Dedicant's Work

Study Program











Pagan Student Association

CafePress Shop

The Magical Druid


Clergy Training Program Preliminary Coursework

required for admission to the ADF Clergy Training Program


This course seeks to help the student better understand the underlying theory behind our rituals, asking questions about why we do the work we do in ritual. Students who are truly prepared for the work ahead as clergy will find this course challenging, but workable. Students who are not prepared will have great difficulty with the course.

The aim of a course is to ensure a firm knowledge of the order of the world and how our rituals play a part in it. It covers the concepts of cosmos creation, sacrifice, and certain mythological cycles that are important to our Indo-European focus. Unlike Liturgy 1, this course is not designed to explain our liturgy, but to explain the concepts the liturgy is founded upon.

  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.)

    The cosmos is described as created in a variety of ways in many cultures, but the general IE theme is this: Man and his Twin, primordial beings both, engage in the sacrifice of one or the other, and from that sacrifice the things we know as part of the world are created: the eye becomes the sun, the hair the grass, the limbs the trees, the breath the wind, the mind the moon, etc. (Thomas). People spring from this sacrifice often, as well, and the cosmos is both structured through this action, and maintained through further action that occurs and mimics the original action. Additionally, this act creates many of the cycles we see in life, including death (the one sacrificed often becomes the "lord of the dead," and presides over the land of the dead, welcoming new people as they themselves die). As a result, many of the actions we take deepen and continue these original actions.

    In ritual, we have a section called "(Re)Creating the Cosmos," with the "(Re)" portion of that reflecting Eliade's notion that in the sacred time of ritual, the original act and the current act are both one-in-the-same and different. In many ways, the act that we're engaging in is both the first and last time it has been done, and also reflecting each time we've done it in the past. When we make offering, in the manner that we have been shown in the lore, we are continuing and perpetuating the myth ourselves. Our actions of "sacrifice" and "blessing" are designed to break apart the microcosm of our lives and re-make the world in an image that is bright for us. At the hinge of the rite, where we make the final sacrifice, that is analogous to the act of "breaking apart" the first sacrifice; the process of receiving blessing is, in many ways, a statement of what the world now looks like when we put all the "parts" where they are supposed to be (in other words, when we describe ourselves as having received certain blessings and drinking the waters, we are putting the world back into the order that we expect it to be: we are distributing the parts sacrificed to appropriate places that the cosmos might be ordered in the way we expect).

  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's rituals, our sacred center most often consists of a fire, a well, and a tree. The fire is the vehicle of sacrifice, that transforms and carries our sacrifice into something that the Spirits can ingest and use, altering it beyond our ability to recover it. The well is a portal that reaches to the earth, at once the grave in the earth and the mouth of the sacred well that pours blessing upon the land; it, too, receives sacrifice often, typically of items that have been altered or ritually "killed" in some way prior to their offering. The tree is the sacred pillar that stretches between worlds, with high branches and deep roots: climbable and reaching deep, brushing the flames of heaven at its top branches, and drawing up the waters of the earth with its lowest roots.

    "Exemplification" is a key notion to understand when it comes to our sacred work, and reflects ideas in the Yasna rite that the flame that is kindled does not "represent" the flame at the center of all things, but is actually a part of that flame; the waters of the sacred well are not the "representation" of the underworld waters of chaos, but rather are constituent of them, so that the waters that flow in our well or cauldron are also the waters that flow in the well of memory; the tree that stands at our center is not a "symbol" of the sacred pillar that supports all worlds, but it is the tree Yggdrasil or the ladder that is ascended to reach the spaces beyond our ken (Dangler).

    The sacred center provides us both a visual representation of "the world as it ought to be," and provides us with a visual aid to help the folk grasp the space that is the center of all in our rituals. The order of the cosmos is clear in the arrangement of the altar space (which is part of what makes the different ways that we configure our nemetons so interesting).

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

    In Druidic ritual, the cosmos is divided in three parts. What these three parts are and who inhabits them is far less important than their actual number.

    Often, we think about the world as Heavens, Midworld, and Underworld, but these are not the only options. They have become our most commonly used division, though, due primarily to the general western IE focus within ADF, and a lack of good resources for Celtic ritual.

