Posted in Druidism, tagged ADF, Celtic mythology, Christianity, Christmas, Druidism, Gods and Goddesses, Nature Spirits, Norse mythology, Pagan parenting, stress, traditions, winter, Winter Solstice, Yule on November 25, 2016 | 5 Comments »
The following is an account of my continued work with trance as part of ADF’s Trance 1 course, advanced studies towards Initiate status. I’ve decided to share my personal experiences on my blog as a way of personal accountability. If some of my reflections happen to help others on similar journeys, I hope they share!
Last week, I posted about my work following The Way of the Shaman by Harner. My first Underworld exercise was successful. Listening to a basic, recorded drum beat really helped. It was interesting to read that most shamans have an assistant drum for them. This made me feel better about my previous failures drumming to trance. I’ve had mild success in the past, but it’s hard work and very rare. Working up the stamina to drum, keeping the same beat, and allowing myself to journey… it didn’t work well most of the time. In fact, my biggest success was at a group drumming session. My second attempt at trance last week did not go so well, and I suspected part of the reason was that I did it outside of a ritual setting. It lacked the lead up, the offerings made to helpful deities and spirit allies, and the necessary mental keys (aside from the drumming).
I’ve done two more trance exercises since. The first followed the same theme of journey to the Underworld via an entrance from my inner grove. I once more rode my spirit guide. Prior to this journey, I made offerings to Brighid and did my nightly devotional to her. I remembered seeing a being during my absolute first attempt who I instinctively felt might be her. We went through the illuminated passage and found our way to her.
The being revealed herself to be Brighid and said she heard me calling. I talked to the Goddess about my focus and where I should head. She emphasized service to others and truly embracing hospitality and generosity; she stated that those are very important to her. She specifically mentioned helping the less fortunate. This is something I will have to think more on as there are many ways to go about this, and I need to figure out what I can do that doesn’t require a lot of money and works with my schedule. Maybe volunteer at a soup kitchen a bit over the summer? It would be a good start and is certainly something I can do.
For my second trance journey, I focused on my inner grove and my spirit guide for a magical working. He gave me a special sign to inscribe on objects to promote increase or growth, and taught me a sort of dance to do. I utilized the symbol and dance to inscribe and charge some water that I then left out to soak up the new moon energy. I plan to utilize it in creating some incense.
So there you have it – I’ve kept up the Trance 1 momentum! I even worked in some magical working, which I can use towards Magic 2! I wonder what this week will bring?
I posted a few weeks ago that I planned to get back into my trance studies, but I had to wait until my vacation started and I could get into a routine. I did, however, begin my reading: The Way of the Shaman by Harner and The Trance Workbook:Understanding and Using the Power of Altered States by Hoffman. I have only read the introduction of the later, but I really like the former so far. It’s written by an anthropologist and includes narratives about his own exploration via teachings from practitioners around the world. I’m always a bit cautious of anything Western that includes the word “Shaman” or “Shamanism” out of a concern for cultural appropriation, but, so far, his work seems respectful and insightful. His work bridges a myriad of different traditions, translating them for modern Americans. Rather than attempting to explain away with cold science, he explains how very meaningful they are. The science is important, I think, but we mustn’t overlook the very real cultural implications of such practices in the process. Rather than insisting the reader utilize words, visuals, or gestures from any specific culture, he looks at the commonalities and allows the audience to go from there.
During my weekly ritual on Saturday evening, I announced my purpose to the Kindreds – to once more begin my trance studies and explore the entrance to the Underworld. This exercise was based on the first Harner describes. It’s rather open-ended: think about an opening to the Underworld (he gave some examples), listen to drumming for ten minutes, and allow yourself to visualize. Ok, there was more detail than that, but he did not give a script to follow, which I appreciated it. It allowed me to take what I already know about Underworld mythology from my hearth culture and apply it.
I found a Youtube video that featured basic drumming meant for trance. It lasts just slightly over ten minutes and includes a brief moment of silence to signal that the end is coming. The drumming is not jarring in the slightest. I was able to play this without headphones, at a low but audible volume, while my daughter slept. I decided to visualize the oak tree and the holy well at its roots. This is imagery I’m very used to as it’s how I see my “inner grove” – relics from previous attempts at trance 1 that I still interact with. I called to my spirit guide and I rode him through the waters, swimming downward, arching back up and through the surface of a pool within an underground cavern.
