1. Describe the generation of the cosmos, and what is done in ADF ritual to ensure that the cosmos remains in order. (300 words min.)
ADF’s ritual structure is, at its heart, a re-creation of the cosmos. We first channel Fire and Water – the two primordial forces – and then we recreate the world itself, through the three hallows of Fire (which connects us to the upperworld), Well (which connects us to the lower world) and Tree (which exists in our world and yet stretches to contain all the worlds). By creating a sacred center via the powers of Fire and Water, we re-create the order that maintains the worlds themselves, and we perform the right actions – the rta – that uphold the cosmos itself (Dangler).
The cosmos was itself created by sacrifice, when the primordial being (frequently “Twin”) is killed or dismembered (frequently by “Man”) and its body is used to form the world. This is reflected in several hearth cultures, including the Vedic Perusha, the Norse Ymir, and the Roman twins Romulus and Remus (Thomas). This sacrifice of the primordial being is what brings about the cosmos itself.
In each Core Order ritual, each element of the cosmos is taken and put in its proper place. The ultimate order is maintained, as “ritual order takes the formless and gives it shape” (Serith). Like the Fire and Ice combining in Ginnungagap to make the Giant Ymir, from whom the very worlds are formed, our Rituals combine Fire and Water (which are themselves both ordered and chaotic, depending on the form they take) into the elements of order that represent the cosmos itself. “From a point where the ritual begins; through to the description of the cosmos; past the sacralization and population of that cosmos; and even in the blessings poured forth upon us by the Kindreds, we are engaging in an emulation of the rta and following the example given to us by the Kindreds” (Dangler).
We then take those elements and through them we pour our sacrifices – and sacrifices themselves are ordering, as they align our purposes with each other and with the Kindreds (Dangler). “The sacrificial order takes Chaos and forms it into a non-destructive but still vivifying flow”, a flow that we can use and channel into our world as something sanctified and sanctifying (Serith). In recreating the cosmos in each ritual, we reinforce the order, the right truth of the cosmos, and then in the return flow the cosmos pours back into us the power to transform ourselves and our world, to affect and remake us after the proper order of things.
As well as the general order of ritual itself, there is the cycle of rituals that we maintain that upholds the proper order of the cosmos. As Neopagan Druids we keep the Wheel of the Year, and in celebrating key events in the cycle of the year itself, we help progress those events and ensure that they continue in the right order. We, in a sense, become agents of the cosmic order ourselves, and ensure the persistence of the cosmos (Dangler).
2. Describe the physical items that exemplify the sacred center in ADF ritual, and how each constituent part reflects the vision of an ordered cosmos. (300 words min.)
The sacred center in ADF ritual is most often represented by the Fire, the Well, and the Tree. Typically, in an ADF ritual, the fire is represented some type of actual fire (whether a bonfire or simply a candle, though electric fires can also be used), and the well is represented by water in some form (typically in a bowl or cauldron, though sometimes in a dug well or pit). Representations of the tree can vary from an actual tree, to cut branches, to symbolic trees carved out of other materials, to potted plants, to posts and world pillars. In all three cases, exceptions can be had, especially exceptions of necessity. A Druid in a dorm room, for example, might not be able to have anything more than some red and orange tissue paper to represent their fire, where a Druid practicing from deployment might have to do entirely without physical representations of the hallows, or with a simple set of hallows drawn on notebook paper.
These three hallows act as gates to the otherworlds, and articulate the power of the sacred center to reach into all the worlds.
- “The Fire points upward, with its leaping tongues and rising smoke, toward the Heaven Realm” (Newburg). Fire transmits our sacrifices (which are cosmos affirming) into the upper worlds and makes them available to the spirits.
- “The Well leads down toward the Underworld” (Newburg). The Well gives us a connection to the Ancestors, who lit fires and prayed before us, and from whom we learn about how to maintain the world order itself.
- “The Tree, like Yggdrasil, connects all the worlds” (Newburg). The tree is an example of an axis mundi – the axis around which all the worlds turn, and the central feature of them all. The Tree is perhaps the most interconnected of the hallows, and represents the connections we have with the spirits, be they natural, divine, or ancestral.
