Category Archives: Ritual Materials

The Mystery of the Union with the Land

The Mystery of the Union with the Land

For the ancient Celts, there is no question that a complex ritual and social system centered on the three-fold relationship of the People, their Chieftain (often termed a “king”), and the Land itself, embodied in the figure of any of a wide array of Sovereignty goddesses. Central to this system were two fundamental concepts: That the leader of the people was expected to be fit and to behave with honor and that the leader should be wed, in some sense, to the Land. This ideology finds echoes in places as disparate as ancient inaugurations rites from India and the Arthurian lore of the Wounded King and the Wasteland.

As modern American Druidic Pagans, we are part of a culture that has rejected monarchy and the oppressive political structures that so often have accompanied it in European history. But because of this, we are apt to read into accounts of Irish “High Kings” a conception of “kingship” that is based on stereotypes based on the oppressive behaviors of hereditary kings and queens who ruled by “Divine Right,” not by personal merit. American democratic principles resonate in some ways with the more merit-based system of chieftainship to be found in the Celtic world during much of its history and the fellowship seeks to explore and reinvigorate the healthiest aspects of the ancient ways.

Again, as Americans, we have no need for “kings”–but we can consider ancient Celtic ideas about the leader as fit representative of the People and that the unity and prosperity of the People might be sustained by a harmonious and periodically renewed relationship with the Land. In FoDLA, therefore, the custom is to have one person, who has been identified as qualified, charged with the facilitation of any rituals that are open to the community at large and to ask that person to renew the contract with the Land on behalf of the People assembled. In this way, the community is re-engaged in its responsibilities to act in harmonious relationship with the environment in which it lives and on which it depends.

The ritual leader is asked to make an offering of grain to the earth, returning some of our share of the bounty the Land has provided. At minimum, an equivalent to the following prayer is offered to the goddess in the Land:

“May we be united with you, Lady of the Land,

Keeper of abundant blessings and bitter truths alike.

Grant us the bounty and the lessons you bear,

As our ways find favor in your eyes.”

Todd Covert – May 2006

THe Mystery of the otherworldly Feast

The Mystery of the Otherworldly Feast

A central focus of the religious practices of the ancient Indo-European peoples was the offering of sacrifice to the deities, spirits, and ancestors seen as a “shared feast.” In general terms, the making of offering can be seen as the offering of hospitality and therefore the building of a positive and reciprocal relationship with the Powers we hold in esteem. In the archaeological evidence from the Celtic lands, we find offerings of items of value into springs, lakes, rivers, and shafts as well as indications of ritual burning.

In the Neo-Druidism of FoDLA, we seek to emulate this ancient ideology–which was certainly a part of the world of the Druids of old–by using our ritual fire as a hearth to which we may invite the Powers to whom we wish to offer gifts and hospitality. On certain occasions–especially when dealing with subterranean beings or perhaps the ancestors–we might physically offer into the earth or a body of water, rather than into the fire, but in general the fire-as-hearth is the focus of the work. Offering of one sort or another, envisioned as an occasion of shared hospitality is an expected part of any group ritual and is highly encouraged for personal rituals.

For the ancients, the “meal” would often have been literally that: the flesh of a ritually-slaughtered animal consumed by the participants and shared with the Gods via the fire. In the post-Enlightenment age, we no longer feel that the deities must be fed by the taking of life, especially the life of a being that has not consented to participate in the giving. (In ancient Celtic society, the animal offered–such as a cow or horse–would have been part of a herd under husbandry and thus part of the community’s property. These days food animals are rarely personal property, so–even if one set aside the moral objections to ritual slaughter–finding something of personal value, even aesthetic value, to offer at the ritual hearth is more in keeping with genuine giving.) We regard flowers, fruit, art, song, story, praise, and other items as fully worthy offerings to the Powers at the occasion of the ritual “feast.”

Todd Covert – May 2006

THe Mystery of the Hearth Fire

The Mystery of the Hearth Fire

Traditional Celtic culture accords an important place to the hearth fire in the home. Many customs in recent times have been associated with St. Brigit, who is generally understood to be a Christian reflex of the ancient Gaelic goddess of the same name. In this, Celtic tradition parallels similar precedent in Hellenic and Roman culture centered on the hearth goddess known as Hestia and Vesta.

