Monday, September 30, 2013

High Holy Day Essay: Mabon (take 2)

For the Autumn Equinox, I attended a ritual held by the Order of the Red Grail. I had attended one Full Moon ritual with the group in August and enjoyed it very much. Again, the ritual was typically Wiccan in structure, using a procession into a circle to begin the rite. The quarters were called by four different participants, the God and Goddess invited by the two High Priestesses. The centerpiece of the ritual was a piece of ritual drama featuring Persephone's Descent into the Underworld. Each participant became an actor as well, playing the dead souls that lived in Hades' realm. Persephone was taken to the Underworld and was said to embark on a quest to build a better world for the dead to live in. Persephone then led a dance of the dead, each person getting an instrument such as a tambourine to play while they danced, raising energy by increasing the tempo until a final crescendo. I don't know much about Hellenic lore and couldn't say how accurate to it the play was, but it was quite enjoyable to participate in. Then the God and Goddess and the quarters were bid farewell, and the circle was closed. Afterwards, the group holds a potluck to encourage community which was very nice.

 I enjoyed this ritual a great deal more than the Lughnasadh ritual I attended. Those with reading parts were either very good readers or had practiced a bit beforehand, and that little bit of effort contributed greatly to the energy of the ritual. Also introducing something new and novel like the ritual drama, and pairing it with movement and active participation in the ritual dance, had a great effect. I was a solitary Wiccan for about 8 years before deciding to pursue Druidry, and when the elements were invoked in this circle I felt their familiar presence wash over me. I also felt very connected to the other ritual participants, and had a great deal of fun at the potluck despite my usual shyness.

Friday, September 27, 2013

T is for Temple

Alright, so Stonehenge may not have been a temple (we don't really know), and it certainly wasn't a Druid temple, but it's still the most easily-recognized and impactful image of pre-Christian European worship.  Ritual for Celtic and Germanic Pagans seems to fit best under the stars, out in the open or within a sacred grove of trees.  This is something that I want very much for myself - a permanent area of outdoor worship, that I can use for its intended purpose and also isn't altogether obvious to visiting relatives or passers-by!

There is a large area in my backyard that was once a garden, but the previous owner let it go and it has collected a great deal of weeds and other detritus.  Last winter we put tarp over a lot of it, and this winter we'll be tarping over the rest to prevent weeds coming up in the spring.  And then, next spring, I plan to begin the "construction" of my own temple.  I put construction in quotes, as there will be a lot more growing and planting involved then actual building!

The area is square, but I will be bricking off a small circular area in the center to be the main ritual site.  Inside the circle will be a decorative pole (Sacred Tree in ADF), and at its foot will be a small birdbath (the Well for my ADF rituals), and a space for my larger cauldron that I also use as a small fire pit.  Outside this circle will be a small circular bricked path, which will branch out like the spokes of a wheel, and it will be between the spokes that my garden will be growing.  What I'm most excited about is imitating Stonehenge and other solar-aligned standing stones by building an astrological garden into the plans.  For this I'll use small bricks that will mark the shadow of the pole at sunrise, noon, and sunset on the solstices and equinoxes; which should add up to nine bricks; they'll be inscribed with runes or ogham and half-buried.  They'll be small and unobtrusive, but will represent a long-time project, and will connect my own little temple with the many that have come before.  It will be relatively small, and probably wouldn't support a group larger than my children and I, but I think on its completion, it will be worthy of the name temple.

Obviously, not everyone has the time or the resources to make their own outdoor temple, and I can't even begin to express how blessed I feel to be able to do this.  I hope my plans have been inspiring to some of you, and that you can find a way to make your own space into sacred space!

Sources: The 2012 Farmer's Almanac, on astrological gardens

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On Being Involved, and Being Busy

I am a passionate person.  What that means to me is that I like to learn, and get involved in whatever it is that I'm exploring at the moment.  When I was younger, my interests often meant that I was the poor kid in a room full of kids with pretentious parents; so I've always felt I have to prove myself by doing more and being more than they were.  It instilled a deep love of learning in me.

Enter: Paganism.  Around age 15, I found Wicca for the Solitary Practitioner by Scott Cunningham - I'm not sure that I'd recommend it nowadays that there's so much more available, but at the time, it was a huge find for me.  I stayed mostly Wiccish in my practice until I found ADF about a year and a half ago, and have been exploring Heathenry for the last six months as well.

Lately, I've also been making efforts to make connections with local Pagan groups.  It's highlighted how important community is in my spiritual life.  I've enjoyed the Wiccan and Wiccish rituals I've attended, loved the sumbel I attended last week, and I'm very much looking forward to the Druid group starting up.  Though honestly, I feel a little out of place in attending All of the Things.  I am a religious person; I grew up attending church Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays - so groups that meet once a month for ritual honestly feel strange to me.  I want to learn as much as I can; I want to try being a student of a coven here in town, I want to finish the ADF Dedicant's Path, and I want to continue going to study groups - but I don't want to get burned out.  I'd even like to delve further into Heathenry and join the Troth, and possibly organize some kind of Pagan children's group, but again.. don't want to get burned out.

