2. THE ALTAR TABLE
The following may be adjusted as practicality dictates due to the size and shape of your altar and tools. Other optional items may be placed where aesthetically pleasing. The altar cloth is traditionally Red but may be according to the practitioner's choice. Most Gwyddons place their altar in the North, but placement at any other or all cardinal point(s) is also practiced, South being the most common alternative placement. A chalice for the Waters of Life may be placed on the altar as well as God and Goddess objects or figures as desired.
WHY GWYDDONS SET THEIR ALTAR AS THEY DO
The pattern we use to set up a traditional Gwyddon altar has both practical as well as metaphysical roots.
The obvious practical advantage is the ease in which one may obtain and manipulate the individual elemental symbols. They're easy to reach and there are no singed robes or hands.
The metaphysical ones are a little more complex and only a fraction of that will be dealt with here. The elemental arrangement is the basis of this pattern in which we bring in the west with water (The Bowl of Annwyn) and form a semi-circle with earth (Bowl of Abred) and ending with air (Bowl of Gwynfyd). These then also correspond to the Celtic triad of Land, Sea and Sky. The transforming fire, placed above as the Clan candle, represents the power of our source, or rapport with our Clan, which includes the Ancestors - the Tylwyth Teg and Tuatha De Dannann. Thus our process is transformed and begins again in the Waters of Annwyn. This power is fed through the Gift of Manawyddan, the Opener of Worlds who empowers this Flame that brings all Worlds into One. Visual observations can bisect the altar so that the "god" side has the so-called "male" or power elements off air and fire, and the "goddess" side the "female", nurturing, elements of water and earth. Note that wine or Chalice of the Waters of Life, the symbol of love, sets to the left of this bisecting line. Out of the "goddess" side, the wand grows in the direction of its own transformation in fire; the laws of manifestation ever seeking change. In the same way, the sacrificial blade springs from the creative/destructive force of the "god" side: a hot force, pointedly seeking the cooling diffusing of the water force, fertilizing and creating anew from the Waters of Life.
Most traditions only deal with the manifest aspects of the elemental forces, but the Gwyddoniad provides a unique integration of manifest and unmanifest metaphysics. The wand and sacrificial blade point out the direction of the energy flow (wand is manifesting and the sacrificial blade is unmanifest) so that the elements depict the cycle pattern of life. As the wand arises in the west, the Water of Life creates anew from the unmanifested. The new seed, when fertilized, grows from the earth, fed in the enclosing womb until breaking forth into the air, thereby recognizing its existence - growing in understanding, wisdom and self-awareness. But the new seed seeks ever sunward and transforms in fiery death/rebirth - now following the sacrificial blade's path into the unmanifested realm. For the plant world, this transformation is the harvest fruit, the dying vegetation being reborn in the new seeds of life for the next cycle - awaiting the spark of life to be gifted from the unmanifest waters. For the Pine, our symbol of rebirth, spark means fire literally, as the Pine seed must actually pass through fire before it can germinate.
For the man and his magical creations, however, the path is not so simplified. The human "vegetable" simply physically dies rather than experience rebirth of the transformed spirit. Transformation sends him straight to the unmanifested as new life material later. But transformation of the spirit, or ego-self, may occur in those who seek it so that the being begins again the cycle of life from the watery unmanifested, but one step closer to godhood on the sacred spiral. It is within the grasp of all of us to do this many times before physical death. This is enlightenment.
It's the eve of one of the Full Moon or Solar Great Days, or the mistletoe rites. You're getting ready to go to the meeting at your College. What would be the traditional way to go about it? Well, it has been a long-standing tradition to take a ritual bath (or shower). This is not only to make your body clean, but it's a method to clear and clean out your emotional attachments, your energy levels, your auric fields, etc. There seems to be a dozen ways to go about this. Some use salt in their water; some use herbs; and some use herbal oils or a combination of all of the above.
So: Now you're bathed and feeling all new and fresh - full of positive thoughts and feelings. Well, next you'll need to get your ritual objects together. Generally, these are what you take:
And you may be asked to bring candles for certain meetings.
