Saturday, March 24, 2012

Constructing an Altar

If anyone was wondering why my Pagan Blog Project post was so scatter-brained and late last night, its because I decided to start a little project at 8 o'clock last night!  My husband is out of town for the weekend, so after laying the little ones to sleep I had a big block of time all to myself; and I really wanted to use it to complete an altar project that I've had rolling around in my head for awhile now.  I was up until three, so bear with me if this post is a bit meandering as well!

My altar is on top of my dresser in my bedroom (though, by this point, most of the clothes have been moved to the closet to make room for supplies and tarot decks!).  It's a nice big dresser with lots of space, but lately I've been wanting to separate some space out - I want to have a separate moon altar, space to work magic, and another space for my ADF and Druid things.  I spent a few days coming up with the plans - building a little desk hutch that would have three distinct areas, while still leaving the space underneath open and usable.  I bought some lumber a few days ago, and have been waiting for the right time (and an empty garage) to put my plans into motion.

We don't own any power tools, so this was done with an old hand saw and some wood glue.  I also used my wood burner to put some designs on the top and the two pillars.  I glued everything together, and set it up to dry overnight.  Tons of books are piled on top to keep everything stuck together while it's drying!
And here's the final product!  Well, mostly final - I'd like to get some light stain and seal it once my husband is back with the car - but this is the general idea!  The space on the right is devoted to a Sun altar at the moment, but it will be moved for any magical altars I'd like to set up.  My favorite is the new ADF area; the seasonal Tree, Fire, and the Well tucked beneath them on the lower shelf.  Overall, things are much less cluttered, and I feel like my daily devotions are more focused since each area has its own purpose.

And now that I've shared mine, please share yours as well!  I love to see people's altars; they're such a wonderful window into the spiritual practices of others.  If you don't have one of your own due to a lack of furniture, let my project be an inspiration!  This is literally the very first thing I've ever built out of wood, if you don't count the scrap pieces my dad used to let me glue together as a kid - and it didn't turn out too bad.  Just remember: measure twice, cut once!

Friday, March 23, 2012


To follow up on last week's post about fasting, I thought I would use my last 'f' to cover its complement: feasting!  As a bit of an amateur 'kitchen witch', I really enjoy cooking; and I love celebrating even more - so our holidays, Pagan and not, are usually filled with food.  This has always been tradition in my family; baking Christmas cookies and huge Easter dinners - and now we make Solstice cookies and succulent Lughnasadh feasts!

One of my favorite things about Pagan holidays and their feasts is challenging myself to create seasonally appropriate meals.  For the Vernal Equinox this year, we had eggs benedict and asparagus with hollandaise sauce - lots of eggs, butter, and fresh asparagus, all in season right now!  And it was very much enjoyed.

There's something about the ritual of preparing and cooking a wonderful meal that is inherently magical; whether you're the ceremonial type or prefer to do it off-the-cuff, it's just like any other ritual.  I tend to be of the follow-the-recipe sort in the kitchen; and I usually use scripts in my ritual as well.  Feasts, for me, are just another ritual that I perform on the High Days - a more complicated recipe, more dishes to serve, and more people to feed; just like ritual on those days is more complicated, has more parts, and oftentimes involves other people not included in my daily devotionals.

Feasting brings a family and a community together in a way that very few other things can replicate.  There's something about good food and good company that sets anyone at ease.  I think this is a huge part of the concept of eating food as a 'grounding' action - not only does it make you more aware of your physical body, as well as give you a bit of energy after so much has been used up; but when sharing a meal with friends or family, you can't help but talk and joke and enjoy the physical presence of one another.

If you're not usually the feasting type, I recommend that you plan to prepare something special for your next big holiday.  Like fasting, it's certainly not for everyone, but there's so much that a special meal can add to a special day!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Week 1 Essay: How I Came to Druidry

            This is my first assignment for the New Order of Druid's course.  I was asked to describe the circumstances that led to my interest in Druidic spirituality, and also what I hoped to gain from the course.   

