How our ancestors formalised – if indeed they even did – their interactions with the gods is largely unknown. There are some elements we do know of from Roman writers, and from inferences made by Romano-British and Iron Age peoples. For instance, the deposition of deliberately broken items into water seems to have been important. That there was an entire priestly caste suggests that even if people had their own personal ritual behaviours and devotions, there was also some form of priest led community ritual. Beyond that it becomes more difficult to create anything concrete; we have no prayers, no invocations and no idea how the everyday person made offerings to the gods or what it was they offered. We can look to the neighbouring cultures and further abroad and in time to begin to do some comparative work with our cultural extended family. Ceisiwr Serith has written a fantastic amount trying to reconstruct the practice of the proto-Indo-Europeans; those people from the central-Asia regions who eventually gave rise to the milieu of Indo-European language cultures which the Brythonic language culture sits within. I recommend his website and book ‘Deep Ancestors’ for a lot more on this subject, both are really rewarding sources of inspiration and information.
By and large, how we perform our own household devotions or lead group and community ritual is up to us. What works for us individually and what fosters and strengthens the bonds between us and the gods is down to experimentation, experience and practice. There are some things that we are immediately drawn to and also appear historically that suggest there are some ‘universals’; fire, water and libations.
Fire used to form the central point in our lives; warmth, protection and food. Achieving mastery over fire was something that predates human beings as we know ourselves and offered our early Homo ancestors a massive advantage. Fire was in all likelihood an important factor that led to the emergence of Homo sapiens on the planet. The hearth formed the centre of the home to our ancestors and even today the kitchen; the place of fire in our houses is seen as the heart of the home. Anyone who has spent any time near an open fire will know its place in our lives. Something as simple as a candle has a startling effect on atmosphere and emotion in ritual, having an open fire has that much more impact.
Water is vital to life. Life arose from the seas, without water we die within three days. Water also cleanses, washes away the dirt and grime of the day. Having a shower after a long day or heavy work leaves you feeling transformed, and the simple act of washing your hands and face before ritual has a similar effect. Water was also seen as a boundary; whether running water, bodies of freshwater or the seas, water was seen as a place that marked the boundary between this world and the Otherworlds.
Libations, whether food or drink or even something more valuable have always been a part of ritual practice. From an Indo-European perspective, offerings are linked to pure hospitality and ghosti; the reciprocity that derives from hospitality . We feed and water visitors to our house, it is ingrained in us, even if only a cup of tea (I say ‘only’, but to be honest tea is the most important element of hospitality in the UK!). we give to the gods in thanks, we give to the gods in the hope of blessings or aid, we give to the gods simply because we are grateful for their presence in our lives. We should give to the gods any time we invite them in to our homes and places of worship – they are guests and should be treated as such. There is no set formula how fire, water and libation should be wedded together. Within Brython we share some commonalities in our individual practice, and yet we also have very individual ways of ritualising devotion. I have a format I use for libations to the gods, others use different means such as when making offerings to the ancestors. For personal practice, keep it simple. For group ritual you need to consider many more things, and having longer, more ‘grander’ rituals that involve everyone and have a formulaic beginning to the ritual will work well as a means to settle, focus and gather everyone together for the purpose in hand. In Wiccan ritual the casting of the circle and calling of the quarters act as a means of drawing everyone together and focusing them on the work at hand after spending a day at work, or travelling. Having a means of ensuring this focus and that the day’s events are left outside/behind is essential. You need everyone to be singing from the same song sheet and with the same focus. Ritual offers a way to do this.
Segomâros Widugeni is a Gaulish polytheist who writes at Polytheist.com, he recently published a basic ritual outline aimed at Gaulish polytheists, and he has very kindly given permission for it to be reproduced here. In order for it to be in keeping with our Brythonic focus, I have removed the Gaulish prayers and invocations and where appropriate included the Brythonic version of some of the terminology in square brackets after the terms in question. For the full version, with full Gaulish language included, check out the piece at polytheist.com
As you will see, this covers all of the main points mentioned above; fire, water and libation. It would be an ideal basis to work from to create personal and solo rituals or a household or community gathering.