    In addition to a triple cosmos, we represent that triplicity with a triple center. As Druids, we most commonly represent our center with a fire (which supports and acts as a gate to the highest realm), a well (which springs from and acts as a gate to the lowest realm), and a tree, pillar, mountain, or other axis mundi (which serves as the center of the worlds and the path between them). The three most common Indo-European divisions of the cosmos that can be used in ritual are these:
    Underworld, Middleworld, Heavens

    This is by far the most common cosmic picture we see in Indo-European cultures and religion, exemplified by the classical Greeks in particular. In this conception, the souls of the dead go to the Underworld, we stay in the Midrealm, and the Heavens are populated with the deities (and some heroic ancestors). This conception is particularly common among the Western Indo-Europeans, and the division (though not necessarily the same assignments of "who goes where") is common throughout not only the Mediterranian tribes of Greeks and Romans, but also throughout the Northern tribes, where the world is clearly divided into heavens and underworlds, with MiĆ°gard in the center.

    Terrestrial, Atmospheric, Celestial

    This division is found in the Vedas in particular, and describes a very different sort of cosmos than the previous division mentioned. In this cosmos, there is no underworld, but the face of the earth (considered to be disc-shaped) is the "lowest" of the worlds: even the sun, after completing his journey, does not go "under" the terrestrial disc to reappear in the morning, but rather goes dark and returns along the same path. Some gods, such as fire gods, sacred drinks, and rivers reside in the Terrestrial realm. The Atmospheric realm is the realm of the clouds, and certain deities (storm gods, water gods, and some fire gods) are said to reside here. The Celestial realm, beyond the clouds and the vault of stars includes many other gods and spirits that embody celestial phenomena (such as the sun or cosmic order), and also the ancestors.

    Land, Sea, Sky

    Found particularly in Celtic lands, this division has also become a sort of "horizontal axis" that divides the Midworld or the terrestrial realm to match with the "vertical axis" of Underworld, Midworld, and Heavens, despite the fact that this triplicity is clearly a cosmic division (particularly to the continental Celts, who swore by these forces), and there are better attested forms of horizontal axes in nearly every IE religion: the five provinces of Ireland, the four dwarves of direction in Norse, the four winds in the Mediterranean religions, and the seven points or places in Vedism.

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

    Of the three common gates in the Sacred Center, it is the Fire that is most important within Druid ritual and Druidic cosmology. It is clear that like the eastern Indo-European religions, our own has developed into a fire-cult.

    This is a good thing, and sensible. Rituals can occur without wells, trees, portals, and shafts in the ground, but when we boil down the things that are vital to our religion, the one thing we cannot worship without is a representation of fire. Without fire, it is as if we are empty-handed when we invite the Spirits and Powers: we can offer them no way to warm themselves, we can offer nothing to them to satiate their hunger or slack their thirst, and we have no symbol to build a center around. Because of this, it is right to say a prayer to the fire any time one is kindled, and the kindling of a fire is a prayer in itself.

    The fire also crosses the three divisions of the cosmos: kindled on the earth, the fire's flames leap into the atmosphere, and the pillar of smoke created supports the celestial realm. The fire is connected intimately with the celestial waters, often said to be born from them.

    Our Grove often quotes a partial verse from the Rgveda: "Let us pray with a good fire." This phrase, from RV I.26.8, means many things to our Grove. It conjures images of not only a fire of piety within us, where we ignite that religious or spiritual fire, but also of the physical fire before us, to which we make offerings, giving a command to each: one that tells us how to behave in ritual, and one which tells the fire how to behave, as well. By "praying with a good fire," we recognize both the fire within and the fire without, the piety of both our belief and our actions: we do not come before our gods empty-handed.

    The fire is intimately connected to the sacrifice. Agni, the Vedic fire god, not only devours the sacrifice, but he calls the gods forth to sit upon the sacrificial grass, and he transfers the sacrifice to the rest of the host of gods and goddesses, who (it is said) cannot be exhilarated without him.

    It is also no coincidence that of all the Vedic gods, Agni is the most closely connected to humans and the guest-host relationship. The continuous presence of fire in the households of our Indo-European ancestors speaks to why this is. Across the IE spectrum, fire is spoken of as a friend to humankind, called a good guest, and connected with the ancestors (who kindled fire before we did). There is no sacred thing that is more often invited into the lives of those who follow an IE religion in general, and Druidry in particular.

    In Zoroastrian ritual, the two basic cult objects are still fire and water, both of which are offered to in the daily yasna ritual. This ritual seeks to purify the fire, called the son of the Lord of Wisdom and placed in the south of the ritual precinct, which is the place of goodness and bounty.

    In many ways, the fire is the counterpart of the priest, a sort of example that our own priests must follow. By bringing the deities to the place of sacrifice, by transmitting the offering, and by knowing the ways of the sacrifice, the fire is the perfect priest.