             As a child, I spent a great deal of my time outdoors.  I wasn't very good at making friends, and I generally preferred to spend most of my time alone anyway.  My parents weren't the sort to tolerate a young child holed up alone in her room, and so from a young age I was often sent outside to play.  Luckily for me, I also spent a great deal of time with my grandmother; a wonderful and nature-loving woman who taught me a great deal about the world.  In her youth, she had backpacked national parks for weeks at a time, and used to take my mother and her sister on summer-long camping and hiking trips in their family camper.  She had an incredibly deep appreciation of nature that she spent my early childhood imparting on to me as well.

                It was because of this that when I was banished from the house and sent outside to play, it was to a world I was both infinitely comfortable in, intimately familiar with, and yet incredibly challenged by.  In our small rural town, there were creeks to hike and explore, fields to roam, endless trees to climb, and numerous hiding places for a little girl to lose herself in childhood games.  What I didn't realize was that in all my games, I was developing an intense attachment to the land around me.

                My earliest nature memories are of connections to trees; the first was a small weeping willow in the backyard of my family's first house.  It was very young and small, but I was as well!  I loved hiding beneath its branches, and would often pretend that it was my forest house, one tree in a sea of woodland.  We moved a few years later, and that tree was one of the most difficult things for me to part with.  In our next house, there was a lovely crab apple tree perfect for little feet to climb; and its many horizontal branches made fantastic resting places.  Despite my father's warnings, I would often snack on apples as I sat up in the branches reading a book - I only found bugs in them a few times!  There were also two huge and ancient-seeming maples that bounded the southern end of our property, and two imposing pines in the north. 

                By this time I had read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and had permanently integrated the idea of the Ents into my young imagination.  The Ents were basically a race of sentient and intelligent trees; they lived incredibly long lives, could walk about at will (though preferred to remain still), and were stationed to protect the slightly less sentient and intelligent trees.  The idea of trees having a spirit and an intelligence absolutely absorbed me - my grandmother had long ago taught me that all living things were to be loved and respected, but the idea that I could communicate with them in some rudimentary way was electrifying.  I developed personal relationships with many trees: in my backyard, the local park, and the wild creek on seemingly unowned and uninhabited land.  I would often stay out from dawn until dusk in the summer, never packing a lunch but instead surviving happily on wild strawberries, crab apples, and mulberries. 

                At the same time, I was attending a Catholic elementary school, and later a Lutheran high school; my mother is a rather fundamentalist Christian and insisted that I attend private institutions.  Christianity was something I had always had doubts about; I felt closest to God when my grandmother would take me camping and tell me that the majesty of God could be seen most clearly in the beautiful world He had created.  As I grew older and was introduced to points of contention in the Christian church such as abortion, gay marriage, and evolution, I grew more and more disillusioned.  I had never felt the presence of God as I had felt the trees and the land around me; and these controversies quickly sapped my desire to go along with Christianity just for the sake of conformity.  It was at this same time that I began to discover books of a more 'occult' nature hidden away in our small-town library.  The author Philip Pullman introduced me both to the concept of a dead God and the I Ching (a Chinese divination system) in his series His Dark Materials.  Tolkien's The Silmarillion showed me a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses based heavily on Greek and Norse legends.  I was soon reading up on Tarot cards, mythology, and philosophy.

                Eventually this search lead me to Scott Cunningham's book Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner.  I was absolutely convinced that this was it for me.  Not knowing much about Paganism or its various offshoot movements, or even Romanticism and its influence on magical secret societies and druidry, I immediately clung to this belief system that seemed so much more like home to me than the Christianity I had been shown.  I practiced Wicca for a few years, and as I began to learn more and more about its traditional history and also grew in my own spirituality, I began to refer to myself as Pagan rather than specifically Wiccan.  This whole time, my quest had been a very solitary one, and I didn't mind it that way; my spirituality is intensely personal and not something I'm open to sharing with just anyone.  But as I had my own children, I began to see a need in my life for some sort of organization to belong to, people that I could share my journey with.  I began attending a local Wiccan coven's services, but I still felt Wicca's ceremonialism to be somewhat lacking in fulfilling my own spiritual needs.

                It was then that I became aware of various Druid groups throughout the world.  I'm not yet sure if Druidry will be the perfect fit for me, but I very much want to explore this path and learn more about it.  So far, the New Order of Druid's version of Druidry seems very much in line with my own ideals and desires in a spiritual supplement; and I am very glad to be part of a community that is also nature-loving and sees the world around them as not only beautiful, but also holy.

