I’ve always liked the ADF. I’ve wanted to join for a while but still haven’t gotten up the guts to do it. For one thing, though they are technically pan-Indo-European, they mainly focus on the Celtic culture (after all, they do call themsevles “Druids”), and I’ve always felt most at home in Germanic culture. The closest Grove to where I live seems to do all Celtic rituals, at least as far as I know. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are Celts! And the Celts and Germans are extremely similar. Still, I’m just not that familiar with Celtic mythology or gods.
On the other hand, I really like how much emphasis ADF places on Mother Earth and Nature-worship. I know that more conservative Asatruar wince at the idea of being labeled as following an Earth-based religion, but the ADF embraces it, and so do I. Although I have a close relationship with certain Germanic gods, I think Nature and the Earth are much more important in the grand scheme of things. Praising the Earth Mother is a major part of every ADF style ritual. She comes before any other gods are invoked, and I really like that.
One of the blogs I try to read regularly is Bishop in the Grove. Recently its author, Teo Bishop, a member of ADF, put together something he’s calling the Solitary Druid Fellowship. I decided this would be a good way to try out ADF style ritual without formally joining ADF or getting in contact with my local ADF Grove. You know, a way to dip my toe in a bit.
Besides, I wanted to do some sort of formal ritual for Yule, which is the most important holiday in Heathenry. I’ve always been a huge fan of Yule, even back when I was celebrating secular Christmas with my non-religious family. I’ve never been the sort of person to complain about Christmas music blaring at every store, and as far as household light displays go, I say the brighter and more extravagant the better! For me, coming to paganism just added an additional spiritual dimension to an already beloved holiday, but I’ve had trouble getting around to doing anything spiritual during Yule these last few years. There are parties, feasting, and gift-giving, which is all great and important, but I still feel the need to do some kind of formal ritual to mark the occasion, and I often miss the chance to do that.
I went ahead and requested the SDF Yule liturgy as soon as it was posted. I printed out the pdf, and then it sat on my nightstand. I follow the tradition of Yule lasting from the Winter Solstice to New Year’s Day, which helps me cram in all the stuff that’s going on. I usually have a party with my friends at my house on the solstice or the weekend closest to it. This year I had a wedding to attend on Friday, the actual day of the solstice this year, so I had my party on Saturday, which lasted late into the night. Sunday I went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with the family we had visiting for Christmas. Monday I got last-minute gifts made and wrapped, and Tuesday was Christmas with my husband’s family. Wednesday our elderly cat needed to be taken to the vet (she’s fine now), so by Thursday I was exhausted. I actually ended up missing a couple of things I had planned to go to (like the Christmas Eve service at the UU Church and a Boxing Day party at a friend’s house). I’m an introvert and get tired out by a lot of socializing, so by Thursday I needed to recharge my batteries.
I realized that Friday, December 28 would be my last day alone to do any kind of ritual. Since I’m an educator, I’m off for Winter Break, but my husband was at work. Over the weekend was another Yule gathering with my pagan friends, and then it would be New Year’s, and Yule 2012 would be over and it would be 2013. I was glad I hadn’t yet given up on the SDF Liturgy and thrown it away or something, though by the 28th the discussion on the SDF website had closed, so I’ll just have to tell you about it here.
As I drank my coffee in the morning I looked over the printed out liturgy. I wanted to only use things I already had in the house, so I wouldn’t have to go to the store for anything. I’m impressed at how well ADF’s ritual structure fits into Germanic cosmology. Are all Indo-European cultures really this similar? Obviously the Sacred Well is the Well of Wyrd and the Sacred Tree is Yggdrasil. The Sacred Fire is less obvious. In the ritual it’s used as a gateway to the Gods, so it must be Bifrost. Bifrost is a rainbow, but I guess rainbows and fires are related. A rainbow is the light of the burning sun hitting water in the Earth’s atmosphere. They’re both shiny, I guess.
