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Archive for the ‘Dedicant Program’ Category

Clifton, Chas S.  Her Hidden Children The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America.  Lanham:

AltaMira Press, 2006.

Many of us come to Paganism with an interest in ancient history.  We wonder who and how our ancestors worshiped and we attempt to follow in their footsteps.  I can speak for myself when I say that when I began studying Wicca in high school I was not interested in Paganism’s modern history until I reached a point in my spiritual journey where I started to wonder why certain things were done.  Her Hidden Children the Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America by Chas S. Clifton attempts to explain the evolution of modern Paganism in ways that are both respectful and honest.

The important thing to remember when studying Paganism is that it is a spiritual path made up of many different religious outlooks.  Not everyone can agree on what Paganism is as a whole and so the movement must be looked at as an organism made up of many smaller cells.  Clifton successfully compares modern Paganism to an island teeming with diversity.  Just as everything is connected and dependent on one another in an ecological biosphere, so too are the modern Pagan movements connected.  Each Pagan path shares certain commonalities, whether it is a group of founders, cultural inspiration, similar ritual patterns, or the similarity of existing outside of the major five world religions.  Clifton’s goal is to examine Pagan literature as he believes that a study of the writing is the only way we have to map the evolution and growth of the movement. It is in this way that he is able to piece together the history of modern American Paganism.

Clifton’s main focus is Wicca.  It cannot be denied that Wicca has played a significant role in popularizing Paganism in general.  Like many forms of Paganism, its history starts outside of America – in Europe – with a man named Gerald Gardner who, by publishing Witchcraft Today, allowed for society to start thinking about Paganism (14).  Since then, numerous authors have written on “the craft” including Raymond Buckland, Doreen Valiente, and Cunningham.  Clifton argues that literature has been paramount to the spread of Wiccan thought and practice (13).  Since so many Wiccans are solitary practitioners, they rely on the written word to teach and learn more often than not. Clifton’s discussion on Wicca’s history is worth reading due to Wicca’s influence on Paganism as a whole.  The elders of the movement, dead and living, possess such interesting characters that one cannot help but admire them for their eccentricity.  Just as interesting is the transformation that Wicca has undertaken from a coven-centered religion to a diverse buffet of traditions with many eclectic solitaries.  The availability of literature has played a significant role in this growth and change, but the increasingly sexy portrayal of witches in the media, as discussed in the chapter “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture”, has helped as well.

One of the most interesting chapters in the book takes an in-depth look at Paganism’s relationship with nature.  I read this chapter shortly after taking part in a heated forum discussion on just that topic.  My experience on the Pagan forum was a revelation – not all Pagans identify with the title “nature religion.”  Many felt that their religion did not focus on nature but rather on magic or cultural heritage.  Others, like myself, argued that all of those things were part of nature.  Clifton explores this situation and suggests that there are three categories of “nature religion.”  He calls these “Cosmic Nature,” “Gaian Nature,” and “Erotic” or “Embodied Nature.”  Simply put, Cosmic Nature is concerned with magic and energy, Gaian Nature explores the philosophy of the Earth as a deity, and Erotic Nature involves sexual pleasure.  It is interesting to explore the different approaches to nature taken by other spiritual paths within Paganism, but the inherent message from Clifton is that concept of Paganism being a Nature Religion is  largely an American phenomenon with connections to the growing environmentalist movement (41).  However it must be understood that not all Pagan faiths are concerned with nature in the same way that some Wiccans and Druids are.

The book includes a chapter dedicated to other modern Pagan movements, but the discussion is very limited.  Clifton summarizes such movements as The Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, The Church of All Worlds, The Council of Themis, and, finally, modern Druidism.  I was surprised that there was not a larger discussion on Reconstructionists (although they received brief mentions scattered throughout the book), Asatru, Modern Shamanism, or Chaos Magic.  Some of these movements, especially Asatru, have become incredibly influential in the Neo-Pagan world.  Clifton’s discussion on Druidism, while very interesting and helpful in understanding the development and inspiration for Ár nDraíocht Féin, seemed to fall short of other Druidic traditions.  The Henge of Keltria is only mentioned, and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids seems nowhere to be found despite its having American members and an obvious influence on the modern Druidic movement.  If Clifton were to release a later edition, my suggestion to him would be to include a chapter on Druidism as well as a chapter on Astaru and Heathenism.  His chapter on other Pagan paths should be dedicated to the less understood, less discussed paths such as chaos magic and Christian Witches.