At this point, I realized that I was able to get into this state rather easily. The drumming was just what I needed. All distractions, aside from this single thought, had not come to bother me. I put this thought aside and moved forward, riding my spirit guide through an increasingly visceral, rocky tunnel. Spirals and triskelions covered the walls, and torches lit the way every few feet. There was a greenish, bluish tint to everything. At times I saw golden faces, but I never felt afraid. I was very immersed at this point.
The tunnel widened and there was a massive, underground lake with a large treasure chest in the middle. I left that alone – that wasn’t my purpose today. I decided to explore a little and found a chamber with a long table. Various golden-faced beings were feasting. I saw a kindly, feminine face and thought she could be Brighid – in part because she acknowledged my presence with a quick look after I had asked her to guide and protect me in my workings. She went back to the feast. I didn’t interact with any of the beings, and I had a sense that I was like a fly on a wall to them; here I was, a small, mortal being not worth bothering over unless I troubled them.
I started to think about time around then. Don’t eat the food. Don’t linger, my mind urged. Or was it my spirit guide? Both? A long time seemed to pass, the drumming in the background… I wondered if it really was a ten minute video… was it longer? Would I hear the signal?
Thinking about time and the drumming video started to bring me out of the experience. It was time to turn back. I felt like my spirit guide really picked up speed – we practically flew over the lake and up through the tunnel. Back through the well and up the rabbit hole… I thanked my guide and the Kindreds, promising to continue my work to improve my skills in order to grow as a priestess and better serve my family and community.
It was a really good, visceral first experience after a hiatus. I tried again last night to continue exploring, but it didn’t go as well. Unlike the first night, I did not do it in the context of a formal rite. It was also very humid, and the space between my bed and altar felt too tight. I was too focused on my physical discomfort… I started down the tunnel but had to turn around.
I intend to keep at it. I like the drumming. Perhaps I need to always trance as part of a ritual, with offerings and all the mental keys. Or, perhaps it was merely that I could not get over my own physical discomforts?
First, I want to thank @swampdruid for bringing the latest Wild Hunt post to my attention. Sometimes, life gets busy and I miss some of their fantastic content. With a busy toddler, work, and managing a protogrove, I rely on my connections to filter the good stuff my way. More on that in a bit.
The Pagan community is incredibly diverse, and that’s a beautiful thing in many ways – the sign of a healthy ecosystem, some would say. There are many who argue that Pagan clergy is antithetical to who we are, or that we are each our own priests and priestesses. People are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I feel that such strongly held beliefs, often passed down from authors who were just reviving Paganism in a very conservative West, can act as blinders to what history shows us, how the times have changed, and to our community’s needs. In the end, to such individuals, all I can really say is “to each his or her own.”
For myself, I embrace a tradition rooted in community. The Druids were the erudite spiritual leaders of their tribes. They were the advisors, the judges, and the teachers in addition to the priestly class. The lone “hedgedruids” came later as the times changed… The pendulum started to swing the other way, and indeed we’re still in that slow motion back to a time when we actually have educated, trained spiritual leaders in our Pagan communities again. Less of us are in hiding these days, so the very practical and inevitable past belief that we all had to be our own priests is not as necessary these days. Indeed, we should all strive to have our own personal relationships with the spirits we work with, lead our own household rites, and study for our own benefit – but we should embrace that we no longer have to work in isolation out of fear (although that fear certainly persists in some corners – we must not forget that).
Yes, part of why I joined ADF is because I loved the emphasis on studying the lore and improving our knowledge and practice with history. The other big reason is the community. In the US, at least, ADF is one of the biggest, most active Druid organizations. We are connected to each other, and our clergy training program, in my opinion, is one of the best out there. There’s certainly room for improvement, but places like Cherry Hill Seminary are out there to help fill in some blanks in the meantime!
If I believe that I am perfectly capable of communing with the spirits, why do I still need clergy? Why do I feel compelled to seek training to take on that title? My first teacher in the Druidic path, Rev. Skip Ellison, taught me more than he probably realizes. I watched him and the other Senior Druids of Muin Mound Grove; I watched and learned how to lead Druid rituals. He gave me pointers and encouragement. Liturgists for public ritual have different experiences and insights; they require related but diverse skills. In my opinion, someone used to solitary ritual needs to see good public ritual in order to learn how to facilitate such events for others. Just like good school teachers need mentors, so do ritual leaders. To continue the analogy with school teachers, anyone can learn themselves, but we turn to others for guidance. Good teachers guide their students to be better learners independently. I feel that modern clergy play a similar role.
