The following is a land healing ritual that we did at the OBOD’s Mid-Atlantic (MAGUS) gathering last weekend (May 2017). (For a wonderful review of this gathering, please see Dean Easton’s A Druid’s Way Blog!) This ritual was done by about 45 participants surrounding a small cluster of Eastern Hemlocks (Tsugae Canadensis) at Four Quarters in Artemis, PA. The purpose of the ritual was to raise healing and positive energy for the Eastern Hemlock trees who are currently suffering and being threatened by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, with a secondary purpose of inner work for each participant. To do this, we used a ritual structure using a combination of Galdr and Wassail/Tree magic. This post includes background information on the ritual, instructions, and the ritual itself.
Eastern Hemlock and the Wooly Adelgid
The Eastern Hemlock (Tsugae Canadensis) trees are a keystone species throughout the Eastern US, and are the state tree of PA. To learn more about the Eastern Hemlock, you can visit my post on this tree’s medicine, magic, folklore, and more. Hemlocks are currently are under severe threat from the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is a non-native aphid that came to the US in the 1950’s and is substantially spreading in its range. The adelgid sucks the sap out of the trees, slowly killing the tree, with death of the tree typically resulting 5-10 years after infestation. Millions of hemlocks along the eastern seaboard have already been lost to the adelgid. One of the “lines” of the spread of the adelgid is at Four Quarters farm.
After I did deep reflection and communion with elder hemlocks in an old growth forest in the region (at Laurel Hill State Park) over a period of years, and after talking with the hemlocks at 4Q during a prior visit, I had the sense that we should do a ritual to raise energy for them. However, the hemlocks were very specific: they wanted us to raise energy for them to do with it what they saw fit (as opposed to something more specific like eradicating the adelgids, etc). And so, this particular ritual sends them positive energy with no particular intention beyond those given in the Ogham trees we are invoking.
A Galdr (“incantation”) is a type of chanting or incantation in the Norse tradition. In the Norse tradition, Galdr is done through drawing runes and then chanting them for various kinds of blessings. Since we are druids, we instead chose to use Ogham (a Celtic tree divination system) and integrate existing tree magic (see next section).
The basic practice of Galdr is to draw a rune, and then take the word for the rune and break it into syllables or single sound combinations (with variations). For those druids used to chanting the Awen, the principle is the same, in that, we draw power and chant in a loud voice, just like we would with the Awen. This means that any Ogham Galdr chant should be powerful, meaningful, and energetic. For Duir (Oak), we might have something like:
Duir Duir Duir
Dooo Ahhh Iiiirr
Du Du Du Du
Duir Duir Duir
Galdr is flexible and each person who does it will likely do it a bit differently. The important thing is the repetition of the chant to raise energy (in our case, for land healing).
Ogham and Tree Magic
The second piece of inspiration this ritual draws upon is the Ogham, a tree alphabet that developed in Britain, Wales, and Ireland sometime between the 1st and 4th century AD, likely by druids or other Irish scholars. It was originally used to write the early Irish alphabet and can still be found carved into various stones and in surviving manuscripts up until the Middle Ages. Each ogham has an associated Celtic tree and today, we druids use this as a divination and meditation system to work deeper with the trees. And so, we’ve replaced the “traditional” runes in the Galdr with Ogham.
We have selected four Ogham for this particular healing work based on their energy:
- Quert (Apple). This is the energy of love/support, wholeness, support, and health (this is the message we send to the trees).
- Straif (Blackthorn in traditional ogham, blackberry in our more local ogham). This is the energy of cleansing, removal, strife, the power of fate, and pain (we are using this energy in an unwinding manner, so removing these things). In our ritual, the Straif leader had the participants do two kinds of energetic work: first, a guttural removal of pain and suffering (through voice) and then a more gentle healing and renewal after the pain was removed.
- Beith (Birch). This is the energy of new beginnings, rebirth, and renewal (this is the energy we offer–rebirth, renewal, new beginnings)
- Duir (Oak). This is the energy of strength, being rooted and grounded, protection, and knowledge, the knowledge of the oaks.
If you were going to adapt this ritual, you could choose different ogham based on your purposes. These were specifically selected for the needs of the Eastern Hemlocks in this region and the willingness of these other trees/plants to lend their support.
The third piece of inspiration this ritual is using magic from the old orchard Wassail traditions (for more on Wassail, see here). In this tradition, a single apple tree was selected as a representative of all of the apple trees in the orchard or local to the area. Around the central tree, people circled and enacted various rituals (such as offering it spiced cider, toast, and bowing to it). In this way, the tree was able to accept the blessing and then channel that blessing to the entire forest.
