Monday, December 19, 2011

Yule Be Surprised

Paradoxically, the holidays have knocked us off-kilter a bit and we've fallen off the trail in our studies. We have a plan for getting back to regular reading and writing after New Year's though.

We went to the Yule ritual at CedarLight Grove. It was a cold night and the whole experience was a little uncomfortable physically, but otherwise a good time of renewal.

We honored the Norse deities, and it felt unexpectedly familiar, and Lynda found it especially fulfilling. I had read some about Asatru before rejoining ADF, and I appreciated seeing some sense of what it means to honor the Norse in practice. We "sacrificed" a straw goat in lieu of a real one, and one of the clergy sprinkled red wine around the circle in lieu of goat's blood.

The evening also marked a change of officers at the grove, with a new senior druid taking over. I am new enough to not really have any way to know what to expect in terms of how that may change things, but ready to wait and see.

For all of you, Happy Yule, Merry Christmas, Good Solstice.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I Spoke Too Soon

The intention I expressed in my last post has proven to be easier said than done. At this point, I'm planning to go to the Yule ritual at CedarLight Grove and probably leave off most other ADF study until the new year.

I'm a little disappointed at that, but I do have to prioritize. The kindred will understand, I hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Well ..

My resolution hasn't gone so well so far. but the out of town company returned home yesterday. So now, regroup.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Falling behind

We had company for about 10 days into this week, and more coming for the holiday week. All of that is good, but I feel like I'm losing track of my efforts to learn new things as my routines get disrupted.

I want to finish the Dedicant program in the one-year minimum time, and that's going to require staying on top of the study and practice. And I seriously do want to learn some new skills related to homesteading -- home brewing and vegetable-growing to start.

My goal is that each day I will:

1. Do something related to Druidry -- meditation, a devotional ritual, writing an ADF assignment or reading something related, at a minimum.

2. Do something related to new skills -- if not actually doing something physical, then reading an article or part of a book.

I know myself well enough to know that if I don't make it part of the day's rhythm, it's all too possible that I'll wake up one day and realize it's been six months since I last did.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fire and Ice

The moon rite fizzled.


We celebrated the Druid moon this week, using a ritual drawn from Michael Dangler's Crane Breviary. It was an intercalary moon (when the Druid moon occurs twice in the same month, like a blue moon), and the ritual Dangler proposes for that is intended to reconstitute the cosmos -- to resynchronize of the lunar and solar cycles.

Part of it involves pouring a few inches of alcohol into a pot, mixing some ice in and setting it alight. The idea is, the alcohol burns, the ice melts and steams and it symbolizes the creation of the world from fire and ice. (It also possibly symbolizes Michael Dangler's latent pyromania, but I'm just speculating here.)

Anyway, it didn't work. I read the words and, at the proper time, dropped a lit match into the cauldron and stood back. And then another. And another. And another. And nothing ever happened.

We completed the rite as best we could, settling for the effort rather than the result. The omens were good.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Load Off

Something's been bothering me for a while. I first joined ADF in early 2008. I started on the Dedicant Program and went to one high rite (Imbolc), but then I drifted out of it. I went to an Episcopal church for a few months, and then started at the UU congregation I'm still part of -- and I never really did anything about that first oath I'd sworn at the start. I just dropped out without any real acknowledgment or formal ceremony to be released from it.

So since I've started back, it's been nagging at me that the Kindred might have reason to be aggrived with me about that. Tonight, with the help of Lynda and the Druidcraft tarot, I sought an answer.

With her guidance, I asked, "Do I need to do anything to make amends for falling short on keeping that oath?" Then a I drew a three-card spread. If all three are upright, the answer is "yes." If all three are reversed, then it's "no." Two one way and one the other would be a "yes, but.. " or "no, but.." response. And then the specific cards offer some insight on the reasons for the answer.

The answer as three cards reversed, all major arcana... an emphatic NO, I don't owe any amends. As for why ... the Wheel reversed shows the time wasn't right when I took the first oath. The Fferylt (Temperance in most decks) reversed suggested that things were not coming together right for me at that time. And the World reversed showed I didn't have enough enlightenment at the time to fully know what I was doing.

It's really a relief, and the specific cards do speak well to the reality of the times.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sea Change

We've been taking part in a class -- a discussion group, really -- at our UU church about our spiritual biographies. Essentially, the participants write essays on the role of religion and spirituality in their lives at different stages - childhood, adolesence, adulthood -- and then read and talk about them.

