Identity

Identity

Earrach's picture
"I AM A POWERFUL DRUID PRIEST OF THE OLD WAYS! [or insert any other tradition here...] I WAS (RE)BORN INTO THIS WORLD TO SERVE THE GODS AND TO RENEW AND REVITALIZE THE LOST WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS!!" (Yeah yeah. Yadda yadda yadda. Get real....)Why do the rites at all? Well of course, there are many reasons; perhaps as many different reasons as there are people involved in the process. Perhaps also we might find that there are many reasons, unsaid and unarticulated, which are more significant for us than any of the pompous internal assertions of our pseudo-mystical personae.Eliade and others show us that the functions of public/tribal calendrical ritual were largely pragmatic: the rites were not considered optional, they were considered to be essential for the health and safety of the people. The rites were also considered to be essential to the very continuity and integrity of the World Itself; the rites neglected, the World-as-we-know-it could very well come thundering to an end. Is this all so very primitive? Really?In my writings and public speaking I often find myself suggesting (projecting?) that many of the aspects of our Neopagan personalities are simply dishonest. Innocently and without malice of forethought, but still... we are dishonest. We are all far, far too wrapped up in the way we would like to be thought of and the kind of person we would like to think of ourselves as and the way we would like to live our lives... than we ever could justify through real action in real life at all. We can't expect to relate to others about the true motivations behind our spiritual identities if we can't manage to be honest, internally, with ourselves. This dichotomy between the false self image and the ordinary but pure self is the theatre of the medicine of religion. True religious activity is that which seeks to rectify our relationship with the World: the relationship of our true selves with the true World.The Old Ways that the anthropologists of religion describe to us were not legislated at some synod of ecclesiastics and then carved in stone; no, no... they grew. Over generations of practice, repetition, and trial and error, they grew, were molded and evolved organically; more truly coming to fit the needs of the people and their world. For all the machinations of the governing priesthoods of thousands of years, that simple living process defiantly survives, and again and again shakes off the ash and rubble of the collapse of artificial, unnatural and inhuman cultures and their false, unnatural and inhuman religious systems. People are by nature religious creatures and they need religious activity that touches their lives in a direct and honest way; it does not need to cater to our fantasy selves, it needs to speak to our souls."Finding comfort" in the ritesPaganism, as a modern pursuit, often attracts those seeking the unusual, gothic, or titilatingly different. Those folks quickly tire of the hard work and actively spiritual participation demanded of them by group religious practice. We are not in the business of entertaining the curious, but it is incipient upon us to work hard to meet the needs of those who attend and willingly put themselves 'on the line' by attempting to participate. Yet, to meet their needs, we must be able meet our own also.There is a pendulum that swings through our lives... or, perhaps I can be more clear if I speak of my own personal experience: there is a pendulum which swings through my life which finds me drifting alternately from a clear and integrated relationship with the world to that of a self which is work-weary, media ravaged, fragmented and basically schizoid in its distorted, false notions of the world and my place in it. The need to govern this ever pulsing rhythm, swinging from competence to failure, from knowledge to doubt... is what sometimes calls me to return to the woods or to go out under the stars.Here perhaps we can find one definition of the spirit of Druidism: answering the call of Nature; not to be wild, but to be healed by the Wilderness. The Wilderness bears within it that which we periodically come to lack: truth.There is a great pattern of undeniable natural truths in which we live our lives; it is the Great Wheel of the Seasons, and for us living in this part of the North Temperate Zone, we are blessed with the grand four-fold symmetry which has shaped our cultures and languages and cultural consciousness for tens of thousands of years. As far as we may stray from the ordinary facts of existence, the Seasons always bring us back to the truth. No amount of air conditioning, roofing or central heating can support our fantasies substantially enough to escape the fact that we are not in control here. The World is not the Mall, nor is it School, nor is it Work... no matter how much it seems that way to us at times. The World has more to do with that tree you touched the other day than all the tax forms and magazines and dollar bills we print on the flesh of its kin, yet we constantly lose sight of this; well, I do... don't you? Perhaps it is time to call upon the definition of a term I have been developing for some time now:"Reconciliation"Rx for having fallen from grace with one's sense of wonder... a bringing back of the individual's sense of self into an appropriate, correct, or more sanctified relationship with certain "facts of existence"; unlocking the sanctified relationship with the world-as-it-is and thereby moving away from (or being cleansed-of) the world-as-we-imagine-it-is.The need for this function is often due to the individual's natural propensity for ‘back sliding' or becoming somehow progressively distanced from one's own set of ethical, religious or aesthetic principles (or various other attitudinal predispositions). In a sense, during extended periods of distraction by either some singular concern or simply the the increasing demands of everyday life as one ages, one's reflective capacity can become slightly or significantly schizoid in its relationship with the components of one's personality which matured or integrated during a period of life that was far richer on a reflective level. It is possible to functionally ‘de-evolve' at the reflective level; leaving one a "stranger to one's self". This is the schizoid dilemma which calls out for rectification: the current ‘dull' self must be brought to terms with the earlier ‘enhanced' self -before one's standards become lowered beyond retrieval. Is this Psychology or is it Religion? I believe the answer to that question is: "yes."Remembering the SeasonsReconciliation with the World through the process of honoring the Seasons, the connecting and coming to terms with the gentle passage of time through our lives, is one of the most important single reasons for celebrating any calendar of religious observances. The more that the mythos and theme of an annual feast is integrated with the grand seasonal pattern above and around us, the more valid, powerful and profound the religious mysteries are commemorated therein. Too often, when developing some complex or even simple symbolic or traditional theme, the content of our observances become artificial, too human and out of step with our basic need to become personally reconciled to the season. The season simply must be remembered in the process of a rite or one of our holiest duties will have been neglected.