The three elements of the sacred center are also interconnected, and their connections maintain elements of the sacred order. “The Tree (the axis mundi) is fed by water from the Well. The Tree drops fruit into the Well. Back and forth they exchange their gifts, and the Cosmos is maintained thereby” (Serith). The Tree (the axis mundi) extends into the heavens, where light nourishes it and blesses it with green leaves. In exchange, the tree carries upward the messages of the middle world, and the Cosmos is again maintained. Fire is said to be “connected intimately with the celestial waters, often said to be born from them” (Dangler). Each element of the sacred center feeds into the others, and together they form the hallows around which ADF performs its rituals. While each individually can represent elements of the cosmic order, together they present a full picture of the order of the cosmos – an order which is reciprocal, and balanced upon the giving and receiving of gifts.
3. Explain the divisions of the cosmos in ADF ritual, and why the cosmos is divided in this way. (300 words min.)
ADF ritual usually divides the cosmos into three “worlds”, since the Indo-European view of the cosmos was typically triadic in structure (Newburg). In fact, Druids do many things in patterns of three (three kindreds, three hallows, three worlds) because of this triadic structure that is so common in the ancient world of the Indo-Europeans, and which typically references the work of Georges Dumezil.
While each hearth culture will have slightly different variations on the three worlds theme, most fit into two basic patterns:
“The first pattern is what we call the Three Worlds: Land, Sky, and Sea…. The second pattern is called the Three Realms: the Heaven or Upper Realm, the Middle Realm, and the Underworld or Lower Realm.” (Newburg)
The Norse have nine worlds in their structure, but they are often divided into a 3×3 pattern, which upholds the three realms (upper, middle, and underworlds). The Vedas typically divide the world into a slightly different set of three – the Terrestrial, Atmospheric, and Celestial worlds (notable as they do not mention an underworld, the presence of which is typical of IE cultures) (Dangler).
As we use these patterns of the worlds we align ourselves with the mindsets of our Indo-European ancestors, and thus gain insight into how they would have approached and worshipped the powers and spirits in those worlds. Interestingly, there are some groups which put deities only in one world (The Norse typically see their deities in the upperworld), where other groups, like the Greeks, have deities in each of the three worlds (Zeus rules the Upperworld, Poseidon the Middle world, and Hades the Underworld). Depending on one’s particular choice of hearth culture, ADF rituals will typically call upon one of these two methodologies as part of the step that “orders” and re-creates the cosmos. Because we’re reaffirming the way the ancients (and their spirits and gods) ordered the world, we are participating in ordering and structuring the cosmos itself.
4. Explain why the fire is an essential element of ADF ritual, and what relation it has to the sacrifice. (150 words min.)
Fire is the transformational hearth and the one gate without which an ADF ritual may not be performed. “Rituals can occur without wells, trees, portals, and shafts in the ground, but when we boil down the things that are vital to our religion, the one thing we cannot worship without is a representation of fire” (Dangler). Fire is necessary for survival and life itself, especially in the northern IE cultures, and is often spoken of as a friend to humankind. Many IE cultures have stories specifically about the gift of fire to mankind (Prometheus being the most obvious example), and through fire communities are brought together, houses are warmed, food is cooked, and sacrifices are made to the gods.
“The Fire in particular is held up as one of the most common features of ancient Indo-European religions. Indeed, the Greeks were never without one. The Celtic need-fires are well-known. The Romans personified their sacred hearth fire as Vesta, and the Vedics prayed to the fire as Agni. Even today, the Fire is still prominent in Indo-European descendent religions like Zoroastrianism and Hinduism.” (Newburg)
As sacrifices are made to the fire, they are transformed into a substance which can be consumed by the otherworlds, specifically the gods. “The smoke of the sacrificial fire, which rises upward toward the heavens, was said by the Greeks to carry the delightful scents of burning fat and incense to the gods” (Newburg). ADF’s fire consumes the sacrifices in such a way that they are made available to the otherworlds and rendered obsolete to our own uses. This is part of the process of “sacrifice” – to make sacred, or to set apart. Burning things literally makes them no longer part of our world and impossible for us to use or re-use in any way. The fire consumes the sacrifices and transforms them into the sacred food on which the spirits feast, and from which the spirits receive our gifts.
