The Three Kindreds

4 03 2014

The three Kindreds are the main objects of worship and honour in ADF. They are the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits and the Gods. The Gaelic reconstructionists refer to them as the “de ocus ande” – the gods and un-gods. We can enter into relationship with any of them through the principle of Ghosti, of sacrifice and a gift for a gift. Through prayer, the giving of offerings and the way we live our lives, we can honour them and show them respect.

Until a few years ago I wasn’t very interested in my ancestors. But since the death of a friend and my journey into paganism, they have become a very important part of my life and spiritual practice. With only one grandparent and my parents left, I have many direct ancestors to honour. In ADF the ancestors are associated with the Well because that is the gate to the underworld in which they dwell. They are also associated with the Sea. In Celtic mythology one of the dwelling places of the dead were islands over the western sea, while in Norse mythology, those who die at sea are thought to dwell under it in the halls of Aegir and Ran. The ancestors are also related to the concept of water because of the well of wisdom (Mimir). The ancestors represent the accumulation of many generations of wisdom and memory which one accesses through the sacred well. In terms of the Two Powers conception of the universe, the ancestors would be related to the Earth current – the dark, cool, embryonic power of the earth which is full of knowledge and potential.

The ancestors, also called the Mighty Dead in ADF, can be viewed in three distinct groups. The first are the ancestors of blood. These are our ancestors who are directly related to us through our blood e.g. family members who have passed away. The second are ancestors of spirit. These are people who have influenced our lives, whether people we knew or those who have had an important affect on our culture and helped to create the world we live in today. These can also include the ancient ancestors of our chosen hearth culture. Finally there are ancestors of place. These are the people who lived in and shaped the land on which we currently live – their bones and atoms are now in the very ground we walk on. I also think it is important to remember that science teaches us through evolution that our ancestry can be traced right back to a common ancestor and that we are therefore kin with all living beings in the world. In ADF the ancestors are considered to be able to hear the voice of the living, to value our offerings and to be able to guide and protect us.

There are many ways to honour our ancestors. For me, this takes three main forms. Firstly I have done research into my family tree to discover as much as I can about my ancestors. I have discovered that I have some Japanese ancestry and that one of my great great grandfathers was killed in the first world war. Secondly I maintain an area of my altar devoted to my ancestors and place several objects and pictures on it that remind me of them. Finally, I also call on them in ritual (especially on Samhain) and give them offerings of cider in order to show that I honour them. In Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Norse cultures, the ancestors could often be contacted by visiting their graves or sitting on their grave mounds so this year I would like to try and visit some of my ancestors graves which are quite far away from me and pay my respects. I would also like to do even more more research into my family tree and find out as many of their birthdays and death days so I can honour them on those days (which is something I already do for one of my friends who died). It is very important to remember our ancestors and teach others to do the same because one day, we too will be an ancestor. Also, they are often seen as the Kindred which is most interested in us and easiest to relate to because they have experience human life and are interested in their family lines.

In ADF the Nature Spirits are associated with the Tree, the middle-world and the land. They are called the Noble spirits who are seen as dwelling in and nurturing nature. They maintain the order of the worlds. They are our seen and unseen neighbours. In the Anglo Saxon and Norse cultures they are the land-wights, the elves and dwarves. In the Gaelic culture, they are the Sidhe, the fairies, the creatures who live in the mounds (perhaps descendents of the Tuatha De Danaan). They are viewed as otherworldly beings, disembodied spirits who can sometimes appear to people but usually only the very gifted can see them. Despite this, they interact with our world, Midgard, on a regular basis. They are usually associated with a particular eco-system or special place in nature e.g. Woodland-elves or spirit of a tree or rock. Like humans, they are viewed as having personalities and their own interests and goals. They are not there to do our bidding, but can be propitiated and asked for help if we have developed a relationship with them. They are wild and separate from us. Sometimes they can help us while at other times they can hinder or hurt us, especially if we have annoyed them. Anglo-Saxons talked of the Elf-shot which they believed was the cause of certain illnesses. Yet they also left offerings for the elves and drank toasts to them, showing the relationship between humans and nature spirits was not black and white. Brian Bates says they were viewed as “bright, beautiful and wise creatures” and they could be befriended. The realm of Alfheim was ruled by the god Frey or Ing. Davidson points out that people often paid more attention to them than the gods because they were seen as affecting many aspects of people’s daily lives, and this was especially true of the household elf.

For me, the nature spirits include all the living beings around us, and even the rocks and “inanimate” aspects of nature. As an animist, I believe that all things are “minded”, all things can experience in their own way. For me the trees, the flowers, the insects, the birds and the micro-organisms are all nature spirits and should be honoured. There are many ways to honour nature spirits but the best way is to get out in nature and learn about them. They are best contacted in wild and natural places. I have done this primarily by spending an hour in nature each week to observe and learn about it. Every time I do a ritual I give offerings to them, usually of seeds, in order to honour them and thank them for ways they support the world around me. Of course, the most important thing we can do is to find ways to look after the land immediately near us. One thing I would like to develop in future is my relationship with the household elf as well as finding offerings that would be suitable to take to natural places to provide for the land-spirits.

In ADF the Gods are referred to as the Shining Ones. They are associated with the fire, the Upper-world and the realm of the sky. They represent the order of the sky power. ADF, and paganism as a whole, is a polytheist religion which believes in and honours many different gods rather than the one god of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths. They are the most powerful spirits, the eldest and wisest beings in the universe, who are remembered for their love, help and power. They can be both male or female and in Celtic culture, they are often found in triple form. In Norse/ Anglo-Saxon mythology they are seen as the ancestors of humanity as Odin and his brothers created the first humans. Meanwhile in the Gaelic Celtic culture the gods are called the Tuatha De Danaan, the tribe of Dana. They are the first children of the Earth Mother. Most of the myths of these cultures tell the stories of gods and heroes. They are not seen as the god of one particular aspect, but have many interests and areas of expertise just as humans do. They are seen as distinct personalities. They have their own desires and goals, and while they can sometimes help humans, they are not seen as “spiritual cash machines.” They are not perfect but are capable of both vice and virtue. They are not immortal but are often renewed through magical feasts such as eating the apples of Idun.

I tend towards an atheistic or pantheistic view of the universe, and it is the universe or Mother Nature that is ultimately worthy of my respect and worship. However I do incorporate soft polytheism into my practice in that I believe that if there are gods, they would be manifestations of the one source – the cosmos. It is certainly easier to relate to nature by breaking it down into parts – the gods. It was this emphasis on honouring the earth that drew me to paganism in the first place, and I see the earth as sacred, which is why I love the fact that ADF honours the Earth Mother at the beginning and end of every ritual. Some of the best places to honour the gods with offerings are on hilltops, at rivers or in other unique natural features that command our respect. In ancient Celtic cultures, the main river of an area was associated with the land or sovereignty goddess and so it makes sense to honour and seek to connect with the Earth Mother at nearby water sources. In my personal practice, I seek to honour the gods by making offerings each time I do a ritual and by seeking to live my life according to the virtues.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Bates, Brian. The Real Middle Earth: Magic and Mystery in the Dark Ages. London: Pan Macmillan Ltd, 2003

Davidson, H. R Ellis, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin Books, 1964.