The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

A Celtic Galdr Ritual for Land Healing May 10, 2017

The following is a land healing ritual that we did at the OBOD’s Mid-Atlantic (MAGUS) gathering last weekend (May 2017).  (For a wonderful review of this gathering, please see Dean Easton’s A Druid’s Way Blog!) This ritual was done by about 45 participants surrounding a small cluster of Eastern Hemlocks (Tsugae Canadensis) at Four Quarters in Artemis, PA. The purpose of the ritual was to raise healing and positive energy for the Eastern Hemlock trees who are currently suffering and being threatened by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, with a secondary purpose of inner work for each participant. To do this, we used a ritual structure using a combination of Galdr and Wassail/Tree magic. This post includes background information on the ritual, instructions, and the ritual itself.

 

Background Information

Eastern Hemlock and the Wooly Adelgid

Beautiful (adelgid free) hemlock trees

Beautiful (adelgid free) hemlock trees

The Eastern Hemlock (Tsugae Canadensis) trees are a keystone species throughout the Eastern US, and are the state tree of PA. To learn more about the Eastern Hemlock, you can visit my post on this tree’s medicine, magic, folklore, and more. Hemlocks are currently are under severe threat from the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is a non-native aphid that came to the US in the 1950’s and is substantially spreading in its range. The adelgid sucks the sap out of the trees, slowly killing the tree, with death of the tree typically resulting 5-10 years after infestation. Millions of hemlocks along the eastern seaboard have already been lost to the adelgid.  One of the “lines” of the spread of the adelgid is at Four Quarters farm.

 

After I did deep reflection and communion with elder hemlocks in an old growth forest in the region (at Laurel Hill State Park) over a period of years, and after talking with the hemlocks at 4Q during a prior visit, I had the sense that we should do a ritual to raise energy for them. However, the hemlocks were very specific: they wanted us to raise energy for them to do with it what they saw fit (as opposed to something more specific like eradicating the adelgids, etc). And so, this particular ritual sends them positive energy with no particular intention beyond those given in the Ogham trees we are invoking.

 

Galdr Magic

A Galdr (“incantation”) is a type of chanting or incantation in the Norse tradition. In the Norse tradition, Galdr is done through drawing runes and then chanting them for various kinds of blessings. Since we are druids, we instead chose to use Ogham (a Celtic tree divination system) and integrate existing tree magic (see next section).

 

The basic practice of Galdr is to draw a rune, and then take the word for the rune and break it into syllables or single sound combinations (with variations). For those druids used to chanting the Awen, the principle is the same, in that, we draw power and chant in a loud voice, just like we would with the Awen. This means that any Ogham Galdr chant should be powerful, meaningful, and energetic. For Duir (Oak), we might have something like:

Duir Duir Duir

Dooo Ahhh Iiiirr

Du Du Du Du

Duir Duir Duir

Galdr is flexible and each person who does it will likely do it a bit differently. The important thing is the repetition of the chant to raise energy (in our case, for land healing).

 

Ogham and Tree Magic

Ogham Fews Created for the Ritual

Ogham Fews Created for the Ritual

The second piece of inspiration this ritual draws upon is the Ogham, a tree alphabet that developed in Britain, Wales, and Ireland sometime between the 1st and 4th century AD, likely by druids or other Irish scholars. It was originally used to write the early Irish alphabet and can still be found carved into various stones and in surviving manuscripts up until the Middle Ages. Each ogham has an associated Celtic tree and today, we druids use this as a divination and meditation system to work deeper with the trees. And so, we’ve replaced the “traditional” runes in the Galdr with Ogham.

 

We have selected four Ogham for this particular healing work based on their energy:

  • Quert (Apple). This is the energy of love/support, wholeness, support, and health (this is the message we send to the trees).
  • Straif (Blackthorn in traditional ogham, blackberry in our more local ogham). This is the energy of cleansing, removal, strife, the power of fate, and pain (we are using this energy in an unwinding manner, so removing these things). In our ritual, the Straif leader had the participants do two kinds of energetic work: first, a guttural removal of pain and suffering (through voice) and then a more gentle healing and renewal after the pain was removed.
  • Beith (Birch). This is the energy of new beginnings, rebirth, and renewal (this is the energy we offer–rebirth, renewal, new beginnings)
  • Duir (Oak). This is the energy of strength, being rooted and grounded, protection, and knowledge, the knowledge of the oaks.

If you were going to adapt this ritual, you could choose different ogham based on your purposes. These were specifically selected for the needs of the Eastern Hemlocks in this region and the willingness of these other trees/plants to lend their support.

 

Wassail

The third piece of inspiration this ritual is using magic from the old orchard Wassail traditions (for more on Wassail, see here). In this tradition, a single apple tree was selected as a representative of all of the apple trees in the orchard or local to the area. Around the central tree, people circled and enacted various rituals (such as offering it spiced cider, toast, and bowing to it). In this way, the tree was able to accept the blessing and then channel that blessing to the entire forest.

 

Our ritual was around a central hemlock tree in the evening as the sun was beginning to set. The central tree was the “receiving” tree and served as a proxy for all other hemlock trees.  The final act of this ritual is channeling that energy down through the roots to the other Hemlocks at Four Quarters and beyond.

 

Land Healing

The broader framework for this ritual comes from some of my earlier work on this blog on healing the land using various energetic approaches.  Druids, and other earth-based spiritual practitioners, can take an active role in healing the land and regenerating human-land connections, both through energetic healing and ritual as well as through active land regeneration, scattering seeds, and permaculture design.

 

Ritual Setup

Roles:

Four Ritualists:

  • Quert (Apple) Galdr Leader (Also connected to Water/West Energy)
  • Straif (Blackberry) Galdr Leader (Also connected to Fire/South Energy)
  • Beith (Birch) Galdr Leader (Also connected to Air/East Energy)
  • Duir (Oak) Warder Leader (Also connected to Earth/North Energy)

Participants:

  • Quert Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 5-10 participants)
  • Straif Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 15-20)
  • Beith Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 25-30)
  • Duir Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 5-10, including those who are mobility challenged, and those tending outer fires)

 

Materials (created in advance):

Signs for Ogham Ritual

Signs for Ogham Ritual

Ogham Signs. Ogham signs can be held by ritualists.  The signs we created have each few, the common name, and the ogham name. This will allow participants to easily find their group.

 

Ogham Fews. Ogham fews should preferably be from the wood or material represented (this is why we are using local ecosystem adaptations for Straif). We had created 30 Beith fews, 20 Straif fews, 10 Quert fews, 10 Duir fews for particiapnts to draw.  Participants also get to keep their few at the end of the ritual.

 

Basket or bag for drawing fews.

Pre-Ritual Discussion and Practice

Pre-ritual discussion and practice can take place just before the ritual, but can also be done at a separate time (not too far before the ritual, however).

 

Step 1: Hemlock Tree Attunement

For our ritual, participants first drank a bit of Eastern Hemlock needle tea and sitting quietly with the trees; this allowed participants to connect with the trees on a physical level and begin to create a spiritual connection.  This simple tea can be brewed up by collecting needles (old or young) and small branches and pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit till they are cool.  At that point, add a little raw honey and strain.  In the case of our ritual, participants drank the Eastern Hemlock tea and sat with the trees quietly for about 10 minutes before coming back and drawing an ogham few (see step 2).

 

Step 2: Ogham Stave Drawing

After drinking the tea and spending time in quiet listening with the hemlock trees, participants each draw an Ogham few for the ritual (participants should draw by feel, not by sight). In the case of our ritual, participants drew their ogham fews at an afternoon land healing workshop; this allowed them to attune with the energy of that particular few prior to our evening ritual.

 

Step 3. Forming Groups, Pre-Ritual Discussion, and Galdr Practice.

At the start of our ritual, later in the day from the Ogham draw, each ritualist held their signs (with the Ogham symbol) to form their group. Each ritualist held a separate pre-ritual discussion where they explained the specific Ogham and energy that group is working with. Each group practiced their Galdr chant prior to the ritual. Ritualists each design their own Galdr chant and allow participants create variations. In order to do this work, ritualists do prior work with the tree energy they are invoking (through meditation, sitting with them, etc).

 

The Ritual

All participants gather in a large circle around the central hemlock tree. Fires are tended so that we can see in the waning light (fire tenders are part of Duir group). All ritualists memorized the script in advance so we had no impediments, need for flashlights, etc.

1. Participants Ground and Clear

         Duir Warder leads participants in three breaths to ground and connect with the energies of the sacred place.

