I mentioned earlier that I attended my first ADF ritual about a week ago. After the disappointment of the Wiccan ritual with Janet Stewart and Gavin Bone, the ADF ritual was a relief. As I understand, the ADF ritual was kind of a mess compared to their usual rites. A storm forced them to move to a new location, only five people showed up, and the leader of the grove could not make it due to flooding. But I enjoyed it, not knowing any better.
The ritual was on the beach of Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful sunny day, not too hot under the trees. We were in a stone semi-circle in a small wooded area up from the beach. The cicadas blocked out some of the city noises and the passers-by left us alone (although I could tell the ritual leaders were concerned about onlookers). Being outside made all the difference. I understand the this grove does 5 out of the 8 feasts outdoors, including the next one, so I plan on going.
We used a real tree as the focus of the ritual, something I understand is not always done, but I wish it were. ADF does not cast a circle or call the quarters. They orient their ritual space vertically rather than horizontally, using the symbols of fire, tree, and well. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I don’t connect the elements with the quarters to the degree that Wiccans do, and I don’t call the quarters or cast a circle in my rituals, so I was very comfortable with this in the ADF ritual.
They had a ritual outline prepared in advance. I would have like to have it at least a day before, but this is still more organization than any other public ritual I have been to. And they had outlines from the previous years’ rituals posted, so I would look at those to get an idea.
Like TOTEG, ADF invokes the gods, the spirits of nature, and the ancestors. I like the inclusion of the ancestors in the triad as it is something I have not previously included in my practice, but I am becoming more interested in. They had offerings of ale, bread, and fruit for each. They also acknowledged the “Outsiders”, those not of their “kith and kin”, and asked for respect. This is was interesting and something I would like to explore more. And they had a few simple songs that they always sing, which I enjoyed.
The only criticism I had was that the ritual seemed a little complex. In addition to the invocation of the triad mentioned above, and the Outsiders, and invocation of the deity of the day, Lugh, they also invoked a “Gatekeeper” and two “Bardic deities”, which I take it are kind of the grove’s patron deities. It was just a little crowded. As I understand it, to be an ADF grove, you are required to follow the ADF ritual format, so I don’t think there will be much chance of the ritual being simplified in the future.
I almost forgot: the ritual was entirely devotional. There was no overt psychologizing. There was no explanation of the ritual’s significance in psychological terms. This is something I do in my family rituals for the sake of my kids and my non-Pagan wife, but not something I do in my private rituals and not something I would do if I created a ritual for other Pagans. (I remember Steven Posch saying, at PSG, that he also does not like “psychological rituals”.) The result was that the ritual felt more real, more like something we were doing and feeling, rather than something we were thinking about — less cerebral and more participatory.
At the end, we used a Tarot deck to determine if the ritual was accepted. It took three tries and we kept having to offer more food stuffs. This was novel. And it is curious in a ADF ritual, which is so Celto-centric otherwise. (Wouldn’t runes or something else make more sense?) Also, I think I would rather see a more general augury, since I don’t think the real issue is whether the gods think they got enough cupcakes. But it was fun nonetheless.
I participated by pouring the libations and dismissing the deities with a simple prayer, and I was pleased to be included as a ritual functionary. On the whole, I enjoyed the ritual very much and I attribute that primarily to (1) being outside, (2) not calling quarters or casting a circle, and (3) the devotional nature of the ritual. Plus the people were very welcoming and cool. I’m looking forward to the next ritual at the autumn equinox.