From the President: This year’s Gathering and Annual Meeting


Shield logo for Gathering of the Keltrian Tribe.I hope the warming days of Spring are bringing renewal to all.

Our annual Keltrian gathering is only two months away. As many of you know, with the Gathering also comes our Annual Meeting with elections, along with consideration of any other Henge business (some major items this year, but more on that later).

Serving as a board officer is one way to show support for the Henge, to embody Keltrian ideals and to serve one another. Elected offices include those of president, vice-president and secretary. Trustees at large have also been an option, but we may or may not be electing one trustee this year, depending on the outcome of proposed bylaw revisions that will be presented this year. Regardless of that outcome, I encourage members who have an investment in the activities of the Henge to run for one of the offices coming open. (I will run for re-election, but would be delighted to see others showing a similar interest.)

If you think you might be interested, but are unsure of the responsibilities, feel free to check the bylaws for officer qualifications or write to the existing officers with your questions.

If you are attending this year’s gathering, please let me know at so we can better plan. The registration fee for the Annual Gathering is only $20 and can be paid on arrival.

Finally, in addition to ritual, social time and the Annual Meeting, some of the most valued elements of the Annual Gathering are workshops and seminars presented by members on topics of Keltrian interest. If there is a topic you’d like to see presented, or would like to present one yourself, please let me know.

An organization is only as strong as its members’ willingness to serve.


Dates of Gathering: August 4 & 5

Place:    Best Western

3420 Northdale Blvd NW

Coon Rapids, MN 55448

Call the Best Western directly (763-576-0700) for our “Keltria Group” rates - $80 for single occupancy and $90 for double occupancy.

Karl Schlotterbeck

Breaking the Rules, Part 1 – Elder Wren’s Response

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and come from the perspective of someone who has actively served the Henge of Keltria for over twenty-five years. I was a member of the original Keltrian Grove, and co-leader of subsequent Groves as Tony and I moved across the country. I’ve also served as President and Vice-President of the Henge. I do not speak for Elder Tony or Elder Karl. However, it would be irresponsible of me to allow so much misinformation to be published without comment.

Jenne raises a few good questions for the Council of Elders to address, and we will. The Elders are responsible for guiding the theological and spiritual direction of the Henge of Keltria. Only the Council of Elders is empowered to alter Keltrian theology and practice if such actions are necessary and deemed beneficial to the Henge as its members. These elected Elders also are the only ones authorized to make appropriate adjustments if general societal changes warrant action, and again, only if those actions are in the best spiritual interest of The Henge of Keltria. That said, the Council of Elders can't answer questions that no-one asks. We are approachable people who are willing to answer questions and offer practical advice. All it takes is an email to any one of us or all three. No-one is ever abandoned to "struggle with the rules" alone.

Jenne's editorial refers to the Book of Ritual, but doesn't mention the Book of Keltria except in passing as "…other Keltrian texts." The former is a manual for performing Keltrian rituals that was never meant to stand alone. The latter explains Keltrian theology in detail and the reasoning behind it. What began as an overhaul of our correspondence course in 2000, evolved into the Book of Keltria. Individual correspondence course lessons were updated and dovetailed into chapters. We published this book to accommodate people who were curious about us, but not interested in working with a mentor and doing the required course work.

The Book of Keltria is the product of fifteen years of serious research, debate and personal sacrifices made by a team of dedicated volunteers who are passionate about the Keltrian tradition. Sure, historical blanks needed to be filled and gaps bridged, but always with careful consideration and accepted scholarship. By popular demand, a chapter was added that chronicles the history of our church. This chapter gives an honest account of what we did right as well as what we did wrong. Some of our sincere efforts backfired magnificently. The Book of Keltria is required reading for anyone who seeks to follow the Keltrian path.

The Book of Keltria provides detailed explanations of what we do and why we do it. For example: Why do we celebrate Bilé who is not a member of the Tuatha dé Danann? Truth be told, the founders weren't completely satisfied with this choice, so they felt it was necessary to look outside of our chosen pantheon. Bilé wasn't, isn't and will never be promoted as an Irish god. In fact, one of the assignments in the new Keltrian Course of Further Study is to research old Irish mythology and present a better candidate. It's quite possible that another, more appropriate deity could be found in which case, the Council of Elders would consider making a change in Keltrian theology. This is not unprecedented. In the past, swift alterations have been made when newer sources indicated that previously accepted scholarship is proven to be in error. Rest assured, there certainly is no "unverified personal gnosis" involved. That said, any adaptations would become universal for all Keltrians.

However, one important aspect of our church's foundation must be taken into consideration before irrationally tossing Bilé out with the bathwater. Acknowledgment of the four phases of human life is an original Keltrian concept and the basis of our founders' choices of which matrons and patrons to celebrate. Bilé and his association with Beltane were selected to represent the unencumbered young man sowing his wild oats before assuming the responsibilities of fatherhood. Where in the old Irish mythology is the story that portrays Nuada Silver-hand in this light? Likewise, Aine is a finest-kind sun goddess, but is she a mother goddess? The English translation of "Tuatha dé Danann" is "tribe or people of Danu" so we often refer to ourselves as "the children of Danu." She cannot be arbitrarily replaced. Chapter 2 of the Book of Keltria addresses the importance of the four phases of life in Keltrian theology and Chapter 4 discusses whom we celebrate and why. No individual ever has the right to make unsupported, unilateral changes in Keltrian theology. If they do, then in my opinion, they are not practicing Keltrian Druidism and, therefore they are not Keltrian Druids.