 

2. Open up a Sacred Space

Duir Warder declares the space open (by the power of star and stone…)

 

Straif Galdr Leader makes offering to the outsiders to ensure that we don’t attract unwanted guests, but also to deal with those “outside” aspects of ourselves that might resist some of the healing work we are doing within.

 

Beith Galdr Leader calls east.

 

Straif Galdr Leader calls south.

 

Quert Galder Leader calls west.

 

Duir Warder calls north.

 

Quert Galdr Leader offers circle words to open up the space (“The circle of our lives….”)

 

Duir Warder and Duir Participants cast circle as a group, walking around the outside of the participant circle.

 

3. Participants take their places

Due to our declining light and the many root systems under the trees, all participants went into place in their three concentric circles around the hemlocks prior to the Galdr beginning. (If you had more light, you can have them circle up one at a time after the previous group finishes their chant). Quert was the first circle, Straif was the second circle (encompoassing Quert and the Hemlocks), Beith was the third circle (encompassing Straf, Quert, and the Hemlocks), and Duir was the final circle (Duir spread out along the outside edge, and did not link hands like the other groups).

 

4A. Quert Chants

The Quert (Apple) group, with signal from Quert Galdr Leader link hands and begin to chant, circling the tree desoil (sunwise). After a small amount of time has passed and they have begun to raise the appropriate energy, they raise their hands (signaling the next group). They stay in place, lowering their hands, and continue to chant.

 

4B. Duir Warders Reinforce Circle

As Quert begins their chant, the Duir Warders begin their own chant to reinforce the circle and hold the space. They continue to chant while the remaining Galdr chants take place.

 

5. Straif Chants

Straif begins their Galdr chant, links hands and circles the tree widdershins (anti-sunwise). After a small amount of time has passed and they have begun to raise the appropriate energy, they raise their hands (signaling the next group). They stay in place, lowering their hands, and continue to chant.

 

6. Beith Chants

The Beith group, with signal from Beith Galdr Leader begins their chant, linking hands and circling the tree desoil (sunwise). After a small amount of time has passed and they have begun to raise the appropriate energy, they raise their hands. They stay in place, lowering their hands, and continue to chant.

 

7. All Chants end. When the energy is sufficiently raised, Quert Galdr Leader raises hands (with her group) which is the signal for all other Galdr Leaders and participants to raise hands and end the chant.

 

8. Duir Channels Energy. As the chant ends and the quiet settles back in, the Duir group comes into the center (coming through raised hands) and touches the hemlock trees (central trees). They channel the energy raised in the ritual into the central trees, sending it down into the roots, and radiating it outward.

 

9. All participants form large circle again. After this work is done, Duir Warder Leader invites participants to form a large circle once again.

 

10. Grounding. Beith Galdr Leader leads a grounding activity (in our ritual, this involved deep breathing, putting our hands on the earth for a time, and having participants literally shake off some of the excess energy).  This is a powerful ritual and grounding is certainly necessary!

 

11. Close the Space and Send out Energy

Quert Galder Leader: “It is the hour of recall….let us thank the quarters…”

 

Duir Warder Leader thanks the north.

 

Quert Galder Leader thanks the west.

 

Straif Galdr Leader thanks the south.

 

Beith Galdr Leader thanks the east.

 

Duir Warder Leader and Duir Participants unwind the circle and Duir Warder Leader declares space closed. (Note, we found that the channeling of energy itself into the roots unwound the circle so this last step wasn’t used during our ritual as that work as already done!  But otherwise, it would be a necessary to do it.)

 

Post-Ritual Discussion. Each group had a post-ritual discussion. Part of this was to allow the Ritualists to ensure that all participants were grounded (especially new folks). But it was also an opportunity for each group to share their experiences and compare notes.  Don’t skip this part!

 

Additional Notes and Adaptations

 

Three Concentric Circles of Healing. Just as this ritual uses three moving and concentric circles of people surrounding a tree for land healing, it also works on three levels with participants. The ritual was intentionally designed to foster A) healing for the trees, B) healing/energy work for each group and C) healing/energy work for each participant. Participants draw their fews, which puts them in a group that is most appropriate for the energy they need to work with. Each person in the ritual thus has their own ritual and own experience. Each group works together to enact their part of the ritual, thus having a shared experience that is unique to the group. The whole group, likewise, works for the good of healing the land. It is for this reason that the pre- and post-ritual discussions are so important—they are part of the ongoing part of the group and individual ritual. Each participant, likewise, is important and necessary in this ritual and has a role to fill (compared to some, where participants are more passive observers).

 

What happened at the MAGUS gathering is that after the Galdr, people talked a lot about the ritual and had to “uncover” what each other’s roles were.  A number of rich discussions ensued surrounding the ritual at our gathering, and it kindled a number of connections and insights.  I remember four of us sitting at a table for a meal and realizing we had all been in different Galdr groups, and so each of us shared about the ritual and the work we did, the group work, and our personal experiences.

           

Adapting this Ritual for Multiple Participants. This ritual could be adapted to a much smaller or larger group. A group as small as four could do it (with four ogham drawn, and each participant representing one of the four sacred trees). This ritual could also in theory be done by a solo practitioner with some heavy modification (although I’d have to give it some thought in terms of how that might be done!)

 

Adapting this Ritual for Multiple Purposes. I believe that this ritual could be adapted using other Ogham trees for other kinds of healing purposes, including purposes beyond land healing. If anyone does such adaptations, please let me know here in the comments!

 

PS: Please note that this ritual was designed by Tsugae Canadensis (Eastern Hemlock) and made manifest by myself (Dana O’Driscoll) and Cat McDonald (you can find Cat at the Druid’s Well) with additional input from John Adams, Elmdea Bean, and Nicole Sussurro.

 

PPS: I know I said I was taking a short blogging hiatus for a few weeks, but everyone at the gathering wanted to see this ritual, and my blog was the best place to post it and archive it.  I’ll return to regular posting in June as promised :).

 

Awaiting the Sunrise: Holding an Outdoor Winter Solstice Vigil December 17, 2016

Winter Solstice Fire Vigil

Winter Solstice Fire Vigil

A group of people make music and merriment near a roaring fire during the longest night of the year. Their mission: to await the sunrise and hold vigil through the darkness with feasting, celebration, and the burning of the sacred yule log. The winter solstice vigil–lasting upwards of 15 hours in the darkness can be one of the most intensive, challenging, and rewarding experiences.  I’ve succeeded at one all-night vigil and failed at one all-night vigil (due to underpreparedness, see later in the post) and yet both have been moving experiences.  This year, on the 21st, a group of us is going to attempt an outdoor all night vigil.  At this point, the weather looks good (not dipping below 30 degrees and clear) which is about the best Winter Solstice Vigil weather you can ask for!

 

In preparation for next week’s vigil, I thought I’d take the opportunity today to reflect on the art of preparing for vigil, doing the vigil, and offering some contextualization for this kind of initiatory work. For one, I’m going to do vigil with some folks who haven’t done it before (and I started writing this for them and realized how useful it would be for others). Its a good idea to know what you are really in for with the Winter Solstice Vigil! But for two, I think its good information for anyone wanting to attempt such a vigil. I’ll cover the history of such a vigil, how to prepare physically and spiritually, what to do during your vigil, and offer simple rituals for both the setting and rising sun.  While this post is primarily focused on outdoor vigils, I’ll also include some tidbits about alterations if you aren’t able to be outside for the all night vigil.

 

Understanding and Defining “Vigil”

The term “vigil” itself gives us some understanding of the nature of this work.  The term vigil derives from Latin vigilia, which means “wakefulness.” When we look at a few dictionary definitions of “vigil” we get the following kinds of phrases: “a devotional watching, or keeping awake, during the customary hours of sleep“; “a purposeful wakefulness”; or “a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.” All of these definitions offer us useful understanding and insight into the nature of a vigil and why one would take it on.  The Winter Solstice vigil is certainly a vigil–not usually so much of a solemn one, but one of wakefulness, watching, and sacredness where we work to tend our fires and eventually, welcome the sun back over the land.

 

The Winter Solstice: A Bit of History

Ceremony at the Winter Solstice reaches back, in some parts of the world, to pre-history.  The basic premise is simple: before the days of modern electric lighting, humans lived more closely with the seasons.  The days of darkness, where the earth seemed to stand still, needed humans’ help to bring the light back into the world.  And so, much of the celebrations and feasting at the time was focused on light and life.

 

Fires that burn against the darkness...

