by Victoria S. – approved on 30 September, 2016

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.)

In most Indo-European cultures, there is a creation myth that talks about two forces coming into conflict. These two forces are often Man and his Twin, and Twin is sacrificed in some form to become the Earth, or to become part of the underworld. Thus is the cosmos created by a sacrifice and imposing Order on Chaos (“The Druid’s Cosmos”).

This concept of (re)creating the cosmos within our rites and practices is a central concept in ADF practice. In our most basic of meditations – the Two Powers meditation – we combine the Fires from the upper realm with the Waters from the lower realm in our bodies in the middle realm (Corrigan). Many of our rituals begin with this meditation, laying the groundwork for the (re)creation of the cosmos as the main part of the ritual.

Within the ritual, we (re)create the Cosmos as we establish the Center and call upon the Gates through the creation of the Center and use of the Hallows. Through the Well, we connect to the Primal Chaos, through the Fire we connect to the Primal Order, and the Tree connects them both to our world. By combining these three Hallows, and utilizing their connection to Primal Order and Chaos, we can symbolically (re)create the cosmos in the Center of our rites.

In addition to (re)creating the Cosmos when we establish the Center of our ritual, we make sacrifices that re-affirm the original Sacrifice that created the world. By this act, we are further affirming the world order and the stability of the cosmos (“The Druid’s Cosmos”). It is through these repeated sacrifices that we ensure that the Cosmos remains in order.

ADF ritual allows us to adapt our rituals for different cultures. Different groups have different language used in (re)creating the cosmos depending on their Hearth Culture, but the general approach is the same.  

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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.)

In ADF Ritual, there are three different items that we use to define the sacred center. In many rituals, these are the Well, Tree and Fire. Depending on the Hearth Culture, the ritual may instead use a Pit, Mountain, and Fire.

Fire has long been associated with the Gods. From the time that Prometheus brought fire down from Mount Olympus to give to humans, the fire has symbolized the sacred fires that carry our offerings to the gods. As the ancients burned fat, incense and other offerings, the smoke of the sacred fires carried those offerings up to the gods (Newberg, “CooR Tutorial: Step Six”). In nature, fire can encourage new growth by burning away the detritus of old growth. In the same way, fire is also the purifier, that which burns away the impurities and leaves the pure essence of the sacrifice. The Fire is the symbolization of the powers of Order that are brought down from the gods. Today, the fire acts both as a symbol of Order, a symbol of the gods, as well as a way to purify and consume our sacrifices.

The Well ties to a number of different sources of mythological and spiritual water. There is the underground river Styx that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. There are also the triple Norse Wells of Hvergelmir, of the Weird, of Mimir. The Well of Hvergelmir feeds the roots of the World Tree. The Well of the Weird is the home of the Norns, who keep the forces of destiny in motion. The third well, the Well of Mimir is where all knowledge, wisdom, and power are kept. In today’s ADF liturgy, the Well represents the underworld (Ár nDraíocht Féin 21). These waters also represent what is un-made and not-yet-made. They are the waters of potential, the waters of Chaos. The waters of the Well reach deep into the Earth, to the land of our ancestors, to where we may draw up the wisdom, knowledge, and power of those who have gone before.

The Tree in ADF liturgy connects the primal fire with the primal water (Ár nDraíocht Féin 21). The basic thought of the tree as we use it in ADF is similar to the Norse World Tree, Yggdrasil. In Norse Mythology, Yggdrasil connects the nine worlds together. It is fed by the waters of the three Wells and serves as a pathway between the different worlds. In addition to the Norse, many cultures have shamanic practices that use the World Tree as a pathway from this world to the Upper and Lower worlds. Because it is a tree, a living thing in our world,  “The Tree” also stands as a link to the natural world and connects us to the spirits and fae who live here. In Hellenic rituals, the Tree is sometimes replaced with the Omphalos or Mount Olympus (Newberg, “COoR Tutorial: Step Five”). The meaning is the same, to connect the Upper and Lower worlds and to stand as a link to the natural world.

While we traditionally use three Hallows in our rituals, only the Fire is required.  It’s entirely possible to do an ADF ritual with only Fire. 

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 3. Explain the divisions of the cosmos in ADF ritual, and why the cosmos is divided in this way. (300 words min.)