The disposition of offerings can be a dilemma for urbanites and suburbanites who are unable to conduct rituals outdoors with a sacred fire. Fire is the force that transforms offerings into a state that our Gods and Goddesses can easily receive. When Tony and I led a Grove in suburban Atlanta, circumstances dictated that we hold our rituals indoors, so we collected offerings in a fresh paper bag and burned them later. If we were planning to attend a festival, we waited for that event. If not, we placed them in our backyard brazier after the Feast. The theological reason for burning offerings is important to us, but how important is it to Keltrian practice? I can't answer this question myself, so the subject is on the agenda for the next Council of Elders meeting.

Whether to use one or two chalices in ritual is another subject that the Council will debate. I have my reasons for using two – one for the matron and one for the patron. Although, I will say that if one chalice is used, it should be filled with spring water for its purity, not personal preference. Use a paten – especially when doing outdoor rituals - to assure that no winged protein commits suicide in what you plan to put in your mouth.

As I read "Breaking the Rules…," the phrase "Keltrian beliefs" caught my eye. The word "belief" appears in outdated Keltrian publications; however, the revamp of the old correspondence course provided an opportunity to review what was working in the Keltrian tradition and what was not. The Council of Elders dropped the term "belief" from Keltrian theology for several solid reasons. For one thing, "belief" as a condition of spiritual participation is a form of mind control. We do not dictate dogma and never have. There is also the consideration that relying on "belief" is often used as an excuse for not taking responsibility for choices of behavior and subsequent consequences. After lengthily considerations such as these, the Council of Elders substituted the word "hallmark" because it is defined as a principle or standard that describes a code of ethics rather than a list of what Keltrians should think – i.e. believe. Our hallmarks are calls to action rather than marching orders.

I also took a close look at two paragraphs that apparently are intended to support Jenne's argument for unilateral augmentation of Keltrian thought and practices. Her idea is that it's "appropriate" to reinterpret old Irish "lore/myths/scholarly materials" and make subsequent changes. When she points out that there is "great room for interpretation" of scholarly speculations and archeological finds. My mind immediately flashed to David Macaulay's book, Motel of the Mysteries. In USA, in the year 4022, a group of archeologists uncover a no-tell motel. They quickly determined that TVs were altars because there were bodies in front of them. They also determined that toothbrushes were ceremonial earrings, and a toilet seat was obviously part of a high priest's regalia and worn around the neck. Even bathtub plugs were meaningful artifacts. Sounds silly, doesn't it? It does to me, too.

Hallmark 9 describes our dedication to accepting new, proven scholarship even if it means changing core practices. In the end, and above all else, new knowledge is only adopted if it's sensible and enhances Keltrian Druidism. Only the Council of Elders can approve and implement alterations. Hallmark 9 also acknowledges that ancient, present and future Druids were, are and will be vastly different. Although, all three would have profound experiences when encountering a giant sequoia for the first time. Even so, how they describe their reactions would be very different. Jenne goes on to point out that religious practices change, which is also addressed by this Hallmark. A viable church must respond in relevant ways to the needs of its membership, and Keltria pledges to do this. Both the issues of scholarship and cultural/personal evolution are already covered by this Hallmark, and procedures are set in place to address them. I don't understand why Jenne mentions these subjects as if we have never considered them.

Jenne lists several "downsides" to practicing Keltrian Druidism although these impress me as simple excuses for not going "by the book." Quite frankly, I see little in her article that doesn't have a common-sense solution. Keltrian practices are adaptable in many ways to accommodate circumstance, location and health issues. In the case of alcoholism or being underage, as I mentioned before, spring water is the best substitution for mead. When practicing in a place where candles are banned due to safety concerns, battery operated ones are quite convincing when it comes to creating the ambiance necessary for a ritual frame of mind. Hand-sickles are available for under ten dollars in hardware stores. When it's not possible to use a sickle, such as in a public park, or for that matter any Keltrian rite, a hand cupped to form a sickle shape works just fine. The sickle is a hallow and cannot be replaced to perform Keltrian consecrations, nor can the branch. Our Keltrian in Singapore described the danger in procuring a fresh Sacrificial Branch for each Feast observance, so she picked up a fallen branch. Even so, she was nervous about making that a practice because it could be misconstrued by local authorities followed by dire consequences. When asked, we suggested that she decorate the branch she had with ribbons and trinkets appropriate for the season and re-use it. All it takes is a little creative thinking and transformative magick – another subject discussed in the Book of Keltria – to practice Keltrian Druidism. If no viable solution for an obstacle presents itself, email the Henge office and ask an Elder. We're always willing to look for an answer that is within the realm of Keltrian theology and practice.

I recognize that following the Keltrian tradition can be a challenge, but this is not a negative aspect. Jenne mentions the lack of land, but that isn't a downside - it's a reality of life for most of us. Outdoors is the gold standard, but not always an option. I'll wager that most of us conduct our rituals indoors for reasons that are beyond our control. For many Keltrians, a separate ritual room is a luxury. I've seen cupboards that function as altars when indoor space is at a premium. I've also had to move furniture to make enough room to hold rites, and then put it all back again. Most physical challenges can be accommodated when it comes to performing our rites. Although, when I consider the hypothetical celebrant with an incense allergy, I have no simple solution. I do have to ask, though, why would someone attend a church that considers the use of incense an integral part of their observances? Let's say this person decided to be a Catholic. Would she approach the priest and ask him to ban the use of incense? Probably not. Why then, hypothetically, would it be acceptable to leave it out of Keltrian practices? It's not. Incense is essential for receiving the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses of our tribe. Even if a celebrant performs a Keltrian ritual alone, incense burning must be a part of it otherwise it's not a Keltrian rite. There are solid theological reasons for every element of our observances and these are explained in the Book of Keltria. The bottom line is that if health issues or other circumstances prevent performance of our rituals, then Keltrian Druidism is not the right path to pursue.