Fires that burn against the darkness…

For example, Sí an Bhrú (New Grange), is a neolithic monument in Ireland that is at least 5,000 years old.  New Grange is a large, circular earth chamber with a long stone entrance that is illuminated with the rays of the sunrise on the Winter Solstice. In other parts of the world, especially throughout Europe, the Winter Solstice was often celebrated with feasting and bonfires.  Saturnalia, an ancient Roman festival of feasting, gift giving, and revelry in honor of Saturn, was originally on Dec 17th, but later expanded to Dec 17th – Dec 23rd.  Many Celtic peoples celebrated the “birth of the sun” or the “return of the sun” around the Solstice  (and it is no surprise that evergreen boughs were used to celebrate these events, given evergreen’s connection to life and longevity). A yule log was burned, sometimes with feasting lasting days or weeks.

 

With the rise of Christianity in the 4th century, the Catholic Church proclaimed that the “Birth of Christ” was on Dec 25th to tie to older feasting and merriment traditions.  So even today’s modern celebrations of “Christmas” hearken back to much older Winter Solstice traditions. Even today, we have houses lit up with lights, evergreen trees surrounded with lights and colorfully wrapped packages–all magical ways of raising up the sun.

 

All of this background is useful when thinking about the framing of a druid winter solstice ritual and vigil.  The mood is not solemn here, although solemn work and initiatory work can certainly happen. Rather, this is a patient wait–through celebration and feasting–for the rising of the Solstice sun.  Let’s now turn to some practical considerations before undertaking such a vigil.

 

Inner and Outer Preparation for the Solstice Vigil

Preparing for a winter solstice vigil requires both inner and outer preparation, which I’ll now describe.  Without both considerations, an all-night vigil can be dangerous and/or unsuccessful.  Such was the result of my first attempt at a winter solstice vigil. This was very early in my druid path, and I had really no idea what I was doing. I went to my sacred circle with my hat, gloves, and coat; a big pile of wood; a blanket; a tarp; and a thermos of hot tea; thinking that I would last the night and wait for the rising of the sun. For one, I had no idea how long this night was, nor how hard it was to hold vigil on my own. I quickly ran out of tea and wood, and a dwindling fire was not enough to keep the darkness and cold at bay.  Sometime deep in the quiet night, I grew too cold and the fire grew too dim and I and went back inside to my warm bed.  Better physical preparation could have substantially made this first attempt at a vigil more comfortable!

 

The general rule of thumb for these kinds of vigils is to over-prepare. That is, bring more warm clothes than you need, more food than you need, and more of any other supplies (like wood) than you think you’ll need.

 

Outer preparation: Common sense. The weather can be very variable in December and I ask that you please use common sense.  A night when it is 35 and the sky is dumping freezing rain down on you is a good way to get hypothermia, not enjoy a winter solstice vigil.  Tend to the weather carefully and only attempt this if you are sure you will be safe, warm, and dry.  This is my take on it–some years are not good for vigil.  I’ll still celebrate, but maybe I’ll light a candle in my window, or hold vigil in my house by the fire.  There are other ways of celebrating this–and what I offer here is one of many approaches.

 

Outer Preparation: Clothing. If you have never spent a cold night outside before, you may not realize how difficult it is to stay in a single place and hold vigil when it is less than 30 degrees Fahrenheit (which is fairly common for the places I’ve lived).  What this means, for you, realistically are several things: first, you need a lot of warm clothing, preferably of natural fibers like wool or fur. Second, you need to make sure you stay covered throughout the night, including the part of you that is not going to be near the fire (read, extra wool blankets).  Bring more than you think you will need, including a warm sleeping bag.  All of these things can help you get through the cold night.  Having another warm body (a dog, a snuggle partner) is also very helpful.

Friend Building a simple fireplace to reflect heat

Friend Building a simple fireplace to reflect heat

 

Outer Preparation: A Good Fire.  There are a lot of ways of making fire, and making a blazing bonfire is not, actually, a good way to stay warm throughout the night.  Big fires require a lot of wood, and a 14 or more hour fire will consume huge amounts of it, blasting heat in all directions.  If there are enough folks to go the whole way around the fire, this is OK.  But more commonly, there aren’t that many people willing to stay up all night in the darkness!  If there are only a few of you, the better approach is to use bricks or stones and build up a reflective surface, then building the fire against that surface (see photo above).  The photo shows is a simple fire setup that is small but that will reflect much more heat due to the fire bricks piled up behind.  This would also stay lit in the rain and snow for much longer.  If I had had this kind of setup during my first  vigil, I likely would have made it longer into the night!

 

Outer Preparation: Hot Rocks: One of the strategies I learned about holding vigil has to do with hot rocks or hot bricks.  The strategy is simple: have some old towels and stones or bricks available.  I especially like a large flat stone that I can sit on. Putting the bricks/stones close to the fire to warm them, then wrapping them with a towel and sitting with them, really helps keep the cold at bay.  A largish one makes an amazing seat at 2am in the cold!

 

Outer Preparation: Hot food and Drinks:Warm food and feasting are a necessary part of a Winter Solstice vigil, in the tradition of so many millennia of feasting and celebration around this time of year.  I have a smallish iron cauldron to hang over the fire and a 12 quart dutch oven for the fire that I will be bringing to our ceremony to keep the hot liquids and foods flowing all evening for participants. Warm drinks of the alcoholic and non-alcoholic variety are necessary for a vigil. I don’t drink, I prefer warming herbal teas or cider mulled with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and orange peels.

 

Outer Preparation: First Aid. Its not a bad idea to have some general first aid materials available, especially if you are going to be doing your Winter Solstice vigil somewhere far away from civilization.  Preferably, also it is a good idea to have someone along who knows how to administer basic first aid.

 

Outer Preparation: Seating.  If you are using a chair sitting up, you will need to somehow wrap or protect your body against the chilly air from behind.  Sitting on blankets or wrapping yourself in a sleeping bag can work well for this, especially for the back parts of you away from the fire. I prefer to sit on the ground, but that presents its own unique challenges as the ground obviously gets frozen and really cold this time of year.  To sit on the ground for a period of hours successfully requires you to protect from cold and damp.  I use a tarp as my base layer to protect from the damp.  Then, I usually start with a sheep skin (which I have used for many ceremonies) and a few layers of blankets on top.

 

Inner/Outer Preparation: A Yule Log: The Yule Log tradition has many variations, but I like to use one for the Winter Solstice Fire Vigil.  A Yule log should ideally come from someone’s property or be found, never bought.  It is usually a tree or part of a tree, like a large stump.  The large stump will burn through the night, and that’s part of the tradition.  Usually, the log is somehow specially prepared and magically prepared; one older tradition has it wrapped in evergreen and doused in cider.  In my grove events, we’ve painted it with natural dyes, wood burned the log, added springs of cedar, and have done many other things to honor the log before it is added to the Winter Solstice fire.  The ashes of this log, and fire, are distributed to participants and are excellent for land blessings and tree planting ceremonies, among other things.

 

Inner Preparation: The Mindset:  In advance, it is a good idea to set some mental limits to the event and understand when you shouldn’t or should end the vigil: if you can’t feel your fingers and toes, maybe its time to end the vigil.  If you fall asleep, is that ok?  What about if everyone else wants to go home and off to sleep? Give some thought to what you will or will not do, given certain circumstances, in advance, to help your preparation.

 

Inner Preparation: Facing the Darkness. The other part of this ceremony, as with fasting and many other kinds of initiatory work, is that you really do push your body and spirits in ways to its limits.   Physically, the body may not be used to staying up all night, nor used to being in the cold for so long, or sitting by the fire for that many hours.  Understanding, going into this, that this is a sacred ceremony is important.  Also, you will be in the darkness for a long time.  You may, deep in the night, have to face your own darkness.  The darkness is darkest, and scariest, just before dawn.  I will never forget the end of a vigil evening I spent in the woods by myself–I had never been so happy to see the sun rise, and I was so proud that I stuck it out till that moment.  My own preparation for this kind of deep work involves sitting in darkness for some time for 30 min or so in the days leading up to the ceremony and doing other things to embrace the darkness this time of the year (you might look at my post from last Winter Solstice on embracing the darkness for many suggestions).

 

Opening the Vigil: A Ceremony

Serenading the setting sun....

Serenading the setting sun….

