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Posts Tagged ‘community’

If you haven’t read Sara Ann Lawless’ latest, revealing post, you really must.  It’s called “So Long, and Thanks for All the Abuse: A History of Sexual Trauma in the Pagan Community.”   It’s long, raw, and has the potential to trigger.  If you are up to reading it, I highly recommend it out of necessity.

 

The experiences she described should never have happened.  I look back on my own history of finding and growing in Paganism with amazement.  I somehow got to where I am without facing the extremes she and others endured.  My worst experiences have been uncomfortable conversations, lingering stares, and, recently, realizing that the founder of my tradition behaved in a way that was not honorable toward women. (I also had experiences outside the Pagan sphere, of course…)  Somehow, I have been pretty lucky in life.  I say that not to brag, but with a sense of astonishment given what so many friends and family have experienced.  I thank my watchful parents for some of that, but also my husband.  I started to date him when I began visiting covens, circles, and groves.  He tirelessly accompanied me, always supportive and protective.  As grateful as I am for that, I recognize how sad it is that I felt I needed to rely on him.  Truly, I would not have gone to Muin Mound Grove had he not agreed to join me.  Going to a home with a bunch of strangers for a ritual?  I would have never done that without my 6’6″ partner by my side just in case.

It sucks that it has to be that way.  What if I had been single?  What if I hadn’t had any friends interested in exploring with me?  Thankfully, the first Pagan circle I joined was run by a woman more concerned with fellowship and communal learning than power.  Thankfully, Muin Mound was, and is, a family-friendly, safe group.  Decisions are made by the members, not one person.  I flourished in both places.  What if they had been  toxic environments?  Who would I be today?  Thinking of some other groups and individuals I met who gave me red flags, I shudder …

The news is filled with stories like Sarah’s, but on a more global scale.  Women (cis, trans, etc), are voicing our pain, our worries, our stories.  Watching my daughter grow, I worry for her.  I can only keep her safe for so long. A large reason I work to create a safe, family-friendly grove is for her and the other children of my Pagan friends.

It is hard, very mundane work.  Some of the most important protective magic you do will be that way.  When I started down the Druidic path, I didn’t envision myself writing and reviewing bylaws.  I didn’t consider the importance of introducing myself with a pronoun.  I thought we’d get together and meditate, but we also come together to chat about the importance of safety, inclusion, etc.  It can be grueling and challenging, but it’s necessary.  Each time, the protective sphere around the grove strengthens.  Sometimes cracks form, and everyone needs to buckle down and repair, or else everything will shatter.

 

I’ve found myself drawn to Macha lately.  A little over a year ago, she came to me during a trance.  She reappears from time to time, but her voice is getting louder.  With everything going on in the political realm of America, the Me Too movement… it’s no wonder.  This sovereignty goddess cursed the men of Ulster, cursed the patriarchy that wronged her.  She’s a warrior who perseveres, and I’m curious about others who hear her call.

I’m particularly drawn to her  because, as my grandfather’s genealogy research found, I have an ancestor from Armagh Co, which was named after Macha (Ard Mhacha).

Today, as the Senate prepares to vote, I felt compelled to make offerings to Macha.  I prayed to her and asked for omens.  My daughter joined me and made an offering to Brighid, which was also very appropriate.  My little one doesn’t know what’s happening, so she was perplexed by my words.  I pray that Brighid wraps her protective mantle around the young ones.  I pray that Macha lends me her strength and, in time, lends that to my child when it’s needed.

For more inspiration on how to protect your groves, covens, and circles, I suggest reading Rev. Melissa Hill’s “Ways to Protect Your Community from Sexual Predation.”  If you don’t already have bylaws in your group, begin to work on them collectively.  Actively promote inclusion and begin to explore the concept of, and work to promote, a culture of consent.

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on that myself.  How many times have I said or done something that I probably shouldn’t have?  There wasn’t any intent other than to have a chuckle with my friends, but people may see it differently.  There are times I know I made someone uncomfortable with a joke.  Even as a woman, I have to think of my own behaviors towards others.  I want to be a better example for my child, for my grove, and community.  May that work spiral outward.

Macha, I hear you.

