Friday, November 30, 2012

And Home

This is a follow-up to the previous post. You should read that one first.

So we made our offering, acknowledging our oversight to Wotan (whom I suppose has become my patron over the past year or so) and offering a portion of Irish whiskey to him in apology and another portion asking for his protection on our way home.

The omen was positive, and indeed, the three-day return trip went smoothly, and all was well at the house.

This plus the experience with Thor/Thunor during Sandy has gone a long way toward shaping my personal practice.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Road Weary

We set off on a three-day road trip to visit family for the holiday. We briefly considered making an offering before we left, but we didn't.

Our first travel day was uneventful, but on day two, a small rock hit our windshield, leading to a crack that has so far spread about two feet. On the morning of day three, I slammed my finger into the car door and had to ice it for a while. The motel where we stayed was abysmal with a hard-as-brick bed and a heater than emitted a foul odor. And then, on arrival at our destination, I tripped and took a fall, hurting my knee, wrists, hip and ribs (though not seriously, I don't think.)

Before we leave on our return journey, we will offer some whiskey to Woden.

Why did the misfortunes come and how can we avoid them? The Druidcraft tarot, three-card PPF reading:

Past: Knight of wands reversed

First impression: Heading off on a journey without adequate preparation.
The official interpretation speaks of discord, separation, a misunderstanding, progress interrupted.

I think this fits with what we suspected ... the discord is between us and the gods; the progress interrupted is the progress in making polytheism our living religion, not a subject of academic study. We did well to ask Thor/Thunor to ward our home against hurricane damage, then we went off and left on a long trip with no offering, no asking for safety and protection, no acknowledgement of the kindred. While this is not something we would have done in the past, now that we know, we should.

Present: Three of wands.

This is a fellow looking hopefully down a road, much as we're hoping our return trip will be smooth. A phrase in the official keywords, most of which speak of success in businesses, stands out for me: "grasp of future and things needed for growth." Taken to mean, they see that we've figured it out and that we plan an offering before we leave on the return leg. This is acknowledging that we have the right understanding of the reason.

Future: High priestess, Reversed

The only major arcana card to show. I know the HP as a keeper of mysteries. Reversed, it seems to speak of poor intuition, lack of sense. Given that the three of wands suggests we've gotten this one right, belatedly, this one may say that it won't be the last time we forget -- or that it's a tendency to guard against.

Monday, October 29, 2012


With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on us, we held a ritual to ask Thor for protection. We adapted a ritual from the ADF site ( and performed it yesterday afternoon. We followed the core order of ritual (leaving out only the outdwellers portion).The offering for Thor was most of s 22-ounce homebrewed stout, minus only a small amount that we used for the waters of life.

At the end we used runes for an omen, asking three questions: What do the gods need from us during the storm? What warnings do they have for us, or preparations we have neglected? And
what blessings do they offer? The runes were: dagaz, algiz and ingwaz. Our interpretation: They need our trust; the warn us to take the storm seriously and use our knowledge of how it works to prepare; and they offer opportunities for learning and growing closer to them.

Reflecting on this inclines me to revise my essay on piety, which was essentially done. I am struck by how natural it felt to turn to Thor to petition for help regarding a major weather event. A year ago, it would have seemed like the "correct" thing to do as a practicing pagan, but I don't think it would have been as intuitive as it is now.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pagan Every Day(?)

Teo Bishop writes compellingly here about the importance of a daily devotional practice. It's an argument I agree with, and yet find very hard to maintain.

My sense of nearness to the kindreds waxes and wanes and, perhaps unwisely, feels the farthest away when I am under stress. And I have been under stress the past few weeks, mostly due to a project at work, that has only this week mostly lifted.

I want a daily practice, or at least a weekly one. I still need to get seriously to work on developing mental discipline to fulfill the Dedicant Path requirement, but even more than that, I want to create real relationships with the kindreds. I feel that I am actually on the edge of that in a couple of cases, but my regularity is lacking.

And still, it's hard to do. It's hard to carve out a dependable time, to work around distractions, even though a simple devotional takes only 10 or 15 minutes. I do it sporadically, sometimes a couple of times in a week, sometimes only once every couple of weeks.

I frequently hear that paganism is a religion of practice more than belief, and yet, my practice falters. How does one break out of the rut?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Antlered Crown and Standing Stone

Not really an entry, just a note to point you to a free download of a new song by Damh the Bard, "Antlered Crown and Standing Stone." This is the title track of his new album, coming next month. Get it here:

Also, I'm proud to say that I put Damh together with Mark Helpsmeet for this wonderful two-part interview on the "Song of the Soul" podcast:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

One Year In

The ADF journey came full circle with Mabon, celebrated on the night of Sept. 22 at CedarLight. Mabon last year was the first one we attended together, and the first one for me since Imbolc of 2008. As I've chronicled here, we missed the two previous high rites due to other commitments, and it felt good to be back.

The event was marked by a heavy rain that started to fall just a few minutes after the ritual got started. We all retreated to the sheltered pavilion, though, and picked up right where we had left off.

The rite was based in the Norse pantheon, so we invited the ancestors to serve as gatekeepers and honored Heimdall as the deity of the occasion. I hope he welcomed being in the place of honor rather than working the door, as he is usually asked to do.

They invited us to bring our own divniatory tools and cast our own personal reading in addition to the group omen. I borrowed Lynda's Druidcraft tarot and while I planned to draw only one card, ended up pulling two by accident. They were the seven of wands and the Hermit, which I interpreted to mean I'm resisting too hard the Hermit's quest for wisdom -- in other words, I need to become diligent about the mental discipline training, my main nemesis in the DP study.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


A schedule conflict prevented us from attending the August ritual at CedarLight Grove, so we wrote and performed our own at home – the first one we had done ourselves.

We adapted one from the ADF website, so that it would be suitable for our Anglo-Saxon hearth. We ensured that it followed the ADF core order but kept it fairly simple.

Our offerings were: grain for Nerthus, the Earth Mother; home-brewed beer and homemade banana bread for Hama, the gatekeeper; pipe tobacco for the ancestors; grain and banana bread for the land wights; and banana bread and beer for the Shining Ones. Then we added special offerings and words for Frige, Woden and a petition of Ing to help us succeed at gardening (as our first effort failed miserably.)

