Saturday, 15 December 2018
Book Excerpt: A Legacy of Druids by Ellen Hopman
“When we began the work of establishing spiritual connections with the land we quickly realized that we needed to gain an understanding of the spiritual character of our people. The work and discussions that followed culminated in a night of trance and divinatory work reaching out for a God to come forward to stand as our divine ancestor, a father to stand with us in a sacred marriage to the land.
“The God who answered our call is Lugh. He is a close cognate to the mythological Lugh Lamhfhadha or Lleu of the Old World. Since we believe that the Deities grow and change over time we never identify our deities as identical to those frozen in textbooks. Lugh is our protector, guide and inspiration. We seek his help and advice often through the year and especially honor him at our annual Lughnasadh gathering.
“Tradition has taught us that the ability to live in peaceful harmony with the spirits of the land hinges on a very special bond between our folk and the mother Goddess. At the Summer Solstice of 1995 we conducted a rite of sacred marriage between Ana and our father God, Lugh. Her acceptance of him signified that we are welcome to remain in this place and have been accepted as her children.
“Each Summer Solstice this bond is reaffirmed in a ceremony conducted in the forest. At that time newcomers to our folk are invited to join in the sacred pact. This relationship comes with a heavy obligation as we strive to live responsibly as her respectful children. We consider ourselves to be the protectors of the watershed and the many species with whom we share this home.
“The spirits of our ancestors are also very significant in our world view. We consult and honor them continually as we go about our busy lives. At Samhain we go out into the forest at sunset and invite them to join us in a joyful trance dance where the spirits of all generations entwine. We consult them when making decisions and seek their guidance in all matters of import.
“The God who helps us to make contact with the dead is Manannan mac Lir. He guides our loved ones across the boundary between the worlds and cares for them until their return. He is a beneficent and gracious host in the Otherworld where they enjoy great banquets and are free from disease. The Grey Walker is key to all of our rites involving the dead and we call to him by ringing bells and blowing on a conch shell. Those who aspire to the arts of magic and particularly that of shape changing have been known to seek him along the quiet banks of our many lakes, where his birds, the crane and the heron frequent.
“At the social center of our tribe is the Goddess Brid. She seems to be very similar to the textbook Brighid with the exception of the latter’s river Goddess aspects. She tends our spiritual hearth and rules over the laws of hospitality. She is key to our success, watching over the social glue that holds our group together.
“Our God of youth, beauty and romantic love, Aren, is a cognate of Angus mac Oc. He appears to us at Beltaine and rules over our springtime rites. According to our mythos he joins in our springtime revelry and catches the eye of Ana. As star-crossed lovers they pursue their desire in a short-lived, but passionate affair that ends each Samhain as he flees in the form of a swan.
“There is one additional God who is a part of our world for whom we have no name. Despite nearly a full year of searching for him our contacts continue to be fleeting but awe-inspiring. He is the Lord of the Wild who holds dominion over the wild lands and the animal kin beyond our cities and towns. He usually appears in stag form, but too little is known of him to be sure of his full character.
“Each spring and fall we send out a hunting party in an effort to know and honor this important God. We take no weapons on these journeys, but travel and camp as if we were a party in pursuit of the wisest of game. We travel through the wild country of our homeland in silent reverence for the natural world. We find our way through the use of augury, watching the flight of birds, the behavior of deer, listening to the sounds around us and the voices in our souls.
“Also important to our people is a group of entities that we collectively call ‘the Allies’. They include the spirits of the Native American dead who once called this land home, their living descendants and their Gods. We offer them respect as honored guests though we do not worship them. A number of their descendants are among the members of our new tribe, and are invited to share in our celebrations around our sacred hearth.
“The rite on each high day starts in the forest at sunset and lasts until after the following sunset. Once per year, at Beltaine, the flame that is tended in our Grove shrine is extinguished. The new flame is lit using a bow drill and is consecrated with nine sacred woods. Prior to all our rites, regardless of the weather, we gather to kindle the ritual fire from that sacred flame and keep a vigil over it throughout the night.
“Our year begins with the celebration of Samhain. The main rite is on the day following the fire vigil and centers around honoring the dead and the Otherworldly God, Manannan. We hold a public feast in their honor and speak fondly of their memory.
“At Yule we celebrate the return of the sun. At this time we also celebrate the children in our community. Some years we perform a sacred drama of helping the sun return, decorate a community tree and gather food and clothing for the homeless.
“Imbolg is the holiday of the Goddess Brid. We celebrate the first signs of spring and our impending rescue from the cold grip of winter. Huddled around the winter hearth, we also work to strengthen the social ties of our community.
“Spring Equinox is our time of seed blessing and preparing for the work of summer. We gather to celebrate the fertile power of the Earth and talk about our plans for the coming busy season.
“Beltaine is a rite of the fertility of the Earth and the joys of youthful love presided over by the God Aren. We hold a lively Maypole dance and revel in the delights of the springtime. We choose a King or Queen for the day, by drawing pieces of bannock cake from a basket. This individual voluntarily sacrifices him or herself for the fertility of the land and the health of the people by thrice jumping the ceremonial fire.
“At the Summer Solstice we re-enact the sacred marriage between our people and the land, embodied in the marriage of Ana and Lugh. The two aren’t actually reunited until Samhain, but we choose this time to encourage the return to the proper social order. The sovereignty afforded by this rite is particularly important to us through the remainder of the summer and harvest season.
“Lughnasadh is the time of our annual gathering. We host a Pagan festival in our watershed and people from near and far join us in our revelry. We conduct the traditional rites of the first grain harvest and of praise to Lugh. We hold athletic competitions to select our Grove Champion and we feast and laugh, forming new bonds of friendship in the community.
“The final rite of the year is the Fall Equinox, our harvest celebration. We gather to feast and give thanks to the spirits of nature and the deities for the abundance that our hard work through the summer has yielded.”
Rev. John R. Adelmann (Fox)
Interviewed November and December, 1996
You can also learn herbalism with Ellen at The Western Massachusetts School of Herbal Studies (October to April each year) POB 219, Amherst, MA 01004, USA.
A Legacy of Druids: Conversations With Druid Leaders of Britain, The USA and Canada, Past and Present by Ellen Evert Hopman, Archdruid, Tribe of the Oak is published by Moon Books.
You can view A Legacy of Druids on Amazon.