A person who doesn't follow the Keltrian ritual format and/or whose behavior is in direct opposition to the Keltrian Hallmarks and bylaws is not practicing Keltrian Druidism. Twenty years ago, we were contacted by some people who wanted to join Keltria. We were pleased about that - it's rare to have an established group want to join; however, after further communication, we were told no, they didn't want to do Keltrian ritual. They already had their chosen deities and rituals. They just thought the name was really cool and wanted to use it. We respectfully turned down their request but admired their honesty. More recently, I accepted a student who was pushing hard for initiation. He swore up and down that he read our book, understood the contents, and no, he had no questions. That struck me as odd and I doubted his word when he seemed to be unaware of rudimentary Keltrian theology and practices. He also balked at taking our course because of the required work involved. Eventually, he admitted that he wanted to combine Keltrian Druidism with a Christian sect that was his first allegiance. I had no choice but to say no, and he evaporated.

Modification of the Keltrian ritual format is never "necessary." A "modified" ritual may not be "inferior" as Jenne points out, but it's certainly not Keltrian. Jenne's choice of a title for her article is……..unfortunate. The word "rules" is synonymous with "hallmarks," which are the core of Keltria's theology and practice. There are plenty of opportunities for creativity and self-expression within Keltria without "breaking the rules." The purpose of the Book of Keltria is to strengthen spiritual relationships with other Keltrians by sharing a common practice. Dismantling Keltria's core practices and hallmarks for convenience or personal preference effectively breaks the heart of Keltrian Druidism. If celebrants are encouraged to whimsically satisfy their sensitivities and sensibilities, eventually we will have nothing in common to keep our far-flung tribe together – the Henge of Keltria will cease to exist.

Jenne describes going "by the book" as another negative aspect of what we do and poses a question: "You've read the lore and continue to practice – and come to different conclusions than listed in the official texts. Are you still a Keltrian?" My response: No. Keltria fosters freethinking and provides a framework for self-exploration and growth. This is the essence of Hallmark 8. It never occurred to me that someone would take liberties with what we have carefully crafted over years of trial and error. If a person is not thriving within the Keltrian system, we have ordained clergy who will listen and offer suggestions. When members come to different conclusions after serious study, it's not "perfectly appropriate" to alter established theology and practices. It is appropriate to contact the Council of Elders and discuss why a change is warranted.

I filled out a registration form for a festival recently. One of the lines was this: Do you have any food allergies (NOT dislikes). This came to the forefront of my mind as I read Jenne's essay. Eliminating elements of the Keltrian ritual outline because they are inconvenient or making other changes for personal preference is not an option. Picking and choosing what is attractive in any spiritual practice and leaving out what isn't dilutes the tradition and dishonors it. The Henge of Keltria is a religious order, not an umbrella group for members to do what they will in Keltria's name. I fought very hard for that distinction.

Following the Keltrian path is meant to be spiritually fulfilling, not easy. If the Keltrian experience is found lacking, cutting and pasting deities and ritual elements to suit personal preferences is not the answer. We encourage our members to evolve spiritually and recognize the possibility that they may outgrow our practices and theology over time. So be it. I often say, "Let's walk the Keltrian path together as we honor, revere and celebrate our Triad. If the time of parting comes, let us do so in peace and as friends."

Breaking the rules, part 1: Modifying Keltrian practice

My Feast of Flowering altar to Boann and Nuada last year.

A confession of sorts: When many Keltrians honor Bilé at the Feast of Flowering, I instead welcome Nuada Silver-hand. Similarly, instead of Danu for the Feast of Fruiting, I honor Aine, the Sun Goddess. When I lived in an apartment, I didn't make my offerings to a sacred fire, instead leaving them at the foot of a designated tree after the rite. When I had a working study group, we didn't use mead and water, but opted for a single chalice of an agreed-upon beverage: New York apple cider (non-alcoholic). I've never had "patens" for my chalices, and admittedly have never been truly clear on what they are.

If you have read the Book of Ritual, you're probably smiling by now -- or frowning, if you consider yourself a strict traditionalist. The uninitiated (metaphorically speaking) may grouse: "Wait, you're the Vice President of the Henge. How come you get to break the rules?"

Naughty rule-breaker, including narrative rules

I've meant to write an essay on this topic -- perceived ritual rule-breaking -- for a long time, but never quite knew how to broach the topic. I couldn't come up with clear research other than the "unverified personal gnosis" (UPG) so dreaded in Reconstructionist circles, or a tidy introduction like I so often do in my academic articles on the Gods.

So, abandoning my usual literary reserve to the wind, I'm just going to hack at it, piece by piece.

By the book, the good and the bad

Altar - Keltrian Druid - Gathering 2012

Altar - Keltrian Druid - Gathering 2012

When you're just starting out on a path, there is a natural tendency to go "by the book," using it as a guide to all matters. In many cases, this is a positive development. Adhering to the suggested rituals -- the language, the progression of seasonal deities, the format -- year after year can help you impress Keltrian traditions upon heart and mind. You become part of the culture and its traditions, sharing the waters of the Well of Knowledge.

There are, however, downsides. For one, you might be physically unable to conduct the rites as suggested, due to a lack of land and resources, health considerations, and more. If you're practicing in a college dorm, candles are out. If you have allergies, burning incense might be off limits or practicing outside in an oak grove when the trees are pollinating. You might not be able to locate a sickle or even a sacrificial branch. (A Keltrian living in Singapore, where the cutting of trees is prohibited, has run into the latter problem.)

In short, strict adherence "to the book" would disqualify many people from Keltrian practice -- and that's not the intent at all.

"The Druidess", oil on canvas, by French painter Alexandre Cabanel (1823–1890)

In such cases, modifications to the ritual format are necessary. I would like to emphasize that a "modified" ritual is not an inferior ritual. It is not less-than, a poor substitute, the equivalent of No Frills versus name-brand. It is simply different.