Our omen was, we think, positive. We used the Anglo-Saxon futhorc runes. In asking whether our offerings were accepted, we turned up Ing – and since this was the first time we had specifically spoken to him and it had come with a request, we took that mean he wanted a bit more.

Asking what blessings the gods offer in returned, we turned Eolh – elk-sedge, protection from outside dangers.

And in asking what the gods wanted from us, we turned Yr – a reminder to use our own skills and knowledge as well as asking their help.

Overall, I much prefer the fellowship and sense of shared worship at the Grove, but it was good to see how it works in a more solitary setting. We honored the gods and deepened our connection to them that much more.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The 'new paganism' that wasn't.

There is a Catholic theologian named Peter Kreeft that I used to appreciate and respect, when I was a Methodist 20 years ago. Recently, my Catholic friend -- the same one I mentioned here -- sent me a link to a column of Kreeft's purporting to critqiue "the new paganism."

It was .. amusing. And sad to see a thinker I once respected be so wrong. Below is the text of an e-mail I just sent in response:


OK, let's unpack this latest bit of piffle, shall we?

Paganism is simply the natural gravity of the human spirit, the line of least resistance, religion in its fallen state.

Paganism is actually the first and most pervasive religious idea of all human cultures. It's a religion based in the universal revelation of nature, not a claimed “special revelation” given to only a few. Kreeft's elitist position is common among those who think they are among those who understand the special revelation, but it is simple arrogance.

There were at least three elements in the old paganism that made it great. And all three are missing in the new paganism

I said this in my briefer response, but I'll reiterate it here: Kreeft has no idea of what modern paganism is. All through this piece he is actually talking about materialism, humanism and fuzzy New-Age spirituality. At no point does he even come close to talking about actual modern paganism.
I will point out specific examples as we go. 

The first is the sense of piety (pietas), the natural religious instinct to respect something greater than yourself, the humility that instinctively realizes man’s subordinate place in the great scheme of things. “Moderation” or “temperance” went along with this, especially in classical civilization. The motto “nothing too much” was inscribed over every temple to Apollo, along with “know thyself.”

This natural modesty and respect contrast sharply with the arrogant attitude of the new pagan in the modern West. Only Oriental societies still preserve a traditional reverence. The West does not understand this, and thinks it quaint at best and hypocritical at worst.

The new paganism is the virtual divinization of man, the religion of man as the new God. One of its popular slogans, repeated often by Christians, is “the infinite value of the human person.” Its aim is building a heaven on earth, a secular salvation. Another word for the new paganism is humanism, the religion that will not lift up its head to the heavens but stuffs the heavens into its head.

Kreeft is correct here that he is talking about humanism, but utterly wrong when he equates that to “the new paganism.”

Modern pagan religions are exemplified in Druidic organizations such as ar n'Draiocht Fein (of which we are members), various national and local heathen organizations such as The Troth, and many unaffiliated solitaries. While it is of course impossible to speak for everyone, I can say that the organizations at least put a great emphasis on piety. Honoring the deities, ancestors and spirits of the land is a core part of the praxis.

I have heard more discussion of and interest in personal piety through ADF than I ever did as a Christian.

So the gods and goddesses are “something greater than yourself.” Reverence for nature is another core aspect of modern paganism, which is also something greater than ourselves – the planet was here for billions of years before us and will be here for billions of years after we're gone – if that's not something bigger than ourselves, then I don't know what it is.

The real problem Kreeft has – or would have if he knew what he was talking about – is not that modern pagans lack piety, but that the object of the piety isn't Jesus. For him to criticize it on that score, coming from a Catholic perspective, would be a valid point of debate. But claiming that that element is absent just betrays his lack of concern for accuracy.

(It is also kind of rich for him to call paganism “arrogant” in the midst of this tirade.)

A second ingredient of the old paganism that’s missing in the new is an objective morality, what C.S. Lewis called “the Tao” in his prophetic little classic “The Abolition of Man.” To pre-modern man, pagan as well as Christian, moral rules were absolute: unyielding and unquestionable. They were also objective: discovered rather than created, given in the nature of things.

This has all changed. The new paganism is situational and pragmatic. It says we are the makers of moral values. It not only finds the moral law written in the human heart but also by the human heart. It acknowledges no divine revelation, thus no one’s values can be judged to be wrong.

The new paganism’s favorite Scripture is “judge not.” The only judgment is the judgment against judging. The only thing wrong is the idea that there is a real wrong.

The only thing to feel guilty about is feeling guilty. And, since man rather than God is the origin of values, don’t impose “your” values on me (another favorite line).

This is really polytheism — many gods, many goods, many moralities. No one believes in Zeus and Apollo and Neptune any more. (I wonder why: Has science really refuted them—or is it due to total conformity to fashion, supine submission to newspapers?) But moral relativism is the equivalent of the old polytheism. Each of us has become a god or goddess, a giver of law rather than receiver.

Again, he is here talking about humanism, not paganism. Modern pagans believe in objective morality as much as their forbears did (which may be a bit less than Kreeft claims.) Modern pagans believe in a number of moral principles quite firmly, although it is true that we tend less toward legalistic lists of forbidden behaviors than some Christians prefer.

But you will not find a serious pagan who does not embrace a set of moral values. We believe very strongly in the importance of acting with honor, courage, honesty, loyalty and integrity, and we believe, most of us, that one's choices affect one's future – the principle of wyrd, for example, is an ancient concept of the old saying that “choices make habits, habits make character.”

Again, Kreeft's real complaint is not that paganism lacks morality, just that it doesn't derive its moral code from the Bible and Church teachings.

Kreeft's final paragraph of the above quoted section deserves special attention. Here is is again:

This is really polytheism — many gods, many goods, many moralities.

Didn't he just get finished telling us how pagans are all the same and easily reduced to generalizations, as he has done for this entire column?

But moral relativism is the equivalent of the old polytheism. Each of us has become a god or goddess, a giver of law rather than receiver.

Didn't he open this section by saying that the old paganism – which IS “the old polytheism” – had this objective morality? And now he closes by saying the exact opposite? How does he get away with this lazy thinking?

No one believes in Zeus and Apollo and Neptune any more.