                From this course, I'm primarily hoping to learn more about Druidic spirituality.  I am very new to this branch of spirituality, especially the New Order of Druids who are not specifically Pagan in nature.  I'm also looking forward to the chance for some inter-faith dialogue on nature and its place in our lives and the world; I have a great deal of respect for those of other faiths and am very appreciative when I can talk with those who are Pagan-friendly.  Last, I am hoping that the New Order of Druids will help me add more of a nature-oriented practice to my spiritual aspirations; though I still have the same firm belief in the spirits of nature that I did when I was younger, it has become very difficult in my busy life to remind myself to take the time to make real connections to the land around me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fasting for Pagans

The season of Lent is in full swing now; the biggest period of fasting in the Christian calendar. I was raised in a Christian household, and I still remember Lent quite fondly - fish frys on Fridays, giving up chocolate or TV or some other luxury - and waiting, waiting, waiting for Easter Sunday, when all the self-restraint was lifted and I could eat as much of my giant chocolate bunny as I could handle. As I got older, I began to appreciate the spiritual benefits conferred by fasting; spending the time one normally would enjoying food or some other activity in prayer or meditation is incredibly powerful. I have always longed for a Pagan equivalent of sorts, but the closest I ever get is an all-night fasting vigil on the Winter Solstice.

So imagine my surprise to learn, when reading an article titled Rethinking Imbolc by Mary Jones, that Lent has its origins in the natural rhythms of the land as much as in Christian tradition. In early spring, the period between Imbolc and Eostara, the plants of Europe were just beginning to sprout and flower. Lambs and other domestic animals were not yet old enough for eating, and milk only added so much to stores of food strained from the long winter. In essence, early spring fasting was often a fast of necessity; later taken in and given religious meaning by the Catholic church.

This is an ancestral practice that we as Pagans can choose to honor as well. Though in our modern lives, we can just pop over to the supermarket for any fresh fruits, veggies, or meat that we'd like, it does us good to remember the cycles of the Earth that our ancestors were compelled to follow. Eating only seasonal, local produce becomes very difficult at this time of year, and it is in this way that I have chosen to honor my ancestors this year.

I have been unable to fast much for the past four years due to pregnancies and nursing, and it's something that I miss very much. Some day, when I am able to be a bit more lax about my nutritional requirements, I would like to undertake a bread and water fast during this Imbolc-Equinox period. For me, fasting is an incredibly powerful tool - meditation becomes easier, divination is clearer and more powerful, and rituals are full of a spiritual energy that can only be found when the body is not devoting its energy to the intake and digestion of food. Obviously it's not for everyone; but if you are a Pagan and have never given it a try, I heartily recommend it! Start small - ingest only water for twelve hours, or give up something special to you for a week and dedicate that sacrifice to the Gods/Goddesses or to your own spiritual growth. You might be surprised at the results you see.

Jones, Mary (2012). Rethinking Imbolc. Retrieved from

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Week Two: The First Oath

This week on the ADF Dedicant's Path, I've been asked to make a First Oath as a commitment to the Druid path.  The Oath is meant to be given in an ADF-style ritual as well, so this week will also be my first one of those.  It feels very overwhelming!  But I'm also glad to be making some progress.  This kind of challenge (and hopefully, growth!) is exactly what I signed up for.  And so, tomorrow or Friday, I'll be doing my first ADF ritual.

I had some trouble writing the Oath, so I borrowed the example given in Our Own Druidry and made some modifications for myself.  I haven't made any connections with deities thus far, so I chose to make my Oath before a nature spirit that I'm just getting to know a bit better - the beautiful oak in my backyard.  The three main components of the Oath are a vow of virtue, piety, and study; for myself I wanted to include dedication as well.  Though I may not always succeed, I will pursue my spiritual path and grow in it to the best of my abilities.