Our ritual was around a central hemlock tree in the evening as the sun was beginning to set. The central tree was the “receiving” tree and served as a proxy for all other hemlock trees. The final act of this ritual is channeling that energy down through the roots to the other Hemlocks at Four Quarters and beyond.
The broader framework for this ritual comes from some of my earlier work on this blog on healing the land using various energetic approaches. Druids, and other earth-based spiritual practitioners, can take an active role in healing the land and regenerating human-land connections, both through energetic healing and ritual as well as through active land regeneration, scattering seeds, and permaculture design.
- Quert (Apple) Galdr Leader (Also connected to Water/West Energy)
- Straif (Blackberry) Galdr Leader (Also connected to Fire/South Energy)
- Beith (Birch) Galdr Leader (Also connected to Air/East Energy)
- Duir (Oak) Warder Leader (Also connected to Earth/North Energy)
- Quert Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 5-10 participants)
- Straif Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 15-20)
- Beith Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 25-30)
- Duir Participants (group created through ogham draw, approx. 5-10, including those who are mobility challenged, and those tending outer fires)
Materials (created in advance):
Ogham Signs. Ogham signs can be held by ritualists. The signs we created have each few, the common name, and the ogham name. This will allow participants to easily find their group.
Ogham Fews. Ogham fews should preferably be from the wood or material represented (this is why we are using local ecosystem adaptations for Straif). We had created 30 Beith fews, 20 Straif fews, 10 Quert fews, 10 Duir fews for particiapnts to draw. Participants also get to keep their few at the end of the ritual.
Basket or bag for drawing fews.
Pre-Ritual Discussion and Practice
Pre-ritual discussion and practice can take place just before the ritual, but can also be done at a separate time (not too far before the ritual, however).
Step 1: Hemlock Tree Attunement
For our ritual, participants first drank a bit of Eastern Hemlock needle tea and sitting quietly with the trees; this allowed participants to connect with the trees on a physical level and begin to create a spiritual connection. This simple tea can be brewed up by collecting needles (old or young) and small branches and pouring boiling water over them and letting them sit till they are cool. At that point, add a little raw honey and strain. In the case of our ritual, participants drank the Eastern Hemlock tea and sat with the trees quietly for about 10 minutes before coming back and drawing an ogham few (see step 2).
Step 2: Ogham Stave Drawing
After drinking the tea and spending time in quiet listening with the hemlock trees, participants each draw an Ogham few for the ritual (participants should draw by feel, not by sight). In the case of our ritual, participants drew their ogham fews at an afternoon land healing workshop; this allowed them to attune with the energy of that particular few prior to our evening ritual.
Step 3. Forming Groups, Pre-Ritual Discussion, and Galdr Practice.
At the start of our ritual, later in the day from the Ogham draw, each ritualist held their signs (with the Ogham symbol) to form their group. Each ritualist held a separate pre-ritual discussion where they explained the specific Ogham and energy that group is working with. Each group practiced their Galdr chant prior to the ritual. Ritualists each design their own Galdr chant and allow participants create variations. In order to do this work, ritualists do prior work with the tree energy they are invoking (through meditation, sitting with them, etc).
All participants gather in a large circle around the central hemlock tree. Fires are tended so that we can see in the waning light (fire tenders are part of Duir group). All ritualists memorized the script in advance so we had no impediments, need for flashlights, etc.
1. Participants Ground and Clear
Duir Warder leads participants in three breaths to ground and connect with the energies of the sacred place.
2. Open up a Sacred Space
Duir Warder declares the space open (by the power of star and stone…)
Straif Galdr Leader makes offering to the outsiders to ensure that we don’t attract unwanted guests, but also to deal with those “outside” aspects of ourselves that might resist some of the healing work we are doing within.
Beith Galdr Leader calls east.
Straif Galdr Leader calls south.
Quert Galder Leader calls west.
Duir Warder calls north.
Quert Galdr Leader offers circle words to open up the space (“The circle of our lives….”)
Duir Warder and Duir Participants cast circle as a group, walking around the outside of the participant circle.
3. Participants take their places
Due to our declining light and the many root systems under the trees, all participants went into place in their three concentric circles around the hemlocks prior to the Galdr beginning. (If you had more light, you can have them circle up one at a time after the previous group finishes their chant). Quert was the first circle, Straif was the second circle (encompoassing Quert and the Hemlocks), Beith was the third circle (encompassing Straf, Quert, and the Hemlocks), and Duir was the final circle (Duir spread out along the outside edge, and did not link hands like the other groups).