5. Describe the purpose and function of the Gatekeeper in ADF ritual. Explain also who or what makes a good Gatekeeper, along with why they do, with at least two examples of mythological figures that could fill the role of a Gatekeeper and give an explanation of why they can. (300 words min.)
Gatekeepers are beings whose job it is, with our own power, to open and hold open the three gates of an ADF ritual, holding space for the transfer of energies that will take place. “The work is a joint act of worshipper and Gatekeeper, where powers are mingled and merged” (Newburg). Between the worshipper and the Gatekeeper, the energies raised by the ritual are communicated to the realms for which they are intended (Upperworld, Middleworld. Underworld, or Land, Sea, Sky, depending on the ritual context). As well, after the sacrifices are made, the Gatekeeper’s work is to hold open the gates while the return flow/blessings are poured forth from the otherworlds into the blessing cup (or directly into the worshippers).
While we always have the ability to access the Kindreds, working through a Gatekeeper “greatly enhances that power” (Newburg).
Gatekeepers are “usually a deity, but could also be an ancestor or nature spirit” (Newburg). I have done rituals with all three types of Gatekeepers and they were all successful. Regardless of types, good candidates for Gatekeepers are “liminal characters, associated with boundaries and passage between worlds. They may be guides, messengers, or psychopomps, such as Hermes, or keepers of boundaries, such as Heimdall or Janus. Gatekeeper deities are the easiest of all to contact, as they are already halfway into this world already” (Newburg). Hermes, as the messenger of the gods, makes sense as a Gatekeeper because his function is as a go-between – essentially the exact role we’re asking him to perform in an ADF ritual. As a keeper of the boundary between Asgard and Midgard, Heimdall is another good Gatekeeper, simply because guarding the boundaries between two places is what he does already, and asking him to extend that role to our rituals makes sense. Psychopomps (like Manannan Mac Lir) also make good Gatekeepers, since they are go-betweens between our world and the world of the ancestors, similar to how Heimdall is the go-between for our world and the realm of the gods. I have also done successful rituals with local spirits/guardians acting as the Gatekeeper(s), which works out well, since they are already acting as spirits of the place that we are gathering to worship. Making offerings to them (especially offerings that are of the type that local spirits usually like) and then asking them to extend that protection/area of affect to include our gates to the otherworld works out well.
6. Describe the relationship between earth and sky in ADF ritual. (125 words min.)
Earth and Sky are typically represented as the “repositories” of the Two Powers that ADF ritual calls and uses as the sources of power for their rites. While this is considered an optional step in the Core Order of Ritual, it is added by many groups, and it’s a step that I very much like to include in the rituals that I write and perform. Typically the two powers are the powers of the Earth (and water), and the powers of the Sky (air, wind, sun, moon, or stars) (Newburg). The Earth power is considered to be dark, watery, feminine, chaotic, and full of potential, where the Sky power is considered to be light, fiery, masculine, ordering, and filled with drive/will. The ritual participants draw those powers into themselves and allow them to mingle, becoming an energy source for the ritual itself. At the end of the ritual, the Two Powers are allowed to recede.
As well, the Earth Mother is honored at every rite, and many groves also honor a Sky Father as well (as these deities, in some form or another, are often found in Indo-European cultures, though it is unlikely that they received the same precedence that we give them in our Neopagan rituals).
7. Summarize each of the five contexts of sacrifice in Rev. Thomas’ “The Nature of Sacrifice” paper in your own words. Explain the effect of sacrifice on the cosmos and on the participants. (100 words min. for each context, 150 words min. for effect.)
Sacrifice in a Neopagan context seems to have five contexts (four ancient and one modern):
Maintaining the Cosmic Order: Sacrifice is a key part of many Indo-European creation myths (including Vedic India, the Norse, and possibly the Romans). These transformations of Twin (the sacrifice) into the world itself (the cosmos) are recreated in the performing of sacrifices, though admittedly on a much smaller scale. As such, each sacrifice maintains the order of the newly created cosmos, taking an offering and distributing it into the cosmos itself – a practice that is supported by both Herodotus’ explanations of the Persian priests as well as by Indic texts. Sacrifice also allows for the reverse transfer to be true – for the power of the cosmos to be given to the people, usually through food or healing.