I needed a representation for the Well, the Tree, and the Fire. I have three places I can hold a ritual at home. There’s my personal altar set up in the bedroom. There I could put a vessel of water of some sort, and use a candle for the fire, but what about the tree? I also have a sacred grove set up in the backyard, where I could use a real tree, but it was very windy outside, which would blow out a candle. I think we’re on an outdoor burn ban anyway, which would make a larger fire dangerous. The last option was the hearth. My husband and I just moved into this house in February, and it’s the first time I’ve had a fireplace since I lived with my parents. We already burned the Yule log in it during my party on Saturday, and I give offerings to the House Spirit there. That would be a perfect place for a really good Sacred Fire.
I considered using our actual Yule Tree, complete with tinsel, electric lights, and ornaments for the Sacred Tree. It was my first real Yule/Christmas tree, a six foot Douglas Fir. I already think of Yule trees being a representation of Yggdrasil. However, when I realized I would need to give an offering to the tree, how would I do that? I decided to use the potted Norfolk Island Pine on the other side of the fireplace opposite the Yule Tree instead. It used to be one of those living Christmas trees they sell at grocery stores. My husband got it at a garage sale many years ago, before we met. My parents-in-law had kept it alive in their greenhouse until I got over 15 feet tall and they couldn’t fit it in the greenhouse anymore, so they gave it back to my husband now that we have our own house. He had to cut the top off to get it in our house, but it can’t survive a freeze, so it was either that or let it die. It’s in a pot, so I could pour my offering to the Sacred Tree in the pot. I admit I didn’t really like this tree before. It felt kind of ridiculous going to so much trouble for one of these darn Norfolk Island Pines that don’t even belong in this ecosystem, but I must say it made a fine Yggdrasil stand-in.
Then I needed a Sacred Well. I thought about the sort of vessel I’d like. Something deep and dark, so when you gazed into it, you couldn’t see the bottom, like you’re gazing into the bottomless Well of Wyrd. I know a lot of ADF people use those little cauldrons you can get at witchy stores, but I don’t have one. I looked around the house at all the various things my pack-rat of a husband has collected over the years, and found his ceramic bean pot! Or at least we think it’s a bean pot. I took it down from the shelf and looked inside at its shiny, dark brown, glazed interior. Perfect!
For the deities of occasion I selected Odin and his wife, Frigga. They’re associated with Yule already anyway, and if I’m going to make this a regular thing, I wanted to start with Odin, who is my “patron deity” I guess you could say. That was an easy choice, but one area that made me a little nervous was the Gatekeeper, another important element of ADF style ritual. I have no idea who this would be in a Celtic or Greek culture (Hermes, maybe?), but if you want a Germanic version of Ganesha or Papa Legba, which the ADF seems to be doing here, then the obvious choice would be Heimdall.
The problem is I’ve never really had any contact with Heimdall. I don’t know if he even likes me or wants anything to do with me, so it seemed weird to have him play a big part in one of my rituals. The people in the first Asatru online community I used to participate in, back when I was a newbie heathen, seemed to look down upon people who call upon lots of different deities, considering it “fluffy”, even if they were all from the Germanic pantheon (though “eclectisism” was of course much more “fluffy”). You were supposed to stick with your “fulltrui”, rather than bothering gods you don’t even have a relationship with.
I’m not sure how common that view is, but I did consider calling upon Thor to be the Gatekeeper instead, who is a deity I have already formed a relationship with, just in case invoking Heimdall would break some sort of rule of worship etiquette. But after thinking about it for a while, I thought I’ll go ahead and give Heimdall a try. As Diana Paxson says in Essential Asatru, “Of all the gods, Heimdall is the one who is the most consistently benevolent to humankind.” Well, ok then, if he’s such a nice guy, maybe he won’t mind.
I have a candle made for Odin and Frigga, but no Heimdall candle. I again searched my husband’s collection. Heimdall’s sacred animals are the ram and the seal, but we don’t have any ram or seal figures. Then I saw the ammonite there in my husband’s fossil collection. Ammonites are named after the Egyptian god Ammon, because they look like ram’s horns, and Ammon’s sacred animal is also a ram. They’re also fossil sea creatures, for Heimdall’s link to the sea. That should work!