So if you are still reading, then we are ready for the Solstice eve to come and for the ceremony to begin! I have found that the vigil evening is essentially composed of three pieces: the vigil opening ceremony (which may be attended by more folks than those who are doing the all night vigil), the vigil itself, which involves feasting, merriment, as well as quiet times, and the vigil closing ceremony, which honors the rising sun.  I’ll take these each in turn, starting with the opening ceremony.

 

We will do our vigil opening ceremony just as the sun is setting, which for us, is about 5pm on the night of the Solstice.  Because we will have a larger group for this and for the first part of the vigil, but only some staying for the entire vigil, we keep this in mind as part of the ceremony. Note that we do not yet have our fire lit at the beginning of the ceremony (it is lit during the ceremony itself); this is so that we can spend some time in the darkness and the setting sun.

  1.  Opening up a sacred space: As the darkness settles, we open a sacred space.  In the druid tradition, this includes proclaiming the intent of the ceremony, declaring peace in the quarters, cleansing the space with the elements, making an offering to the spirits of the land, and casting the circle around the entire space where we will be.
  2. The Vigil Opening Ceremony.  There are lots of things that you can do for this–here is what we are planning:
    1. We will begin by speaking of the Winter Solstice and, the history of how humans have celebrated this time with light and fire, and of the darkness and wheel of the year.
    2. We will all sit for a time in meditation, in the growing darkness, honoring silently the setting sun and preparing for the vigil of the evening.
    3. We will light our fire, honoring the light of this season and welcoming the sun to return after his long sleep.
    4. Once the fire is going, we ceremoniously add the yule log.
    5. In the spirit of the AODA tradition, we invoke the three currents (solar, telluric, and lunar) radiating a blessing out to the land.
    6. We begin the vigil, which starts with a feast and merriment.

It is sometimes the case that folks will want to join you for the opening (or for sunset and sunrise) but do not want to join you for the entire vigil for any number of reasons.  These choices should be honored.  Those who wish to stay will stay, and still, be supported by those who will not stay for the whole night.  There should never be any pressure to stay, or not to stay, during such an intensive ceremony.  A magical space (circle) should be prepared in such a way as people can pass in and out of it with ease, if this is to be the case.  This will certainly be the case for our group this upcoming week.

 

The Vigil: Continued Ceremony

In my experience, there  are really two ways you can go about your vigil: the time-honored tradition of fesating and merriment, using food, song, dance, and celebration to push back the cold and dark.  The second is a time for powerful initiation into the deeper mysteries of the winter months, the darkness, and the time of cold and rest.  I have found that both of these often happen in the same night during a winter solstice vigil. At some point, the feasting and merriment subsides and the darkness sets in, visions and waking dreams begin. Both are useful and powerful, and like the ebb and flow of the tide, both often happen in the course of the ewvening.  Recognizing this, and honoring this, is part of the process.

 

Here are a few suggestions for how to keep awake and the vigil going:

 

Ritual feast: Holding a feast as part of the ritual is a wonderful way to keep everyone warm and happy.  Ask folks to bring food that can either be heated up or that is kept warm.  Our site doesn’t have electricity, so people will use blankets and such to keep food warm. 

 

Eisteddfod festival: Holding a bardic Eisteddfod is a wonderful way to pass some of the night.  The Eisteddfod includes any of the bardic arts: storytelling, music, dancing, and song.  People take turns and, if you have enough people, a bardic competition can also take place.

 

Sharing your Life Story: Because you have 14+ hours, you have an opportunity for the deepest kinds of meaningful conversations with others around the fire. During my successful past vigil, one of the ways we managed the time was having each of us take an hour or so to tell the important parts of our life stories, the things that shaped us as human beings and put us on our spiritual paths.  As the sun rose, after hearing the stories of everyone around the fire, and sharing my own story, I felt an extremely close connection to those.

 

Darkness walks. One of the other things I really like to do, especially if there is some moonlight, is to take a break from the fire and to simply walk the land, seeing what things look like in the darkness, and feeling its power fully.

 

Sleeping area. The alternative to flat out leaving the area is to have a “sleeping area” (for us, a hayloft with warm sleeping bags) for those who need a few hours of sleep.  One variant on the vigil tradition is that its more like a watch: as long as someone is holding the space and tending the fire, that practice can be rotated.  So some people may go off to sleep for a few hours and then spell off others.  This is another good way to get through the evening and the vigil becomes a group effort.

 

The Ceremony of Welcoming Back the Sun

Sunrise - bliss!

Sunrise – bliss!

After the longest night, it is a blessing beyond all blessings to see the light rising again into the world.  There are so many ways to welcome back the sun, and I will share a few of those here.

  1. A Norse tradition that I rather like for welcoming back the sun is ringing bells right as the sun rises over the hills/land.  They ring clearly and brightly, welcoming the sun back.
  2. Drumming up the sun or playing music (if neighbors aren’t too close by)
  3. Letting the fire burn down as the sun rises–the fire was holding space for the sun, and as the sun rises, letting the sun regain that fire is a good way of ending the ceremony.
  4. Silent observation, observing the ever-changing landscape as the sun returns.  Once the sun is up, you can then do any other ceremonial work.
  5. Honoring the sun with singing, dancing, and merriment – if you have anything left in you, this is also a wonderful idea.
  6. Making offerings to the sun and to bless the land.  I have bottles of dandelion wine that I made for several years and like to offer the sun, the giver of life, some of this wine.

Now, you don’t have to do the whole vigil to wake up and honor the sun. There is nothing that says you can’t do the ritual at night, still get a decent night sleep, and then wake up before the sun to welcome it back to the land.  So these can work regardless of whether or not you are doing the vigil.

 

Once you’ve honored the sun and observed its rising, you can thank the elements and close the sacred space.  Likely, then, it is a good idea to go and get some sleep. Many solstice blessings to my readers–and may your dark nights be filled with merriment, inspiration, and joy!

 

A Druid’s Primer on Land Healing, Part II: Energetic Healing vs. Palliative Care February 20, 2016

In my post last week, I discussed the different ways that we might heal the land including physical land healing, healing human-land connections, and various forms of energetic healing. Today, I want to delve deeply into the  aspects of energetic land healing, and further probe the difference between energetic healing work and energetic palliative care. I think this distinction is critical for how to develop rituals and how to work with the energy of the land in various ways.

 

To do this, I’m going to share with you a few different kinds of sites in my immediate surroundings in Western PA and look at the circumstances under which these sites might be healed. In fact, I’m picking some of the worst sites I know of physically on my present landscape here in Western PA–I figure that if we can talk about land healing at the worst kinds of sites that I know of, we can do quite a bit with smaller sites with less damage.  So here we go, with a visit to the boney dump and fracking well!

 

The Mountains of PA (Cambria County, looking out onto Bedford and Somerset Counties)

The Mountains of PA (Cambria County, looking out onto Bedford and Somerset Counties)

Energetic Healing vs. Palliative Care

As I established last week, there are (at least) two different kinds of energetic work you can do on the land:

 

Energetic Land Healing  implies that you are raising some kind of positive energy to help enliven, awaken, and rejuvenate the land. One way to think about this energy is like giving someone who is has had an extended sickness some good chicken soup and herbs that are restorative and energizing in nature, and helping set them more firmly on their path towards healing. You may help someone who hasn’t walked in a while get up and take a few steps and encourage them in many ways. This energizes them, it enlivens them, and it allows them to more quickly heal from their illness. Energetic land healing functions in much the same way, with the goal being to raise positive energy for the land to help it regenerate physically and spiritually.

 

If you go to a place in desperate need of energetic healing, you’ll often feel a deadness there, a wrongness, either stagnation like nothing is moving, or other energetic problems.  It may be very closed off and skittish, like an abused animal, withdrawing and staying far away from any sign of new potential abuse.  I usually feel these feelings in the pit of my stomach.  Our English language lacks good terminology for how this feels, but its that heaviness and sadness you feel at a site that has been severely damaged and is struggling to heal, and doesn’t want humans to enact any more damage.  The longer the abuse has gone on, and the most serious the abuse, the more you’ll feel it using whatever spiritual senses you have (heck, even people not very attuned usually can feel it at strong sites). The site, as it regrows and heals, eventually resonates differently, feeling healthier and happier as the land can regrow around it. But you’ll also see the first signs of regrowth and life at these sites.  (Most of my experience in this area, by the way, is from logged forests and poisoned rivers returning to health–its possible that different kinds of sites would resonate differently than I’m describing here!)