4A. Quert Chants
The Quert (Apple) group, with the signal from Quert Galdr Leader link hands and begin to chant, circling the tree desoil (sunwise). After a small amount of time has passed and they have begun to raise the appropriate energy, they raise their hands (signaling the next group). They stay in place, lowering their hands, and continue to chant.
4B. Duir Warders Reinforce Circle
As Quert begins their chant, the Duir Warders begin their own chant to reinforce the circle and hold the space. They continue to chant while the remaining Galdr chants take place.
5. Straif Chants
Straif begins their Galdr chant, links hands and circles the tree widdershins (anti-sunwise). After a small amount of time has passed and they have begun to raise the appropriate energy, they raise their hands (signaling the next group). They stay in place, lowering their hands, and continue to chant.
6. Beith Chants
The Beith group, with signal from Beith Galdr Leader begins their chant, linking hands and circling the tree desoil (sunwise). After a small amount of time has passed and they have begun to raise the appropriate energy, they raise their hands. They stay in place, lowering their hands, and continue to chant.
7. All Chants end. When the energy is sufficiently raised, Quert Galdr Leader raises hands (with her group) which is the signal for all other Galdr Leaders and participants to raise hands and end the chant.
8. Duir Channels Energy. As the chant ends and the quiet settles back in, the Duir group comes into the center (coming through raised hands) and touches the hemlock trees (central trees). They channel the energy raised in the ritual into the central trees, sending it down into the roots, and radiating it outward.
9. All participants form large circle again. After this work is done, Duir Warder Leader invites participants to form a large circle once again.
10. Grounding. Beith Galdr Leader leads a grounding activity (in our ritual, this involved deep breathing, putting our hands on the earth for a time, and having participants literally shake off some of the excess energy). This is a powerful ritual and grounding is certainly necessary!
11. Close the Space and Send out Energy
Quert Galder Leader: “It is the hour of recall….let us thank the quarters…”
Duir Warder Leader thanks the north.
Quert Galder Leader thanks the west.
Straif Galdr Leader thanks the south.
Beith Galdr Leader thanks the east.
Duir Warder Leader and Duir Participants unwind the circle and Duir Warder Leader declares the space closed. (Note, we found that the channeling of energy itself into the roots unwound the circle so this last step wasn’t used during our ritual as that work as already done! But otherwise, it would be a necessary to do it.)
Post-Ritual Discussion. Each group had a post-ritual discussion. Part of this was to allow the Ritualists to ensure that all participants were grounded (especially new folks). But it was also an opportunity for each group to share their experiences and compare notes. Don’t skip this part!
Additional Notes and Adaptations
Three Concentric Circles of Healing. Just as this ritual uses three moving and concentric circles of people surrounding a tree for land healing, it also works on three levels with participants. The ritual was intentionally designed to foster A) healing for the trees, B) healing/energy work for each group and C) healing/energy work for each participant. Participants draw their fews, which puts them in a group that is most appropriate for the energy they need to work with. Each person in the ritual thus has their own ritual and own experience. Each group works together to enact their part of the ritual, thus having a shared experience that is unique to the group. The whole group, likewise, works for the good of healing the land. It is for this reason that the pre- and post-ritual discussions are so important—they are part of the ongoing part of the group and individual ritual. Each participant, likewise, is important and necessary in this ritual and has a role to fill (compared to some, where participants are more passive observers).
What happened at the MAGUS gathering is that after the Galdr, people talked a lot about the ritual and had to “uncover” what each other’s roles were. A number of rich discussions ensued surrounding the ritual at our gathering, and it kindled a number of connections and insights. I remember four of us sitting at a table for a meal and realizing we had all been in different Galdr groups, and so each of us shared about the ritual and the work we did, the group work, and our personal experiences.
Adapting this Ritual for Multiple Participants. This ritual could be adapted to a much smaller or larger group. A group as small as four could do it (with four ogham drawn, and each participant representing one of the four sacred trees). This ritual could also in theory be done by a solo practitioner with some heavy modification (although I’d have to give it some thought in terms of how that might be done!)
Adapting this Ritual for Multiple Purposes. I believe that this ritual could be adapted using other Ogham trees for other kinds of healing purposes, including purposes beyond land healing. If anyone does such adaptations, please let me know here in the comments!
PS: Please note that this ritual was designed by Tsugae Canadensis (Eastern Hemlock) and made manifest by myself (Dana O’Driscoll) and Cat McDonald (you can find Cat at the Druid’s Well) with additional input from John Adams, Elmdea Bean, and Nicole Sussurro.