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Polytheism and FoDLA

Rev. Todd Covert

Polytheism and FoDLA

A central feature of the Neo-Druidism of FoDLA is the notion that it is a polytheistic spiritual path. On the surface, this is not an especially controversial notion: Most modern pagans understand that “polytheism” refers to belief in multiple gods and/or goddesses. It is worth considering the specific integration of polytheism into practice within FoDLA–especially group ritual practice–to help newcomers decide if the community of Draíocht Nua is appropriate for them.

In principle, “polytheism” could be taken to mean worship of as few as two deities. Taken in this way, the common Wiccan reverence of a “Lord” and “Lady” could be seen as an instance of polytheistic religion–and, indeed, FoDLA rituals have proven to be quite accessible for solitary Wiccans looking for community at the seasonal festivals. But, in practice, FoDLA is part of a broader movement generally referred to as “reconstructionist paganism” within which an emphasis tends to be placed on working with the deities seen as individuals with distinct personalities (or sometimes multiple personae), residing within an identifiable cultural context (think of the Olympian pantheon or the Norse gods and goddesses in Asgard, for instance). From this perspective, focusing solely on two overarching male and female divinities is usually seen as “duotheistic” rather than “polytheistic”–especially when the many deities are seen as simply guises of two primal, archetypal figures. Again, this doesn’t preclude someone holding a duotheistic point-of-view from participating meaningfully in Draíocht Nua–one need only be mindful that the community is more heavily populated with those who worship more numerous deities.

How many deities must one worship to function comfortably within FoDLA ritual customs? At the least, it seems that at least two Powers are essential recipients of our worship as a community: Sovereignty and the First Ancestor. Sovereignty may be identified with the vitality of the Land itself and is normally approached as feminine in character. Often, this goddess may be seen as residing in the local landscape or a river. The First Ancestor (e.g., the Irish Donn or sometimes Bile) is usually seen as the keeper of the feast hall of the Dead. Between these two figures, much of creation, fertility, death, and afterlife is addressed. Beyond that, in locating faith in the Land and in Ancestry, one has leeway to adopt a spiritual perspective that leans either toward or away from a heavy emphasis on the supernatural without apology.

The Founding Vision for FoDLA makes plain that the community is primarily for English speakers residing in the United States and that English language honorifics for deities are entirely welcome in ritual. This includes titles such as “Lord of the Dead,” “Keeper of the Ways between the Worlds,” “Mother of the Waters,” and so forth. In addition, as Draíocht Nua derives ultimately from the customs of the Celtic peoples, Celtic deity names are always welcome in ritual. Deities from other cultures may always be honored in one’s personal practice, but even in group ritual, if the opportunity to give honor to one’s personal patron or matron is offered, non-Celtic deities may be acknowledged (and it is expected that the other people assembled will respect this). However, Draíocht Nua is not a path for monotheistic practice and it honors the ways of our pre-Christian forebears, so individuals are respectfully asked to refrain from giving honor to objects of Christian veneration such as Jesus of Nazareth (or his mother, Mary) or the Abrahamic God, if regarded as the “one true” deity.

Above all, it is important to take to heart the words of the Founding Vision:

“The Fellowship is polytheistic: It is a community for those who have found importance in their lives for many gods or spirits.  Respectful disagreement about the ultimate nature of the deities is welcome in the activities of the Fellowship, but not the assertion that one God or Goddess is superior to all others and must be recognized as such by all…

“The Fellowship advocates for the most inclusive and least dogmatic expression of its core values.  The Fellowship esteems shared values and practices above rigid definitions and explanations of metaphysical matters.  The Fellowship rejects the establishment of definitive accounts of such matters of individual faith as the origin and fate of the cosmos; the independent nature of the deities, spirits, and otherworldly realms; and the existence and nature of an afterlife.  The Fellowship trusts in its members to contemplate such matters in a meaningful way and to reject the temptation to use them as a means of division.”