I noticed in mine that I spent a lot of years dealing with the intellectual aspects of faith and religion. For a very long time, my primary concern about any religious claim was whether it could be shown, objectively, to be true or at least, probable. I spent a lot of my time as a Christian reading apologetics, more to convince myself than anyone else.

Over the past few years, though, I've adopted a more universalist approach to religion, with less concern about the objective truth of faith claims and more attention paid to how different beliefs inspire people to act and treat one another.

As I move deeper into ADF study, I'm finding a great deal of value in the ritual side of it. The forms of Christianity I grew up were more concerned with the intellectual side than the ritual, and so I was trained to think of religious observance as something to think about rather than something to do. (I know there are forms of Christianity much more about the "smells and bells," but that's not where I was.)

Unitarian Universalism is also a highly intellectualized religion, and that's ok by me because I do appreciate that. But I'm finding paganism to be fulfilling in a different way. ADF emphasizes the intellectual side in individual study, but the group observances are about ritual and everyone taking part in a ceremony set aside to share the presence of the gods.

I'm not sure I would have been comfortable with that 15 or 20 years ago. But these days, it feels just right.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shut Up, Brain

ADF's focus on regular mental discipline through meditation and trance is, I can see right now, going to be the most challenging part of the Dedicant path.

This morning I tried a simple mental stillness meditation. I began with counted breaths -- 4 beats in, 4 beats hold, 4 beats out, 4 beats hold, repeat -- and focused my attention on relaxation, from feet to head. Then I tried to simply count and exclude all other thoughts.

I was struck by how noisy my brain is. The thoughts fought back hard, and for every one I managed to quell by forcing my mind to attend to counting, two more it seemed would well up to take its place.

Finally, after what seemed like a long time, I managed a few breath cycles with no other thoughts intruding. Immediately upon noticing that, of course, I started thinking about how I had briefly managed to stop the thoughts.

Eventually I ended the practice. The total time was about 10 minutes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

I'm going to start here with what sounds like a series of complaints or excuses - not because I think they 'excuse' anything, but because they are illustrative of the sort of resistance I found myself dealing with when it came to beginning the practice of consciously spending time outdoors in a natural setting.

Following Rev. Michael J. Dangler's suggested year long course of study (The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year), this should be week three of this... and instead, things just stalled while I thought, "I need to do this... I really should go do this..."

But you see... there was rain. A lot of it.  And sitting in the rain is just never going to be something that sounds appealing enough to do on purpose.

And then there was the Rheumatoid Arthritis issues.  They tend to come right along with the rain, because I am one of those legendary human barometers - I can tell you how much it's raining by how much I feel like the Tin Woodsman of Oz, pre-oil can.  So sitting in the rain while creaking sounded really unappealing.  I didn't want to much commune with anything other than a warm cup of something, a blanket and book.

But finally - and it took me an embarrassingly long time to really sort this one out, it was the way Dangler's homework assignment is worded.  His suggestion is to spend an hour outside, simply communing with nature, noticing what is going on... nice, eh?  Yes, it sounds very nice - except that I am not coming from a place of being practiced at sitting for an hour doing anything at all without a lot of multi-tasking happening.

And I know, I know, trust me - if you can't sit an hour and be quiet, that's a good sign that you need to develop a habit of sitting quietly for an hour without self-distraction.  But like any good practice, you build up to an hour, not try to start there.

So Michael and I went back to the actual Dedicant's material and while regular time in nature is an important part of this, there is no actual requirement to start out by sitting still for an hour.

That took all the pressure off and unblocked me.

Today - still creaky, but willing, I took advantage of a beautiful sunny Autumn day to go along with Michael and Sadie the Beagle to one of their regular walking places, Ft. Foote, a couple miles from the house.  This was a Civil War area fort, one of several put up to protect Washington DC, and most of the man-made structures are gone now, leaving a lovely wooded area with a foot trail that is mostly easy for me to walk on, before it dips down into a somewhat challenging hike around some exposed roots, past a watery bog and coming out at the shore of the Potomac River.  The whole stretch is maybe  mile, and it was enough to be a good physical challenge for me without being too much for me to handle.

Near the shore, I found a fallen log the right height to offer a seat, and settled down to rest before we did the walk back, while Michael and Sadie walked along the shoreline for a bit.  Where I sat, the early afternoon sun was able to reach through the trees and keep me warm, and for awhile, I sat, eyes closed, just listening - bird song, various insect drones, frequent crackling sounds as seeds fell out of the trees.  Punctuating these quiet sounds was the all too frequent roar of airplane traffic heading to or from National Airport across the river, but other than that, the sounds were small and subtle. 