Serving the community, teaching others, and helping others on their spiritual path as I improve myself, even without the official designation of clergy, has been an exhausting but fulfilling calling. I’ve brought people together and created something. The gratitude others show me for that is incredibly humbling. I’m constantly reminding the group that we are creating it together, that I simply cannot do this alone. I am striving to become clergy in ADF, to improve my own skills and knowledge, in order to benefit my community. Someone has to do it. Somehow has to step up and organize. There weren’t any open, active polytheist Druid groups in my new home until I decided to do something about it. People called to the roll of clergy give their time, energy, and money to bring people together so that others don’t have to feel so alone and isolated.
This latest column from the Wild Hunt, “Where is Community When Illness Strikes,” by Cara Schultz, struck close to home. It’s a moving account of the author’s struggle with colon cancer and what the experience is like as someone in a minority Pagan faith. One of my grovemates has been struggling with serious health issues for awhile, and as the group leader, I often find myself mulling over what I can do about that. What can I do about that? I continue to pray to Brighid, light candles, and reach out to my friend as often as possible. I sent her a card after her surgery, maintained contact with her husband, trying to encourage him. All this across an international border, too! That border… how easy it would be to bring a casserole to a grovie on this side of the river… Meanwhile, my job and family keep me very busy. My education in pedagogy has helped me lead, organize, and teach. My experience talking and working with others to create engaging experiences has strengthened my ritual skills. My talents at sewing have helped me make ritual tools to enhance and brighten our celebrations. I’ve had no training for helping others through difficult times.
Schultz reminds readers why clergy are truly important. It’s not simply that they teach us and help us improve our own skills. It’s not just that they are good at organizing events and public rituals. It’s that we need trained people who know how to deal with difficult situations, know how to help people navigate the spiritual implications of divorce, disease, war, death, and environmental destruction. We need people to schedule rituals for joy, but also to raise the alarm and bring in the best of the best for the most intense rituals of healing, mourning, and transformation. Official clergy status or not, we need people to delegate to others, figuring out who will make meals and provide childcare for those struggling in our community. We need people with official clergy status to navigate hoops and red tape to assist our brothers and sisters in the army, in prisons, in hospitals…
The modern Pagan community is maturing, and we need trained clergy. I’m proud to be a part of an organization working to make that happen.
I feel called to serve my people, and my lack of training in these difficult areas scares the heck out of me, yet I move forward, heeding the call. I can’t specialize in everything, of course, but I’m ready to learn and try to help people like me when they feel like they can’t help themselves. I often feel that I can’t do enough because of work or family obligations, but small steps in the right direction are better than hoping someone else will do it. I hope someone will be there for me in times of spiritual distress.
Posted in Druidism, tagged ADF, daily devotionals, divination, Druidism, food, herbalism, Nature Spirits, ogham, Pagan parenting, ritual, Study Programs, The Druid Animal Oracle, tribe on November 22, 2015 |
As I write this, the year’s first real snowfall is blanketing the land. It’s a time of rest and introspection. Spiritually, it’s a new year. As with our secular New Year, it’s custom to reflect on various aspects of our lives, how we’ve changed, and where we’re going. Recently, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about my path and why I blog about it. Some of this came about through discussions with Lady Althea via Twitter, specifically about how motherhood has changed our paths, and how our spirituality should be more about doing than keeping up with appearances. Some of my thoughts came through an interview I did with my friend Corinne for her upcoming podcast – Who’s Your Mama? The focus of the podcast is on mothers and how they find a balance between their mamahood and various life passions. Corinne is interviewing friends from around the country first to get into the groove, as it were, and thought my story about finding time to further my Druidic pursuits and found a protogrove, all while raising a little one, was inspiring. I felt that I rambled a bit, but she said it was great! I’ll be sure that share that when it comes out in January.
