This is the second installment of blogposts concerning the Vision of Isaac Bonewits. In our first installment, Back to Basics, we discussed the first point of Isaac's Vision, Excellence in Scholarship. Today, we will talk about Artistic Excellence.
To quote Isaac: "In ADF we also believe that artistic excellence is important, both in ritual and outside of it. The Gods and Goddesses deserve the very best that we can give them, so we encourage our members to develop their creative skills to the highest levels that each can attain. Our bards, painters, woodcarvers, needle-workers, and liturgists are among the best in the Neopagan community."
Interestingly enough, artistic expression is much more than creating a work of art, like a painting or a sculpture. This artistic expression is presenting something that is a bardic presentation, a painting, a wood-working, a textile or fabric work, or a liturgical piece. Each and every one of these creations is a thing of beauty in its own right but it is also a devotional piece made from the heart of the artist for the honour of the Goddesses and the Gods.
How can this possibly be important for a neo-pagan religion? In ADF, one of our virtues is Fertility. I see this virtue as one not necessarily of reproduction, but one of abundance, fueled by an active mind, imagination, or need to create something out of ourselves, something which represents the divinities and which honours them as well. At the ADF Annual Meeting, we have an Artisan's Competition that includes Art in many forms, and we also have a Bardic Chair competition which brings forth creative works in story telling, song, and poetry. We also create a great quarterly magazine entitled "Oak Leaves", which highlights some of the best writing, art, and liturgy that we have to offer. I think this is exactly what Isaac wanted to proffer by this point in his vision: art becomes an act not only of creativity, but one of devotion. We honour our Goddesses and Gods by doing such work, especially if this work is about them.
Of course, ADF doesn't have an exclusive on such creativity. Other Druid groups also do wonderfully artistic and scholarly work. OBOD's Phillip Carr-Gomm is not only an excellent writer, but is also creative, as is evidenced by his Druid Animal Oracle and Druid Plant Oracle. John Michael Greer, former Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, has written many books, many articles (we have some of them on the ADF website), and AODA's Trilithon series is truly a wonder as well. John Michael Marten of RDNA is a creative liturgist and book binder. RDNA's Mike the Fool has the brilliant and complete www.rdna.info, which has a record of Reformed Dr4uidry spanning back to its beginning in 1963. All Druidic orders seem to have this notion of creativity and fertility and keep producing. A fertile garden shares its bounty in all seasons.
How does this play into my vision of ADF?
There were once Druids and then there weren't for a while and then there were Druids again. A lot of creative outpouring was lost or redirected during the time when there weren't Druids. We are catching up, I believe, and the many and varied tools that we have at our fingertips makes for better presentation, better distribution, and better retention of knowledge. As long as we have electricity, we will have the ability to recall the things that are created today by either re-reading them in the future or re-viewing them in that same future space. We need to not only create these works of art but display them prominently for the glory and honour of the Goddesses and Gods.
We can construct small temples and shrines that adorn our homes, gardens, and lawns, so that others may see our devotion. These shrines should contain the many works of arts that we create and these items should be proudly displayed. Just as it is enjoyable and proper to visit a friend's home or garden, we should also visit our shrines and temples that are a testament to our thoughts and prayers. We should sing songs there; we should perform liturgy there; we should create plays in the modern day that include the Deities and portray them in modern and classical ways.
We have an advantage in this enterprise. Since we include the Spirits of Nature in our collection of Kindreds, we can use our arts to celebrate, decorate, and participate in the natural world around us. Shrines and temples located in gardens and flower-beds are not only decorative, but they are functional and practical - what better way to call attention to the Spirits of Nature than by putting devotional items within the very spaces where these entities may be found.
This is a small step in sowing our artistic creations into the broader world. For those who have the ability and the space, making larger devotional milieus would not only help to showcase these creations, but can also be used as pilgrimage locations so that like-minded individuals may travel to these places, near and far, and enjoy the beauty, tranquility, and profundity of these artistic locations. One such place is under construction by former ADF Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas. Thomas' Trout Lake Abbey is a work in progress, where art, liturgy, sanctuary, and shrines combine to make what amounts to a beautiful and perhaps holy place to come and experience and participate. I believe that Trout Lake Abbey could very well become a pilgrimage point here in North America - http://druidkirk.org/monastery/index.html. The location of the ADF Annual Meeting, Tredara, in Madison, Ohio, is also a place where shrines are being built and sacred places are being discovered and described. At this year's Annual Meeting, an Ancestor Shrine was built and I also believe that this location will become a pilgrimage point for Druids and other neopagans alike. I am sure there are more places like this and I expect the list to grow.
I would like to see our artistic, bardic, and liturgical members continue to produce their works with a fertile mind, a loving heart, and a willing hand, so that others may enjoy the fruits of their work. As Archdruid, I will help spread the word of these fertile projects and the locations where they may be found. I would like to dedicate a page on the ADF website and in Oak Leaves to highlight these locations so that people can read about them, can learn from them, and can visit them as well. If the spirit so moves them, perhaps they will reach out and build their own shrine and/or temple and adorn it with the best of their works.
In this vision, we will plant shrines and temples, songs and stories, paintings and sculptures, and all manner of things. It will attract others to see what these things of beauty may be, and it may very well attract the Gods as well, to the places where they are welcome and may call home. It is through this fertility that we may very well take our religion out to our gardens, our parks, and our cities, so that others may see and that others may understand. How they will shine, reflecting the sun in the light of day!
In "Please Plant This Book", in the chapter entitled "Sweet Alyssum Royal Carpet", author Richard Brautigan said it best:
"I've decided to live in a world where
"books are changed into thousands
"of gardens with children playing
"in the gardens and learning the
"gentle ways of green growing things"
"Please Plant this Book", Richard Brautigan, Santa Barbara, California, Graham Mackintosh, 1968