Recreating the Cosmos in Grove of the Other Gods, ADF Druid Ritual
February, 2002, submitted to Jennie Hunt and the Liturgist's Guild

Bear with us- this is the result of several group discussions among our liturgists, so it’s a bit redundant and lengthy.
I’ve eliminated accents on words because they tend to come out as damn-near-anything-but-accents once they’ve gotten through an e-mail program.

Biographies of our liturgists:

Our current Grove of the Other Gods liturgists are:
-Senior Druid Norma Hoffman, ADF member since January 1990 and Green Man Grove member since Samhain 1990. She’s also former Co-Editor of News from the Mother Grove. She’s been Grove Organizer of Green Man since 1997 and Senior Druid since Samhain 2000. She’s participated in over 100 ADF rituals of all sizes both locally and at festivals, and has performed handfastings and such-like.

-Erica Friedman, who joined ADF and Green Man in 1991, and was ADF Members Advocate in 1995. After that experience she left ADF disillusioned, and formed White Horse Grove with ex-ADF members Pattie Lawler and Marcia Blaustein. They continued to perform ADF rituals outside the restrictions of ADF. Erica rejoined ADF and Green Man in 2000.

-Pattie Lawler, who joined ADF and Green Man in 1991 and has been involved in designing and performing rituals with the grove since then. She has contributed articles on folklore and religion to Druids Progress and the MetroDruid Nuz Dispatch. We’re happy to have Erica and Pattie back with us, and as members of ADF again. Pattie and Erica have participated in close to 100 ADF rituals.

-Edwin Chapman, who joined ADF in January 1990 and Green Man on Samhain 1990. He was the other Co-Editor of News from the Mother Grove, has done layout work for Druids Progress and Oak Leaves and is a Lifetime Member of ADF. He’s participated in over 100 ADF rituals.

On Imbolc 2002 the name of the Grove was changed from Green Man Grove to Grove of the Other Gods.

While the four of us don’t always agree with one another, we share a similar overall philosophy about our relationship with the cosmos in ritual. We believe that having a real relationship with the land, the gates, the kindreds and individual deities and having a real connection to the other worlds is the heart and soul of ADF ritual. Scholarship is important, but scholarship should take a back seat to developing real relationships and connections. If we don’t have a real connection to the other worlds, we’re not a real religion, we’re a cargo cult. “Sincerity is not enough,” as Isaac has often said, but without sincerity we might as well join the S.C.A.- we’re just dressing up and calling ourselves by funny names and pretending we’re a religion.

Cultural Focus:
What do we mean when we say that our cultural focus is New Jersey?
The ancient Druids did not have the liberty of choosing a “cultural focus”. We have that liberty, and that’s very nice. While we follow a modern NeoPagan sort-of Celtic wheel of the year (our fire festivals are more important than solstices and equinoxes) and while our two guiding deities, Brigid and Manannan Mac Lir, are pan-Celtic deities, our real cultural focus, for better or worse, but in fact, not fancy, is New Jersey. She, and the metropolitan area of New York City, are our Genius/Juno Loci. You dishonor your nature spirits and spirits of place by pretending you’re in Tara or Rome or Reykjavik.

We have put down roots in this toxic soil. Most of us were born and raised here, and we must give the land and culture right here the honor that it deserves. It might sound a bit strange, or even sound like a joke- but we are not 4th century Irishmen, nor are we 1st century Gauls, or Celts or Norsemen or Romans from any other period. We love the old stories, as did the ancients, and we emulate the old Pagans in our connections to the land and kindreds and the Goddesses and Gods. While we are inspired by the ancients and take many of our virtues and strengths and ideals and ideas from the ancients, we are not the ancients, we live here and now. The Celtic deities are our good friends, but we believe that they’re here with us. As the Celts migrated, their deities went with them.

Our part of New Jersey is much like Rome was in the 1st century: it’s a spiritual marketplace where cultures from all over the world have come together. We have the largest Hindu population of any area in the United States, a vibrant Santeria community, Christians and Jews and Muslims of various stripes, and several dozen different NeoPagan groups- all in our backyard. (Sometimes it seems they are literally all in Ed & Norma’s backyard!) We revel in this bounty.

Our view of the cosmos is the same as any other culture: we’re the fuckin’ center of the universe. The ancients believed that they were in the center of the universe, and if the ancients lived in New Jersey, they’d say they were in the fuckin’ center of the universe. We have no doubts about this.

We also acknowledge that this is a matter of perspective. Norma remembers that Isaac stressed “This is our center, but it’s no better than any other center. It’s not THE center; it’s OUR center.”

Our grove is interested in folk traditions as much as we are interested in speculation on Indo-European liturgy. We try to keep our worship local and particular.

We hope our view of the nature of the cosmos will become clearer as we go through the beginning of our ADF ritual. Basically, recreating the cosmos is like building a house. You can’t open the doors and invite your friends in until you dig the foundations, build the floors and nail the walls and roof together.
A comprehensive pre-ritual briefing always precedes the ritual. This gives the ritual ringmaster a chance to go over the ritual briefly with the participants and gives newcomers an idea of what to expect. We talk about nearly everything we’re going to do- nothing is hidden unless it has to be hidden for the purposes of ritual drama.
We start the ritual with a clear beginning. A chime is struck 3 times. This fixes our time boundary: we are now out of everyday clock time and in ritual time. And, on a practical level, it gets everybody’s attention and shuts them up. The Senior Druid (or whoever else is leading the ritual) will fill the silence with the line “We are here to honor the Gods”. This line, traditional in old ADF liturgy, is much like the beginning of a story told by a storyteller. We make a well of silence and then we drop that pebble into it and the ripples are amazing- the ripples practically cast a circle around the listeners, especially if they’ve been to a few rituals.