Despite the minor quips I’ve expressed, Her Hidden Children was an immensely enjoyable book with a lot of important information.  The writing style was very straightforward and easy to understand.  At times, the book was a page turner simply because of Clifton’s narrative style and the interesting facts he presented.

Her Hidden Children has been helpful in understanding the development of Wicca, Druidism, and Paganism as a whole within the United States.  It does not change my spirituality in any way, but it does make me a wiser, more informed, more tolerant person.  I think that, if Paganism is to remain a strong, growing religion, the diverse paths will have to celebrate their differences while embracing their similarities in order to unite for the common good.  This book serves as an excellent starting point for just that.

 

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Ellis, Peter Berresford.  A Brief History of the Druids. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers,

2003.

Each Summer Solstice the news media releases a handful of articles on a modern group of Druids worshipping near Stonehenge.  The photos are of regular looking people wearing long white robes and sometimes white head coverings that look more akin to Egyptian head dresses.  They stand in a circle and perform their ritual to the Gods.  One has to ask whether what they are doing is historically accurate or not.  To answer such questions, Peter Berresford Ellis’ book, A Brief History of the Druids, is an excellent starting point.

Ellis’ book is earnest in admitting that he does not know everything about the Druids.  In fact, there is very little in which he could possibly know in our modern times.  Relying on archaeology, linguistics, history, and lore, Ellis explains what is and isn’t known about this mysterious group of people while debunking several myths at the same time.  The book is organized in such a way that he starts with a generalized introduction and then narrows the topic down chapter by chapter.

He begins by describing what is generally thought about the Druids.  Most of our perceptions are shaped by the reports of foreigners such as Caesar and Pliny and are therefore often full of anti-Celtic propaganda (11).  Much of the remaining evidence comes from Christianized Celts.  Everything else must be surmised through linguistics and archaeology for the Druids left no literature of their own due to a taboo against writing (13).  It is therefore difficult to fully understand the Druids.  Everything examined must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt.

Having provided a few disclaimers, Ellis explores the world of the Celts beginning with what little is known of their origins.  These people lived “north of the Alps … from Ireland and Britain in the west, as far east as the central plains of what is now Turkey” (23).    They are defined as Celts based on the similarities of the languages they used which survive today as modern Irish, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish, and Breton (25).  The Celts, Ellis explains, lived in a society divided by classes: workers, artisans, warriors, and the Druids who represented the highest level of academia in Celtic society (29).

So what of the Druids themselves and where do they come from?  Ellis first delves into the etymology of the word Druid to come to various possibilities.  The first is that the word Druid means “oak knowledge” as drus is Greek for “an oak” and wid means “to know” (37).  Another meaning could be “immersed in knowledge” due to the similarities found between old Celtic and Sanskrit words for water and dew.  Either way, the Druids are already connected with knowledge, trees, and water – three very important things in both ancient and modern Druidry.  However the Druids evolved, they came to be the priestly class who oversaw religious, judicial, medical, political, scientific, and educational matters of the Celtic people.  According to the Greeks and Romans, the Druids were divided into three subclasses: Druids, Vates, and Bards.  The Druids were basically the teachers, philosophers, and scientists.  Meanwhile, the Vates focused more on nature and divination and the Bards were historians, musicians, and poets (51).  This special class of intellectuals, which was made up of both men and women (91) held a lot of power – so much so that not even a king was allowed to speak before a Druid (75).