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IsaacBonewits's picture
© Isaac Bonewits Originally published in Druid's Progress #2ADF will be a Neopagan religion based on solid (but imaginative) scholarship in the fields of linguistics, Indo-European studies, comparative religion, archeology, anthropology, Celtic & Norse & Baltic & Slavic studies, history, musicology and polytheology. The scholars we will be basing our research on include Georges Dumezil, Mircea Eliade, Anne Ross, Stuart Piggott, C. S. Littleton, Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, Proinsias MacCana, Myles Dillon, Nora Chadwick, etc. We will not be accepting Lewis Spence, Margaret Murray, Robert Graves, Merlin Stone, H. P. Blavatsky or Iolo Morganwg as scholarly authorities (although some of them may provide poetic inspiration now and then). If we have to fill in gaps in our knowledge with our own imagination, spiritual visions and/or borrowings from non-IE sources, we will go ahead and do so, but always in full awareness of what we are doing (and with full documentation of the process).ADF will be developing a slow, careful and steady system of training for Druidic clergy, equivalent to that gone through by professional clergy in other religions. We will not be in any hurry to initiate people (though we may create and publish self-dedication rituals for the first level of participation), since an obsession with rank and titles is usually counterproductive to actual spiritual, artistic and scholarly growth. A correspondence course has been suggested and I'm willing to give it serious consideration, once we have the basics figured out.Although our primary focus will be on the beliefs and practices of our Indo-European ancestors, and on how these can be adapted to modern circumstances, we will not tolerate racism or nonsense about "Aryan blood." The Indo-Europeans were a motley assortment of tribes speaking related languages -- not a "race". All of our ancestors are of mixed blood, and most of the black people in America have (however involuntarily) some European genes. So anybody, regardless of their race or color, who is sincerely interested in participating in ADF will be made welcome. Similarly, the IE peoples are known to have had both male and female clergy, and those tribes influenced by shamanistic practices frequently had clergy who were ambiguous in their gender identification. For these historical reasons, as well as the fact that ADF is a Neopagan religion, we will not tolerate sexism nor restrict membership or rank on the basis of gender or affectional preferences. Having said all that, let me add that I have no intentions of letting extremists of any persuasion use ADF for purposes not in keeping with our original goals.We will have a carefully structured hierarchy, based on actual skills and knowledge obtained and demonstrated, with both upward and downward mobility. The training system will involve the setting of specific standards in all the areas necessary for functioning at the different levels, and these standards will be published in the handbook and widely disseminated throughout the Neopagan media, in order to prevent false claims of rank. Our primary approach is going to be the attainment not just of competency, but of excellence. Democratic safeguards will be built in, but we do not expect everyone in ADF to be qualified for (or even interested in) attaining the rank of clergy. After all, the original Druids were only a small percentage of their Paleopagan communities, and not everyone has (or needs) a clerical vocation. Nor will rank in other Neopagan organizations guarantee equivalent rank in ADF, since we have no way of knowing what standards other groups are using, nor how strictly enforced they are.The Ancient Druids were polytheists rather than mono- or duotheists; so our main approach will be a pluralistic one. We are not going to promote any One True Right and Only Way of Druidism, merely whatever happens to work for us. This means, among other things, that we intend to maintain friendly relations with as many other Druid organizations as possible, and will encourage our members to investigate these alternate Druid paths.We are going to take our time putting the whole system together. Based on solid research and a knowledge of the mistakes made by other Neopagan groups in the past, we can create something magnificent. But like an oak tree, it will take time to become strong, and we have no intentions of trying to force its growth. Within two to three years we should get the primary seeds planted. Then the results will be up to the individuals who have heard the trees whispering in their ears, and who know that they are meant to walk a Druid way.
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Cigfran's picture
How to Be a Nature-Worshipper When You're Surrounded by ConcreteA recent change to the Dedicant program is the inclusion of a section about "Nature Work." While on the surface seeming quite easy, some of us were soon scratching our heads-how do we get in touch with nature if we live in the city?For some of us originally read the nature work requirement as two-pronged: vague notions of communing with nature" combined with becoming a walking Audubon guide; however, I've come to realize that the nature requirement is much more than that, but actually encourages a deep understanding of our world and our place in it as organic beings.While it is certain that being a Druid is more than being a "tree-hugger"--for the classical Druids were judges, doctors, artists, lawyers, the true "professional class" of the Celts--it is usually agreed that the natural world is an important one for the modern Druid.But how does one connect to the natural world when she lives in the city?How can one feel as connected to nature as, say, a farmer, when she's surrounded by glass, steel, and concrete all day, when her lighting source is not the sun, but flourescent tubing?Is it even possible to feel close to the natural world when living in an urban environment?You'd be surprised.Western society seems to have preconceived notions of what nature is--giant redwoods, mountains, lakes, deserts. However, if we are ever to truly understand the world around us, to fulfil our need for connection to the earth, our understanding of "Nature" must be revolutionized. We must move beyond the polarized concepts of the pastoral, which pits the "purity" of the natural world against the "corruption" of civilization, as if these were two completely separate realities. Instead, we must recognize that the word "nature" refers to the whole of the earth, wherein the city and the country are intimately connected to one another in terms of resources. Moreover, we must realize that just because a certain environment has a higher population density and evidence of human development, doesn't mean it exists in some sort of unnatural, sterilized bubble. The druid realizes that nature is everything, that nature defines our plane of existence, even in the supposedly artificial environments of the city.It's a mistake to view the natural world as somehow absent in the city. The natural world isn't only a rural or primeval environment - the "natural world" is the entire world that we inhabit - it is the daily cycle of the sun and stars, the monthly cycle of the moon, the yearly cycle of the earth and its seasons. Being a city-dweller, I admit I'm not present at the farm where my food comes from, or the reservoir of my water. When I was younger, living in the country with my parents, we grew our own vegetables, and drank well water.Today, I buy vegetables at the supermarket and drink city water. But the fact is that I'm aware that I still depend on the natural world to support me, to grow my food, to supply me with water, with air.The seasons are still present in an urban environment. As a city-dweller, I am as much aware of the fact that it's winter as the country dweller is, though in different ways. Try waiting at a bus stop in Philly at 7 am in the middle of January-the fact that it's winter doesn't escape me. I notice the days growing longer, then shorter, then longer again, and so on in the well-known cycle. I notice the temperatures changing in