We honor The Earth Mother immediately. (Why don’t we call Her ‘Mother Earth’ ????) The Earth Mother is always with us. We don’t need to open gates or do anything special to access Her. She is our most important and immediate deity. She sustains us and gives us life and invoking her gets us wondering where our food and shelter come from. This positions us on our planet and in the food chain and puts us in a thankful mood. And, on a practical level, this tends to make folks who are new to Druid ritual comfortable- everybody can relate to the Earth. Almost every culture has a personified relationship with the Earth in one form or another. The Earth Mother invocation also puts people in the present: in the here and now, and on the Earth that’s immediately under their feet.
We don’t cast a circle (people have said that we ‘clump’); our boundaries are permeable and flexible. As we’ve developed the liturgy, we’ve tried to push and shift the spatial boundaries- on the last Summer Solstice we took our ritual for a walk around the town. (See MetroDruid Nuz, or our web site for written accounts of recent individual rituals.)

The folks in Grove of the Other Gods tend to have strong personal boundaries. We are not trying to be anyone’s home or family. Although we have about 20 people we can count on to be at nearly every ritual, we provide sanctuary to anyone in the community for eight holidays a year- and frequently get from 40 to 60 people at an average ritual. This creates a boundary in itself in the kind of rituals we can do and the kind of magic we can perform.
A meditation follows the Earth Mother invocation. The meditation- which can be a tree meditation, a flower meditation (opening your closed hands like a flower) or any other specific meditation- should center the participants in the quiet of their own bodies and relax individual body parts and root everyone in the earth and connect them to the powers of the heavens. That’s all. And that’s quite a bit. This is how we define the cosmos in our own bodies.
If the meditation works, we are all individuals in a group, our roots and branches entangled. We are also in the here and now and not thinking about getting to the ritual or who these weird druids might be.

Next, we point out the horizontal directions. We’re not comfortable with the standard ADF horizontal directions- again, we’re in New Jersey and our people are not all Celtophiles. We talk about what’s north of ‘this place’. What’s East of where the ritual is being held. It could be the Atlantic, it could be Brooklyn or Long Island. We’ll talk about geographic features - rivers and mountain ranges- and how they were formed. Sometimes we’ll ask “Who came from the South? Where did you come from?” and follow that around the ritual space. We are orienting ourselves in space in a very real way that everyone can understand. When we travel on highways to get to rituals we frequently don’t know where that site is located in relation to simple geographic features, or even other towns. We end with “Any point
in an infinite space can be the center, any point on the surface of a sphere can be the center, this is now the center.”
So- with the Earth Mother invocation we’ve put people in the present moment and with the meditation we’ve made people aware of their connection with others in the grove and their connection with the earth and sky, and, now, with the horizontal directions they’re aware of where they are in space in relation to the places around them.
The invocations of Well, Fire and Tree come next, orienting us in vertical space and in magical space. We’re not going to go into Indo-European precedents for well, fire and tree because it would take up way too much time and space in this essay, and it’s already been done in Druids Progress and in Oak Leaves.

To be blunt, the well goes down. It connects to visceral root stuff, it has associations with ancestors who are buried underground, with underworlds, with fecundity and fertility and with the water that sustains us. Chthonic deities live there. Offerings can be made into it that go down. Ribbons can be tied around it. It is the root of the Gates.
The Fire goes up. It connects to the heavens, the sky Goddesses and Gods, our higher selves, and our higher aspirations. Offerings can be made into it that go up. It’s both a signal fire and a sacrificial fire. While the well absorbs, the fire transforms.

The Tree is invoked after the Well and Fire in order to connect them. Nature Spirits run up and down the tree, which is rooted in the Well, and has its branches in the light of the sky or the stars. The tree is our Bile, our sacred center and the Gate that is easiest for us to identify with. The Gates would be more abstract without the tree; you can’t hug fire or water. Trees are also bridges. World trees are common in folk traditions and in the mythologies of many cultures. Without the tree, we’d be like Alice in Wonderland, when she’d gotten small and the key was out of reach on top of the table.

There are Gods and Kindreds and Ancestors and Outsiders in all 3 places. A penny in Brigid’s Well goes to Brigid. These Gates all work with different types of energy. Three different flavors of Gates. These three Gates are the ones we formally invite; there are other Gates in between and all around. The Well, Fire and Tree all have the scent of folktales and fairy tales and myths- they are points of wonder and magic in the ritual. Connected, they are the axis we revolve around.

Now the Gates have been invoked as themselves, as Well, Fire and Tree, and the house is built. Next essay, we turn them into Gates and open the doors to the house.

In summary:
It’s all about being the center of attention, really.
We try to get centered in our heads and our bodies, standing on our own ground on the Earth, connected to others in our Grove, at the center of horizontal space and vertical space, between the underworlds and the heavens and connected by the tree.

The first part of the ritual places us where we can get the attention of the Kindreds. We have recreated the cosmos and placed ourselves at the center so all the universe above and below and around can hear us and see us in this place. Our actions take on greater significance in this place. Our words mean more.

- February, 2002, New Brunswick, NJ