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Persevering

My spiritual community was recently rocked with news on allegations of sexual misconduct by our late founder, Isaac Bonewits.  While the initial accusations occurred before ADF was founded, others have come forth with more experiences.  Like others in ADF, I’ve felt a mixed bag of emotions.  Mostly, disappointment, sadness for the victims, confusion, listlessness, and even anger.

Despite it all, I continued to drag myself to my altar in the mornings to perform my daily devotionals.  The first time was difficult.  I hesitated as I called to the ancestors.  I had to consider my words carefully.

I never met Bonewits, but his ideas have had a major influence on my life.  One of my dear friends lent me his classic Essential Guide to Druidism.  I eagerly read about, then joined, ADF.  It clicked with me, and the community was already widespread and active compared to the still small and fragmented Celtic Recon community that also interests me.  As I worked my way through study programs, I found myself learning more from his other works, especially NeoPagan Rites.  He inspired me.

I remembered hearing a story about Bonewits bringing a bag full of condoms to a festival, but I didn’t really think much of it at the time.  It made me chuckle.  It reveals my naivety about sexual relations in the past.  I’ve been lucky that my sexual experiences have all been consensual.  Back then, my idea of rape was that it was always forced, either through violence or the imposition of mind altering substances.  My mother taught me to fight – kick, bite, scratch, and do anything necessary to get away.  Reading about other peoples’ experiences would later teach me that it wasn’t always violent.  It could simply involve fear, an imbalance in power, coercion, etc.  I hadn’t thought of the condom story for years, but I recalled it with each new allegation, and it was no longer amusing.

Like many in my community, I’m still processing everything.  I’ve read reactions from people who have been friends with Bonewits, victims of sexual harassment and abuse, people who worry about due process, and people who work with convicted sex offenders.   We are experiencing something that the rest of my country is also grappling with.  Change is afoot, and transformation is often messy.  Mistakes will be made, but hopefully, lessons will be learned.  My hope is that ADF, like the rest of the country, can move towards something better for the next generation.

I want to help make the world a better place for my own child.  I’m pleased with the Mother Grove’s responses to this, and the work they’re doing to strengthen our sexual misconduct policy with training on creating a culture of consent.  As a senior druid, I look forward to future training and bringing it back to my own grove.

As others have said, I believe that ADF is more than Bonewits.  We cannot ignore or hide our past, but our roots go even deeper than our founder.  The ideas that he organized were inspired by older teachings.   He stood on the shoulders of others, just as we all do.  We each contribute but none of us represents the whole picture.  And beyond it all, the gods and goddesses themselves stir the cauldron of wisdom and ignite the flames of inspiration.  We have more to draw on than the work of one man.    My brothers, sisters, and teachers at Muin Mound Grove shared their hospitality with me for years, helping me grow on the path.  My dear friend in Ithaca who is now starting her own grove continues to grow with me.  All the fellow Dedicants I’ve worked with as a reviewer have shared their own perspectives with me.  The priests, priestesses, initiates, solitaries, bards, artisans, warriors, flamekeepers, and many, many others who have played a part in my own spiritual journey.  And, of course, my own grovemates who are a spiritual family to me.  I’m so proud of the work we have done to grow, not only in developing our liturgical style and traditions, but in creating a safe, family-friendly atmosphere.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s been more rewarding than not.  I intend to keep up the work, not for the sake of our flawed founder, but for the sake of my community, and the spirits who called me to do the work, to persevere.

May Brighid wrap her healing mantle around the victims.  

May she bless us with the warmth of compassion.

May Lugh bring justice as it is deserved.

May he teach us the skills we need to improve and build.

May Morrighan wake our inner warriors with her mighty call.

May she grant us the courage to continue the hard work ahead.

– Grey Catsidhe, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

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The air sizzles with tension.  I see so much hatred on the news.  I see and hear about rising conflicts in the world.  I hear the noise from the nearby military base as they practice, and it makes my gut twist.

Rev. Melissa Hill of ADF wrote a great piece that really sums up a lot of my feelings, and highlights how I, and so many, could do more to improve things.