In a community setting, some form of procession leading up to the ritual site would be very much in keeping with our ancestors community practices. Giving this procession something of a celebratory feel with music, drumming, dancing and other activities would also create the right celebratory atmosphere. It is also into this procession that other aspects of ritual such as offerings to the spirits of the place or to the ancestors could be made as short ‘diversions’ on the main procession route. What is important is to remember that we do not live in the 1st century B.C.E or the 3rd century B.C.E, those things which our ancestors celebrated and the way in which they did it are largely lost to us, they are also often irrelevant to us too. We live in the 21st century, we don’t rely on a good harvest, we don’t fear sickness or disease in the way people of 3000 years or even 500 year ago did. Our relationship with the gods will be different to that of our ancestors and the ways in which we build and affirm those relationships will be different. We can and should look to the past for inspiration, our ancestors were on to something there, but we should not be afraid to develop that inspiration into something that works for us today and builds a relationship today. We aren’t reconstructing, we are reconnecting.
The Basic Ritual Outline Segomâros Widugeni
This is an outline for a possible reconstructed Gaulish ritual system, adapted to modern circumstances. The basic sources for this are Indo-European ritual, as reconstructed by Ceisiwr Serith and others, Greco-Roman sacrificial custom, modern Druid ritual, and the rituals of related cultures like the Germanic and Baltic peoples. In addition, it is influenced by what can be learned from the archaeological record. It is designed for one-person or small-group indoor rituals, and so is missing the procession, which formed a part of much Iron Age ritual practice. A word should be said about what is acceptable to offer to the Gods. In ancient times, animals were the main offerings. They were consumed in the feast after the ritual, if the rite was to Dêwoi Ueronadoi [the gods, upperworld spirits], and buried whole without a feast, if the rite was to Dêwoi Andernadoi [the andedion; underworld spirits]. For offerings to Dêuoi Ueronadoi, the animals of choice were pigs and sheep. For Dêuoi Andernadoi, the preferred offerings were cattle, often old cattle that were near the end of their natural lifespan. In modern times, animal sacrifice is likely to be rare or nonexistent, so substitutes must be used. Animals made of bread may be used. In this case, they should represent an appropriate type of animal. Alcohol is always a good offering to the Gaulish deities, and may be of several types. Mead should not, however, be offered to Rosmertâ or Eponâ, as these Goddesses give mead. Wine is always acceptable, as it was a high-prestige drink in ancient Gaul. The exception to this may be Sucellus and Nantosueltâ, who are deities of wine. Juice or soft drinks are never acceptable, and might be seen as trying to cheat the Gods. Whole milk is a good offering, though not as good as alcohol. Skim or reduced fat milk is not acceptable, for the same reason as juice. Prepared foods, a feast or meal, is acceptable, for Dêwoi Ueronadoi only, provided the above rules are adhered to.
I. Making of Holy Water This is designed to bless water for use in purifying people before ritual. It is a modern innovation. In ancient times water from a holy well would have been used, or morning dew, or water taken at dawn from a stream over which the living and the dead have passed. Hold cup of water or point at it. Say: You are the Mother of the Gods, the Source of All Life You are the source of all wisdom, the keeper of all secrets You are the Goddess of All Victories, the Goddess of Prosperity, You are the Lady of the Land, the source of all sovereignty Without you, we are empty, with you we are full
II. Purification This is the actual purification of the participants. Other Indo-European cultures have used hand washing, or other similar rites. Sprinkle water onto all participants. Say: I purify you all, that you may enter the holy place that you may come before the Gods.
III. The Beginning A. Quiet: This establishes a holy silence for ritual to begin. The holy space is separated out from the mundane realm, and belongs to some extent to the realm of the Gods. Therefore, things said in ritual can echo through the worlds, and have a greater impact than words spoken in other settings. Say: Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet, Let there be a holy quiet.
