The Mistletoe Rite
by Karl Schlotterbeck
The mistletoe rite has special significance to Keltrians, partly because of the reverence our ancestors had for mistletoe itself, and partly because the Mistletoe Rite is probably the ritual we most celebrate and is also a point of contact with the public. In addition, the Mistletoe Rite represents and enactment of many Keltrian principles. Thus, it is important that anyone with an interest in Keltrian belief and practice, as well as members have as thorough and understanding of it as possible.
The ritual is explained in detail in the Book of Ritual. Nevertheless, because of the significance of this rite, we will examine some of the most important of its aspects.
The significance of the Mistletoe to the ancient Druids is certainly legendary, through its meaning, because nothing was written, is open to conjecture. Of course, there is the “historical” report about Druids cutting the mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it in a white cloth and making a sacrifice -- all on the “sixth night of the moon.” Since this would have meant in olden days that the fist night of the moon was the first visible crescent (the visible “new moon” as opposed to the astronomical misnomer of new moon which now refers to the conjunction of sun and moon during the “dark of the moon”). Thus, the sixth night of the moon would most likely have been about the first quarter, when the moon was half dark and half light as its cycle was moving toward increasing light (or waxing).
Modern writers have noted Mistletoe’s medicinal uses (which can be explored in most any herbal reference). Others have suggested that it had more symbolic significance since it did not seem to be rooted in the earth, seemed to appear out of nowhere and who’s berries were associated with fertility (though they are toxic). The fertility aspect of mistletoe survives to this day in our winter holiday tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.
Keltrians and the Mistletoe Rite
The focus in the Keltrian Mistletoe Rite is on healing and communion. Then, if we place these purposes within the context of Keltrian traditions, we will see more clearly the meaning of the elements as well as their order. In summary, during the Mistletoe Rite, we consecrate the space, open the veil, meditatively create our symbolic grove of tree-beings, and invite the presence of ancestors, nature spirits and gods and goddesses.
Since the Book of Ritual explains the specifics of each of the elements of the ritual, we will primarily concern ourselves here with the meaning of the various elements. Naturally, proper preparation of the ritual tools, controlling intrusions (like the ringing of a telephone) and selection of the ritual space itself are all part of the preparation. They are “setting the stage” for the celebration and the consensual use of the participants attention and energy for a common cause (healing and communion). When done properly, there will have been a gathering of people who create a timeless and boundless “space” into which is invited those of the Other World whom we revere for the purpose of sharing in feasting and fellowship.
In the Mistletoe Rite, celebrants gather to create a timeless and boundless “space” into which are invited past, present and future Druids, the assistance of Manannan Mac Lir, the ancestors, nature spirits and gods and goddesses for a sharing of healing energy as well as feasting. During that time, we have joined consciously with the Other World and those beings share in our world as we do in theirs. Thus, they partake in our songs and food.
The ritual itself is laid out in detail in the Book of Ritual. Some flexibility is certainly permissible in the ritual, however, since it is an organic living thing and its flow of energy may best be served in various ways at different times. Indeed, one may note a discrepancy between the Outline for Mistletoe Rite and the following text in the Book of Ritual. Be that as it may, there are some significant routines and changes should be made only after considering what the original part was intended to do and the spiritual/psychic effect of the change. First of all the veil is parted before the Triads are invoked. (We would not invite someone in without opening the door to ease their entry.)
The Mistletoe Rite begins with the Processional which includes anointing with the oil with blessings of mind, body and spirit. This act alone has several meanings. First, it acknowledges right in the beginning that we are of a triune nature, it honors the Celtic focus on the skull, it begins to bring us into a state of togetherness as well as the first benchmark that we are leaving the ordinary world. The tri-line is a connection with early mysteries since its origin is uncertain.
Marking Sacred Time and Space. Keltrian Druidism takes an approach different from most other traditions in terms of time and space. Many traditions create a circle to contain energy, to banish negative influences, to protect the activity or to otherwise set a boundary between the inner ritual space and the outer (profane) world. Keltrian tradition, however, “universalizes” sacred space. To do this, Druids, Bards and Seers of the past, present and future are invited to the place of the ritual (into the Otherworldly Tree), making all time now.
In addition, the powers and gifts of the directions are also invoked into the Otherworldly Tree to make all space here. In this way, the Otherworldly Tree becomes the focal point of all time and all space and is symbolically planted in the Hill of Usneach which was considered the ancient Druidic Center of Ireland.
