The Practical Value of Devotion
I have often talked about the importance of daily devotionals. We, as ADF Druids, often state that by making offerings one builds relationships between the Kindreds, the Earth Mother, and almost any deity or spirit one may think of. We feel that this is the case; we believe that this is the case. It is fundamental to how we worship: we give so that the Kindreds/Earth Mother/deities/and spirits may give back in return. “May” is the functional word in this statement. I believe that the powers-that-be may chose to or not to return the blessings to us.
I discovered sometime ago that one may find unusual results when devotional practices are combined with everyday, practical undertakings. When I was taking one of the courses in the Brewers’ Guild Study Program, one was asked to make up a prayer – or a devotional – when making one’s brew/mead/wine. I wrote a separate song for each batch and I asked the Dagda to not only bless what I was making, but to help make it a successful undertaking. I not only prayed to the Dagda in song, I devoted the fruit of my work to Him.
The various wines/mead/metheglen that I made turned out well, and I felt, in my own mind, that the Dagda had blessed my work. The metheglen that I made even won 2nd place in a people’s choice award at an ADF Festival. I felt that the work that I did was blessed and was also an offering so that whenever someone drank one of my creations, they were also honouring the Dagda by drinking what had been offered to Him.
When I was running in races – a few years ago – I used to always begin the race with a prayer. I would ask for strength, stamina, speed, and endurance. For each mile that I ran, I would repeat that same prayer. While I never did finish in first place, I felt that the prayer and the rhythm of the prayer were instrumental in my doing as well as I did. Since I ran races every week, this was an activity that was carried out repeatedly with what I considered to be positive results.
In this case, the practical value of devotion was that it became internalized as a part of my running regimen. It wasn’t separate in the least. Running and the prayer that accompanied it were integrally intertwined. The devotion and the activity became one, naturally and organically.
I have been gardening for years. I find it healthy and therapeutic. My father has been growing tomatoes from seed for years, so every year, he would plant his tomatoes seeds in February, on the first quarter or sixth night of the moon, and then he would nurture those seeds until they became seedlings and then he would give me a lot of them. My father’s tomatoes have flown on airplanes with me and have been grown in many states. They are fabulous tomatoes. I consider them not only a gift, but a legacy.
My father turned 95 this year and this was the first year in my memory that he did not grow his tomatoes. I did what he used to do last year, which was to keep the seeds, label them, and get them ready to be planted in February, on the sixth night of the moon.
When I plant seeds, or when I plant seedlings, I say a prayer to the Earth Mother for each one. I thank her for the gift of potential and say that I plant this plant in Her name, and that the bounty will be in her honour. I then place the plant in the ground, arrange the soil nicely around each one, and then wait. As time passes and as the seeds and seedlings grown into hearty plants, I am always amazed at the transformation. The prayer that launched the plants is repeated again when the vegetables and fruits are harvested. For each tomato, for each leaf of basil, for every gift of the Earth Mother, I thank her for her bounty. When we plant something, we expect it to grow. Water, fertilize, care and more water, and we expect results. It is perhaps the expectation of agriculture. Yet, for a person who reveres the Earth Mother and the Spirits of Nature, this is an example of the laws of hospitality. We make offerings, in the form of seeds and/or seedlings and prayers. We continue to make offering through out the growing season. As the season matures, as the plants mature, they produce food for us and also exhibit the miracle of growth. When the fruits and vegetables are ready for harvest, we gather these gifts that have been given to us from the Earth Mother herself and the Spirits of Nature and we give thanks for that which has been given.
In a way, the waters that we give as offerings provide a tremendous gift in return. To the unknowing or to the unaware, this is merely the planting of seeds, the watering of the garden, and the picking of fruits and vegetables. Yet, to a child of the Earth Mother, it is really so very much more. It is an observance of a cycle that is as old as the world itself, that demonstrates the bounty of nature and the miracle of growth and harvest, and the exchange that happens right in our very own garden. We offer water as a practical gift of devotion, of the work that is to be done, and we gather the great gifts from the Earth Mother Herself. It is the practical side of devotion that finds the mundane, transforms it through offering and practice, into something sacred, through our belief, through our practice, through the harvest of the work that we have done. How fitting that we touch the earth when we gather the harvest: one hand on the plant, one hand on the Earth Mother, and the cycle is complete.
This Collection of Three
I was looking at the ADF website the other day, and a few things stuck out for me. I would like to share them with you.
