Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Why the Tree?"

While working through the Clergy Training Program one of the requirements made me stop to think “why?”. The specific requirement was in Liturgy 1 in the CTP-Preliminary course. It asks the student to “Discuss the significance of Fire and Water in ADF liturgy.” Why isn’t the Tree listed in this requirement? Does it not play the same significance as Fire and Water? The short answer is “No and Yes”. But…why?

In the Dedicants manual, the most basic Druidic ritual tools are listed. “Druid ritual, at its simplest, requires only a fire, a bowl of water, the Druid’s body, and the proper offerings to the spirits” (Ár nDraíocht Féin 53) All other things are, well, just beautiful dressings to please the senses of the Druid. But even the bowl of water is not a requirement within ADF ritual. But…why? First, if we look at the Core Order of Ritual, the only element that is listed as a “must” is Fire (3838). The reasoning behind this is that “Druidry is a fire religion” (Dangler). Fire is a central element in all cultures of humanity. It is the single most important elemental “tool” within the Druidic cosmology. It spans the three realms and into the three worlds. Rev. Dangler says it best “Kindled on the earth, the fire’s flames leap into the atmosphere, and the pillar of smoke created supports the celestial realm” (Dangler). The heat radiates outward, upward, and down towards the Underworld. It is a transformative force which carries out offerings to the Kindred. More importantly Fire is a metaphor for the work which the Druid priest performs. It calls the Kindred to the sacred place.  It transmutes the offerings into pure energy, which is makes these offerings tangible to them, and does all this naturally as part of its very nature.

Water is no less prevalent within the world’s symbolism. Water has always been seen as a force for change. It has the ability break down walls and to reshape the land. Water was also seen as a purifier to the land as well as the soul. It is also seen as the life blood of the Earth. The waters fill the well, which the foundation of the Tree.  But Water was also seen as a gateway, just as Fire was, into the other realms of existence. Many times Water was seen as the entryway into the Underworld, into the realm of the dead. Through the link of Water with the Underworld it also gains the property of being a symbol of rebirth, or reincarnation, which in turn becomes a symbol of the Well. (Corrigan)

Within ADF these two common symbols can be seen as a part of the Three Hallows. Fire is the gateway and symbol of the gods and the Upperworld. It is the receptacle for offerings to many of the great Shining Ones. Water is seen in the form of the Well in ADF rituals. The Well is connected with the Underworld and the Ancestors. Just as in ancient times, the Fire and Well are significant in our ADF rituals as gateways to reach the Kindred. As both are seen as existing separate from our own, “How do we reach them?” We do not actually physically climb a tree as part of our rituals, though one surely could much like ancient Pagans climbed mountains to reach temples for the gods that resided in the Upperworld. Or we could decent into a cave to perform rituals and offerings for those of the Underworld.

Then, why the Tree? Not all Indo-European nations used the Tree as their central axis mundi. Some, such as the Hellenics, used things such as mountains, caves, and even the omphalos stone (also known as the navel stone of the world). What function does the Tree serve in ADF Ritual? Though views varied from culture to culture among the ancient Indo-Europeans on what the importance of the Tree was, there was very little variation on the fact that the Tree was held as sacred. From the Celtic Druids to the Priesthoods of the Greeks, Trees were symbols of gifts from the gods and revered as the very symbol of nature (Burkert 39). Today the Tree holds a great many purposes within ADF. It is our symbol for the Nature Spirits. Though in many cases there is no need for a gateway to reach Nature Spirits, the Tree is still seen as the gateway to connect with them. Also the sacred Tree symbolizes the path between the Three Realms. Its roots reach deep into the Underworld while its branches reach towards the heavens giving us a path to the Upper World. The trunk grows stoutly here in the Middle World, the realm of mortals, Nature Spirits, and the earth deities. (Corrigan)

So we have a why, but why is it not required? In the Vedic culture there is not much in the way of the axis mundi…or is there? Perhaps it is their lack of a physical axis mundi that gives us the answer. I believe that this has to do with the Druid him or herself. As discussed, the Dedicants Manual states that the “… Druid’s body…” is required. And that is the answer to why not. The Tree serves as the pathway that extends to the Upperworld and the Underworld. It is our portal to travel to and from these realms. But when we look deeper at the meaning of the Tree you see that we are the Tree. It is through ourselves that we open this portal into the Otherworlds. The external use of a Tree is not much more different than any other tool. It is there as a focal point. In the end we open the portals of travel within ourselves. Even our Two Power meditation walks us through visualizing ourselves as the Tree. Through this guided imagery we open the pathways within ourselves to tap the powers of the heavens and the powers of the waters deep within the world.

So the next time you are planning or writing ritual, take a moment to think about your relevant use of the Tree. Is it serving more than just a focal point for you to access the Tree within?

Works Cited

3838, Member#. "An Overview of the Core Order of Ritual." 2014. ADF. <>.
Ár nDraíocht Féin. "An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path - DP HandbookEZ." 5 2009. PDF - 6 8 2014.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Basil Blackwell Publisher and Harvard University Press, 1985.
Corrigan, Ian. "Sacred Space, an Exlporation of the Triple Center." n.d. May 2009. <>.
Dangler, Rev. Michael. "Nine Central Tenets of Druidic Ritual." 2014. ADF. <>.
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