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Women’s Circle

A lovely Mother Goddess statue from Brigid’s Grove, gifted to me by a dear friend. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

I’ve been reading and enjoying Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon.” Several people in my protogrove decided to read it towards various ADF study programs and to honor Adler as an Ancestor.  I know I’ll have more to discuss when I’m finished.  For now, I’m nearing the end of the section on Feminist Witchcraft.  I consider myself a feminist, but I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not very informed on the philosophy.  Basically, I want women to have equality with men, and I want us to live in harmony.  A lot has happened in my family the past couple of years that has only made me feel stronger about this, yet I’m not a political feminist.  Perhaps I should be?  Perhaps I will be one day.  To me, it seems inextricably linked to environmentalism, which is something I’ve been somewhat political about.  That said, I don’t feel like I have the vocabulary to fully explore these thoughts yet.  There’s a lot in the chapter that both resonates with me, but there’s a lot more that makes me uncomfortable or uncertain.

Despite these dubious feelings, Adler’s anecdotes made me nostalgic for a time when I belonged to a small, eclectic women’s circle.  When I say small, I mean it was myself and my budding interest in Irish polytheism, a friend just starting to explore Greek polytheism and Heathenism (R), and another who was very into the Reclaiming movement (K).  Each of us took our spirituality seriously and valued experiential learning, creative expression, and scholarship.  This was, and continues to be, a rare combination in NeoPaganism.  We clicked right away.  Every so often, another woman would join us for one or two meetings, but usually it was just the three of us.  This was before K started her formal study through a coven,  before I officially joined ADF, before I was engaged…  K had had 5-10 years of experience more than myself at the time, but she never lorded it over us.  She acted as a guide and encouraged us in our own journeys.  As a first “teacher,” I was very lucky in that she wasn’t interested in a power trip or manipulating us.  I learned so much from her just with regards to facilitating a group.  We meditated, explored energy, did some very focused magic, and even tried some trance together.  Yes, we occasionally talked about very feminine topics like our periods, but it was so much more than that.  We laughed a lot, learned a lot, and drank a lot of tea.  All three of us became very close friends.

Eventually, the group evolved into a gender-inclusive coven of sorts.  K was working her way through three degrees of priestesshood in a coven a few hours away, and her talent was growing.  A few more people got involved, including K’s husband, another married pair, and two other young women.  Shortly after this, my schedule grew tight due to work and an internship.  I joined ADF and, since those rituals were philosophically more meaningful to me, I decided to attend those rituals rather than the eclectic Wiccan rituals the group was doing.  Then I moved away.

I continue to stay in touch with my friends from Utica, especially the two women who helped me build a solid foundation. Both took time out of their busy schedules to take major roles in my wedding.  R is also an ADF member, so we have bonded a lot through that.  We continue to see each other from time to time at ADF events.  The small coven-like group stopped meeting because of schedule conflicts – mostly because K went back to college, yet we touch base online and at other Pagan happenings.  (Thank goodness for Pagan Pride, right?)

My experience with this women’s circle was so important to my spiritual development.  I think our lives are a spectrum of intense spiritual learning and just as intense hibernation, like the waxing and waning of the moon.  My time with K and R was one of a couple intense periods that I’ve experienced so far.  I learned so much from them that has helped me organize Northern Rivers Protogrove.  I sometimes think about trying to organize a small women’s circle for the core female members of our group.  I don’t know when we could ever meet since we’re already so busy, and planning open meetups for everyone is difficult enough.  I guess I just miss that intimacy, and that intense feminine bonding that took place.  It was easy to relax and be myself, which meant we could raise a lot of energy.  I rarely feel that in open Pagan gatherings.  There’s too much shielding and feeling out newcomers.  With regards to men, it’s not that I’m against working with them on intense magical projects…  but none of the active men in the group are as into it as the women.  It’s rare for me to meet men who are as interested in magic and spirituality who I also agree with philosophically and intellectually.  I also admit to having trust issues with heterosexual men, so if you’re not attached to a close female friend I trust, or if you’re not in my family, it will take me some time to feel completely comfortable with you!

