Alban Elued Revival Druid Ritual

For some notes on the origin and meaning of Alban Elued, see this previous post.

onthanksgivingOur family’s Alban Elued ritual is drawn directly from the pages of John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook. It is in no way supposed to be a reconstructed ritual, a reenactment of what ancient Druids performed 2000 years ago. Almost nothing is known about their rituals or holidays. Instead, this is a ritual of the Druid Revival tradition, which mixes elements of known Celtic mythology with Arthurian romances and 19th-century mysticism. The overall effect is eclectic and hermetic, infused throughout with nature symbolism.

Quite apart from that, the wording is lovely. It has some great passages such as “those who established the turnings of the silent stars” and “from the rising sun, three rays of light / From the green earth, three stones of witness / From the eye and mind and hand of wisdom / Three rowan staves of all knowledge.” Great stuff.

We did decide to make some changes. First, the ritual invokes a god: Esus, spirit of oak trees. Esus may be a great god and all, but he is not familiar to me personally; and I don’t know about you, but I’m a little uncomfortable about inviting strange gods into my home (or my Sacred Grove). So we replaced “Esus” with “the spirit of the trees”. Maybe that’s the same thing, but we felt more comfortable about it.

Second, the Arthurian influence on Revival Druidry is very obvious in the last part of the ritual. There, we are called upon to raise a sword over our heads and praise Excalibur, sword of swords, forged with earth, air, fire, and water. I probably would’ve been fine with this in high school or college, but I would feel a little weird about brandishing a sword in front of my small children. So we just cut that part out entirely. I’m a little worried that we are leaving out something important — it may be that Excalibur serves some vital purpose in the ritual — but I don’t know what that is, so I don’t know what to replace it with. In the future I’ll research that and figure something out.

For my wife and I, the most important part of these rituals are not the names of the gods or spirits we invoke, but the sense of awe and reverence that the rituals evoke in us and the children. When I was growing up, the only way we marked the changing seasons was by turning off the air conditioner and turning on the heater. We might as well have been living in a space capsule. Connection with nature can provide a vital sense of grounding, as Steve Pavlina points out here. For a druid, nature is the direct link with the eternal.

In any case, we couldn’t do the ritual this weekend, because my wife was sick with a head cold. We’ll just do it next weekend. That’s actually a good thing, because it will give me more time to memorize the ritual. My performance at Lughnasadh a left a lot to be desired…

Comments

  1. Swords, athames, staves and wands serve the same purpose; they are tools of focus. Swords, obviously, serve as a more forceful focus than athames, which are more foreceful than staves, wich are more forceful than wands, but most times, they can be interchangeable. Generally, they’re phalic symbols, representing fire and air, as well as the obvious masculinity. If you have a cup or vessel in the ritual near that point, which represents earth and water, the feminine elements, then it would be a good ballance to include at least a staff or wand to ballance the energy.

    One way of looking at it is a two dimensional chart of the aspects of masculinity; the two dimensions are subtle/overt and active/passive. The length represents how overt the tool is, longer being more overt, obviously, and the presense of an edge represents whether the tool is active or passive. Looking at the season, and if I’m still in tune with the general pagan holidays, this would be the first harvest, it is time for active, overt (sword) participation in the community; everybody is out helping in the first of two communal harvests (the third harvest is for your private estate). Samhain (or the druidic version of Halloween) is the more passive, but still overt harvest (staff), followed by the last harvest, being active/subtle (athame), and Yule is passive/subtle (wand).

    One option, if you have the time, is to construct a staff to represent Merlin’s Staff for this occasion. It is a bit more passive in nature than the sword, and is more appropriate for Samhain, but it is also an order of magnitude safer around children, as well as still being an overt tool. It would be a simple substitution, and it is a bit closer to nature, since rather than saying it was forged from the elements, the staff was created directly by the elements, fed directly by earth, air, fire, and water through the photosynthesis of its leaves. If you don’t have a staff handy, go take a walk in the woods, and maybe your staff will fall into your hands like mine did. (Well, mine sort-of bounced off my hands while I was protecting my head, but it’s close enough, right? ;) )

  2. I just realized that I’m off by a holiday. If this is the equinox, then one of the harvests has already passed, which is the active/overt one, signified by the sword, this is the second harvest, inactive/overt and symbolized by the staff, and Samhain is the active/subtle harvest symbolized by the athame… Yule is still symbolized by the wand, as it is inactive/subtle.

    By the way, what are the names that the druids use for each holiday? I kinda feel foolish using the generic neopagan names, when Mabon is called Alban Elued…

    Anyways, using that symbolism, it would actually be more correct to use a staff, rather than a sword.

    Thinking of the quarters and cross-quarters in binary terms, we can term each one as being male/female, active/passive, and overt/subtle. Whether it is active or passive seems to switch the most often, so if we followed the pattern (please excuse my neopagan holidays), the holidays that land on the quarters (equinoxes and solstices) are passive, and the holidays that land on the cross-quarters are active. For religions that worship around the hearth, this makes perfect sense, as the quarters are generally seen as the greater of the sets of holidays, to be celebrated around the hearth. Our next dimension is whether it is overt or subtle. Samhain and Yule are both subtle, as are Beltaine and Summer Solstice, contradictory to how people celebrate them. The actual rites performed at these times are for the family, whereas the other four holidays, Imbolc and Ostara together, as well as Lughnasad and Mabon together are rites for the community. Our last dimension, gender, shows whether we are in a period of growth (female) or harvest (male), with Yule being the celebration of the God’s birth in most traditions, and Midsummer being the celebration of Goddess at her strongest in the form of nature.