There is another downside to going "by the book" that can pop up later in your spiritual development. You've read the lore and continue to practice -- and come to different conclusions than listed in the official texts. Are you still a Keltrian?

If your conclusion is that the Lebor Gabála Érenn is foretelling the arrival of the Great Spaghetti Monster, probably not. Keltrian beliefs and practices are centered on the Gods and Goddesses of the ancient Irish, so it's not appropriate to worship deities from other pantheons in the context of Keltrian ritual, although I'd like to point out that this doesn't mean you can't honor such gods outside of Keltrian ritual. (So, if you like to chant to Ganesha after your yoga practice, go for it.)

But if you're taking the same lore/myths/scholarly materials and interpreting it in a way that's supported by the lore (or myths or scholarly materials), that can be perfectly appropriate.

The fact is the Druids didn't write anything down, and much of what we "know" is sewn together from little scraps embedded in half-remembered myths, scholarly speculations based on related Indo-European cultures, and physical artifacts unearthed by archaeology. There is great room for interpretation. What's more, we can't follow these interpretations to the letter because we don't live in the same world as the ancient Celts, with animal sacrifices, a presumably hereditary priestly caste and sacred kings.

That's OK. Another pesky fact: Religious practices change. If Druidry existed in an unbroken line, what it would look like today would be far different from what it looked like when Julius Caesar came invading. Case in point: Hinduism derives from an unbroken Indo-European polytheistic tradition, and has changed dramatically over the past 3,000 years. Vaishnava Hindus today are vegetarians; 2,000 years ago, they sacrificed animals as part of their religious rites. (These traditions are preserved in their oldest texts, the Vedas.) Druidry would have adapted to the end of monarchies, democratization, urbanization and other realities, should they have developed on its watch.

This doesn't mean that "anything goes" when it comes to Druidic belief and practice, but it doesn't mean "my way or the highway" either.

Looking ahead

I hope to make this essay the first in a series on the issue, looking at how we can make Keltrian ritual more accessible -- and also more adaptable.

I would like to emphasize that these efforts are not a criticism of the Book of Ritual or other Keltrian texts. I love Keltria and I find value in it; I wouldn't have stuck around if I hadn't. If you consider yourself a by-the-book traditionalist, all the Gods' blessings upon you!

But these reflections are intended for those who are struggling with the "rules" and, consequently, their place in Keltria. I've been there, truly, and I say to you: Yes, you are welcome here. Even if you live in an apartment, can't do rituals with mead due to substance abuse issues, or question Bilé's interpretation as an Irish god.

Some of the topics I hope to write about (eventually) are:

  • The non-negotiables. What you really do have to abide by to be a Keltrian Druid.
  • Ritual adaptations due to health concerns, physical realities or personal philosophy
  • Choosing different Gods and Goddesses for seasonal rites (but still Irish, of course!)


No Maypole? No problem! Tips on celebrating the Feast of Flowering

A maypole in East Frisia, Germany, by Matthias Süßen - Own work

No doubt they rose up early to observe

The rite of May, and hearing our intent

Came here in grace our solemnity.

-- Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream

The great hinge of the year swings to Beltaine, the Feast of Flowering. The cows head to the summer pastures, driven between the smoke of two fires. Flowering branches are brought indoors, to spread the blessings of the green on all therein. Deft hands weave crowns and garlands of blossoms, ornamenting all for the rite.

At modern Pagan gatherings, Beltaine is commonly celebrated with the weaving dance of the Maypole – and the inevitable laughter when the ribbons tangle or someone heads in the wrong direction. Contrary to popular belief, Maypoles aren't an ancient Celtic tradition; they appear to be native to Germanic societies, although the concept of a sacred tree – bilé in Irish lore – is found in cultures worldwide. That doesn't mean, of course, that modern Druids can't have a Maypole in their rites; maypoles have certainly become an entrenched part of Beltaine traditions through the decades, and that's unlikely to end soon.

Flowers, of course, are a traditional part of May Day festivities, as are visiting holy wells. Beltaine, however, is primarily considered a fire festival; the name is often translated as the “fires of Bel” for the Gaulish Belenos or the Irish Bilé, although whether Bilé is a true God is subject to debate. The “fire” portion of the name – tine in modern Irish – is uncontested, however.

Why fire? Beltaine heralds the start of summer, as Samhain does winter in Celtic tradition; the flames are reminiscent of the waxing sun – and perhaps more importantly, the rising tide of life-force. While modern Pagans tend to think of Beltaine as “that sex festival,” it also has themes of purification and protection, as animals and their associated humans leave the bounded home of winter and venture out into the wider world. Fertility is, of course, part of the festival – as are tricks and spontaneous connections with spirits, especially the Sidhe. As with Samhain, the spirit-world is close and many Celtic tales are associated with this time of the year.

Photo by Cypresseyes

I've been Pagan and a Druid for quite some time, and have seen Beltaine celebrated in a wide range of ways. In that spirit, I offer the following thoughts for those who struggle to find a way to celebrate the season.

You don't have to do that sex thang.

Pagans in general are a fun-loving folk, and Beltaine can bring a gamut of randy jokes and flirtatious behavior. For individuals with trauma or pain associated with sexuality, this can become uncomfortable or even frightening. For those of us who lack an appreciation of juvenile humor or reserve our sexual impulses for significant others, a lot of common Beltaine “customs” can just be flat-out annoying.

I admit: I became discouraged by Beltaine as a young woman, when I literally had to hide in a horse stall during one ritual to avoid unwanted attention. (No, not exaggerating – sadly.)

Good news: You don't have to celebrate the holiday that way.

