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7. Discuss the origins of the Fire, Well and Tree, and the significance of each in ADF liturgy. (minimum 100 words for each of the Fire, Well and Tree)

Fire: The Fire forms one of the gates in ADF’s sacred center. It is the connection to the upperworlds, and it is most often affiliated with the Deities. It is the hearth fire and the essence of change, the spark that creates life (Paradox). Fire burns away impurities and makes things sacred. The sacred fire is the recipient of many of our offerings, which burn into smoke that feeds the deities in the nature of the Vedic sacrifices to and through Agni. Fire was highly important in Indo-European cultures, and many sacred fires are found in the mythology, from Agni (who is fire itself) to the Roman hearth fires and Vestal fires (Dangler).

Well: The Well forms one of the gates in ADF’s sacred center. It is the connection to the underworlds, and it is most often affiliated with the Ancestors, who go “below” and from whom we get wisdom and memory. It is also affiliated with chthonic deities and their underworld realms. Water from the well washes away impurities and makes things sacred. The well is represented in the mythology by the three wells that feed the World Tree Yggdrasil, from which Odin gains wisdom and the Norns get the mud that repairs the world tree’s roots. It is also similar to the watery otherworld that the Irish see as the home of the Ancestors. (Paradox)

Tree: The Tree holds fast the ways between the worlds. It stands at the center and connects all the worlds, and it is most often affiliated with the Nature Spirits, who live in and among its branches. The tree spans the worlds, from the watery depths of the well to the fiery heights of the sky. It is particularly well represented by Yggdrasil, the great World Tree, whose inhabitants include the dragon (Nidhogg), the squirrel (Ratatosk), the unnamed eagle, and the four stags (Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr and Duraþrór) (Paradox). The Irish also have an ancient sacred tree, the Bile, found growing over a holy well or fort (MacCulloch).

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A Druid Fellowship (ADF) is an international fellowship devoted to creating a public tradition of Neopagan Druidry. It’s the foundational tradition from which I work, and the general guide for my rituals and devotional practice.

Fundamentally, ADF takes its cues from the ancient Indo-European cultures – the Celts, Norse, Greek, Baltic, Roman, Indo-Iranian, and Vedic cultures (among others) that make up the Indo-European language group. There are similarities across all of these ancient religions, and ADF has taken those similarities, combined them with modern Neopaganism, and created what we call Our Druidry.

It is neither a wholly modern nor a wholly ancient practice – it combines elements of both. Most ADF Druids work within a “hearth culture” – one of the ancient Indo-European cultures that lends flavor to their practice. We work with the pantheons and cultural practices of our hearth culture, but also celebrate the 8 Neopagan high days of the year (Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Eostara, Beltaine, Litha/Summer Solstice, Lammas, Mabon/Autumn Equinox). ADF divides its cosmos into threes (most often), where the spirits we worship are divided into Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits, and the center of our cosmos is the Sacred Fire, Sacred Well, and World Tree (or some variation therein – some cultures have a mountain instead of a tree, for example). We do not, in public ritual, cast circles or call elemental quarters, and we are (generally) hard polytheists, believing that the gods are individual beings with likes and dislikes.

In general, ADF is orthopraxic – which is to say, what you DO is more important than what you BELIEVE. Whether you believe the Earth Mother to be a named Goddess, a primal force, the earth itself, a greater bio-organism (like the Gaia hypothesis) or none of the above, if you are honoring the Earth Mother, you are performing a step in the ADF order of ritual.

Also, ADF generally is unconcerned with its members private practice. Druidic ritual, as defined by ADF, is primarily a way of gathering the public. The Core Order of Ritual is required for any ADF public ritual – but not even remotely required for all the private, home hearth rituals that happen all the time in ADF. My private practice is Core Order flavored, and I try to do Core Order rituals for the High Days, but if I don’t get all the steps in, that’s okay. ADF strongly encourages its members to have both a group and a private practice if possible.

I work with the Anglo-Saxon and Norse hearths within ADF (with occasional forays into Gaulish/Continental Celtic myth). I do not consider myself a reconstructionist, though I have reconstructionist tendencies – I like reading source documents and myths, and using those to base my practice, but I am also a modern Druid, with practices that would seem foreign to my A-S and Norse ancestors (like environmentalism). I try to allow my practice to be guided by the ancient cultures, but if something isn’t working, I am not afraid to branch out and try something new as well.

You can learn more about ADF on their website – http://www.adf.org

I really like this article about the Nine Central Tenets of Druidic Ritual to give you an idea of what things we find important as practitioners of Modern Druidry.

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A brief description, with photos if possible, of the Dedicant’s home shrine and plans for future improvements. (150 words min.)

