Our Druidry has, until now, focused on the business of providing meaningful, powerful rituals for large and medium sized groups. Often this takes us toward viewing spiritual ceremony as a series of tasks – speech, thought, movement; set up, presentation and take-down. The clergy can easily come to view themselves as servants of the congregation, with the task of keeping the group’s attention focused and the energy flowing so that the participants get a real benefit from the rite. Participants, on the other hand, may come to depend on the clergy to keep them entertained, and attend the rites to get the jolt of the blessing. In this way the rite can be reduced to a sort of ‘blessing machine’ in which the detail and meaning of the work can be eclipsed. So I would like to describe a a symbolic context that might lead to a more integrated, symbolically whole approach to the opening phases of the rite.
In any polytheistic culture, the Gods, Goddesses and spirits arrange themselves into families, alliances and patterns that clarify and deepen their meanings for the worshippers. Often this results from or is reflected in the order of the ritual of the folk in which these patterns reside. Our Druidic ritual outline now contains a clear constellation of Deities whose work is primary to the creation and maintenance of sacred space.
It must be said that I am not in any way proposing a dualistic or even tritheistic model for our religion. This pattern is just one of many that are inherent in a polyvalent theology. Nor are the gender categories that I propose absolute. There are good mythic bases for the following
model, but equally good ones for very different ones. This is presented not as dogma, but as a practical theology that can be tested by each worshipper adapted and customized at need.
Our liturgical order has grown to reflect core ideas about the origin and nature of the spiritual cosmos. These ideas are pan-Indo-European and can fit comfortably into many ethnic systems. In fact for purposes of this article I will mainly refer to these primary powers by their generic titles-The Mother of Waters, the Fire Father and the Gatekeeper.
The Mother of All
The first power called on in our order is the All-Mother. In many tales the first Being is a Goddess from whom or of whom are the primal waters. From those waters rise the land, the holy earth, also called a Goddess from whom is born all living beings. This sea/land concept can be understood also as space-the starry sea, and our island earth. For the children of earth the Mother of All is the Mother Earth, who sustains our lives.
In several mythic systems the Primal Water Mother is connected with the principle of wisdom, of far reaching knowledge and insight. She is sometimes the Mother of a monstrous primal king who is overcome in the creation of the cosmos.
In this form as the Primal Waters the Mother can be conceived of as the All-Mind, the underlying power of awareness that connects all individual beings. From this ocean of mind arises the island-selves of the individual minds.
For these reasons the Mother is often connected with the waters under the earth. It flows throughout, rising into the root of every life and sending forth sons and daughters, the springs and pools upon the earth. So we are all connected deeply at the roots of our souls by the mind of the Mother. One of the core goals of mystical work is to expand the personal awareness into this vast reality and even to realize the identity of the individual with the all.
As with any key cosmic symbol the cosmic waters are not exclusively one gender. There Are many sons of the waters as well. But in our liturgy the primary connection is between the All-Mother, the cosmic waters and the living Earth. It is this complex that we invoke both in the Earth Mother offering and in honoring the well.
The Power of Inspiration
To the Pagans of the ancient world the power to create poetry, song and art was considered a crown of the human kindreds. The truest and most clear expressions of spirituality are often made by the grace of poetic inspiration. So we acknowledge and invite this power to
every major working.
The nature of this power is expressed differently in various European cultures. In some it is seen as a draft of spirit ale or mead that produces poetic intoxication. In some it is a breath of wind that blows in the poets’ voice. The lore preserved by the medieval Gaelic poets gives us another key image.
In Celtic magical poetry the poet draws inspiration from the sudden impact of light upon darkness. Actual practice involved prolonged meditation in a darkened room or cave. In this “incubation” the poet would lay motionless, contemplating the material of the desired poem. After the required length of meditation the poet was brought forth to gaze at the light of the morning sun or sacred fire. In this sudden light the final form of the poem was revealed or coalesced.
This complex implies a connection between the power of inspiration and the sacred fire. To return to a primal level it is the heat of the sacred fire that dries out land from the world ocean. It is the gravity of suns that coalesces planets out of the sea of space. It warms and defines the sacred grove in the midst of the nighted forest.
