Avebury 2nd Century BCE
For over 35 cycles of the sacred Sun, I have trained hard and long for this moment. Being in the position of Arch Druid, it is up to me to feel the pulse and direct the ceremony. The drums are pounding and I can feel the electricity of anticipation building in the air, as the sun sets to mark the beginning of Beltane. There is a bit of misty rain on this eve, the sixth of the moon; everything is aligning to fuel our needs in this ritual. The sparks of light slowly fill up the sanctuary, as torches are ignited from the great fire and participants group together. I am responsible for the coordination and timing of the event that will take place over the next several hours. I have to feel the flow of the energies, weaving currents of the various worlds through me, streaming this blend into the participants who have gathered here at this most auspicious time.
I feel clear and totally up for the event, as I orchestrate the connections with the nature spirits, the land, the standing stones and the powers of the great gods. The connection is starting to crystalize in me, as I feel the power first trickling and then gushing into me. The most important part of my training is to learn to feel how to get out of the way, and let the energies flow. The power of great god Mercury will help direct this process.
These are important times, as the crops have been failing for several years and we need to send the power of the gods into the grain and animals, blessed by the nature spirits and aligned Earth energies, so we can have a good crop this year. We have to perform a fertility rite. We are here in the sacred grove of oaks, next to the Sanctuary of Avebury. At this auspicious time we want to give our dues to the gods, in order for them to look kindly on us in this time of our greatest need.
I can feel the energies build with the anticipation of my high order of Druid priests. The torch light reflects off our white robes to almost a glow in the flickering golden light, as I begin the ascent of the mighty Oak Tree. It has been noticed for many moon cycles now that the gods have given us the gift of the healing power of the supreme elixir of mistletoe, on the Royal Oak here in the middle of the sacred grove. As I climb the sacred tree with my golden sickle and my ceremonial vessel, I am filled with the pounding rhythm of the drums that reach deep into my being. We are building more energy as all participants align with the rhythms of the drums. I have taken one moon cycle to prepare the vessel to catch and hold the holy mistletoe. Even with all my training and position of Arch Druid, I cannot touch the sacred mistletoe. In reverence to the gods, only the blade of the golden sickle can harvest it.
As I get into position, I raise my hands to the gods and all is instantly silent in the grove:
“From the power that has been given me, I humbly ask for our people the blessing of the gods. I speak to the great Mercury, as we can now see you. We are joined with the Seven Star Sisters (Pleiades) as they peak over the horizon.
“We are united with the Earth and Nature Spirits, on this beginning of Beltane in this holy of all sacred groves to ask for your gifts for our seeds, so we can feed the people, heal our sick and wounded. We do all of this so we can live another cycle to honor you in your exulted positions.
“With this golden sickle, that has be charged with the Sun energy of Apollo, we bring this cycle to a beginning, so we can be blessed with fertility in our crops, women and livestock.”
I cut out a third of the mistletoe and let it fall into the sacred vessel. This I lower down to a brother Druid, as the drums start up again. Once I am down, I take the vessel and hold it high as I start the long slow procession to the standing stones. My brothers lead two large white bulls, bound at the horns just behind me, as to the beat of the drums the procession slowly snakes its way to the great West Kennet Avenue of standing stones.
We, the men, have started to the south at the Sanctuary on Overton Hill, where the sacred grove of oak stands, moving one and a half miles (2.4 K) towards the Henge along the West Kennet Avenue of standing stones. This avenue is wide, and 10 people can easily walk shoulder to shoulder across its expanse. The Goddesses start at the entrance of the great Beckhampton Ave of standing stones, travelling a similar distance edging their procession toward the Henge. They carry with them the seed grains for our ceremony and eventual planting.
Coordination is important, as we have to meet in the middle in a synchronized manor. We both have to travel over relatively long distances to our destination and we are separated by some two miles (3.22K), but even more important the Silbury Hill is between us, so there is no direct visual contact. Signal fires on the hill help coordinate the movement of several hundreds of people.