In ADF rituals, we traditionally divide the cosmos along the vertical axis in three divisions – Lower, Middle, and Upper Worlds. The Lower world is usually associated with the underworld and the ancestral waters. The Middle world is associated with our physical world. In some mythologies, there are also “Otherworlds” of spirits and sometimes gods that overlap with our physical world. This is the world of the spirits. The Upper-world is the world of the Shining Ones, the Gods, and a source of Order (Our Own Druidry 20).

In “The Druids’ Progress” #8, Issac Bonewits discusses the different ways to break up the cosmos. In the article, “New Complexities in Indo-European Caste Systems and Cosmologies”, he mentions the different ways that various cultures break up the cosmos. The Norse break the cosmos into nine worlds; the Celtic faiths tended to refer to land, sea, and sky; and the tribal peoples tended to use a vertical axis from the sky, through the earth, to the underworld (7-8).

In discussing the different complexities of defining the cosmos, Bonewits points out that ADF is providing a framework, and it is up to the liturgists to adapt it to their beliefs. He even allows for liturgists to utilize polarities such as dark/light or Otherworld/Here in defining the Cosmos. The one thing that he says is consistent through all of the different approaches is the power of Fire (Bonewits “New Complexities” 8).

In my experience, many liturgists have used the Upper, Middle, and Lower Worlds to define the vertical axis of the cosmos, while some will use the Land, Sea, and Sky as a horizontal axis to sub-divide the Middle world. In Norse rituals, the Middle world is sometimes subdivided into the directions of the compass after the four dwarves of Norse mythology. Some groups try to fit the additional definitions into the vertical definition of Upper, Middle, and Lower Worlds (Ár nDraíocht Féin 22-23).

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 4. Explain why the fire is an essential element of ADF ritual, and what relation it has to the sacrifice. (150 words min.)

In the Core Order of Ritual Tutorial on the ADF website, Newberg points out that humans have associated fire with sacrifice for a long time. As the fire burns the offerings, the smoke takes the essence of them to the gods. (Newberg, “CoOR Tutorial: Step Six”) In our practice, fire is the purifier, that which burns away the impurities and leaves the pure essence of the sacrifice.

In the Vedic faith, Agni is a fire god who is very tightly connected to sacrifice. He is the god who consumes the sacrifice and transfers it to the rest of the gods and goddesses (Dangler). While other cultures may not have an equivalent god, the concept of fire consuming the sacrifices for the gods still exists.

Fire is also a symbol of Order. The fire in a stockade keeps the chaotic wild animals out and marks the establishment of Order in the world. In Vedic India, the building of a Fire-Altar was a way to claim new territory (Thomas “Sacred Gifts” 51).

Today, the fire acts as a symbol of the gods, an indicator if a place of worship and a way to purify and consume our sacrifices. Of all of the symbols and tools that we use in ADF ritual, Fire is the only one that is required. As the ADF Dedicants Manual says “Sacred fire must be present at any full sacrifice, and should be used even in simple devotions” (30). Fire is the only one of the Hallows that is consistently represented across all of the different Indo-European cultures, and it is the component that is believed to purify our offerings and carry them to the Shining Ones.

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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.)

The concept of gates is a relatively new concept. In ancient times, ritual sites were often dedicated to that purpose and did not need to take a specific action to open the connection with the Otherworlds. We open the gates in ADF ritual to help us to focus the group mind on assisting in communicating with the Kindreds (Bonewits “Step by Step”). As opening and closing the gates are a modern practice, so too is the idea of needing a Gatekeeper (Newberg, “COoR Tutorial: Step Six”).

In ADF rituals, we call upon a Gatekeeper to help us to open the gates between worlds as well as to guard those gates. Depending on the particular ritual, the Gatekeeper might be called to open the gates as well as to guard them, to assist the priest in opening the gates and then to guard them, or be called to guard the gates as the priest opens them (Newberg, “COoR Tutorial: Step Six”).

There is no general Indo-European Gatekeeper spirit. It depends on the cultural focus and purpose of the ritual. A good Gatekeeper could be from any of the Kindreds, but should be a liminal being. We tend to call psychopomps and messenger spirits or gods to help us to open and guard the gates (Newberg, “COoR Tutorial: Step Six”). In somewhat generic rituals, we do call upon the archetypal “Gatekeeper” with the expectation that any of the many Gatekeeper beings may answer.