No discussion of the Druids would be complete without a chapter or two dedicated to their religion and rituals.  So many of the ancient texts refer to them as performing mysterious rites and worshipping various deities that we know religion played a large role in the life of a Druid.  Ellis explains that the Celts were polytheists although several modern men have tried to mold the Druids into proto-Christians who worshiped a single God (114).  There are actually over three hundred known Celtic deities, and several are localized meaning that they are associated with only one place (114).  There are a few Gods who were known in many places.  Ellis provides brief descriptions of some of the better known deities such as Danu, Dagda, Bel, Cernunos, Nuada, Lugh, Taranis, Ogma, and the Mórrígán.  Although the explanations are short, they are fitting for a work dedicated to the Druids rather than the Gods.  There is the possibility that the sudden deluge of Celtic Gods and mythology could confuse and overwhelm a novice, but I’ve found that further reading will help to better familiarize the curious mind.

In dissecting the wisdom of the Druids, Ellis breaks the chapter down topic by topic so that we are given an in-depth look at what we know of their skill in various areas such as magic, astrology, and medicine.  I found this section of the book to be the driest, possibly because I am most interested in the Druids’ function as priests rather than judges and astronomers.  However the section should not be overlooked as it truly shows the rich knowledge of the Druids. They were not simply a barbarian people as the Romans were so fond of thinking.  The Celts and their Druids were very well versed in science and enjoyed many accomplishments.  Anyone of Celtic background should feel a sense of pride when reading about such feats.

A Brief History of the Druids should be essential reading material for anyone aspiring to the knowledge of the Druids.  It first provides a good historical background of the people we in ADF are hoping to emulate and also grounds us in our practice by providing the context for our rituals.  Ellis’ discussions of holy wells, trees, divination, and fire in connection to the landscape, festivals, and mythology help to make sense of our liturgical practices.  A good understanding of why a person practices what he or she does is essential for a truly spiritual, intelligent, and introspective human being. Aspiring Druids should hope to be all three of those things.

The book ends with a discussion on the Druidic revival that has been going on for a few hundred years.  It is an interesting although lacking explanation of modern Druidry.  I say that because Ellis focuses on the romantic Druidic groups and only briefly mentions the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, one of the largest Druidic groups today.  There is no reference to Ár nDraíocht Féin or even Celtic Reconstructionists.  This is too bad because he leaves the unknowing reader under the impression that many modern Druidic groups rely on poor research to create their traditions.  He ends the book by reminding the reader that many Celtic countries are forgetting their language and losing their social customs which is truly sad.  He bemoans the fact that many modern Druids are more concerned with the esoteric aspects of Druidry and not the cultural.  I believe that this is a legitimate concern, however, once more, by failing to explore Ár nDraíocht Féin or Celtic Reconstructionism he is overlooking groups who do require learning about the cultures and at least a minimal amount of language study.  Although students of Druidry must be aware of the historical realities of their Druidic homelands, I feel that the pessimistic ending spoiled what was otherwise a very well-written, informative book.

 

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Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick.  A History of Pagan Europe.  New York: Barnes & Noble,

1995.

 

A side of history that has remained silent for many years is finally revealed in Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s work A History of Pagan Europe.  Through exploring the tomes of history, lore, and archaeology, the authors have put together an impeccable overview of the various ancient people of Europe.  In doing so, they exhibit not only how Europe became Europe, but how modern Paganism came to be.  A History of Pagan Europe is an excellent source for Pagan students.  What I found most fascinating were the similarities shared by the various cultures discussed.

Many people of European descent know very little about their ancestors.  The authors begin their work by stating that most people “are more familiar with native traditions from outside Europe than with their own spiritual heritage” (1).  This is sad, particularly so because many European descendants vehemently distance themselves from Paganism even though it has always been there and continues to exist, as Jones and Pennick argue, within our modern society, intertwined in some of our most seemingly secular institutions (1) such as democracy the celebration of Christmas.  The authors set out to debunk the misconceptions about Paganism held by society and show that we really aren’t so different from our ancestors.