accordance. I notice the leaves budding, falling, budding again. The cycle of the year is not lost, despite being in the city.The point is that part of nature work is observing and experiencing the world around you-being in touch with the reality of existence in such a way that you cannot ignore that the artificial cycles we live in-the 9-5 day for instance-are only as real as the natural cycles-day and night, etc.Now, let me say that part of this awareness of the environment is knowing the plants and animals native to the area (and it also doesn't hurt to know the plants newly introduced). The conscientious Druid has a thirst for knowledge in all areas, and knowledge of the earth and its inhabitants is no small part of this. I do believe that the city-dweller should have knowledge of the organic elements of the environment, be it knowing the few stars of high magnitude we can pick out among the skyscrapers, the weeds that pop up out of the sidewalk, the types of birds that live along rooftops, or the animals that you may have to avoid while walking under, say, I-95 (an unfortunate experience of mine involving rats). The important thing is to be able to integrate your knowledge of the urban environment with that of the surrounding countryside.I live in Philadelphia, which, while certainly lacking in prestige, isn't lacking in vacant lots and busy streets. But Philly is a city of trees, from Fairmount Park (the largest municipal park in the world), to the numerous smaller parks throughout the city, to the fact that many of the main streets downtown are named for trees (Chestnut, Walnut, Spruce, Pine, etc.). Nearly every street, particularly in the part of the city I live in, is lined with trees and flowers. Once acknowledging this, I saw how I could take this environment and turn it to my advantage. The abundance of trees, even downtown, gives me a chance to get acquainted with different types of trees on my own time without having to leave the city for the state parks out in the suburbs (not that I wouldn't do that anyway, but it's a question of having the time, and frankly, I'm conserving gas this way).Being an Urban Druid can make you intimately aware of humanity's impact on the earth. One specific way is through the use of automobiles, for example, another advantage of living in the city is that I have public transportation, meaning that I can drastically cut back on using my car-and so cut back on air pollution, wasting gas, etc. On nicer days, I can ride my bike and so even eliminate using the bus and subway. And cities often have recycling programs, which also allows the urban Druid another way to participate in taking care of the earth.There are a number of community gardens in the city, wherein a city block is transformed into a number of small, outdoor gardens suitable for growing flowers and vegetables, formerly only a luxury of suburbanites. If, like me, you find yourself too busy to take care of an entire outdoor garden, you can do as I did and start an herb garden. Though I live in an apartment, I have my own small container garden in the kitchen; I'm growing parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (a little joke from my aunt), and basil, which I'm able to use in cooking.And so one can easily be aware of nature and a defender of nature, even while living in an urban environment. If anything, the urban Druid is forced to recognize how her own life is tied into the greater web, not only in her neighborhood, not only in her city, but in the surrounding countryside, where her food is grown and her water is purified in reservoirs. Living in the city should never be an obstacle to connecting with the natural world.
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Member-588's picture
Making the gods part of our everyday lives is simpler than we often think.We come home from ritual energized, connected, inspired, and determined to keep up the relationship with those who dwell in Otherworlds. Then we look around. No nemeton. No bonfire. No well. No knowledgeable ritualists to guide us through the process. No time! Oh well, there's a ritual about once every six weeks. Wait a minute! That's not all there is to life or even to our Pagan religion. You don't have to have all the lovely trappings, you may not even always want them. So, what can we do at home, in those few minutes here and there that busy people can steal for themselves?To start, let's look at physical structures. We have a pretty elaborate ritual setup. Do you need a whole nemeton at home? It's nice if you plan to do that sort of formal ritual, and can make a lovely meditation spot, but you don't actually need it. What do you need? How can you approximate the various shrines and altars in your own home? First I'm going to describe something that will work best for a person who is in their own home. Later, I'll mention some adaptations for a dorm or room in a non-Pagan household.We need the basic ritual elements that define sacred space; a "center", a fire and water. The center is the central axis, the roof tree. If you don't have a central chimney, there is probably a staircase somewhere near the middle of the house. This is your bile, the roof tree which holds the whole house together and enables you to go up and down freely as our "world tree" enables us to pass between worlds freely. As such, you might want to decorate that wall with a tree of life picture or stone carving or a quilt of that name. You can put an incense (or better, sweet oil burner on a shelf or side table under it.When you come down in the morning, go up to bed at night, or first return from a trip, use your roof tree to foster your awareness of our constant movement between the natural, human and spiritual worlds. Let the simple act of walking up and down stairs, or of touching the side of your chimney, become a meditative reconnection with all the levels at which we exist. No, you probably can't do it every time you go up and down stairs, there are kids to yell at and missing tie-tacks to find while running madly about, but once or twice a day will help you to remember who you are.What of the fire? We can't very well keep a sacred fire burning in the house, can we? Or can we? What is the pilot flame on the water heater, furnace or cook stove if not an eternal flame? Now, it lacks something of atmosphere to go down to the basement for worship, although there is historic precedent for it. What is the "hearth and heart" of your home? If you have a fireplace, you're home free! Look at the Scottish tradition of smooring the fire at bedtime; it's a lovely, quiet, meditative moment to focus on the sanctity, security and permanence of your home.If you don't have a fireplace, look to the "fire" you use most for domestic tasks, the stove. Doesn't everyone seem to gravitate to the kitchen, anyway? Since it's probably prohibitive to light a whole bonfire in the kitchen, how about a nice little cast iron brazier, especially if it's cauldron shaped, which can live next to the stove? Light it as you begin to cook a meal, briefly giving thanks for the use of this powerful force for our daily needs. Do you or the kids do homework at the kitchen table? It can also be a fuel of inspiration. You might hang a Brigit's cross or com dolly above it, or even a sun face.Where better to think of sacred water, flowing water, than the bathroom. I think that indoor plumbing is well worth our reverence! Seriously, it's not hard to create a little fountain or sculpture of river rocks and shells to place beside the sink or in a corner of the tub. When you are in there for your own daily ablutions, pour a cup of water over this small shrine so it cascades down into it's own "pool", perhaps a china or even plastic bowl. Ask for the continuing presence and goodwill of that goddess or spirit who keeps the water in your house or in the land under it.If you feel moved to offer a gift of silver or nuts or a charm in the form of something you need, you can place it there until you are able to put it in a nearby stream, lake or pond. Try not to offer your best ring down the drain unless you're really in need! Once again, as the connection with fire reminds us of our ability to harness that wild power, so this