From the ADF By Laws: We are dedicated to the preservation of our Holy Mother Earth, the full achievement of human potential, the revival of the worship of the Old Gods in a modern context, and the creation of a world of peace, love, freedom, health, and prosperity for all intelligent beings.
Our vision is that the Gods and Spirits are served in the modern world through:
Public temple worship with a skilled priesthood
Accessible religious training for all
A spiritual relationship with the Earth
Sustainable Pagan institutions
A flourishing family and community Pagan culture
Commonality of ritual practice
Honoring the Earth Mother
Scholarship and research
Reciprocity with the Gods and Spirits
Respect for others through living our virtues
Service to the community, land, and the Gods and Spirits
A few things out of this collection of three stood out to me: while these things apply to everyone collectively or individually, I wanted to focus for this moment on the ones that speak to individuals, the individuals that make up ADF.
The preservation of the Earth Mother and a revival of the worship of the Old Gods in a modern context is really what drew me to ADF in the first place and perhaps many others as well. The practitioners of an Earth-friendly religion would probably find the preservation of the Earth, our Earth Mother, as something desirable. Bring back the Old Gods? I think every one of us is called to this vision and the reality of making-it-so. In fact, this is something each and every one of us can do. I also see it akin to the “A spiritual relationship with the Earth” provision of our vision and the “Honoring the Earth Mother” part of our values.
Our values go on to mention the “commonality of ritual practice” and “reciprocity with the Gods and Spirits”, which are the hallmarks of what we do – that is our practice as is reflected in the use of the Core Order of Ritual and the practice of *ghosti, or reciprocity through offerings with the Gods and Spirits.
We also talk about “Accessible religious training for all”. This typically means the Dedicant Program and the various other study programs that stream from that first effort. Yet, here is an interesting idea and pathway that extends from this collection of three: you don’t need to be an ADF Dedicant to find the commonality of ritual practice and reciprocity with the Gods and Spirits. Folks that have or haven’t completed the Dedicant Program can be equally capable ADF Druids in practice and in relationship to the Kindred(s) that we honour.
Yes, yes, we would like for people to do the Dedicant Program and the other study programs that we offer free of charge. By doing so, one will experience the Eight High Days that we acknowledge. One will learn of the virtues and read some books that encourage scholarship, and make your altar, and do all the things that a Dedicant can do – but you may not desire to do so now – or ever. So how can we offer this “accessible religious training for all”?
For those people who are members of or attend worship services and/or other activities with Groves or Protogroves or Worship Groups, one may easily watch and learn at each of the public High Day observances. They are open to the public and I will guess that a good explanation of what is about to happen and why will precede each ritual. By doing so, one can take that ritual work that is observed and put it into practice for one’s self, whenever the need arises or the desire to reach out and make offerings to the Kindred(s) is felt.
Yet, not everyone has access to or membership in Groves, Protogroves, and Worship Groups – what then? Well, that is where some of the rest of us can help. This will take a little bit of searching, but not too much. First, consult the Liturgist Guild Yearbooks, in the member’s section of the ADF website at https://www.adf.org/members/guilds/liturgists/yearbooks/index.html. This has a list of ritual, prayers, and devotionals that were submitted to the Guild over a number of years. Many of the full rituals are in Core Order of Ritual (COoR) format and would be a good way to learn one’s way around the Core Order. If the rituals aren’t help enough, reach out to a priest – they are well versed in ritual and I predict will be very happy to help with ritual form. We have 33 priests currently – along with two more priests that are retired – and they would be glad to help with your ritual or offerings questions. I am one of those priests, so please feel free to reach out to me as well. Here is a link, under “Clergy”: https://www.adf.org/about/leaders/index.html
I would expect that while people may find a diversity of expression within a ritual context from our priests, one should also find a commonality of practice as far as the Core Order of Ritual goes. There are a number of articles on the ADF website about the Core Order, but why consult an article when you can talk to a priest instead.
As a priest, I have an understanding and am experienced with the practice of the Core Order of Ritual. Yet, as an ADF Druid, I can also make offerings to the Kindreds on a daily basis and help build my relationship with them every time I do so, Core Order or not. The building of relationships is what drives me onwards as an ADF Druid because I believe that it works. I feel the Kindred(s) in my life, sometimes forcefully, sometimes, quietly, but by doing, I feel more attached to my practice and also to that of ADF and its members as well.