The authors attempt to define what Paganism actually is.  I’ve found that it’s difficult to do so in this modern age because so many people, in particular Pagans themselves, refuse to be defined.  I feel that Jones and Pennick come to a satisfying conclusion.  If Paganism is ever to become unified (even though, again, some modern Pagans would argue against this notion), we have to unite under a name and group definition.  The authors first describe how people have defined Pagans in the past.  From country bumpkins to “non-combatants” (as opposed to the “soldiers of Christ”), the word “Pagan” has had a more or less pejorative meaning for the past few hundred years (1).  Jones and Pennick then look at the modern, spiritual definition and conclude that Pagan religions, past and present, share some common traits: polytheism (or some form of worshiping more than one deity), the view of nature as a theophany, and the recognition of Goddesses as well as Gods.  While some Pagans will argue with this, I feel that it covers many of our past and present traditions.  In my opinion, the authors do Paganism at large a service by providing a positive and academic definition.

We then delve into the history of the Greeks and the Eastern Mediterranean, the Romans and the Western Mediterranean, the Celts, the Germanic people, the Baltic people, and the Slavic people.  I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between these different cultures.  For instance, sacred trees kept revealing themselves in each culture.  The authors explain that in Greece “[m]any sanctuaries in later Greek culture centered on a sacred tree…”(6).  Later they explain that “[n]o temple was dedicated unless there was a holy tree associated with it” (20).  The Celts were said to worship in groves of trees (81) and some Germanic tribes also met in such places (116).  The Baltic people had celebrations revolving around ritualized trees that Pennick and Jones argue represented the “axis of the Earth’s rotation” (174).  In Lithuania, there were also sacred groves that were not to be cut  (176).  Everyone seems to have had a sense of the importance of the forest.  I was surprised, however, that the authors did not discuss the world tree of Norse tradition.

Nature was repeatedly venerated in some way from culture to culture. Sacred springs or wells played central roles to many of the old religions.  Slavic Pagans had rituals in which ceremonial dancers “undertook a nine-day ceremony [in which they] visited nine boundary-points, filled a ceremonial vessel with water from nine springs, and prayed to their patron goddess Irondeasa” (190).  The Celtic tribes felt that springs were sacred places as well.  There were springs at Bath associated with the Goddess Sul and “[s]sometimes these springs were thought to cure eye diseases, bringing the light of the Sun to the eye of the sufferer” (88).  In Ireland, “well-worship continues in a modern form, sometimes as a local folk-observance but more often by adoption into Christianity in the form of ‘well-dressing’” in which the well is decorated by the community and then blessed by a local priest (83-84).  The Greeks also recognized sacred springs (10).  The various cultures covered also had strong beliefs associated with fire and/or solar powers, nature spirits, agricultural festivals, and honoring the Earth.  It was interesting to see that, although the cultures venerated nature, they also exploited it. Unlike our modern world, however, our ancestors were very aware of the balance and the need to give back to nature and the Gods.

The dead and the Otherworld were also a common theme.  In Rome, “the remains of the dead were elaborately honored and they were housed in elaborate necropolises…” (26).  Obviously, there existed a concern with the afterlife. We know from Celtic lore that there were times of the year when the dead and other beings of the Otherworld could commune with the world of the living (90).  We know of some Germanic funeral traditions, some from direct observation.  While we may not know the meaning behind the traditions, it is, again, obvious that the dead were being taken care of and that they seem to have been sent into the Otherworld fully prepared for renewed life (138).  In addition, Pennick and Jones point out that the Germans were a bit different from other European Pagans in that they actually felt that their tribal ancestors were Gods (116).  In my opinion, this adds a whole new layer of sacredness to ancestor worship.