Next I needed offerings for everybody. For the fire, I wanted something I could throw in that would burn nicely. I got a handful of frankincense resin. For the tree I wanted to pour something into the pot, but it needed to be something the tree would actually like. I decided to use some rainwater out of my rain barrel, and to make it special (since this is a special occasion and rain barrel water is what I always water that tree with) I added some liquid fish emulsion fertilizer. It smells like rotten fish, but to a tree, it’s delicious, so in it went. For the well, I needed some kind of beverage. Ideally I would use something very German for my German ancestors, like a nice German beer, but all I had was wine, hard cider, and a variety of hard liquors like vodka, rum, and brandy. I decided to go with the cider.
Then I needed offerings for the gods. Phew! This was already getting complicated! Ideally, I’d have a separate offering for each god, but I decided to use the Ravens Wood wine I had Bough a while back. It’s a wine with a very Odinic label that I had grabbed when it was on sale to offer to the Old Man some time, so now seemed like a good time. I hoped that Odin’s wife and son wouldn’t mind sharing the same wine with him.
OK, I had a well, a fire, and a tree. I had something to represent Heimdall, Odin, and Frigga, and offerings for all of them. Next I needed something to represent the Earth Mother. In the liturgy, it says you’re supposed to kneel and touch the ground, which would be nice if I was outside, but it felt weird to kneel and touch my tile floor in the living room. I got one of the cool rocks my husband has collected, a big hunk of limestone full of fossils, and put that on the floor in front of the hearth.
Finally, I got bottle of Blessing Oil from Natural Magick and a sage smudge stick to purify myself and the space with, and my bag of runes for the Omen. I don’t have an offering bowl, so I got two of my Christmas-themed holly glasses, one for the gods and one for me. Now I had everything I needed for the ritual, but wait! Look at this mess! The house was still pretty messy since I’d been too busy lately to do much cleaning. I did a thorough cleaning before the solstice, but now things were messy again. If I was going to invite Mother Frigga into my house, it had better be presentable!
I had planned to do some housecleaning that day anyway, even before I decided to do the ritual, so I thought I’d better get to work. First I realized I still needed to eat breakfast, so I made some steel cut oats, with an extra portion for my housewight, which I put by the fireplace. After breakfast, I tackled the dishes, swept the floors, vacuumed the carpets, threw in a load of laundry, and even scrubbed the bathtub. I’ve always preferred to do rituals in a clean space anyway. Even back when I was just starting out as a Wiccan I’d vacuum before I did any ritual. What’s the point of doing ritual cleansings when your space is physically dirty?
By the time I was done it was about 2 pm. I felt that my blood sugar was low again and fixed myself a sandwich to make sure I was in tip-top mental condition for the ritual. Then I cleaned that up, brushed my teeth, washed my face, put on some nice clean clothes, and brushed my hair. I decided against actually taking a shower because I was already starting to run out of energy, and the bathtub was soaking in vinegar anyway, to get the soap scum off. I put on my bear pendant, which I’ve decided I’ll wear for any serious ritual, to represent my fetch. Now I was finally ready!
Everything ready to go. Just need to light the fire.
I went outside and got some ash wood from our woodpile, which we got from a branch that fell on our cars during a winter storm last year. I put it in the fireplace, and as I lit it, I chanted part of a neat old English poem about firewood I found a while ago. “Ash that’s new and ash that’s old; fit for a queen with a crown of gold. Ash that’s green and ash that’s brown; fit for a queen with a golden crown.”
As the fire started to flare up, I initiated the rite with the words given in the liturgy. Because it felt right, I grabbed my bear pendant as I said the words. Next I anointed myself with oil on my Third Eye and then over my heart, lit the sage in the fire, and smudged myself and the general area for purification. I knelt down and put my hand on the rock to honor the Earth Mother, and this is where I really started to feel something! I had opened the window in the living room (it was 65 degrees outside on this Texas winter’s day) and could hear the wind blowing outside through the trees. I held my hand on the rock for a while, a rock that’s over 65 million years old, from the Cretaceous period, with fossilized sea shells within, from the shallow sea that used to cover this land. I pondered the ancientness of Mother Earth.
Next was the statement of purpose. When I mentioned I would be honoring Odin and Frigga, I lit their candles. When I mentioned Heimdall as the Gatekeeper, I placed my hand on the ammonite. Next came the Grounding and Centering, which was a variation of the tree visualization that I like to ground myself with already. Roots growing out of my feet into the Earth, branches growing up to the Sky.
