Delineating Sacred Space in Ritual

Delineating/Designating/Creating Sacred Space (preparing the nemeton)

P1000491 (1024x640)Not all Druids feel the need to delineate/create sacred space (otherwise known as preparing the nemeton) as described previously. Especially when working out of doors, some do not “cast a circle” as is popular in other traditions, feeling that there is no need as they are out there to connect and commune with the world around them, and that all is sacred, therefore we cannot “create” sacred space in any sense. This is why it is sometimes referred to as delineating sacred space, which in effect means to delineate the area that we are working in, to narrow the focus down to a specific point. However, this again can be too confining for some Druids, and so they forego the practice altogether. In Wicca, a circle is cast mostly to contain the energies raised within ritual, and some Druids today use a similar reason for their creation/delineation of ritual space. However, others see this as irrelevant to Druid practice, and so do not incorporate it at all.

In my practice, I delineate sacred space or prepare the nemeton when working with others, so that we are “all on the same page”. What this means is that we are working with the energies of a delineated space, to narrow the focus, so for example we would raise a boundary of energy around the entirety of the back garden, so that we can focus on what is happening in that area, as sometimes widening the focus can be too distracting, what with everything going on all around us at any given time. This way, we can really concentrate on using a smaller area, the microcosm of the macrocosm. However, when working alone I don’t feel the need, usually, to delineate the space as my personal nemeton is sufficient. Much of it depends on my mood, where I am and what feels most appropriate. When casting the circle or delineating sacred space, we can push out energy from our own bodies or expand our own nemeton, and say something similar to the following:

I now cast/create this sacred space, a nemeton of inspiration wherein to do my work.

If we wish, we can use a tool such as a staff, wand or a blade to direct the energy that we are pushing out of ourselves to delineate the sacred space. I use my sickle in this action.

We can then ask the spirits of place, and/or the realms of Land, Sea and Sky to overlay the nemeton:

Spirits of place, lend your energy to my nemeton, that it may be strong. Guide, guard and bless my work.  

May the Realm of the Land provide this nemeton with stability, may the Realm of the Sea provide it with love and may the Realm of the Sky provide it with inspiration. 

When overlaying it in this manner, you can create a space that has been encircled three times, defining a temple space and strengthening it with this triplicity, something which I’m sure our ancient Celtic ancestors would have appreciated.

We can then consecrate the space, should we feel the need. I carry incense and water, normally, to represent earth, air, fire and water. Sometimes I simply smudge the area with mugwort. If I have nothing to hand, for instance when I’m doing impromptu ritual out in the wilds, I might simply ask for a blessing on the space in lieu of consecration. You may say something like:

I now consecrate this area through the powers of earth, fire and air and water.

Or

I now consecrate this area through the powers of Land, Sea and Sky

Or

I ask a blessing on this sacred space, from the spirits of place, the gods and the ancestors.

When closing down the ritual, you then will take down the nemeton, if you have created one, in a similar fashion to that which you created it, but perhaps in reverse order. If you created it in a triple manner as in the example above, you might walk the circumference three times to take it down, drawing the energy back into yourself, or the tool with which you may have cast the circle, perhaps walking in the opposite direction to which you created the sacred space:

I now release this sacred space, the nemeton of inspiration wherein my work/ritual/celebration was done.  

I use my sickle to “cut” the circle and draw the energy back into the blade. Then, if it’s a triple cast circle, I also honour the spirits of place and the three realms for their part in the designation/delineation of sacred space.

Spirits of place, thank you for bringing your energies to my nemeton; I ask that it be released into the world for positive change and transformation. 

May the Realms of the Land, Sea and Sky release the energy of this circle, to flow throughout the worlds in respect and in harmony.

This is basically all there is to creating/designating/delineating sacred space. It is a simple and yet beautiful way to create a temple in which to work, one that leaves no trace behind except our songs and stories on the wind.

Spring Equinox Ritual

17424940_1631874040162911_2176214830578649287_nHere’s a ritual that you can use to celebrate the Spring Equinox. A full set of rituals for the seasons, as well as for life’s passages will be found in my upcoming book, Hedge Druid for Llewellyn Worldwide, available in 2019.