I want everyone to be able to build relationships with their Kindred(s). In doing so, I believe that folks will feel their presence in their life and that the experience will enrich their lives. I hope, by the same building of relationships, that our members, and especially our solitary members, are able to build this relationship with the Kindreds and also with the organization that represents the work that we do. There is a beauty in practice. There is a beauty in practice with a group of other people. Yet, even if I am by myself, there is a beauty and value in practice that I can take with me wherever I go. One need only to step out doors or look out the window to see and/or feel the Earth Mother. One need only know that each and every ADF Druid, regardless of where they are, stand on that same Earth Mother and find themselves equally supported by her – yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This, at the most fundamental level, we have in common: however, with practice and through practice, we have so much more.
Devotionals arise out of practice. Sometimes they arise out of careful planning; other times they are the result of an impression in the moment. I was at the shore of Lake Erie this morning, in some way my "sea". Looking out on the distant waters in contrast to the shore, I thought, as I often do, about Manannan mac Lir. This was composed and offered on the spot. I felt Manannan's presence and this is for him - and you.
To Manannan Mac Lir
O Manannan Mac Lir
I am but a tree along the shore,
Water from the sea
Nourishes my roots,
Wind from the earth,
Blows across my branches,
Sun from the sky,
Warm against my leaves.
The water makes such noise
As it clashes with the shore,
Rock, splash, reverberate
Such that my thoughts are
Drowned out by the clamour
Of the surf
I look beyond the ninth wave
And I know that you are there
Carry me out to that place
Where profundity meets purpose
Carry us out to where
The sea meets the sky
Gulls fly by,
Gentle on the wind,
Where silence and
The undulating sea
Speak lessons to the soul
The Blessings of the Earth Mother to us all! I was elected Archdruid after Rev. Kirk Thomas' decision not to run for a third term. May the Blessings of Health, Wealth, and Wisdom be with him always and may the Kindred always provide!
Activities performed in the previous quarter: I attended a number of festivals including Texas Imbolc, Pantheacon, ConVocation, and Ad Astra To The Stars. I communicated with many members during the recent election asking and answering questions. I wrote to people who were not renewing in hopes of learning why and was able to get a few people to reconsider and rejoin. I was interviewed for a number of blogs and publications and continued to talk to people about ADF and Isaac's vision whenever the opportunity presented itself. What we have here is very special - I want people to understand Isaac's Vision and Our Way of Worship.
The spiritual state of the organization, spiritual activities and growth in the previous quarter: The spiritual state of the organization is strong. I inherit a solid organization that is full of hard-working and devoted members who do their part to honour the Kindreds and worship in the ways of their hearths and their hearts. There is still work to do. We have been gaining members, ordaining and elevating priests, and talking to people. We want to know what people think and also want people to understand what we are doing with our church. In my travels and my correspondences with individuals, I am constantly awed by the depth of practice and sincerity in our members. While political challenges may arise from time to time, we are still walking the road that Isaac envisioned for us many years ago. We do not walk alone.
Where ADF is in terms of its long-term Vision: Our long-term vision continues, along the lines of Isaac's Vision. We have reached out to people across the world with rituals delivered along electronic pathways, reaching more and more people every day. We have members on six continents and Groves and Protogroves on four continents. We are growing - always as fast as a speeding oak - but the acorns fall farther and farther away from the central tree that finds itself in the United States. WE are ADF International and we are proud of our reach and outreach. We have more to do. The Mother Grove will be meeting this year for strategic planning and we will discuss Isaac's Vision at length along with leadership's thoughts on growth and planning as well as asking the membership for some input on certain topics. I think as we look around at ADF, what we see is good.
Planned activities for the next quarter: Festival season is upon us! Wellspring, Three Rivers, Eight Winds, Summerlands, Midnight Flame, and Harvest Nights beckons as welcome stops along the Way. ADF will be doing the main rites for Pan Pagan festivals such as Chrysalis Moon, Pan Pagan, and others. I will be speaking at a number of these venues. I will be reaching out to other Druid leaders and building on our commonalities. I look for ADF to become a place where everyone is welcome at our table and the Core Order of Ritual is broad enough for many, many people. I also want to mention that while I am a believer in the Dedicant Program and the Programs of Study of ADF, we have many devout and practicing members who have not done the Dedicant Program but who are still ADF Druids. We celebrate the great diversity of our practice while reveling in the commonalities of that same practice.