moment of contemplating water reminds us to be still and deep, to listen to the flowing forces within the earth.In our rituals, after we have opened these three portals between worlds, we welcome three kindreds; the gods, the beloved dead, and the spirits of nature. How shall we attend to them at home? If you have a personal patron deity, you can determine the proper place for a shrine based upon who he or she is. A shrine to Brid belongs in the kitchen or by the fireplace or near your desk for inspiration. A shrine to Manannan might be pan of your water focus, or might be at the front door since he is a guide between worlds and is found at boundaries. A shrine to Cernunnos or Flidais might look awfully like a hunting trophy on the wall, or be a small circle of trees in the yard. Lugh might like to be remembered at your work or in the "seat of authority" to which you retire after a long day. The Dagda can be found in the bedroom or the kitchen or your comfy chair. And so on.If you want a general work-altar for honoring all the gods as you need to, then you will want to put aside a corner as your "temple space". Mine lives between the computer and my desk and is put away most of the time, the icons or tools being used for "decorations" atop a shelf or tucked safely into a drawer, since the space is often needed by the kids or the person at the computer. Take your time finding out what works for you. The gods are patient and they sometimes give hints. Don't forget the shrine in your car. Where else do you have so much time for contemplation, privacy to speak aloud, and need of protection?I believe that ancestor worship belongs in the home. Powerfully. Constantly. Simply. Make a collection of photos, mementos and favorite items. from previous generations of your families. Put it where the household gathers, in the dining room or living room for example. You might make a pretty dish or .incense burner a part 01 the display, so that you can offer food from your feasting when you have a traditional or old favorite dish.You could also burn a special scent of incense in this shrine. Did Grandma always wear rosewater? Did Great-grandpa smoke a pipe? Did Great-uncle Harry travel to China and bring back a sandalwood box? Smell carries memory more than any other sense. On special occasions be sure to include those family members who no longer have bodies. Tell stories about them. Remind the children which days were a favorite holiday or a birthday or anniversary. Keep it simple but reverent, and they will surely be there to help when you need perspective, patience, wisdom, or solutions to thorny problems.And what of the sidhe? Ask the kids. Is there a fairy mound or fairy wood nearby? Go out walking when the moon is full and bright and bring them gifts of feathers, brightly colored things, milk and honey, or a tot of whiskey if they prefer. There are those who point out to us. that the land spirits here are those whom the Native Americans knew, and they prefer com meal or tobacco, berries, shiny things, but never alcohol!The nature spirits are the spirits of plants and animals, as well as the spirits of place and the sidhe-folk. Your bird feeder can become a place of offering to them, especially if you can put a deer-lick, or the like, nearby. H there is an interesting rock in your yard, make an altar of it and leave pretty things or food offerings there for the critters. Some of your food leftovers can become offerings for the nature spirits, who will accept them in their form as ravens or crows or starlings, squirrels and cats and raccoons. Why not? Do we not share meat with the gods, offering them the parts of a meal they can "eat" but consuming the flesh on their behalf?Do not forget the Earth Mother. Without her we wouldn't exist. Where should her altar go? Everywhere! Your worship of the Earth can be expressed through recycling, turning off lights, cleaning up the neighborhood, asking permission before planting or harvesting a garden, and so on. This is easy worship to teach our children, who will remind us again and again. But how and where can we focus our devotion? You could put a table by the recycling bins, with gifts the earth has given you and which you give back to her; first fruits, goddess-shaped rocks or holed stones, and so on. There might be a special rock or tree in the back yard through which you connect most powerfully with the earth. Water it lovingly. It could also be located by the kitchen sink, or by your bed, or wherever you feel most connected with the land and its cycles.And, how will you reduce, contain and make manageable the chaos toward which the universe tends? Why not show the outsiders a place, as we do in ritual, with a gargoyle at your front gate or at the bottom of your drive. You could even impress the neighbors with a pair of protective stone lions or dogs. The doorway itself provides a barrier as well as a passageway. Folklore is full of protective charms; a horseshoe, a rowan tree or yarrow plant, a knot of string or a drawing decorating the entry way to confuse those who would cause harm, etc. Personally, I've never felt a need for such protection, trusting those to whom I give honor to protect the space I have made theirs. The advantage to saying to the many beings of our pantheon, "My house is your house", is that they will help to protect its peace and security, and generally will remember not to fight or track mud inside.Thus, your entire house and the land around it become your nemeton, your sacred grove. If you live in an apartment you might have to be a bit creative, but reasonable substitutes aren't hard to find; a picture of a gargoyle on your mailbox if that is your outer boundary, or else on your apartment door, replaces the stone one on the walk. There is surely a tree or bush nearby, or a. window box garden you can create and a bird feeder you can hang to honor the spirits of nature.And where is the center for you? Probably not the elevator shaft, even if it's the center of the building, but perhaps the point of demarcation between public space (the living room) and private space (the bedrooms). You can place your remembrance of the vertical axis at that doorway. Again, dorms are a bit harder; often no fire is permitted, you haven't your own source of running water, and the roommate might not share your religious beliefs. These concerns make it all the more important to surround yourself with simple reminders that you are not alone in the universe.A bonsai tree with a dish of water at its roots and an incense burner or little electric night light nearby make a lovely altar containing the central axis or world tree, the sacred fire and the well of wisdom. Pictures that remind you of the three kindreds surround your bed, and you can still find places outside to offer a dish of milk to the animals who convey your caring to the spirits of nature. Place a rock that feels particularly solid and old on your desk or under the head of your bed, and on the door, a picture that seems protective to ward off unwelcome chaos.You can still take the time, morning and evening, to touch and meditate on these items, to change the water and the incense (or scented oil rubbed on the light bulb). Offerings to your gods and ancestors might come in the form of things you can thumbtack below their pictures; pictures of the things you identify with them, colored ribbons, etc., rather than things which need to be burnt or dropped in a well or which get messy.So, with a general sense of sacred space set up around you, worship and magic become ever more a part of daily life. You needn't go away from home to find the gods and spirits, but rather live in well-worn patterns of devotion which you join with your community in celebration on the high days.BibliographyBell, Catherine; Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice; Oxford University Press, 1992.Glassie, Henry; Folklife in New EnglandGlassie, Henry; Irish Folk History; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.Ross, Anne; Every Day Life of the Pagan Celts (now The Pagan Celts); GP Putnam's Sons, NY, 1970.Webb, Mary; Precious Bane; Penguin, Books 1985 (fiction with Strong reference to folklife in East Anglia, first published in 1924.)