A good breeze blew through once, and suddenly it was raining leaves, which fell in loops and whorls and skittering across the path.  I did not see any animals though I tried - we have abundant deer and squirrels in our yard, but here in the woods, they were more shy about being seen.

When Michael and Sadie came back from their extended walk, we made our way back toward where we'd park.  There is a section we passed through where the trail runs along the tree line on one side, and on the other side there is a shallow open meadow that leads to a high outcropping that overlooks the Potomac.  Here it was sunny and golden, and standing still it was possible to see dozens of dragonflies skittering along on top of the tall grass.  As we paused to watch, a deer with a huge uplifted white tail pranced across the meadow and into the trees.

I very much liked the whole area - it made me sad, though, that nearly every sign of human presence was a negative one... the loud roar of airplanes, the trash - while there were plenty of trashcans available, they were filled to the brim, so funds are not allowing trash pick up as frequently as needed, and that doesn't seem to stop people from piling it up around the cans, rather than taking it with them for disposal.  Looking out at the Potomac, there were lots of sailboats (getting in a last good sail before the weather turns completely), and yachts, and the Wilson Bridge linking Maryland and Virginia, and we were almost directly across from Alexandria.

I hope to be able to take this walk a few more times before icy weather makes it too unsafe for me.  And now that we've broken the ice on this whole 'commune with nature' thing (I even made it for over an hour!), I will be able to spend more time outside in our own back yard.  I'm just not going to worry so much about how long I do it each time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In the Presence of the Arch Druid (ooooo)

This weekend we hosted John Michael Greer in our home. I had arranged for him to give a presentation at my UU church, and a local metaphysical book store had piggybacked a book signing event onto it. So we picked him up at the Amtrak station on Saturday, had a full day of events, then a late dinner and conversation at home before retiring, then more talk and a visit to the George Washington Masonic Memorial before I took him back to catch the train home.

John Michael is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, which represents a very different kind of Druidry than ADF. He's also a consummate polymath, the author of books on the occult, on Druidry, on energy and economics, and on a variety of paranormal topics such as Atlantis and UFOs. His latest is Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus and the Rapture Is Wrong
, which takes a lighthearted look at failed end-of-the-world predictions.

We found him to be warm, friendly and -- as his writing suggests -- fiercely intelligent and opinionated. He was once a member of ADF, but left a year or two after he took over the leadership of AODA, largely because he lacked the time to do right by both organizations. But I also sense he doesn't care much for some things about ADF, which is too bad. I am a member of ADF and probably will join AODA at some point, because I see some value in both approaches. I hope there's not true bad blood between the leaders.

In any case, we parted on warmly good terms with mutual invitations for future visits, and I am quite sure we'll see him again. I look forward to that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

By The Light of the Moon

We conducted a solitary lunar rite on the night of the Druid Moon, which fell on Tuesday. According to the Crane Breviary by Michael Dangler, October is the month to honor Ogimos (or Ogma), the creator of the Ogham alphabet and the god known for eloquence. "Silver-tongued," he is called.

We created a makeshift altar in the back yard, next to cherry tree that I planted some years ago. We used the rite in Dangler's book largely unchanged, alternating reading the sections. Our offerings were grain (brown rice) for the Earth Mother, beer for Ogimos and milk mixed with honey for the other kindreds.

By and large the ritual went well. We were a little self-conscious, being in full view of several neighbors' houses, but it was relatively late and no one seemed to be out. Eventually we'd like to create a more permanent altar space out there, with rocks piled up to make a platform, and possibly a dug-out pond to serve as a well. For now, though, a card table serves the purpose adequately.

Overall, I believe we're making good progress considering we're still early into the study. I've begun reading one of the required books, and we have a few weeks to work on nature awareness and the beginning of mental traing before the next trip to CedarLight, for Samhain.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mabon at Cedarlight

Our visit to Cedarlight Grove was not only my first Druid style High Day ritual - it was very close to my first public neopagan ritual of any sort.  While I've identified as pagan for several years now, I've always been solitary and, for the most part, closeted.  So, I was both highly curious and excited, and a little bit intimidated and shy about going.  I had very little idea of what to expect, or how welcome strangers would be.

I needn't have worried, though - when we arrived, bearing stuffed grape leaves as our contribution to the pot luck, we were greeted warmly by several people, helpfully shown where important things like the bathroom and kitchen were, and otherwise made to feel as if we were welcome and a part of things.