When I celebrate the Feast of Flowering, I honor Boann – Goddess of the river and wisdom – and her husband Nuada, the Sword-God and light of truth. I focus my celebration on the Earth itself, making and offering caudle – a type of porridge – to the land, and bannock with nine knobs to the critters, one species each knob. Most often, that latter is preventative in nature: “I give this to the carpenter ants, so they don't invade my house this upcoming year.” I also walk between the smoke (or at least the light, if I'm doing this indoors) of two fires and relight the hearth-candle for the season.

Key concepts: The awakening Earth and her creatures, light, fire, and the purification and protection offered by fire.

Alternative Maypoles

Let's face it: Maypoles are pretty impractical, even for those who want to celebrate the traditional fertility festival. Yes, there are instructions available on how to build and install one of PVC pipe for even the smallest of backyards, but not everyone is particularly handy with that sort of thing. If I tried to install a Maypole by myself or with a small group of grove mates, chances are that I would end up in the ER after doing something clumsy and Youtube-worthy.

Enter the Alternative Maypole! (Not to be confused with alternative facts; a pole and maying are actually involved.)

One year, White Cat Grove decorated its own interpretation of a Maypole: a seven-foot tall branch. Rather than dance around it, grove members decorated it with ribbons, feathers, beads and butterflies as the ritual act; we also decorated a wreath, which we then attached to the top to symbolize the union of male and female. Afterward, you can offer your creation to the Earth or the fire, or keep it around as a power-object. (I have the pole and wreath to this day in my ritual room.)

Key concepts: Male (something linear), female (something circular), ornamentation, joy.

Cloths tied to a tree near Madron Well in Cornwall. Photo by Jim Champion via Wikimedia Commons

The well-dressed well

Boann is, of course, a river goddess; Nuada is also associated with fresh water, as well as the light of truth and possibly clouds or the sky. Belenos/Bilé, the God most often associated with Beltaine in Keltria, is associated with bonfires as well as trees. With this in mind, you you can choose to focus your Beltaine ritual on the intersection of fire and water or, alternatively, tree and water, sky and water, etc.

Consider well-dressing: Decorate a watery place (springs are traditional, but a bowl of water would work just fine) with flowers, cloth strips known as clooties, even candles if you're working with a bowl. In this polluted age, the waters could use the extra blessings and energy.

Key concepts: April showers bring May flowers, the purity and protection of our water sources.

Do I have to do the May Queen thing?

Personally, I've never enjoyed the selection of May Queen and May King, although I understand the concept. There is a beauty of embodying community's energy for the year – which is how I've often seen this interpreted in Pagan groups – but there also is a weight of expectation to it. The Queen and King dyad can be especially problematic for groups with an unequal number of men and women, and the genderqueer also can feel left out.

Perhaps it's childish of me, but I admit there's also the current of “Crap, I never win anything” associated with it. (Fun fact: I won exactly one drawing-by-chance in my life. The prize: A potted daffodil. My luck ends there, at least when it comes to winning stuff. Needless to say, I don't bother playing the lottery.)

While we didn't have enough men – well, any – for the May King, White Cat Grove did select a May Queen one year with the traditional bean in the cake. The next time, we said “Screw it” and unanimously elected my cat Missy as the May Queen. She had a blast that year, greeting everyone at the door when they arrived and even walking between the two fires.

So, as with everything Beltaine, you can skip the whole May Day royalty bit if you want to.

Key concepts: If it doesn't work for you, screw it. (Not literally, unless it's consensual.)

Happy Maying, all!

Poem: Equinox

The blue has returned, a harbinger

of the next generation of robins,

the bold hydrangeas on the neighbor's bush


but that's all in the planning just now.

There is white snow and shreds of white cloud

the meltwater rushing over gravel


and everywhere a song: the wild laugh

of the woodpecker, the sigh of lovelorn

chickadees, the blackbirds' electric trill

Crocus by Jenne Micale

Sword, harp and singing bird: Aonghus Óg

Edain came out of Midhir’s hill, and lay

Beside young Aengus in his tower of glass,

Where time is drowned in odour-laden winds

And Druid moons, and murmuring of boughs,

And sleepy boughs, and boughs where apples made

Of opal and ruby and pale chrysolite

Awake unsleeping fires; and wove seven strings,

Sweet with all music, out of his long hair,

Because her hands had been made wild by love.

When Midhir’s wife had changed her to a fly,

He made a harp with Druid apple-wood

That she among her winds might know he wept;

And from that hour he has watched over none

But faithful lovers.

– William Butler Yeats, “The Harp of Aengus”

Amid the falling snow, the light lengthens; buds began to swell on the icicle-laden branch. The green force of life trickles and then flows in tandem, rising forth as winter’s cloak melts from the land.

It is at this time – the birth of spring and its slow swelling – that Keltrian Druids honor Aonghus Óg, the Young Son with the swan wings.


A painting of a Victorian era description of Áengus mac Óg, via Wikimedia Commons. Painter unknown.

His name has been variously spelled, and variously interpreted. Scholar and linguist Marie-Louise Sjoestedt interprets his name as “unique force,” while Celticist Mary Jones translates it as “Chosen One.” Writer Aedh Rua, drawing on other research, connects it to the old Celtic/Gaulish name Oinogustus, interpreted as “one choice” or, occasionally, “one strength.” His title is a bit more consistent: Mac Óg means “young son,” and Óg simply “young.” There are, however, variants: Mac ind Óg “son of the young/son of youth” and even Mac in Dá Óg, “son of the two young ones,” which perhaps refers to his parents, Boann and the Dagda (Sjoestedt 41-42).