There were so many common themes that it would take pages and pages to discuss them all.  Reading about the various similarities helped to reinforce the customs of Ár nDraíocht Féin.   The creation of our altars and what goes on them makes more sense when viewed as a continuation of our ancestral religious traditions.  The tree represents the sacred tree that reveals itself again and again throughout the pages of the book.  The well represents the many sacred springs.  The cauldron represents the sacred fire.  We give offerings to the nature spirits because, like our ancestors, we believe that we need to give back to nature in thanks for what it gives us.  We honor our ancestors like our forefathers and mothers did.  We set up temples and worship in or around sacred trees.  Having read A History of Pagan Europe, I’m filled with a more academic understanding for all that we do in our tradition and it fills me with pride. It almost seems that through practicing as my ancestors did I am honoring them.

Reading the book hasn’t really changed how I practice my religion.  I’ve been recognizing the importance of the sacred tree, well, and fire for awhile now, and have been observing the other customs of ADF because they felt right. Reading about the historical background of everything only reinforces my spiritual practices and gives me a better understanding for other cultures that I may otherwise have never read about.  As someone who has clergy aspirations, it is useful to know that many of our practices are universal throughout Europe.  If I was required to do a Norse ritual, for instance, I wouldn’t feel too out of place after doing the appropriate amount of research on the pantheon.

The book ends by discussing how Paganism has been reestablishing itself, first through the Renaissance, and finally through the various modern movements.  The authors briefly touch on Druidry and Ásatrú, however I felt that they were more favorable of Wicca.  While Ásatrú has more of an honorable mention, Druidry is made to look like a fantasy-based fraternity (211).  Some of the first modern Druids do have Masonic roots, but the authors have failed to take note of other viable Celtic-inspired traditions that do more research and rely less on romantic fancy.  Perhaps it’s because the book was written before Ár nDraíocht Féin and Celtic Reconstructionism were as known as they are now. Meanwhile, Wicca is praised as the “kind of Paganism [that] looks ahead, offering a new philosophy, more strongly than it looks to its roots in the past” (220).  While I’ll never condemn Wicca, I do think that the authors have ignored the fact that many groups, including Ásatrú groups, take on the Reconstructionist principal that religions should be updated for our modern world while holding onto those traditions that are still applicable.  Meanwhile, many branches of Wicca have become just as fantasy-driven as the old Druidic orders.  I believe that having an understanding of history is very important, especially where religion is concerned.

A History of Pagan Europe should be read by every Pagan and history student alike.  Modern Pagans should have a firm understanding of where their traditions have evolved from.  Even Pagans who do not have European ancestry should give the book a try, especially if they live in a Euro-centric country like America or Canada. It can give a lot of perspective on our culture, especially where holidays and our calendar are concerned. Meanwhile, history students should appreciate the other side of the story and see the many examples of how Paganism was not necessarily stamped out, but rather absorbed into our modern world.

 

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The Autumn Equinox is a harvest holiday that is also known as Mabon to many Pagans (Ellison 187).  It is generally celebrated around the actual equinox date, usually September 21st.  Although it was not an especially important time to the ancient Celts, there are traditions throughout the British Isles and Ireland.  According to Mara Freeman, there was a special ceremony surrounding the cutting of the last sheaf.  This was then transformed into a female doll that could represent any number of things, from the Cailleach to a young Goddess, depending on the region.  It would then be hung in a barn, home, or saved for Imbolc festivities (Freeman, 260).

Mabon is also a time of year for feasting and food preparation as people prepare for the winter months.   Specific foods, such as corn and nuts, are being harvested, and wine making is especially important (Ellison 188).

In many ways, this holiday seems like a Pagan version of Thanksgiving without the convoluted history between Europeans and Native Americans.  In years past, I didn’t anticipate it as wholly as Samhain or Winter Solstice.  In fact, I rarely thought much about it on the actual holiday.  Yet now that I’ve read more about the Autumn Equinox it makes more sense to me than the American Thanksgiving which seems more about the beginning of the Christmas season now than celebrating the bounty of the earth.  Mabon’s purpose, it seems, is to remind Pagans to stop, think about where their food comes from, and thank the Earth Mother.