 

Palliative care is a very different thing.  There are places on our physical landscape that do not need a jolt of healing energy–they need the opposite.  They need to be put to sleep, to be reduced in vibration and awareness, because the pain is just too great. Sites where active pain and suffering on behalf of the land, the animals, and anything else there are good examples: and as I’ll demonstrate in the latter part of this post, poisoned waterways and fracking sites are two of those sites.

 

Energetically, sites in need of palliative care often feel differently than those in need of energetic healing.  Usually, sites in need of palliative care feel like they are actively suffering.  They are awake through a horrific experience, and they actively suffer and mourn.  For example, once I was driving to a friend’s house on a new route and I was struck with this awful feeling–suffering, pain, misery, all through my stomach.  I had to pull over, and as I did, I got out of the car and climbed up on the ridge to see what lay beyond it.  There was an enormous strip mine that was stripping the land for gravel–hundreds of acres, horrible pools of chemically treated water.  It felt utterly horrible (nearly all of these kinds of mines do, I’ve found in the time since).  I uttered a short prayer for the land, promised to return, and went home and decided my next course of action (I didn’t feel prepared that day, and I had to meditate on what to do for the mine). This was a site not in need of energetic healing (as it was actively being destroyed) but palliative care.

 

Actively destroyed sites aren’t the only ones in need of palliative care, however. The most tragic, perhaps, are the sites that are fine at present, but are destined to be destroyed or stripped in the near future.  These are the hardest cases, in my opinion, because you are powerless to stop what is going to happen and the vibrant, living beings there are trapped and powerless–fear and mourning often radiates these sites. But here, you can do something, and that something is palliative care. You might think about a forest that is about to be logged or is in the process of being logged, but the loggers haven’t yet gotten to the area where you are at. The last thing you want to do is inject this space with healing energy and light–you want to put it to sleep, to soothe the wounds, to try to provide some energetic distance between the forest and the chainsaw. I’ve found myself in the position, many more times than I would have liked to experience. I shared suggestions for individual trees here, but I will add to those suggestions at the end of this article.

 

The key for energetic land healing vs. palliative care is in the nature of the damage, the nature of the healing, and the current situation of the site. To illustrate the finer points between them, let’s take a walk through Western Pennsylvania and see two critical situations that call for very different kinds of healing responses: the boney dump and the fracking well.

 

The Boney Dump: A Call for Physical and Energetic Healing

All through the landscape in Pennsylvania you can find what is known locally as a “boney dump” (they are also referred to as spoil tips, boney heaps, pit heaps, or gob piles in other parts of the world). They are common in areas where any kind of deep mining took place, and they basically represent everything that came out of the mine that wasn’t what was actually being mined. Because theses sites are near old mining operations, they may also have water ponds designed to collect some of the worst acid mine runoff (which pollutes local streams and makes them, in our neck of the woods, sulfurous and poisoned).

Boney Dump from Google Maps

Boney Dump with runoff pools (from Google Maps)

In the photo above is a really bad boney site, compliments of Google maps–it has various nasty colored ponds and pools full of various kinds of sediment they are trying to keep out of the waterways (which doesn’t usually work) along with the boney pile itself (which you can see in the bottom left of the image as well as in the bottom right–the areas that look like a pile of gravel with only a few trees or that look mostly bare). Most of the mines around here closed in the 1970’s or so, but some of these piles are much, much older than that. In 45+ years, they have not regrown in all of that time. After 1978, the US government required that companies “clean up” old mining sites with the passage of the Mine Reclamation Act. But a lot of these sites were there long before the cleanup act took place. And even for new sites, there is the letter of the law and the actuality of the law in practice. Let’s take a look at a site that was “regenerated” by the mining company. These are photos from the same site, just on the ground.

Runoff from a boney dump

The photo above shows a runoff area from a boney dump and some of those pools; poor management means that this is never regrown because it floods each year. Trees, plants, and so on can’t get enough traction to regrow. Of course, there is no soil at all on this site, so nothing can get traction even without the floods (see next photo).

Not much grows on a boney dump (this site has been "regenerated" by mining companies 30+ years ago, and still this is all that there is here!)

This is an area that doesn’t get flooded and is relatively flat, and yet, it still has not regrown either (this site was “regenerated” in the late 1970’s).  The site has no soil to speak of, and it lacks the biological diversity and scattered seeds to even begin to regrow soil.  They did plant some scrub grass, some red pine trees (see the trees in the background there), which barely make it on the soil.  Even the grass struggles to survive here, growing on straight rock.  Over fifty years, and still nothing is really growing.

 

So in terms of healing, we certainly have our work cut out for ourselves at these sites that span hundreds of acres and are dotted all over the landscape. I think its sad because when I was growing up, because these sites were all over the place, I never gave them much thought–its just how it was.  I think a lot of people feel that way–you don’t really talk about the sulfur creek or boney dump, you just kind of ignore them and avoid them.

 

And so part of the active healing work is simply acknowledging them and spending time with them, recognizing that these lands are in need of healing and of human touch.  However, given the enormity of these problems at these sites, if it weren’t for my druid path and permaculture design, I’d be at a complete loss as to what to do, and would probably cry for it and move on, or ignore it like the other locals. But no! We are going to do something to heal these damaged lands (and I feel a particular resonance with the old mine sites, given that so many of my own ancestors were miners). Around here they are abundant and take up thousands of acres–driving 5-10 miles in any direction is likely to have you encountering one or more of them.

 

How would we classify this boney dump in terms of the healing work at hand?  We must classify it both in terms of its relationship with people at present as well as its ability to regenerate. The good news is that the people doing the damage got what they want and are, for the most part, long gone, and with the exception of the acid mine runoff (which is a problem being actively addressed by a number of municipalities in the area), these sites are pretty much left alone. The mines aren’t here any longer and most of this land is essentially a no-man’s land.  Because nobody visits these sites, these are places that nobody cares about. This means, to me, the boney dumps represent the exact kind of place where you can heal on the physical and the energetic levels and do so effectively.

 

I truthfully feel more confident, at present, in my energetic healing abilities for these sites and that’s where the bulk of my first set of efforts have been going. Due to the lack of life and extremely long-term suffering, and the stifling of nature’s own ability to heal, these sites have a kind of numbness and deadness. These are the feelings that comes from lands that have been stripped bare for centuries–there is hardly any stirring of the earth energies, what is known as the telluric, in these sites. I’ll share too that before these sites were mined, they were clear cut, as I discovered from old photos of many of the sites.

 

This means we are talking, likely, several centuries of damage on the part of humans. What these sites need, then, to help jump start the healing is the burst of energy that can help these lands energetically and later physically heal (going back to the as within, so without principle). Given this, these lands are prime targets for some of the energetic healing work discussed above: they won’t be damaged again, nobody bothers with them, they are many, they are remote and open, and they are in prime need of healing. I’ll explore some of the ways of doing this at the end of this post and in my next post.

 

On the matter of physical healing (also discussed in my last post),  I’ve only returned to PA six months ago, but I’ve already taken my first steps in working out a plan using permaculture design principles to help heal a small patch of one of these sites to see what techniques will be effective. This plan is in its infancy stages, and its is part of why I was so interested in seed balls and refugia! To start my work, I have been scattering seeds for plants that can help build soil if they are able to take root–I believe its the soil-less nature, combined with mostly black shale that heats up and cooks all summer long, makes the sites inhospitable to plant life and susceptible to terrible erosion.  The stuff that is on the surface shouldn’t be there, so the best thing I can work to do is to bury it again! This is a slow process, and I’ll report on the physical angle more after I’ve done more experimentation on the boney dump I’ve adopted for this purpose :). At this point, I don’t know if any of my physical healing methods will work, but I am going to keep trying.

 

The Fracking Well: Palliative Care

Most people these days are aware, at least in a theoretical sense, of the problem with fracking wells and fracking more generally on the landscape.  But seeing these wells firsthand, feeling the horribleness of the energies that surround them, is an entirely different thing. Its like something goes heavy and cold in the pit of your stomach; they have a very toxic, burdened energy.  Many of the wells that have been there for a long time have literally an unsettling deadness that creeps into your bones the longer you stand near them.  But also at the site of the well, so much suffering is taking place–suffering, mourning, and sadness from the life that is stuck near the well.  You can feel that suffering, actively, in the plants and land directly around the well.