B. Making of Sacred Fire:The Sacred Fire represents Brigantiâ, the daughter of Taranis, and the Goddess of high places, and of the hearth. It is the holiest part of the sacred space, and forms a route of communication with the divine realm. Its light protects the sacred space, and it serves as a symbol of the presence of the divine spirit and the sacred center of all things. For indoor rituals, we use a candle, but for outdoor rituals, a fire is more appropriate. Light the fire candle. Say: You are the center of all things, the first fire at the beginning of time You are the light of the sun, which marks out day from night You are the fire of every hearth, all fires are lit from you You are the Daughter of Taranis, the Soul of Heaven in This World I make you, fire, in the way of Brigindonâ
C. Making the Rampart:This is a modern innovation, and can be omitted when the ritual is being held in an existing holy place, or a dedicated ritual space used for no other purpose. However, these days, very few of us have access to such spaces. Personal rituals are often held in living rooms or bedrooms, or other places with multiple uses. Public rituals are held in multi-use facilities, or the back rooms of New Age shops, which are often used by readers and the public. This part of the ritual, then, purifies those sorts of spaces, and makes them suitable for ritual use. Light small candle (or take a splint from the fire), take it about the holy place, saying I purify this holy place By holy light
IV. Pre-Offering A. Fire Offering: This part of the offering honours and strengthens the Sacred Fire, to help protect the sacred space. It is one of the most traditional and common elements of our ritual system. Here we light incense from a candle. If there is an actual, outdoor, sacred fire, it is better to put powdered incense directly into the fire. Butter or oil can also be used. Say: We give you this incense to you, fire, We give this incense to you, Daughter of Taranis, We give this incense to you, Brigindonâ, That you are strong, And that you protect this place against all evil.
B. Offering to Cernunnos:This is a small offering to Cernunnos, so he will open the way to the other deities and divine realms. This makes certain that prayers go where they are supposed to, and that clear communication is maintained. Cernunnos is called on in every ritual as gatekeeper and Opener of the Way. Pour out a small amount of wine or whatever else you are offering into the offering bowl. Say: Prayers I pour out And words I weave Carnonos I invoke The Lord of the Wood The Opener of the Way The God Who Guides the Dead And gives prosperity That he open the way to the Gods bear our prayers to the Gods.
V. Offering This is the main offering of the ritual. It is the heart of the ritual, in which gifts are given to the Gods. We use our offering to Sironâ as an example. Open bottle of wine and pour out. Say: Prayers I pour out And words I weave Sironâ I invoke The Goddess of the Moon The Goddess of Time Lady of Serpents Lady of Wells That she give health/safety to us And protection to people and cattle.
VI. Chant This is where the work of the ritual is performed. In seasonal rituals, seasonal chants or re-enactments may be used here. Or, divination may be done, or any sort of prayers made. Here, we include a healing spell, from a healing ritual I did some time ago. Say: I make for you Spell for blood Spell for flesh Spell for bones Spell for breath I make for you Spell against worm Spell against pain Spell against wound Spell against suffering Health be on you An end upon your pain An end upon your worm If there is pain on you today Health be on tomorrow In the name of the Goddess of the Moon In the name of the Goddess of Time In the name of the Goddess of Serpents In the name of the Goddess of Wells In the name of Sironâ So mote it be. VII. Closing A. Thanks to Sironâ: Here, we give thanks to the main deity called on for the rite, in this case Sironâ. Other deity names may be substituted without any other alteration. Say: Thanks to you, Sironâ For health For prosperity For protection We praise you!
B. Thanks to Carnonos: Here, we give thanks to Cernunnos for opening the way to the deities, and ask him to allow space to return to its normal configuration. Say: Thanks to you, Carnonos For opening the way For bearing our prayers No we pray you, that you close the way And we praise you!
C. Covering the Sacred Fire:Here, we respectfully put out the Sacred Fire, using the term “covering”, which was used for banking a fire to that would not go out overnight. If using a real fire, it should be carefully banked or covered with ash, with the top smoothed. Say, to the candle flame: You are the Center of Creation, the first fire, at the beginning of time You are the light of the sun, which marks out day from night You are the fire of every hearth, all fires are lit from you You are the Daughter of Taranis, the Soul of Heaven in This World I cover you, fire, in the way of Brigindonâ Now, put out the candle flame. A fire may be put out here, or allowed to burn through the feast and then put out. Say: The offering is done, done is the rite. With strength, and the protection of the Gods, let us go from the nemeton.
VIII. Feast Following the ritual, it is customary to feast, when calling on Dêwoi Ueronadoi. This can be as simple as sharing a glass of wine or milk, or as elaborate as you wish. Note that the feast is omitted when calling on Dêwoi Andernadoi.