Well actually yes, many people do believe in Zeus, Apollo and Neptune. And Woden and Thunor, Arianhrod and The Morrigan, Jupiter and Mars. That is what the “new paganism” is, and this statement alone is enough to show that Kreeft has not got the slightest understanding of his topic.

A third ingredient of the old paganism but not of the new is awe at something transcendent, the sense of worship and mystery. What the old pagan worshiped differed widely — almost anything from Zeus to cows—but he worshiped something. In the modern world the very sense of worship is dying, even in our own liturgy, which sounds as if it were invented by a Committee for the Abolition of Poetry.

Our religious sense has dried up. Modern religion is de-mythologized, de-miraclized, de-divinized. God is not the Lord but the All, not transcendent but immanent, not super-natural but natural.

Pantheism is comfortable, and this is the modem summum bonum. The Force of “Star Wars” fame is a pantheistic God, and it is immensely popular, because it’s “like a book on the shelf,” as C.S. Lewis put it: available whenever you want it, but not bothersome when you don’t want it. How convenient to think we are bubbles in a divine froth rather than rebellious children of a righteous divine Father! 

Pantheism has no sense of sin, for sin means separation, and no one can ever be separated from the All. Thus the third feature, no transcendence, is connected with the second, no absolute morality.

The new paganism is a great triumph of wishful thinking. Without losing the thrill and patina of religion, the terror of religion is removed. The new paganism stoutly rejects “the fear of God.” Nearly all religious educators today, including many supposedly Catholic ones, are agreed that the thing the Bible calls “the beginning of wisdom” is instead the thing we must above all eradicate from the minds of the young with all the softly destructive power of the weapons of modern pop psychology — namely, the fear of the Lord.

And again … whatever he is criticizing here, it is not modern paganism. Modern paganism believes in gods and goddesses and another, spiritual, world – transcendence. While some modern pagans may count themselves pantheists, it's certainly not a universal position.

No sense of worship? “The new paganism” celebrates eight seasonal high days – specifically which ones, their names and their meanings (Lammas or Lughnasadh in August, for example) – vary from person to person, but their importance is consistent. Done well, they evoke exactly that sense of awe and mystery he doesn't think is there. In addition, most modern pagans maintain some kind of home shrine and hold their own individual observances regularly – some even daily.

I will admit that the “Committee for the Abolition of Poetry” is a good line, but this sounds like a Catholic problem to me. As I said above in the discussion of piety, I've been encouraged to put more thought into worship as a pagan, both in a group and alone, than I ever was as a Christian. Modern paganism, seriously practiced, demands study, thought and engagement, which means a lot of contemplation about the meaning of piety, the significance of worship. You can't just show up.

The new paganism is winning not by opposing but by infiltrating the Church.

Actually, the new paganism has no interest in “winning” or in the Church. Nobody is trying to steal your children's souls or infiltrate your pews.

The so-called “New Age Movement” combines all the features described under the title of the new paganism. It’s a loosely organized movement, basically a flowering of ’60s hippiedom, rather than a centralized agenda. But strategies are connected in three places. There may be no conspiracy on earth to unify the enemies of the Church, but the strategy of hell is more than the strategy of earth. Only one thing is more than the strategy of hell: the strategy of heaven.

And here we have it – he thinks paganism and “New Age” are the same, and that it's of the devil.

As Spidey would have put it in a bygone era: 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Squib Who Thought He Was A Lighthouse

I'm continuing to work steadily on the dedicant documentation, a little at a time. In last few days I've written the last of my high day essays. Mental discipline continues to be a challenge, but I'm persevering.

I've been involved in a long-running debate with an old friend about the theories of a French intellectual named Rene Girard. Girard was originally a literary critic, but he's tried to apply his theories to religion, and has gained a small but devoted following as an idiosyncratic Christian apologist.

In his books, notably "Violence and the Sacred," he argues that the myths of pagan cultures reflect an unending cycle of violence reflected in the sacrifical practices of the people. Cultures, Girard believes, begin with a "founding murder" of a scapegoat. In the effort to cover up the murder, out of guilt, the victim becomes deified. Eventually the actual murder is forgotten, re-enacted unconsciously in rituals which have no power to permanently end the social tensions brought on by what Girard terms mimetic desire -- wanting based on seeing what others want.

Christianity, Girard argues, is different. The death of Jesus "reveals the innocence" of the scapegoat, rendering pagan religions inoperative (somehow.) In order to make this argument, Girard has to dismiss the traditional interpretation of the death of Jesus as a sacrifice to God the Father and instead argues for a "non-sacrificial reading" in which the crucifixion is really about demonstrating that the person murdered is in fact innocent. (This is why I described him as "idiosyncratic.")

I have ably, if I say so myself, argued against Girard, demonstrating that he doesn't understand the pagan view of sacrifice and doesn't really address actual myth -- his examples of myth largely come from Greek dramas by Sophocles and Euripides.

Girard doesn't seem to have a lot of critics -- instead, he's apparently admired within the small cult that's grown up around his work and ignored by almost everyone else. He does have at least one vocal critic, however, another French intellectual named Rene Pommier. In an essay titled "Rene Girard: The Squib Who Thought He Was A Lighthouse," Pommier deftly dismantles many of Girard's conceits. (A squib is "a small firework, consisting of a tube or ball filled with powder, that burns with a hissing noise terminated usually by a slight explosion," or "a firecracker broken in the middle so that it burns with a hissing noise but does not explode.")

One of the best passages (Google-translated from the French and cleaned up some by me):

But where Girard was probably at the farthest bounds of the presumption and arrogance, it was when he tried to explain to Christians that only he could shed light on the essence of their religion. If he was, in effect, converted late in life, he was soon to discover he was the first Christian to have really understood what constituted Christianity and the deeper meaning of the Gospels. "The Christians,” he says, “did not understand the true originality of the Gospels." To all those who have been taught that Christ sacrificed himself on the cross to redeem mankind from original sin, a sacrifice unceasingly renewed in the celebration of Mass, Rene Girard is not afraid to say that this is a huge mistake, the most phenomenal mistake of all time: "This sacrificial reading of the passion [...] must be criticized as the most paradoxical misunderstanding and the most colossal of all history, and at the same time the most revealing of the radical inability of humanity to understand its own violence, even when it is served in the most explicit fashion.”

