This is a huge topic and I could easily have spent many more words on it. As it is, this is 499 words (minimum 300).
Describe the concepts of the Center and the Gates in ADF’s Standard Liturgical Outline.
In Our Druidry, we consider that the cosmos is divided into multiple planes, or worlds. The exact number and nature of these worlds is not strictly defined. Specifics are generally considered the domains of individual hearth cultures. For instance, many conceive of a tri-partition of worlds; an underworld, an upper world, and a middle world, whereas those who follow a Germanic hearth culture consider there to be a nine-fold partition. Even amongst followers of particular hearth cultures there is certainly room for a plethora of opinions; those of Celtic ancestry may argue, as an example, about whether the ‘Land’, ‘Sea’, and ‘Sky’ are respectively associated with any of the under, middle, or upper worlds, or whether they are sub-divisions of one or more of the worlds.
The various worlds are also usually considered to be inhabited by one of the Kindred. The most common perception seems to put the Ancestors in the underworld, the Spirits of the Land within the middle world, and the Gods/Goddesses within the upper world. Again, however, there is plenty of room for cultural-based deviations from the norm with extra consideration given to where Titans, or Giants, and Firbolgs might end up, for instance. Regardless, the relatively uncontested fact is that Our Druidry teaches that there are multiple worlds and multiple Kindred.
Amidst this chaos of worlds of denizens comes the notion of the Centre, the axis mundi. The idea of the Centre is that there is something that runs through and connects all of the worlds. Derived primarily from the works of Mircea Eliade, this is not concept which is specific to Indo-European speaking cultures, although there are definitely some examples in Indo-European language myth, the most typically referenced being the Germanic Yggdrasil. What is particular important to us is that, as Eliade tells us, in ritual any particular manifestation of the type of object which is the Centre can become the actual Centre (18). Thus, a branch of an ash tree can become Yggdrasil and a rock can become the Omphalos.
Once the Centre has been re-created, the Sacred Centre becomes the meeting point of the various worlds (Eliade, 12). With the worlds in close proximity it becomes much easier to open gates for communications and even passage between them. As with the Centre, the origin of the Gates is not specifically Indo-European, having been adopted primarily from Voudoun ritual practice (Newberg). In Our Druidry we usually consider consider there to be three gates, associated with the three hallows (Well, Fire, and Tree) which open portals from the Sacred Centre to the three worlds. Again, however, practices can vary. Most often, a Gatekeeper is called upon to assist in the opening of the gates; usually a messenger or psychopomp deity or other god or spirit who is considered to dwell at least partially in our world (and is therefore more accessible to us). Standing in the Sacred Centre with the Gates, we may invoke the Kindred, offer sacrifice, and divine the omens.