My Druid altar sits in my “craft” room (it is a craft room both in the sense of sewing and knitting and in the sense of magical craft). The room is just off the main hallway of my home, and I walk by it several times each day going to and from our office. It is, by necessity, in a room that’s easy to close off when we have guests – both because it is not anywhere near appropriate for a small child, and because I am still a closeted Druid, and do not wish to share my religion with my (very Christian) family.

The altar itself sits on a bookshelf on the eastern wall, and I use the bookshelf to store all of my magical and religious tools as well as other less obviously religious books (like my mythology books). I try to have it keep a low profile, though my more recent updates have it looking more obviously altar-like and less like just a cluttered bookshelf.

I perform all of my ADF rituals here, as well as most of my meditation (I keep a cushion on the floor in front of the bookshelf for seated meditation). The shelf is standing-height accessible, so I stand for all of my ritual observances.

altar4-13a(The room my altar is in is yellow, so it’s hard not to get very yellow tinged pictures!)

On the altar I have a (handmade) metal Tree that hangs on the wall, a trio of votive candles as my Fire (along with an incense burner) and a Well handmade by a carpenter of carefully jointed wooden pieces. I also have two small Tree of Life wood-burned tree pieces from The Magical Druid, to help balance the altar and because I like having the extra representations of trees there. There are as well a set of tingshas I use as my musical signal to begin my rituals, a goblet for offerings and receiving blessings, some small bowls and a tiny pitcher for offerings, and a large wooden bowl to accept offerings, since it seems unwise to pour them on the carpet. I keep my runes on the altar as well, plus a large “holey” stone that a good friend of mine brought back from a military trip. I am sure he thought I was weird to ask him to bring me a rock with a natural hole in it, but he’s a geologist, so I figured he’d be sympathetic.

On the second shelf I have two larger candles, mostly because I like candles, as well as some owl figurines (a Nature Spirit I am particularly close to), some amber jewelry (to help me connect with Freya), a wooden acorn (to represent ADF Druidry) and a small green man figure.

Future altar updates include adding statuary for the various Gods I work with, particularly Freyr (I am thinking of looking for a small boar to represent him, as that will provoke fewer questions than an obviously phallic statue would) and something for Njord. A small wagon would be appropriate for Nerthus as well. These additions are waiting mostly on budget and on finding statues I like – I tend to find a lot of the things online too shiney or modern or just don’t like them much. I figure I can afford to be picky when it comes to my Gods. I don’t know where exactly I will PUT all of these things, but perhaps it will be time for my owls to move elsewhere, or for me to expand to a bigger surface. Right now, though, this version of my altar is highly functional, and I am always happy to settle into my rituals here. The setup is easy to use, and not too cluttered, but still contains everything I need.

I should note that I also keep a “hearth shrine” at my stove, where I light candles daily as part of my remembrance of my ancestors. There are no ritual objects there, only the candles I burn and my dedication to keeping the stove clean and the area tidy. I try not to light candles there if the kitchen is not clean, out of honor for my Disir.

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I’ve made some pretty serious updates and changes to my main altar space lately. It was getting extremely cluttered, and I wanted it to have a different feeling than it had previously. You can see my first and second altar updates at those links, respectively.

This is what it looks like now (apologies for the yellow tone – the room my altar is in is actually painted yellow, and taking pictures in there at night makes the whole place feel like it’s lit by firelight. This is quite cool! But makes for very yellow pictures!)

altar4-13a

That’s the entire altar area. I moved a lot of the meaningful but not functional items up to the shelf above the altar. Eventually I’d like to add some God/dess statues there instead of just the little owls and the green man and the acorn, but for now it works. It also got the taller candles up out of the way, and leaves my actual working space looking like this:altar4-13b

The new things on the altar are as follows:

  • A new World Tree – this one is made of a recycled oil drum, through a craft group in Haiti. It’s something I’ve gone back and forth on, but ultimately decided I liked it. Plus, since it’s wall mounted, it doesn’t take up any extra space on the actual working surface.
  • A new offering bowl – I was using a collection of small bowls, and that was just too much of a pain to work with. I bought this wooden bowl and have been much happier with it.
  • A new goblet – I still have some small bowls and a tiny pitcher for offerings, but most of the time I’m offering drink (lately mead) and so I’m pouring it out of my own cup. This was rather unimpressive when I ended up using a regular drinking glass, so I purchased this aluminum goblet. It works VERY nicely. Eventually I’d like a handmade ceramic one, but this is a good in-between.
  • A new incense burner – one that does specifically well with the type of incense I usually burn. (that’s the little silver disc on the right). I’ve been burning loose incense for actual rituals, in the little blue cauldron burner, but I burn stick incense as offerings during the week. (You can see two unburned sticks in the top picture)
  • A set of tingshas (only visible in the top picture) – I couldn’t find a bell I liked, and wanted some sort of musical signal to start my rituals. These tingshas were inexpensive and make a very bright clear sound. I’m quite happy with them (if not yet always good at striking them properly).

