When people think of “rituals” particularly in pagan traditions, I think there’s often this idea of scripts, robes, and a lot of formality and preparation. These rituals are rooted in history: a good deal of neopaganism (including druidry and wicca) have deep roots in both ceremonial magic and lodge traditions. These traditions emphasize the setting and the ceremony: special tools, specially set aside places, special clothing, and special words. At this point, I’ve been to hundreds of these kinds of rituals, written and led them for myself and others, and in their right context and place, they are very effective. They work well at making things feel special and in setting up sacred time and sacred space. However, the longer that I’ve been a druid, the more I’ve realized that while these rituals are useful, they don’t necessarily help me live as a druid each day, nor are they particularly effective at creating a more enchanted life on a day-by-day basis. Rather, they are good for the big things, celebrations, initiations, and other larger work. But what about the small things? The five minutes to honor a stone, or say a blessing over a meal, or bless a new tree you’ve planted? Thus, today, I want to talk about what I call “interwoven ceremonies” which can complement or replace the big rituals for very specific means.
Definitions: Big Ritual and Interwoven Ceremony
The term “ritual” means different things to different people. Broadly speaking, the term “ritual” refers to ceremonies done for spiritual or religious purposes. While the dictionary uses the word “solemn” to describe rituals, I believe that that’s the Christian influence–many big rituals we have in paganism are quite joyful and fun. Pagans would understand what I described in the opening paragraph as a ritual – something that we come together to do, celebrate, observe, and connect with others. They often have a regularity to them, occurring on holy days such as the Soltices or Equinoxes or cross-quarter days (Imbolc, Samhain, etc). But big ritual also has a lot of pomp and circumstance–which is why these rituals take place only once in a while. These rituals are special, meaningful, and important to mark the changes of the seasons and in deepening your individual practices, or, if you celebrate with a grove, the broader community. They are distinct because they are separate from daily life.
But I’d like to argue that there’s something else on the spectrum between big ritual and daily life–and that something is what I call an “interwoven ceremony.” That is, ritual can also refer to any meaningful or ceremonial action intent on deepening one’s spirituality or connection with the living earth. These kinds of interwoven ceremonies can happen on the fly, in the moment, or with little planning or special scripts, words, or clothing. They can simply be interwoven into your daily life. And as you interweave these small rituals on a daily basis, they create a sense of enchantment, wonder, connection, and gratitude. If we do them often, they can build and grow and overall bring a deeper sense of spiritual purpose and connection. They also can be done without preparation and in the moment, which makes them more accessible. I will also note that this idea of interwoven ceremonies is part of the approach behind my book Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practices: making earth-honoring lifestyle choices part of the practice of nature spirituality and ritualizing those lifestyle choices as much as possible.
Rituals are many, many different things, situated in specific cultures, peoples, and contexts. Some of this is about how open an individual or group can be with their practice–community-wide and large group rituals are a privilege that many who are practicing quietly or who are literally hiding can not envision. These lived contexts shape rituals in powerful ways. I’ve had the privilege of practicing and teaching big rituals from the druid revival, and it is a powerful tool, but in many places, it is not always the right tool for the job.
In terms of the contexts that are shaping ritual experiences for the modern druid, there are some basic similarities (and I draw these from my experiences in serving as Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the overall conversations we have in the order). First, modern druids are living in Westernized or Western-influenced cultures, which at least here in the USA, are cultures that are almost devoid of ritual. Further, while these cultures vary, the speed of these cultures move and the demands of technology, work, and fast-paced lifestyles deeply impact how much time and energy many have to engage in big ritual. Further, some people may be living in circumstances (family, local community, and/or culturally) where open, public rituals would not be a good idea or may even be dangerous. And then there’s the bigger picture: all of us are living in a world dominated by Western empiricism and reductionism, which suggests that only the parts (not the whole) matter, that insists on the elevation of objectivity and rationality over embedded, spirit-filled experiences, and that has a completely disenchanted view of the living earth. And as a result of that, all of us are living in the age of the Anthropocene, whereby large portions of humanity have reshaped the world, and in doing so, are actively killing all other life on this planet.
So what does all of this have to do with ritual? A lot, actually. I’d argue that one of the things that daily and regular ritual (not only the big kind but the kind I’m talking about in this post) is a kind of balm to the ongoing collective insanity of humanity. Daily ceremonies connect us, nourish the earth, honor life, and bring a sense of enchantment back into our very being. And perhaps most importantly, some of these problems are new problems, problems not experienced by spiritual ancestors in the druid revival and lodge traditions (many of whom were in a place of privilege). So now that I’ve laid it all out, let’s take a look at what this can look like in practice.