Looking farther afield, but still within the Indo-European context, in pre-Hindu India, the main ritual fire for community ritual was lit from a “householder’s fire” brought from the hearth of the sponsor of the rite. This tradition also sees the fire as a living divine entity–known as the god “Agni”–which is both “sacrificer” and “sacrificed”. There is good reason to assume that the Druids had at least a similar conception of the role of fire in ritual.

Some people choose to associate Brigit with the fire, others the Gaulish god Belenos–but whether or not an authentic name for the divine presence in the fire can ever be determined, it is undeniable that fire presents itself as a living thing that must be nurtured and is capable of growth, generosity and destructiveness. And it is precisely this identification of the fire as companion and ally and holder of the place of celestial power in our daily lives that we recognize and honor as the “mystery of the Hearth Fire.”

In FoDLA, the fire is given a central place in our rites, just as it held such a place in the daily lives of our forebears. Members are encouraged to take at least a moment–preferably in the home–to light a flame on a daily basis and use that as a focus for such activities as prayer, offering (as, for example, of incense) and meditation or contemplation. For those with the ability to do so, the daily maintenance of a perpetual “hearth” fire in the home is highly encouraged. In any case, though, the daily devotion at the hearth flame is an opportunity to renew vows of study, piety, and hospitality.

A simple prayer (inspired in part by the Gaelic hymn and prayer collection, the “Carmina Gadelica,” and partly by a verse in the Rig Veda) that encompasses commitment to tradition, the deities, and the community is as follows:

I kindle this fire for the hearth, for the home, for the whole of the people
One flame for light, one flame for warmth, one flame to encircle us all
Earth under heaven, heaven down to earth
This day and every day
May it be so.

May I pray with a good fire.

As the Ancestors have done in times before
I honor the Gods in the old ways
That my hearth and my heart may give cheer.
Bíodh sé amhlaidh. (Irish, “May it be so.”)

This can be accompanied by offerings and/or oaths for the day, directed to one or more of the deities or ancestors…but remember that you are at the very least offering the fuel for the candle’s flame and your time spent in pious activity.

Todd Covert – May 2006



By Rev. Todd Covert, Chief of the Fellowship

The founding documents of the Fellowship of Druidism for the Latter Age spell out few requirements for liturgy.  The only prescriptions are for the use of sacred fire in all ritual—personal or group; the making of offering to the Powers being honored by the rite whenever group ritual is performed; and the enactment of a renewal of the sacred marriage of the People with the Land at all community rituals.

The list of “required” elements is limited intentionally and for multiple reasons.  First, when looking at the precedents afforded by ancient Indo-European ritual forms, it is clear that there were numerous approaches taken, at a variety of types of sites and with widely varying forms of offering.  The ancients, we can reasonably say, had recourse to a variety of forms suited to various occasions and we ought to afford ourselves the same flexibility where it suits with our needs.  But, secondly, Neo-Druidism is a young religious path, finding its footing in a cultural context quite radically different than that of, say, the ancient Druids, and need not succumb to any temptation to etch in stone practices which are—in effect—still being tested by a community that is largely comprised of converts from other faith communities.  And, lastly, there is the matter of the Fellowship’s stated character of inclusiveness and tolerance:  Providing a very open and flexible attitude to liturgy seems reasonably aligned with a goal of presenting ritual that has the greatest opportunity of welcoming the most newcomers.

All of that being said, the brief list of required elements hardly constitutes sufficient material to craft a group ritual.  So what else—practically speaking—needs to be included?

The following is an attempt at providing a hierarchy of possible ritual elements likely to provide a fully fleshed-out liturgy.


–The Fire

It is essential that the ritual be organized—whenever possible—around sacred Fire.  There is good evidence to suggest a relationship between a hearth fire and that used in the ritual altar.  As such, fire can be brought from home—if that can be accomplished safely—and the altar Fire kindled from that.  Or the officiant can privately light a lamp or candle from which the other fire used in the ritual can be ignited.  Or the altar fire can simply be lit directly.  When possible, though, it is symbolically (if not magically) potent for all fire in the work to be from the same source.