So we can honestly connect the fire with the power of inspiration and with the primal Father. In the most simple and archetypal sense the fire Father appears in the midst of the sleeping Mother Ocean. The heat and light of the sun draws life out of the moist, dark Earth, draws the individual being out of the universe’s matrix.
Again, there are important female and Goddess symbols of this power. The Celtic Goddess Brigid gives the most clear example, combining in herself the whole complex of water, fire and inspiration. Yet we may choose to honor the first Father both as the power of inspiration
and as the sacred fire.
Druidic lore teaches that the power of the Otherworld arises most strongly on borders, where places and categories meet and mingle. Crossroads, shorelines, river fords and bridges, borders, sunrise and set all partake of this “betweenness”.
On the cosmic level this limnality is embodied in the world tree or pillar. In many European myths the center of the worlds is occupied by a tree that expresses the connection between the underworld and the heavens. In every I-E mythos this power is also embodied in a Deity, usually but not exclusively male. This Deity is associated with roads, travel, magic and
commerce. He is often a guide and mentor to heroes and may be the inventor or teacher of writing, poetry and art.
We offer to this power to ask for clarity and openness in our communication with the spirits. In the Celtic pantheons we often invoke Manannan MacLir. He is counted as one of the Tuatha De, but is named for his father Lir the Sea God. Manannan is the core of the wizard archetype-the young ancient who keeps the Isle of Apples. He is the bearer of the Silver Branch that carries between the worlds. He keeps the crane bag that holds the treasures and Ogham wisdom. His cult has lasted into the modern era as a God of the sea, of sailors and
commerce. Manannan looks kindly on those who seek the Old Ways, yet he may set a stern
lesson at need.
So then, in these three powers we can see a primary triad of Druidic Deities.
- The Mother of All is the ground of being, the all mind, the earth Goddess from which all are born, who upholds all things.
- The fire of Inspiration is the manifestor, the Father of the Child, that brings the individual out of the matrix of reality. The fire brings the poet’s voice, and opens the seer’s eye.
- The Gatekeeper is the teacher of magic, the mentor of the wise. He is the doorkeeper of the Otherworld who makes possible commerce with the spirits.
So, those who wish to grow in Druidic wisdom will do well to preserve a deeper involvement with these three. In fact, contact with and understanding of this primary triad of powers can be seen as a pattern of initiation for our Druidism.
The Threefold Cult as Initiatory Pattern
First, all Pagans can make contact with the Mother. We all give primary worship to the Earth or land Goddess and we can all receive the blessing of the Earth’s unconditional love. On a deeper level, by learning the skills of meditation and trance we can learn to pass beneath our common awareness into the inner waters of the all-mind. There, in the matrix of the Mother we come to know the God/desses and spirits of our way. If a Pagan seeker does no more than this she can accomplish a great deal.
A sort of ‘next step’ is the kindling of a personal fire of inspiration in the soul. When this flame appears in a spirit saturated with the all-mind it produces crystals, gems of vision, of poetry, even of prophecy. Each individual Pagan will have different responses to kindling the inner fire. Some will become healers, some diviners, some able to manifest their visions, some to move into their dreams.
Some of these will feel drawn toward the work of moving between the worlds. They will find their skill in mediating states of awareness, in spirit-journeying and spirit contact. Perhaps it is these folks who are best suited to keep our groves and work as ritual priest/esses. In fact everyone who hopes to effectively lead group rites must learn the skills that are associated with the Keeper of Gates. The cult of the Gatekeeper brings the Druid into a dual awareness. First the attention is directed inward, through deeper trance and meditation. The Druid learns to pass into the Otherworld in vision, and meets and works with the Gatekeeper Deity directly. Then, when that contact is firm, the Druid turns awareness back to the Outerworld, to bring the Otherworld power through, and open a gate through which the folk can speak with the spirits.
Of these three, the Gatekeeper is the most immediate and ‘human’. Gatekeeper God/desses are usually in close relation with humankind. They are compassionate, humorous and skilled; though they may set stern tests or even be tricksters at times. So we offer to them with honor and seek their wisdom and support.
Those who wish to find wisdom and spiritual power inherent in our Druidic Paganism will do well to take up the practice of this threefold cultus. With the wisdom of the All-Mother, the inspiration of the First Fire and the magic of the Gatekeeper, the Druid can do the work of the priesthood, blessing the folk and the land.