The Deiseal Ritual

Looking at the variety of ways the concept of the deiseal can be found in lore that has been preserved, it might be useful as a Scottish or Irish Reconstructionist to create a ‘generic’ sort of devotional ritual that can be performed either in a group or as a solitary practitioner. Conceivably, it could be performed on its own as and when it’s felt necessary or appropriate, or as an opener to more formal ritual celebrations (as and when).

While there are many different forms of rituals/devotions that involve the deiseal, or sunwise turn, in looking at them all, several common elements can be seen:

  • The use of fire – either as the focus around which the ritual is enacted, or as the ‘tool’ with which the ritual is performed.
  • The use of water/liquid – either in addition to the fire (e.g. Water that has been heated and then is sprinkled around), or on its own (e.g. In the case of the sop seile).
  • The importance of the number three – usually involving walking around the property, place or person three times.
  • Sharing of food or drink – in blessing or celebration of bounty, and/or as a means to clear the throat (in the case of the Juniper and Water Rite).
  • The blessing or Good Wish.

Taking these elements as a basis for a reconstructionist ritual, we might get something like the following. I’m not suggesting it’s historically accurate… more something to fill in a much needed gap for people who feel they don’t necessarily have the knowledge to construct something themselves, but want to start practising as they learn, that can be adapted to taste or practised until something more appropriate can be reconstructed.

This ritual assumes that some sort of altar or shrine has been set up, but in the absence of a more formal space, facing west would be appropriate since this is generally perceived to be the direction associated with the ancestors. Since many believe the Tuatha Dé Danann to be their progenitors, this direction would be the appropriate direction to face in that light, as well as to honour your more recent ancestors… However, traditionally the east is where prayers were begun, being the natural starting point when incorporating the course of the sun in practice since the east is where it rises. Either cardinal point would be appropriate to start with in this light, depending on your personal preference, although personally I would choose the east.

I admit my bias is towards Scottish practice, so that’s the cultural focus of the ritual (i.e. The Gaelic provided). The sentiment is the same for Scottish or Irish, but for those who focus on Irish culture might want to get Irish equivalents to the proverbs used, or simply stick to the English. Whatever you do, you’ll need a candle at least (indoors), or else a hearth or bonfire, to light. Conceivably, in this day and age, a lamp will do if a naked flame isn’t possible.

An deiseal (solitary)

“The Caledonians paid a superstitious reverence to the sun, and practically every religious festival began with the ceremony of walking thrice deiseil, that is, in a sunwise direction, round the circle, cairn, altar or bonfire that marked the site, the object of the rite being to aid the sun by virtue of mimetic magic.”1

This can be done as a devotional on its own, or as an opening to a larger ritual. It helps to have a focal point for your devotions, either a hearth, altar or specially prepared space to put your candle, offerings and libations on.

Begin with paying your respects to the ancestors, spirits of the place and the gods. Light the candle/fire saying something like:

“I light this flame in welcome:
For the gods and ungods, noble and honoured;
For the ancestors, beloved dead;
For the spirits of this place, peace be to you.”

Give an offering and a libation, a sign of your devotion, saying something like:

“Mar a bha,
Mar a tha,
Mar a bhitheas…

(As it was,
As it is,
As it shall be).2

A blessing of blessings
Upon all three.”

Taking a quaich or glass of milk (or whatever else) raise it before the gods, spirits and ancestors and take a drink. Make the sunwise turn and a Good Wish, going round three times, saying:

Gliocas beithir dhubh,
Gliocas fithich dhuibh,
Gliocas fiolar euchdaich.
Wisdom of serpent be yours,
Wisdom of raven be your,
Wisdom of valiant eagle.
Guth na h-eala dhuibh,
Guth na meala dhuibh,
Guth mhic na reula.
Voice of swan be yours,
Voice of honey be yours,
Voice of the son of the stars.
Tacar mara dhuibh,
Tacar talamh dhuibh,
Tacar nèimhe.
Bounty of sea be yours,
Bounty of land be yours,
Bounty of skies.3

Some quiet contemplation and meditation can follow before finishing with some words of thanks and a final offering. Alternatively, a saining of the space can also be performed (a protective warding, performed especially on the Quarter Days, usually with water or the smoke from burning juniper), before feasting and further ritual, or whatever you feel is appropriate.


References

1 F. Marian McNeill, The Silver Bough Volume 1, 1957, p53-54. Brief note: My original intent for putting this together was to give a ritual that would give a good framework for devotional work. As such, the wording I used was somewhat derivative from other sources, and I hoped that it would provide a springboard for me to put things into my own words (and the same for anyone else who wanted to use it). I’ve updated the ritual now according to how I’ve developed it in my own practices since I first put it together a few years ago. Mostly I’ve put it more in my own words, though I’ve kept a few bits inspired by the Carmina Gadelica because I still feel these work well. The focus of the Good Wish has changed as it seemed more natural to give it to those being addressed, than bestow it on oneself.
2 Taken from song ‘Fragment’, number 216 found in volume 2 of Carmina Gadelica. I have to admit strong inspiration from Patricia Kennealy-Morrison’s Keltiad series for her use of it as well…
3 Liberally adapted from song 288, Good Wish, in volume 3 of Carmina Gadelica.