A brief prayer, inspired by Gaelic precedent, that can be used for the fire lighting is:

I kindle this flame
For the hearth
For the home
For the whole of the People
One flame for light
One flame for warmth
One flame to encircle us all
Earth under heaven
Heaven down to earth
This day and every day
May it be so

May I pray with a good fire

–The Sacred Site

Ritual is sacred in character, which implies that it ideally occurs apart from the mundane world.  Different Pagan paths have taken various approaches to providing sacred space—from casting of circles to the construction of permanent temples—but some acknowledgement of the special character of the site should be included.  For a temporary setting, the old Gaelic custom of processing about the fields clockwise with a torch has the advantage of being both intuitive in character (fire drives away the wild and untoward beasties) and rooted in actual folk practice.

Note here as well that this custom—attested into modern times—not only defines the sacred space (or “nemeton” to use the ancient Celtic term)—but is understood to establish a protective perimeter.

Processing three times about a sacred well or cairn is a common folk practice as well.  So it is elegant, practical, and rooted in tradition to have the torch (lit from the source flame suggested above) and perhaps the participants, if space permits, process three times around the sacred site.

(Of course, a permanent temple with an altar maintained within it would be lovely—and far more attested by archaeological evidence from the Celtic lands than many people realize—but is not practical for many groups.)

The Mother Grove of the Fellowship has used the following chant during processions of this sort for many of its rituals, repeated until the procession is complete:

By our will

By our words

By our work

This place is made whole and holy

–Prayer for Inspiration

The “fire in the head” of poetic inspiration, the “truth of the King,” and the power of the word which gave satire the power to physically blemish.  All these point to the centrality of the presence of what is often referred to by the Irish Imbas or the Welsh Awen.  The Irish goddess Brid (Brigit) is often regarded as providing this inspiration and can be prayed and offered to.  Many modern Druids approach the Awen as an independent force and seek its descent through invocation in ritual.

Poetic inspiration—and truth and purity in the words of the participants—should be asked for.  A sample of a short prayer for inspiration is the following:

Lady Brigit!
We call on you to guide our rite in the way of truth.
Let our words be fit and so our hearts.
Let it be so!

–The Statement of Intent

However simple or elaborate a ritual might be, unity of purpose is important.  To that end, it is important to provide some context to the attendees.  This might be accomplished by a simple explanation during the rite.  It is also possible to take care of this with a briefing prior to the opening of the ritual.  A less literal way of handling this is with the telling of a tale or sharing of a traditional (or newly-composed) song or story that captures the essential purpose of the ceremony.

–The Invitations

These might also be referred to by some as “invocations.”  The meaning is, for all intents and purposes, the same.  It is proper to identify and make welcome those unseen Powers who presence is essential for the success of the ritual.  This might include a large number of beings or it might simply include one or two Deities being given special honor during the ritual.  The customs of our Fellowship do not absolutely require explicit offerings or invocations of a set number of honored Guests.  The Commitment to Hospitality and the Commitment to Piety should both provide strong incentive to make welcome as many of the Powers as will make the rite effective.

Some possible invitations include:

For the Gods and Goddesses:

Shining Ones!  Highest and mightiest,
First among the Kindreds, worthiest of honor,
Deities of this place, known to us or unknown,
Gods and Goddesses of all those here, Patrons and Matrons,
We would offer you like honor.
Join us at our fire, o Shining Ones.
Accept our sacrifice!

For the Ancestors:

Ancestors!  You who guide our steps,
You who carry the honor of the People to the Otherworlds,
We honor you here.

(Ale is poured in the Nemeton and the remainder set in a cup on the altar. )

We offer you the first portion as is proper and set forth this cup for your taking.
Ancestors, come to our hearthside and guide us in our rite!

–The Offering

While any number of preliminary offerings can—and should—be made in connections with any invitations or consecrations (of site or tools), a main offering should be the focus of any group ritual.  This is what is referred to in the founding documents of the Fellowship as the Mystery of the Otherworldly Feast.

Among the ancients, religious ceremony very often took the form of a meal shared with Otherworldly Powers—most often the Deities or honored Ancestors.  In modern Druidism, we may treat this “meal” more symbolically and offer one or more gifts to the Powers being honored; in an ideal case, either the offering of the gift or a sharing of a portion of it will be stimulating or nourishing to the attendees at the rite.