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I recently watched a documentary called “When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.”  It was both informative and inspirational.  Although Druidism, largely informed by Gaelic Polytheism, is my spiritual home, Buddhism has always interested me.  I often find myself watching documentaries about it and reading about it when I can (although I remain a novice on the subject).  One thing I found particularly fascinating about this documentary was that it wasn’t so much about the history of the religion/philosophy; the focus was on how Tibetan monks brought the practice to America, and how that practice looks here.  Many of the tensions that exist in modern American Druidism can, in some ways, find a parallel in Buddhism in America.  For example, how much value should be placed on cultural traditions versus the central tenants?  How can we create spaces for our religious practices that don’t compromise our values?  How can we take a very old tradition from another land or culture (even one that belonged to our ancestors), and make it relevant to modern people in a different land?  How much time should be spent studying versus practicing? I think modern Pagans of many traditions can learn a lot from the movie.  It’s also especially inspiring to see how this minority faith has been able to build beautiful centers for its adherents around America.  In short, the Buddhist community in the US seems to exist because there are very devoted and serious members who spend a lot of time and, yes, resources on their spiritual passions.

As I watched, I couldn’t help but think about what drew me to Druidism through comparing my “conversion experience” to those shared on the camera.  Like the Americans drawn to Buddhism, I embraced Druidism because the messages I was receiving from the dominant culture did not resonate with me or my values.  So often, business and money are elevated above health, the environment, and true self-improvement.  “American Culture” is so influenced by monotheism as well as a tendency to generalize “exotic” concepts from other cultures.  So much of that is often watered down until it’s as useful as an advertising slogan.  It’s no wonder so many people like myself look outward or even backwards to a time many have forgotten.  I sought something different, fully willing to get my feet muddy and be transformed.

In Buddhism, part of the central focus has to do with suffering.  Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths address the reality of suffering and how we must come to terms with that and find peace. Druidism, as we know it, doesn’t really emphasize that so much, but in some ways, it could be argued that the suffering of Nature brought me to it.  In recognizing that my brother and sister Nature Spirits suffer, that we are all connected, and therefore their suffering is my suffering, I embraced Paganism and eventually modern Druidism.  Did the ancient Druids have teachings on suffering?  Perhaps.  The closest I can get to it right now is through the reported belief in life after death and the heroic way mythic warriors ran into battle, even when fate was against them.  Yes, you may have broken a geis – a taboo – that will lead to your downfall, but there is still honor in fighting because there’s integrity in it, courage in it, and people will sing of your perseverance despite the suffering you may endure.  So, I suppose, suffering is indirectly addressed in Druidism, but it doesn’t seem to be a central focus (nor does my attempt at finding a parallel mean that there has to be one).

So what is the central focus of Modern Druidism?

Harmony.

After a lot of thought and meditation, I’ve realized that my own concept of Modern Druidism’s central focus is harmony.  Again, I want to stress that this is just my opinion and only applicable to Modern (Neo) Druidism, though influenced by my fledgeling studies of Gaelic Polytheism.  Perhaps others would disagree, and my thoughts will likely evolve as I grow.  Right now – harmony.

So why harmony?

Many in the Druidic and Gaelic Polytheistic communities will agree that the concept of reciprocity is huge in Indo-European cultures.  The lore shows us that there must be an exchange of something in order for the cosmos to stay in order.  Rulers must protect their subjects and fairly distribute resources.  In exchange, everyone in the realm continues to work hard so that resources are obtained and everyone receives the services they need.  Culture can flourish.  When the ruler mistreats his or her people, as Bres did the Tuatha Dé Danann, there is disharmony that must be rectified.  In some stories, even the land herself rebels, hence accounts of sacrificial kings and symbolic marriage to the land.  In ADF Druidism, our liturgical tradition is based around reciprocity.  “A gift calls for a gift,” it is said.  When you are in a productive, healthy, meaningful relationship with another, there is mutualism.  The tall oak may appear to be the most important being in the forest, but such an ecosystem flourishes because of the give and take of the collective.  There must be harmony.

How can harmony, as a core concept of Druidism, apply to our practice?

For the Buddhists in the documentary, suffering influenced people to go through great lengths to improve themselves and their ability to find peace.  Obviously, there is a lot of meditation, but there is also a lot of study.  Whereas the stereotypical monk spends much of his or her day in meditation, in reality, he or she is also involved in a deep study of philosophy and, as Druids would call it, lore. Several of the Western Buddhists were also engaged in studying the Tibetan language to better engage with the culture that inspires them – something many modern Gaelic Polytheists can understand. At one point in the film, some of the monks discuss the importance of memorizing whole texts in Tibetan.  One man explained that there may come a day when someone will ask a question, and rather than make an excuse such as, “Oh, well, I don’t have my books with me right now,” you become the book.  That reminded me of the ancient Druids and their emphasis on oral history; they were said to activity discourage the written text.  Modern Druids have taken the pendulum and swung it the other way.  I think the Buddhists are on to something with regards to studying texts but then working to memorize them – to internalize them.  There’s a harmony there.  Furthermore, they have to find a harmony between their book studies and their spiritual practice of meditation.  A reoccurring discussion in Pagan circles often involves the need to find a balance between how much time one spends studying and actually working or experiencing.