I was a little confused about parts VI, VII, and VIII, since all three parts deal with the Fire, Well, and Tree. It’s a good thing I read the liturgy over before performing it so I could figure out what the repetition meant. I decided for part VI, “Recreating the Cosmos”, I would trace a rune in the air for each: Pertho for the Well, Kenaz for the Fire, and Eihwaz for the Tree. When I called Heimdall as the Gatekeeper in the “Opening the Gates” part, I poured him some of the wine, then waved my hand over the Fire, dipped my fingers in the waters of the Well, and grasped the trunk of the Tree as I asked him to make each one sacred.
Then it was finally time for offerings, and this is where it got fun. I took the handful of frankincense and threw it over the Fire. It hissed and crackled in a most satisfying way, releasing a lovely fragrance. That was the offering for the Gods in general. Next was the offering to the Well and the Ancestors. I gazed into the dark water and started to pour the cider in. I didn’t plan to at first, but ended up pouring in the whole bottle. It fizzed and released its sweet smell. My heart started pounding and I gazed into the Well for a long time. I haven’t really been doing a good job of honoring my ancestors. I come from a dysfunctional family, and though I’ve been advised to look even further back to more distant ancestors, I still haven’t really done much of that. But here I was staring into the Well, and the Well staring back to me, and I knew Ancestor Worship isn’t optional in heathenism, and I’m going to have to come to terms with this somehow. Then I poured the fertilizer-laced water into the pot of the Tree, which caused a much less pleasant odor than the first two, snapping me out of my trance a bit, but that’s what trees like.
To invoke Odin and Frigga, I used poetry from Essential Asatru, but I would say this was the least satisfying part of the ritual. I was so preoccupied with figuring out the ADF-specific stuff that I neglected the part where I honor the deities, especially since there was only a brief note of it in the printed liturgy, because this is a part I should have more flexibility with. The invocations in the book I used were meant for a group blot, so I accidentally forgot to change some of the “we’s” and “ours” and said “feast” instead of “rite”. Next time I need to put a lot more effort into it. I’ll probably have to write my own invocations, or at least find some more appropriate ones. At least I remembered to give them offerings of wine.
Next was the Omen. My runes are ones I made myself from slices of a Live Oak branch, in a drawstring bag I knitted out of cotton yarn. “How were my offerings received?” I drew Ehwaz, the Horse. Ok, that seems good. That’s a rune of cooperation and partnership. “How shall the Kindred respond?” I drew Thurisaz, the Thorn. Hmm, not exactly the best rune, but I remembered that Teo had drawn some sort of thorny Ogham for this part of the general SDF Omen too. I’m not familiar with Ogham, but maybe Thurisaz is the corresponding rune. Then for “What more would you have me learn?” I got Tiwaz. Now that’s interesting. I hardly ever get Tiwaz in readings, and Tyr is another god, like Heimdall, that I admire but don’t have much to do with. What immediately comes to mind is Self-Discipline, which is definitely something I need more of in my life.
Then it was my turn to drink, and receive the blessings of the kindred. I had originally planned to use the rest of the cider for this part, but since it was all in the Well now, I poured myself some more wine and “drank deep” as the liturgy instructed. I immediately felt the alcohol rush through my system and was reminded of how alcohol is the main mind-altering substance used by Heathens, since moderate amounts are used to loosen your tongue in rituals. It certainly worked for me! I skipped the Working part, since working magic didn’t seem appropriate at this time (I don’t usually do magic during celebratory rituals), and said the final affirmation with added wine-inspired enthusiasm. I thanked the beings, closed the gates, and the rite was ended. I blew out the candles, put everything away, and now here I was with a nice, clean house too!
Overall, I think that went well. I like how complete the ADF liturgy is. It has everything that’s important in the Cosmology: the World Tree, the Well, the Fire, the Ancestors, the Land Spirits, and the Gods. It’s flexible enough to add in or take out some parts. Now that I’ve done one of these rituals, I’m sure the next one will go much more smoothly. I’m looking forward to it. Perhaps I’ll be able to do it outside. The next holiday is Imbolc/Charming of the Plow/Candlemas on February 2. I’ve already decided the deities of the occasion will be Freyr and Gerda, and hopefully the weather will be right to do it outside this time.