Cedarlight Grove occupies a suburban plot in Baltimore - there is a wooded grove of mature trees in the back yard, and the house is warm and inviting, with a variety of themed altars scattered around, along with multiple seating areas both inside and out.

Not too long after we arrived, Crystal, Cedarlight's Senior Druid, rounded everyone up for pre-ritual briefing, which I found to be incredibly helpful - the order of the ritual was gone over, with everyone confirming who would be doing what, as well as explanations of what each portion was about.  Chants and songs that would be used were gone over, so that we had an opportunity to practice them ahead of time, and warnings about the terrain and environment outside in the Grove were given.  By the end of the briefing, I felt much more confident and comfortable, with only some bit of uncertainty about the protocol for offering sacrifices - and that proved to be the only portion of the ritual itself that had me confused, as I'll explain.

We walked outside, and over a small footbridge where we were able to purify ourselves with sage that was burning in a small cast iron cauldron. We walked beyond and found seats arranged in a circle around a central tree flanked by a fire pit to the left and an inground pond surrounded by rocks and plants on the right - this arrangement created the Fire-Tree-Water Cosmos favored by ADF.

In front of the tree was an altar with a variety of objects and offerings on it, and behind us, outside the circle of chairs, was another smallish table loaded with various sacrificial offerings people have brought in.  We laid the jar of milk and trio of incense sticks we'd brought on this second table, and waited for the ritual to begin.

Until now I'd only read the ADF style rituals and, frankly, had had a difficult time mentally turning away from the four elements and circle style ritual - but as soon as this began, it all made complete and coherent sense to me.

One part I was really not sure about was handling the Outdwellers - rather than creating a circle that encloses the ritual within protective space, ADF handles spirits and beings that don't belong at the ritual, or who might disrupt it, by giving them offerings of food and ale and shiny things, placing it outside the grove in order to keep them busy.  I found this part to be one of the most meaningful portions of the celebration - we were asked to think about those things that were distracting us today, whether it be bad moods, or mishaps, or whatever - and what came to my mind was my RA, which often makes sitting uncomfortable and hard to ignore, and the mosquitoes, which were driving me slighly crazy.  With great fanfare, one of the men carried a plate full of goodies and a bottle of ale outside the ritual space, and then snuck back in quietly - both amusing and visually compelling.  Now, it may be that the rest of the ritual was simply so interesting that I forgot my little aches and stings, but the simple truth is that however it happened, I was pain free and the bites on my ankles that had been making me nuts stopped itching at all until the next morning.

So... I am sold on that way of handling things.

There were call and response style praise prayers, attention paid to the Gatekeeper (Epona), to the Ancestors, the Nature spirits, and the Shining Ones.  The god and goddess there as special patrons were of the Gaulish pantheon - and I am not (yet) very familiar with either one: Teutates, which if I understood properly, handles order and ritual, and Nementona, goddess of the grove, so an Earth Goddess.

At multiple points, we were encouraged to bring up our offerings to each of these, and this is where it got confusing, as I think we offered ours at the wrong point.  Actually, I think we didn't bring nearly enough, and we'll make sure to not make that mistake again.  I am not sure if this was our own ignorance at fault or if it could have been explained more, but that was the only real confusion I felt.

At a certain point, 'praise offerings' were also made, with people playing an instrument, or dancing, or singing, or simply speaking, as an offering to the gods.  An omen was drawn to ask if the offerings had been accepted, and we were told they wanted more singing - so we all sang a few chants and songs, and were told the offerings had been accepted.

An omen was then drawn with a message about letting go of conflict and the need for healing, and by then it was full dark, and very peaceful.

When the ritual was over, we headed inside to share in the pot luck - and I was very happy to notice that there wasn't a quick bustle to get home.  People ate, talked, laughed a lot and everywhere on the lot, inside and outside, there were clusters of people sharing time together.  To me, that is the primary sign of a good healthy group.

I'm looking so forward to going back again for Samhain - hopefully a little better armed with knowledge, now that the initial shyness of entering a new group is passed.  And this time, we're bringing along an interested friend from our UU congregation.  All in all, this was a very happy experience that stayed with me over the next couple of days.