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Member-1586's picture
I've been thinking.There's a spider building a web in the corner of my hearth. I've been watching her work. Occasionally, she stops to examine a section of weaving, decides that it is all wrong, and busily takes it apart to be rewoven to her satisfaction. I read somewhere that a spider's line contains the strength of a bridge cable, but it's her inner strength that interests me.Last week I accidentally caught her web in my feather duster. By the next morning she had woven a new one. She never shows frustration; she's simply determined - and patient. She's amazing - so patient and perfecting in her creation - so patient in waiting for her food. If only I could learn such patience; but I fear I am destined by nature to have a finger in every pot. There is always a small pile of books stacked at my bedstead, markers indicating where I stopped in my reading. Does everyone read books simultaneously like this, grabbing at words as if there will never be enough time to devour them all? I dash from task to task, from this idea to that, and in between, I am lost in some reverie of the moment.This frenzy of thought and activity has become my work, and I take it very seriously. Soon the hot southern sun will be high in the sky, and my garden will beg to be watered and weeded, tidied and admired. Birds will call from the great oak in the yard for their daily sprinkling of seed.Squirrels will chatter for their corn. There's laundry to be done, but the computer and my novel-in-progress calls. There's a border of brambles and berries waiting to be hung in the bedroom, and the pencil cactus begging to be repotted since he's growing like a lanky teenager, all elbows and knees.And my cat begs to be held and petted. These things - the house, the garden, my mind, are my work. Not, perhaps, the stuff of high industry, but meaningful nevertheless - and satisfying. I have been lucky in my life to have work that satisfies. When my children were very young, I had first college and then my free-lance writing, and, of course, them - a job of negligible pay but just rewards. Later, I had a dozen gratifying years of teaching.Yes, I have been very lucky. Work should create value in our lives. To get involved, to do something well, and to find meaning in what you do, to be satisfied- these things make work sacred, even if we are participating in mundane tasks like cutting the crusts off the bread and pressing a cookie cutter into what would otherwise be an ordinary peanut butter sandwich for a child. Ordinary, everyday, but never humdrum. Never boring. When everything we do is art and everything we do provides satisfaction, then our world bursts with the meaningful - like the spider's. If we approach our lives with joy, even the smallest task is infused with meaning, and we are fulfilled. Americans, especially, have been brainwashed to think that it is only our peak experiences, our greatest accomplishments that have meaning. We tend to live our lives waiting for life to "happen" to us. If we never reach the mountaintop, we despair, say the climb was "all for nothing."What if we're very wrong?What if life is not lived at the top of the mountain?Once you get there, after the shouting and the initial thrill have gone, what is there really to do, after all, but climb down again?What if life- life with meaning and purpose and satisfaction- were actually lived, not at the peak, but on the sides, in the struggle and in the climb?What if we stopped often to pick wild flowers from a sunny crevice and string them in our hair, to watch the clouds change and the weather come, to notice the shape of the most challenging rock face and wonder at its creation?What if we live every day as if we will die tomorrow?What would happen then to crime and anger, jealousy and hatred, petty hurts, abuses? What if we approached all of life with a steadfast calm, no matter how difficult the problem?What if we said, "This, too, shall pass," to every hardship?Who would we then be? And how much of the sacred would each day hold?What if every day we spun our web and had it swept away by the broom, only to spin it again with infinite patience and a new design?What if we sat back satisfied at the end of every day, knowing that we had accomplished?Would you be different in your spider-self?Would I?
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Member-1136's picture
Deciding to follow a nature-based religion if you live in the midst of a city can be a challenge. Druids who live on farms or in woods, or even in the midst of suburban greenery can often step outside and immediately be in contact with the Earth. But those of us who are surrounded by concrete and live shoulder to shoulder with neighbors must make a conscious effort to ignore the pressing humanity and feel the rhythms of the Great Mother pulsing through our days.When I first began reading works by pagans about the path, I was drawn to works that focused on their relationships with nature. Books that advocated cordoning off a corner of a room for meditation, or working indoors with candles, mirrors or pendulums were of little interest to me, precisely because escape from my room was a fundamental attraction of paganism for me. It was the gulf I felt, between my daily life and the rhythms of the Mother Earth, that spurred me towards our religion. It is perhaps why I was drawn first to Druidism rather than Wicca or other goddess-based religious practices.So I turned to books that taught me how sit beneath a tree, how to notice the habits of animals, and those that spoke of vision quests in the wilderness. Many of them suggested that I plant a grove of trees in my yard, or grow my own food, or take long walks through the woods. All of them assumed that I lived deep in the forest, had leisure to spend weeks out in nature, or, at the very least, possessed a fair sized yard that could handle these great works of horticulture that I was supposedly developing. But few of these suggestions are practical, or even practicable, if you live in the city. I've never been much of the church-only-on-Sunday type and my hopes of getting to the wilderness proper to practice my "new" spirituality on a regular basis were few and far between.Despite living in one of Washington, DC's most urban neighborhoods, I am fortunate enough to live close to what I consider one of the District's most impressive "monuments": Rock Creek Park. From my door, you can walk 4 blocks into a small patch of trees known locally as Klingle Woods. It borders Piney Branch Creek, which cuts through an old Indian quartz quarry and runs directly into Rock Creek. While the Park Service has been kind enough to carve out and laboriously maintain an asphalt bike and jogging path along the banks of what was once a mighty creek, it is the numerous small dirt paths that first gave me the connection I needed to the Earth.There are many things I have been able to do and learn in this "urban" park that I never would have thought possible inside a city. I've sat beneath an oak tree and used it to plot the path of the sun over the course of the year. I've wandered over the hills, finding vistas where one can see only an occasional house, and imagining how Washington was in the days when the land was owned by the wind and the rain. I've found a meadow that is made for sun-worshipping in the depths of December and I've clambered through Piney Branch in search of quartz and the hoped-for Indian relic. And I've seen animals: eagles, hawks, deer, raccoons, and —once— a red fox. I know the paths through the forest almost better than I do the streets surrounding my neighborhood. So I am more fortunate than many urbanites– I do have a private wilderness that I can