That takes care of the ritual objects. What else should a member take? One should take food or wine. A member should always contribute something to the Feast. And one should always take their offering, which can be as little as a dollar, depending on your group's customs. (This helps to offset the cost of candles, incense, etc.)
When the member reaches the door of the College, he/she will be met by one of the officers (most likely the Host or the Ard Gwidden), with the Greeting Cup. The officer will say: "Merry Meet and Merry Part!" and will kiss the member and offer the goblet to them. The member will take a drink and hand the goblet back and say, "Perfect Love and Perfect Peace!" Then they will enter. If, perchance, they've brought a serious visitor with them, they will be completely responsible for looking after that guest while they're there.
As for the guest: in general, our meetings are open, unless there is a specific reason why only the priesthood would be present. And, of course, they may participate in any social activities afterward. As far as attendance at ritual, that is subject to the needs of the group. However, a guest who has any intention of joining should not be allowed to attend an initiation. Initiations are deeply personal family affairs for the initiate and college. Guest attendance is not recommended during the group working portions. Usually during the full moons it takes the combined skills of all the Elders present to create the desired effect. This situation, however, is extraordinarily exceptional and rare. The only reason for barring guests, in that particular case only, is that a guest is a distraction and can disrupt the function of work and worship. This should not be considered the norm, however, in any group meeting.
Here are some important things to remember:
1. One should not be drunk or drugged before participating in any ritual. What one does afterwards during the social activities is completely up to them. The Greeting Cup is just for greeting! The Order does not encourage any member to engage in illegal activities, and these include in the name of religion. Insofar as drugs are concerned: whereas, historically, Gwyddons have made use of herbs that have mind altering effects, they are not for recreational use. Mind altering drugs are never used as part of the primary ritual; they are for sacred use only.
2. Social and personal conversations should not take place during any of the rituals. You have any other day to discuss what a nerd your brother is or how much you liked the movie "Star Wars" with your friends. Our meeting time is special. It needs to be treated as such. Here is the Temple we all come to so as to uplift ourselves.
3. During the Feast, which is a ritual feast, one toasts the Gods with love and rapport. Games of a ritual nature, god-stories, god-dreams, explanations of magic and metaphysics, play-ploys, the Truth game, examination of our Greater Book, and things of like nature are part of the very structure of the Ritual Feast. It is wise for everyone to give full attention to whoever may be expressing themselves. It is the duty of the Host to make sure that the rules and traditions are observed. There are good and wise reasons for those very old rules and traditions!
4. Gwyddons do not perform ritual sex as a prerequisite for worship. There are many Wiccan and pagan groups who do, but we are not one of them. This is not to say that we are prudes. Far from it! We simply do not feel the need to use our religious observances as an excuse for an orgy. If any persons feel the need to express themselves physically, it is their prerogative, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others or interfere with the needs of the college as a whole. Sex between consenting adults is a wonderful thing and a powerful magical tool. It also works best in pairs. In a group setting it can become - shall we say - distracting?!? If, however, all members of any group consent unanimously to explore the magical or worship aspects of group sex, we have no taboos in that regard, only cautions. A good bawdy joke or candid, earthy conversation can be very appropriate, however. As was said, Gwyddons aren't prudes.
5. It is wise and best that if a member finds that they cannot observe the rules and traditions, that they leave and find a place that is interested only in shallow thinking and endless partying. Let them go where they would be most happy.
If one is truly interested in learning magic and metaphysics, then the traditional structure of the Gwyddoniad is set up for that. If one only wants to party, without any responsibility for learning, then go elsewhere. There are a variety of groups like that.
Clan social affairs, which can occur on other days, or even following the meeting and ritual feast, are parties without equal! At that time, one can have the time of their lives, if they wish. It cannot be so hard to have self-control enough to wait a few hours or days. In reality, the more one puts oneself into the rituals, the more joy a party afterwards can be. Do it all with Wessel!!!