To be even more honest, I'm also afraid of the ever-looming label of eclectic.  I know this is not necessarily a negative thing, but it's a label I have never applied to myself because I really don't feel that it fits.  I'm a pretty hard polytheist, and I like to keep my cultures and my traditions separate and distinct - but as a potential student of both Wicca, Druidry and Heathenry, I think eclectic is probably a pretty reasonable label for me.  This is one reason inter-Pagan gatherings are so important to me.  Pagan Pride Day was held this weekend and I had a wonderful time.

As I am in this phase of deep learning, I'm going to give most everything a try.  And if it doesn't work out, or if I don't have the energy to keep it up, I am always able to scale things down; of course being careful not to make long-term commitments to things I may later have to bow out of.  But for now I am full of energy, and ready to tackle all the learning and involvement the Pagan community can throw my way!

Monday, September 23, 2013

S is for Small Pagans

Okay, so I cheated on the title, but I haven't made a PBP post yet this week, and this has been on my mind a lot lately.

There are almost as many opinions about parenting and Paganism in the Pagan community as their are Pagans!  Now that's a mouthful - but it's true.  With each person, comes a different religious background, a different upbringing, and a different attitude towards their childhood religious experiences.

I've met many Pagans who are refusing to raise their children in their own religion, many because of bad experiences having been raised in fundamentalist Christian households.  I can understand the worry that these people have.  Having been indoctrinated in a religion as a child, that's the last thing they want to do to their own children.  It's something that I fear for my kiddos - I don't want to dictate their beliefs, or tell them how to represent themselves to others.  They deserve the ability to decide for themselves.

However, I am of the opinion that a tabula rasa is not the best way to go about choosing a religion or spiritual path.  I believe it would be doing my children a great disservice to have them grow up and enter the public sphere without any knowledge of the many different beliefs the people around them hold.  We talk about Jesus occasionally, we celebrate Muslim holidays, and I generally try to give a small education on most of the major world religions.  But, it's a big step from education about a variety of religions to educating a child about your religion.

I feel it's important for children to not only be educated in religion, but to also experience religious community.  For a child growing up without that, it's awfully easy for one of the more evangelistic religions to jump in with the promise of unconditional love and community - not that I'd be unwilling to accept it if one of my children chose Christianity, but I want it to be an honest and informed choice, not something they turn to because they don't have a spiritual community.

Which brings me to my final point - for Pagans with kids who want their children raised in their religion, there are some hurdles in place.  Granted, I've never been to a big festival with a dedicated and organized kid area, but in my experiences with a few area groups, there's a distinct lack of kid stuff.  It's not that they aren't welcome - everyone is always very friendly and seems happy to see them at gatherings - but there's nothing for them.  Children are often welcomed at ritual, which is great, and I appreciate it; but it's not exactly easy for them.  It's like asking a kid to sit through a church service, which is tricky at the best of times.  Kids like to move, to talk, and they don't like standing around and listening to other people go on!  Other events have an area with kid activities, or let kids play while the ritual goes on; but then they're not having any sort of spiritual experience.

I think what a few larger Pagan groups really need is a time for children - small children who just can't be expected to sit through and understand adult ritual - to have their own spiritual space and experience.  I've been working on a ritual script that's just about ready to test out with my own kiddos; and after I've refined it a bit, I'd really like to invite some of the local Pagan children to come and enjoy it with us.  But having a group of small Pagans is contingent on having a group of Pagan parents who want their children educated in the basics of Pagan religion.

Reading back through this, my writing may be coming off as judge-y of other parents who choose not to raise their children in a Pagan religion.  To clarify, I think every parent has the right to raise their child exactly how they feel is best - I'm just lamenting a small gap in support for parents who do want to raise their children in their traditions.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

S is for Sumbel

Last night I had the privilege to attend my first sumbel with Nebraska Heathens United.  Of course, in the many books I've read about Heathenism and the Germanic tradition, many of them have talked at length about how Heathenism is not a solitary religion.  It's important to build community.  Being a fairly solitary person naturally, it's difficult for me to understand how something could be made inherently 'better' by a group - but I think, after last night, I understand a bit better.

First there was a nice talk about Freyfaxi, the harvest holiday, and Winterfinding, which commemorates the coming of winter, during which we each talked about our own harvests, and the signs of winter we've been seeing around us.  Particularly, I've been starting to notice more and more geese flying by, as there's a nice big field up the street they like to stop and rest in.