find any summer evening or early morning before work.Despite my bond with this particular piece of landscape, there are large swathes of my day in which my longing for a bit of wild earth makes me impatient of the manicured tree boxes and flower beds of downtown. It once depressed me utterly to think of the way in which nature has been trapped, stuffed, and mounted for urbanites to "enjoy." The flowers seem little more than an architectural extension of the buildings at whose feet they sit and the trees reach their lonely arms across concrete and asphalt in a vain attempt to touch one another. I would walk on my lunch hour and wonder how the Earth would ever survive the indignities our species hands to her.One week, deep in the grey depths of winter, I created a visualization or meditation for myself that I first practiced on a tiny triangle of green, pinioned between K Street, I Street, and Vermont and 15th. It is a tiny park with large oak trees, a statue of some random war hero and plenty of winos and sleeping bums. In the summer the place is covered with squirrels stashing away the leavings of lunch patrons and the air is filled with car horns and the occasional bubbly laughs of secretaries who have shed their shoes and are wiggling their toes through the grass. In winter, it is given over to the bums and hurrying walkers on their way to and from work.The visualization I tried that first day went something like this:Ground yourself, feeling your roots reach down into the earth, down below the concrete, down through the earthworms and decaying matter, down until you feel your roots drawing up the energy of the Earth. Then reach out to the tree nearest you with those roots, feeling its roots reaching towards you as well. Feel these roots pushing up the concrete, reaching below the buildings, connecting with other roots of trees, flowers or other plants. Look at the landscape around you and feel the thin covering of concrete over the power of these roots. Imagine what the landscape will look like centuries from now, if humans have abandoned the site. See the way in which nature will reclaim the landscape. See the vines tugging at the bricks, the grasses pushing apart the sidewalks, the roads springing with great trees and flowers. Feel the march of the ants carrying away refuse, piece by infinitesimal piece. Then look in the air. Notice the birds and the bugs. Watch them alight from tree to tree, connecting downtown with park with suburb with wilderness. Feel the cleansing power of the wind, the scouring of the rain, the melting of the sun. Imagine them working slowly, inexorably, to erode the structures around you. Imagine the Earth as a vast body upon which the structures of humans sit as a thin crust that will vanish the moment we give up our vigilance.I still often swing between fear for the Earth and joy in her strength. And there are times when I forget to notice life being lived, regardless of the works of humans. But I've found this picture of roots and crumbling structures to be one of the most powerful for connecting me to the Earth in almost any surrounding. I've begun to understand my city in a new way. Instead of seeing concrete and glass, I notice the weeds along the road. I look out of my window at work and see, not the skyscrapers of Arlington, but the marshy tides of the Potomac. I notice the sun and the clouds, the moon and the stars. It is the minute traces of nature that the urban druid must track to plot the pulse of the Earth. And though it has been far from easy, my struggle to see life through the eyes of the Earth Mother has, for me, transformed this city of concrete and steel into a lifecelebrating, sacred wilderness.Ancient Mother, blessings and welcome.This article originally appeared in "What's Brewing," Mugwort Grove's newsletter.
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Member-33's picture
(Originally published in Druid's Progress 9)It was asked in an issue of News From the Mother Grove, whether an ADF ritual needed to be done at festivals such as Starwood. I believe that we must do ADF rituals at major festivals, especially when ADF has a large presence on-site. This is especially true at Starwood, where the yearly members' meeting is held. Some of the factors to consider when deciding whether or not rituals should be done are: burnout, only two High Days during the heaviest part of the festival season, the need to "show the flag" and the need for ADF members who aren't members of local Groves to attend and participate in an ADF ritual.I understand that doing the same ritual repeatedly can lead to burnout. I don't know if this is because newcomers need to be taught the ritual every time or because the same people are doing the same ritual every time. A couple of alternatives are available to help with this problem. If it is because the ritual is so much the same each time, the solution is to have more styles; a Proper, a Common, and as many more styles as can be designed. If the sameness of the ritual is boring, maybe the entire structure needs to be looked at. I don't feel that this is the case.If teaching newcomers the ritual format is a problem, delegate. At festivals where other members are present have somebody else lead the ritual and pre-ritual meeting. This moves an experienced Druid into the position of "Druid/flamen/brahman." He/She would attend the meeting to make sure it goes according to the outline and to field questions from the people leading the ritual. This also would give aspiring ADF clergy a chance to show their stuff.The majority of the Pagan festivals take place from mid-May to late August. This makes sense since the weather is pleasant and most people get their vacations during that period. During that time, there are only two High Days, Mean Samradh and Lughnasadh. According to the Grove Organizers' Handbook, each Grove is to meet at least twice a month. A ritual is not required at these fortnightly meeting. However, it would be useful to have examples of what to do for twice monthly ritual. A shortened form of the liturgy is one recommendation. Festivals that occur at other than High Days are a good chance to show off these alternatives.One important objective that needs to be achieved at festivals is to show the flag. This means more than two or three workshops about ADF. Again, it is better politically if other members of ADF get a chance to run the show. This would help dispel the idea that Isaac runs ADF as a petty tyrant, albeit an enlightened one. Besides lectures on Druidism, the ritual, to me, is the major drawing point at festivals. This is where non-members get to see the organization at work and get a feeling for the aesthetics. It is all well and good for people to read about our format, but experiencing it is a major step beyond that.The final point is giving members who are not part of a local Grove a chance to attend ADF rituals. I met one member who had belonged to the association for two years and had never seen an ADF ritual. When going to a festival where ADF is present officially, especially Starwood, one expects to attend an ADF ritual. At present, I believe most of our members do not belong to ADF Groves. Festivals are a chance for them to get together and be active in an ADF ritual. One of the points of having a standardized liturgy is to allow a small group of people, basic strangers, to sit down and put a ritual together very quickly and still have it work. It also allows people to attend a ritual and know what is going to happen without attending a major planning meeting.Like it not, we need to do rituals at festivals, even if the festival doesn't fall on a High Day. We need to show that ADF is more than an irregular newsletter for most people and is an active system/tradition.