    Fires also play an integral part in ordering the cosmos (as does the priest in IE religions), and this can particularly be seen in the use of fire to make a place habitable and to bring it into the dominion of humans. When he first arrived in Iceland, Thorolf Mostrarskegg marked out his land and then took fire around the borders in order to claim the land as his own. There is no clearer way than kindling a fire to inform all the Powers and Spirits that we are here, and we are prepared to receive the Kindreds as our guests (Dangler).

  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 Gatekeeper, in our rituals, is a being that we work with to both "open the ways" for us and the spirits to reach out to one another, and often to "guide and ward us" on the path. There are connotations with protection and magical openings, as well as "knowing the ways" so they can keep us on the correct path as we navigate other realms we may not be so familiar with. Gatekeepers are not "required" spirits in our work, but a good relationship with a Gatekeeper is essential to advanced work, I think: while our prayers reach the ears of the Spirits regardless of whether the Gates are open or closed, a Gatekeeper can help open the right ways, set our words on the right path, and pass our offerings on to the correct and intended recipient.

    A good Gatekeeper will generally have the following attributes:
    • Access to a liminal space - Gatekeepers are known for understanding and navigating the "spaces between spaces," where things are "not quite" one thing or another. Psychopomps occupy these spaces because they move spirits from "not dead" to "dead," and help them navigate. Magicians occupy these spaces because they work with mists and
    • A friend to humans - Do they give of themselves to maintain the world for humans? Do they offer secret knowledge, or improve the lot of human beings? Aloof and impersonal deities do not generally fit the mold of a Gatekeeper: Spirits that are close to us and work with humans often make the best sorts.
    • Trustworthy - I do not consider deities with "trust issues" to be good Gatekeepers myself, even if they fit the other attributes: Gatekeeping is an act of trust, where the Gates are held open for you and the cosmos, both positive and negative elements, comes right up to the door and asks to be let in. Beings associated with chaos and disorder fall off the list here, even though they can be quite liminal, and some deities of wisdom do as well (Oðin, for example, is known to be a betrayer of those he has previously supported). It should be stressed that whether a deity is trustworthy or not is a personal assessment to me, and so while Oðin might fall into that category from my perspective, he may not from another person's perspective.

    Two particular examples of Gatekeepers would be:
    • Cernunnos, who sits between the domesticated and the wild, between wealth and hoarders of wealth, and has connections with the wealth of the underworld. He has a number of connotations with shamanism and guiding folks (whether these are UPG notions or not), and those who work with him consider him trustworthy.
    • Manannan mac Lir, who presides over the land of the dead, but is also a magician figure and who rides the waves and is associated with the "Ninth Wave," which is the liminal mark between the ocean and the shore. Those who work with Manannan mention his ability to occasionally be a "trickster," but rarely do they feel that his "tricksterism" has a negative impact on the cosmos or on those who work with him.

    One more example, of course, from our own work: Garanus, the Crane, makes a good Gatekeeper because the Crane is well known to be a bird of the liminal world; as we like to say: "sleeping on the land, feeding in the waters, flying through the sky." These three attributes would not be enough, though, to make the Crane a good Gatekeeper: instead, we look beyond the simple knowledge of what a crane does in daily life, and offer the myth we know. Cranes are known to carry the souls of the dead, so they touch that liminal space as psychopomp. They also fly "beyond the ninth wave" as migratory birds. Their associations include hospitality and protection, and they are known to be friends to humans and to mate for life. . . but perhaps most importantly, the Crane has shown himself to be incredibly trustworthy in our shared gnostic experience as a Grove, and that carries a lot of weight with us.

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

    Earth and sky are two parts of the same whole, in many ways, in the ancient texts: the sky and earth are a single word in the Rgveda (Dyavaprthivi), so closely related that they appear to be the same deity (though this doesn't appear to be definitely the case). Earth and sky form the birth of all beings in many mythologies, connecting the rain and the earth to things that grow and produce.

    In our rituals, the relationship of earth and sky is less about deities and the Earth Mother than it is about how we directly interact with these two ideas: the Two Powers is the primary experience of both earth and sky in our rites, with a heavenly power of order being common, and an earthly power of chaos also being common (though there are other interpretations as well). Many Two Powers meditations will describe the intersection of "earth power" and "sky power" as being or creating the "holy stuff of magic" or similar phrasing (Dangler). This appears to be a generally creative sort of "stuff" from which we can bend and shape reality as required to do our work in the world.

    There are a couple of Groves that honor the Earth Mother and Sky Father as separate beings in every ritual, but the notion of doing with any regularity this doesn't appear until fairly recently in our own history, liturgically, and seems primarily to be a holdover of dualisms and balances in other pagan religions. It is interesting to watch these notions develop, but I'm not yet certain if they are a passing fad or a growing movement (so far, they seem the former).