But fortunately he hastens to reassure them, telling them that, thanks to his theories, the Christian revelation is now unambiguous, and that for the first time henceforth and forever, it became perfectly clear, complete and consistent: "They are,” he says, “all the great canonical dogmas, I am convinced that a non-sacrificial reading makes it intelligible by articulating a more coherent way than has been done so far. " And furthermore, "In light of this [non-sacrificial] reading, one can finally explain the idea that the Gospels are of their own historical action, the elements whose presence seems contrary to the evangelical spirit. Again, this is the results we're going to judge the reading that is beginning to sketch. By refusing the definition of sacrificial love we end up reading, the most direct, the simplest, clearest and the only really consistent, one that can integrate all the themes of the Gospel into a seamless whole.”

Girard was born on December 25. It can not be a coincidence. How can we not see a clear signal sent by divine providence, to make us understand that Girard was meant to complement and refine the message that She had, over two thousand years, its charge only son to bring to men? It should therefore seems to me that now all Christians should celebrate as eagerly, or with even greater ardor, the birth of Rene Girard along with that of Christ. Further that the Pope convoke as soon as possible a new ecumenical council, which could finally integrate into the Christian revelation the essential contribution of Girard's theories. And, instead of putting on the altar beside the Bible the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas as was done at the Council of Trent, the Church should, of course, put the complete works of René Girard . Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit would do well to suggest to Benedict XVI to make Girard a Doctor of the Church.

In all the exchange -- which appears to be winding down, though it could resume -- has changed no minds but has helped me sharpen my own arguments and deepen my knowledge.

(By the way, thanks to John Michael Greer, Christopher Plaisance and Alaric Albertsson for offering ideas along the way.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Vist to a Foreign Land

Midsummer was the first high rite I attended that was not done with the ADF core order of ritual. Although I am not a member of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, I am friends with one of its leaders, so I attended their Centennial celebration in Pittsburgh and witnessed my first AODA ritual.

In keeping with AODA's roots in the Druid revival, and the revival's emphasis on Welsh lore, the group referred to the day as Alban Hefin.

The ritual seemed more like a lodge ceremony than a religious observance. Four high-ranking Druids took positions at the compass points – Grand Archdruid John Michael Greer in the north – and four others took up the positions next to them to guard the quarters. The four key participants all dressed in full regalia – white robes, sashes and rope belts. JMG's sash and nemyss were purple with gold trim.

The grove opening ceremony involved the Druids at each quarter in turn carrying a representation of each element around the circle in purification – but since we were in a hotel with strict rules, unlit incense stood in for air and an electric tea light for fire. Then the Druid at the West gate carried a sword to each quarter, declaring peace in each quadrant through a call-and-response script. Then another member performed the Sphere of Protection, a magic rite described in Greer's “The Druid Magic Handbook,” intended to invoke the positive energies of the seven key components of AODA's cosmology – air, fire, water, earth, spirit below, spirit above and spirit within – and banish the negative energies of the four physical elements.

(I'm not giving away any secrets here -- all this is publicly available information, and the ritual was open to the public.)

The actual ritual was short. There was a brief call-and-response script and then silent meditation for about ten minutes. There was little said about the actual season or its significance.

The grove closing ceremony, held at the end of the day after a couple of hours of informal talk, essentially reversed the opening, with each Druid declaring the work of that quarter to be accomplished. The opening, ritual and closing each culminated in the attendees intoning the word “awen” (pronounced, for the purposes of intonation, “ah-OO-en”) three times.

All in all, it was interesting for me to witness, very different from ADF.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Woden and the Hermit

The Hermit in the Druidcraft Tarot. 
I am not the tarot expert that Lynda is, but I do know the cards. As long as I have known of tarot, I've always felt an affinity for a few certain cards, and respond to their imagery in almost every deck I am familiar with. One of these is the Hermit.

Around the same time of the omens I wrote of before, I undertook an exercise that the Dedicant manual suggests for those seeking a patron deity. It is to look through the major arcana cards of several decks and pick those that resonate strongly, either positive or negative. I chose various ones in the three decks I worked with, and put the Hermit into the strong attraction pile of all three.

The Hermit is always depicted as an old man with a staff and a lantern wandering the landscape. The interpretation of the card usually refers to seeking wisdom and retreat -- retreat meaning withdrawal from distraction into solitude for a time.

This is another point of strong connection with Woden, who is often depicted in a floppy hat, wandering the worlds with a staff, keeping watch of what's going on. (Think Gandalf with one eye.)

My choices overall showed an attraction to the sober wielding of power or confident exercise of authority, the acquiring and passing on of wisdom (the Hierophant), an a curiosity about mystery (the Moon.) These are also traits that are true of the All-Father.

In the Wildwood Tarot
The Hermit is called
The Hooded Man.
Interestingly, though, another strong image that could relate to Woden, the Hanged Man, didn't strike me.

I know that I hanged on a windy tree
nine long nights
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows
from where its roots run.

No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn
downward I peered;
I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.

(From The Havamal)

Still, the wandering Hermit, in my mind, IS Woden, and he has always spoken to me. I think my other choices also illuminate aspects of his nature that may be less obvious, less well-known to me. It was an enlightening exercise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The 9 Noble Virtures

Wisdom: “Our Own Druidry” defines wisdom as “good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide on the correct response.”
Wisdom is in many ways borne of experience, and it is no fault of the younger person to be less wise than the elder. However, experience does not lead to wisdom automatically. It is the responsibility of each person to live in an active engagement with life and the world that facilitates the increase of wisdom.

In practice, wisdom is the quality that allows a person to make sound decisions, to judge others accurately and to be less likely than the unwise to fall into a trap. Wisdom often works in coordination with other virtues; for example, moderation and wisdom may both come into play as someone makes the wise choice to avoid intoxication when driving.
This is an apt one with which to begin the list, because the other virtues all depend on some measure of wisdom in order to be effective in their application.

 Piety: Piety, at its root, is simply about being mindful of the gods and our relationship to them. We express our love, respect, loyalty and honor of them through ritual and ceremony. But the words and motions of ritual are only the outer form. Piety implies an orientation of the heart and spirit so that the ceremony expresses the internal reality. It isn't piety if it is simply reciting words.