Looking to a very successful minority religious practice for inspiration, one can see the benefits of finding harmony between both. In addition, Modern Druids must also find a harmony between doing that individual study and work, and then serving the community.  In my opinion, based on the historical basis, Druidism is a religion in service to others – the tribe, the spirit world, and the land.  Thus we nourish harmony within ourselves, then cultivate it around us in our relationships.

Harmony with Nature

As explained above, working with Nature was a driving force in my coming to Druidism.  While I wouldn’t describe our ancient predecessors as environmentalists, there’s evidence that they had animistic-type beliefs such as a deep respect for the land and the reciprocity needed to maintain harmony. The rich lore about Nature from Celtic nations inspired me, and the landscape reminded me of my own in certain ways. The modern world is so out of harmony with Nature. It only seems natural for people who strive to cultivate positive relationships with the spiritual world -including the spirits of Nature all around us – to embrace a lifestyle that at least attempts to live in better harmony with the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits. Historical precedence will only take us so far. The necessity for modern Druids to embrace environmentalism (of some breed) is based on contemporary needs. Many in the modern Buddhist community are doing the same. Their meditations on the beauty of Nature have moved several to act. The documentary gave some examples of how modern Buddhists are out picking up litter, marching in protest of environmental degradation, and speaking out for more sustainable practices. Seeing that was really inspiring.  Again – harmony between the desires of the self and the needs of the community.  Druids should also embrace that.

How do you find harmony in Druidism or Gaelic polytheism?  If you feel differently than I do about the central focus of Druidism, what is your opinion and why do you think that?

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First of all, I’m very excited to announce that the North Country Druidic Study Group has been welcomed to perform our High Day rituals at the Kripalu Yoga Center here in Northern NY!  They have a lovely little stone circle with a fire pit that is just perfect for us.  What’s more, they have an indoor facility with heat, electricity, bathrooms, tables, chairs, and a kitchen!  As I’ve told everyone, I like to perform rites outside surrounded by Nature and in the elements, but I understand the importance of having indoor space, especially for a group of people.  Individuals can suddenly feel ill, babies can become too cold, and people want to feast in comfort come winter.  Access to this lovely, sacred space comes as a particular stroke of good fortune in a month that has been largely stressful and disappointing in other life areas. Of course, it hasn’t happened without much effort – phone tag, many messages over FB, letters, meetings, and much explanation.  I’m very grateful to the Yoga Center’s board, in particular Kimberly Ward, who has been communicative and supportive since the beginning, and Steve Williams, who has been very helpful and welcoming over the phone.  I pray this is the start to a wonderful, positive partnership!

Of course, being a facility that has a vast lawn to maintain, electricity, heat, water, etc…  It should not be a surprise that the group will have to pay a little to utilize this space.  This brings up the question about money.  Ah, that necessary evil that permeates our life…

Like others in the group, I rent an apartment lacking a private lawn or sufficient space for large group rituals.  What’s more, since we are aiming to become an ADF grove, our rituals must be open to the public and accessible, yet we also want more privacy than a park can offer.  Although there are many people in ADF comfortable with such a high level of hospitality and open their home to complete strangers, I’m on the more protective side of my property and, especially, pets.  There are other members who have children and I would be the same way.  Renting a ritual space at an established property just makes sense.  We aren’t alone in the ADF community.  As it turns out, a great many groves and protogroves rely on the hospitality of spiritual and community centers – UU Churches, libraries, camping lodges,  and even Masonic temples.  Because of this need for space, other groups also deal with the annoyance of money.

As the study group matures and moves towards our first anniversary in the summer, acquiring access to this space has solidified our desire to move forward with becoming an actual grove.  We will not stagnate over the winter without a good place for ritual!  Yet we are suddenly faced with business.  Who pays for this space? Will a request for donations be enough? Should we start collecting dues?  Who pays the dues? What constitutes a member of the study group?

Most people probably recognize that we’re moving into bylaws territory.  Even though protogroves aren’t required to have any, it seems like something is necessary when money comes into the equation. I’m no stranger to bylaws.  Muin Mound Grove has some that we’re currently in the process of reviewing.  The Mohawk Valley Pagan Network I used to belong to had them.  I was actually involved in the process of writing them!  Like money, bylaws are a necessary evil.  It is unfortunate that spiritual communities have to have these rules, but due to the imperfect and sometimes unpredictable nature of humanity, rules are a form of protection.  The key is not letting the rules take over the function of the group, and being open about their necessity and formation.  I’m hopeful that people who were very interested and involved before don’t become discouraged by this development.