  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.)

    1. Maintaining the Cosmic Order - The cosmic order is maintained through repetition of the original sacrifice that created the cosmos: often, this is the sacrifice of the first man and his twin, and the dismemberment that creates all the things that we recognize as the constituent parts of the cosmos. Eliade points to the function of sacrifice as being repetitive and continual, and suggests that each sacrifice both maintains and creates the cosmos anew (thus why we "(re)create the cosmos" in ritual). As the other (who is ourself) is sacrificed, the various parts of the world are re-constituted and renewed through our actions on the microcosm to affect the macrocosm.
    2. Delivering Services Through Gifts - Services through gifts are best described as the process of "giving to" another being, rather than "giving up" a thing to an impersonal (or personalized) being. This is done through a variety of methods, including the reciprocal guest/host relationship (*ghosti-); the patron-client relationship (where mutual responsibility through social contract is the driving factor); the "expectation of heaven" (the idea that offerings bring your a better afterlife or better goodwill in this life); substitution of an animal or plant for the self or a human being, allowing the offerant to make an "ultimate" offering without actually dying; the ritual destruction of tools, weapons, and similar items; and votive offerings, where a service or offering is offered in return for a service.
    3. Providing Protection - Apotropaic offerings are designed to avert evil or purify a space from pollution. This can be a process by which the offerings are made to remove something unwanted, or possibly to distract the powers to prevent them from visiting evil upon the folk. Additionally, the sins of the group can be placed onto a single person or animal (a scapegoat), and the sins can be driven from the community by driving out the person or thing that symbolizes those sins or has taken them on for the good of the community. By driving out the evil, or averting it, those committing the sacrifice are protected and purified themselves. Kirk describes the oath rite as the "inverse" of these sorts of rituals, using terror to seal something holy.
    4. Commensality (Community) - The idea behind this sacrifice is that by sharing a meal, we are becoming part of a community. This might serve to spread out either goodwill or guilt, depending on the nature of the sacrifice, and allow it to fill all present or disperse, as the case may be. Because the sacrifice is occasionally the only method of obtaining meat that can be eaten by the community, and that meat is shared with the Spirits, often there is a connecting process that is shared with the Spirits as well: it can create the kind of client-patron relationship that is seen above, and allow humans to call upon those Spirits who choose to sit at the table with them as equals in the relationship.
    5. Mitigating Order with Chaos - Drawn from ideas advanced by Discordians and the counter-revolutionaries of the 1960's, this is a notion that too much order creates a brittle world that is in danger of falling apart: much as a straight and tall tree will break where more pliable trees bend, so too to our relationships with the Kindreds if there is a healthy amount of chaos in them. Our value of spontaneity over order is fairly recent, but sacrifice, with its generally messy and difficult processes (killing an animal is never a clean sport, nor is "killing" a sword or other item), serves to introduce an element of chaos into the brittle cosmos that has been created, to maintain it with fresh water (and a bit of fertilizer).

    Effect: Sacrifice has a structuralizing effect on the cosmos and the participants: it dismantles a thing (whether this is a primordial being, an evil, community, order itself, or the gifting process) so that it might be put back together in a way that is pleasing (artful) to the eye. This is what blessing is when it is returned to us: a cosmos re-ordered through sacrifice in a manner that is beneficial to us. There is no blessing in our rites without sacrifice as its precursor, without the original application of a gift or act of change. It's an important thing to note that there is a required act that must be done in order to receive blessing and have a positive impact on the participants or the cosmos: doing nothing will not accomplish any change at all. The act of sacrifice builds a relationship with the Spirits that we can continue to build and improve as our work deepens.

    Sacrifice also give us a window into what happens to us when we become part of the cosmos: when we know that death sends an eye to the sun, a mind to the moon, our blood to the waters, it helps us to understand the cycles of the world that we might otherwise find mysterious and difficult to penetrate.

  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" assumes "pollution," (Preston) which puts ADF into a quandary regarding our work: generally progressive and egalitarian, we are faced with ancient practices that are often quite misogynistic, classist, or anti-sexual in character. Whether pollution is caused by menstruation, touching a dead body, or having sex in front of a fire, our modern sensibilities rarely take ancient purity norms particularly seriously.

    Generally speaking, most ADF members seem to suggest that involuntary bodily functions (defecation, menstruation, etc.) are not pollutants in our system: it is voluntary actions that we might take that tend to cause issues of impurity. We are fortunate that "pollution" is typically self-identified: we see this in the actions people take (some people abstain from meat or other food before ritual, some abstain from sex, and some choose not to drink from an alcoholic vessel in ritual), and also in the ritual language we use ("Consider those things that are not at harmony with this rite, and set them aside" is a common phrasing). Pollution (and thus purification) for ADF members seems to be something that we are able to exercise complete control over. . . and decide for ourselves how to deal with the pollution when we are confronted with it.