Because of this, while piety is expressed in ritual, it can also be expressed moment to moment in simply thinking about the gods, speaking small prayers to them and, above all, treating them with honor and respect, not as cosmic gumball machines sent to do us favors.

Tradition is part of piety as well, in that our rituals are based on old traditions, brought forward into a new century. One aspect of honoring the gods is understanding how our ancestors honored them and striving to acknowledge them in the ways they prefer to be acknowledged. Wisdom comes into play here in that it guides us toward discerning the better ways to relate to the spirits and away from those practices or motivations that are self-serving.

Vision: “Our Own Druidry” speaks of vision as being aware of one's place or role in the cosmos, relating to the past, present and future. The key point to remember is that one's place may be big or small, depending on the vantage point. As a human being on a planet with more than 6 billion human beings, in a galaxy with a hundred billion stars, I am insignificant. As a friend, lover, son, grandfather – and as a child of Mother Earth – I am important.

One's place in the cosmos is not frozen in time. As the manual's definition specifies, it pertains to the past, present and future. Vision means an ability to see one's place not just today, but next year, next decade and, after a long enough period, as a legacy of one who has moved into the Otherworld.
It also entails an understanding of how one's place in the past affects the present and the future. To see one's own life, or the life of another, with true vision means to appreciate the interconnections of time, space and relationship and how what has gone before affects what is to come.

Finally, remember that vision is not limited to one's self – vision can pertain to another person, an organization, a nation or a world.

Courage: Courage is the balancing point between cowardice and recklessness. It is to do that which is difficult and dangerous in order to achieve a worthy goal. It is to act despite fear, not without fear. Do not mistake recklessness for courage: Courage takes risks and dangers into account, recklessness ignores them. Courage leads to dangerous actions taken for good reason, recklessness leads to dangerous actions undertaken for their own sake.

In the same vein, just as to charge ahead is not necessarily courage, to retreat is not necessarily cowardice. It can be an act of courage to defer taking action when under great pressure to act. But blending courage with wisdom gives one the discernment to determine when taking risky action is warranted and when it would just be foolish.

Courage necessarily entails selflessness. Courage is risk, and in many cases, courage is willingly giving up something for a greater good, as when Tyr sacrificed his hand to aid in the binding of Fenrir.

Integrity: To behave with integrity is to maintain one's ethical principles in the face of temptation. It is to be consistent in character and to put principle ahead of desire. Integrity requires keeping promises, upholding oaths, speaking truth and sometimes sacrificing one's own desires.

Behaving with integrity is not just a matter of public perception. Even when alone, a person of integrity is called on to uphold his or her standards. What is done in secret  (if indeed it is secret from the kindred) will have repercussions into one's wider world. What we do when nobody's watching says more about our true character than what we do in front of witnesses.

Integrity requires other virtues in order to be consistent. It takes courage to do the right thing at personal risk. Wisdom to know what the right thing is. Moderation to resist giving in to passions. The life of integrity can be difficult, but it's also rewarding, not least in giving one a good name (good reputation) to pass down.

Perseverance: Perseverance is the simple act of pressing toward one's goal through difficulties. Simple in concept, often very difficult in practice. Very often, we give up the pursuit of something when it becomes hard. We may even decide we don't really want it any more, the “sour grapes” of Aesop's fable. But of course, we do want it … just not badly enough to endure the challenges that come in the pursuit.

To press on through tough times requires a focus on the desired outcome – physical changes, learning new skills, wooing a lover, getting a good job, or whatever it may be. (Finishing the ADF Dedicant program!) These things are rarely won easily, and a person who sets out to achieve them should be prepared for some tough going along the way. Perseverance is the virtue that makes them possible at all.

Hospitality: The opening section of The Havamal is all about hospitality. The author (tradition holds these are the words of Odin himself) speaks of how weary travelers need food, drink, warmth, fresh clothing after arriving at a home.

Hospitality, in its general sense, is about being a “gracious host and appreciative guest,” as Our Own Druidry phrases it. A host who offers food to the hungry traveler, dry clothes to the rain-soaked visitor, fire to the one coming in from the cold. A guest who does not demand these things, but accepts them with gratitude when they are offered.

There is a more subtle sense of hospitality too, which is about adapting to another's needs without calling attention to it. For example: If there's a point in a ritual when the people are supposed to stand, and the leader notices that some of the participants are disabled and can stand only with difficulty and pain, hospitality might inspire the leader to amend the verbal instruction from “rise” to “rise in body or spirit,” or “stand as you are able.” This is a cue that lets those who are unable to stand know that it is ok not to, making them feel less conspicuous when they don't.
Once again, we see the role of wisdom in the practice of hospitality.

Moderation: The practice of moderation implies balance. While it shuns overindulgence, it does not  counsel asceticism. When one engages in things that are good and pleasurable, but also prone to be pursued to excess – food, drink or sex for example – moderation seeks to find the zone between too much and not enough.

The words attributed to Odin in the Havamal are instructive here:
“Less good there lies than most believe
In ale for mortal men; For the more he drinks, the less does man
Of his mind the mastery hold.”


“Shun not the mead, but drink in measure;
Speak to the point or be still;
For rudeness none shall rightly blame thee
If soon thy bed thou seekest.”

This text contains several stanzas counseling against overindulgence in drink, perhaps a contrast to the popular image of drunken, bawdy Norsemen. But notice that the Havamal, neither here nor elsewhere, advocates abstaining from drink (“shun not the mead.”. It only advises controlling oneself to avoid the consequences of excess.

This is the quintessence of moderation. “Shun not the mead, but drink in measure.” The axiom may be applied in like manner to food, or sex or sloth or exertion. One can easily overindulge in work, and feel oneself virtuous by doing so, without taking heed of the other aspects of life going neglected in the process.

Fertility: I understand from discussions on the ADF Dedicant list that the name of this virtue has been the subject of some debate. Indeed, it does seem to be a wide-ranging concept. According to Our Own Druidry, fertility is “bounty of mind, body and spirit involving creativity and industry, an appreciation of the physical and sensual, nurturing these qualities in others.”