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Ian Corrigan's picture
From its founding, Ar nDraiocht Fein has chosen to approach divinity and spirit through the traditional models of Indo-European polytheism. We have taught that the many gods and spirits are individual persons, and not simply 'aspects' of some greater single 'God', or of any pair of deities, male and female. We find no evidence that the ancients believed that all goddesses are aspects of one Great Goddess, or all gods of one Great Horned God. Rather the Powers (i.e. the god/desses and spirits) were worshipped individually, each given their proper honor.In our effort to rebuild the Old Ways we encourage students to adopt this approach to divinity. To some it will seem perfectly natural, while others may find it a bit jarring at first. Most Pagans come to us from modern cultures in which the divine is almost universally described as a single thing. This common assumption is the result of many centuries of deliberate effort by the missionaries of monotheistic religion.The Victory of Monotheism.Beginning, perhaps, with a pharaoh of ancient Khemi, followed by the prophets of Israel and Judea and the Magi of Zoroaster, a small group of ancient peoples came to believe that a single divine person, omnipotent and omniscient, was the creator, owner and operator of the universe. They taught that the god/desses of other tribes were at best delusion or minor spirits, and at worst demons. They used military power to destroy ancient ways, razing the holy places, slaying their men and raping their women. They proselytized in the Graeco-Roman world, and monotheism gained control of the Roman Empire, pursuing a systematic effort to destroy Pagan religion. Eventually the new religious movement known as Christianity was enforced throughout Europe by the cultural descendant of the Empire, the Roman Catholic Church.In the following centuries monotheistic belief spread through the world. Carried by merchants and missionaries in the in the Christian world, as well as by military force, monotheist ideas spread among traditional religions. Perhaps the final phase of that ideological expansion was the European colonialism of recent centuries. Using military and economic power, European nations ruled much of Africa, Asia and the New World. They did whatever they could to destroy traditional religions wherever they found them, and to impose monotheism.The social Darwinism of the colonial era taught that there had been an 'evolution' in society and religion, and that European Culture and monotheism were the natural flower of human history. In this way they justified their economic and cultural domination of third-world peoples.As a result of this long history of cultural imperialism, most of the intellectual world that the only 'civilized' concept of divinity is the monotheistic notion of a single universal being. Modern monotheism isn't limited to religious orthodoxies. They may be influenced by late Hindu philosophy, and may reject the Hebrew tribal Deity of the Mosaic tales in favor of a much more abstract principle. But among intellectuals, polytheist notions are far too often dismissed as 'primitive superstition'.So it is not surprising when people bring monotheistic assumptions to their efforts to rebuild Paganism. That trend is supported by the strongly monotheistic trends of in much of so-called New Age thought. This modern esotericism combines Hindu and Buddhist doctrines with mystical strains of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The New Age often seeks to create a kind of universal religion, attempting to reconcile differences and applying novel interpretations to traditional symbols and ideas. This trend often restates the notion that humanity is undergoing a spiritual evolution from 'primitive' notions of many gods and spirits to a more 'sophisticated', unified understanding of divinity.This version of spiritual evolution is not really less insulting to the ancestors coming from New Agers than it is from fundamentalists. It devalues the spiritual traditions of tribal and traditional religions, and asserts that western technological society is developing the 'true' new religion to supersede those of the past.Unity and DiversityADF has largely rejected the idea of uniting the world's religions into one coherent whole. Examination of both the means and the goals of the world's spiritual paths makes it clear that there are several very distinct kinds of religion in the world, and a huge selection of subsets and sects. It is fashionable to deplore that situation, and to blame many of the world's conflicts on our inability to unify our beliefs. Both orthodox and New Age monotheists have suggested that if only the world could come together under the banner of Divine Truth, our petty divisions and conflicts would end. From a polytheistic perspective that expectation appears deeply flawed.When we look at nature and the world we do not find unity or conformity. Instead we find a riot of diversity, an infinite blooming and combining of forms. A constant flux of birth, a vast divergence of life-paths, and an equally constant reflux of death takes every object through its physical existence, with a smaller number of more constant forms, such as sun, moon and the land.As Pagans we take the reality of natural systems as one of our primary models of spiritual reality. So we find that the spiritual worlds and their inhabitants are also diverse, multiple and decentralized. Just as a physical ecosystem is composed of many different beings and processes, we understand the spiritual worlds to be the same. To assert that all these many things are under the exclusive rulership of a single mind, no matter how great, seems to run counter to the plain order of the world.To continue an ecological metaphor, the many religions of the world provide a spiritual 'species diversity'. To attempt to unify them would be like breeding all the world's beasts into one generalized beast. Science teaches us that there is greater gain to be had from encouraging diversity, even if it requires special effort to contain conflict.It is, however, unlikely that polytheism and its cultural implications are more likely than monotheism to cause social or cultural conflicts. The history of efforts to impose monotheistic religions on the world is, alone, enough evidence of that. Even in principle, the tenets of monotheism so directly contradict the order of the natural world that they must inevitably cause conflict. The human species is naturally of such diverse opinion and belief that any attempt to fins universal agreement on spiritual specifics must inevitably trample on the ways of many groups.To put it simply, the desire for unity far too often, perhaps inevitably, becomes a demand for uniformity. When a belief system teaches that there is a single Divinity that humans are striving to discover, that system will inevitably produce conflict, because individuals and groups will always arrive at different conclusions about what that divinity is. Systems such as Christianity and Buddhism have found themselves mired in these difficulties, as varying sects proclaim that theirs is the 'true' version of their truth, and work to discredit one another.By contrast the polytheism of Hinduism has produced many sects which have most often coexisted with each other. Those sects, though not without internal conflict and disagreement, hold to