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Magical Skills In Druid Ritual

by Ian Corrigan

In the Druidic tradition the obligation to perform public ritual has always been strong. The ancient druids were the administrators of ceremony and acted as sacrificers, diviners and counselors for their folk. We hope to follow their example, and our work centers around modern public Paganism. While this offers many opportunities for spiritual growth, it also presents an important danger.

Public ritual demands preparation. Leaders must concern themselves with props, scripts, staging and crowd control. This can make it difficult for even experienced ritual leaders to focus on the Inner and Magical skills that turn mere performance into religious experience.

This presents the danger of Pagan worship becoming merely social and formal occasions. With ADF's outward focus - our stressing of public service, networking and community - we could devolve into a sort of 'protestant' Paganism. We could be relevant, involved and concerned without conveying the mighty blessings of the Powers that should be the right of our worshippers.

Pagan religious experience, I believe, does not arise through 'grace'. It is not a free gift, but rather requires the skilled effort of all participants especially the leaders. In most Wiccan ritual this need is met by a clearly understood series of Magical skills that have been passed from teacher to student (even if the teacher is printed matter). Such forms are being developed for our Druidic rites, but they are easily misplaced in the hubbub of presenting quality public ritual.

I believe that the primary goal of religion in modern times is to help people to form direct, personal relationships with the Inner Worlds and with the God/desses and Spirits. To that end it seems vital that those who lead Druidic ritual be well-practiced in basic and intermediate magical skills. Ritual leaders should be able to use these skills well themselves and also be able to lead even inexperienced members of the participants into the altered states that define successful ritual.

In a short article like this one we can examine only an outline of the Inner Work of Druidic ritual. For more detailed instruction see my own work Druidheachd or the ADF Book of Rites.

We will examine the broad field of Magical skills under three headings: trance and meditation, invocation and mediation, and divination and seership.

Trance and Meditation

The primary background skill of magic is the control of the mind and its states of awareness. A great deal has been written about the basics of these skills - relaxation, concentration and visualization. The combined result of these skills is called 'trance' - directed, self-willed states of consciousness.

The human mind is constantly entranced, shifting between habitual types of awareness according to the random events and reactions of daily life. In ritual we use our skill to induce special trances in which we feel awe, respect and love for the Powers and which make us receptive to the blessing offered by the rite.

There are several standard trances in our ADF rites. Grounding, Centering and Primary Attunement: The work commonly referred to as the Grove Meditation has two main intentions. First the participants are led to relax both their bodies and minds, setting aside mundane concerns and habitual postures so that the new inputs of the rite can be recieved. This goal should not be neglected, especially when there are new, inexperienced guests present. If one leaves a rite with nothing more than the feeling of an hour's respite from the cares of common life, that alone has value in today's hectic world.

The second, equally important goal is the connecting of each of the worshippers with the primal Powers of Earth and Sky. One of the key patterns of Celtic and Druidic Magic is the Two Currents - Underworld Power and Upperworld Power and their union in the body of the worshipper and in all the manifest world. Their presence informs and empowers each participant individually and the whole Grove collectively.

This is usually followed, or even accompanied, by the ritual acknowledgement of the Sacred Center of the rite - the Fire, the Well and/or Tree. Thus we mirror in the physical Grove the reality of the Underworld (Well), Overworld (Fire) and Middleworld (Tree). This identity of soul with ceremony allows us to bring the power of the Powers through, out of our selves, into the common world.

This primary pattern of vision should be renewed several times throughout the rite, again especially if there are new folks present. The Grove Vision: When the Cosmic Order has been established in the Grove and the Gate has been opened ritually, the Druid should lead the company in a visualization of the completed Grove.

After renewing the Centering vision, all should envision the Inner reality of the Fire, Well and Tree, seen as beautiful and perfect, holy and powerful. The Druid leads them to visualize the Gate(s) - the connection of the Center with the Otherworlds through the Earth and Sky.

With this vision the simple Hallows of the Grove are identified with their archetypal originals on the primal Ground of Sacrifice at the center of all worlds. Again, it also establishes the Gates in the souls of each of the participants. The Forms of the Powers: The skills of visualization are most frequently used in invocation (see below) to compose the forms of the various Deities and Powers to which we make offering. The ancient Celts seldom made anthropomorphic idols of their God/desses, but the oral tradition does contain verbal descriptions that suggest that visualized forms were known and used. So the Druid should have a set of well developed forms for the standard Powers invoked at every rite - the Earthmother, Gatekeeper and Inspirer - and have prepared clear images of the Patron Powers, the Goddess and God offered to in any particular rite.

In traditional Paganism each of the Deities might choose to worship one of the the other God/desses. Especially in Vedic lore we find Vishnu and Shiva performing sacrifices to one another. So we concieve that the Triad Offerings - the calls to the Ancestors, Land-spirits and Deities in general - call a large group of Powers to the Grove to join in worshipping the Patrons of the rite.

These Spirits are thought of as the personal allies, ancestors and patron Deities of all the assembled worshippers, as well as any other beings who may wish the comany well. So at the end of the Triads and before the Key Offerings the Druid should establish a vision of this crowd of Spirits. They come to support their human allies and kin, and to join in the Blessing offered to the company.

There are many smaller bits of vision and trance in our rites, mostly in connection with our other categories, covered below. In general, trance should mirror the outer form of the ritual in brighter, more magical detail and ritual should manifest and realize the content of Inner visions.