The ancients also used various vehicles for their offerings.  Very often the sacred Fire was used to convey offerings to the bright Celestial Gods and Goddesses—the literal “Shining Ones,” which is the meaning of our word “deities.”  Subterranean beings –and very often the Dead—might be given honor by the pouring of drink into the Earth or a tomb.  Some Indo-European cultures have also made sacrifice by exposing an offering to the air, whether on an open air altar or consecrated mat or by hanging in a tree.  Modern Druidic worshippers can explore any or all of these as they seem appropriate to a given occasion.  Very often, though, the Fire is the most direct and powerful medium for offering.

The main offering of the occasion can perhaps best be thought of as a gift suited to the occasion.  In a modern context, the nature of the gift is limited only by the imagination—and generosity—of those holding the ritual.


Beyond the necessary components of ritual sketched out here, other elements which can profitably be incorporated include the following:

–Signal of Beginning and End

Whether a musical tone or tones, a drumbeat, or simply a verbal announcement (or a combination of these or other signals), defining the beginning and end of “sacred time” is helpful for creating unity of will and focus.

–Honoring the Source/Mother of the Waters

Ancient Indo-European tradition points to a reverence for fresh water, for rivers and their sources as life giving Goddesses, perhaps all reflecting a fount of life for the People.  It is certainly appropriate to honor and acknowledge this primal figure, preferably early in the rite.  One such prayer is as follows:

Sacred Source, Cauldron of making and unmaking,
Fathomless Sea, bountiful Spring,
Mother of the Rivers, we honor you here

–Acknowledging the Otherworlds

Often seen as realms above and below our world, prayers and offerings to strengthen our connection to the Otherworlds and those who dwell there can be included.  One strategy is to offer to a figure such as the King of the Sidhe to work in concert with the actions of the ritual.  This can be seen as part of the preliminary work of the ritual, prior to inviting the Powers to be given honor.

–Honoring the Middle World

In addition to forging connections with the Otherworlds, acknowledging the “horizontal” and inviting the seen and unseen allies we humans have in this world to join in the rite is also useful.  Offerings of invitation can be made to the spirits of the Middle World.  These can be considered to be such beings as the animals and plants; the Fair Folk; totem allies; and others.

The modern British Druids have used a “Call for Peace” to the four cardinal directions; an adaptation of this that makes use of Irish lore that has been used by the Mother Grove is the following (accompanied by offerings):

May there be peace in the East, ancient Leinster, source of Prosperity.
May there be peace in the South, ancient Munster, source of Harmony.
May there be peace in the West, ancient Connacht, source of Wisdom.

May there be peace in the North, ancient Ulster, source of Strength.
Here in the Center, let peace rule over this rite.

–Renewing the Bond with Sovereignty

The People have an ancient and ongoing marriage with the Land.  For our forebears, the Sovereignty goddess—often local or national in nature—was linked in sacred marriage to the King.  In our seasonal rituals, we pledge this sacred compact anew, with the presiding Druid standing in as fit representative of the people.  It is proper to offer to the Land and pray:

May we be united with you, Lady of the Land,
Sovereign of the Realm under Sídhe,
Grant us the abundant blessings of the Land,

Teach us its mysteries and its lessons,
As our ways find favor in your eyes.

–Individual Offerings

In addition to a main offering by the community, time may be allotted for individuals to approach the Fire (or whatever medium for sacrifice is being used) and pray or offer praise or their own offerings.  In general, it is important to remember that our rituals are above all an opportunity to offer thanks and to strengthen the ties we feel to the Otherworldly Powers, however each of us understands them.  By offering praise, gifts, and hospitality as unconditionally as possible, we increase their strength as allies and empower them better to offer us what will improve our lot.

–Sharing of Cheer

It was customary in many ancient societies to pass a cup (or drinking horn) or to share the consecrated food brought to the altar.  Certainly a cup can be passed at the end of the ritual and participants encouraged to share a prayer, a toast, or even a boast—as was indeed common among the ancients.

–Giving Thanks

Perhaps this should be a “required” element—thanking all guests for attending.  Indeed the only reason it isn’t included as such is that, in the most pared-down format, the main offering is—in a real sense—a giving of thanks to an honored guest or guests.

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