My religious practices haven’t changed much in the last year, but the way I engage with them has. The same time restricting forces that limit my blogging also limit the amount of time I have for involved ritual, magic, meditation, and trance. I’ve had to get creative in how I engage with my spirituality, and that’s only deepened my understanding of something I already knew to be true – magic and ritual is in everything. When we approach our daily tasks mindfully, aware of the interconnections, we are engaged with our spirit allies. I’ve also worked on my self-discipline. While accepting my limitations in time and energy at this point in time, I’ve managed to strike a balance. My trance studies are on hold for the time being, but I’ve worked hard to maintain the devotional practices I revitalized through ADF’s liturgical study program. I’m also working on my divination journal, focusing more on the practical work until I have a little extra time for the academic side of my Druidism. As a result, my understanding of the Druid Animal Oracle and ogham is improving.
One area that I’ve improved on in the past year is my hearth or kitchen magic. I’m working on incorporating more holistic approaches to cleaning and health; and I’ve continued to make mostly home-cooked meals, often utilizing local ingredients. This has helped me grow in my herbal knowledge and connection to the land. Sharing these processes with my youngster, and showing her how to put love and intention into all we do, only strengthens my own focus.
Including a toddler in seasonal and daily religious observances can be tricky, especially when they involve fire, but, in retrospect, I’m amazed at what I’ve been able to share with her. Bee is learning how to calm and focus her breathing. With my assistance, she uses a candle snuffer to assist in our symbolic smooring rite each evening. I explain to her what is a good task for her, and what is definitely a grownup job. She can snuff, but she cannot light the candle. These realities may be upsetting to her at first, but with repetition, she accepts them. This is teaching her respect for fire, that she has skills to grow into, and that there are times for quiet and action in ritual. Best of all, she’s learned to say “thank you” for abundance, inspiration, and beauty. It warms my heart when she reminds me that it’s time to do our “Brighid prayer” or when she randomly thanks the Earth Mother on our short walks outside.
So while I sometimes feel that I’m not doing enough, or sharing enough – in reality, I have a lot to celebrate about the last year! I hope you take some time to reflect on your own practice and growth over the year.
Posted in Druidism, tagged Buddhism, community, comparative religion, documentaries, Druidism, Earth Centered, Earth Mother, environmentalism, language, lore, meditation, Nature Spirits, reciprocity, religion on April 3, 2015 |
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?
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?
Slowly, slowly, my understanding of the ogham grows. As that flourishes, so does my collection of ogham wood. Since the summer, I’ve started to locate trees named in the ogham system, seek their fallen branches, made offerings to the trees, and learned more about them. Birch (beith) and ash (nion) came down during summer storms. Willow (sail) was found bellow a beautiful tree on the St. Lawrence River.
Today we experienced a bit of a heat wave in Northern NY: 20 degrees F! Oooh baby! In all seriousness, it was truly a more comfortable day to get some fresh air. Gone was the biting, icy breath of An Cailleach. The softly falling snow insulated the land. While Bee enthusiastically chopped the snowbanks, I spied a small branch dangling from a nearby apple tree, hanging by just a thread of bark. I trudged through the high banks, asked the apple tree if I could have the branch, and it quickly separated. I felt that was a resounding “yes!” I didn’t have anything with me, so I promised future offerings and gave a song. When we left, Bee and I said “bye bye” to the apple tree. (I absolutely love how she talks to trees like her mama.) The thickest portion of the branch is now with the rest of my growing ogham collection, waiting to be sanded a bit and labeled – apple – ceirt.
I’m undecided on whether or not I will utilize these tools for divination. Author and friend Skip Ellison of ADF advises on using uniform disks so as to avoid the possibility of memorizing the shape of different twigs and drawing what is desired rather than what is needed, even unconsciously. Others argue that the ogham symbols should truly be represented by the trees themselves, but that seems dismissive of their having been carved into stone, and their representing other things, such as animals and rivers, as well. Still studying and making up my own mind. One thing is for certain – I’m planning to work with these ogham sticks for magic. Say I want to charge something for a specific purpose. I could sprinkle an object with sacred water using a specific ogham stick, place them in a bag together, etc. I could place an ogham stick under my pillow to help direct my dreams, or carry one in a pocket to help me with a situation. So many possibilities!
My search for the ogham will continue. I already know where I will obtain oak, elder, and rowan. Others, such as mistletoe and blackthorn, will be a real challenge.