He is associated with swans, which appear in a variety of myths, as well as four birds that continually circle his head, bringing joy and love (Rolleston 121). Some descriptions have him playing a harp of gold, drinking the ale of immortality and using his cloak of invisibility to protect chosen lovers (McKillop 138). In a larger sense, he appears to be the same god as the Welsh Mabon and Gaulish Maponos, the Divine Youth whom the Romans interpreted as Apollo. To draw on a wider range of Indo-European mythology, he has qualities in common with the Indian Kama, the Slavic Lado/Yarilo and the Norse Baldur.

But don’t let the swans and the flowers fool you; Aonghus is more than a winged Victorian Cupid figure. To use a Greek analogy, he’s equal parts Eros, Apollo and Hermes: the lover, the poet and the trickster. His is the primeval force that shatters the arbitrary chains of tradition — a bit like sex itself. Love may have swan wings and a harp, but he also carries a sword. And he’s not blind; in fact, he’s sharp-sighted and pretty darn smart.

A love that crosses boundaries 

Aonghus Og, from the 1914 book "Heroes of the Dawn," via Wikimedia Commons

Aonghus’ parents, “the Two Young Ones,” are the river-goddess Boann and father-god Dagda. There is a catch, however; Boann is already married to a god named either Elcmar or Nechtan, who may be the same as Nuada Airgetlám, the Tuatha de Danann god associated with rulership, justice, the sword and law. Associated with fresh water and a magic well that eventually transforms Boann into a river, Nechtan must be tricked the allow Aonghus Óg to be born; when the Dagda sends him off on an errand, the gods stop the passage of time to make a single day last nine months, allowing for the birth of the Young Son, who is then sent to his brother Midhir (“judge,” whom I interpret as the Celtic moon god) to raise. Upon his birth, his mother said, “’Young is the son who was begotten at break of day and born betwixt it and evening’” (Rees and Rees, 216), the origin of his title and also a hint of the god’s interesting relationship with time.

While Boann never leaves Nuada, it is perhaps telling that Aonghus is born of an affaire de coeur rather than a sanctioned partnership. He later helps his foster-father Midhir in his own matters of the heart, winning him the hand of lovely Etain (or Edain) via a series of impossible tasks with some help from dad – and conveniently ignoring the fact that Midhir is already married to the goddess Fuamnach. His brother and new wife live with him for a year, perhaps circumventing the rule in which the elder wife would be able to work her will on the new bride during the first days of partnership. When Fuamnach turns Etain into a jeweled insect, he provides Etain a home and protection in the form of a glass room. When the elder wife tricks Aonghus and Midhir away from Etain and blows the latter away with a Druidic wind, it is Aonghus who seeks vengeance, ultimately beheading Fuamnach in a rare act of violence (Heaney 25).

In short, propriety and social rules do not matter to the Young Son; throughout myth, he supports the path of the heart, no matter the cultural ramifications or consequences. He’s probably a great fan of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, although he’d likely give the titular couple more time together before the inevitable disaster.

He does meddle in human affairs of the heart, although in a protective role rather than the typical Cupid-armed-with-arrows image. His foster-son, Diarmuid of the Love-Spot, has the magical ability to inspire transgressive love, which he tries to curtail by keeping the infamous spot covered. He inevitably slips up and Grainne, new bride to his chief Finn, falls in love with him – although, dismayed by an arranged marriage to a man older than her father, she was admittedly on the lookout for a better opportunity. She forces Diarmuid to run away with her via a potion and a geis, over his protests. Interestingly, Aonghus seems to bless this love – spiriting the couple away in his cloak of invisibility over the heads of Finn and his men, giving Diarmuid advice on how to keep one step ahead of Finn, and later also spiriting away Grainne alone as Diarmuid fights on. As Diarmuid fights, he uses Aonghus’ sword, Manannan’s spear and a hefty dose of trickery to win the day.

Swan in snow. Photo by Jenne Micale

Love and Time

Aonghus has a complex relationship with time and its manipulation. As seen above, his birth comes after an alteration of time – an illusion that allows a day to last nine months. He is also heavily involved in the myth of Midhir and Etain, which involves the repeated transformations and ultimate reincarnation of the latter, who is continually gained and lost by her love, a cycle reminiscent of the waxing and waning moon.

He gains Brug na Boinne, his home, through the verbal manipulation of time-concepts. He asks the occupant at the time, the Dagda, to borrow the house for a day and a night. Feeling generous as Aonghus does not have a sídh mound of his own, his father grants the request. When he shows up the following day, Aonghus won’t hand over the house-keys. Irish, as it happens, has no article that differentiate “a day” from “day” itself. Or as the god explains it: “’It is clear,’ said the Mac Óc, ‘that night and day are the whole world, and it is that which has been given to me’” (Rees and Rees, 88). It’s a bit of trickery that would make the Greek Hermes proud.

From his conception, Aonghus alters the perception of time – although not time himself. He doesn’t stop the sun’s passage or count the years of Etain’s loss; other gods do that. Instead, he’s an illusionist, making us question the reality of what we see and experience and to look to the loopholes in the contract. In some senses, the Young Son stands outside of time, a perspective that influences the One Choice that must be made. These choices aren’t only limited to love; he advises his father, for example, to trick the ravenous Fomorian satirist Cridenbel by mixing gold coins in his food (Blamires 101), thus poisoning the Fomhoire and providing an alibi all at once. Standing outside of time and recognizing the limits of perception are, in essence, the key to cleverness.

Aonghus interacts with time in another way: by freeing the light and warmth of spring. According to a Scottish myth, the Cailleach – a goddess of winter – imprisons his sister Brighid in the mountain Beinn Nibheis, and Aonghus rides on a white horse to save her (Kondratiev, 152). The god associated with youth, poetry, love and springtime frees the fire-goddess, and together they bring the spring to the wintry land.