 

The active gas fracking well, as well as conventional gas well, is a site of damage to the land, to the waters, to the air, to wildlife, to the human populations–everyone and everything around these wells suffer.  People who are working near them are poisoned. The surface of the land is stripped to put in the well, disrupting the ecosystem. Gas companies spray around the well several times each year to keep the grass down.  They visit the wells frequently, “maintaining” the site, tearing up the land with their trucks and leaving, sometimes, pools of oil near the wells just exposed to the air.  They have huge tanks of water that have poison signs on them that make the air all around the well stink and smell really foul.  The waters beneath the land are poisoned and that poisoning creeps into waterways and into people’s drinking water.  The physical land beneath the site is poisoned. They are all over the place around here–I even found a number of different kinds of wells all through the Allegheny national forest, a site supposed to be “preserved” and instead is being actively desecrated:

View from Google Maps of active oil exploitation in the Allegheny National Forest in North-Eastern PA

View from Google Maps of active oil exploitation in the Allegheny National Forest in North-Eastern PA

Below is a photo of a conventional gas well (still very bad, but not as bad as fracking) on public land near where I live. This area was once all forest, now cleared and mowed to allow for the drilling equipment and the gas pipelines.

 

If you are wondering how this is possible, how so many of these wells of any kind are on public land, the answer is a bit complex and the reasons multiple.  But one of the big reasons has a lot to do with who owns the “mineral rights.” Many mineral rights here in PA are often disconnected from “surface rights” so companies who own the mineral rights have the right to get at them, destroying the surface in the process. There’s a lot of fossil fuel under the ground in the Marcellus shale, and people can make a quick buck by keeping their land and selling the mineral rights to the gas or mining companies: and that’s exactly what’s been happening here for over 100 years. (Its pretty much the equivalent of the water rights issue in the Western USA).

Example of cleared land around active well

Example of cleared land around active well

There are so many of these active fracking wells in Pennsylvania, and because of the active and ongoing damage, there isn’t a lot that you can do at these sites beyond palliative care. Physical land refrigeration, obviously, is not appropriate. But energetic land healing isn’t incorporate either. These are sites that are actively being harmed, over and over again. The pain and suffering is compounded through the systematic poisoning of the land, the water system, the plant and animal life, the human life, and the telluric currents (energies of the earth). And, the full long-term implications are as of yet unknown, and likely won’t be known, for several generations. Physical and energetic healing work will be left for our children, and our children’s children, and generations not yet born.

 

Given all this, palliative care is extraordinarily effective for these sites. For one, palliative care can do a number of things that energetic healing cannot, namely: helping to contain damage (sealing energetically), helping to preserve memories and resonances in the land, helping mitigate suffering on every level, putting the land “to sleep”, clearing some of the worst of the negativity. And, in doing this work, you can witness.

 

This wraps up my discussion of boney dumps and fracking wells and their relationship to energetic land healing.  I’m glad these sites have been used to serve at least a little good, in the sense that they helped convey a critical point on our journey of land healing–which will continue across the next few posts.

 

Sacred Gardening through the Three Druid Elements – Designing Sacred Spaces and Planting Rituals December 5, 2015

A representation of the 3 druid elements

A representation of the 3 druid elements

A number of people have asked me for ceremonies and activities that help facilitate sacred work on the land in various ways. Why would we want such ceremonies? Quite simply, because we can get the most effect by combining actions out in the world with ritual and other forms of magical practice on the inner worlds. For many years, I’ve been using my  druidic practices to help my work with plants and gardens. So in addition to the practical work of growing my own food on my homestead, practicing permaculture, regenerating lawns, and building a healthy ecosystem, I designin with the elements in mind, performing land healing and garden rituals, and engage in other sacred practices.  These two parts form a cohesive whole that unifies spiritual practices with everyday living.

 

Today, I’d like to share the first of a series of  posts on principles from the druid tradition that can be used both for designing sacred garden spaces and for simple rituals and sacred activities that can be used with gardening. And because I’ve decided to spend some extra time in my art studio in the winter months, so I’ve done my best to provide some illustrations for this post :).

 

The Three Druid Elements: Nwyfre, Calas, and Gwyar

In order to craft effective ceremonies to support sustainable activities, we need an underlying theory that helps us work with various flows of energy.  The Druid Revival has a set of three elements (we like to do things in threes) that are quite useful to understanding and enacting some sacred space rituals and building sacred spaces. A lot of current pagan and earth-centered practices use four elements, and there is so much out there about the four elements already, that I don’t really need to say a lot about those (and they are effective and useful for sacred gardening practice–see my elemental tree planting ritual here, for one such example).

 

The three elements are worth considering as an alternative or used in conjunction with the four elements, especially in regards to nature spiritual practices surrounding the land.  These three terms use Welsh words and pronunciations (like many other things coming out of Revival Druidry). They do not cleanly map onto the four elements, so don’t try to see them that way. See them, instead, as an alternative elemental system that emphasizes different properties of the world–all elemental systems do that, generally–they serve as an archetype of things that we can see or experience or know.  They are three archtypes, three ways of representing the inner and outer worlds of our experience.

A second representation of the three druid elements

A second representation of the three druid elements

Nwyfre (NOOiv-ruh): This first druid element is represents the life force and consciousness within each living being.  It is associated with the sky and the heavens; it represents the spirit of things; the mind.  The term means “sky” or “heaven” in the Welsh language.

 

Nwyfre in a gardening/growing/land healing context refers to the spirit of life flowing through each of the plants. This is the spark of life that encourages a seed to grow; it is the magic within the plant; and in some forms of herbalism, this would be the spiritual energy of the plant and the plant spirit itself. Nwyfre is not a physical thing (like Gwyar or Calas, see below); it is the spirit behind the physical thing. Nwyfre is often what we refer to when we talk about things unseen, “energies” of spaces and people.

 

Nwyfre is also the mental processes associated with gardening–its the design work, the thoughtfulness, the planning and careful consideration.  Its the feeling you get when you enter the garden; its the awareness that is awakened with a sacred connection to the plants.

 

Gwyar (GOO-yar) – This druid element represents the principle of flow, of movement, and of change. It is associated with the energy of the water (although is not limited to it); it represents the change that is inherent in all living things. The term means “flow” or “fluidity” in the Welsh language and we can refer to it as energy flows (in physical manifestation) of all kinds.

 

Gwyar is responsible for the change we see in the plants across the season; its the growth of the seed from spout to adult plant and finally into decay; its the flow of the seasons moving ever forward. Gwyar is the flow of the sap in the maple trees that first signals spring; its the growth of the plants; the budding and leafing of the trees; the ripening of the fruit; and the eventual composting and decay at the end of the season. Gwyar is the flows of nutrients in the great soil web of all life.  It is the principle of Gwyar we see in photosynthesis, the conversion of light into energy and oxygen by plants. For homebrewers, it is gwyar that allows the physical fermentation and transformation of grains or fruit into alcohol. It is this principle of flow in herbalism, also, that allows the medicine to move from the plant matter into a menstra (for tea, tinctures, etc). When permaculture designers talk about “catch and store energy” we are referring to harnessing the Gwyar in the land for common good (through rain barrels, swales, solar power, and so on).

 

Calas (CAH-lass) – The final druid element is Calas, representing solidity or substance. Calas is that which is the physical manifestation of things within the world: their form, their substance, and their features that help distinguish them. This is the welsh word for “hard” or “stability.”

 

Calas is the physical being of the plants in the garden, the soil, the microbial life.  It is Calas you feel when you pick up the rich soil and run it through your fingers. It is Calas that is the feeling of your tools in your hand (although its Gwyar that makes those tools work!). Its Calas that is in the vegetables sitting in your harvest basket and ready for your plate. All of the physical manifestations of your garden; the solidity of the pathways, the size of the beds, the physical structure of the plants; the weight of the stones–these are Calas.

 

Mapping the Elements onto the World

You can map these elements onto another triad in the druid path–the triad of earth (calas), sea (gwyar), and sky (nwyfre).  If you are interested in working with these three elements, I would start by suggesting that you spend time meditating on each of them and also spend time examining these principles at work in the world.

 

For example, as I look down my street, I see the Calas in the pavement, in the trunks of the strong trees, in the physical body of the people walking there.  I see Gwyar in the rain falling on the street, in the movement of the branches in the air, in the swinging of the hands and walking of the people.  I see the spark of Nwyfre in the laughter of the children crossing the street holding hands in the rain.

 

Sacred Bee

The bee embodying the three druid elements

As a second example, we can think about the honeybee.  The honeybee’s physical body (legs, wings, abdomen, exoskeleton, eyes, tongue, and so on) represent Calas.  The honeybee’s flight and movement in the hive represent Gwyar.  The magic alchemical process that allows eggs in the hive to have the spark of life, the magical process where nectar is transformed into honey, and the blessing the bees bring to the land all can be represented in Nwyfre.