Then we held Sumbel.  Three rounds of toasts - the first to the Gods, the second to our honored Ancestors, and the third for boasts or oaths; all done with the most delicious homemade mead and (I think, I don't know much about alcohol at all!) wine.  The fellowship of having a room full of twenty-some people all toasting the Gods I honor has had a tremendous impact on me.  The religion of our ancestors, though obviously impossible to reconstruct, was, if nothing else, a social religion.  They held many gatherings probably very similar to the one I attended last night.  The people of Nebraska Heathens United, and the others who attended, created a fellowship that felt authentic.  I can not even describe how much I underestimated community in the honoring of the spirit of Germanic Paganism.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review : The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles, by Ronald Hutton

I can't say enough about how fantastic this book is.  Not for enhancing your practice (it may actually have you tearing down some of it), not for bringing you closer to nature or your inner self; but for its clear, objective, and wonderfully unapologetic look at the past.  It reaches few conclusions, one of the most prominent being that, with the available evidence, we can't draw any conclusions.  What it does is lay out the facts that we have in an accessible way, so that the reader is free to draw their own conclusions (or not).  The facts that Hutton lays out are drawn from archaeological work, historic resources (including how reliable those resources may or may not be) and observations of modern-day tribal cultures.

Though it was discouraging at times to hear how little we know about the actual religious practices of my ancestors, and indeed how little we know historically about many of the commonly honored deities in Neo-Paganism, I find that with this grounding in actual fact, I am more at ease with most of my religious practice, even those elements that have proven to be modern or at least not based in reliable historical sources.  Now that I see how impossible actual reconstruction is, it has given me more freedom to be a bit 'looser' in my own path - for instance, my enduring admiration for Robert Graves' tree calendar doesn't seem so ridiculous in light of the many other elements of my practice that have been made up whole-cloth in the past.

Also, I feel that this book was part of a major connection with my own ancestors.  Knowing more about their day-to-day life, their intensely regional practices, and what the world was like when they were living in it has brought me much closer to these often distant-seeming presences.  I now know much more about the kinds of offerings they thought the spirits needed, and can fulfill their wishes accordingly in my own practice.  I also enjoyed the large section on water hoards; to me, it shows an intense awe for the deep places that lie unseen beneath the surface waters, something I have personally felt many times.

The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles covers a great length of time, from the first arrival of humans on the Isles (back when they were part of the continent!) up to and including the final spread of Christianity.  There is a large section on the Neolithic period, a smaller one on the Iron Age (when the actual un-Romanized Celts largely populated the Isles, a period from which there is scant archaeological or historical evidence), and a great deal of information on the Romanization of Britain.  I found it a fascinating read, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning just how much they don't actually know about ancient Paganism in the British Isles.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

R is for Reciprocity

This week, R is for Reciprocity.  Reciprocity is a major component of both ADF Druidry and Heathenism, because of the Indo-European cultures these religions are ultimately based on.  It is also a difficult concept to understand for many coming from a more mystical, or on the other end a more magical, background.  The concept of hospitality is an outgrowth of reciprocity, and keeping that in mind is helpful to understanding both.

Reciprocity is a cultural concept, not as prevalent in our times, where if one is given something, something is expected to be given in return.  This is not about greed or forcing someone to give you something, but in times past, the rules of social niceties simply dictated that people shared often and happily with one another, and everyone was compelled to do this - there was no opting out of hospitality!  You can still see this concept reflected today in some holiday gift-giving attitudes; it can still give you an apprehensive feeling if someone purchased you a gift, and you had not gotten one for that person.

A relationship of reciprocity is the most common way to relate to spirits in ADF Druidry.  Whether they are your Ancestors, Nature Spirits or the Deities themselves, it is helpful to establish these kinds of relationships.  When a practitioner makes a sacrifice or pours a libation to the spirits, this is a gift that the spirits will return in kind.  Now, some who come from a more mystical background see this as demeaning, as if reciprocity is simply drawing up a contract, and disrespectfully expecting the spirits to give up their gifts like a cosmic vending machine.  This is not so at all!  The Indo-European spirits with which most ADF Druids or Heathens honor have a cultural basis in this type of relationship; it is not seen by them as disrespectful, but instead is an honoring of an age-old way of relating with the spirits.  Others who come from a more magical background may also see the relationship of reciprocity as different than it really is; it is easy to equate it with magical workings where one invokes a spirit and expects that spirit to follow their will.  But this is also not a good comparison.  The relationship of reciprocity is not one of power or command, any more than a gift given in good faith is a command that another one be given.  It is a cultural relationship, in which the door is wide open for a spirit to say 'no' to the worshiper's request, and to grant something more to the spirit's liking instead (this is why I find it prudent to stay away from trickster deities in my practice)!