Last night was a bad night. I sent a message to my boyfriend, and when he didn't respond I sent another message apologizing, assuming I had pissed him off. I went to sleep. I wake up this morning to find out that my boyfriend has messaged me to tell me to calm down, that he had just gotten off a twelve hour shift and had fallen asleep right after, and that was why he didn't respond. My boyfriend starts work in the wee hours of the morning, so the post has a timestamp of 2 AM. I immediately message my boyfriend three walls of text apologizing, explaining that I had missed days of meds, and promising to fill my pill box this morning. I get a message saying that it's OK, but he's at work right now and can't talk. He ends this text with a kiss emoji. I message a kiss emoji back along with the words "Noted" and "Sorry."
I get dressed, eat breakfast, and go to work. The entire drive I am obsessing over my relationship. I am certain that I have torpedoed it, that I have ruined everything. I remind myself that this is depression talking, and I visualize a bindrune that I had created to channel away relationship stress. It works, either as an actual magic spell or as a mindfulness exercise that brings me back to the present. I go to work and am relatively calm, though I have my usual anxiety that everyone is going to hate me and that I am going to get fired. I swallow this anxiety the way I always do, and continue working until the end of my two hour shift, thinking about how my boyfriend works almost six times as long as I do on any given day. At the end of my shift, I go to the break room, get some coffee, and end up talking to a coworker about my relationship anxiety and desire to move out of my parents house as soon as I can. The coworker is a very good listener, and is very encouraging, and I leave.
When I get home, I find that my Mom has done a lot of cleaning in my room, which makes me feel like I'm twelve but is also very nice so I thank her. Truth be told, I'm kind of a slob, and the room does look so much better. I think about a book on sale at a local magic shop about witchy decorating, and wonder if that could trick me into taking better care of my stuff. I decide against it, because I had already bought a decent amount from the shop in the last two weeks. Every time I go in there, I buy something, because despite the store owner telling me otherwise my anxiety tells me that I can't just hang out there. But I love it there so much. It almost feels more like home than my house.
I go downstairs to get a cup of tea. I reflect that the last cup of tea, which was my first of a special blend with rose petals that a friend of mind made, tasted a little weak. I open the infuser to clean it out, and pull out what looks to be an entire rose. "Oh," I think. "So that's why." I fill the infuser again, making sure to put more teal leaves inside than rose petals, and put a cup of water in the microwave.
While the water is in the microwave, I reflect on how much I hate being stuck with my parents. My parents are good people, and I love them. They accept me with all my queerness and my witchiness, and are fairly progressive. By all accounts I should love living at home, because they take care of me. But I'm twenty eight. No one should be taking care of me. I should be taking care of myself. I can't afford to move out, though, so I end up feeling trapped. Trapped in a house full of people who love me, to be sure, but still trapped. By the time the water finishes boiling and I put the tea infuser into the cup, I hate living at home more than ever. I want out. Badly.
I come upstairs and sit down at my computer to write. Before I do, I open up my laptop and check Facebook. There is a post from the owner of the magic shop encouraging people to come in to the shop, that today is the day whether you have been or not. I resolve to go after I have something written. Then I remember that I still haven't filled my pill box, so I quickly run to the bathroom and do that before returning to my desk. I open the post editor on Weebly, write up to this very sentence, hit save, and close the laptop.
After writing, I leave and go to the magic shop. I spend most of the afternoon there. I talk to the owner, the tarot reader, and to a few of the regulars. I get a couple of books, including the book on witchy decorating, and also a notebook, because I am coming up with writing ideas while I'm there. Ponchi, the Tarot reader, loans me a pen. I sit down and fill the first three and a half pages. Miranda, the owner, makes tea for us.
It dawns on me, sitting on a comfy sofa with a throw-pillow that says "fuck," that I don't know of any other shop where you can just hang out and its no big deal. Every other shop I've ever walked into, people just want you to pay for your things and leave. But then again, no other shops have comfy sofas with throw pillows that say "fuck." Not even other magic shops.
How to describe this place? Imagine you have stepped into a Victorian boudoir that was plucked straight out of its time period by an intersectional feminist with a stolen time machine and a fondness for vintage candlesticks. There are candles and incense everywhere, but you will not find a single Palo Santo stick or bundle of white sage within these walls. The bookshelves along the walls house not only books on astrology, tarot and palmistry, but also feminism and queer theory. There are crystal balls and crystal pendulums and crystal wands and just plain crystals in bowls. There's a section of scented candles with spells on them, and the ones labeled "Protection from Internet Trolls" are marked fifty percent off.
Every time I come in here, I am home. A true home away from home if I ever had one. I feel better just being there, like my depression has melted away and I can think more clearly.
My boyfriend, Jeremy, messages me while I'm there and apologizes for earlier. He was stressed as well and he thought we both could use a breather. I tell him that he absolutely had the right idea. We talk for a bit, and I leave. I come home, make a burrito as a quick snack before dinner (I skipped lunch without realizing it), drink some coffee, and come upstairs to finish this blog post. I finish this blog post. I look it over, make a few edits, take a deep breath, and click the post button.