I, Aiwelin, before you my sacred tree,
name myself as a seeker of the Old Ways of communion with the Earth.
With this holy oath I set my foot upon the Path, the Druid's Way,
and I will make my dedication plain.
I will seek virtue in my life, doing right by those I love.
I vow to seek piety, to make my Paganism real.
I will seek knowledge and wisdom
in the ways of my Path through diligent study.
This I vow in the sight of the spirits, the ancestors, and the Gods and Goddesses.
So be it.
-modified from the First Oath in Our Own Druidry, cited below

Various Authors (2009). The First Oath, Our Own Druidry [kindle version]. Retrieved from

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Week One of the ADF Dedicant Path

I've chosen to use Rev. Michael J. Dangler's ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year as a basis for my ADF Dedicant Path studies.  It's a nice 52-week program that goes above and beyond the requirements of the Dedicant Path; plus I'm hoping that it will keep me on track!  I'm notoriously terrible at things without a set timeline, but knowing I've got two or three hours of work each week will help me to schedule everything a bit better.  So, without further ado, here is my homework from the first week's lesson: a series of questions about my relationship to the Dedicant Path.

    "Why have you chosen to take the first steps on the Dedicant Path?"
        I have chosen to because I want to grow in my spiritual practice.  I have been Pagan for many years, but my practice is sorely lacking in focus and commitment.  I am hoping this course of study can help me acquire the tools I need to have a truly fulfilling daily practice.  I am also hoping that through this course and the ADF organization, I will find a community that I can connect with under the broader Pagan umbrella.

    "Is this a step on your path, or will this become the Path itself?"
        For me, this course is a step on the Path.  While I'd like to be a member of ADF for a long time to come, I have other spiritual ventures and needs that I must also explore.  Druidry is wonderful, but I think it will be only one part of my ultimate practice.

    "What do you expect to learn?"
        From ADF, I hope to gain much more knowledge about ancient ideas, practices, and Gods and Goddesses.  I have never taken the time to explore the cultures of my ancestors, and I hope this path will provide me with the framework to do so.  I also hope that, through the Dedicant's Wheel of the Year book, I will develop the discipline to establish and maintain daily practice.

    "What would you like to get out of this journey?"
        Again, a deeper knowledge of the myths and cultures of ancient Europe, as well as the discipline to maintain a practical daily ritual.  So far, in my personal practice I have been making most of it up as I go along; and while I feel this can be a valid path and it has sustained me for many years, I think it would be helpful for me, at this time, to learn more about ancient ideas and practices.

    "Do you know where this path will take you?"
        Trick question, right?  Honestly, I have no idea!  My spiritual ideas, despite having been thought about and honed for years, are still very much in a state of flux.  I feel, however, that the 'destination' is not really important for me - perhaps I will never settle down with one religion.  What's important to me is the mental and spiritual journey; the self-examination and contemplation of the cosmos that may never yield any solid answers, but will nonetheless improve my life greatly.

    "If you have just joined ADF, why have you chosen to work on this immediately?"
        A big part of the reason I chose to join ADF was because of this structured study method.  While I also value the community highly, since I am very far from any Groves or festivals, it is the study and potential for spiritual growth this work provides was the main draw.

    "Does it look hard or easy?"
        In terms of the actual work involved, I wouldn't say that it will be easy, but it also doesn't appear overly difficult.  It seems tuned just right for a few hours of work each week, which is ideal for me.  Actually sticking with the work and disciplining myself into sitting down each week to do it, however, will prove to be a huge challenge for me.  I certainly hope to overcome it, and I think the structure of the work will help me with that.

    "Which requirements appear to be difficult to you now, and which appear to be easy?"
        Most of the requirements appear fairly simple and straight-forward.  The most difficult for me will be the ones requiring long-term work: the Mental Discipline and High Day Attendance requirements.  Maintaining a journal of meditation for five months, as the Mental Discipline requirement asks, will be a huge challenge.  Eight consecutive High Days will also be difficult, but more manageable.  I am also a bit concerned about the ending Dedicant's Oath, but I suppose as I learn more about Druidry, this will seem less daunting.  The book reviews, essays, and nature awareness requirements seem much easier to me - these are things I'm very used to and comfortable doing; so they will be less of a challenge, though still useful and thought-provoking.