 

I would suggest that if you want to use these three principles in your sacred gardening work, magical practice, or daily life, you spend time with each of them.  Spend time focusing on one, meditating on one, writing about it, maybe sketching it or creating a song, and observing it in everyday life.  Do the same with the other two–while these three elements are simple on the surface, profound understanding can be found with dedicated study and work with these elements. Now that we have some understanding of the principles behind the three druid elements, we can consider how they can be put to work in a sacred garden space.

 

Using Nwyfre, Gwyar, and Calas in Garden Designs

The other way you can use these elements is by considering their role in the garden design process and think about integrating them physically into our spaces.  Let’s look at two such garden designs where these three elements can play a prominent role.

 

1. The Herb Spiral

The herb spiral is probably the most quintessential design from permaculture; the spiral is built up so that the top of the spiral is above the earth by several feet, making it drier, and as the spiral goes down, it has various small microclimates.  Some spiral designs (including mine here) include a water feature at the bottom.  I like the herb spiral a lot, as its simple to implement, encourages us to think about the plants and their microclimate needs, and looks great.

 

From a magical perspective, we can apply the three druid elements easily into this design: the spiral itself representing nwyfre; the stones, earth, and plants representing calas; and the flow of water and areas of wetness and dryness as well as the encouraged growth habits based on placement through gwyar.  There’s also a really good reason to put a standing stone at the very top, buried 1/3 of the way into the soil–stay tuned for my next post for more on the inclusion of the standing stone.

The Sacred Herb Spiral, complete with standing stone and sacred pool

The Sacred Herb Spiral, complete with standing stone and sacred pool

You’ll notice in this design drawing I’ve included a number of different herbs, many of them both magical and medicinal.  The top of the design starts with the herbs that like it hot and dry–rosemary and white sage being at the top of that list, perhaps with a bit of accompanying garden sage or clary sage.  From there we move into thyme and dill, who can handle it a bit dryer, along with echinacea (purple cone flower), a wonderful medicinal.  Basil or lovage, too, would work wonderfully around this spot.  Chives, chamomile, and calendula (along with others, like New England Aster) fill out the bottom.  Next, we get to the pool’s edge.  Mountain mint and boneset are two water loving plants that would like that spot, as would any other mint.  Finally, the pool itself can contain horsetail (especially if you are using sand in your pool) or calamus, two rooted and water loving plants.  This design can be modified to your own herbal interest and specific ecosystem.

 

2. A Larger Sacred Garden Spiral

We can expand the idea of the herb spiral to create a larger sacred spiral garden in which things more than just herbs grow.  Here’s a simple design for one that honors these three elements as well as recognizes the importance of an 8-fold wheel.

Larger Spiral Garden Design Inspired by the Three Druid Elements

Larger Spiral Garden Design Inspired by the Three Druid Elements

This design is flat, and the stone walking pathways (or mulched paths, etc) form the basis of the design.  I’d keep the beds in the spiral no more than 3′ across; its harder to manage a bed wider than that (I speak from hard-learned experience!)  The center of the garden offers a standing stone (more on that in my upcoming post) as well as a sacred pool with calamus and horsetail.  The edge, like the design above, is for water-loving plants, and then any herbs you want to grow work their way outward from the spiral.  The outer edges (which can continue on, beyond what I drew) can be home to perennial berry bushes, brambles, etc, as well as rotating annual vegetable crops.  I really liked the nettles there, at the entrance, serving as guardians….so many of our forests have those kinds of protectors, and stinging nettle is not only a great guardian of spaces but an incredible medicinal and tasty food!

 

So now that we’ve looked at the three elements in design work, let’s see how we can use them for prayer and planting.

 

A Garden/Land Altar Using The Three Elements

Setting up a sacred space and acknowledging the presence of the elements is an important step; its a way to encourage us away from the strictly practical and into the sacred.  Another way of doing this in an existing garden space is to setup an altar for the three elements.  You can use a flat stone or stump, and on it, place a stone for calas, for example; a bowl of water for gwyar, and some representation of nwyfre (a symbol like a spiral or an awen or else some herbs/incense (sage, mugwort, or lavender are my favorites, but you can also use any blend of herbs that have a strong connection with planes beyond the physical).

 

An alternative is to create a living altar, where you can use three plants to represent them: an earthy or rooty plant for calas (burdock, comfrey, dandelion, or any garden mushroom or mushroom log would be perfect here), a water plant like calamus, horsetail, boneset, mountain mint, arrow root, and so-on for gwyar, and a plant associated with the spirit realm (sweetgrass, sage) or strongly with the sky  (a climbing vine like nasturtium) for nwyfre.

 

A good way to choose symbolism for your altar is to meditate on each of the three elements and/or do a free association with them in order to come to a deeper understanding.

 

Three Element Daily Prayer

A daily prayer at your three element altar can be simple and yet effective. I might come into the garden and say this prayer at morning’s first light or before I begin to work in the garden.

“Calas, the form and the shape
Gwyar, the flow and the change
Nwyfre, the spark of life
Sacred elements spiraling
Bless this [garden’s/land’s/place’s] growing”

As you say the prayer, pause after each line.  You can touch the elemental representation on the altar as you pause.  Then, for Calas and Gwyar use your 5 senses closely to see how that element is manifesting in the garden at each moment. Nywfre will require your inner senses, but it too can be sensed in various ways.

 

A Simple Prayer for Growing Things – A Three Element Blessing

This prayer, or another like it, can be used to encourage many things to grow, anything from sprouts on your counter or seeds you have started to the planting of a new garden.  I use this prayer this after planting my first sets of seeds in the fertile earth, transplanting seedlings, or putting in new trees or shrubs.

Say: “May the essence of the earth support you in strength.”
Action: Pour a small bit of earth or finished compost over the growing plant/seed/tree. Alternatively, if you are planting seeds, plant them at this time.  As you are sprinkling the earth or planting the seeds, chant “Calas” three times and envision the seed’s deep roots and the fertile earth supporting it.

 

Say: “May the flows of the land transmute you in harmony.”
Pour a small bit of water near the roots of the growing plant/seed.  As you are pouring, chant “Gywar” three times and envision the waters flowing to the seed and the seed’s growth and change.
Say: “May the spirit of life bless you in wisdom.”
Smudge the plant with a bit of herbal incense (I like sage, mugwort, rosemary, or lavender for this purpose; see my post on smudge sticks for more ideas).  As you are smudging, chant “Nwfre” three times and imagine a spark of life shining outward from the center of the seed to facilitate its growth.


Say:
“May the triune essence of Calas, Gwyar, and Nwyfre bless infuse you with blessing and abundance.” and chant “Awen” (Ah-oh-en) three times to close out the ceremony.

 

Concluding Thoughts

As you can see, the three elements of the druid tradition represent a wonderful opportunity to work on a sacred level, creating sacred gardening practices.  These kinds of practices truly contribute to a “druid’s garden!”

 

OBOD East Coast Gathering 2013 – Review September 24, 2013

The ECG logo (one of my own pieces!)

The ECG logo (one of my own pieces!)

This is the fourth year of the OBOD East Coast Gathering, (which I have reviewed before on this blog) and if anything can be said for certain, its that a tribe has now been firmly established. In the four years that I’ve been attending the gathering, I’ve watched us grow from a group newly formed to a community with rich traditions, rituals, and kinship. Coming to the ECG this year, after a very difficult year for me in particular, was coming home. This is beyond friendship, beyond family, reaching something deeper and more meaningful than most other relationships.  We are a tribe, we are kin, we are brothers and sisters in a sacred tradition honoring the land and supporting each other.  At one point in the gathering, the question was raised–is the gathering more “real” than what we were all returning to?  Which reality is reality?  These are things worth considering, and certainly, as we all spend substantial time in “readjustment” as we return to our jobs and hectic lives, the tribe that is the ECG will continue to hold the events of this past weekend in our hearts and minds.  In this review, I hope to capture some of the highlights of our gathering.

The Spirits of Place. I am always amazed by the welcoming nature of the spirits of the land of

Camp Netimus. They are serene and welcoming, whimsical and witty, and willing to share their knowledge.  From the fairy mounds and moss-covered fairy pathways deep in the forest and the stone cairns that seem to have grown out of the earth herself to nearby babbling brooks and our forest circle, the land holds us, cherishes us, and nurtures us as we gather. We had fewer acorns than last year (which was a shame, I was finally prepared with good buckets for harvesting them) but that did prevent the usual three or four acorns knocking you on the head during the gathering.  Our weather, for the most part, was sunny and cool.  We did finally receive a good storm or two on Saturday evening–but druids welcome all weather!