The fort of the yew-berry

While Aonghus plays a role in many myths, he’s the focal point of Aislinge Óenguso, the Vision of Aonghus. For a year, the god sees a beautiful woman in a vision or dream; she plays the lute or harp. He falls deeply in love with this vision-woman and begins to pine away, unable to rouse himself from his trance-state. Physicians call in his mother Boann, who searches the world for this woman to no avail. Then they call in his father, the Dagda, who has a rather comical, if pragmatic, response: “What is the use of talking to me? … I know no more than you do” (Celtic Miscellany, 94).

The Dagda, however, calls in another of his sons: Bodhbd (Bodb) Dearg, whose name means “Red Raven” and who is associated with arcane knowledge. Bodb’s search is successful and he finds the woman at Loch Bél Dragon, the Lake of the Dragon’s Mouth. Her name is Caer, a name that appears to be connected to the word cathair, which means a city or rocky fort; she is also called Ibormeith, or Yew Berry. Bodb takes his brother to the lake, where he recognizes the woman of his dreams – who wears a silver band around her neck, connected by gold chains to 150 other young women.

Unable presumably to catch her attention, Bodb refers Aonghus to the rulers of the land, the famous Maedhbh (Maeve) and Aillil, who summon Caer’s father, Ethal Anbhuail, to their hall. He refuses to come, and their forces – aided by the Dagda – overun Ethal’s sídh. Amid threats to his safety, Ethal tells them that he cannot give Caer to them, for she is a shapeshifter whose own power exceeds his own – and possibly that of Aonghus. After a little ungentle prodding, he admits to them how she may be approached: she changes shape each Samhain at the lake. Caer’s hand, as it turns out, cannot be won by either force or trickery.

Come Samhain, Aonghus goes to the lake, where he picks out Caer from 150 identical swans linked by silver chains. He simply calls to her, introduces himself and asks her consent to the match. She gives it, provided that he permit her return to the lake. He happily grants this and they fly off together in the shape of swans, singing the song that puts all into blissful slumber for three days. “The girl stayed with him after that,” the eighth century version of the tale ends (Celtic Miscellany, 97).

In some senses, the story is reminiscent of the Roman Cupid and Psyche, save that the roles are reversed; it is the god who must pursue the vision of his soul and win her hand. Force and flattery cannot win her, only the ability to choose the beloved correctly from others – a task that resurfaces in Midhir and Etain, except the king mistakenly chooses his own daughter rather his wife. After the choice is made, the beloved is asked her consent, which she gives in exchange for free will. Perhaps tellingly, she never leaves him – even though she has the right to leave and return to her lake at any time.

The Rees brothers compare this story to Indian tales of Gandharvas, or nature-spirits who appear as half-bird and half-man; their wives, the Apsaras, are water-nymphs (276). Kama, the Indian god of love with his flower-tipped arrows, “is also called ‘The Gandharva,’” they note (278); Aonghus turns into a swan alongside his bride, in essence, becoming a nature spirit. To take a larger view, shape-changing swan-maidens persist in folklore throughout the world, as part of a larger theme of animal brides.

The Fort of the Yew Berry is obviously something other, a boundary-crosser with great power, the last according to the admission of her father. Where, or what, is the City of the Yew Berry? James MacKillop provides this answer: “Her nickname Ibormeith (yew berry) implies something of the nature of her character. The long-living evergreen yew is commonly a symbol of immortality in European tradition and is still often seen in Christian cemeteries. Wood from the tree is hard to burn and was the favoured material in druids’ wands” (167). The City of the Yew Berry represents a kind of immortality, the numinous, shape-changing power of spirit that lies behind magic.

The story of Caer and Aonghus can be seen as the definition of ideal love: seeking, finding, asking consent and granting free-will. It can also be seen as the artist’s pursuit of the “Muse,” the creative spirit behind the work. (MacKillop, interestingly, sees Aonghus as a god of poetry rather than love.) It can also be interpreted as the sacred’s courtship of and relationship with the soul, who has her own free will and agency.

Restorer of the soul

On swan wings, we alight on another of Aonghus’ roles: the restorer of the soul. Caitlin Matthews considers Aonghus as a powerful “healer of souls” (283), and a primary guardian of the soul-shrine with his sister Brighid (328). In support of this, we may remember the songbirds (or swans, depending on the story) that circle his head, whose tunes inspire joy, love and release from depression. Aonghus and Caer also bring bliss and restful sleep to all those who hear them sing. In some tales, when his brother Midhir loses an eye breaking up a quarrel, Aonghus is the one who brings the physician Dian Cecht to restore him.

Matthews in particular cites Aonghus role in protecting Etain when she was in the shape of a fly, and thus vulnerable to Fuamnach, and his treatment of Diarmuid after his foster-son’s death. While Aonghus cannot restore him to human life, he brings him to the brug, where he breathes the spirit into him every day, allowing the two to converse for a while. Diarmuid experiences, in short, an eerie kind of half-life similar to that of the speaking head of Bran the Blessed in Welsh lore. To Matthews, “Aengus is concerned with the harmony which should be in the soul-shrine” (328), which perhaps explains his violent reaction to the repeated disharmony caused by Fuamnach.

As spring edges into fullness, allow your soul to listen to the song of Aonghus – his birds and his harp, his longing and his love. Like springtime itself, he is fresh and new – the “force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” as poet Dylan Thomas puts it. That force – chi, prana, spirit – is a powerful one binding us to the cosmos and its cycles as long as we live, and to art, love, music and visions. Aonghus Óg is a manifestation of this force, which is not limited to lovers or the young, but feeds all who drink from its sweet waters.


A Celtic Miscellany. Ed. and trans. Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson. New York: Penguin Books, 1951.