Other comments/information, personal summary of events, etc: I have completed some additional training and I encourage those people who have the time to look at our many programs. We have some GREAT Guilds, SIGs, Kins, and Orders. We continue to offer our great publication "Oak Leaves" and look forward to including more and varied works therein. We have a vast network of practice and learning and worship that spans the entire globe. We honour and support our members in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres and understand that the Wheels of the Year turn above and below the Equator equally. I have several blogs that I write each month and look to the Arch Druid's blog for occasional thoughts and insights. Solitary members - if you want someone from ADF to talk to you, to visit with you, to reach out to you, drop me a line and let us know. The Blessings of the Earth Mother to us all!
The blessings of the Earth Mother to you all!
Great power about us that brings us heat and thus life,
Moves from one place on the ecliptic to another.
Fire lit on every hilltop,
Often, in the distant past,
Now today, in Groves and homes that are aware
Hopefully to all hilltops in the future, again.
We celebrate this fire festival of life,
In its many phases.
We remember and speak to the ancestors who passed,
This past season,
And every season from here to the beginning,
We speak the ancestors of our hearth and heart,
We stand, in respect, on those ancestors who lived on this land,
We celebrate the day nestled in the spirits of nature,
Here is our home;
We are not cut away from them,
They are here with us;
We are not separate from them,
We live with them,
Even if we keep to separate spaces;
We look for rejoinder with them,
We celebrate the connection.
We bask in the light of the Shining Ones on this day,
As they shines their wonders and their magics upon us.
Let us work our magics as well this day!
We touch the Earth Mother and she is warm and welcoming,
Waking from a slumber wearing a mantle of green.
We call to her this day and every day in thanks.
In the perfect symmetry and beauty of the Earth Mother,
We celebrate with our friends in a different hemisphere,
Who gather to them all of the same things,
Yet see the Earth Mother as she rests.
What an amazing world we behold!
May the blessings of the Earth Mother and the Kindreds be yours this day,
Be it Beltaine or Samhain,
Be it Waking or resting,
Be it warming or cooling!
We gather together as one!
It’s that time of year again, when the champagne corks pop and the Times Square ball drops, and everyone shouts out, “Happy New Year!” It’s the time of the changing of the year, when Old Man 2015 gives way to the new baby 2016.
The year is changing. The change of the seasons at our High Days is something that we’re all used to and look forward to. We know that time is circular from the Wheel of the Year and that change is a normal and natural part of the year’s progression. But change is also a normal and natural part of living. We welcome in some changes and spurn others, but change will happen. Indeed, the only thing in life that any of us can truly count on is change.
Change can bring joy, but change can also bring grief. We go though many changes in our lives, and change can be scary. Even if our circumstances are not all that wonderful, at least we’re used to them and know how they work. Change means stepping into the unknown, and that can be frightening at even the best of times. But change also brings with it hope and new opportunities. Change simply is, and by maintaining a strong devotional practice while living in the moment we can navigate these uncharted waters, be they big or small.
ADF is strong, very strong. While once we depended on the fortunes of one man, we now rest on the firm foundation maintained by us all. We will change over time but we will survive and thrive.
It’s almost that time again for the annual ADF elections process to begin. Our bylaws say that the call for nominations should go out on or about December 10, and that’s next week.
In preparation for this, I need to announce that I will not be running for a third term as Archdruid this year. I’ve been mulling over this decision for months, and now is decision time.
I think that it’s been a good six years, and it has always been my intent to serve ADF well, but it’s time for me to move on. I shall, of course, remain highly involved in ADF, and perhaps even hold some minor leadership roles in the future, but I shall also be taking more time for myself.
Of course, may current term runs until the beginning of May, and I will also be at Wellspring to install the new Archdruid. I intend to continue to attend festivals and clergy retreats so you’ll still see plenty of me in the future.
In terms of nominations for Archdruid in the upcoming election cycle, the Bylaws are very clear. The candidate must be an active member of our Clergy and may be nominated by one of three groups (the MG, the Clergy Council, and/or the Council of Senior Druids) or by a petition signed by at least 50 voting members.
I want to thank everyone in ADF who has supported me in my journey as ADF Archdruid, and I know that ADF shall continue to grow and thrive in the future. May the Kindreds bless and keep us all!
Rev. Kirk Thomas
The ADF Constitution, and before that, the ADF Bylaws, have long prohibited discrimination against our LGBTI brothers and sisters. It has also prohibited discrimination against people on the 'basis of race, ancestry,' and 'color'. ADF Paganism has been available to anyone of good will since Isaac Bonewits' vision became a reality in the 1980's. And I'm very pleased to see the United States begin to catch up!