    Purification itself is important because it provides a tool for moving from the "profane" into the "sacred:" if nothing else, the process of purifying with fire, water, or other detergents will help a person mentally move from a secular space to a sacred space. It also provides people a chance to remove some of the "weight" of their mundane lives and deepen their spiritual lives: while we have generally eliminated "accidental impurities" from our vocabulary, still extant are the "intentional impurities" of life, and sometimes, there is a need to cleanse the "marks" they leave on our spirits in order to come to grips with bad decisions, anger, or pain that we feel on an emotional level. Purification is a good coping mechanism.

    The actions that we do in ritual indicate two key things:
    1. Both worshippers and tools may be purified, and the (definable) world at large can be purified through ritual as well. "Things physical" are the primary things that must be purified: things spiritual do not typically require this.
    2. Any individual, regardless of their skill, knowledge, or station, is functionally able to purify things both large and small. There is no special status required for purification, though there are experiences that individuals may experience (e.g. returning from war) that might make a person feel that someone else might be the best person to do that purification.

    Purification is only rarely a rite unto itself: most often, purification is part of a broader complex of rituals or ritual actions, though occasionally "purification" may be the stated purpose and aim of the rite that is done (Preston).

  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.)

    There is an RDNA Catechism of the Waters that many of our members know, that answers these questions through rote learning of phrases: the blessings, come from the "bosom of the Earth Mother," and they are provided in "The Waters-of-Life." The omen (known in RDNA liturgy as "The Reply") is stated to be "almost always accepted," which seems to imply that we deserve them just for being there. Generally, this is fine for some modes of worship, but there are deeper understandings that we can reach for than these.

    When we call out to the Kindreds, they come to our fire. They listen to our words, and they receive our sacrifices. As part of the worship bargain, they offer blessings to us in return. The Earth Mother, who we love and honour, is given sacrifice so that she will uphold us and keep us throughout the rite, as she does each day of our lives. We call upon old bargains and long relationships with various beings, including the Gatekeeper, who we trust to guide and ward us as we walk these Elder Ways. We affect the cosmos in mighty ways each time we enter ritual space.

    We have more than enough textual evidence for "blessings in the waters," but the waters are also clearly "held back" or "constrained" in the lore from time to time. Even when the blessings are not waters, they are still "released" through a variety of acts so that we can partake of them. We can look at the concept of "winning the waters" to find the notion of the blessings or the return flow, where we can call out to the deities who won them and ask for them to bring us the benefits that are described of those particular waters. For this, the Vedic reflex might be best, as it's less specific about what the waters do (or perhaps more "broadly specific," as the waters in RV I.32 and VII.49 generally seem to bring invigorating strength, purity, clarity, and sweetness). There's a notion that the waters contain fire (a "fire of blessings" could be imagined within them) and bring wealth and soma as well. All these things are good, mythical ways to describe the ways the waters can come to us. They also, according to the end of RV I.32, bring the world back into order under the rule of Indra: "As a felly the spokes, he encompasses [the people]".

    As part of our rites, we make offerings to the Spirits, including the Beings of the Occasion. Our actions toward building our relationship in that rite can help grant us access to the blessings that the Spirits have won for all humans (and the broader cosmos). In the rite, when we ask for the Return Flow, we are often asking for the spirits to remember our words and actions so that we might receive these blessings of an ordered world, and whatever the omens may also bring.

    We receive many blessings in ritual, however: sometimes, it's the return flow, and sometimes, it's an early ask for inspiration before the gates are even open. For inspiration, the Norse version of "winning the waters" might be better to describe where these waters come from: these waters are very specific, and may or may not encompass all the blessings that the omens say we might receive. When we call for inspiration early in the rite, we might be relying on our previous relationships to provide the "justification" for our ask of blessings before we've made direct offerings to the spirits (or we might offer to a spirit at that moment for a sort of "immediate gratification" of our request).

    In the end, there are many ways for us to describe where the waters come from: we can provide simple phrasing, such as "from the bosom of the Earth Mother," or complex phrasing loaded with mythological images. We can call for those blessings early in the rite (on the strength of our relationship) or during the return flow (on the strength of offerings given).

    Works Cited

Return to the Continuing Education Pages


Content © 2003-2014, Michael J Dangler
Updated on 08/31/2014. Site Credits / Email Me!
Basic site design from
(Yes, I stole it!)