Delivering Services Through Gifts: Hospitality – the *ghosti* principle – is crucial to understanding Indo-European society. This takes many forms:
- Patron-Client – Clientship is a relationship where patron and client have mutual responsibilities toward each other: The patron provides supplies, money, or other needs to the client, who in return performs tasks or provides support.
- The Expectation of Heaven – In Vedic India, one of the ways to attain heaven upon death is to give liberal sacrifices.
- A Gift is Part of Oneself – While there are many examples of sacrificers making sacrifices on the behalf of others, the highest form of sacrifice is that of the self. Of course, this is rare, and once dead, you’d better hope that your sacrifice attained you a place in heaven, as you’re not likely to receive any other benefit from it.
- Substitution – A solution to the problem of sacrificing the self, substitution introduces the idea of “the representation of a thing is the thing itself” – using a domestic animal instead of a person. Also acceptable were precious objects, harvests, cultivated plants or products (wine), etc, but animals seem to have been preferred.
- Human Sacrifice – When sacrificing another human in your stead, the choice of the victim is important – they should be someone outside the community (therefore someone with whom you have no responsibility for hospitality), but not too separate or the substitution is not equal. It is difficult to determine, in ancient burial sites, which burials are sacrifices and which are executions, and whether there is any difference between the two. Still, human sacrifice seems to have been relatively rare in the general course of things.
- Sacrifice without Killing – Offering things that do not “die” but are thus rendered un-usable by human hands. “Killing” weapons could be done by bending or breaking them and then throwing them into bodies of water. Other precious objects could also be buried or thrown into water, rendering them useless to humans.
- First Fruits, Libations, and Votive Offerings: Often first fruits or the first part of any harvest was reserved for the Gods. As well, libations were poured out to the earth (or to the ever-thirsty dead). Also, votive offerings were common, an offering made in consequence to a vow (“If you do this for me, I will do these things for you”). These offerings were usually of precious or costly objects or the building of a new shrine/sanctuary.
Providing Protection: An apotropaic offering is one to avert an evil influence or safeguard against evil. This is both the outsider offering (“Take this and leave us alone”) as well as offerings to specifically purify and remove the pollution of wrongdoing or exposure to evil deeds. This could include things as common as sexual activity or as unusual as contact with the dead/death. Purity usually revolves around the act of making something clean (physically or spiritually or both). The scapegoat offering – a person or animal specifically fed and treated in such a way as to absorb the sins of the city or community – is a type of apotropaic offering.
Commensality (Community): A common part of the ancient sacrifice of animals was the public consumption of the sacrifice (or at least the parts of the sacrifice that were not set aside for the Gods). It provided an opportunity for quality animal protein as well as a time for people to get together and celebrate and feast. Sharing food is an act of community building, and sharing in a sacrifice provides all of the above benefits as well. Feasting is an important part of any festival, whether ancient or modern. As well as building human community, the shared meal with the gods reflects the community or bargain between gods and humans, giving humans the right to ask for gifts from the gods (see Delivering Services through Gifts).
Mitigating Order with Chaos (the modern idea): If cosmos is symbolized by order, and chaos equals lack of order, there must be a liminal space between the two where order and chaos are in balance. To a modern Neopagan, order and chaos must be balanced in ritual – there needs to be both order and spontaneity, too much predictability and people get bored. But too much spontaneous chaos, and people don’t get the spiritual nourishment they need from ritual. The mitigation of order with a little bit of disorder (usually in the form of the praise offering section of the rite, which is often spontaneous) gives a vivacious quality to the ritual and keeps it from becoming stagnant.
What is the effect of all of this sacrifice on the cosmos and its occupants? A little bit of all of the above really – there is the building of hospitality, which is (to me) the most important aspect of making sacrifices, as it is the step that builds the most relationship between the human participants and the Kindreds. But there are also elements of purification, of community building, etc. While modern pagans certainly can’t kill animals (and absolutely can’t kill other humans), the practice of substitution gives us the ability to give something valuable to the Kindreds so that they may, in turn, give their gifts to us. As with the patron-client relationship, each is required to give of his own measure, so the gifts of the gods will, by nature, be greater in significance for their power is so much greater than that of the humans making offerings to them. Through all of these actions, the order of the cosmos is upheld (though not too strictly, lest it become boring). Human and Kindreds each take their rightful place within the cosmos and in relationship to each other, and the concept of reciprocity enables us to give and to receive the blessings and worship each requires.