Announcement of Rite. A simple announcement of the nature of the rite may be said, followed by an optional song.
Tree Meditation. The tree meditation is explained more fully in the Correspondence Course. It helps to move the consciousness of those gathered from their everyday worlds into the sacred space which has just been created.
Parting the Veil. Having brought ourselves into the sacred space, the designated Seer acts to part the veil which normally separates this world from the Otherworld. Generally, a sea shell is the ritual tool used to request of Manannan assistance in parting the veil between the worlds so that we may have more conscious communion. Manannan is considered guard of the veil and in mythology often helps humankind. The optional Manannan chant/song can be sung here.
Triad Invocations. With ourselves gathered at the center of time and space, and the veil between the worlds thinned, celebrants make specific invitations to the ancestors, spirits of nature and gods and goddesses -- in that order.
A bowl of water is presented and the ancestors invited to enter into it so we may have a physical medium to realize their presence. The celebrant who has invoked the ancestors then anoints the brow of all present with the water into which the ancestors have been called. Optionally, an ancestor chant or song may be sung here.
Similarly, nature spirits are invoked into the cauldron of earth which is then used to anoint the brow of each participant. Optionally, a nature spirit chant or song may be sung here.
In the same manner, one of the celebrants then invokes the gods and goddesses into the cauldron of burning incense who’s blessing is then disbursed by wafting the incense toward the brow of each person. Optionally, a gods and goddesses chant or song may be sung here.
In this way, with the ancestral waters, earth of the nature spirits and scent of the gods all on our brow, our physical selves are given a sense of real participation and connection with those of the Other world.
A note is due here about ritual protocol. Celebrants who invoke those from the Otherworld (Manannan, ancestors, nature spirits, gods and goddesses) are expected to exercise a respectful manner which we would give any visitor invited into our space: the speaker identifies her or himself -- using their given or magical name -- the way we would if we make a telephone call. After all, the beings invoked during the rite are not servants to do our bidding, but respected guests invited to share the evening with us. This process is more fully explained in the correspondence course invocation lesson.
Explanation of the Rite. Two celebrants (called D1 and D2 in the Book of Ritual) engage in a ritual dialogue which helps to further explain the purposes of the evening’s rite as commemoration of the ancient gathering of the mistletoe at the sixth night of the moon.
Consecration and Blessing. Three drops of mistletoe tincture are put into the two chalices which are then blessed with the sickle and branch and pronounced “the waters of health.” These chalices are then passed sunrise for all who wishes to do so to drink. Generally two chalices are prepared, one with mead and the other with water. Each is equally consecrated.
Feasting. First the drinks are gathered and, using the sickle and branch, a blessing is asked of the ancestors to help us grow in wisdom. In the same way, the food items are gathered together and, again using sickle and branch, the blessings of the nature spirits are asked to bring the celebrants sustenance. A plate and cup of libation offerings are prepared and then all eat as a community, sharing of each other’s bounty. Those of the Otherworld take this opportunity to share in our world’s pleasures as well.
As the celebrants feast, there is often much levity, sometimes songs, stories or poetry or, in more serious moments, theological discussions.
Closing. When deemed appropriate by the primary celebrants, an announcement is made that the closing is drawing near and it is time to bid farewell to those whom we have invited. In closing, all things are done in reverse order. Thus, the gods and goddesses are first thanked by the one who invited them. The nature spirits are thanked by the one who invited them. The ancestors are thanked by the one who invited them.
The one who invoked Manannan to part the veil once more steps forward, thanks him and asks that the veil be returned.
Participants are returned from their tree consciousness created by the tree meditation to human consciousness through a reversal of the tree meditation by the one who lead it in the beginning.
Finally comes the announcement of the closing which includes a statement that time and space will resume their normal course. This may be followed by a song.
The Ritual Process
Over all, one should be aware of the progression of actions within the ritual leading more and more deeply into that boundless, timeless space of gathering and Otherworld connection and, when finished, an orderly return to ordinary consciousness, having been refreshed and renewed through the communion with each other and those on the Other Side of the veil.
- Processional and Announcement
- Creation of sacred Time and Space
- Tree Meditation
- Parting the Veil
- Triad Invocations
- Consecration and Blessing
- Thanking the Triads
- Closing the veil
- Reversal of Tree Meditation
- Announcement of Closing