Spring Equinox

For this ritual, try to find a place that is between two places: a threshold place, a liminal place. It might be on the seashore, or a lakeshore, where the water meets the land. It might be a hilltop, where the land meets the sky. Even a backyard can be seen as a liminal place, between your home and the wilderness. You can choose a liminal time as well, such as dawn or dusk, not quite morning, not quite night. This ritual is aimed at opening your mind and your self to wider perspectives, as you stand on the balance point of light and darkness. There is nothing that you need for this ritual, no items at all, but you can always leave an offering if you so choose. Please ensure that it is biodegradable, and compatible with the environment. Songs and poetry are always good options, if you are unsure.

Designate the sacred space, if you feel the need to do so. Some feel more secure within a ritual nemeton (sacred circle), others do not feel the need. Do what feels right for you. Take a moment, a few moments, and connect with the place. Listen, and feel. Allow the place to tell you its story. Connect with it, and become a part of it.

When you are ready, stand and hold your arms out to the sides. Say these or similar words:

I stand at the threshold, in the liminal world between time and space.

I stand upon the knife’s edge, I stand upon the turning point in this liminal place.

I honour the balance of day and night, of dark and light; 

Equal day, equal night.

Grant to me Second Sight. 

Lower your arms, sit down if you wish, and meditate upon the area around you. If you’re feeling adventurous, stand with one leg raised, or on one foot with the other either pushed out in front or behind you. A good pose to use is the “tree pose” in yoga.  If you’re feeling very adventurous, cover one eye with your hand while standing in this posture. This is an ancient posture said to be used by the Druids to see through and beyond the veils to the Otherworld.

Stand in this position for as long as you can. Allow yourself to open up to the place, allow it to give you insight. You can gaze at the clouds scudding overhead, or the waves lapping the shore, or the wind among the leaves of the trees. Let your mind relax, and open itself to what nature is trying to say to you. You may ask a question, or have a problem that needs some inspiration in order to be solved. Allow nature to be your guide, allow the spirits of place to guide you. Allow the liminal nature of the time of the Spring Equinox to take you beyond light and dark, day and night, black and white. Find that balance point, where everything is perfectly held: in your body, in your mind, in your soul and in the world around you. The answer will appear, or you will get insight into your own nature, and/or the nature of the world.

When you are ready, gently come out of this pose, or rise from your seated posture. Hold your arms out to your sides once again, and say these or similar words:

The balance shifts, the doors open and we come through to the other side

The darkness recedes, the light increases and we have no place to hide

Second sight grants to me

Confirmation in times of uncertainty

The Wheel turns round, cycle never-ending

From darkness to light this cycle we’re tending

Hail to the growing light, farewell to the long night

Hail to the awen (inspiration) and to the Second Sight

Give your heartfelt thanks to the spirits of place, for their gifts. Honour in your soul every living thing for its own sake. Honour the times and tides of the Spring Equinox, of balance. When you are ready, give your offering, close down the ritual space if you created a nemeton (sacred circle), and thank the spirits of place once more. Remember, and write down if you need to, what you learned and gained from opening up to the second sight. These insights may well carry you through the light half of the year, until the autumn equinox…

(Designating a sacred space, or circle casting will be discussed in the next blog post.)

The centre

At the centre of the circle is where we find peace. We walk and work the edges, sometimes moving inwards towards the centre, sometimes finding ourselves on the outskirts. Walking a beautiful turf labyrinth today, and doing ritual in a wonderful tree henge, the lessons of finding the centre have been deep and utterly soul-awakening. May we be peace, may we find the stillness of the centre. xoxo

circle centre

New book coming out May 2014!

dwn smallMy latest book will be coming out in May 2014 with Moon Books Publishing, as part of their Pagan Portals series. This series is a set of introductory books, usually 25,000 words or less, on a topic that allows the reader to gain an foothold on a subject, and then inspire them to continue to find out more on their own personal journeys. This is the second book I have written for the series, the first being Zen Druidry (see my Books Page for how to buy).

