By way of continuing to introduce myself my wife, Liafal, and I keep sixteen acres in the top NE corner of Ohio, not far from Lake Erie. In a region dominated by commercial nurseries and truck-farms we have kept the original eight-acre parcel since 1975 (in Liafal’s case – I arrived in ’91). Used as a small farm during L’s child-rearing years, it has been converted into our small private Pagan park, with barn, kids’ play area and worship spaces.
Two years ago we were fortunate to be able to acquire eight adjoining acres of old, disused Nursery land. Though unserviced by power or water, it is lovely, tree-covered land with so much potential. With that expansion we are planning a formalization of the place from our private park to a Pagan worship and meeting space. That gigantic project is ongoing at this time. We call the place Tredara – dog-Irish for Three Oaks – named for a particular triple-stand of old trees. I’ll be writing about projects and development at Tredara off and on. She is a character in my life.
With Beltaine approaching we will, of course, keep the public feast with Stone Creed Grove, out local, but this year have another very specific work before us. We are in the process of building a new outdoor worship-garden. In Celtic fashion we call these spaces Nemetons (roughly ‘sacred place’ in Celtic-language roots). Here at Tredara the ‘Old Nemeton’, in a back corner of the original acreage, has served us well for many years. However we are beginning to outgrow it and a fresh new meadow is being arranged as a larger and more formal space. We began that effort last Summer Solstice and lit our first fire in the space for Fall Equinox of 2014.
ADF’s ritual order always calls on (at least) two deities as supports and background principles, regardless of the focus of a rite. Those we call the Earth Mother and the Keeper of Gates. Readers will allow me to skip the layers of mythographic tangle under those simple names for this discussion. The Earth Mother supports and upholds the work, the Gatekeeper holds the Sacred Center and thus the Crossroads Between Worlds. These ally deities are offered to and their aid invoked at every rite, and in some ADF Nemetons they are represented by permanent idols, even as other images change through the seasons. My design for this Nemeton has been influenced by several other Druidic worship spaces, most notably the Nemeton built at the Brushwood Folklore Center over two decades by ADF. That temple has seen a series of improving images over the years, beginning with simple stock-idols, moving to carved wood, and lately to beautifully-made cast cement plinths.
So, am I keeping up with the Divitiacuses? Yeah, maybe. We commissioned two custom hand-carvings to be installed in the new temple; carved by Sidney Bolam of Bohemian Hobbit Studios, who worked from some LaTene-style sketches that I prepared. These were installed at the beginning of April, with a simple round of offerings. They are weathering in nicely, as we wait for the space to green up.
Our goal is to invoke the deities into the idols. In this I intend to take a traditionalist point of view. The idols are not to be ‘symbols’ or aids to concentration, or at least not those alone. In keeping with what I understand as traditions of practical theurgy the goal is to bring the presence of the deity as a spirit into the real-world object in the temple. The eidolon becomes at least a consecrated talisman; we hope, in fact a vehicle, and perhaps at last the very presence of the (a) person of the deity.
It is clear from both the record of the ancients and the customs of modern polytheists that even the simplest representation of deity can be kindled as an immediate presence of that power. While we see many examples of the finest arts employed for the Gods we see as many purely naïve folk-art depictions, popular and now mass-produced portrayals all serving as working presences of Gods. Thus I feel that our modest but lovely products of real craft meet a decent standard for the physical basis of the work.
I have worked this sort of thing before. The method that I use begins by invoking the presences as their living selves. In this I don’t prescribe the appearance in any detail. A preliminary offering is made at this stage. The second phase is to construct a detailed visualized temple and eidolon, through guided visualization. The company is led toward a like-minded experience through more prescriptive vision-building, including key symbols of the deities that are present in the material idols as well. In this we will seek as deep a level of trance as is doable, in an effort to be present before that Inner Idol. The spirit of the deity is than invoked to be present as that visualized idol.
I have absorbed the idea of ‘darshan’ from Hindu vocabulary. The term means ‘audience’ and refers to the moment when the worshipper sets eyes on the deity and the deity sets eyes on the worshipper. A final ritual a segment will bring each forward to have their moment with the idols, with singing and drums. In encouraging each attendee to have that moment through/with the deity as the image I hope to firmly seat the god in each idol.
The rite will follow the ADF Order of Ritual. I’m not going to publish a full script here, mainly because I mean to do the ‘ordinary’ portion of the rite unscripted. Here in Stone Creed Grove we have a good crew of experienced ritualists. We will Open and Hallow the Grove in our usual way. We make preliminary offerings, bless the central Fire, Well & Tree, purify all, acknowledge the Sacred Center, and open the Gate Between. Those steps amount to our preliminary rites, which create our ritual Sacred Space.
With our temple consecrated, we work a round of general offerings to all beings. In some simple rites this may be reduced to a single prayer, but for large rites we do specific offerings to the Three Kindreds, as we call them – the Gods, the Ancestors, and the Landspirits. With that accomplished we proceed to the work at hand.
In a theurgic rite of this sort the subtle agenda is to induce and deepen trance in stages, in preparation for the invocations. The outline provides several opportunities for this – a preliminary induction and the deliberate entrancement of the Gate Opening can prepare a group. From there a combination of vision-guidance, poetic invocation and offerings will complete the outline.
My personal inclination would be to hallow these images to/as local aspects of specific Gaelic deities – Aine, who we see as Green Aine in Summer, and White Aine in Winter, often calling her Aine Mor in general; and Manannan Mac Lir as the Druid God, Lord of Wisdom, and Keeper of the Boundary. My preference is always to work with specific living persons of the gods, and not to try to approach poetic abstractions. These powers have been part of the Grove’s pantheon, and my own, for many years.
However this sacred space will be used for rites in several ethnicities, and for multi-ethnic rites. Stone Creed Grove does regular Norse rites, and occasional Hellenic ones as well. In our ADF fashion the same Order of Ritual is adapted for each, including ethnic versions of the two Gods of the Grove. This leads us to a number of questions. Can we hallow the idols to some cross-cultural abstraction like Earth Mother or Gate Keeper broadly, and still get the juice that we’re after?
One angle that I favor is to approach the ‘Earth Mother’ not as a poetized ‘mythological’ figure, but as the ruling Goddess-power of the land on which the Nemeton rests. We have done that sort of work at other event sites, and it may be the answer here. One new idea percolating in ADF Groves is to invoke a Gatekeeper as the specific spirit of one of the Elder Wise – a one-time Fire Priest, now perhaps an aspect of the Lord of Wisdom. That approach has all kinds of world-spiritism resonance, but it’s a long mental march from how we have approached the Gatekeeper in this Grove.
As of this writing this question has not been settled. The Grove will meet, final decisions will be made, and our skill and store of ready-to-use invocations will see us through. I’m going to at least outline, maybe script portions of the trance-guidance, that will apply regardless of the chosen angle on the gods.
So this is part one of this journal, and I’ll present part two to you early next week, I think. I hope that publically journaling such works will inspire others to go the next step – to do it big, to try to make it real in the world. The longer-term outcome of works such as these cannot be predicted at this time. In the short term, we will bring the worship of the Old Gods (in whatever new forms) into the modern world.