In common parlance, the word can connote a bountiful harvest, human reproduction, fecundity, a prolific creativity and productivity of work, among other meanings. Summarizing it is difficult, but what all of these things have in common is a drive toward creation. Whether the life force expressed in sexual love and, often, pregnancy, or in growing plants for food or beauty, or in writing, art and craft, fertility always suggests a rich vein of result. A person who writes a poem or song once every long while can hardly be called a bard, while one who is always writing, even if much of what he writes ends up deemed unworthy, may well be. A man who plants a flower in a pot is not a gardener, really, but one who is always planting and growing something, even if some of his attempts fail, is indeed a gardener.

To be a virtue, fertility needs to be pursued with deliberate intention. It entails cultivating skills and talents, applying another virtue – perseverance in this case – to soldier on through the less successful attempts and the early days of learning something new when failure is the rule rather than the exception. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Movie Review: The Spirit of Albion

"The Spirit of Albion" is a remarkable accomplishment. A musical movie (adapted from a stage production) based on the music of Damh the Bard, it tells the story of three ordinary young people with problems who encounter some of the gods and learn a little about the much larger and more wondrous world that modern life cuts them off from.

The film opens and closes with Damh performing -- "Pagan Ways" at the start, "The Spirit of Albion" at the end. In between, we meet George, Annie and Esther, three people undergoing difficult times who are led to a campfire in the forest by mysterious figures. There they learn deeper truths about the world in which they live, their eyes opened by figures who will be familiar to those who know the Irish and Welsh pantheons.

I could quibble over some points. It would have been nice if the elder gods looked a little more, well, elder ... the actors all appear to be under 30. It would have been nice if at least one of the people encountering the gods wasn't in the grip of depression and uncertainty -- not all spiritual quests are born in angush. Some of the cast memebers were not the best singers. And I don't fully understand why Damh's performance of "Pagan Ways" comes at the beginning, rather than at the end when it would sum up some of the key elements of the story.

The only real criticism I have, though, is of a line near the beginning, when the gods are described as the gods humans created. I'm a bit disappointed that they felt a need to pick a side in that theological debate (whether the gods exist objectively or are archetypes of human characteristics) and that they chose that particular side.

These are all, ultimately, small things. Given the budgetary constraints they had to live with, they did an extraordinary job. I encourage everyone to buy a copy -- heck, buy several and give them as gifts -- because support for this sort of independent filmmaking will help keep it going.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Well, it is hard to ignore

I have been going back and forth with Woden ever since Yule. As I wrote then, we felt something as the Norse deities were honored, and we started reading up a good bit on the Norse and Anglo-Saxon hearth cultures. For my hearth culture ADF book review I chose "Gods and Myths of Northern Europe" by H.R. Ellis-Davidson. We also read "Travels Through Middle-Earth," a look at Anglo-Saxon paganism by ADF member Alaric Albertsson.

Eventually, we reached a difference of opinion. Lynda has been feeling an affinity for Frigga, while I had been slowly concluding that the Germanic culture was maybe a bit more stark and austere than I cared for and began reconsidering the Irish pantheon.

But Woden has stayed in my thoughts, especially as we've been reading "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman on audiobook, where the mysterious "Mr. Wednesday" is Woden/Odin traveling incognito.

Then yesterday, after services at our UU church, I was in the lounge and caught a glimpse in the woods behind the building of a large black bird in the trees. A raven? A crow? I can't be certain, I am no expert at bird identification, but I do think it was most likely one of the two.

Since I had been thinking of Woden/Odin again, I wondered whether I should consider the sighting to be an omen. This morning, I rose early and dusted off the home shrine (we still have been negligent in practice, probably mostly because we've had no clarity on just which deities we felt called to work with) and performed a very brief ritual: I simply lit the three candles, put some water into the bowl we use as a well and asked the All-Father to give me one more confirming sign, if indeed he was trying to get my attention. I poured a small offering of olive oil into the offering bowl, letting a drop or two fall onto the candle flame.

Then I went outside to sit on the porch and watch the dawn brighten. After about 20 minutes, movement in the corner of my eye drew my attention ... I looked up to see another large black bird, wings spread wide, coming in for a landing on a tree branch.

Well then.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Dedicant Documentation:
The High Rite

The Dagda was only meant to be the gatekeeper at Cedarlight Grove's celebration of Beltane, but he ended up dominating the event. From the rush of wind that came right as the gates were opened, to the fire batons that wouldn't go out easily, to the snapped strap of one woman's top as she danced in offering, he made his presence known.

The deities of the occasion were Dagda's son Aengus Mac Oc and Aine. The prayer was for the kindred to bless all our creative efforts in the coming year, and the omen suggested that we may encounter difficulties, but should remember that the gods are near. The gods enthusiastically accepted our offerings, according to the seer. (She used a crystal ball.)

At the end of the rite, we processed out between two fires, reflecting the ancient Irish Beltane tradition of driving the animals between two fires for purification.

The Irish deities felt warm, mischievous and friendly. This came at a good time for me, as I had been flagging in my studies and I left with new affirmation and determination.

Essay on the Meaning

Beltane celebrates the return of warm weather. Named for the Irish sun god Belinos, the name translates to “fire of Bel.” It is about fertility and abundance. Like its opposite high day Samhain, Beltane is a day when the veil between our world and the Otherworld is especially thin.

Celebration of the day, also called “May Day,” is centered around lighthearted revelry – dancing around a maypole, singing, sex and general merriment. Beltane expresses a sense of great relief that the fallow time of winter, the endurance of the cold and privation of living off of food stores is at an end. By May in most of Europe, as the traditional song “Hal An Tow” puts it, “Summer is a-comin' in and winter's gone away.”

In Ireland, the ancients celebrated Beltane with bonfires and dancing sunwise around the fires. It was customary to release the animals and drive them between two fires for purification.

In northern and central European cultures, the day was traditionally celebrated in similar ways to the Gaelic, with dancing, maypoles and a general celebration of warmth and fertility. The celebrations typically take place on the night of April 30 into the early morning hours of May 1. Today in those lands – and corresponding ADF hearth cultures – the high day is known as Walpurgisnacht. This name appears to have been derived from the name of an English missionary, St. Walpurga, who was canonized in AD 870, about a century after her death.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


I have been dragging my feet on moving ahead with the DP for a while now. I've been writing my essays on the high days and our celebrations of them at Cedarlight Grove, and I've done two of the three required book reports, but I have not been diligent on anything else about it.