I’ve been spending some time looking over other grove bylaws for ideas.  The study group’s second business meeting is tonight and I plan to start at least discussing some of the issues at hand.  The group is growing up.

 

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If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year, you know I’ve been working towards building an ADF Druidic community here in the North Country.  It started in June with a “coffee hour,” and progressed into a few study group meetings – the first in Watertown and the second in Carthage.  Our Facebook group has grown and, while discussion comes and goes, the interest remains.  We’ve even attracted someone right across the border in Canada!

Our next gathering is coming up this weekend and it is going to be a bit more than a study group meeting – I’m actually planning a ritual to frame the opening and closing of our time together.  The purpose is to celebrate the new season and honor the Nature Spirits for their bounty.  Since the group has been discussing Nature Spirits, it seemed right to make them the focus of this ritual.  We’ll also discuss our next planned ritual, Samhain.

Last weekend, I met with two of the study group members.  They have both been very involved since the very first meeting – I felt they were ready to help me organize something bigger.  The Autumn Equinox rite coming up is going to be very casual so as to “blend in” at the public park we’re meeting in.  Since it’s our first ritual, I don’t want it to be too involved.  Everyone is still learning and the less they have to keep track of, the better it will be.  All the same, I will be sure everyone is involved in some way so they experience a sense of ownership and I don’t feel alone on stage.  I’m hoping this only grows at Samhain.  We’re still working on finding a more private yet accessible location for that rite… and we have a possibility in the works.

When Weretoad and I left Muin Mound’s Autumn Equinox rite, he lamented the possibility of growing apart from them through forming a new group.  I worried the same thing.  We discussed it some as we took the long drive home.  I asked him if he would be happier if I abandoned the possibility of starting a protogrove, but he insisted that I shouldn’t because he knows it’s important to me.  I found myself asking why is it important.  Am I just looking to play leader?

Reflecting on my life, I always end up in such positions.  I dare say it’s natural for me.  I started clubs as a child, was elected president of a literature club in college, and was elected scribe in two Pagan groups.  I naturally like to facilitate and organize, especially when I see a desire in the community.  Someone has to step up and help make things happen.  I like to make things happen, even when it stresses me out.  (Don’t even get me started on organizing parties – I love doing that too…)

But it isn’t just my desire to make things happen.  There really is a desire in the North Country for something other than Wicca.  Not only that, but there’s a desire for open community.  Covens are hard to find, but ADF Druidism is all about opening its doors. This doesn’t come without some complications, but it’s necessary for such a group to be out there.  I think most Pagans are into security and safety, but not everyone is into extreme secrecy.  Some of us just want to come together, form friendships, educate/learn, work magic, and worship the Kindreds.  I read about other groves who meet every month – sometimes twice a month! – to share discussion, healing, and fellowship.  I used to be part of such a group in the Utica area and I loved it.  I still get excited to see the people I met through that group.  It’s not that I don’t get excited to see my grovemates in Syracuse – but I can’t see them as often because of proximity.  I miss being able to meet without it being a big day trip.  I miss being able to say, “Hey, who wants to meet for tea and casual Pagan discussion tonight?” without worrying about gas prices and getting home at a decent time for bed.

I truly hope this study group turns into something more.  Like my husband, I will miss seeing Muin Mound as often when the study group matures… but I know we won’t lose touch.  Hell, I’m already plotting ways for the North Country group and Muin Mound to get together!

At the same time, I’m not going to count my chickens before they hatch.  The study group still has a lot of work to do to become something more.  I don’t want to embark on the protogrove boat alone – I need to know everyone has my back and that we’re in it together.  Perhaps by next June, we’ll be ready.

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I haven’t written about the North Country Druidic Study Group in awhile.  We had our third meeting last weekend and it was very successful!  There were less people than the second meeting, but many had family obligations which is understandable – especially in the summer when everyone wants to visit and have fun!  We have been talking about Nature Spirits – who/what they are, how we impact each other, and how to work with them.  It’s mostly focused on the physical realm – what is corporeal and readily experienced by the average person’s senses.  I firmly believe that, even though the more mystical side of Druidism is very interesting and rewarding to study, you won’t gain much without feeling connected to the “here and now.”  We started to tap into magic and energy last time with a Two Powers exercise.

The group is still in its infancy.  Who knows who will stay?  Druidism won’t be for everyone, so I’ll understand if some people decide to part ways amicably.  There seems to be a core group of people – individuals who have been to each meeting, are very active on the Facebook group, and who really seem happy with what they’re discovering about Druidism.  One even joined ADF!