Nemetona is an ancient goddess whose song has flowed from Europe into these isles, humming softly deep within the earth and also deep within the human soul. She is the Lady of Sanctuary, of sacred groves and sacred spaces. Not much has been recorded of her academically – we know of an altar in Bath that was dedicated to her by a Gallic artisan who felt her power and carved her elusive name for us to remember down through the ages.

She is present within the home, within our sacred groves and rites and in all the spaces that we hold dear to our hearts. She also lies within, allowing us to feel at ease wherever we are in the world, through her energy of holding, of transformation. She holds the stillness and quiet of a perfect day, she is the stillness at the end of it, when the blackbird sings to the dusk. She is Sanctuary, where we can stretch out our souls and truly come alive, to be who we wish to be, filled with the magic of potential.

Rediscover this ancient Goddess and dance with a Druid to the songs of Nemetona. Learn how to reconnect with this goddess of sanctuary in ritual, songs, chants, meditation and more.

Excerpt from new book, Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space

Here’s a little taster from my upcoming book, Dancing With Nemetona, published with Moon Books, available this spring…

Lady of Ritual

magic circleRitual – the word rolls off the tongue. It evokes images of moonlight and standing stones, or incense and flower filled temple rooms, women and men gathered under the stars or the light of day to celebrate an aspect of life, death and rebirth.

Ritual is as simple or complex as we allow it to be.  We can follow a set liturgy, or we can create our own path.  Within paganism, both are equally acceptable.  As paganism is, technically, a newly rebirthed religion the question of authenticity with regards to validity is moot – someone, somewhere along the line, whether it was 60 years ago, 600 years ago or 60,000 years ago made it up at some point.  That has no bearing on its validity.

When we create ritual, we are taking a moment, taking time out, to celebrate or honour a specific moment in time. It may be as simple as saying a prayer of thanks at sunrise or sunset, or it may be a full blown affair held within a stone circle, with 20 or more participants, having rehearsed their roles and re-enacting a mythic drama.  Whatever ritual you choose to perform, establishing a relationship with Nemetona can be a rich and rewarding experience to lend to these sacred acts.

Nemetona is Lady of the Sacred Grove, where it is believed that ritual occurred in past history.  The ritual itself is just as important as the setting.  It must speak to us, must sing to our soul, otherwise, what is the point?

As the Lady of Holding, of guarding and watching over our sacred space, our created sanctuaries, Nemetona is also a lady of ritual, integral to it if we so desire.  She moves in circles and in cycles, and therefore when we hold a ritual circle, we can invoke her easily within that sacred place.  She is all that is within the sacred circle, and also all that is without.  Like a vase, the vase is not only the boundaries of its own edges, but also the emptiness within that allows it to be a vase.

We can call upon Nemetona in ritual, to protect our sacred circle, to bless it, or simply to witness what it is that we are doing within that space (or all three).  She can be called upon before a ritual to help define its intent and purpose.  She is the Lady of Holding, and within her embrace we are free to be and do as we wish.  Within the sacred ritual circle, she enables change and growth, safety and security where we might otherwise not feel it to be.

Within the ritual circle is a space where we can grow, where we can make associations and develop our spirituality to its true potential.  Within the sacred circle, we overlay it with our associations in ritual such as the elements, our spirit guides, ancestors, gods and goddesses and more.  By finding out where these “fit” in the sacred ritual circle, held within the arms of Nemetona we come to truly understand ourselves, and the greater world at large.

Sacred spaces, not magic circles…

Many, many teachers and authors emphasise the need for creating a circle when performing ritual, or doing inner pathworking, or meditation, and so on.  My first steps on the pagan path were Wiccan, and creating the circle is a large part of any ritual action.  I cringed, and still do, at any mention of creating a circle with salt – especially out of doors – it’s something that lacks all common sense in a nature-based spirituality; let’s protect ourselves by throwing salt down on the ground and potentially killing all nearby flora and fauna.  But I digress – the question is, how important is the creation of sacred space?