Today the US Supreme Court finally upheld the principle that our LGBTI members are full members of the community and no longer second class citizens. By upholding marriage equality they have held that anyone may marry anyone else, regardless of gender. Of course, the fight for true equality is not yet over. Opponents of equality will continue to mount rear-guard actions in an attempt to get around this decision, but I am confident that they will fail in the long run.
The whole controversy over the Confederate Battle Flag is also something to behold. Many Southern Americans see it as a symbol of their heritage and independence, while others see it as a symbol of racism. When the members of a prayer group in Charleston, SC were gunned down for purely racist reasons recently, it turned out that lots of folks were uncomfortable with what that flag could stand for, and even Southern politicians began to change their minds and remove it from their capitol grounds. Whether we believe that the flag is a racist symbol or not, the conversation that has been started about institutionalized racism in the USA can only be a good thing. It's been a long haul since the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution and the passage of the Civil Rights Act and I'm glad to see the conversation continuing. It's about time.
The Supreme Court also upheld the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) by a wide majority. While this act has lots of problems, and even though the atmosphere in the Congress is too toxic to actually fix any of those problems, the very principle that poor Americans should have access to health care has been upheld. I understand that some of us believe that the market could do a better job of achieving this, and others believe that the best route would be a single-payer system, like those that much of Europe have, but the important thing is that the principle of equal access still exists, even in a flawed form. To have thrown out Obamacare over some unfortunate wording would have sent the entire US health system into chaos, and that wouldn't have helped anyone.
So all in all it's been a good week for America. And a good week for American Pagans! I thank the Gods and Spirits for Their support and love, and may Their blessings continue to come to us all.
So be it!
Tough times come to us all.
It's a fact of life that our financial resources ebb and flow for many, many reasons, and it can be a terrible experience for our members to find themselves cut off from full participation in ADF. Of course, there is nothing to stop anyone with good will from attending grove rituals, or to pray daily at our own home shrines, but membership in ADF is required to participate in the various study programs and to be a member of our subgroups. This is why we have a Compassionate Membership (CM) program. And it's one that has existed for many years now.
It's true that sometimes a member has to be declared sacer and be cut off from the rest, usually due to bad behavior, but everyone else deserves a break. Compassionate memberships exist for new members, and for up to two more renewals (though we will usually ask such CM recipients to do some form of community service, in the spirit of *ghostis, in return for the help). But there is something about CM's that many people don't realize - they aren't free.
ADF needs its members to join and renew their memberships to keep the wheels turning, the website humming, and our services going. This isn't cheap. The CM Fund exists to pay for each compassionate membership the Mother Grove approves, so that ADF can award as many as needed without breaking the bank. But when the fund runs dry, the compassionate memberships stop.
The CM Fund is a donation fund. It only exists as long as people are willing to make donations to ADF to keep that fund afloat. And so I'm making an appeal to our membership to help out here. Reciprocity, the guiding ideal of our church, is not a quid pro quo - we give so that others may give back in return. Who knows if we will someday need to tap that fund ourselves? In the spirit of *ghostis it makes sense to donate for others, so that someday, should the need occur, they may donate to help us.
So I call on everyone to think hard and dig deep into their pockets and donate to this and all of our special funds. You can do so online at https://www.adf.org/donations, or you can mail a check to the ADF Office at:
ADF Donation Funds
PO Box 84
Wickliffe OH 44092-0084
Be sure to specify which fund you want your donation to go to.
Together, with common care and concern, we can help all our members of good will to join with us in community, to worship the Gods, our Ancestors, and the Spirits of the Midworld. So be it!
It is with great apprehension and concern that we in ADF have learned about a new exclusionary religious policy at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station.
Apparently, the policy of allowing civilian minority faith leaders to lead services when no uniformed leaders are available has been discontinued. This has happened even though Navy regulations specifically allow for such activities. These civilian volunteers have been providing religious services for years and now they have come to an end, with only a small room for reflection and contemplation provided to the trainees instead.
We strongly support the US Constitution’s provisions for religious freedom and suspect that the current rule change is based upon an exclusive religious belief. We are concerned that this new interpretation of the regulations will not allow our service men and women to actively practice their faiths, with services now only available for the traditional Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
We call upon the Navy, the Commanding Officer, and the Chaplain at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station to reconsider their actions and allow civilian minority faith leaders to once again provide spiritual and religious support for all those who follow minority faiths.