An interesting thing on that - the next morning, we went to church at Davies.  UUs use a flaming chalice for their religious symbol and as I was sitting there waiting for things to start I noticed something intriguing.  At that back of our altar space, there is a large, vibrantly colored painting of the World Tree, leaves falling like yods, birds nestling in the branches, roots burrowing down into the earth.  To the left was our flaming chalice.  And to the right - a bowl of water ringed with pebbles - our "Joys and Sorrows Pond", where people can share their joys and sorrows with the congregation and leave a pebble in the pond.  The three artifacts created the same Fire-Tree-Water Cosmos we'd experienced the night before.  I took that as a blessing and confirmation that this is the right path for right now.

Before I end this I want to talk about one thing about the Mabon ritual I wasn't very comfortable with, and I'm still working out how I feel about it - there is much call and response, "Huzzah!" and "Hail the Gods!" - and that part was great, lots of energy.  But that same bluntness was used when making requests of the gods, inviting them to join, etc, and each time I had a minor flinching reaction.  I don't use that sort of demanding tone - "Hear us! Bless us!" - to people I love... I am not sure why I'd want to use that tone with deities or spirits that I respect enough to want to talk to.  This is something I need an explanation for - or to work it out somehow.  But meanwhile, each time, I winced and mumbled 'please?'

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mabon 2011 -- First Ritual

This entry chronicles my first ADF ritual, only it wasn't actually the first. I attended Imbolc 2008 at CedarLight Grove in Baltimore, but then I got sidetracked and didn't keep up with my study or go back. Until now.

CedarLight drew a large group for the Autumn equinox, Mabon. They held the rite on Saturday, Sept. 24, starting at 6:30, about a half-hour before full dark. The grove's Senior Druid Crystal G led the ritual, assisted by several other members.

The ritual took place outdoors, and the grove is based in a small house in the middle of a residential neighborhood, so there were some occasional distractions -- barking dogs, voices in neighboring yards or the street -- but nothing that disrupted the flow of events. There was a bonfire, a well permanently installed in the ground, and a living ash tree, forming a triangle with the altar space inside the triangle. The deities invoked for this rite were from the Gaulish pantheon: Teutates, Nementona and Epona as the gatekeeper. I've been studying some on the Irish and Welsh deities, but the Gaulish pantheon is mostly unknown to me.

The ritual began with a responsive reading, followed by an opening prayer and honoring of the Earth, a statement of purpose and the formal establishing of the recreation of the cosmos. A chant for the group ended that opening section. Then a member stood to recite a bit of the lore of the season and another placed an offering well away from the group for the outsiders.

My companion and I noticed that mosquito activity went down remarkably after the outsiders were placated. The rest of the ritual unfolded according to the ADF core order of ritual, and everything went smoothly.

The theme of the ritual was thanksgiving -- for the bounty of the second harvest and, by extension, for jobs, homes and other blessings. A good number of people offered words of gratitude and offerings in appreciation.

That did bring up the one point of confusion for me as a newcomer. I had brought an offering of milk for Epona, and precisely when to offer it was unclear. People stepped up to the altar to place offerings during the invocation of Teutates, and then people came with individual offerings one at a time for the aforementioned offerings of praises. I put the milk there during the invocation, as that's what I saw others doing, and then I wasn't sure that had been the right time. But it was a simple matter of watching and learning -- I'll know better next time how to plan for offerings.

The woman who read the oracle was using her own system, with coins depicting kinds of horses (including unicorns.) The message she relayed to us was that this is a time to let go of things, to heal, and specifically to let go of ongoing conflicts with family members.

As this was the first ADF ritual I have attended in quite a long time, it was almost like the very first. What impressed me the most about it was the structure and flow of the order. When you read the Core Order on the page, it's hard to envision it in reality. When you experience it, it becomes clear that it forms the structure of a serious religious service that is part of a living tradition. I do think I'm fortunate to have an active and apparently thriving grove nearby though, as I'm not sure I would have had that kind of experience had I tried to do it alone or with my partner , especially lacking any experience in doing so.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

The Autumn Equinox occurs this year on Friday, September 23rd, at 5:05 am EDT, for those that like to be astronomically precise.  I grew up thinking of Equinoxes and Solstices being on the 21st, and according to the ADF Dedicant literature, those are the 'official' dates for them, as well.  Rather like observing Martin Luther King Day on a Monday rather than actually on his birthday.

Meanwhile, we'll actually be observing it on Saturday, the 24th, because when it comes to public rituals, weekends work out much better because fewer people will be working and unable to attend.

So... happy Mabon, Harvest Feast, First Day of Autumn, Autumn Equinox, or however you call it and whenever this week you observe it.