Invocation and Meditation

Invocation is the skill of making the rite visible to the Inner Powers; making the words audible and the gifts tangible to them. At the same time it makes the Powers perceptible to the assembled company of worshippers. This requires a combination of strong visualization with well-written poetry and heart-felt sacrifice, the combination of which attunes the worshippers' souls with the essence of the invoked Power.

In Pagan worship invocation is not 'summoning' in the ceremonial Magic sense. We do not attempt to command the God/desses, but to come into loving relationship with them. By invocation we draw closer to the Spirits and they are drawn to us to receive our gifts and honor. In return we ask for their divine nature to be reflected in us to bless and empower our lives.

Mediation is the skill of actively transmitting the essence of a Power to other humans and to the world. In the dominant Christian metaphysic this skill is limited to the professional clergy of a single God. In the pluralistic vision of Paganism a wide variety of people mediate an even wider variety of Powers. From the simplest family duty to the formal settings of religious work to the highest moments of heroism or judgement every human has the opportunity and potential to mediate one of the Deities or Spirits.

In our Druidry we are working toward knowing the Powers as objectively real, separate beings - not alone as 'archtypes' or 'aspects of self'. Yet tradition tells us that these great Powers are our own kin, made of the same soul-stuff of which we are made. So their presence can wake a corresponding power in our own souls - an archetype, making us more aware of the divinity within ourselves.

When a Pagan takes a Patron God/dess she begins the process of mediation. As the worshipper becomes more attuned to the Patron, the force of that Power becomes stronger in her own soul. She comes to feel as the Patron feels and to act as the Patron acts. In time she becomes able to grant some of the blessings that the Patron grants. This is what is actually meant by Priest/esshood in Pagan ways, that the power of the Deities be increased by their reflection in the souls of their worshippers.

Thus it is best if the clergy for any rite are actually Priest/esses of the Deities to be honored on that occasion. If not, then the Druid should be sure to spend some time in the days before the rite meditating on the Powers involved, perhaps making a preliminary offering to improve his own attunement to them so that he can mediate their strength in the public rite.

The work of the ritual leader also includes helping the assembled worshippers to perceive and mediate the Patron Power's blessing. When the individuals leave the rite they should be able to convey some small part of the Blessing to everyone in their common lives. Here is a simple visualization to that end. The Heart-Mirror: The Druid begins by leading a detailed vision of the Deity or Spirit invoked. This image can be seen as standing in the gate, or established in the light of the Fire or in the shadows of the Well. The company is told to feel their heart as a clear, shining mirror which perfectly reflects and refracts the presence of the Deity. Thus the Deity is felt as present in the worshipper's soul as well as in the Grove. When the Deity is then praised and offered to he/she is also worshipped in each of the company and every action of the Deity is done from within as well as without.

Divination And Seership

In ADF's Druidic rituals we use divination, after the main offerings, to determine the type and quality of blessing the Powers offer us. The skills of divination with a symbol system such as runes, ogham or even tarot are thus vitally important to Druidic work, and should be pursued by every ritual leader. In some ways this is the simplest of our skills to discuss here. They are easily accessed from a variety of printed sources and local teachers, though actually learning the depths of such a system's symbols can occupy a lifetime.

In ritual divination the goal is to read the simple three-rune omen deeply and well. It should be divined in such a way as to allow each participant to to find gain and good counsel for themselves and for their community. There has been a tendency in our Grove to read the Omen as if it were a reading for the Grove itself. I think this misses the mark for public ceremony, where the often cryptic omen must apply equally to each and all.

In our work it is also becoming the diviner's job to weave the content of the Omen into the meditation on personal and group needs that should preceed the Blessing. This makes this entire section of the rite oracular, and gives the diviner some latitude for personal intuition and inspiration.

It has sometimes been suggested that direct Inner vision might serve these goals better than simple symbol-based divination. It is true that the Druids of old were great seers, often able to use their poetic inspiration alone to speak true about future events and the will of the Powers. However, the diviner has a special responsibility to speak objectively, simply and with detatchment. For far to many 'psychics' these seem to be difficult goals. A symbol-based Omen presents a more or less objective meaning that somewhat constrains any tendency toward wish-fulfillment or ego gratification.

In elder days Paganism was supported by a variety of potent seers. In both Celtic and Germanic cultures this seems to have centered around poetic inspiration. Celtic poet-seers were said to be able to place their wands upon a person's head and speak truely about their life and destiny. The Germanic thule was a visionary skald who spoke poetic truth from his Magical seat. Each of these was constrained by a large body of cultural precedent that is, so far, lacking in our Pagan revival. In the same way, the ancients practiced augury, in which omens were taken from the events of the natural world. This has real potential for us but, again, we lack the fullness of traditional meanings that were the treasure of the old seers.

So we should certainly be working to develop this sort of true seership. When we have our own consentual body of lore, and a means of evaluating the quality of a seer's work we will have made a real stride toward a more powerful modern Magic. Until that time we should also work diligently to master symbol-based divination,especially the runes and the ogham.


I believe that in order for any religious ritual to have its greatest possible effect it must be informed and supported by Magical skills of the sort described. The Failure of Christian ritual is traceable to the loss of these esoteric traditions, and it seems likely that the decadence of classical Paganism, especially in the Graeco-roman world had much the same cause. When ritual becomes purely a duty, merely a social, intellectual or doctrinal event it quickly comes to seem empty to the worshipper. Let us work together to make certain that Druidic ritual remains vibrant and powerfully Magical now and in the future.