As soon as we get to the entrance of the standing stones, you can feel the energy rising again. It is as if each pair of these giant sentries fills us with earth energy as we pass by them. There are 100 pairs of stones to pass through, some giants as tall as 13 feet (4 m), while other are only 4 feet (1.22 m). Our procession is walking pretty slowly and takes some time to make it to the other end of the avenue. As we approach the massive banks and ditch of the Henge, you can feel the pulse of the group ramp up again. These banks dwarf the standing stones, varying from 20 to 25 feet (6 – 7.6 m) tall, contrasted by the 30 feet (9 m)deep ditch. This gives a 50 – 55 feet (15 – 17 m) raise out of the earth to the top of the bank. Even though I have been here many times, the massive dimensions always awe me. There is an overall feeling of sacredness and protection here. We don’t know how, or even when, this massive construction was build, we just believe it is a gift from the gods to help us give honor to them. It is the Druid’s job to maintain it and keep it sacred.
The Goddess entourage and our group enter through the standing entrance stones to the Henge proper in the same step. The synchronization has worked. We Druids head in a sun-wise circle toward our left, just inside the outer ring of standing stones. The Goddesses go the opposite direction turning right and traveling moon-wise inside the outer circle of standing stones. When we meet, we intertwine, passing through each other’s entourage in a fluid crisscrossing synchronization, not even observing each other.
We, the Druids, break off from the outer circle of standing stones to circle around the outside of the northern inner circle around the cove, still moving in a sun-wise direction, until we have completed four cycles. The goddesses pare off to circumvent the outside of the southern inner circle, still maintaining a moon-wise direction.
After our fourth cycle we move off towards the southern inner circle. The Goddesses have now moved inside the southern inner circle and stand behind the Vulva Stone. My Druid brethren and me move inside the southern inner circle and line up behind the Obelisk Stone. We are all now in a deep trance, walking rhythmically to the drums, overwhelmed by the powers that flow through all of us. The air seems to ripple with the palpable feeling of the spirits.
I start the inner ceremony by bringing into the middle space between the two groups the sacred Mistletoe. Then four Druids move the two white bulls toward the centre of the space. Twelve goddesses bring the grain into the middle of the space.
I lift my hand into the air again and the drum stops – the silence can be tasted by our inner beings.
“By the power that flows through me, under the watchful eye of all of the spirit worlds, I hereby bless the bulls and order their sacrifice for our holy mission.”
As one of the bull attendants holds the half-drugged bull’s head to the side, the other slashes the two throats in synchronized fashion. As the bulls falls to the ground, vessels are put in place to collect the blood. As soon as a vessel is filled with bull’s blood, it is brought to me and I bless it, and stir some mistletoe into it with my golden dagger. I then move onto the next vessel, repeating the process. While I am doing this, the goddesses are separating twelve samples of the grains, putting them in small vessels in front of the larger grain vessels.
When I have finished with the blessing and mixing of the sacred mistletoe with the blessed bull’s blood, I take a small golden cup, dip it into the mixture and take out a small amount, move over to the grain samples and mix it with the grain, holding the vessel to the heavens, the four direction and the earth before returning it to its sitting place. All of this time I am chanting, almost under my breath, a continuous incantation that is known only by the highest order of Druids.
After this process is completed, two of the center goddesses approach the four bull attendants, and the remaining four approach me as Arch Druid. The goddesses anoint the Druids with blood, once on the forehead, on the temples, their arms, legs and genitals. The Druids then anoint the Goddesses with blood, again on the forehead, temples, arms and legs; then the lovemaking starts.
At this point all of the Goddesses in the larger group choose a Druid, Bard or other person and continue the fertility rites. The fertility rite goes on until dawn when everyone is exhausted.
“In closing we thank the gods and spirits for giving us a bountiful season ahead.”
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This fertility rite reflects the deep understanding the Druids had of the natural realms. It creates coherence in the grain, animals and people. We are just starting to understand the science behind these rituals. It is often stated that if something is two or three step ahead in science, it will appear to be magic to the people. In our next blog we will look into some of the reasons for the ‘magic’ of the ceremony.