Prayer– Panel Discussion led by Will Pierson

Group Preparation & Centering– Panel Discussion led by Will Pierson

Druids in the Land– Explorer

Pre-Ritual Briefings– Caryn Laney-MacLuan


What is ADF?– Skip Ellison

Offerings, Gifts and Sacrifices– Panel Discussion led by Will Pierson

Pre-Ritual Briefings– Caryn Laney-MacLuan

Greenwoman & Greenman– Doreen Motheral

Sacred Presence & the Deities– Panel Discussion led by Will Pierson

Pre-Ritual Briefings– Caryn Laney-MacLuan

Who Were the Celts?– Skip Ellison

In the past, the main ritual at FSG had been performed in a soccer field approximately 50 yards away from the main festivities, camping, and vendors. We decided to change the main ritual location to the center of the campground. This change better facilitated access to the ritual by mobility limited individuals and created an event that no one in the camp could ignore. It also helped focus the energy of the entire festival around the main ritual, as we were constructing the site for days prior to the actual event, attracting a great deal of curiosity and attention. The site itself was formed of concentric rings rather than one large ring. This allowed more people to gather within earshot and visual range of most of the activities. The concentric rings had 3 clearly marked aisles with the world altars at the end and outer edge of the ritual space. In the center, we erected a 25-foot bilé, along with a large cast iron cauldron for a well, and a large portable grill for the fire. Hanging from an ornate frame, we had Cedar Light's gong, wrought from an old fire extinguisher. The main celebrants formed the innermost circle. Folk who were mobility limited were just behind them. The rest of the Folk filled in the three wedges of the circle.

The processionals started from three different locations each with standard bearers, horn blowers, drummers, and/or a bag piper. At the appointed time, the processions started through the camp, each entering the ritual space from pre-marked paths corresponding with one of the three wedges. As the first procession reached a predetermined spot, the celebrants in the center began the processional chant. This ensured that all three processions would be singing the chant together as they entered the ritual space. Other grove members were assigned traffic control duties as folk entered the space so that the aisles were kept clear and to usher in latecomers.

Speaking parts were intentionally kept to a minimum due to difficulties in being heard by the whole group. Most speaking parts were also accompanied by visual events so that the folk could see something was happening even if they couldn't hear it. All praise offerings were auditioned beforehand and the number was strictly limited. A one-page flyer was handed out to all participants while entering the ritual space with the ritual outline and the words to the songs.

The main power raising and release was a topic of much discussion among the planners of this ritual. We realized that many of the folk coming to the ritual were only there for "a sensation."

We set out to give them just that while also facilitating a constructive release of the energy raised to the deities called. We did this by way of a 3-way chant, which got louder and faster to the point of crescendo. Each wedge of the circle had a chant leader and several grove members to help carry the chant for that section. The folk were directed before the start of the chant to, at the sound of the horns, release all energy and send it towards the center by whatever means they saw fit. Once they were out of breath from howling, yelling, trilling, whatever, they were directed by a druid in the center to "Drop and stick your fingers in the dirt!" This occupied and re-grounded them while a druid in center offered final prayers of sacrifice.

The omen was done by use of runes and the waters of life were returned to the folk by aspurging teams (two per aisle). The magical working of the rite consisted of sending the energy of the praise offerings to the deities and asking in return for their guidance, motivation, and direction for nurturing our world and ourselves. (The theme for this FSG was "Nurturing Our World.") At the end of the rite we recessed, declared victory, and drank heavily in true druid fashion.

Lessons Learned:

• Face to face communication is critical in the beginning planning phases. Much time and energy was lost trying to clear up email miscommunication. Questions could not be immediately addressed, presumptions were made, and tempers flared. All of which was resolved in one face-to-face afternoon meeting.

• The workshops and pre-ritual briefs were invaluable to the folks' understanding of the liturgy and symbolism. It truly enhanced what people got out of the ritual.

• Announcing each step as the ritual progressed helped participants stay in touch with what was happening.

• Using flip charts for the pre-ritual briefs was extremely useful as a teaching aid, although somewhat cumbersome.

• Performing a walk through several hours before the ritual to check blocking and timing was highly significant to the smooth performance of the actual event.

• Use of nursery tape was very colorful and effective for marking off the space but was a big pain to remove afterwards. We recommend the use of lime or something that can remain where it is lain.


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"Free Spirit Gathering Ritual Retrospective." submitted by carynmacluan on 15 May, 2019. Last modified on 19 February, 2022.
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