 

How I Celebrated in 2007

 

Once again, I joined the members of Muin Mound to celebrate a holiday.  This particular holiday, the Autumn Equinox, has never attracted me in the way that others have, but it is important to celebrate the end of the harvest and the preparation for colder times.

The ritual was lead by the senior Druid, Dennis.  This is the second ritual I’ve seen him lead.  I’ve found him to be very humble and he never seems as if he is on a power trip.  He always organizes the rituals quite well.  He knows the structure and he encouragingly helps to remind people when it’s their turn to present an offering or call to a particular spirit or kindred.

The patrons of the rite were the Welsh Mabon and Madron, Mabon’s mother.  I know very little about them as I work with Irish deities, so it was very interesting to learn.  The gatekeeper was Manannan Mac Lir.  I stumbled my way through some of the chants, but I’m starting to form a firm grasp on the ritual format, the chants Muin Mound uses, and the appropriate responses during the rite.  I’m becoming confident!  I did, however, forget to bring a sacrifice.  I felt bad, but recalled that I had already made an offering to my shrine earlier in the day.  I didn’t do anything of note in the ritual except participate in the toast and boast.

I cannot remember the exact omens drawn.  I know Dennis used runes and that the overall message was that we need to contribute to the whole community, not just to the grove or even just the Pagan community.  It was a good omen and something I believe we need to do more of.

Whenever I’m at Muin Mound, I definitely feel the presence of nature spirits.  They seem to love the grove.  I feel the Gods and ancestors as well, but the nature spirits really make themselves known.  The deity I felt most was Brighid, and I also sensed the Dagda.  I felt Brighid standing mostly to my right, and the Dagda to my left.  Brighid urged me to keep an eye on a little boy as he played dangerously close to the fire.  She would have been upset with me if I let him hurt himself.

 

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Beltaine

Beltaine is a Celtic holiday traditionally celebrated around May 1st.  It is a day to celebrate the return of fertility to the Earth as well as the beginning of summer.  In regards to the etymology of the word, linguists are fairly certain that the “-tain” refers to the word tene, meaning “fire”.  The “bel-” is less certain among linguists.  Some believe it refers to the Gaulish God Belenos or that it derives from the word bel – “brilliant” (Freeman 135).

Beltaine is one of the most important holidays in the Celtic year.  It is associated with specific events, invasions, and monsters that appear on Beltaine in Celtic myth (Ellison 129).  According to Mara Freeman, “events that mark the end of an old order and the beginning of a new frequently take place at Beltaine” (136).  For example, the invasion of the Tuatha Dé Danann of Ireland occurred on a Beltaine, as did the invasion of the Míl, the ancestors of the Irish who conquered the old Gods (136).

Beltaine is also associated with fire, as is implied by the name.  The druids would gather on hills to create grand bonfires which would help to purify the community and their livestock for the summer (Freeman 137).  In fact, Beltaine was the day the cattle were brought to pasture in the fields until the beginning of winter on Samhain (Ellison 129).  The cattle would be driven between two such bonfires to ensure their health and fertility for the coming year.

This holiday is also associated with love and fertility.  Couples or whole groups of people would go off into the forests or fields to “bring in the May”, or have sex.  It was believed that, in doing so, the fertility of the couple would be transferred to the Earth and aid in the upcoming harvest (Ellison 130).

Having been a practicing Pagan for several years now, I’ve been exposed to a few Beltaines and, as I grow and learn about the path I am on, I have come to love and anticipate this holiday.  Many groups in my area dance the May Pole for Beltaine, a traditional fertility ritual.  It, along with bringing in the May with my partner, has become something I look forward to every year.

Folk customs aside, the transition of the natural year has always been most noticeable around May 1st.  The trees are budding, the ground is moist and filling out with green life, the song birds have returned, and wild flowers paint the land with color.  It is such a joyous time of the year for me.

