My first full ADF ritual was a wild success. The section of the DP manual entitled “Walking the Path” includes “A Simple Rite of Offering at the Home Shrine,” and although it is intended to be read from an Elder to the student, with the Elder projecting the visualizations as completely as possible onto the student, I am quite used to doing things alone, with intuition, inspiration, and the Spirits as my guides (always plenty of company and guidance), and did not find it a challenge at all to adapt (though I am sure it would have been a very different experience with a flesh-and-blood Guide). I brought plenty of offerings: for the Earth Mother Danu, bread flour; for the Well, a coin; for the Fire, olive oil; for the Gatekeeper, Manannan Mac Lir, ale; as a general offering, more ale; for the Ancestors, a slice of the delicious vegan French apple tart I baked at noon; for the Spirits of the Land, the seasoned skins of the apples that went into my tart, and a variety of grains and oats; for the Shining Gods above, a goblet of red wine; and as my final sacrifice, olive oil and some sprouted-grain bread. But what I gave of myself seems as nothing to what I received from Them.
When I meditate, I sit perfectly still; but when in trance, I quiver and shake in my rapture; it is as if I am overcome, as if so much is flowing through me that my body can’t contain it. The World-Tree is a concept that deeply resonates with me for this and many, many other reasons: I feel as if I am a conductor for the Everything that one connects with through ritual and mediation with the Kindreds. I got the crawling up my spine that I experience when in a light trance–as for most divination–when I first began to commune, but my body only became overwhelmed by the power I was experiencing when I sprinkled the World-Tree pillar with the holy waters of the Well, rain water that had been caught and blessed on the New Moon, and spoke the words: “From the deeps to the heights span the World-Tree. Sacred Tree, grow within me.”
Manannan Mac Lir is a God with whom I have never worked; and yet he was no stranger when I searched for him in my mind’s-eye and asked that he join his magic with my own in making that sacred center the boundary of all worlds, using the Hallows to open the Gates. He arrived by my side in the Broighter Gold boat and waited patiently for the Work to begin.
I did not find that the language of the pre-written rite was very conducive to my way of envisioning the Opening of the Gates, and so after unsuccessfully using its words, I simply chanted, “Open the Gates,” shaking and shivering as I watched the Gate between the temple beams slowly creep open, watched the mists flood the Gateway and looked into the Beyond this way for the first time. At first what lay beyond the Gateway was all in shadow, but as I swept through, I saw it to be a sort of marsh, where the Ancestors arose and came to greet me, that led into a very grassy grove, where I joined the creatures prowling through the grasses in the form of half-stag, half-fox as I clutched to my antler-handled knife and red fox tail in this world. Above us was draped the Sky-canopy, and when I made my offerings to the Gods, they stepped down from the clouds to receive me. Theirs was the last offering before the final sacrifice, and when it was complete, I paused and explored the other side of the Gate. The first image I had seen beyond the shadows had been the old, withered face of an Ancestor, an image that is burned into my mind. Another of the Ancients led me to the right, where stood single-floored rectangular wooden buildings resembling Norse mead halls. Two buildings stood forming an L, and she guided me into the nook and through the door of one such building. She wished to show me how her people had honored the Gods. To the left of the doorway stood a low altar table and the most visible thing on the table was a brown ceramic goblet, which she lifted.
I was many places at once; I was there and in the fields with the animals. We played joyfully, but the creature who interacted with me the most would not show itself to me. I assumed it a fox crouched low into the grass, watching me with large inquisitive eyes, but also hesitant. I frolicked and felt the wind through my fur.
I observed that Time is quite different beyond the Gates than in this World; as I humbled myself before the Gods above, darkness fell, and stars twinkled on the fabric of the Sky, which seemed to drape so close to the Land that I could reach out and touch it.
When the final sacrifice had been given, I felt the flow of the ritual turn, so that I had become the focus. The Kindreds formed a sort of triangle around me in the fields–the Dead in the Marshes, the Gods seated upon clouds, the Spirits aside me in the grass. While I had intended before the ritual to ask for guidance on a path towards deeper trancework and in my baby-steps along the Druid’s path, in the end I felt compelled to ask for whatever blessing They might bestow upon me.
I drew a card from the Shadowscapes Tarot for an omen regarding what They had chosen to grant in return.
The Five of Swords? My breath caught as I stared in utter nonunderstanding at the violent card. Barbara Moore’s description of the card in the Shadowscapes Companion made things click: “The Five of Swords is a sign of discord and conflict of interests. The choices arrayed make it easy to profit and look to one’s own concerns, for it feels the world is allied against you. Perhaps a wider view of the world might eclipse this feeling.” Instantly I was reminded of my own feelings of conflict between my mental health issues and my faith. So the Kindreds would grant me a wider view that would render this great duplicity inside me irrelevant? A greater gift I could not ask for. I consulted, too, Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s DruidCraft Tarot companion: “You may have entered into a process of reparation or reconciliation. All powerful emotions offer the opportunity for catharsis–even feelings of pain, loss and defeat. By working through them courageously we can experience a feeling of spiritual renewal.”
I consulted the Tarot again to clarify what that renewal would look like, and I drew the King of Cups, Lord of Inspiration, Patience, Wisdom, Compassion, and Understanding, whose message, according to the Shadowscapes deck, “is to let the currents flow through your veins to cleanse your heart of its burdens.” I could not have felt more honored with this blessing.
I watched the blessings of the Kindreds flow through the Gates and into my ale, and when it was gone, I felt as if I’d received a jolt of creativity and confidence. I sat among the Kindreds in the Otherworld for a while longer, quite deep within the trance, but eventually felt it was time, and I drew myself away, thanked Manannan Mac Lir, and closed the Gate, though the images I had seen were well imprinted upon my mind’s eye. Immediately as I spoke the words, my flesh tingled in its usual way when my Will has (through magic) set something into motion, and the Fire became three simple flames, the Well a cup of rainwater. I was alone in a room before my shrine once again. And so the rite was ended, though not the magic I had worked. I am so glad I finally stepped beyond my comfort zone and tried an ADF ritual; it is unfortunately far too easy when one begins down the path of a new tradition to adopt the beliefs and yet make ritual the same way one is already used to. This is obviously deeply inauthentic, as one can only understand the study and beliefs through ritual and the ritual through study. Taking this first step along the Dedicant Path has opened so many new doors for me, and kindled a wild sense of curiosity that has been missing from my life recently.
There is a whole world beyond the Gates waiting to be explored.