There are number of reasons for this, and its easy enough (and true enough) to claim busyness, but that's only part of it. The main reason is that I'm afraid of the mental discipline requirement.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has tackled this program that has found five months of regular meditation practice to be intimidating. If I were a betting man, I would bet that it's the number one reason people start the DP and don't finish it. At the same time, I can't argue that it shouldn't be there because I understand why it matters.

So I am taking a new run at it, starting today. I'm planning to try at first for just five minutes of complete breathing (inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4) and general quieting of mind. When I can do that, I'll starting working on the Two Powers using my recording of Ian Corrigan's narration, and assuming I become comfortable with that, I'll seek more techniques.

Meanwhile, I will work on the essays that aren't tied to events – attending a rite or reading a book – and try to have them complete over that five months as well. My hope is that after five months of regular mental discipline I will have gained enough experience to find it valuable and continue, which is obviously part of the point of the requirement.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Some Help on Prayer

I understand ADF's core order of ritual, but one thing I've been unclear on is whether ADF's Druidry, or other polytheistic religions, allow for simple prayer. One thing I'm used to from my Christian days is the ability to simply think thoughts directed to God and believe they are heard and taken as prayer.

But can one do this in a polytheistic context? ADF's COR includes the step of asking a gatekeeper deity to open the gate between the worlds, so that the gods may hear us and interact with us. If I think or say a prayer without doing that, is it likely to be heard?

So I e-mailed Ceisiwr Serith, author of A Book of Pagan Prayerwith that question. Fortunately ADF's wise old elders are eminently accessible and helpful, and he responded just a few hours later:

Sure. I do all the time. In fact, my morning and evening prayers aren't in the Core Order of Ritual style at all. (The morning prayers are here: I often pray to the Vedic goddess Vac ("Word") before writing, to Cernunnos when I need calming, to Ganesha and Isis when flying, and so on. Whether made up on the spot or previously-memorized,, the sand-alone prayer is a powerful thing.
That said, in groups more elaborate rituals are good things. There are a number of reasons for this. It's good for a group to be on the same page; it increases the power of the ritual. A set pattern is good for this -- it allows everyone to know what comes next, so they can stay together, it allows the prayers to be additive, rather than muddled, and thereby increases the order, and thus the beauty, of the ritual (and beauty is at the center of the IE cosmos). In order to be more elaborate, there needs to be a structure, and the COoR provides that. The COoR is devised to fill in the necessary holes, and to be IE in spirit, thereby connecting us to those who worshiped these deities in the past. They must have been on to something, and these are the sorts of rituals the Holy Ones are used to, and presumably like.
Most important, the rituals express both the ADF/IE cosmos and the way we relate to our deities. They teach us these things and reinforce in us, to the point where it becomes easier to relate to them, and to make those spontaneous prayers. So participating in the more planned out rituals actually strengthens the non-planned out ones.
If possible, then, it is good to have structure to your own prayers. This will set up echoes between them and the public ones, as well as with the cosmology and ritual theory behind ADF practice.
At the minimum, it is best if you can do your prayers in the presence of fire and water. That's standard IE practice, for which there are a number of reasons. Fire can be seen as Order, and water as Chaos; both fire and water are purifying; water is the border and fire the center; and so on. If you can, use the actual objects, but there's a fair amount of discussion off and on on the Dedicants' list as to what to do when you can't, especially when you can't use fire -- electric tea lights, pictures, stones, etc.
It's worth making the effort to do this. But if you can't, because of where and when you are, then go ahead and pray. In a sense, such prayer is less than ones in the presence [of fire] and water, and in a sense they are exactly the same. Just do your best. I'm not saying the classic Neo-Pagan/Neo-Wiccan platitude of "do what seems right," but "do what is best (under the circumstances.)
I recommend having an arsenal of set prayers that you can whip out at a moment's notice -- ones for calm, for when you are afraid or sick, ones when you want to praise, thank, or feel connected with a deity, ones before eating or drinking, and so on. The more you have of these -- and they can be just a single sentence ( -- the more you will be putting yourself in tune with the divine and the cosmos.
Above all, never let the fact that you don't have the time or equipment to do an elaborate ritual stop you from praying.
Ceisiwr Serith
(One more thing. Using objects in prayers, and not just words, makes sure we remember that it is not only thoughts and speech that can be sacred, but the material.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Social Circle

We've now attended two 'pubmoots' with a small group of Asatruar in northern Virginia. They're not part of the same kindred, but they gather once a month as fellow travelers for socializing (so far, none of the conversations have actually been about Asatru.)

This gives us a second pagan social outlet (in addition to rituals at Cedar Light Grove) and one that's much easier to get to for us. I'm liking the way our social circle is building. But our home practice has not been keeping up. We had been holding a small ritual of our own each full moon, but a variety of issues (including some dissatisfaction with the source material we were using plus several weeks of either having house guests or travel) disrupted it. I'm hoping we can get back into that at the next full moon.

We also have not been using our home shrine for any sort of devotional work. It's a habit, one we fell out of before building it up. With luck and some diligence, we should be able to return to it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

(A draft of one of my Dedicant book reviews.)

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson, recounts the lore of the Nordic culture in great detail, providing the student an accessible survey of what we know about the deities revered in Iceland, Norway and other Scandanavian lands in pre-Christian times.

Apart from the Romans and the Greeks, the Norse lore is probably the best-preserved and most generous collection available of any Indo-European culture. Between the Poetic and Prose Eddas and the various sagas handed down, there is wealth of information about Odin, Thor, Freyr, Freya, Balder, Heimdall and others.

However, as Ellis Davidson points out, this lore doesn't come to us unfultered. It was committed to writing during the Christian era, by Christian authors. Separating the authentic heathen lore from the Christian glosses can be challenging. The opening chapters of the book describe the sources, and then summarize the overarching themes of the lore – the cosmology and creation, the relationships of the Aesir, Vanir, Jotun, dwarves, elves and man, the binding of Fenrir, the coming of Ragnarok and other major stories.