Todd Covert – June 2006

Common Elements of Neo-Druid Ritual

Common Elements of Neo-Druid Ritual

The following are commonly-accepted phases of modern Pagan Druid ritual (though this is by no means an exhaustive list). Some are based wholly on evidence from the Celtic world. Others are hypothesized from other documented Indo-European practices, while others are reflective of Neopagan sensibilities. Some or all of these ritual elements can be found in the liturgical practices of paths such as ADF Druidism, Asatru, Celtic Reconstructionism/Restorationism, and others.  Many of these are specific to group ritual, but many are core practices that can be observed by individuals in daily or seasonal devotions.
Invoking InspirationRight speech and right practice is sought, often through invocation of an appropriate deity (or the more generalized concept of “Awen”).
Establishing and Protecting the NemetonMost Pagan ritual practice–esp. group practice–was held in a defined space, whether a constructed temple, a sacred hilltop, or a consecrated grove of trees. If a permanent temple is not available, then a working sacred space (or “Nemeton”) is consecrated. It can be marked out–and protected–by such attested techniques as processing sunwise around the perimeter with a torch.
Lighting the Fire AltarIf we know anything about ancient Druid practice, it is that their public ceremonies involved the use of ritual fire. This is extremely common throughout Indo-European tradition, both in terms of public practices and hearth devotions.
Preparing the ParticipantsPurification by the smoke of a sacred fire is well established in Celtic traditions, so censing the participants is one possibility. Water can be consecrated as well (and honor given to a Mother Goddess in doing so) and used for cleansing.
Honoring & Uniting with the LandParticularly if a temporary Nemeton is in use, offering to the Goddess of the Land (or Sovereignty) is recommended. At this point, the Four Directions (e.g., as represented by the ancient provinces of Ireland and their associated qualities as found in the manuscript called “The Settling of the Manor at Tara”) can be invoked. This is a particularly welcome action in its respect for Neopagan sensibilities, including those of the British Druid orders.
Opening to the OtherworldsIn Irish tradition, the ruler of the Otherworlds could grant passage to mortals to the other realms of our cosmos. Invoking such a figure to make open the way between the worlds, with a suitable offering, is appropriate.
Offerings to the PowersThe Deities, Ancestors (including the Lord of the Dead, who is often conceived of as the First Ancestor), and often the Spirits of the Middle World are given appropriate offerings and invited to share the ritual hearth.
Main OfferingsThe purpose of the ritual is made plain–through recitation of lore and statement of intent–and offerings to support that purpose made to appropriate Powers. These are most often tangible offerings given via the Fire, but individuals may offer prayer or song or other gifts as well.  Where beings associated with the Lower World are being offered to, a shaft, well, cauldron, or even a lake or river, may be the appropriate locus for the offering.
Sharing of BlessingsOften a communal cup is shared among the participants, with the contents sometimes libated as a personal offering or sometimes consumed accompanied by a toast or pledge. This is drawn from the Norse tradition of the sumbel and is an appropriate time for oath taking and thanksgiving, as well as the directing of the blessings received during the rite for magical purpose.
Thanks and ConclusionIt is important to provide closure to ritual. The temporary Nemeton (if such has been established) can be ritually dis-established.
FeastingPagan Druidism is a community- and hearth-based religious path, not a hierarchical and ecclesiastical one. Once the formal rite is concluded, sharing of hospitality is a worthwhile activity.
© 2005 Todd Covert

Reading List Version3.0


Reading List for Druidic Training
Compiled by Chief Druid Todd Covert


CELTIC HERITAGE by Alwyn and Brinsley ReesAn exploration of the tripartite society of the Indo-European world as manifested in ancient Celtic society.
THE CELTIC REALMS by Myles Dillon and Nora ChadwickThis unique cultural history includes both general Celtic history and outstanding chapters on the literary traditions of Ireland and Wales.
THE HISTORICAL ATLAS OF THE CELTIC WORLD by John HaywoodAn invaluable resource, including a foreword by Barry Cunliffe.
THE DRUIDS by Peter Berresford EllisThe best current book on what we think we know about the Druids.
THE WORLD OF THE DRUIDS by Miranda GreenA terrific introduction to the subject by a respected Celtic scholar.
THE TRIUMPH OF THE MOON by Ronald HuttonAn eminent British historian’s groundbreaking history of Wicca, also covering the 19th and early 20th century roots of Neopaganism.

One of the following:

THE CELTIC HEROIC AGE, edited by John T. KochWhile it omits a couple significant tales, this sourcebook includes a fairly comprehensive collection of Gaelic, British, and continental sources.


ANCIENT IRISH TALES, edited by Cross & SloverInexpensive reprint of a standard collection of tales from Irish mythology and folklore.


THE MABINOGION, trans by Patrick Ford OR Jeffrey GantzInexpensive reprint of a standard collection of tales from Irish mythology and folklore.