Interwoven ceremony is an everyday, simple ceremony where you take a moment to do something special in your day, something that honors the living earth, connects you to nature or your own spirit, and is often spontaneous and on the fly. These require no special scripts, tools, clothing, or approaches–you simply do them as the opportunity arises. My suggestion is to develop a general framework for how you want to do these with a few possibilities, and then you can just pull one of these ideas out of your framework to use as you need.
Daily Work and Protection
I want to start by stressing that if you are going to be doing ceremonies or energy work of any kind in this manner, doing your daily protection practices is necessary. Interwoven ceremonies still do the various work of ritual and magic, they just do it in a more integrated way. The difference between them and the big rituals is that big rituals always have some protective element woven in–thus, if you are going to be working and weaving magic in your daily life, it’s important to do so on a foundation of a daily protective ritual. My daily protective ritual is AODA’s Sphere of Protection. This daily ritual works within AODA’s Seven Element framework (working with the four classical elements + the three aspects of spirit) to balance one’s energy and form a protective sphere each day. I find it more than sufficient for protection as I go about my day and engage in various kinds of interwoven ceremonies, raise energy, and so on. Lots of options exist, and if you belong to a different tradition, your tradition should teach some daily ceremony that is explicitly protective in nature.
I would stress here that we need to be responsible, in general, for our own protection. Not doing this kind of regular protective work and then doing a number of the practices I share below can cause you some problems of a few varieties.
Offerings and Gratitude
Offerings and gratitude form a foundation of practices that are excellent for practicing regularly in daily life–multiple times a day, at multiple points. This simple practice is a balm both for the land and her spirits as well as for your own soul–gratitude is the foundation of rebuilding healthy connections and relationships with the world around you (the people, places, and beings in that world). I’ve written pretty extensively about gratitude practices and the practice of what I call “deep gratitude” which encourages you to live in a very gratitude-forward way.
When do we want to express gratitude? My suggestion is, pretty much most of the time. Prior to industrialization and the rise of collective insanity, many traditional and indigenous cultures practiced a great deal of gratitude and ceremonies that nourished the earth. The land and her spirits are starved of those basic interactions at present, so the more that you can do, the better.
Here’s the general framework: you interact with some being (a tree, a person, a stone, a river, your car). Most of the time, that interaction could be enhanced with a simple expression of gratitude. and want to express gratitude. Here are some options:
- Express your gratitude verbally, taking a moment to feel the gratitude welling within you and then sharing that feeling through words.
- Express your gratitude silently, by taking a moment to feel the gratitude welling within you, and then radiating that gratitude through energy.
- Express your gratitude with some offering, by taking a moment to feel the gratitude welling within you, then speaking that gratitude into your offering, and then offering it. For this, I usually use a home-grown and wild-foraged herbal offering blend, but this can be any offering that is meaningful and that does not harm the earth.
- Express your gratitude with some bardic expression, a song, dance, drumbeat, poem, or some other way of expression
- Express your gratitude with some act of reciprocation, where you give back in some way, ideally more than you are taking.
What I’m describing can take as little as 10 seconds or as much as 5 minutes of your day. I have found that the more I practice this, bringing gratitude into my daily interactions with all beings (including but not limited to human beings), the more pleasant my interactions are with everyone and the more that the spirits of nature are responsive to me.
So here are a few examples: I’m harvesting some kale from my garden to put into dinner. I sing to the kale plants as I harvest some of their leaves, thanking them for growing and to the wind and light and rain and soil for their blessing. When I come back into the house, I work to prepare a salad, and when it’s done, I put my hands over it and thank the ingredients that went into the salad. As I wash the dishes after the meal, I thank the water flowing from the tap.
Blessings and Energy Workings
Another great option for interwoven ceremonies is in doing simple blessings. Typically when we think of a blessing, it is a particular kind of magic that raises good energy and then directs that energy to a specific being (and should therefore be done with permission). Perhaps you want to offer a blessing to the stone you’ve been sitting on and meditating on, perhaps you want to offer a blessing for your friend’s garden, or you want to offer a blessing to a new litter of puppies. In any case, you will want to first seek permission–you can just do so silently and use your intuition to feel if you can proceed or not. I don’t do any energy workings for any being without permission.
From there, you can:
- Call to one or more of the elements for their blessings (e.g. take a bowl of water and a branch and offer a small water blessing on the garden)
- Pray to diety or the spirits to offer a blessing
- Drum, sing, chant, or dance to raise energy for a blessing
- Create “blessing tokens” that you empower with big ritual, then offer them when you like with a small prayer (.e.g. go get some stones or acorn caps, bless them, then carry them with you to leave as an offering and blessing)
- Offer a poem or prayer
- Do a simple ritual (again, my go-to is AODA’s Sphere of Protection, which I do slightly differently for blessings or energy workings)
- Offer some joy and happiness–tell the land a story of a better future and share hope, peace, and joy.