I find that I tend to choose beings that have the ability to see, and possibly travel, into multiple worlds. Most of the rituals that I create or lead tend to be either Welsh or Norse. For Welsh rituals, I will often call Gwyn ap Nudd as the Gatekeeper. Gwyn ap Nudd is the ruler of the Otherworld and travels between the worlds in various stories. He has the ability to move from this world to the Otherworlds and thus can stand between the worlds. In Norse rituals, Heimdall is my Gatekeeper of choice. In the lore, Heimdall is the watchman of Asgard. He keeps watch over the Rainbow Bridge and can watch over the gates between the worlds. Both of these beings have abilities that allow them to watch over both this world and the otherworlds, and this ability makes them effective gatekeepers. 

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6. Describe the relationship between earth and sky in ADF ritual. (125 words min.)

In many Indo-European cultures, there is a direct connection in the creation myth between the Earth and the Sky. In “Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father”, Carrion and Raven Mann discuss the common Indo-European pattern where the Sky Father is the head of the Gods and fertilizes the local Earth Mother Goddess. This act resulted in the birth of living things on the Earth. While the concept of a Sky Father is present in Indo-European cultures, there does not seem to be sufficient evidence of a single Indo-European Sky Father. The Manns do suggest that “modern Neopagans that we must seek the balance between the Earth and Sky” (Mann).

Within ADF, we have done so with the Two Powers meditation. In the Two Powers meditation, we unite the powers of the Deep Earth and the Sky within ourselves to form “a powerful balance” (Newberg, “COoR Tutorial: Step Two”). In this uniting of the powers of Earth and Sky, we are echoing the combination of powers of the original creation stories.

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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.)

In this article, “The Nature of Sacrifice,” Rev. Kirk Thomas outlines his thoughts on why we make offerings and perform sacrifices, as well as describing different kinds of sacrifices. In the article, Thomas attributes the word “sacrifice” to the Proto-Indo-European word  *sacros, which means “holy.” In his book “Sacred Gifts,” Thomas says that “sacred” can mean a place or thing that is cut off from our normal world. It can be a place or object that is filled with a divine presence or is forbidden to humans (12). So a sacrifice is something that we put apart from humans, and give to the gods.

In his article, Thomas briefly mentions how the word “sacrifice” has taken on a negative meaning. In the article, he talks about how the focus on the Christian sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has led the word to include loss of life. In modern usage, “sacrifice” doesn’t necessarily mean the giving up of a life, but it does mean giving up something that is painful to do so. For ancient pagans, however, sacrifice was a way for them to communicate with the divine (Thomas, “Sacred Gifts” 60).

Thomas goes on to outline five different reasons for us to perform sacrifices:

“Maintaining the Cosmic Order

Delivering Services Through Gifts

Providing Protection

Commensality (Community)

Mitigating Order with Chaos (the modern idea)” (Thomas “The Nature of Sacrifice”)

We maintain the cosmic order through sacrifice by echoing the original sacrifice of creation and spreading the sacrifice through the universe. Many Indo-European cultures have a story of the creation of the world through sacrifice. In the Vedic tradition, Purusha was sacrificed and dismembered to make the world and the different casts of Vedic people. In the Norse myths, the Giant Ymir was sacrificed, and the different parts of the world were made from various parts of the Giant. There are similar stories among the Romans. These sacrifices that we make help maintain the cosmic order by contributing additional matter to the cosmos, and so sustaining the world (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”). In an ADF ritual, this sacrifice is generally done while (re)creating the cosmos and with offerings to the Hallows. As we offer to Fire, Well, and Tree, we maintain the cosmos.

As we maintain the cosmic order through sacrifice, we also make offerings in service to the gods so that they may bestow their blessings on us. The Latin phrase, “do ut des, [means] ‘I give so that you may give’”. Thomas highlights a Pre-Indo-European word – *ghosti – that is related to both ‘guest’ and ‘host.’ This phrase highlights the focus on relationships in these cultures. Relationships that are based on exchanges are a major part of the ancient world. We give gifts to the gods so that they may give us gifts in return. However, the gifts do not always have to be equal between partners. Thomas reviews the patron-client relationship where the two partners bring something different to the relationship. Their contribution is commensurate with what they can bring to the relationship. In some cultures, it was expected that if you are consistent with your devotions and do “rigorous penance”  then you will achieve Heaven (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”).