I’ve been mentally exhausted lately.  Sometimes I feel too weighed down by my own stress to feel that I can make a difference. Sometimes I just want to lose myself in my writing, in fantasy stories from others…  Hill’s piece renewed my strength.  Until I’m financially in a place to give monetary support, I will continue to do my best to speak out when I see racism and oppression.  I’ll do my best to give my students a safe place to be themselves and discuss their worries.  I’ll work to communicate better with parents, to show them that I value diversity, respect their language, their cultures, and try to include them in the school community more often.  I’ll continue to make sure others know my grove strives to be a safe, inclusive place.  As I work on my book, I’ll try to be more mindful of diversity.  I will remain open and receptive when others approach me with ways to improve in these areas.

Be it so.

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Recently on Facebook, someone posted a story and the headline read that the black rhino was now extinct.  The story must have been hyperbolized, because my reading revealed that the black rhino is extinct in certain regions but not entirely (thank the Gods!).  They are critically endangered and some still exist in captivity or in sanctuaries.  So there’s still time, but something needs to change fast.  The frequency of news stories and environmental blog updates about illegal ivory poaching is absolutely alarming.  It all goes back to greed, a desire for status, and traditional Asian medicine.  The last is what is most troublesome to me in a spiritual sense.

To me, this is such a difficult topic to wade into because, despite my desire to do what is best for the environment and preserve our biodiversity, this is wrapped up in culture.  Normally, I can maintain a sense of cultural relativism, but some things raise hackles because they no longer seem correct in the given context.  And yet how do you stop a culture from wanting something that has been part of their traditional medicinal practices for centuries?

Vu Quoc Trung, a traditional medicine doctor who works out of a Buddhist pagoda in Hanoi, thinks [ivory] has some limited value.

“According to ancient medicine books, there are only three uses for rhino horn,” says Vu. “The first is to decrease temperature, the second is to detoxify and the third is to improve blood quality.”

(From NPR)

Think of the many correspondences that exist within Western practices – whether for magic or traditional healing (and yes, I know there is a crossover).  Once upon a time, it was customary to wall cats into buildings to protect the homes against evil spirits, for example.  I doubt most modern Pagans would do that (perhaps some would if the cat were already dead…).  Now that’s not the best analogy because cats aren’t endangered, but it suggests that people are able to change their practices despite what tradition tells us.

And yet we aren’t perfect here in the West.  For example, we know how damaging mining for gems and metals can be, and yet we constantly buy them for our magical workings.  Many vendors I speak to don’t actually know where their gems came from or, if they do, how they were mined.  Who knows what ecosystem the mining is devastating?  Who knows how the workers were treated as it was extracted from the Earth Mama?  When you live in the US and import, you don’t really know the conditions unless you go there yourself. Perhaps access is the biggest problem – East and West.  We feel that everyone who wants to practice magic (or traditional Chinese medicine) should have access to the materials.  Therefore, they should be affordable.  To keep things affordable, greedy people are willing to engage in unscrupulous practices to obtain and sell what we consumers demand.  Often, the consumers ignorantly or willfully look the other way just so they can have their shiny crystals or ivory.

Unless our ancestors were wealthy, those who used natural resources in their magic and healing used what was readily available. Local herbs, local wood, local bones, river rocks, and the odd crystal or rough gem revealed beneath an upturned tree or boulder.  Really rare and precious materials would be expensive.  If an ancestor felt the need to utilize one in some sort of working, and if he or she could afford it, I bet it would have been purchased only for the most important workings or sacrifices.  (I don’t have anything to cite for this, but if it was true for cloth and spice, I assume it was true for gems, ivory, and rare resins.)

So I don’t have any answer to the ivory problem.  I’m hopeful the efforts to educate people in Asian countries about the plight of the elephants and rhinos will change their practices.  Yet we also need to be more aware of where we get our own magical ingredients.  We need to be conscious consumers and weigh our priorities. Personally, I find the best magical ingredients to be those grown and/or harvested by your own hands.  It’s not always possible, but at least you know how they were obtained.  When you work with the spirits of Nature and the Earth Mother, when you find them to be sacred, you simply must make these considerations.