The blessing practice is a wonderful way of giving back and expressing gratitude on a deeper level. I like to do it if some being is offering me energy in exchange. For example, when I go kayaking, I will always offer a blessing to the river, to any trees or beaches we might camp on during the adventure, etc.
The Spontaneous or Evolving Shrine
Here’s another one I like to do a lot. At our home, the land and our home is just full of different shrines and magical spaces. Every little nook and cranny at some point gets dedicated to someone or something. If, for example, I have an ongoing project, we might build a shrine and keep it going, allowing it to evolve as I evolve. I have a shrine in my art studio like that–its for short projects that I’m working on artistically, and I always tend it and add things to it or change it when I start on a new project.
But when I travel, I find that many spaces are sparse and do not have such whimsy or enchantment. I miss my shrines and shrine building. So, I usually build something. If I have a hotel room or campsite, I will always bring a few small pieces to put out and may also take an oracle or tarot deck or something and pull a card each day. If I’m taking a class or something over a period of days, I will build something as I go.
For example, two weeks ago I wrote about my time at John C Campbell Folk School, which was really amazing. While at the school, I had two shrines. One of them was in my room, where I did some daily practice. But the second was my more public bookbinding shrine. I started it on the 2nd day of class after I bought a wooden goose statue I liked (I was really missing my goose flock!) and I put it on top of a wooden case that has one of my sharpening stones in the corner of my table. Over the next few days, as I accomplished something or had interesting scraps of leather or other things happen in class, I added to it. By the final day of class it had “marked” my journey and I could see how the shrine evolved. For the other students, I also put chocolates in front of the shrine, so people could come and get chocolate. While it was simple, it was meaningful and allowed me to bring a bit of enchantment and Awen into my everyday life.
Checking in with the Spirits
Another thing I like to do very often as part of this practice of interwoven ceremony is what I call “check in” on the spirits. This basically involves me taking a quiet moment to breathe deeply and then checking in with any being I encounter and feel led to talk with–a river, a tree, a garden, my office building, and so on. This can be done in a variety of ways–simple divination with ogham, tarot, oracles, or runes can tell you a lot (e.g. shuffle and draw a card or rune, which will give you some basic information). If you have developed your inner communication skills, you can just check in with a quick conversation or energy sensing. From that check-in, I might do something else, such as a blessing or protective working or share some joy.
Ritual on the Fly
Another useful tool in anyone’s toolbox is the ability to do a spontaneous ritual, that is, ritual that is unplanned or in the moment. This gets back to my “building blocks” discussion above, where you have a set of building blocks in your head, and once you’ve practiced them, you can put them together for various purposes. Here are the basic building blocks:
1. A way to open and close space. This doesn’t have to be very complex. It can be taking three deep breaths and feeling the world around you. It can be simply standing in each of the quarters and observing nature, calling the quarters, drumming in each of the quarters, and so on. The point of opening space (and closing space) is to distinguish this activity from the everyday world.
2. A way to protect the space. If you are doing any raising of energy or movement of energy, it is a good idea to protect the space (use the Sphere of Protection, casting a circle, etc). You can also do this in a more physical way if you are outside, by say, using branches or leaves.
3. Whatever work you want to do (you can use the gratitude and blessing info above). It can be fun, it can be silly, it can be serious, it can be joyful.
With simple building blocks and practice, you can weave simple ceremonies like this into everyday life.
So using the above, perhaps you are hiking and come across a small waterfall encrusted with ferns. You choose to stay a while and do some ceremony. You begin by taking a few deep breaths and since you’ve already protected yourself earlier in the day, you take a few moments to express your gratitude by singing a water song. After that, you dip your hand in the water and simply enjoy the feel of it on your skin. You ask the spirits of the place if they need anything from you, and then, with their suggestion, you offer a blessing to this place through prayer. You end by telling the land a story of another waterfall you visited. You close with another three deep breaths, feeling refreshed and the land feeling the love you offer. There was no plan for this, no idea in advance until you came here–but the work was good and meaningful. This is but one of many possibilities given what I’ve written above!
In conclusion, the above are ideas to get you started–and I hope the above is inspirational to you! I will also mention here that there are lots of other things that can fall into this category. One of the things I didn’t write about was regular daily practices that people already do, things like daily divination readings, daily meditation, daily rituals, daily prayers or altar tending–those sorts of things I didn’t really talk about because many of us already do those as part of our own practices or a larger tradition. But I think that I’ve offered enough for you to use this information productively!