Spirits and ritual

As I mentioned in my first post about spirits of place honouring spirits in druid ritual is tremendously important. To be in a place for ritual is to be surrounded by the spirits who dwell there. Without their blessing, consent and support, how can a ritual hope to work?

Finding an appropriate place for ritual is something to undertake before you mean to carry it out – especially group rituals. Take the time to find somewhere with a welcoming atmosphere, and speak to it of your intentions. Then before you actually commence the ritual, take time to tune into the place, and listen to the spirit there. Do not expect to hear words or voices, but be open, and you may find some awareness of what is around you and how it relates to your presence.

The first British Druid Order rituals at Avebury, highly influential in the development of current ritual forms for many groups, included acknowledgement of spirits of place, but it happened a fair way into the process. My own Gorsedd, Bards of the Lost Forest, honour spirits of place first, and time I’ve spent with other groups suggests this is a way of working that is gaining popularity. Not least because it makes a lot of sense.

Once the human participants are organised into a circle and the ritual has been opened with a few words, it makes absolute sense to then communicate with what is around us. You’d hardly do a ritual in someone’s house without talking to them early in the process! A grove of trees, a field, or garden is no different. Here’s a sample of what I might say in such a moment of ritual:

Hail spirits of this place, spirits of soil and wood, you who have watched over us so many times before. We thank you for the blessings and protection you give us, for the inspiration of your presence. Hail spirits of forest, with your dancing leaves and rising sap energy. Hail and welcome.

We do not command, demand, or invite. We recognise that the spirits were there first, and we honour them.

Sometimes in ritual people make offerings. It’s important that these be biodegradable, or taken away. I personally can’t see much sense in picking a flower one place in order to leave it in another. These too are spirits, and are not ours to give. Ritual offerings to spirits of place should (I think) either be useful – water in dry times, removing of litter, or should be gifts of personal creativity where energy has been invested.

We best honour the spirits of place when we engage with them. Sitting quietly, listening, fingers against the soil, leaves in hair… relinquishing everyday conversation, becoming quiet and opening to the voice of spirit. In ritual, I’ve made temporary altars out of whatever was to hand, created patterns with leaves and twigs, an offering of inspiration. Beach pebbles arranged in ways that will be destroyed by the next tide. Ephemeral offerings, moments of connection. Music is a gorgeous thing to offer to the spirits, especially when it is improvised in the moment. I’ve had some amazing experiences that way, when music has flowed and I’ve felt like the vessel through which it poured.

At the end of rituals, we give thanks to the spirits of place, with reference to things that have happened in the ritual, and with intention to return (if relevant). We leave nothing that is out of place, and if we can we take away things others should not have left. We treat the land, and its inhabitants with respect.

 Relating to the spirits of place in ritual, and letting their presence permeate a circle and inform the shape of what we do, is incredibly powerful, and brings a depth and resonance to all that happens in circle.

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