8. What does it mean to be “purified” in ADF ritual? Why is purification important? What must be purified, and who may do the purification? (150 words min.)
Newburg states that there are three ways to purify participants, space, or tools for ritual: “by removing, adding, or marking things.” These three ways set up the meaning of purification in an ADF context – a state of ritual readiness or ritual usefulness.
- Removing Undesirable things (things non-conducive to worship). “Purification takes away or suspends them, so that we can approach ritual pure and focused” (Newburg). This is usually the first step of ritual purification as it applies to people, as it cleanses them of negativities or (in a more ancient sense) makes them ritually clean/pure. This is usually done by asperging with water.
- Adding desirable things – usually through fumigation/incense. This is often the second step of the purification process when it applies to people, as it adds desirable attributes and prepares them for ritual. (Clean first, then redecorate)
- Marking things as special/sacred – there are several methods for doing this, and I would argue that performing the first two methods marks *people* as special/sacred and ready for ritual, and the same could be said of tools. This can be done by drawing a circle around the object, passing it through fire/incense, purifying it with water, or some combination therein.
Purification is an important step in ritual. Though I do not personally think that ritual impurity is a particularly big deal, it’s still important to be prepared to enter a worship or sacrificial space. If I was going to meet a friend, I would not do so (unless in an emergency) immediately after having exercised outside in the blistering Texas heat, meeting them while sweaty and smelly and disheveled. I would take a shower and change clothes and comb my hair. It’s only polite to do so with friends, and it is thus polite to do so with the spirits and beings that we are in reciprocal relationships with spiritually as well.
The purification process can be performed by the individual wishing to be purified (in the case of a solitary ritual) and should be done in order – cleanse first, then make sacred (for the same reason you clean/dust before you move your stuff into a new house). In a group ritual, someone should start the purification process, and should cleanse themselves (or be cleansed) first, and then move around the group purifying others. In a large group, asperging and censing is less personalized, but still fairly easily performed with a handful of branches/herbs (for flinging water) and a good censer on a chain (for distributing smoke).
9. In many rituals we call for the blessings of the Kindreds. Where do these blessings come from, how are they provided to the folk, and why are we entitled to them? (200 words min.)
Central to the ritual structure of ADF is the idea of *ghosti – the reciprocal guest-host relationship. When we invite the Kindreds to participate in our rituals, when we make offerings to them, we are entering into a relationship of reciprocal hospitality – we are their guest, and they are ours. We are their host, and they are ours. Just as we have given gifts to the Kindreds, “according to the laws of hospitality a gift in return is proper. The Blessings balance the ghosti relationship, for the Kindreds as guests are bound to give back to the host” (Newburg).
The blessings come from the various gods and spirits to whom we make offerings in our rituals (both the Kindreds in general and the Deities/Spirits of the Occasion), and they travel through the open gates (often called the “return flow” – as the energy flows to the Kindreds through the gate, and then they return energy to us). They are usually provided to the folk in the form of the Blessing Cup/the Waters of Life, though sometimes food is also blessed and used. Either the cup can be passed around to the ritual participants, each can have his/her own cup, or the ritual attendees (at very large rituals) can be asperged with the consecrated waters. These blessings are often identified in the Omen, and a call back to the interpreted Omen may be made at the time the cup is passed, for each participant to imagine how the specific blessings will impact her.
Dangler, Rev. Michael J. “Nine Central Tenets of Druidic Worship.” ADF. Web. 21 August 2014. <https://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/nine-tenets.html>.
Newburg, Brandon. “Ancient Symbols, Modern Rites: A Core Order of Ritual Tutorial for Ár nDraíocht Féin.” ADF. Web. 21 August 2014. <https://www.adf.org/members/training/dedicant-path/articles/coortutorial/index.html>.
Serith, Ceisiwr. “Sacrifice, the Indo-Europeans, and ADF.” ADF. Web. 21 August 2014. <https://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/sacrifice-ie-adf.html>.
Thomas, Rev. Kirk. “The Nature of Sacrifice.” ADF. Web. 21 August 2014. <https://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/nature-of-sacrifice.html>.