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.)

Respect and Conduct at Public Sacred Sites

When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.

I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…

At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.

We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.

And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”

Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.

Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.

Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.

Druid College and Earth Day

Well, another brilliant weekend of Druid College has come and gone. We’re nearing the end of our Year 2 programme, and getting ready for the apprentices to declare their Chair, their work for Year 3. It’s an exciting time for me, to see what direction each person will take in their path to being a priest of nature, and to help guide them on their personal journey.

Some of the elements that we covered this weekend really stand out for me: crafting sacred ritual and exploring the ecstatic in ritual. As the Saturday of our weekend also coincided with Earth Day, we decided to create a ritual using the energy of the day, alongside the millions of other intentions the world over for peace, harmony and respect for this planet we call home. As Druidry is all about crafting sacred relationship, we used the time and tide as an opportunity to ride the waves of energy and, hopefully, the winds of change.

In the morning we got together and discussed the intention of the ritual, and how we could go about manifesting that intention. We hadn’t used ritual drama before, and so I suggested that Robin (our other course leader and a brilliant storyteller and actor) take on the role of someone who has lost their connection with nature, with the earth, with the fact that we are all related. In sacred space, we invited the personification of this energy, and Robin played the part to the hilt. It was difficult to hear the words he spoke (rather, yelled) in the peaceful setting of the woodland where we stood, the scent of bluebells surrounding us, the mallard ducks flying in and out of the pond next to us. Word of racism, environmental destruction, classism and more were flung into our space from the voice of a wounded individual who had lost that sense of connection, who represented everything that we work in our daily lives to heal. We had heard these words in the media, from people on the street, perhaps even from family members, words of the uselessness of nature except as a resource, words of nationalism and “foreigners”, words of the necessity of cheap manufactured goods despite the cost to human and non-human lives and more.

Then we created a container for that energy. Like an oil spill, we contained the negativity by creating a circle around the energy, holding it and stating that we will not allow it to infiltrate into our lives, and do everything we can to change and transform that energy. Circling Robin, we held hands and took in that energy.

We then needed to transform it, and so in a cauldron filled with water from the Red Spring in Glasbontury (Chalice Well) we spoke words of how we will transform that energy in our own lives.  Aware of what we can and cannot control, we decided how best we can transform and create a counter-balance to the destruction of the sacred and the values of sustainable relationship that we hold so dearly. We can change ourselves, first and foremost, and that energy will ripple outwards. And so, bringing our lips close to the cauldron we spoke, of loving friends and family despite their flaws, of working on how to heal ourselves, of how we can affect our local environment, community and more. Changing ourselves, we change the world.

We then used an elixir of vervain, created by the waters of the Red Spring and White Spring, blessed by the light of the full moon, and added three drops to the cauldron filled with holy water and our intention. Through the magic of herbs and intention, the water was blessed and transformed to heal and nourish all.

We then created a circle once more, holding hands and feeling the energy of community strong. We then opened our circle and allowed a space for Robin to join us, should he so wish. In his character, he was unsure of whether he wanted to join us or remain as he was, and so we simply stated that the circle was open to him when and if he was every ready to join. There was always room at the table.

A healing sound bath followed, where we each took up an instrument with beautiful vibrational energy, and the air was cleared with the soft sounds we created, mingling with the songs of the robins and blackbirds, the wind through the new leaves in the trees, the glow of the bluebells bright in their basking in the warm spring sunshine.

All in all, it was a wonderful ritual, created by the group and one in which everyone had a part to play, both in the ritual circle and afterwards in their own lives. A very transformational ritual, to say the least.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all involved in Druid College over the last two years, who have shared in this wonderful journey. I look forward to many more years to come.

Living a Charmed Life

While the winds howl outside as winter lets us know that just because we have celebrated Imbolc, it doesn’t yet mean Spring is here, I have taken the last two weeks to rest in solitude. Staying home, organising and having a big clear-out, cleaning and simplifying has been a challenging fortnight. After the big family gatherings and the busy pace of the Yuletide holidays, Imbolc is often a quiet time for reflection. Being thrust into solitude after weeks spent with happy, noisy family members can be quite a shock to the system, but there are lessons to be learned with everything in life.

I give thanks that I have a home, a beautiful home that shelters me from the winter’s rages. As I lie in bed and hear the wind whipping around the house, the rain lashing against the window panes I remember that there are many who do not have this luxury, both human and non-human. As I walk outside in my garden, seeing the snowdrops and the crocus, the daffodils and the hellebore in flower I am reminded of the quiet, elegant beauty that exists even as the torrential storms pass overhead. The white serpent energy is slowly stirring in the ground beneath my feet, connecting all the areas of these sacred isles in a web of existence upon whose threads we can travel, if we dare. The hearth flame is utterly sacred, whether it is candles burning upon the mantlepiece or a cozy fire crackling in the evening. Being utterly awake to all these things reminds me of the constant stream of blessings and the sacredness of everything. There is nothing mundane in this world.

Chanting prayers to Brighid upon rising, giving thanks as the sun shines upon a new day, singing songs to the land as I dig into the earth of my garden, I know that there is no separation between what is sacred and what is not. I have come to realise that reciting little chants and prayers throughout the day helps to remind me of the sacredness of each and every moment, from preparing and eating food to cleaning the floors and windows, to laying myself down each night in the shelter of my home, my husband and cats with me. Inspired by the charms and chants, blessings and prayers found in works such as the Carmina Gadelica has led me to create my own, which is an incredibly fun thing to do in and of itself. But when applied to everyday life, singing my prayers throughout the day I really feel an ever deeper connection to the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place. I can’t take them for granted anymore.

It brings a whole new meaning to living a charmed life.

Sacrifice

barley stubbleSacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.

It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?

When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.

The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.

What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?

The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.

Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.

I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.

Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?

And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.