Cooler day and chilly nights have been heralding its arrival here for the past couple of weeks.  Lots of rain and overcast skies giving way to brilliant crisp blue, and brightly colored leaves keep appearing on the ground even though there is just a tiny bit of color appearing in the trees so far.  I'm starting to speculate how I might give my little collection of potted herbs a fair chance of survival once the cold sets in and I have to provide sun and a bit of fresh air from inside the house - I am no good at houseplants, but I've noticed that the ones that live get a little bit of breeze on a regular basis.

In my private, simple manner of observing the Autumn Equinox, it has always seemed to me to be a very domestic turn of season - we begin to put away the summer clothes, and bring out a few sweaters and heavier pieces.  Meals shift from salads and grilled items designed to keep the house from overheating to soups and stews that simmer slowly, warming the house and filling the air with comforting odors that suggest that all is well.

I want to decorate - laying out dried corn and pumpkins and gourds and acorns.  I want to find a hook on which to hang my apple wreath from the front door.

Mabon for me is firstly about FOOD.  It is a harvest feast - a bountiful time celebrating the ripeness of crops tended with care and now ready to eat, and to store away for winter.  It's a time when the temperature is cool enough to can for later eating and sharing.  So much of our decor right now is the food itself, as well as other plant based icons, from acorns and leaves, to corn husk dolls and scarecrows, along with the crows themselves, which will take pre-eminence shortly, once the harvest is all in.

It is also about COLOR - fiery reds and golds and yellows and browns, as if the green of summer must go up in flame before dying out in the winter.  All this color helps us keep warm as the days go blustery and make it sheer pleasure to walk, kicking leaves, and pulling sweaters close around us like a hug.

There are some myths associated with this time of year - the one I am most familiar with is that of Ceres and Persephone, and the earth mother's grief and outrage at the loss of her daughter to Hades causing her to stop growing, plunging the world into death and cold, mirroring her daughter's ascent into the land of the dead, only to find all these plants not dead, but merely dormant, just as Persephone rises to life again in the spring.

But  I have a hard time seeing all this blaze of color and scent and ripeness as any sort of grief when it seems like such an extravagant reveling of abundance, so I think of that story coming a bit later, as the last leaves have fallen from the trees and the last vegetables brought in from the garden, leaving barren stalks and stems.

I very much hope Autumn stays with us a long time this year. 

I'm looking forward to this weekend's Grove celebration, and while I've read sample rituals, I've not yet mentally turned my mind toward ADF style rituals and away from generically Wiccan-styled patterns.  I am most looking forward to simply experiencing it rather than reading about it, as I think that is what it's going to take for me to instinctively 'get' it.

They're having a potluck after, and I'll be making Stuffed Grape Leaves - rather than strictly Greek style, I decided to follow this recipe, which uses dried fruits and nuts as well as rice, making it all a nice homage to Autumn. Yum!

Newbies in the Grove

This Saturday we plan to travel to Baltimore (about an hour's drive) to take part in the Autumn Equinox observance at CedarLight Grove. I attended one ritual there a few years ago, but then dropped off the ADF path. It'll be Lynda's first time.

The Autumn Equinox has marked the start of my favorite time of year for many years. I love the Autumn, when the heat of summer has broken and the deep cold of winter not yet come. The smells and colors of nature are especially intense, and the touches of chill in the air are reminders of the cycles of nature. Granted the start of every new season is marked by changes in temperature and colors, but there's something intangible that's different about Autumn.

We're looking forward to meeting the people at the grove. We had a rune reading this weekend at Sacred Circle, and one of the aspects the reader saw was the coming of a new social circle into our lives. We're guessing this is it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My 1st Oath and Challenges

This was a challenging milestone for me - I have advanced rheumatoid arthritis, and since the week before Hurricane Irene, I've been flaring.  That means not only a lot of pain and immobility, but exhaustion, 'brain fog', and a growing sense of discouragement.

And that is why we were a day late - I was not ready, and the very idea of pushing to get ready made me want to find a deep hole to hide in.

But, a few extra hours to get myself in a better frame of mind made a big difference.  A little debrief on our ritual - it was simple, intentionally, but I do think we needed to plan better and even though it's just the two of us, it needs to be handled as a group ritual in the sense that we need to clearly know who is doing what.  There was a bit of fumbling, things that didn't quite come together, but in spite of all that, it felt meaningful and a good start!  Next month, we'll do better.