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Investigation after Hill of Tara monument vandalised – RTÉ News.

Very disappointing news.

EDIT: More from Tairis, including a link to photos of the damage.

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Some of you may have read that the infamous, contemporary Arthur Pendragon (who apparently likes to think of himself as the king of the Druids), was attempting to take legal action in regards to cremated remains found around Stonehenge.  He argued that removing them from the site was disrespectful and that they would likely be placed in a museum and never returned to their original resting place.

I must admit, I used to have some mixed feelings about placing exhumed bodies in museums.  I saw my first bog body in person in Toronto a few years ago.  I had reservations about photographing the body.  I wasn’t sure what to think of it.  I was less bothered in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, which is strange because the bodies there are often medically rare (oversized colons, bodies turned to soap, unusual deformities, etc).  I felt a little sick to my stomach in front of a wax collection of eye injuries, but I digress…  I suppose it’s because most of those bodies were donated to science.  This past year I visited the National Museum of Ireland’s archaeology collection, which included the largest sample of bog bodies I’d ever seen.  This time I did not feel bothered at all beyond a faint relief that we don’t practice that form of sacrifice anymore*.   Otherwise, the bodies were tastefully laid out in their own private areas.  The exhibit had the feeling of an open-casket wake.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones, there was soft lighting, and you could tell that most people were in deep thought about life, death, decay, and human nature**.

I can get on board with Mr. Pendragon’s concern that bodies in museums should be treated with respect, but we live in an era where the opposite is hardly true.  It’s easy for me to say that about British and Celtic bodies because they are my ancestors.  I cannot speak for other cultures and heritages in regards to their own remains.  I’ve come to see the exhibitions as good things.  As a Pagan, I’m not alone in my sentiments.  Especially as someone who values and wants to continue learning about what my ancestors really did and believed.  Our body of knowledge will grow too slowly, if at all, without good archaeology.

And is exhuming bodies for archaeology really all that disrespectful to Indo-Europeans?  While it’s hard to know for sure, I’ve read about some recent theories surrounding Stonehenge which suggest the people who used it had a belief in an afterlife.  The Celts, when they came to Britain***, definitely believed in a continuation of life.  The lore tells us they believed in Otherworlds and there is evidence that they believed in some sort of soulful transmigration.  I wonder if they would mind archaeologists studying their bones?  So many ancient people were obsessed with immortality and that came when your name and story lived on.  The bodies in museums have visitors everyday.  While many look with a mixture of fear, disgust, and religious bias, I’m sure there are others, like yours truly, who go to honor the ancestors – even if it’s only by learning their stories.

I’m glad Mr. Pendragon’s battle did not get very far.  I think there are bigger battles for modern Pagans to fight.

* Although the constant childish behavior in our government makes me wonder if resurrecting the tradition would be such a bad thing.  (I kid, I kid…)

** Seeing bog bodies in person is really something else.  You should make a point to find an exhibit.  They really make you think…

*** However and whenever that was…  I’m not interested in discussing that here…or even now.  I don’t know enough to have a meaningful dialogue.

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Most of you have probably seen this already, but I wanted to share it anyway.  When I was living with my parents, I used to watch Nightline with my mum before bed.  I remember their “Faith Matters” segments and always bemoaned that they were only devoted to the  big monotheistic religions.  I just wanted one segment…  Just one?

Well here it is!  Finally!  Only, it focuses on British Paganism.  Not a terrible thing, of course!  I wish they would look at what’s going on in America.  Maybe they felt it would be easier for Americans to digest if it were about those eccentric Brits.  I don’t know…

The video is dramatized, but it could be much worse.  I’m impressed that they interviewed a rather level-headed policeman rather than the strangest person they could find (which usually happens).  The newscasters seem more amused…  so much for an unbiased tone.  I guess that’s rare in any news media these days…

The Wild Hunt » Pagans on ABC’s Nightline.

 

 

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Here’s an interesting article from the Irish Times by Brian O’Connell.  It’s all about how many people view and/or observe older traditions in Ireland.  It also expresses concern that, while some traditions remain or are being transformed, the newer generation is less interested in them.

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