March 01, 2006

Druid Tools and Ritual Implements

Curved blade; sickle or scythe:
Pliny, a Roman historian, recorded a Druid ritual in which mistletoe was cut from an oak tree by a Druid in white robes, using a gold sickle. The mistletoe was to be caught in wicker baskets and not allowed to touch the ground. One must not assume (as apparently Pliny did) that all Druid rituals involve the use of mistletoe, scythes, and white robes; and what is more, gold is too soft a metal to be used as a cutting tool. In modern Druidism the curved blade has entered common use as a cutting implement, for harvesting particular plants and herbs at particular times of the year. Its cutting action in ritual is not so much one of taking down, but of releasing and freeing, as in "to cut free"; the energy freed by the cut plant is sent on to the Gods or blessed upon the assembly. Its shape is also reminiscent of the crescent moon.

Druid Rod:
Some legends show Druids using wands, staves, and rods to direct their energy when working magic, usually when cursing or shape changing. It was made from hazel and had to touch the thing that it was directed at.

Branch: This was traditionally a silver tree branch with gold bells attached to it. The sound of the bells is pleasing to the Gods and attracts their attention, while at the same time it is offensive to the ears of malevolent spirits who are thereby driven away. Many stories of heroic adventures begin with a goddess inviting the hero into her Otherworldly realm by giving him a branch of silver with bells, apple blossoms, or fruit growing on it. Modern Druids use the Bell Branch to make calls to spirits and deities, and to purify a person on a spiritual level, to announce the beginning and the ending of a ceremony.

Crane Bag
: The only mythological reference to this ritual object is of the Crane bag that belonged to Cumhall, father of Fionn Mac Cumhall, which Fionn had to recover when it was stolen. It contained many treasures from such deities as Manannan and Giobhniu, and would be full at high tide and empty at low tide. Its function appears to be similar to that filled by the medicine bundle of native north americans. The poet W.B.Yeats mentions a "bag of dreams" in his poem "Fergus and the Druid".

Two prominent Celtic deities have magical cauldrons, the Irish Dagda and the Welsh Cerridwen, both of these cauldrons possess the property of granting wisdom to any who drink from it. Archaeologists have uncovered several cauldrons and buckets that may have had ritual uses; this conclusion is based on how they are decorated. Modern Druids use cauldrons to make or distribute offerings.

Druid Egg:
The Druid's Egg is described mythologically as a small object formed from the dried spittle of serpents, and possessing magical healing qualities. Pliny (a Roman historian) said he was shown one of these by a Druid from Gaul, who told him it was called an "anguinum". The existence of eggs in Druidic mysticism causes some scholars (and new-age fiction authors) to believe that the Druid's creation-myth was the same as the Sumerian creation story, in which the world was hatched from a divine primordial egg. It is not a widespread tool in modern Druidism, although it is used by some as a ritual implement for "grounding", or, drawing unhealthy energy from a patient into the egg where it is supposed to be incubated and transformed ("hatched") into positive energy.

Animal and plant remains:
There is no doubt that ancient Druids used animal and plant remains for decorative, medicinal, and religious purposes. One ritual called the Tarb Feis requires the Druid to sleep under the skin of a freshly killed bull, so that the spirit of the bull can send prophetic dreams to the sleeper. Some Druids used colorful bird feathers in their cloaks to denote their rank. On continental Europe, Druids used mistletoe for its magical healing quality (ironic since mistletoe is poisonous!). The use of sacred plants in old European paganism was so strong that the Catholic Church forbade the presence of mistletoe and holly in its churches.

Musical instruments:
Musical instruments are, of course, constructed entirely from animal and plant remains. The myths make frequent reference to harps in particular, and the Celts may also have used drums, but with reference to old Celtic religion, these tools are in the domain of the Bard rather than the Druid. But just like the Bards themselves, musical instruments were certainly a part of public Druid ceremonies.

A ring of stones in the ground was the most probable "temple", or place where religious ceremonies took place. Many stone circles are named for Druids, such as Drombeg Circle in West Cork, Ireland, which is also known as the Druid's Altar. It is difficult to speculate if the ancient Druids attributed particular qualities to particular "species" or rock or crystal, but many modern Druids employ the correspondences of modern occultism and witchcraft to good ends. Stones could channel, store, and direct earth-energy, and thus were used for markers, set in circles, and libations were poured over them in sacrifice.

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