Weird, huh?  And so I come back to my original uncertain thoughts about feminine witchcraft and exclusive women’s circles.  I suppose I find them necessary, but not the basis of my spirituality.  Clearly, I embrace the idea of open, gender-inclusive, family-oriented Pagan gatherings because I embrace ADF.  Perhaps I should explore the concept of occasional retreats with the women in the group*?

*For me, this would include anyone who identifies as a woman.

As my current readers know, I started a Druidic study group a few years ago that eventually blossomed into an official ADF Protogrove.  We’ve been very successful so far, and I think a lot of that has to do with taking things slowly and beginning as a study group.  Now I’m seeing more and more people ask about starting such a group, seeking advice from those who have done it, and I thought it was about time that I wrote some advice here on my blog.  As with many of life’s challenges, we should consider the Druidic virtues in our endeavors.  Some people may not agree with all or some of what I say, but each group will face different circumstances.  I hope you find some of my thoughts useful in your journey!

    • Wisdom - I was very lucky to have had experiences with other groups.  These experiences taught me many things which gave me a little wisdom in how successful Pagan groups behave.    I learned from my experiences with a diversity of people, traditions, and group roles.  Most importantly, I learned that a good group requires a smaller group of people running the show, working together to keep things going and preventing any one person from burning out.  There’s usually one person organizing and leading in some capacity, but there is also a fair amount of democracy.  Groups exist for the group, not for the leader.  My first bit of advice is to get experience with other Pagan groups.  Isolated?  Drive an hour or two every once in awhile to see how your closest grove does things, or attend a festival once a year.  If that’s still not possible, draw on other experiences in which you might have had to take on a leadership role and work with others – high school or college clubs, work, other religious groups.  What worked?  What didn’t?  Think about these things before you create an event.  When you do create your first event, I highly suggest that it is a simple meet and greet to gauge interest.    Be a good, democratic facilitator and see what everyone is interested in trying next.   Would you rather meet up and practice the Two Powers Medtation or take a nature walk and make offerings?  Give some guidance, offer a set number of choices, trust your instincts, and guide the group.

 

    • Piety – Similar to one of my previous points about how a group exists for a group and not the leader, the group also exists to continue the old ways and honor the Kindreds.  Never lose sight of this.  Even though starting as a study group is an important first step, don’t merely lecture.  People learn in different ways, and a great many learn by doing.  Work towards doing a full ADF ritual together.  In the meantime, do smaller things that people will see in ritual.  Remind people that Druidism is not something to do eight times a year – it’s a way of life.  Demonstrate your piety by sharing in common, daily Druidic activities together.  Again, take nature walks, make offerings, and pick up litter.  Even if you don’t feel ready to do a public ritual, expose everyone to prayers, chants, and cultural traditions.  Have a special supper for the Ancestors around Samhain, for example.  If personalities ever start to clash, help everyone remember why the group exists to begin with.

 

    • Vision – Before you create an event, have clear goals in place.  If you intend for the study group to turn into an ADF protogrove and, eventually, grove, make your vision known to those who attend your first meeting right away.  In fact, state that in your event description.  Some people may attend who have other goals in mind.  Wiccanate seekers may hope for the group to form along those lines, and you’ll need to be firm about the ADF tradition.  Yes, the group exists for the group, but if you are setting out to start an ADF grove, refer to the virtues of piety and integrity. If you are ok with forming a more open Pagan circle, then clearly, make that goal known.  If you are truly not interested in that, step away and allow those who are to continue along those lines.  Along with having the wisdom to wait until the group is ready to do a ritual together, share your vision for ritual with those who attend.  Express the desire and get people excited to help and learn more.  Because many people learn best by observing, share that vision with others by watching some of the rituals that have been recorded and placed on Youtube.  Discuss these and let others start to share their visions for the group.

