Divine Depiction: The Use of Icons for Prayer and Transformation
More than religious art, iconography is an entry point into divine presence.
The druid tradition is a path of nature-based spirituality that focuses on building connection with the living earth and honors the cycles and seasons of nature. In the druid tradition, a special emphasis is placed on the two solstices and two equinoxes. The fall equinox, or Alban Elfed, is a time of equal balance of day and night and serves as the gateway to what we call the dark half of the year (which is the time between the fall and spring equinoxes).
Because the druidic tradition honors diversity, there is not just one single druid fall ritual that all of us celebrate. Rather, druids generally work to connect to the living earth, offer gratitude, and practice balance at this time of year. Anyone who is interested in nature-based spirituality or connecting more deeply with nature can enjoy these fall equinox rituals.
An important part of Alban Elfed is demonstrating our gratitude to the living earth, from which our food, water, and shelter comes. Gratitude practices in druidry are wide-ranging and can include offerings such as homemade bread, homegrown herbs, fresh water, and even songs or dances. Druid fall rituals also involve acts of service as offerings, such as cleaning up litter at a park or planting trees.
One ritualized way to connect with the Earth is to offer gratitude with a nature mandala. A nature mandala is a simple, typically circular collection of leaves, sticks, stones, berries, nuts, and other foraged finds that are collected, organized meditatively, and left in a natural place.
To create your nature mandala, ground yourself in a natural location. Bring a basket to gather materials. Wander the area or take a hike, gathering materials from sticks and stones to flowers and shells, or anything else you see that speaks to you. Ensure that you’re not ripping plants from the ground or leaves from trees—gather only what has already fallen to the ground, and try not to disrupt the ecosystem.
Once you’ve gathered enough materials for your mandala, find a flat space you are drawn to such as a clearing, beach, large stone along a river, or patch of bare soil on the forest floor. Choose the center point of that space and mark it in some way (a unique stone, circle of leaves, or flower work well). Place your hands on the center and, using whatever words flow, share your gratitude and intention.
Then, construct your mandala outward from the center point. Mandalas are often designed by adding circles within circles, or other patterns that radiate out in symmetrical ways from the center. There is no right or wrong pattern to make. As you build your mandala, you may choose to hum, chant, sing, or play music. A common word to chant in the druid tradition is awen, which represents the flow of creativity from nature unto us.
Once your mandala is completed, sit with it and see what insights arise. To conclude the ritual, you may pull a card from an oracle or tarot deck to receive a message for the fall season. Consider returning to this place later in the fall or winter for other forms of ritual, observation, or connection.
Another practical fall druid ritual is a meditation in nature. Go into a natural area that allows you to interact with nature without being disturbed. Find a comfortable place to sit and take three deep breaths, letting yourself become fully present in the moment.
In a meditative state, connect with nature through each of your senses: What do you feel? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you see? What might you taste? What does your intuition say about this place?
Next, speak aloud or meditate on your intention to connect deeply with the living earth. Pause, and see what natural being draws you closer—a tree, flower, babbling brook, stone, squirrel, or maybe a wild goose flying overhead. Feel your body fading into the background and envision yourself as this natural being. What do you feel? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Experience this moment as that other being.
Then, expand your awareness to how this being exists in other seasons: How would it experience winter? Snow and cold? Rain? The passage of time through the wheel of the year? Take your time and fully experience this being’s perspective, noting any insights you have.
When you are finished, take another three deep breaths and return to your own body and the present moment. Meditate on this experience: What did you learn? How does this help you connect with nature? Finish by offering your gratitude to the being (using the mandala technique above or through some other offering). Ground yourself with food and drink after this experience, as this meditation can be quite moving and powerful.
One final sacred fall druid ritual is to reverently harvest and prepare a dish with wild foods as part of a ritual feast. In many parts of North America and Europe, the fall equinox is an excellent time for wild food foraging as many fruits, nuts, and berries are in season. Choose a wild food that is in season for you to find, harvest, and prepare. If you aren’t sure what is in season and what’s safe to gather, pick up a regional wild food guide for your area.
Seek out the food you want to harvest, understanding that the journey to find it is part of the ritual. Once you find and positively identify your wild food, spend time with the plant, observing and listening. Before you harvest, make sure you have permission from the plant to harvest (you can ask a simple yes/no and see what messages emerge intuitively, or use a pendulum). Consider making a gratitude mandala. Harvest only what you will need, leaving enough for other living creatures and taking care to not damage the plant.
Return home with your foraged food. Create a ritual space to honor the plant and the act of sacred cooking. Prepare your wild food in this sacred setting and enjoy the food as part of a druid fall ritual meal or feast, alone or as part of a larger celebration. Meditate on the experience, the unique flavor, and how this act of harvesting and preparing wild, local food offers a deep connection to the living earth.
Interested in more druid practices? Read Dana's article Druidry for Beginners.
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