In the future, if I have a family, I would love for my children to anticipate Beltaine as much as I do, although they probably won’t understand its full meaning until adolescence.  I would love to give them tenfold of what I have experienced so far: ample feasts, dancing, singing, flower gathering, and love-focused rituals.  I would like Beltaine to take a higher precedence over Valentine’s Day for my own family, as Beltaine is less focused on material gifts and more on love and growth.  It is a positive holiday – one of my favorites.

 

How I Celebrated in 2007

On the 28th of April, 2007, I attended the Beltaine ritual at Muin Mound in Syracuse.  It was my first experience at a Druid ritual.  The ceremony began at 7 PM.

The Beltaine ritual was lead by Skip Ellison.  I think he did a wonderful job.  He was both welcoming and powerful seeming.  Everyone in the grove was also very welcoming.  It felt like a big family!  Skip’s daughter also took on an important role by leading the songs and chants as the bard.  Two other girls also did a lot to invoke the three Kindreds and make offerings.  Everyone else (about ten or so people) participated in minor ways such as singing, chanting, making offerings, and participating in the “toast and boast.”  I was amazed at the amount of group participation that occurred.

The gatekeeper for the ceremony was Manannan Mac Lir.  The deities honored were Angus the Young God and a Goddess I wasn’t familiar with called “Flower Face.”  Angus was celebrated because of his summer ties with love and fertility, while “Flower Face” is also associated with love as well as new growth.

Skip’s method of divination was ogham stones.  If I recall correctly, he drew three different discs – one for each kindred.  One was ivy, and one was oak.  I cannot remember the third!  I do remember that the oak was an omen for the Gods.  Skip said it was a very good message.

Before the actual ritual, we performed a May pole dance.  The beautiful May pole was made using the previous year’s Yule tree.  Skip explained that it’s part of how they keep in tune with the cycle of the year.  Each Yule, they get a Yule tree.  Come Beltaine, part of the old Yule tree is added to the Beltaine pole. When the pole has been danced, it is placed in the grove to give fertility to the Earth all summer long.  Come Samhain, the beginning of sleep and rest for nature, the May pole is burned to represent the death of the green until spring.  I thought it was really beautiful and I would love to start such a tradition with my own family some day.  So, we danced the pole and leant our energy to the land for a good, fertile growing season.

As stated, I really liked the grove and the ritual.  I felt it was structured very well.  I liked the emphasis on the Gods as well as the ancestors and nature spirits.  I felt like I was really honoring the Gods rather than abstract concepts. I liked all of the offerings people gave.  I was really impressed when one member offered a song on a flute!  Being my first time, I did not make a special offering.  I hope to next time.

I had trouble with chants and responses.  I could hum along with the melody, and pick up some.  I was really confused when we invoked water, earth, and sky.  Everyone began to chant something I didn’t know.  Eventually I realized that they were referring to the three great fears of the Celt.  They were asking that the sky not fall, the earth not open up, and that the sea not swallow them.

When we got to the “Toast and Boast” part of the ritual, I thanked the Gods for the wonderful community I found to worship with.  I explained that when I started out on my spiritual path, I was alone.  Now I have a wonderful mate who worships with me, Pagan friends, and I celebrated Beltaine with two different groups!

I really enjoyed the ritual.  I felt a lot of energy there.  I especially felt Manannan’s presence.  It felt like tickles down my back.  I just knew he was there with us.  I definitely plan to go to the grove again.

 

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The Spring Equinox

The end of March is hardly how I imagine spring.  Never the less, the Spring Equinox generally falls around March 21st every year (Freeman 71).  In Upstate New York, snow can cling to existence until mid April.  It is chilly, mucky, and gray – hardly what one considers spring-like weather.  Yet I’ve grown to shrug off this more cynical approach that many of my fellow Upstate New Yorkers have adopted.  If one takes the time to look there are signs of spring everywhere.  There are tiny buds starting to form at the ends of branches.  Some birds may start to return.  There may be periods of rain rather than snow.  These occurrences justify a celebration to many Neo Pagans.

