Today, I rededicated my altar for druidic practice. The ritual was mostly done off the cuff, but the elements I used, and the research I did to get to this point, will inform future rituals that I do. I'm very much a believer that this kind of thing comes from the heart, and speaks to a deep part of us. There is no prescribed ritual formula that will fit everyone. You have to do what feel right to you. Besides, modern druidry, and any neopagan spiritual practice, really, is an attempt at recreating something lost. The use of artistic license and personal touches should be encouraged: we are creating something new with what remains of the old ways.
The Altar Setup
The tools on my altar are mainly left over from my Wiccan days. From let to right, we have a goble for ritual imbibing/libations, a white marble bowl, usually filled with water to represent the sea, a Jasper bowl, filled with dried plant matter (a bit of a pine tree branch, a dried sunflower, and a buckeye, to be precise) to represent the earth, and an led candle to represent the light of the sun, and by extension, the sky. To the right of that is my wand, used for drawing a circle and directing energy, and a spiderplant to help purify the air. In front of the jasper bowl is a miniature cauldron, and in front of the cauldron, a small stone altar plate with a Triquetra.
The marble bowl of water, jasper bowl of plant matter, and led candle are a reference to an idea prominent in Celtic writing of dividing the world the world between earth, sea and sky. When I originally set up my altar for druidry, before the riual, I used a "four quarters/four elements" set up, which I have since discovered through research is a Hellenistic idea, and not a Celtic one. The Celts did revere the four quarters, a long with a sacred center, but had different associations with them, which we will get to in a bit.
I use the triquetra to symbolize the union of earth, sea and sky, but to be honest this is more a bit of artistic license. In truth, the triquetra is used predominantly by Celtic Christians to represent the holy trinity, although its knot form likely predates the arrival of the Christian church (source). I would like to replace it with a triskelion, which has a more definite connection to the earth, sea and sky cosmology (hence my use of it in the blog's logo), but I have not found one as of yet, so I'm using this as a stand in until I do, or until I find a suitable disk to draw one on.
The Cauldron represents divinity, and the awen, the divine inspirational force. The cauldron appears frequently in Celtic myth and legend. The Dagda, chief of the Tuatha de Danaan, had a cauldron that produced such bounty it was said that no one would leave without having their fill. But closer to my own personal heart is the tale of Taliesin, which begins with Taliesin as Gwion, servant of Cerridwen, who was made to stir a potion of inspiration in a magic cauldron for a year and a day, before three drops of the potion fell on his thumb and he licked them off, accidentally stealing the inspiration meant for Cerridwen's own child. The cauldron is used primarily to catch the libations I pour during rituals, which is my preferred form of offering.
The Ritual Itself
The first step of any ritual is to cleanse myself and the ritual space. The spiderplant ont he altar helps with this, as does playing nature sounds while I'm working. As for cleansing myself, I take a hot shower and meditate, focusing my mind on the ritual ahead. This gets me in the right mindset, and helps me get rid of lingering negative feelings.
I should note that a lot of pagans use incense or sage to cleanse the area, but I prefer not to do this. For one, my housemates have sensitive noses. But also, sage specifically is a plant sacred to Native Americans, and burning it is a sacrilege, especially if you are white. There's a tendency in neopaganism to appropriate and disrespect Native and Eastern cultures without thinking, and I personally refuse to perpetuate it. So I do my resource, and try to stay authentic to the source material as best I can, while adding my own artistic license and not borrowing from cultures that have been oppressed historically by my Western ancestors.
Once I have purified myself, I come back to the altar and perform the Call for Peace, a tradition I borrow from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. My personal call goes something like this:
May there be Peace in the East.
May there be Peace in the South.
May there be Peace in the West.
May there be Peace in the North.
May there be Peace in our hearts and minds, and in the whole world.
Then comes the casting of the circle. Taking the wand in my right hand, i focusing on building energy within myself, and visualize it moving from my arm into the wand. I then move the wand in a clockwise circle around the altar and myself, visualizing the energy moving out of it as a circle of light. Once complete, the circle denotes the sacred space.
Then comes the calling of the quarters. In my research, I have found that the four cardinal directions were related in Celtic thought to four separate modes of life. In one Irish legend, Fintan is asked how Ireland was partitioned in times past. his response is this:
"Knowledge in the west, battle in the north, prosperity in the East, kingship in the center."
In her book, Celtic Cosmology and the Otherworld, the historian Sharon Paice MacLeod hypothesizes that each of these ideas correspond to a phase of growth and development: prosperity represents birth, song represents youth, knowledge represents old age, and battle represents death. The sacred center, kingship, therefore represents sovereignty, just rule, and peace. This also would correspond to the four Celtic fire festivals, the inspiration for the neopagan wheel of the year.
With this in mind, I call the quarters as Fintan described them. Raising my wand, I face east (the altar faces north) and I say, "Hail to the East and the Gods of Prosperity!" Turning towards the south, I say, "Hail to the South and the Gods of song!" Turning towards the West, I say, "Hail to the West and the Gods of Knowledge!" Turning to the North, I say "Hail to the North and the Gods of Battle!" I then say "Hail to the Center, and the Gods of Peace! The circle is cast. Let this ritual for the blessing of this altar and its tools commence."
I sat in meditation for a while, then I picked up the bowl of water, saying, "Gods, goddesses, and all deities of the sea, bless this altar. May the water of life flow ever freely here." I set the bowl back down, and picked up the Candle "Gods, goddesses, and all deities of the sky, bless this altar. May the sun's lights shine ever bright here." I set the candle down, and picked up the jasper bowl, saying "Gods, goddesses, and all deities of the earth, bless this altar. May it be connected to every altar that has come before it, and every altar that will come after it. And may it be connected tot he great World Tree." I then set the bowl back on the altar.
Finally, I took the goblet and poured out a libation (water in this case) in the cauldron, saying "Gods, goddesses, and all the deities of the four quarters, and of the earth, the sky and the sea, accept this offering in thanks for the blessings here given." I took some time to wait, and meditate. Then, when I felt that the offering was accepted, I drank the rest of the water in the goblet, with reverence.
To close the ceremony, I stated, "The ritual has ended, my work is complete. I go now in peace." I then took my wand and turned it clockwise one more around the altar and myself, visualizing the circile of light being sucked back into the wand.
The basic steps will likely be the same for each ritual to come, although I probably won't rededicate my altar unless I have to move it. In any case, this is a basic framework for future druid rituals, with my own touches, based on my own research. I'm quite proud of it: it seems uniquely mine, though rooted in ideas from the past. Feel free to use this framework and altar set up, or to rework it to fit your own needs. Solitary practice is about doing what comes from the heart, and there's no one way that fits all people.