THE ANCIENT CELTS by Barry CunliffeA thorough and widely recommended survey by one of the most respected archaeologists in Britain.
THE APPLE BRANCH (aka CELTIC RITUALS) by Alexei KondratievThe indispensable guide to reconstructing Celtic Paganism. Full of excellent examples of folkloric practice from throughout the Celtic world.
CATTLE LORDS AND CLANSMEN by Nerys PattersonOutstanding survey of early Irish society, based on evidence from the surviving law codes.
THE FAIRY-FAITH IN CELTIC COUNTRIES by W.Y. Evans-WentzA unique and seminal book: Both a collection of folklore and myth from all the Celtic lands and a theory of the nature of indigenous Celtic belief systems.
CARMINA GADELICA by Alexander CarmichaelHymns, charms and prayers collected in the Scottish Highlands in the late 19th century. An invaluable sourcebook.
MEDIEVAL IRISH LYRICS (WITH THE IRISH BARDIC POET) by James CarneyValuable both as a compendium of Irish and Latin poems in the original language and in translation, as well as a seminal essay on Bardic training and traditions in Ireland.
COMPARATIVE MYTHOLOGY by Jaan PuhvelA widely-cited survey of comparative Indo-European mythic traditions and themes.
A HISTORY OF PAGAN EUROPE by Prudence Jones & Nigel PennickAn essential overview of the history and practice of Paganism in Europe.
PAGAN THEOLOGY by Michael YorkAn informative study that argues for “Paganism” as a worldwide religious ideology and places Neopaganism in the context of such other traditions as Shinto and Afro-Caribbean practices.
THE ARTFUL UNIVERSE by William K. MahonyHighly recommended: An analysis of the Vedic religious imagination. Provides a very insightful perspective on the traditions of priests and bards in the Indo-European world.
THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE by Mircea EliadeBrief, yet profound and important. An exploration of sacred space, sacred time and the nature of ritual and religion from a preeminent religious scholar.


THE ATLANTIC CELTS by Simon JamesControversial and thought-provoking, this re-examination of the notion of Celtic identity is central to much current discussion of the subject (especially taken in the broader context of the work of British scholar Barry Cunliffe).
HANDBOOK OF THE SCOTTISH GAELIC WORLD by Michael NewtonA detailed introduction to the history and culture of Gaelic Scotland.
  THE CELTIC CONSCIOUSNESS, edited by Robert O’Driscoll  A breathtakingly diverse collection of papers on Celtic history, art, ethnology, archaeology, and much more, from a seminal conference on Celtic studies in 1978.
SEX AND MARRIAGE IN ANCIENT IRELAND by Patrick C. PowerThis slender volume represents an excellent and accessible introduction to the concepts of the Brehon Laws of Ireland, focusing on marital customs.
PAGAN CELTIC BRITAIN by Anne RossA landmark survey of the evidence for ancient Celtic Pagan practices.
PAGAN CELTIC IRELAND by Barry RafterySticks almost entirely to archaeology, but covers the topic thoroughly.
THE DRUIDS by Stuart PiggottOften described as “unfriendly” to modern Druidry, but an essential read.
THE DRUID RENAISSANCE by Phillip Carr-GommAn excellent compendium of essays on the development and practice of modern Druidry.
CELTIC MYTHOLOGY by Proinsias Mac CanaOut-of-print, but findable: a definitive survey of the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient Celts, full of pictures.
THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF CELTIC WISDOM by John and Caitlin MatthewsBilled as a sourcebook for “Celtic Shamans,” this is an excellent compendium of lore organized by topic.
MYTHIC IRELAND by Michael DamesA fascinating–if sometimes opinionated–walking tour of the sacred landscapes and folklore of Ireland.
THE BARDIC SOURCE BOOK, edited by John MatthewsA collection of primary and secondary sources on the Celtic bardic traditions.
THE HIDDEN IRELAND by Daniel CorkeryA history of late bardic practice in eighteenth century Ireland.
THE CELTIC SEERS’ SOURCE BOOK, edited by John MatthewsAn excellent compendium, including Nora Chadwick’s important essay on “Imbas Forosnai”.
CELTIC TREE MYSTERIES by Steve BlamiresThe best of the popular resources on the Ogham alphabet, with a great deal of reference to the medieval textual materials.
  TREE WISDOM by Jacqueline Memory Paterson  A handsome reference to the various trees associated with the Ogham.
IN SEARCH OF THE INDO-EUROPEANS by J.P. MalloryPopular and comprehensive survey of the Indo-Europeans and their diaspora.
HOW TO KILL A DRAGON by Calvert WatkinsDense and technical, this is a unique and landmark study of poetics in the Indo-European cultures.
MYTHS AND SYMBOLS IN PAGAN EUROPE by H.R. Ellis DavidsonA useful study of the common religious practices of the Celts and the Norse.
THE RIG VEDA, translated by Wendy Doniger O’FlahertyA useful paperback collection of representative hymns from the great text of ancient Indian Paganism.
PAGAN RELIGIONS OF THE ANCIENT BRITISH ISLES by Ronald HuttonHutton has apparently disavowed this book, but it is still a worthwhile read. Soundly debunks numerous Wiccan and Neopagan “sacred cows”.
DRAWING DOWN THE MOON by Margot AdlerThe definitive work on Neopaganism in America
WITCHES, DRUIDS AND KING ARTHUR by Ronald HuttonA collection of excellent essays on ancient and modern Paganism, including a history of modern British Druidism.
GOD AGAINST THE GODS by Jonathan KirschA history of the conflict between monotheism and polytheism–highly sympathetic to ancient Paganism.
THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO PAGANISM by Carl McColmanA surprisingly solid introduction (written by a former leader of a Neopagan Druid grove).