Our European ancestors may have seen the signs of spring sooner than we do now but, historically, there is no evidence that our Celtic ancestors celebrated the Spring Equinox.  This time of year seems to have been more significant to our Anglo-Saxon ancestors (Ellison 169).  Eostre is the Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the season and eggs, hares/rabbits, and new growth are sacred to her.  Many of the traditions associated with her feast have been transferred to the Christian celebration of Easter.  The Easter Bunny and colored eggs are obvious examples.

I grew up celebrating Easter with my Catholic family.  While Christian mythology is fascinating in its own right, I was (as most children seem to be) more enamored with the bunnies and eggs.  As with the Winter Solstice, the Spring Equinox has become easy to celebrate simply because many of the traditions are the same.  As I become more and more involved with my Irish hearth culture, the Spring Equinox gives me the opportunity to meditate on my often overlooked Germanic blood.

While the Spring Equinox is admittedly not my favorite holiday, it is fun to watch children dye and hunt for eggs.  I hope to continue that tradition with my own family one day.  However I don’t want the celebration of the season to degrade into the materialistic façade of modern, secularized Easter.   I would much rather use the egg as an opportunity to learn about life cycles and healthy food, and the holiday as a whole as an excuse to go on a nature walk to hunt for signs of spring.

 

How I Celebrated in 2008

I celebrated the Spring Equinox, also known as Ostara, with Muin Mound on Saturday, March 22nd, 2008.  My boyfriend and I arrived a half an hour or so before the ritual started so we were able to relax while the ritual space was prepared in the house.  Thirteen to fifteen other people were there to celebrate the coming of spring.  I felt exhausted after a long day spent in Syracuse, but once the ritual neared, I felt myself buzzing with anticipation.

We processed out into the ritual space.  Some duties had been handed out prior, but the Senior Druid forgot to ask for volunteers to make offerings to the Earth, Sea, and Sky.  I volunteered to honor the Sea during the ritual and sprinkled salt water from a large sea shell around the ritual space while chanting “May the seas not rise up and drown us.”  The practice draws from Celtic lore and belief, and I really like that it’s included in the ritual.

We honored the Goddess Eostre and the God Oisin.  I had been under the impression that Oisin was a Celtic hero and that Eostre was a Teutonic Goddess.  I wasn’t sure how connected this was and will have to do further research.

When it came time to make offerings, several people offered colored eggs.  Someone eventually offered a candle which she lit from the flames of the central candle.  She placed it in the offering bowl in the middle of the many colored eggs.  It was a really beautiful site.  I offered a ring that I had bought myself in Salem a few years ago.  It had two angels/fairies holding a pentacle and was significant to me when I was Wiccan.  It was still significant to me because it represented where I came from on my Pagan path.  It also represented my recent reconciliation with Wicca after having felt some negative feelings towards the movement for a year or so.  Giving the ring was my way of thanking the Kindreds for helping me to learn some much-needed lessons.

After the offerings were given, an omen was taken through the use of Ogham.  The Arch Druid, Skip, read the omens and said they were positive, however I cannot recall what the particular sigils were.

I enjoyed this ritual.  During the potluck I realized that I was slowly becoming a part of the grove.  I was recognized, though everyone didn’t always remember my name. It has nearly been a year since I started to attend Muin Mound for the holidays and I think that I would like to become an official part of the grove.

 

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1) Carrionmann got back to me about being a mentor for people working on their Dedicant Programs. I was informed that my DP was excellent and that I definitely qualify! Huzzah! I’m really excited about helping people and giving back to the religious community I love so dearly. I just need to complete the questionnaire.

2) Oak Leaves and Tribeways work – I have an article to edit for someone else and an article that I am writing to contribute. I was thrilled to contribute to the Solstice Tribeways podcast and I definitely want to think of something to contribute for that. Again – I am so excited to get more involved.

3) The artisan guild is working on making a gallery of member work. I need to get some photos of things in! On a related note, I want to start planning an entry for the guild competition at Wellspring!

4) I want to do another trance soon, if not tonight. I feel better and am ready to meet my teacher once more.

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