    Perhaps this could also be tied into the first three of the eight circuit model somehow?

  3. Thanks for your analysis! Very cool.
    — It doesn’t appear that the sword is specifically linked to this holiday; I should have been more clear about that. The sword is used on each of the eight holidays — in fact, it’s part of the general ritual used to close the Grove of Druids. There is no cup or vessel used in the closing of the ritual, or anywhere else in the rituals of opening or closing the grove. (You might use vessels during the use of the Grove, of course.)
    — The sword is used elsewhere during the ritual to symbolize war. One goes to the four quarters, partially unsheathes the sword, declares peace in that quarter, and sheathes the sword again. (This is during the opening of the grove.) At the end of the ritual, the sword is unsheathed entirely, held up to the sun, and Excalibur is praised. The words at that juncture are:
    From the rising sun, three rays of light;
    From the living earth, three stones of witness;
    From the eye and mind and hand of wisdom,
    Three rowan staves of all knowledge.
    From the fire of the sun, the forge;
    From the bones of the earth, the steel;
    From the hand of the wise, the shaping;
    From these, Excalibur.
    By the Sword of Swords, I pledge my faithful service
    To the living earth our home and mother.
    — By the way, that sounds like the very best way to get a staff, if a bit dangerous. :-)
    — The druid names that we’re using are what Isaac Bonewits calls “mesodruid”, that is, names developed in the 18th and 19th centuries during the Druid Revival period. So they’re a little older than neopagan, but not much. :-) I think the name the old druids used for the autumn equinox festival may be lost.
    — The four cross-quarters are the same as are used among neopagans. The others are called the “Alban Gates”, “alba” being derived from Welsh, meaning “light”. Starting at the winter solstice, we have Alban Arthuan (another reference to Arthur), Alban Eiler (“light of the Earth”), Alban Heruin (“light of the shore”), and Alban Elued.
    — I’m very interested to hear about the binary features that define the eight holidays. I don’t think I’d heard about that before. It is not obvious to me how you would match these binary pairs with the first three circuits, though. Growth vs. harvest could be tied to the first circuit, and perhaps the family vs. community could be tied to the second (though that’s rather more of a stretch), but the active/passive definitely does not fit with the third circuit. In fact, none of these three binary features do, if I’m understanding your description of them.
    — I had wondered if the eight holidays could be matched one-for-one with the eight circuits, but I don’t yet know enough about the four higher circuits to draw any real conclusions. The best match I had found was something like having the first four circuits correspond to the quarters (spring = 1st, summer = 2nd, fall = 3rd, winter = 4th). That would leave the other four to fall on the cross-quarters. There seem to be some nice things about that arrangement, but I need to learn more.

  4. ferred dan yr ailim says:

    Let us not forget the tradition of never carrying an exposed blade in front of druids! I personally prefer the spear of lugh (even though I am Gaulish and it is not part of our traditions), represented by a 6 foot long, lightning bolt shaped oak branch or young trunk(please refrain from killing or damaging a healthy tree; many are fallen, or if you are a city dweller, scheduled to be pruned or cut…). But ultimately I believe you are right: no part of the ritual should be uncomfortable for anuone…
    I salute you as a free person,

    Ferred dan yr Ailim

  5. What a marvellous suggestion! Thank you very much!

  6. Steve Hansen says:

    Goodday Ferred Dan Yr Ailim

    What do you mean when you say “I am Gaulish”? Where do you derive your name from (i.e. what language)? I am interested in the Gaulish language and all possible aspects of a rvival of the Gaulish language and culture. Please don’t hesitate to contact me on the following:

    Steve Hansen
    stevepoguemahone@yahoo.com.au

    Regards from Australia

  7. I like how you were comfortable changing ritual to better suit your true feelings on it and how it was in a family setting, its nice too see family aspects to this path. The changes seem very appropriate. (after reading comments) I am personally not entirely in favor of genderizations of ritual and seasons. I just don’t think it is relevant to the point of the whole thing and as a egalitarian I don’t understand how anything would be particularly female or male outside of pluming.

  8. Jeff Lilly says:

    Rua Lupa, regarding gender issues, and plumbing: the issue is rather complex, and sits in that uncomfortable space between human intuition and human reason. Western culture, over thousands of years, has decided that certain attributes are prototypically male and female. To say that these cultural prototypes actually constrain or determine male or female human beings is, as you say, non-egalitarian, harmful, and just plain false. The cultural prototypes are, thankfully, being dismantled, through the hard work and mindfulness of many individuals over the last hundred-plus years. But there is still a long way to go, of course.

    Anyway, all I’m trying to say is that it still makes sense to speak of, say, a season as having attributes traditionally associated with the Western male prototype; but you are absolutely right to point out that this does not imply anything real about actual men and women, and I’d agree that it’s probably counterproductive to maintain it as part of the symbolic system.

  9. I’m druid/wiccan.I find it hard to lead rituals in the coven I belong to.Didn’t wicca come out of druidry?clearify this for me. Blessed be

  10. Jeff Lilly says:

    smoonraven, sorry it took me so long to reply. :-) I find it hard to lead rituals in general, and avoid it whenever I can, so I’m sympathetic… As for whether Wicca came out of Druidry — I think it’s more accurate to say that they arose quasi-independently, but I’d point you to wikipedia for the basics.

  11. The Gaulish language has been revived as a modern language: http://www.moderngaulish.com

    Steve

  12. Jeff Lilly says:

    A fascinating link, Steve. Thanks!

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