 

    • Courage – This virtue is necessary to even get started.  If you live in an area where there are few Pagan groups, let alone Druids – courage to build community.  If you live in an area where protogroves and groves formed then disbanded – courage to try again.  If you are like me and live in an area where Druids (for some reason) had a bad reputation – courage to demonstrate your positivity and seek redemption for the overall community.  It takes courage to put yourself out there, meet new people, and basically out yourself as a Pagan in certain (but not necessarily all) circumstances.  You will need to keep this courage when others challenge your group’s shared vision that is sometimes at odds with other types of Pagan expression, when interpersonal drama arises, and when delegation is necessary.  You will need to share this courage with others when the group holds its first open ritual, seeks places to meet, and represents itself at Pagan Pride.  Help foster others’ courage by having meetings in public places were newcomers can feel safe.

 

    • Integrity – I touched on this in vision.  If you are like most of us, you want to start a group because you feel called and because you would like a community of like-minded people.  Perhaps you’ve looked elsewhere and just didn’t feel that it was a good fit.  Many communities have open circles, and they tend to be very Wiccanate.  There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it naturally won’t appeal to everyone.  Some of us want something different, and ADF fills that need for many people such as myself.  Be true to your vision in starting an ADF study group.  This sometimes requires a balancing act between firm tenacity and gentle guidance when it comes to issues such as appropriation, the cultural focus of a group, what is and isn’t a part of liturgy, etc.  Remember why it was that you started the group.  If nobody, and I mean nobody, is interested in an ADF group, let it go, but keep looking for others. Don’t fight over something that hasn’t formed yet.  When you do meet others who share your vision, politely point those who don’t to groups who could be more helpful to them.  Keep it positive because you don’t want to burn bridges.  Always make sure visitors know that they don’t have to be Druids to attend, but they should have an open mind and respectful attitude.  Thankfully, my group has drawn a lot of like-minded individuals, and I think part of that has been because of my integrity.  Keep in mind that, even though ADF draws people in part because of its scholarly approach, not everyone drawn to your group will be as keen on that.  Some may be more or less recon-oriented than you.  Compromises will have to be made, but try to focus on what your shared vision is.
    • Perseverance- As stated in the integrity point, don’t give up if you’re having trouble finding others who share your vision.    Continue to reach out to new seekers.  Let others know that they’re welcomed to rituals even if they don’t practice Druidism.  You’ll be amazed what could happen.  Sometimes people don’t know they were seeking Druidism until they see it in action.  Keep the old saying, “You can’t please everyone,” in mind and continue to move forward with your group’s vision.  Also remember that not every workshop, book discussion, craft night, or ritual will go as planned.  It’s ok – keep learning and improving as you grow!

 

    • Hospitality – ADF exists with the purpose of offering open rituals.  With that in mind, I started my study group so that we functioned that way from the beginning.  We still meet in public places so that newcomers feel safe. We send out invitations to other Pagans each High Day, reminding them that they do not have to be Druids to attend – all we require is an open mind and respectful attitude.  We have potlucks to foster our sense of community.  We established that our group is to be family friendly and so we try to make it a safe place for breastfeeding,  we remind visitors not to smoke, and are continually working to offer child-friendly activities.    Part of hospitality is the reciprocity of the guests. We try our best to return the hospitality of our hosts by cleaning up after ourselves. We expect others to help.  In fact, as we grew into a protogrove, we modeled ourselves after other groves and protogroves by only giving certain people the privilege of making major decisions and leading rituals (here’s wisdom at work again!).  That privilege goes to those who continue to help and reciprocate our hospitality.  This keeps things running smoothly and ensures that only those who value the group and its vision are in a position to make decisions.  This also helps reduce my burnout as a facilitator.  If someone consistently shows up too late to set up and leaves before cleaning, do not give that person the ability to organize or lead an event until they prove themselves.  It doesn’t matter how experienced or knowledgeable that person is  – there’s more to Druidism than ritual and book smarts.  Demand excellence and use the Nine Virtues as a rubric.
    • Moderation – Piggybacking on hospitality, wisdom, integrity, and vision, remember to find a balance.  Not everyone will be as interested in a particular subject as you.  Not everyone will be as drawn to a specific hearth culture as you.  You will need to compromise.  Whereas you needn’t do that in your solitary practice, I feel it is necessary for a functioning, democratic group to thrive.  Try your best to keep things interesting and applicable to different learning styles; alternate between listening, talking, and doing.  As the organizer, remind yourself that you need time for you every now and then.  If you’re like me, I know you’re passionate and want to do everything well, but delegate and allow others to experiment.
    • Fertility – For the purpose of this entry, fertility here refers to growth and creativity within the group and not baby-making orgies. (Sorry.)  I’m not going to lie – I wanted my study group to grow just as I want my protogrove to grow.  Now I’m not saying that quantity equals quality, but you need a certain number of dues paying ADF members to transform into a grove.  We don’t need a huge congregation to be successful.  What we do need are more talented people to help!  The more people in our group who embrace the ADF tradition and want to add their own talents and perspectives, the more interesting our rituals will become and the more energy will flow. The more people we’ll have available to volunteer for park cleanups, tree planting, ritual parts, and such.  We won’t be so spread thin. It’s natural.  Until certain people arrive, you’ll have to fill voids creatively.  By keeping the virtues of moderation and hospitality in mind, the group will grow and continue to flourish and, hopefully, grow into an amazing grove!

