Ross Nichols, one of the major figures in 20th century Druidry, described ritual as “poetry in the world of acts”. In The Druidry Handbook, John Michael Greer writes that “just as a well written poem can reshape the awareness of its reader or hearer, revealing connections that might otherwise go unnoticed and highlighting neglected meanings, a well-performed ritual can do the same for those who take part in it.” For Joanna van der Hoeven, Druid ritual is “about connection and relationship – it is a way of experiencing a moment, of taking the time to stop and honour the sacredness of the time and place.”
Ritual is a cornerstone of much modern Paganism, and Druidry is no exception. When Druids gather in groups, we tend to do ritual. When Druids want to do their Druidry alone, we tend to do ritual. There are the seasonal rituals of the great festivals of the Wheel of the Year, rituals for full moons, rituals for namings, marriages, funerals and other rites of passage, daily rituals to greet the sun in the morning and the moon at night.
These rituals can be elaborate, scripted, choreographed affairs featuring dozens of people, or simple impromptu words of gratitude from a single Druid in their own back garden, or anything in between. It’s intention that matters – ritual that is simply rote repetition of words without thinking of the meaning behind them is worthless. Ritual, as van der Hoeven puts it, “allows time for our souls to grow, to expand, to drink in all that the Awen, inspiration and the world have to offer.”
Some practice ritual more than others: I tend not to go in for big rites in my personal practice. The Awen Alone has some really helpful tips for creating your own personal rituals that are simple but meaningful.
Ritual is not limited to saying words. Having your morning coffee can be a ritual, if you do it mindfully, taking time to savour it and being thankful for the beans, the farmers who harvested them and all it took to bring it to your cup. In regular life, we have rituals all the time: take birthday parties as an example. There, we sing a specific song, light candles, make wishes and share food. It’s practically a magic spell!
The beauty of Druid ritual is that it takes us out of the routine concerns of the everyday, and connects us to nature, recognising that, in the words of one Druid ritual, “this is sacred time. This is sacred space. We are fully present, here and now”.
And what of worship?
When I was starting out as a Pagan, I avoided worship like the plague. Having come from strict Catholicism via equally dogmatic atheism, the word was too loaded, and I didn’t want anything to do with it, or with deities.
I’ve softened my position over time, and come to realise that worship does not mean the absolute submission to some authoritarian god that I thought it did. The word “worship” comes from the Old English weorþscipe, meaning “worthiness”, literally worth-ship, to give worth to a person, object or deity.
Taking the older definition, worship is simply to enter into an honourable relationship with another. When that is applied to the gods, who are, as Emma Restall Orr writes, “the forces of nature: the winds that race through the valley, the valley itself crafted by mud and rock and water, the ancient rivers that flow across and beneath the land, the woodland and meadows, the sun that holds our planet in thrall”, then that relationship is the acknowledgement of that which is greater than ourselves.
This worship brings with it a sense of humility, and perspective, realising how small and short-lived we are compared to the mountains, rivers and trees. This is not sumbission, no sense of being a sinner in the hands of an angry god, but simply a reverence that comes from knowing our place within this wider ecosystem of spirit.
Worship presupposes belief, and increasingly I am beginning to see the value of holding some, at least tentative, belief in the divine. Anna Walther at Wildseed Within writes about choosing to believe in the Star Goddess, saying: “because I’m happier and more engaged with the world for believing so, I believe that the World As It Is, the Reality of Which We Are All a Part, the Whole Cosmos, is God Hirself.”
Choosing to see the world as sacred, as worthy of worship, is one way of re-enchanting our relationship with the world, of un-learning old religious and atheistic assumptions, and re-learning to see the world as alive, aware, in awe, rather than as inanimate resources there to be used.
Ritual helps connect us to worship by giving us a framework, a language, a shared or private symbology through which to mediate that emotional response and connect with each other and with the sacred, however you perceive it.
As the old meme has it: I worship nature; don’t laugh, at least I can prove it exists!
Greer, J.M. The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth. Weiser, 2006.
Restall-Orr, E. Living With Honour: a Pagan Ethics. O Books, 2007.
van der Hoeven, J. The Awen Alone. Moon Books, 2014.
Walther, A. “Choosing to believe in the star goddess”, Wildseed Within, 2018 [https://wildseedwithin.com/2018/05/29/on-choosing-to-believe-in-the-star-goddess/].