Overall, I think these changes have increased both the visual appeal of my altar space (it’s less cluttered) and the overall functionality of it. I still have the things that are meaningful to me, but I have a more clear working space and better flow for doing ritual.

I know an altar space is always a work in progress. I’d love to get some little Norse statues, especially of the type similar to god-posts or figurines found from the Viking age. I’d also like to get some more symbols for Freyr. I know as time goes on, this little altar will evolve, and other altars are already starting to spring up in my house. I’ve got my “hearth”, which is really just a collection of candles on my stove right now, but it serves as a place for me to keep my hearth-fire lit. And I’d like to add some sort of Ancestor altar somewhere – though finding a good, cat-proof spot for it may be challenging.

I like the process of evolving it though. A good altar is a place where Work happens, and is a functional as well as a beautiful space. I think mine is getting there!

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shrine2-13

Just a quick update to my altar – I’ve added a new offering pitcher (the little blue one) and a new offering bowl (the ceramic one with blue glaze). These both came out of my husband’s grandmother’s house, as we were helping to clean up her things. She passed away a few years ago, so I’m happy to have some things that represent ancestors on my altar now. I haven’t figured out quite what I’ll be using them for yet. I think the offering bowl will be one for dry offerings only, since it’s not glazed inside. The little pitcher would be great for oils though, and now that I have some charcoal discs, I may be able to give oil offerings to the fire for the high day!

I do move things around when I’m actually using the altar though, and I think it’s more than time I got a little shelf to keep some of this off my working surface. I don’t even have any statues yet, but things feel pretty cluttered. It’s a little hard to move around, and I’m always afraid I’m going to end up with my arm in the fire (again).  My Tree is incredibly tall though (almost 3 feet) so I may need to shrink it a bit in order to put a shelf above the altar. Either that, or get myself two small shelves to put on either side of the Tree.

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As a note – this is a fuzzy sort of post. I’m not really sure exactly what I’m doing, since as a meditation exercise, this is pretty new for me. Still, I’ve been asked to put together what I have so far, so here goes!

Before I start my visualizations, I do a grounding and centering meditation, like the Two Powers meditation. You generally want your mind to be stable and clear before you start introducing new imagery to it, and I need to get better at the Two Powers meditation anyway, so I’m using that one. Any grounding and centering meditation will work.

I start my visualization exercise by creating a Hallows (a Fire, Well, and Tree, consecrated as the Sacred Hallows, ADF style). I like to do a simple consecration of each, followed by sprinkling and censing the area while saying “By the Might of the Water, and the Light of the Fire, this Grove is made whole and holy.” This sets up a ritual space that I do need to take down at the end (don’t forget that part), but isn’t a formal ritual where I need to worry about offerings to the Kindreds.

I do make an offering of incense to the gatekeeper though. I’ve tried this with Cernunnos and with Garanus (the Crane), and it worked equally well both times, though I liked the energy of Garanus better. I ask the Gatekeeper to open the gates and to help me to feel their power as the sacred center.

Because I play video games, the main image I’ve been using for this type of connection is that of a Portal – an oblong “hole” in the fabric of the universe that you use to travel from this place to some other, presumably distant (or just different) place. Depending on the game, these are either cast by magical spellcasters, read from a scroll that enables a portal, or fired out of a dimensional portal gun that you point at things. Still, the image is pretty consistent – you get a glowy sort of oval that you can step through and be transported to another place.

Since that image is one that is ingrained in my brain pretty strongly, it’s something I can refer to easily and that works with the kind of image and connection I’m trying to build. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, think about maybe an arched doorway, or the center of a ring of standing stones, or even a tunnel. Watchers of science fiction television shows might envision something like a stargate. Basically, you want an image that works for you, that suggests an opening from wherever you are now into another place that might be distant or otherwise removed.

After you do your grounding exercise, I start to visualize a portal.* (I’m going to use the term portal since that’s the image I’m using. Feel free to substitute in a word that suits your own imagery better!) I concentrate on seeing in my mind’s eye this dimensional opening that leads into an unknown place. I try to see the edges of the portal grow distinct, and they glow slightly, but are a little out of focus. In the center there are stars – sort of like the deep, universal stars that you’d see in a truly dark place on a night with no moon. Endless sorts of stars.

