The “Three Kindreds” are the main focus of honour and worship in ADF Druidry. They are the ancestors, the nature spirits and the deities, sometimes referred to as the “mighty”, “noble” and “shining” ones respectively. Each Kindred is honoured in every ADF rite with offerings and praise.
It is tempting to think of ancestors as only one’s own parents and grandparents, the immediate family. However, the ancestors can be thought of as being in three categories. The “Ancestors of Blood” are those of your own genetic lineage, not just immediate family but ancient ancestral groups like the Celtic peoples as well, all those who made *you* possible. In my case, this involves mostly Irish, Spanish and Polish ancestors. The “Ancestors of Place” are those people who lived on the land you now live on, whose bones lie beneath the soil on which we walk. Here in the South East of the UK, this includes not only about a thousand years or so of Saxons and Normans, but also Celtic tribes such as the Iceni, led by Boudicca. The “Ancestors of Spirit” are all those whose lives and works inspire your heart and your path. These can be ancient Pagans, but they can also be people who have influenced us, including philosophers, scientists and writers. For me, this would include Marcus Aurelius, Buddha, Charles Darwin and others.
I do not believe the ancestors live on after death. But they are ever-present in our thoughts and memories, as well as in our own bodies and genetic heritage. Philosopher and Druid Brendan Myers writes in Paganism 101:
“A scientifically-minded person might want to deny that [the ancestors] live on as disembodied spirits…As an alternative, we could say that they live on in the form of a discernible presence embodied by the habits and characters and stories of their living descendents today. This alternative requires no supernatural element to be intelligible. Yet it seems to me no less spiritual”.
Besides all of our human ancestors, I also honour our evolutionary ancestry. Darwin revealed that we are all related, and we share a common ancestor with all humans, an older one with all animals, and an even older ancestor (the Last Universal Common Ancestor, or LUCA) with all life on earth some 4 billion years ago. Looking at the deep roots of evolution’s tree of life, we can honour all our ancestors right back to the origin of life itself, and recognise that we are kin with all that lives today.
Honouring the ancestors, whether by rituals such as leaving offerings for them at Samhain or visiting their graves, or by simple acts of remembering and telling their stories, is a vital part of being human. The ancestors literally and spiritually connect us to our history and tell us where we came from and who we are.
For some Pagans, the term “Nature Spirits” refers to otherworldly or mythical entities like fairies and dryads, but for me, they are representations of the inherent consciousness of nature itself and remind us of our connections to it. The word “spirit” has unfortunate connotations in this context, as it suggests a dualistic metaphysics whereby “inanimate matter” is contrasted with “incorporeal spirit”. This seems to be a hangover of a Christian worldview and is not one that fits in my own Druidry. However, the word “spirit” comes from the Latin “spiritus”, which originally meant simply “breath” or “life”. Modern animists, such as Emma Restall-Orr and Graham Harvey interpret “spirit” in a different manner, as a “spark” or life-force, similar to the Classical Greek Pagan philosopher Aristotle. Taken in this way, Nature Spirits are all the various living creatures that we interact with and share this world with.
In Norse Paganism, Nature Spirits are often referred to as Landvaettir, or Land Wights. Patricia Lafayllve writes that the word wight is “used to refer to any being at all. Humans are wights…animals are also wights.” The world is filled with Nature Spirits, who are all sentient beings who together make up the vast tapestry of life of which we are a part. My pet gerbils, the birds and squirrels in the garden, the vast oak trees, the bugs and spiders, caterpillars and moths, tiny minnows and giant blue whales, elephants and mice and even the microbacteria that live within our bodies and keep us alive, all are Nature Spirits and all deserve to be respected and honoured.
In my personal practice, I tend to refer to these fellow-creatures as “Nature-kin”, to reinforce a sense of relatedness, biological and moral kinship, with all life. The Nature-kin remind me that humans are not the centre of the universe, or the pinnacle of creation, but simply another animal, one part of nature in all its majesty and wonder. And this means we have a duty of care, of hospitality, to the rest of nature, and to all our Nature-kin.
ADF has as its central focus of worship the deities of pre-Christian Pagan cultures. They are described in Our Own Druidry as “the objects of our highest worship”. Ian Corrigan states: “our Druidry tends to adopt a theology that views the million Powers described in tales and lore as independent, living entities. We reject, in general, theories that view the Powers as projections of our own minds, or as thought-forms created by human worship or as archetypes in the collective unconscious”.
Within ADF, these deities are referred to by many names, including “Shining Ones”, “First Children of the Mother”, “Eldest and Wisest”, “Great ones” and so on. ADF liturgy aims to “form bonds between ourselves and the gods that involve a system of reciprocity and blessings” (Dangler). The deities worshipped in ADF come from a wide range of Indo-European Pagan cultures from Celtic to Norse to Vedic and everything in between. They are deities of place, of ancestry and of heart.
In my personal path, I do not believe in the existence of literal, supernatural, gods. Dangler states: “There are many theories held by ADF members about the nature of the gods…our liturgies refer to the gods as real things, things that exist outside our heads, taking a stance often referred to as ‘hard polytheism’. In actual practice, some members agree with this, others do not. ADF does not require you to accept deity as ‘real’ beyond your mind. That’s just how we deal with them ritually”.
My personal view is similar to that of Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, the chief priest of Asatruarfelagid, who said: “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet. We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”
When I connect with the gods in ADF ritual, I do so to honour and invoke the qualities they represent and reflect on how I can manifest those qualities in my life, such as Thor’s strength or Odin’s wisdom. For some Pagans, this is tantamount to blasphemy, but for me it is the best and most intellectually honest way that I can honour the gods of my ancestors while remaining true to my own beliefs.
ADF. Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.
ADF. ADF Constitution. [Online: retrieved from https://www.adf.org/about/org/constitution.html 06/02/2016].
Corrigan, Ian. The intentions of Druidic ritual. [Online: retrieved from https://www.adf.org/rituals/explanations/intentions.html 06/02/2016].
Dangler, Michael J. The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.
Dawkins, Richard. The Greatest Show on Earth. Bantam, 2009.
Greenfield, Trevor (ed.). Paganism 101. Moon Books, 2014.
Hilmarsson, Hilmar Orn. Quoted in The Guardian, “Iceland to build first temple to Norse gods since Viking age”, 2015. [Online: retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/02/iceland-temple-norse-gods-1000-years 06/02/2016].
Lafayllve, Patricia M. A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru. Llewellyn, 2013.
Orr, Emma R. The Wakeful World: Animism, Mind and the Self in Nature. Moon Books, 2012.