There’s been some discussion about the possibility of starting an actual grove in the North Country!  I did explain that we need to take baby steps toward that since it’s a lot of work.  My biggest concerns, at this point, are where we can meet and how involved everyone will be.

The meetings have been in three different places.  I’ve been communicating with a Yoga center in the area about the possibility of having our rituals there and we’ll see how that turns out.  If that doesn’t work in our favor, there are various parks in the area.  But in winter?  I don’t really feel the UU Church is the answer since I’m not a member and there’s already a CUUPs chapter there.  I am opened to having people I know in my home, but ADF rituals are supposed to be opened to the public.  I’ve always admired the Ellisons’ hospitality at Muin Mound Grove.  It’s on their property and new people come in and out of their house each high day.  I’m not as comfortable with that, at least right now.

So, we’ll see what happens with a location, but I’m taking steps.

With regards to group involvement, the “core” I described seem willing to work with me.  I’m hoping the core only grows.  I’ve never been a part of a Pagan group that didn’t have a dedicated core and then more casual members on the periphery who show up when able.  Muin Mound is the same way, as was the Mohawk Valley Pagan Network.  The local CUUPs too.  A good four or five people seem key to making sure things get organized.  I have heard of new protogroves having difficulty with members, though.  One person will feel like he or she is doing all of the work and nobody volunteers.  I know from being a president in a college organization that sometimes a leader has to delegate since people aren’t always aware you’re seeking volunteers.

For now, the group is small and everyone is learning.  My husband and I have the most experience with ADF Druidism followed by one of the core members.  I can’t honestly expect more involvement until people gather more experience. As the group grows, I’m hoping others become more involved as they grow and feel comfortable in Druidism.  Although I’m organizing and facilitating everything at the moment, I do want the group to feel comfortable making suggestions and even leading meetings in the future.

Before our last study group, I used my Animal Oracle to draw an omen and pulled the goose which can mean parenthood.  The second meeting’s omen was a wolf which I interpreted to mean pack.  The cards seem to aptly describe the situation right now.  I’m forming a pack and have to nurture those who are interested.

I’m hopeful for my little group – hopeful that we grow into a pack – a family 0f North Country Druids.

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I love my Druidic community.  ADF is full of so many talented, intelligent, and helpful people.  The number of groves and members grows meaning there is potentially someone to celebrate with no matter where you go.  I love gathering with like-minded people in fellowship for celebration and learning.  It can be lonely without community.  One’s spirituality can become stagnant and isolated without community.  Druidism is based in a tribal society so having a tribe is, in my opinion, an important aspect of the religion.

Being part of an organization has many perks and I definitely encourage Druids to look into what’s out there.  Sharing ideas, art, and liturgy can be wonderful.  The ability to join with others who see the world similarly can be powerful.  You’ll almost always have a sympathetic ear or shoulder.  In many organizations, there are experienced elders who can help you through difficult times.  There will always be a bard, artisan, warrior, or healer willing to lend a hand or say a prayer. There are others to collaborate with, resulting in unique and moving experiences.  In some organizations, like ADF, there are recognized priests who can perform legal marriages.  Many groups are recognized as established religious institutions with tax exempt status and are associated with religious freedom organizations, lending strength when your path is challenged.  People work together to gather and review resources, providing you with many tools.

Yet…

Sometimes nobody is available.

Sometimes the invigorating, inspiring discussions become repetitive, argumentative, and stifling.

Sometimes the diversity becomes contentious rather than strengthening.

Sometimes I just need to get away and refocus.

Sometimes I like to be on my own.

During quarrelsome periods, when an online discussion list is full of gnashing teeth, I often have to step away.  I probably couldn’t do that if I had more responsibility in the organization, but as I am right now…  I can.  I go to my altar, I light the fire, tend the well, and honor the tree.  I thank the Kindreds for their blessing.  I get outside and spend time with the trees and other plants.  I look to the stars, the sun, the moon, the clouds…  I turn inward and closer to home – to my tribe right here.  I focus on what’s important.

Being part of an organization is a wonderful thing and I think many are doing very good work.  I am proud to be a part of ADF, for example, and have gotten much from the fellowship, study programs, and resources.  The bigger an organization gets, the more likely some bureaucracy will occur. I understand that.  I’m part of it in some ways as a Dedicant Program reviewer and leader of a special interest group.   But don’t let yourself be fooled that Druidism is an organization.  Druidism is about community, but it is also about the Kindreds, your own family, and your relationships with them.  Ground yourself there.  Things can become hot and you can get discouraged, but remember that is not what it’s all about.

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The Wild Hunt » Pagans Raise Over 30K for Japan Relief.

High five everyone!

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