Category Archives: The 3 Mysteries

Focused on the 3 Mysteries, central to FoDLA

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