And as I peer into that portal, from my little Hallows, I start to put together other portals, there in that deep dimensional starry place. Those portals lead to other Hallows, which I can’t quite see, because as a solitary, I really am working off my own imagination (with a little help from YouTube) about what other Hallows might look like. But there are always fires, or  wells, or trees, or all three. Some of them are elaborate, and others are simpler, like my own. They are imaginary Hallows, kind of like my Mental Grove (which, now that I think of it, is a place I should be trying this work from!) You could think of this step like a hallway of other “doors”, or, if you’re using the stone circle imagery, as though you’re looking through stones on one side, but can see portals out between all the other stones.

Basically I’m trying to establish that even though I’m here in my own Hallows, I’m connected through that sacred center to all the other Hallows, both linearly in space and vertically in time. I’ve not tried actually looking for any specific places to visit, I’m just looking to create that connection to something bigger.

Once I’ve sat for awhile and built up the visualization, I slowly allow my mind to come back to center and present, usually by making sure I’m mentally back in front of my own Hallows instead of out looking around. When I’m solidly back in myself, I close the Gates (with the help of the Gatekeeper), and return the fire, well, and tree to their normal, material selves. The whole process makes for a smallish ritual that takes 5-15 minutes, depending on how long you work with the meditative aspect of the visualization.

I think repeating this exercise will help me fine tune it (right now it’s a little fuzzy still, since I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do). I also think practice will help me think less about the actual setup and more about what the experience/visualization is symbolizing. Right now I still feel more like I”m setting it up, and less like I’m actually connecting to anything. I don’t wonder if the reason I had better luck with Garanus as a Gatekeeper was simply that I’ve got a stronger connection to the Nature Spirits than I do to the Gods and Goddesses, of any stripe. (Not to mention my lack of a true hearth culture – I sometimes work in Celtic, but I have been drawn to Gaulish lately) I want to really *feel* a connection to the sacred center though, especially since creating it is such a big part of the CooR, and since feeling that connection is a big part of having a religious experience, for me.

 

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I’ve had an altar of some form or another in my home for quite some time (right now, I actually have two). ADF style rituals have specific things they need in terms of supplies and bowls, receptacles for offerings, and representations of the Fire, Well, and Tree. As such, before I did my Samhain ritual I went and did some altar styling to give myself a better workspace for ADF rituals.

This is the result (more or less):

My World Tree is pretty obvious – that’s a piece of driftwood that I found on a local beach. In front of that is my Well, a hand carved bowl from South Carolina. And then two representations of Fire in front of that – the three candle cluster and an incense burner. Those three items set up the ADF cosmos for each ritual. (I do not always leave the World Tree standing up, as it’s not super stable that way and is a bit off balance.)

There is a clear glass vase for holding liquid offerings, plus an offering bowl and a cup to drink from. The offering bowl and the cup are a matching set that I’ve had for years, and I like that they match. My offerings to the Kindreds go in a vessel that matches the vessel they give me the Blessings in.

The two taper candles are there for extra light and because I like candles. Also on the altar are some owl figurines, a Nature Spirit I’ve long had associations with (along with Toad and Rabbit), plus a little green man figurine, a big wooden acorn, a sand dollar, a holey stone that a friend brought back for me from a trip to the Middle East, and an aspen-leaf candle holder. These are all things that have spiritual significance for me, though I do eventually want to get some small shelves to get the figurines up off my working space.

The altar itself is a wooden cube bookshelf I got from (I think) Target, and I store all my Pagan and magical supplies in the closed baskets, with assorted books in the other open shelves. This sits in my craft room/spare bedroom, so it has to be dismantleable in a short time in case of guests. It pretty easily turns back into a bookshelf top with some assorted candles on it without much trouble.

Since I’ve used the altar a few times now, I’ve already made a few changes. I moved the offering bowls and offering pitcher to the right side of the Fire, so that I can pour offerings without setting my arm hair on fire (that smelled lovely, let me tell you). I also now have a set of wooden oghams, and those live on the upper left side of the altar most of the time as well, for daily drawings. I also added the two woodburned world tree symbols that I got from the Magical Druid. They sit to either side of the tall World Tree.

I do my sitting meditation on the floor in front of this altar, sitting on a big floor pillow. I often burn incense, and that creates a nice ambiance. Because it’s a bookshelf, I have to stand for rituals, so I’ve taken to putting my scripts in a small binder that I can hold with one hand. It lives in the open cube on the left hand side.

Overall I think it’s a functional altar, if not super elegant. I’d like to have a bigger working space eventually, ideally one that I could use outside, since a real fire would be nice for burning offerings. As it is, if I give spirits to the Shining Ones, they go in the same offering bowl with everything else, so I tend to give offerings of good incense to them. I’d also like a more proportional World Tree, so perhaps I’ll do some work with the driftwood one and trim it down and make a nice base for it. I think it’s a good Tree, just a little out of proportion with the rest of my space!

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