 

Good luck forming your study group! Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Drying Herbs

I’m not sure if Sarah Lawless knows just how much she inspires and influences so many of us on our various spiritual paths. When she posted this amazing photograph of her kitchen, I was struck by how beautifully natural it all was.  I’ve been living in my new apartment for a little over a year and struggling with finding a good place to dry my herbs.  In my old apartment, I used to tie everything into bundles and hang them on curtain rods in the windows.  It was just too much sun, too much dust, and it looked dreadful…  I’ve looked at various drying racks for sale but money is not something I give away easily these days.  So when Sarah shared that window into her world, I thought, “Of course!  A branch hung on a wall!”  How natural, how sensible, how affordable, and how witchy and Druidic.  What’s more, I had a dried branch in the garage.  I found it a few years ago and something about it said, “Take me home!  You’ll need me one day!”  Today was the day.

I lovingly removed as much bark as I could and made an offering to Airmed.  Bee helped me harvest some of the herbs in our garden today, as well as some chili peppers.  While she napped, I wrapped some wire at different sections on the branch so that attaching herbs would be easier.  I decided to hang the branch in my bedroom near my altar.  Not only is near near my ritual space, but it will be one of the last things I see when I go to sleep, and one of the first I see upon waking.  I’ll (hopefully) be less inclined to let herbs sit and accumulate dust like I used to when they hung in a seldom used room.

I know I still have much to learn about herbalism.  The drying branch may not be the most ideal in the long run, or I may need to just suck up and put paper bags on my herbs.  I would also like to make a drying screen for individual leaves and blossoms one day.  In the meantime, I think this is a big improvement! 

 

My new herb-drying branch, inspired by Sarah Lawless. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Exploring the Hedge

A black and yellow garden spider.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

A black and yellow garden spider. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

This weekend, I took some time to explore the hedge and get to know it a little more. As a Druid in the Northeastern part of the US, I think I spend a lot of time focused on forests, especially the trees. We are blessed with them here, after all! The hedge is the boundary I cross to get there. Occasionally I stop and check the blackberry patch there, or harvest some jewelweed to tend to the mosquito bites I got in the forest… but it so often takes a backseat to the forest itself.

I’ve noticed myself spending more time there this summer.  I like to stick closer to home than I used to, whether Bee is with me or not, so the hedge is a nice place to go.  There are so many potential plant allies there such as burdock, thistle, chicory, red clover, and curly dock. There are also some facinating animals hanging out in this transitional zone, like the black and yellow garden spider I spotted on Saturday right before the sky opened up. I returned to the spot today, Sunday, not expecting to see it again since we had quite a heavy downfall accompanied but a lot of wind. However, there the web and spider remained! Nature Spirits can be incredibly persistent and strong!  

Making More Dolls!

Colorful legs for colorful fairies. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

It’s been awhile, but the fires of inspiration have started to glow strongly in my head. I’m very excited to start making dolls again! Slowly yet surely, one body part at a time…

Back before I had Bee, I researched crane bags and then made what I called a “motherhood crane bag” to keep with me through labor.  Since then, I have been meaning to make a general Druidic crane bag to have with me when conducting rituals.  My friend and grovie, Tara Loughborough, inspired me to make a large one that can not only hold sacred objects I want to keep near, but also contain my offerings and divinatory tools for the rites.  