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.
Part of me wants to start this post by talking about Gandalf and Merlin, two figures from my childhood that inspired an interest in sagely wizards. But in truth, I can trace my interest in druidry back to three interests that have been a part of me since i was a child: nature and science, faith, and storytelling. The first two interests fell by the wayside when I got older, and the third gained prominence. Druidry offers a path that puts all three into balance.
I used to spend a lot of time in nature. Growing up, I'd go on hikes with my parents, as well as camping trips with my friends. I did this all the time, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This was always attached to an interest in science. I watched Bill Nye the Science Guy and Eyewitness Nature videos all the time. The life cycles of animals and plants fascinated me. I begged my parents to take me tot he natural history museum so I could learn about space and look at dinosaur bones. I got large picture books full of colorful illustrations and pictures of natural phenomenon, teeming with scientific facts.
As I got older, I was less able to spend time in nature. Moreover, I found the lab work I did in school to be tedious and boring. I was simply not cut out to be a researcher. As a result, I stopped taking science classes altogether and became almost exclusively focused on my writing. Even after graduating college, I never got back into the practice of studying natural sciences, being too focused on work and trying to get my foot in the door in jobs I truly liked. For similar reasons, I stopped having the time to go camping or hiking and enjoy the outdoors the way I used to. There is a natural science shaped hole in my heart, one that I've struggled to fill.
A similar hole in my heart has been left by faith. I was raised Catholic by a very religious family. I went to church every sunday, and actually became involved in one church as an acolyte (a gender neutral term for altar boy, sice we had women in my church who did the job as well) We went to a church downtown that was fairly progressive, and actually had some openly gay couples. The local pastor even spoke up in defense of scientific findings such as evolution. This environment engendered a belief in me that the divine and he material could be reconciled, and I began to grow in faith to the point that I actively considered becoming a priest myself.
Then the local Bishop closed my family's church, for reasons that clearly had more to do with my pastor's teachings than with money. This sparked a search for a new faith in all my family members. My mom and sister became Lutheran, while my father and I stopped attending church altogether. But the light that faith left in my life was never replaced, and following the path of atheism and agnosticism left me feeling hollow, spiritually.
Storytelling is something that has always been a part of me and always will. I've been telling stories since I was old enough to make full sentences, and though I've only recently begun writing them down, I get more satisfaction from writing fiction and poetry than anything else. This part of me has kept me going. But its not enough to build a foundation of self on, when the other two holes have been leaving gaping wounds in my heart for so long.
The internet is what first introduced me to the concept of neopaganism as a nature based spirituality and not as the satanist caricature my catholic faith had raised me to believe it was. I did research, and began casting spells and observing the Wiccan Sabbats. Then I found information about druidry, in particular the path of the bard, and suddenly things began to make sense to me. Here was a neopagan path that put an emphasis on the spiritual as opposed to the magical, where storytelling was a major part of the faith, both in terms of learning ancient legends and creating new stories to teach new lessons. A nature based path that embraced scientific thought, because ancient druids were practitioners of Pythagorean mathematics, alchemy, and other predecessors of modern science.
Neopaganism is not without many flaws. Many neopagans embrace colonial ideas, and appropriate native practices. Druids are among them. Some practitioners actively discourage people of color from joining, and reinforce ideas about gender or sexuality that are heteronormative and transmisic. I am not one of those druids, but it is only because I have taken the time to deconstruct the narratives that surround the faith, and look into the validity of my sources.
As for what I believe, the classical sources are biased in a lot of ways, being from Greek and Roman writers who saw the ancient Celts as barbarians, but there are two threads that have stood out to me and that almost every modern druid agrees is part of their practice and that seem to have a grounding in the pracitces on the ancient druids. The first is a reverence for and understanding of the natural world, as evidenced by celebrating the seasons, performing rituals for crop growth, using herbalism to treat sickness, etc. The second is a belief in some sort of Otherworld. Ancient druids were said to believe that there was an Otherworld of spirits. When one dies in the material world they are reborn in the Otherworld, and when one dies in the Otherworld they are reborn in this world. Furthermore, knowledge could be gained by traveling to the Otherworld in a trance state similar to modern meditation.
I do believe the Otherworld exists, because I feel a strong spiritual presence when I meditate. And I do revere the forces of the natural world, though I try not to anthropomorphize them. I consider myself a pantheist, and do no expect the gods to do things for me, or to be at my beck and call. I also practice divination int he form of tarot reading, which was not practiced by ancient druids but which has helped me to learn to trust my intuition. And I believe in the awen, the divine creative spirit that births new ideas and carries them into the world.
These are my beliefs, and they form the backbone of my practice, which is constantly evolving. I do not know where my spiritual journey will lead me, only where I have come from. I hope, though, that I can direct myself in such a way that my spiritual practice will inform my decisions and help me make the world a better place.