Turning to the actual myths and gods, Ellis Davidson devotes most of the book to Odin and Thor, with Freyr, Freya, Heimdall, Loki and other figures getting briefer surveys. Given the prominence of Odin and Thor is the religious lives of the ancient heathens, this seems appropriate. She examines Odin's role as warrior god, as cognate to the Roman Mercury, and as a shaman. On the latter point, she describes Odin's journey to the underworld on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, as recounted in the poem Baldrs Draumar. Sleipner also tarveled to Hel – whether the rider was Odin or an emissary is unclear – to try to reclaim the slain Baldr. Odin hung on the World Tree to discover the runes, and has the power to send out his spirit in animal form.

Thor is presented as the powerful god of action, defender of Asgard, the friend of man, adversary of the Jotuns and other powers that would seek to do harm. With his iconic hammer, Mjollnir, Thor slays giants. He is married to Sif (about whom little is known). Thor is associated with the sky, and therefore, the weather, thunder in particular.

Thor also was portrayed as a powerful adversary to Christ, and Ellis Davidson includes accounts of his appearing in a dream to a recent convert, warning him to return to Thor or else be consigned to rough seas and "never to be delivered from them." In another incident, Thor stirs up a storm to shipwreck Christian missionaries.

Turning to the deities of fertility, drawn from the Vanir, Ellis Davidson details what is known of Freyr and Freyja, the twin son and daughter of Njord. It was apparently customary for the image of gods of abundance tobe drawn through the land in a wagon, to be worshipped and sacrificed to when they passed through. Ellis Davidson recounts a story that she says was probably intended to be comic, about the servant of King Olaf impersonating Freyr and delighting the Swedes because the god could suddenly eat and drink with the people. Tacitus, meanwhile, recounts a practice in Denmark of a priest pulling a wagon bearing the image of the goddess Nerthus through the land.

Then come longer sections on Freyr, the Earth Mother and Freyja and the Vanir overall.

Ellis Davidson then turns to gods of the sea, the gods of the dead (Odin and Thor make prominent return appearances here) and the "engimatic gods" about whom little is known from the lore or whose nature is unclear, but who nevertheless appear to have been important figures in Norse culture.

She concludes the book with a chapter detailing the beginning and end of the world (Ragnarok) as told in the myths, and an epilogue on the passing of the gods in favor of Christianity.


I found the book to be very helpful in understanding the northern myths and the major figures, but I also have some concerns.

For one, the book, published in 1964, appears to be outdated in some ways. Ellis Davidson takes as a given the thesis that the Aesir and Vanir existed as separate pantheons for a time before warring and being blended. However, it appears that this notion has become more controversial in the light of continuing research.

For example, Rudolf Simek of the University of Bonn, in an article published in the December 2010 newsletter of the Reconstructive Methods Network, argues that the Vanir are almost never mentioned in the oldest heathen poetry. The bulk of the information about them comes from Snorri Sturleson's Prose Edda, which must be regarded cautiously when it departs from or adds to earlier lore due to its late composition and Christian overlay.

Simek writes:

I believe that these are not Snorri‟s mistakes that we are dealing with here, but rather his deliberate creation. As a literary name in medieval [Old Norse] literature, we shall have to live with the Vanir, because Snorri has made them immortal. As an element of heathen Scandinavian religion however, we should accept the vanir as a rare collective term, but bury the Vanir as a family of gods. No Viking Age heathen Scandinavian, apart from a handful of skalds interested in arcane terminology, would have known what is meant by vanir, and even these would not have known which gods to ascribe to a group of them called Vanir.

In sum, Ellis Davidson's work provides me a great deal of insight, much of it intriguing, but some of it disturbing. I am put off by the number of these gods who seem to have demanded human sacrifice – even the presumably peaceful gods of fertility and plenty – and also dubious about the vision of the Otherworld presented. If John Michael Greer is correct in his defense of polytheism, A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, and a person's fate after death can vary depending on the gods the person honors, I think it must be possible to do better than a choice between endless bloody battle in Valhalla, haunting one's grave mound or a shadowy fate in Hel's unpleasant domain.

Overall, I can say I recommend this book but with reservations. In particular, readers should be alerted to the issues Ellis Davidson presents as settled that subsequent scholarship has reopened.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Importance of Theology

I caused a minor dust-up on the ADF Dedicants' list recently when I objected to someone's reference to "using" gods as the gatekeepers in a ritual. Teo Bishop raised my consciousness on this a little while ago, and I've been sensitive to it ever since.

A few others on the list agreed with me, a couple thought it was no big deal. I think it is.

In ADF, officially at least, we believe in many gods and we believe they are real entities -- not archetypes, not personifications of nature, not manifestations of the one true God, but real deities with whom we seek relationship. If we really believe that -- or even if we don't really believe it but want to work within that paradigm as if we did -- then it's incumbent upon us to show the proper deference to the gods.

In your relationships, if they're healthy, you're not trying to "use" your friends. You have relationships with them. If you need a favor, you ask your friend for the favor, you don't "use" him for it. Why should the gods get any less respect?

In hindsight, I should have created a new thread to discuss this on the list, rather than respond to the original poster, who was trying to ask an entirely different question. However, I do stand by the point I made.

Along the same lines, I've also been thinking lately about how ADF Druids choose the deities they want to honor and seek relationship with. ADF allows its adherents to consider the whole range of Indo-European cultures, while encouraging us to choose a hearth culture from among them. It's probably not uncommon for members to be attracted to gods and goddesses from different pantheons, but I've come to think that those who don't want to be limited to a single pantheon should probably use some care in branching out.

Again, if we're taking the gods seriously as real entities, it's probably not wise to assume that any two we seek to honor are necessarily happy about being brought together. The Romans and the Germanic tribes were frequently at war, for example. Is it safe to assume that Mars and Thunor want to be in the same room?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Going Deep

I've been quite the dabbler in matters of religion. In 48 years of life I've been a Christian three times, an agnostic two or three times, a seeker considering but not quite practicing Judaism, Baha'i and Buddhism and, most recently, a Unitarian Universalist, which may be just a spiritual Home for the Bewildered.

As much as anything, I'm hopeful that my study in ADF will bring me a home where I can go deep rather than broad.