So, over the course of several weeks, I drafted an original pattern for a bag, selected colors, and put it together.  It was important to me that I use earthy tones.  Green is my favorite color and reminds me of the forest.  The oak leaf, while representing the wisdom and strength of the Druidic path, is orange to represent the flame of Brighid – my patron Goddess.  As has become a custom in Northern Rivers Protogrove, it’s already decorated with some pins – our Folk of the Protogrove pins, my ADF Dedicant pin, and others that I or others made or bought to commemorated different spiritual events.

 I’m very proud of how it turned out and it’s already accompanied me to a ritual!  

Autumn Oak Crane Bag. Made and photographed by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

This Lughnasadh season’s harvest has made me very happy.  I garden in containers on my patio because I rent.  I don’t have enough room or resources at this time to grow all the food my family eats, but I’m always proud of contributing to our stores.  Every year comes with successes, failures, and the resulting lessons.  

Red potatoes from my garden. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

This year I decided to try growing potatoes in containers. I had never done this before but did some research beforehand to know it was possible. I also decided to throw my remaining container-variety carrot seeds in with some tomatoes.  I didn’t have luck with them last year (possibly due to the sun they were getting), but I figured it was worth a try again under different conditions.  Last year, they were grown in a pot on their own.  This year I decided to try some companion planting.  

My carrot harvest. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

The results of both have been amazingly successful given the amount I planted and the size of my operation.  There is always room for improvement, and this season has brought me more lessons and things I want to try, but I really must thank the Nature Spirits and Earth Mother for such a splendid harvest!

One lesson (which was really something I already knew but it was made more vivid) has been just how creative and destructive growing root veggies are.  Without going on too much of a tangent, all magic (despite what some may say) in simultaneously creative and destructive. Since creation relies on the the destruction and reorganization of something else, you simply cannot get something for nothing.  It is why I reject notions of “white and black magic.”  I also understand that gardening means the destruction of other places – habitats, mostly.  There are definitely less intrusive methods of gardening, and I strive to learn and embrace them as I grow in my practice, but no matter what, even obtaining only plant-based foods, I am causing the destruction and death of others – including animals.  This is why, in my perspective, we need to approach our meals, whatever they are comprised of, with an extreme amount of humility, respect, and generosity.  Eating, to me, is a spiritual experience.  In striving to eat locally grown and seasonal foods, I am communing with nature in a very intimate way.  I take it into me, become one with nature, affirm my place as a Nature Spirit and child of Earth.  Each time we eat, we take in some of the energy that has been recycled for countless generations.  It is why I still pray before a meal.

Anyway, the disruption we cause in our eating was made painfully obvious to me as I harvested my potatoes.  There are two ways to go about this – you either reach into the containers and dig around, or you dump them.  Either way, a whole mini eco-system is disrupted.  I went with the former simply because my containers were so large and heavy.  As I unearthed each pink orb, roots tore.  Small creatures ran – centipedes wriggled away and earthworms tumbled out of dirt clumps before spearheading back into the soil.  At one point, a large mother wolf spider with babies on her back rolled out of a potato plant’s roots as I yanked upwards.   Some soil fell on her and I noticed that some of her babies vanished.  I moved her as best I could, but I fear some little ones may have been killed or separated by accident.  It broke my heart, and I’m still hoping she was reunited with them.  

These episodes are unavoidable in gardening and other forms of magical transformations. In exchange for food, we curse smaller creatures out of their homes and often lives.  In exchange for healing, we essentially curse microbes.  In exchange for justice, you curse another party and their family. It goes on and on…

Even if you’re a vegetarian like me, it is impossible to live in such a way where you do absolutely no harm. All any of us can do is to make the choices we feel are best for ourselves and those we share the world with, continue to learn, and try to live in better harmony with the world.  That will mean different things to different people, but it will help us all approach our meals and each other with deeper respect and love.

It’s amazing what some potatoes and carrots can teach you.

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