My oath, modified from the suggested ADF First Oath:

I, born Lynda F.. E........, before my partner and beloved Michael and those Gods and Goddesses, spirits of hearth and place, and my ancestors in blood and belief willing to act as witnesses, vow to devote the next year to examining and expressing my Pagan life as a seeker of the Old Ways and a worshiper of the Elder Gods and Goddesses.

With this holy oath, I set my foot upon the Druid's Way.

I vow to do my duty to society, my kin, friends and community by seeking virtue in my daily life. 

I vow to do my duty to the Gods and Goddesses and the spirits of hearth and place by regularly keeping the rites and works that call to me.

I vow to do my duty to myself by deepening my understanding of the Druid Way though study, contemplation and discipline, that I might fill my mind with the truth of the Elder Paths.

After the ritual, we shared some homemade mead and locally grown pear slices, and left a share - along with some milk and honeycomb - as an offering.  Just as we finished and put out the candles, the full moon broke through the circle of trees overhead into a small patch of clear sky and lit everything up for a moment before moving onward.

Our next step will be to prepare for Mabon - the Autumn Equinox.  We plan to celebrate with a public grove in Baltimore and I'm very excited about that!  We're fortunate to have a grove near enough to experience group rituals, which will help us get a feel for this.

One Day Late

Our first oaths were delayed by a day because we weren't prepared on the 12th. But on the 13th, we began our evening with a meal and tarot reading in honor of the full moon. Then, around midnight, we went outside and set up a makeshift altar on a card table and held a brief ritual. This was more elaborate than ADF requires for the first oaths, but we'd already decided to hold a small rite for each full moon, and the timing worked out well for combining the two.

We each read our oaths, and then we offered milk and honey to the gods and land spirits. Then we shared mead and a pear in honor of the harvest moon.

The text of my oath:

I, Michael, pledge to devote myself to the study of Druidry, to the keeping of its ways and to devotion to the Powers. With this holy oath, I set my foot upon the path and vow to pursue virtue,piety and study.

I vow to seek virtue in my life, to do right by my family, my friends and my community.

I vow to honor the ancestors, land spirits and elder gods, and to listen for them to speak to me.

I vow to pursue knowledge and understanding, through reading, study and interaction with those further along the road.

These things I swear to the gods, with my partner Lynda as my witness. So be it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Oath

The First Oath

The first oath is not a public one, nor is it meant to be a final commitment to anything beyond the study required for the Dedicant path. The Dedicant pledges to pursue the three core values of ADF Druidy: Virtue, piety and study. ADF offers a sample one which is fine, but I want to try to personalize mine some.

I've been working on writing my own for a couple of days, and this morning got it done. We're planning to speak these on Monday, Sept. 12, under the full moon. I will post the text after it's said.

This is the first really formal step on this path, the moment of commitment. It's exciting.

Over at our other blog, A Weed By The Wall, I've been writing a series called "My Pagan Soul." I'm trying to trace my spiritual evolution, from my upbringing as a Methodist, through periods of agnosticism alternating with efforts to return to the church, to finally having to admit that pagan ideas resonate with me much more than do Christian ones. Shaking that early formation is not easy (somehow, backing away from Christianity into agnosticism feels like much less of a discontinuity than turning from Christianity to paganism), and it's taken me a few years of wrestling to get to this point.

But I am here now and this oath will be my moment of embracing it fully.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rain Magic

Fire Lyte over at Inciting a Riot is putting out a communal call to all - witchy, prayers, senders of positive energy - to come together on Saturday to do some work on behalf of the draughts in Texas.  He's attached a rain spell of his own to the post for those who do not already have their own preferred methods.

Texas could sure use some water right now.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why the Dedicant's Path?

We're using Rev. Michael Dangler's study guide to help put some structure around the ADF Dedicant manual. For the first week, after some introductory reading, he wants us to ponder some questions.   Sunday night, we sat in the backyard grilling some corn and chicken for dinner and had a conversation about these.

1. Why have you chosen to take the first steps on the Dedicant path?

M. I've been interested in Druidry for a while now, and even had joined ADF once before, in 2008, though I didn't get very far with it at the time. The reason I want to begin again is that I want a systematic approach to delving into a religious practice. As a UU, I get a good religious community and exposure to a breadth of theological opinions. From ADF, I hope for less breadth and more depth. I think the two together may be a good fit.