a set of mutual core beliefs, and recognize one another as on the same path, even as they keep their distinctive traditions. It is precisely the acknowledgment of multiple deities that makes this possible.Polytheistic ConceptsWith no mythic image of a being that is either the ruler or the sum of the cosmos, polytheistic philosophy is free to pursue real diversity, real tolerance. We assert that the Cosmos is intrinsically multiple in expression, whether as chemicals or as the stuff of spirit. The best attempts to depict Cosmic Wholeness might be mandalas - patterns made up of the dance of an often vast number of distinct persons and things. No single symbol, or being, can express the totality of Cosmos.When we take up polytheism, we are plainly rejecting the claims of some religions that their God is the creator, owner and operator of the Cosmos. But we are also granting that the worship of every Spirit is valid and honorable. We are saying that every people, and even every person, may have their special spirits, their private ways and worship, and find acceptance. We reject the notion of the 'jealous God'. In polytheism all the god/desses worship one another, and their worshippers are seldom restricted to a single deity or form of worship. It is always proper to honor the gods of one's neighbors, and to expect them to honor one's own. We affirm that different life-ways, different paths, lead to different places. The Gods, the practices, even the morality of the farmer is distinct from that of the artisan, the merchant or the warrior. So we teach ourselves not to measure the world against our own standards, and to remember that there are many ways.In the same way, polytheism promotes a wide variety of choices for the modern individual. Each person will in time develop a very personal set of god/desses and spirits to whom she gives worship Personal ancestors and local spirits of the land combine with the gods of one's labor and skill and the general worship of one's community to create religion with unique combinations in every household. We learn to extend tolerance not only to those outside our conceptual villages, but to our immediate neighbors and kin, with their special ways.Polytheistic religion offers the individual a truly personal spiritual path inside an accepting community of spiritual principle and practice. It offers families a way to build spirituality into heir homes. It offers communities a way to come together in acceptance of one another. It offers the world a return to a more realistic relationship with the goddesses, the Gods, and all the Spirits.In closing I pray that all those ancient Powers of the Elder Days will continue to reveal themselves to us, and draw closer as we worship them.
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IsaacBonewits's picture
© Isaac Bonewits Originally published in Druid's Progress #2For what reason is it that ye sit here under the oak? Why is it that ye have come together out under the stars? Have ye come that ye might not be alone? If so, it is good. But verily, I say unto you: Many there are who have come together, yet remain alone.Do ye sit in the open that ye might come to know Nature? If so, it is good. But verily, I say unto you: Many there are who have sat for hours and have risen up knowing less than when they sat down.Rather, in your coming together seek to know in what way ye may help the one who is next to you, and strive to act justly. And in your sitting down in the fields of the Earth-Mother, open your minds as well as your eyes. Let your meditation grow and branch out as the oak which is over your head. Except that ye have done these things, your sitting is in vain and coming is futility.And why is it that ye do stand up before others and speak unto them? Do ye teach them the ways of the Ancient Druids? If so, it is good. For they had their wisdom, and that is oft forgot. But verily, I say unto you: In their day, even they also were young in their traditions.The wise are not constrained to learn only that which they are taught. Yea, even as there is a time for talking, is there also a time for not talking.In the silence of your being shall ye find that which is not of your being; and in the Earth-Mother shall ye find that which is not of the Earth-Mother; in Be'al shall ye be made aware, and your awareness shall fill you.Ye shall be like the morning sun which has risen and whose brightness is already full, but whose path is yet ever upward, and the light of your awareness shall sweep before it all the shadows of your uncertainty.Then shall ye need wait no more; for this is the great End and all else is but Beginning.This is from the old Reformed Druids of North America, and was written around 20 years ago. In the RDNA's polytheology, the Earth Mother is the personification of the material world, and Be'al (i.e., Bel, Belenos, etc.) is the personification of the abstract essence of reality. Despite the psuedo King James writing style, I have always liked the meditations and poems in the old RDNA scriptures, and will share some of them with you from time to time.
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IsaacBonewits's picture
ADF has only three dogmas, which I announced during my tenure as the first Archdruid: The first is the Doctrine of Archdruidic Fallibility (all members are required to believe that the leadership messes up from time to time). The Second Druidic Dogma is that there are to be no more dogmas. The Third Druidic Dogma is "No, we really meant it, there are to be no more dogmas!"Somewhat more seriously, there are important differences between doctrines and dogmas. Every religion has doctrines, which are merely formal statements of belief or disbelief. A doctrine becomes a dogma when some institution has the power to literally or figuratively destroy your life for disagreeing with the doctrine.ADF does resemble structured churches in some ways because it was designed to be a mainstream religious institution someday and we didn't think it made sense to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Many things that mainstream religions do are sensible and harmless. You may have noticed the lack of religious murders among American Buddhists, Quakers, and Unitarian Universalists, even though those groups all have bylaws, customs, buildings, fund raising activities, etc.Strong beliefs rooted in a common vision are not dogmas, even if membership in a group may depend upon accepting those beliefs. Refusing to allow others to have strong beliefs, however, may border on the dogmatic.ADF is, among many other things, a complex game we have all agreed to play according to a set of rules. Insisting that the rules be honored is no more doctrinaire than insisting on football being played with footballs rather than baseballs or soccer balls.American Pagans in particular often have difficulty with organizational structures and methods, since our mainstream culture glorifies individuals and denigrates communities. In ADF we try to balance the needs of both individual members and of the organization as a whole. To do that balancing act often requires making rules and enforcing them, not to mention a constant tinkering with the rules to improve them.ADF isn't for everybody. Fortunately, there are many other backyards and balls, and people are free to chose their favorites so they can play the games they want to play.
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