Story and Song. One of the highlights this year were our UK visitors, Damh the Bard, OBOD Pendragon; Cerri Lee, Pagan Artist; and Susan Jones, OBOD Tutor Coordinator. Damh gave us a wonderful concert on Thursday evening by our fire, where he sang some of his greatest songs, including two personal favorites of mine, “The Green and Gray” and “Sons and Daughters of Robin Hood.” If you haven’t yet had a chance to listen to his music, I strongly suggest doing so–his work resonates deeply for many of us. Damh, furthermore, is wonderful in person–I have listened to the OBOD Druidcast for many years, but seeing Damh in person was a rare treat.  In addition to the concert, each night our fires were home to bardic arts of many kinds–stories, songs, poems, dancing, and drumming.

Damh the Bard Concert (Photo by John Beckett)

Damh the Bard Concert (Photo by John Beckett)

Learning from One Another. Our gathering also had a fantastic line-up of workshops this year, including Fairy Houses with Denise Caron, Ogham and Druid Tree Magic from Damh the Bard, Survival Skills 101 with David Morrison, The Cauldron in Druidic Lore by Cerri Lee, Working with Animal Guides by Lorraine Soria, and the Journeyman and Hermit-Ways to Sacred Places with Susan Jones.  Each workshop helped deepen our understanding of the living and spirit worlds, and all were meaningful.  I especially enjoyed Susan’s historical discussion of the journeyman and the hermit and Damh’s discussion of how he does tree magic using the ogham.  Simple, yet profound, the knowledge gained from these workshops will continue to be transformative both within and without.

Raising the banner!; I am holding the banner in green. (Photo by John Beckett)

Raising the banner!; I am holding the banner in green. (Photo by John Beckett)

Ritual and Initiations.  On Saturday night, we initiated 3 druids and 12 ovates, for a record 5.5 hours of initiation (this is not something we set out to do, but we ended up having many more initiates than we had expected to have).  Despite the long hours, it was exciting to see so many new–and old–faces during our initiations.  We also initiated 14 new bards into the order–welcome new bards, and congratulations to those of you who entered new grades this year!  In addition to the initiation rituals, we had a lovely opening and closing ceremony, an Alban Elfed ritual, and a ritual dedicated to the Lord of the Forest, Cernunnos. During our Alban Elfed ritual, the community received gifts from the bards (a very entertaining and moving act), gifts from ovates (a discussion of apples and the rich earth, among other things), gifts from the druids (anointing of ash and oil from our fires and chanting of ogham), from the children (a fairy house and numerous caterpillars from the children), and our guests (a gift of good hospitality).  The Cerrunos ritual was particularly powerful–we processed deep into the forest to blazing fires and drumming, and summoned the lord of the forest to music and drumming.

Ritual Banner Carriers! (Photo by John Beckett)

Ritual Banner Carriers! (Photo by John Beckett)

It is the hour of recall….The hardest thing about the gathering is going home.  I have a hard time thinking about how long it will be until another gathering comes–a full year will pass, and with it, joys, sorrows, and so much more.  But if there is one thing I know, is that there will be another gathering, another time for our community to share, grow, and learn.  I am very excited to see what our 5th year looks like, and in the meantime, I’ll honor our kinship and community by closing with the OBOD Vow, a vow we say at the end of each of our rituals, “We swear, by peace and love to stand, heart to heart and hand to hand.  Mark, Oh Spirits, and hear us now, confirming this, our sacred vow.”  With a community like ECG, this vow becomes more than just words–it shows the power such communities can hold.

*Special thanks to John Beckett for letting me share some of his photos! I was very busy organizing the Alban Elfed ritual and forgot to take any photos of my own!*

 

Tree Planting Ritual – Druid / OBOD Style May 2, 2012

Communing with the trees….

This is a simple tree planting ritual that I wrote for our grove’s upcoming Beltane celebration this weekend.  Our grove is only partially wooded currently–we will be planting about 15 new trees around the grove to help fill it in.   It is designed for a group, but you can easily adapt it to one person. Feel free to adapt this ceremony to your own needs.

Our outdoor grove, where we celebrate most of our holidays, was only partially wooded. We had about 20 new trees to plant from the Arbor Day Foundation around the perimeter of the grove, and we wanted to do something special for the trees to welcome them to our grove.  The following is the ritual we created.

Prior to the ritual: You should prepare the following items prior to the start of the ritual and tree planting:

  • Shovels for digging holes.  Begin by digging the holes for the trees prior to commencing the rest of the ritual.
  • Trees to plant.  After you dig the holes, you can place a tree next to the hole in preparation for the ritual.
  • A small bowl of hardwood ash. If you have saved Yule log ashes or ashes from the Beltane fires, this is a perfect use for them. Otherwise, any hardwood ash will do.  If you have neither, you could throw in a handful of compost, composted manure, or a tiny bit of organic fertilizer.
  • Watering can(s) filled with water. Mew trees need a lot of water, so make sure you give them a very good drink!
  • A feather or fan.  You can also use some incense here—anything to represent air will do.

Ritual Explanation:  If you are performing this ritual by yourself, you can do all of the parts solo. When we did this ritual as a group, we all took turns digging the holes for the trees.  Then we split into four groups of two/three people (a group for earth, air, fire, and water) and made our way around the circle of the trees in a clockwise manner, eventually meeting back up to close the ritual. The hardest part is probably the planting itself, so if you have an uneven number of people, assign more planters than the other parts.

If you’ve already planted your trees but still want to bless them, you can still use the bulk of the ritual below—just sprinkle the ash near the tree’s roots (for fire) and put some high quality soil, compost, or composted manure for the “earth” part around the trunk.

 

The Ritual:

Druid:  It is not hard to see why the ancient druids celebrated in groves of trees. Trees are a vital part of all life on this planet—nourishing the soil and preventing erosion, creating oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, providing habitat and food, and creating shade.  With each tree we plant and tend as it grows, we provide a blessing to the land and all its inhabitants.  As these trees grow, so too does our connection with this land. Come now and welcome these trees to our sacred grove.

Fire Group: Place a pinch of ash* into the hole prior to the tree planting.  Say:

“May this tree be nourished by this sacred ash, by the energy of the sun, the great stag in the heat of the chase, and the powers of the south.  We thank this tree for the shade she will provide.”

Earth Group: Place each tree in the hole, filling the hole with earth.  As you are planting the tree, say:

“My this tree be blessed by the deep and fruitful earth and powers of the north.  We thank this tree for the bounty and stability she will provide.”

Water Group: Water each tree after it is planted.  As you are watering, say:

“May this tree be blessed by the flowing waters of the sacred pool and the powers of the west.  We thank this tree for the wisdom she will provide. ”

Air Group: Lightly fan each tree with a feather and say:

“May this tree be blessed by the powers of the east and the air; we thank and honor her for the clear, pure air she will provide.”

All Participants: After all trees are planted, all stand around the newly planted trees and say:

“Spirits of this land, spirits of this circle**, we ask for your blessing and protection over these young trees. Dearest trees, we welcome you to the fellowship of these lands and our grove. In this sacred earth in will you grow strong.  In the warm rains, will you be nourished.  In the wind in the air, will your leaves speak to us as we listen.  In fire of the sun, will you grow and shelter our grove.  You embody our core value of peace—for though you are strong, you harm none. And though you are mighty, you shelter all beneath your branches. We now sing in honor of you.”

Close the ceremony with Cascading Awens***.

 

—————–

Notes:

* If you are celebrating the wheel of the year and have saved Yule log ashes, this is a perfect use for them.  Otherwise, any hardwood ash will do.  If you have none of either, you could throw in a handful of compost, composted manure, or organic fertilizer.

**Adapt as appropriate to your context.

***A note on the “Cascading Awens.”  Druids working within the revival tradition do a chant of “Awen” (pronounced Ah – oh – en).  Awen is a Welsh word meaning poetic/divine inspiration or creativity–and is a cornerstone of druidic practice.  If you aren’t a druid, any chant/music/singing will do at the end here.  But if you want to do the cascading awens, you’ll need a group (usually 4-5 is about the minimum you can do to have it work right).  Every person starts and ends their Awen chant at a different time, hence the cascade.  If you have a large group doing it, the effects can be quite…magical!  If you only have a few people, you can chant Awen together in unison–try some harmonies!