L.  Honestly, I've always been a bit leery about joining anything - so something is definitely altering for me this year when I've joined (happily) both our local UU congregation and ADF as a year long commitment to the Dedicant's path.  I can't deny that having someone on the path with me helps me make that choice, but I also am feeling an increased desire to develop an actual religious practice.  Oddly, the Adult Religious Education ("Sunday School") class we've been taking this summer really motivated me to look for some sort of concrete religious practice, so UU and ADF are playing nicely together so far.

2. Is this a step on your path or will it become the path itself?

M. Hard to say. I'm not sure I fully understand the question. But tentatively I will say it is a step.

L.  I am deliberately saying "I don't know yet."  I see one of the goals of this path being to answer this question.  But I also don't think it's a step OR the path but more the terrain and scenery that surrounds the path we're already on, if that makes any sense.

3. What do you expect to learn?

M. On the surface, the answer is obvious: I expect to learn the theory and practice of ADF Druidry. But in addition to that, I expect to learn how it feels to walk a pagan path for a long period, something I've not done before.

L. I've regarded myself as pagan for several years now, but without ever solidly trying to define what that means to me.  I expect to have some committed time to read mindfully a few books I might otherwise have not chosen at a purely recreational level, and to learn better discipline about actually carrying out acts of piety, and also more about the Druid variety of neo-pagan thinking, which I think will provide some good balance with the more Wiccan-style paganism that is most commonly available.

4. What would you like to get out of this journey?

M. A sense of whether or not this is a path I want to continue growing within.

L.  I agree - you'd mentioned regarding it as an exploratory study, and I think that's the way I see it too.  I expect to gain  some solid grounding in understanding and practice, and again, discipline in a religious practice - even if at the end of this I decide Druidry is not for me, I want to take that much away with me, and that makes it entirely worth the time spent!

5. Do you know where this path will take you?
M. Not at all. Which is part of the intrigue.

L. Nope, me neither - and again, deliberately leaving that an open question, but I'm eager to see where it leads!

6. If you have just joined ADF, why have you chosen to work on this immediately?

M. As I said above, this is both new and three years delayed. But as I have just rejoined, I'll say because it's the structured study that most appeals to me. Why would I delay?

L. For me, the ability to enter into this course of study is why I chose to join ADF. 

7. Does it look hard or easy? Which requirements look hard and which look easy?

M. It looks challenging. It is a lot of new ways of thinking to settle into, along with a significant amount of reading. But it doesn't look overwhelming.

L. Challenging, for sure - challenging to my internal procrastinator, and I welcome that challenge.  The material looks like it provides enough 'stretch' to come out at the other end having grown quite a bit, but not so hard it feels like a painful slog.  The harder parts for me are where it gets into actually writing ritual... I never had, and the idea is intimidating, so I look forward to pushing myself there.  There will also be some challenge around holiday times, where we are likely to have a lot of visiting family members that make make it difficult to stick to any path other than keeping the dishes washed.  But we're accounting for that and will just add time as needed to make up for busy periods.

8. Do you have doubts, concerns or questions that you need to ask about?

M: About the program itself, no. About whether it will ultimately prove to be the path I stay with, sure, but since I'm just on the front doorstep at this point, that's to be expected.

L.  My only real concern was (I am less concerned after looking over the material than I was even a week ago) whether or not this is a separate path than what I've been on, and if I'd be needing to set aside understandings that are important to me for the duration - I tend to be Goddess centered.  But what I'm seeing here is that Druidry offers plenty of room for that, while giving fair time to the Gods as well, and I look forward to acquainting myself to that aspect of deity.

I'm sure we'll have plenty of questions as we go, though.

The Cauldron Born

... We call to the powers of Earth, Sea and Sky,
Of Dragon and Faerie and Shades of the night,
We calls to our ancestors of blood and bone,
Of womb and tomb, and standing stone.

... Lady stir your Cauldron well,
Chant your words and sing your spell,
Deep within the darkened hall,
Hear the Goddess Ceridwen call.
Come and taste of the Cauldron's Brew,
And magic she will give to you,
You will dance in the eye of the storm,
You're Ceridwen's Children,
The Cauldron Born!.

~ from The Cauldron Born, Damh the Bard

A new blog for a new project - we are Michael and Lynda, life partners and best friends.  We are Universalist Unitarian pagans, and we've recently joined Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) and will be working through their Dedicant's Path (Our Druidry) for the next year or so.  A part of the training involves keeping a journal, and we've decided to keep one together, here online to help us both with accountability.

The title is from Damh the Bard's song of the same name - if you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend spending some time with his music - fun and inspiring stuff!