It is important that the gifts that we give be ours to give. The person who is receiving the benefits of the sacrifice, and who owns the gifts, does not have to be the person making the sacrifice. It is possible for a priest to sacrifice on behalf of a client, or the people. In some cases in ancient times, there was the need for a significant sacrifice. In these rare cases, a human may be sacrificed, but it was more common to substitute a domestic animal as the sacrifice in place of a person  (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”).

At times sacrifices were made without killing anything alive. In these cases, weapons and items were “killed” and offered to the gods in a way that removed them from human use. Among the non-killing options for traditional offerings were the first fruits of a harvest, libations, and votive offerings (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”). In my experience in ADF, this kind of sacrifice is pretty common. We give the Kindreds offerings so that they may give us blessings in return. In the Core Order of Ritual, we ask for and hopefully receive these blessings as part of the ritual. In the receiving of the blessings, they are shared among those attending the ritual, for the betterment of all.

The third context of sacrifice is the offerings for protection. Thomas discusses these offerings as averting “evil influence or bad luck and is a safeguarding against evil.” These types of offerings against pollution can either counteract any wrong doings or purify the area and participants. Sacrifices of purification were often made with water or smoke. In addition to these sacrifices against pollution, the Greeks would also sacrifice a “scapegoat” to take the sin of the people away from the people. This sacrifice could be either human or animal. The last type of sacrifices in this context is the Hellenic Oath sacrifice. In this case, animal sacrifice was used as the person used the energy from the sacrifice to bind their oaths with a series of self-curses. In ADF, we do these “apotropaic” offerings, or offerings for protection, as part of the ritual when we do the Outdweller offerings. These offerings help to protect the folk or to “get right with the Gods”  (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”).

The fourth context of sacrifice is in the shared meal. In Greek tradition, a portion of the meal is given to the gods. The part of the animal for the gods is usually the non-consumable parts of the meal such as the bones and fat. This sharing of the meal emphasized the patron-client relationship between individuals and the gods. The people “pay rent” to the gods to gain protection or just to share the bounty with the gods (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”). In addition to reinforcing the patron-client relationship, these shared meals strengthened the guest-host relationship between the gods and us. These shared meals also provided an opportunity for the community to come together and partake in and, usually rare, meat (Thomas, Sacred Gifts). Many groves, including the Protogrove of the Valley Oak, have a shared meal after the ritual. In our protogrove, we will often have a portion of the meal on the altar as an offering to the Gods. I know other individuals who make a yearly pilgrimage to the sea to “pay rent” to the gods.

The fifth, and final, context of sacrifice that Thomas covers is a modern interpretation. In this context, we make offerings and sacrifices to maintain the balance between Chaos and Cosmos. Prayers and sacrifices help to balance out the ever increasing chaos with a bit of order. According to Thomas, chaos feeds chaos and enough of it will cause everything to disintegrate. In ancient Rome, the rituals were carefully planned, and efforts were taken to avoid spontaneity. However, it is very common in modern rituals, especially in the Praise Offerings section of our rituals that there is a little bit of chaos. Thomas proposes that this bit of chaos helps to bring life to the ritual (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”). In this context, we have the balance of Order and Chaos. The Praise Offering section of our rituals can often be a bit Chaotic while also having Order in it is placement in the ritual. This section of the ritual allows for more spontaneity than the other sections and helps to maintain the balance.
                Through the different types of sacrifice, we maintain the cosmos, support our relationships with the Kindreds and gain the blessings of the Kindreds. By echoing the original sacrifice that created the Universe, we remind ourselves of our place in the universe and how we are connected to it. Sacrifices made through the guest-host relationship help to maintain, or establish, our relationships with the Kindreds, and allow them to give us gifts in return. Sacrifices can also provide protection to us by calling upon the Kindreds to protect us, by encouraging Kindreds to leave us in peace rather than cause trouble, and by making apologies to the Kindreds if we have offended them. Sacrifices can also have more direct effects on us, as we come together as a community to create larger sacrifices or to have rituals for the purpose of giving sacrifices. Through all of these different types of sacrifice, we help to establish order among ourselves and the Kindreds so that there is space for a little bit of Chaos when needed.