    "Do you have doubts, questions, or concerns that you need to ask about?"
        I do have some doubts as to how my personal beliefs will fit in with ADF's requirements.  The three worlds and three Kindreds, for example, seem to be taken quite literally in most of the ADF's online material; I tend to be less literal in my approach to deity.  However, reading over the mailing lists, I have seen that there are many members with differing beliefs about polytheism, which allays my concerns somewhat.  Also, who knows - in working with the Kindreds and the three realms, I may come to view them much more literally than I do now!  I am certainly very open to this change.

I'm really liking the ADF program so far!  There's a whole lot of material to work through, especially in the Wheel of the Year book.  The Spring Equinox is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm hoping to do my first ADF High Day ritual - stay tuned!

Rev. Dangler, Michael J. (2010). Week 1: Personal Religion and an IntroductionThe ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year [kindle version]. Retrieved from

Friday, March 9, 2012

Eostara vs Easter

As a Pagan parent, I've got my work cut out for me.  My husband is also a member of a minority religion (though very different from my own faith); so in my house, we end up celebrating a lot of holidays that aren't recognized by the world around us.  To make matters worse, both my in-laws and my own parents are very dedicated to their own religions; finding out I was a Pagan and raising my children in Pagan traditions would be a big problem on both sides - so the Wheel of the Year is celebrated with just our little family.  It takes a lot of creativity to come up with new celebrations in a tradition that has a lot less children than your typical Christian church, but I thought I was doing fine - until last Winter Solstice.

I was getting ready for our Solstice feast, cooking up a yummy beef stew while my eldest colored the winter-themed crafts we'd cut together earlier at the kitchen table.  "When is Christmas coming?" she asked.  "Oh, that will be in a few more days, honey," I replied, "but remember, today is the Winter Solstice, and we're going to each open one present tonight!".  She sighed deeply and looked at me with her big brown eyes.  "Mommy, the Winter Solstice is boring!"

Ouch.  But the worst part is: she's right.  At least from a child's perspective, how can one day of freezing nature walks and crafts possibly compare to two overnights at Grandma's, complete with Santa, a huge tree bursting with presents, and several family parties?  Unfortunately, Easter has the same issue.  We visit my mom's family, my dad's family, and attend church in the morning; Easter Day is filled with phone calls from far-away family members with holiday wishes.  There are multiple egg hunts with tons of adults cheering on the kids.  What can I possibly do to make the Spring Equinox equally as exciting?

I've come up with a few ideas I'll share in a bit, but I think for me, it was important to accept that the Wheel of the Year may never be as fun or exciting as the big mainstream holidays.  Like it or not, my children are being raised in a culture and family that's predominantly Christian, and their holidays are going to receive the most prominence and familial support - that's just the way it is.  Fortunately, our culture is also fairly secular; a lot of these holidays are celebrated in popular culture without much religious meaning.  This gives us a great opportunity, as Pagan parents, to introduce our children to the spiritual aspects of holidays.  In some ways, I'd argue that our job is a little easier than some Christian parents - it can be very difficult to take a secular holiday and give it spiritual meaning; but not quite as difficult to introduce a spiritual holiday that has no secular celebrations (think Halloween!).

This is the road I've decided to take.  My children may not be as excited about the Pagan holidays as Easter or Christmas - but at least they're celebrating them.  We emphasize the Summer Solstice as our big holiday, with a few presents and usually a camping trip and cookout; but for the others, we take a trip to the local metaphysical store and pick out one small and inexpensive seasonally-appropriate item to add to the family altar together.  For now, this has just been my eldest daughter and I; and it makes for a great bonding time to talk about the Earth, its changes, and how we fit within that cycle.  As my other children get older, I might take them separately, or find other ways of spending individual holiday time with them.  We'll color eggs and set them on the altar as well.  As always, nature walks and working in our garden will be a must; what better way to introduce children to the Earth's cycles than to let them observe first-hand?  This Sunday will also be my eldest's first public ritual - our local Wiccan group is holding an Eostara-themed Full Moon ritual open to the public and their children.  I'm hoping that alleviating some of the loneliness of the holiday - and showing her that other people celebrate the Earth as well - will help it seem more dynamic.

Our plans certainly aren't finalized, and I'd love to hear ideas from other Pagans (parents or not!).  What do you do or plan on doing with your children to make the Spring Equinox more special for them?