One of my patron goddesses is Nemetona, the goddess of sanctuary.  She is the representation, the embodiment of sanctuary, a place where we are held; a safe place. She is a goddess of transformation, for in a safe space we are able to explore, to try new things, to grow. Much as under our mother’s watchful eye, we can learn and develop as human beings.  However, we must also push the boundaries in order to develop – we must leave the protected and safe spaces to discover our own, to create our own.

When I perform ritual by myself, I don’t see the need to create a circle.  For me, either in my home or outside, the creation of a circle is setting a time and space outside of time and space, and this is not something I want to do. I want to be wholly in this world, grounded and interacting with it.  When performing rituals for others, I always respect their wish to create a circle if they so choose, for that is their path. For me though, it just isn’t necessary.

Inner pathworking is simply done, without the complex or simple creation of a safe place where I cannot be harmed by outside influences, or where my own energy can harm others,  for I don’t believe energy works this way.  Much like a curse, it only has an effect is the cursed believes in said curse.  I don’t believe that external energies are grasping and clawing around the edges of my circle, trying to get inside my mind as I undertake an inner journey, or that there are things crawling around the boundaries of my circle in ritual; demonic forces waiting to get in and cause havoc.  I also don’t believe that I can unwillingly send energy in ritual, thereby needing a circle to contain the energy until I so choose.  It’s something that some pagans agree with, but many do not.

In public ritual, I have also often found that the creation of the circles is merely words and actions – there isn’t any actual manipulation of energy behind it;  the circle isn’t really created, as far as I’m concerned.  Someone may walk around saying the words, then consecrating however they choose, but there is no energy in it – they are simply going through the motions. That, a circle does not make. Just walking around in a circle doesn’t create magical space unless there is sufficient intention behind it.

My home is a sanctuary.  It is a blessed and sacred space.  If I choose to do an inner pathworking there, “unguarded from external forces”, I don’t believe that they have the capability to do any harm. In fact, I don’t believe in them at all.  My home is sacred because of the way I feel about it, the way I honour the spirits of warmth and energy, of rest and play, of love and laughter that occurs within those walls.  I feel the same way about ritual outside in the wilds – the circle is unnecessary, for nature is simply nature.  Were I to work outdoors in the city, perhaps, where the human threat of physical violence must be considered, then perhaps I would create a “magic” circle. Most likely I would simply find a safer place from physical harm.

I’m currently reading a book on Druidry that does quite a bit of inner pathworking as part of the suggested work.  This book is fraught with warnings, about when something happens in your inner pathworking that you don’t like, that you don’t control – people entering, things not going according to plan.  I think that the mere suggestion of the possibility of this is leading people to self-sabotage their pathworkings – if you believe it, then chances are that the suggestion planted in the subconscious can and will emerge when we feel most vulnerable.  Suggesting that we must protect ourselves, that we are vulnerable when we perform these actions – to me this is nonsense.  If these suggestions had never even been made, then most likely “bad things” would never happen in pathworking. I have done many pathworking, and undergone hypnosis – both in classes teaching it and myself being a subject to know what it is like.  You are fully in control, as if you were not “under” hypnosis.  It is merely a state of relaxation where you can access parts of the brain that the “conscious” mind just shouts over.   I know that many would disagree with me – again I will reiterate that this is simply my personal opinion, and that others will have their own equally valid opinions.  The whole subject is subjective – and what works for you may not work for others.

I suppose sacred spaces for me are those places where there is no need, no desire to protect myself from outside influences, at least those that I believe in.  My rituals are open to the world, so that I can connect fully and wholly with the world around me.  The intention behind my rituals, behind the way that I live my life, is what matters most – and that does not include creating spheres around me for protection.  It’s all a bit Hollywood for me – I just don’t believe in it. I do, however, believe in sacred space, in the sanctuaries that we create, or that we come across – a grove in a forest, a clearing on a mountaintop, a space behind a waterfall, a corner of the bedroom – all these places that sing to our heart, these are our sacred places.  I feel no need to fence them in, in the physical or the spiritual sense.  I am a part of them, wholly influenced and touched by them when I am sharing their space and time.  It is a gift, and one that I accept wholeheartedly.