From the information that we have, sacrifices were a key part of maintaining the relationships with the Kindreds in ancient Indo-European religions.  The act of sacrifice also helps to connect us to the Kindreds. As we choose the items that we will offer to Them, and are conscious of Their blessings that we receive in return, we continue to focus on our relationships with the Kindreds.

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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.)

Purification clears out or suppresses “undesirables” or the negative emotions and thoughts of the participants that are not helpful during the ritual. It can also add desirable elements to the participants and the area of the ritual. We can also use purification to mark something as sacred. These three approaches help to prepare individuals, items and places for ritual (Newberg, “COoR Tutorial: Step Two”).

The individuals attending a ritual should be purified before the ritual starts. The purification can occur with smoke, water, sound, or a variety of other methods. Participants of the rituals need to be purified as they can bring emotional and spiritual “gunk” with them from their lives. In addition, sometimes the area that the rituals are held in will need to be purified. If the ritual takes place in an area that is dedicated to sacred use, it may not need to be purified. Unfortunately, most of the areas that we traditionally use are also used for profane, if enjoyable, events so it is appropriate to purify the area that we will be holding rituals in as well.

Anyone can perform the act of purification. In our Protogrove, we traditionally use a combination of fumigation with incense and asperging with water. Two volunteers from the grove perform this purification. These volunteers are usually not one of the two leading celebrants.

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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.)

In rituals that follow the ADF Core Order of Ritual, we call for the blessings after we have made offerings to the Kindreds. We make the offerings so that the Kindreds may give us blessings in return, and at this point in the ritual, we expect to receive those blessings. Thomas discusses the idea that we are leveraging the traditions of *ghosti to allow the Kindreds to give us blessings in return for us giving them offerings. (Thomas, “The Nature of Sacrifice”).

The blessings themselves may come from different sources. They could come from the Kindreds as a group or the Being of the Occasion. The blessings are carried in the “Waters of Life,” a beverage that is shared among the folk, but may also be water that is sprinkled on the folk, or a token that participants can take home (Newberg “COoR Tutorial: Step Eleven”). In our rituals, we work with the blessings in three steps. The first step is asking for the blessings, then we allow the Kindreds or Deity of the Occasion to hallow the blessings, and the third phase is sharing the blessings with the folk. In our protogrove, we always confirm that the folk are willing to receive the blessings before we share them. Sharing the blessings allows us all to receive the right results of our shared ritual and sacrifices.

Works Cited

 “The Druid’s Cosmos.” Dedicant Path Manual. Ár NDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Inc., n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.

Ár nDraíocht Féin. Our Own Druidry. PDF. Ar nDriocht Fein, 2009. Print.

Bonewits, Isaac. Neopagan Rites: a guide to creating public rituals that work. Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2007. Kindle.

–. “Step by Step through A Druid Worship Ceremony” The Druids’ Progress #4.

–. New Complexities in Indo-European Caste Systems and Cosmologies. The Druids’ Progress #8.

Corrigan, Ian. “Core Ideas in Druid Theology.” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2014.

Dangler, Michael. “Nine Central Tenets of Druidic Ritual” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2014.

Mann, Carrion and Raven Mann. “Reclaiming the Indo-European Sky Father” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. Web. 02 Jan. 2016.

Newberg, Brandon. “COoR Tutorial: Step Eleven: Calling (asking) for the Blessings”Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., 2007. Web. 02 Jan. 2016.

–. “COoR Tutorial: Step Five: (Re)Creating the Cosmos” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., 2007. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

–. “COoR Tutorial: Step Six: Opening the Gate(s)” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., 2007. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.

–. “COoR Tutorial: Step Two: Purification” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. N. p., 2007. Web. 02 Jan. 2016.

Thomas, Kirk S. “The Nature of Sacrifice” Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship. Web. 31 Jul. 2016.

–. Sacred Gifts: Reciprocity and the Gods. , 2015. Kindle.