Monday, March 5, 2012

How I Found Druidry

Patience - it has never been one of my virtues.  I was (and still am!) so enthusiastic about my search for a face-to-face Pagan community; but waiting for the open circle of the local Wiccan group to roll around has been killing me.  It's still a week away!  So to kill some time in the meanwhile, I went searching for a Pagan forum that was a little more active than eCauldron.  After hours and hours of internet sleuthing, not only did I find a nicely active forum with lots of interesting discussion - the Druid Grove, messageboard of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids - but I had also become interested in joining up with a Druid organization.  The OBOD has a wonderful looking training course, but unfortunately the cost was prohibitive for me.

That's when I found Ár nDraíocht Féin.  While they don't have a messageboard, their mailing lists are full of interesting people and content.  They also offer a free and good looking course to all of their members (and membership is a reasonable price!).  The first step of the coursework, the Dedicant's Path, is designed to take about a year to complete; there is one lesson or area of focus for each of 52 weeks.  I'm taking this on as a bit of an experiment - ADF is definitely closer to hard polytheism than I'm used to.  I identify as more of a pantheist, but I'm certainly open to honoring deities, nature spirits, and ancestors as 'aspects' of the energy that makes up all of us.  Honestly, I'm not sure how well I'll fit in, but I have no problem taking a year or so to see if I can work in the ADF framework.

So I signed up as an official member of the ADF, and requested my membership packet.  Of course, membership takes a few weeks to process; so what does an impatient lady like myself do when faced with more waiting?  Keep exploring my options, of course!  And it was after a few more hours of searching that I found the New Order of Druids, a smaller organization than ADF or the OBOD based in Belgium.  Membership in the New Order of Druids, however, is entirely free!  They also have a 'college', three series of coursework which from my initial overview appears to be half meditation and concentration, half Celtic polytheism.  The first level, Bardic, is meant to take from six months to a year to complete; and as the free 'basic' membership includes the coursework, I've decided to give it a go as well.  It certainly can't hurt; and though participating in two programs at once might slow down my progress in both, ultimately I think it will make the experience that much richer.  The NOD is an all-inclusive organization - on the site's messageboard (which you must have a membership to access), there are Christian Druids and other interesting combinations, as well as your typical Pagans; so it seems I won't have any doctrinal conflicts with this organization.

And that was my weekend!  Rather busy, but I think I've made some good progress - reaching out and connecting with others via a coursework program is certainly a step in the right direction, even if it isn't my ideal of a face-to-face ritual group.  At least I'll have some interesting material to chew through while I continue to explore groups in my area!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Fork in the Path

It's almost Spring! My maple tree out front is budding, birds are singing outside my bedroom window before the sun rises, and I've seen more rabbits in the past few days than patches of snow. It's almost my birthday, which forecasters are promising will be a balmy seventy degrees, our warmest day yet this year. Ostara is coming up quickly, so there's lots of work to be done prepping the garden soil and sowing the seeds in their little egg cartons to wait for the last frost.

Most Pagans who follow the Wheel of the Year consider Samhain to be their New Year, but for me it will always be Imbolc. Spring is a time of such energy for me! I'm always getting new ideas for projects and life goals; so like many who make New Year's resolutions, I often find myself biting off a bit more than I can chew. This year, I'll be starting a garden and having a baby, so there's already a lot to do! But, under the sway of spring as I am, I have added one more goal to this year's list - to gently steer my solitary Pagan path in the direction of community.

Ideally, I want to find a local group with kid-friendly circles, so my daughters will have the kind of faith community I had growing up - but Pagan instead of Christian. There are some local circles to check out, which I'm quite excited to do! I also want to add another dimension to my experience of Paganism. Having been a solitary for ten years now, I feel like I've grown as far as I can without any kind of challenge or collaboration. The time may come when I will once again prefer to be a solitary; but at this point in my life, I need to branch out and experience the larger world around me.

This blog will largely be for recording my journey for community; but I'm sure plenty of other things will pop in! I'll also discuss being a Pagan parent (with a special focus on pregnancy and birth these next few months), my learning attempts at kitchen and garden magick, and my personal faith as it continues to evolve.  I am also planning to participate in the Pagan Blog Project for 2012 to help keep this blog on track - so look for weekly updates.

Thank you for reading!