Blamires, Steve. The Irish Celtic Magical Tradition. Cheltanham, UK: Skylight Press, 1992, 2012

Heaney, Marie. Over Nine Waves: A Book of Irish Legends. London: Faber and Faber, 1994.

Jones, Mary. “Óengus mac ind- Óg.” Jones’ Celtic Encyclopedia. Accessed Dec. 29, 2015.

Kondratiev, Alexei. The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual. New York: Citadel Press, 2003.

MacKillop, James. Myths and Legends of the Celts. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.

Matthews, Caitlin and John. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Sourcebook.Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1994.

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley. Celtic Heritage: Ancient Tradition in Ireland and Wales. London: Thames and Hudson, 1961.

Rolleston, T.W. Celtic Myths and Legends. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1917.

Rua, Aedh. Celtic Flame: An Insider’s Guide to Irish Pagan Tradition. New York: iUniverse, Inc., 2008.

Sjoestedt, Marie-Louise. Celtic Gods and Heroes. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2000.

“The Wooing of Etain.” from Heroic Romances of Ireland Volume II, ed. and trans. A.H. Leahy. London: David Nut, 1906. Published on, Accessed Dec. 30, 2015.

Druidic symbol approved for VA gravestones

Circle Sanctuary's Lady Liberty League reports: "On January 9, 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) added the Awen to its list of emblems of belief authorized for inclusion on the gravestones and other memorial markers it issues to honor deceased veterans.   It is number 65 on the list:

The first VA headstone with the Awen is already in production and is for retired Air Force Captain Wayne Laliberte of Texas (1954-2013)."

Click here for the full article.

Imbolc greetings from the President

Photo by Cypresseyes

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this coming season of Imbolc, beginning February 1, reflects the first stirrings of returning warmth. We’ve already noticed the days getting longer and may be aware of the first stirrings of life around us. Similarly, the Henge of Keltria is also stirring into new life with changes in membership process, administrative structure and website emphasis.

At our most recent meeting, the Henge’s board of trustees has decided to move to a fee-free membership process. We have opted to put our emphasis not on organizational structure, but on spiritual practice. Thus, Keltrians will be known not by membership dues, but by adherence to the Keltrian Hallmarks and to ritual practice. (Doubtless there will be details to work through as we move forward, but our intent is clear.) While published material is provided to general subscribers, more individualized training and mentoring can be contracted, as well as possibilities for initiation, Grove participation, and service through the Board of Trustees and Council of Elders. Financial support through donations is always appreciated, of course. More changes are in the offing and will be laid out in the coming months.

Meanwhile, let us enjoy the blessings of this season, renew our practice of the Keltrian Hallmarks and remember the value of ritual practice as well. Our relationship with Nature Spirits, our Ancestors and Divinity, and with our Keltrian practices can be a safe harbor in a world of unpredictable storms.

Karl Schlotterbeck, President

Board of Trustees

Keltrian Druid Altars and Shrines

Altar, in the traditional sense, means a place of sacrifice. Keltrian Druids, like most modern religions, find the modern altar to be more of a ritual tool storage table than anything else. It is still a sacred place, and the objects on the altar are made sacred through consecration before being placed upon it. The tools used during the ritual are there, used when needed, then replaced.

Keltrian Druid altars may be as simple as a table with a couple of candles, a pair of vessels for Earth and water, and an incense burner. Other altars may hold many optional tools such as a candle snuffers. In either event, the altar holds the tools during the ritual. An altar is populated with sacred tools before the ritual begins. The tools are removed immediately following the ceremony and, once the tools are removed, the Keltrian altar is dismantled.

Shrines, on the other hand, are places that remain set up indefinitely. Typically, a shrine is a place dedicated to a specific entity of awe and respect where that entity may be venerated. The most common Keltrian Druid Shrines are dedicated to the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, or the Gods. They too can be simple or complex. I have neighbors who don’t know I am Pagan and have seen my Ancestor Shrine, which is a wall in my den with photos and some mementos of my ancestors on it. Nothing spooky, just photos and objects that remind me of my ancestors. I see the shrine every day and think of them. When people visit, I often point out each of my ancestors to the visitors and explain how they are related to me. My earliest ancestor image is a circa 1881 drawing of a 4th Great Grandfather.

pencil sharpener water pump

Water Pump reminder of my great-grandmother.

Objects you keep with your shrine may be directly related, that is to say something from the individual, or the object might be something that reminds you of something about the ancestor.  For example, on my Ancestor Shrine, I have a metal pencil sharpener in the shape of a hand water pump. In the early 1960s, my great-grandmother still had a hand pump in the kitchen drawing water from a shallow well.  Whenever I see the pump, I remember her and my helping by priming the pump and getting the morning water started. I think remembering her and the morning ritual helps keep me in touch with my great-grandma and my other ancestors.

Do you have a shrine? Is it a Keltrian Druid Shrine?  If so, who is it dedicated to; the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, or the Gods and Goddesses?

Below is a photo of an altar from a Keltrian Gathering. Please share a photo of your Keltrian Druid or personal altar, ritual table, or shrine. Tell us a bit about it and why the objects on it are important to you.

Walk with wisdom,
- Tony Taylor

Altar - Keltrian Druid - Gathering 2012

Keltrian Druid Altar (Gathering 2012)

  • Three cauldrons, for Ancestors (water), Gods (charcoal & incense), and one of Nature Spirits (earth).
  • Grove Candle and a God candle and a Goddess candle.
  • Two Chalices (one for water one for mead).
  • Sacrificial Branch and Sickle.
  • Bell Branch.
  • Shell for calling Manannán mac Lyr.
  • Offering Bowl.
  • Oil for blessing, mistletoe extract, and incense (also spare charcoal).