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Posts Tagged ‘Pagan community’

 

I was in high school when I started to seriously study and practice any form of Paganism.  I was solitary except for a few experiments with an equally curious friend.  I didn’t meet any other Pagans in person until college.  The introductory books did not prepare me for the diversity in our community.  I remember an elder  looking down his nose at me when I blurted out a socially awkward “Blessed be!” in the local metaphysical store after I heard what he was talking about.  (We later had a very positive relationship.)  I vividly remember the first time I met a self-proclaimed Vampire.  (It was really uncomfortable.)

Although I never experienced witch wars or anything like that, I occasionally butt heads with people in the eclectic group I belonged to in Utica.  I came to realize Wicca did not resonate with me, but many people in the group embraced it or its teachings.  I realized I was a polytheist, a liberal reconstructionist with a blossoming interest (calling?  obsession?) in Irish culture.  I no longer embraced the Law of Three or the Rede.  Fueled by youthful passion, I wanted to remind everyone, whenever I could, that I didn’t always share their perspectives. While I seldom work a curse, studying Irish (and other Indo-European lore) revealed that it was part of those cultures and not demonized in any way.  Indeed, some of the earliest Irish curses are against inhospitable rulers who were not treating their people with dignity.

The moment you admit any of that, the moment you dismiss the Law of Three, the moment you stand in contrast to Wicca (by your ethics, your tools, your methods,  etc), lines form.  I don’t always mean for that to happen, but it’s been part of my learning curve.  It became painfully divisive whenever I shared my concerns of cultural appropriation when we planned eclectic rituals.   It was exhausting, but I loved everyone I worked with.  They were patient with me, encouraged me to share my own interests, and we always strove to be respectful, even when things became heated.  I’m really lucky that my first foray into the Pagan community was like that.  It could have been worse.  I know many people who refuse to celebrate with others because of really bad experiences.

Now that I’m a little older, I hope that I’m a little wiser.  I realize there is strength in our diversity.  It forces us to think and not become mired in tradition.  It’s good to see things from other perspectives.  Although I prefer to work with and learn from fellow Druids, polytheists, and traditional witches, some of the kindest, smartest, and most talented ritualists I know are Wiccan or influenced by those teachings.  While I find the sacred in the forests and rivers, I now understand that many find it in city streets.  I may be a vegetarian, but I know many who very respectfully hunt or lovingly raise animals, then offer some of the flesh.  I may lean towards hard polytheism, but I understand and appreciate that others see all gods as aspects of one spirit.

If you haven’t already, you should read “Undoing the Hard Work of Pagan Pioneers” by Bekah Evie Bel.  (Fair warning – it’s a Patheos blog update.  They always slow my browser.)  The author explores a topic that I and others sometimes think about.  How society sees us, and how we see each other, play a role in the novel I’ve been writing.  More people are talking about “rewilding” our traditions.  Some are calling anew to Aradia.  In our fight for rights and recognition in larger society, many worry that we have declawed ourselves in the process.  Why is it somehow possible for  Western people to accept that cultures in other countries make offerings, revere their ancestors, talk to plants, or dance while their gods ride them?  When it happens in other countries, it’s interesting, entertaining, it’s so  weird you can’t look away, it’s exotic.  When it happens in a Western country, especially in your own backyard, it’s suddenly alarming to many.  (Obviously, indigenous people live here, but the dominant culture tends to treat their traditions as exotic, too.)  Within our own Pagan community, certain practices will draw ire – you may even be ostracized.  Most people regard Paganism as a monoculture.  Heck, many people within our own community still view it that way, leading to culture shock and conflict upon encountering different traditions.

I’m not sure exactly where I’m going with this…  just that I’ve been thinking about these topics.  I seem to come back to them every once in awhile as I reflect on my growth.  While there are definitely certain practices that must stay in the past based on laws and evolved perceptions of human decency, I think it’s important that individuals within the Pagan community continue to grow in a spirit of mutual respect.  We don’t have to agree all the time, but recognizing that not everyone will embrace the same practices or traditions is important to our preservation.  It’s important that we continue to learn about each other and come together to celebrate our diversity.  When we can do that, we’re better able to brainstorm and ameliorate issues concerning race, gender identity, cultural appropriation, elder care, and others challenging our growth. It’s part of why I’m involved in my local FAE Fest and enthusiastically attend PPD – to promote education so we learn about each other, celebrate our similarities and differences, and support each other.

I’m thankful to our Neo-Pagan elders and all they did to help us get where we are today, but I’m ready for certain stigmas to go away within our own diverse community.  The greater misconceptions are more likely to vanish from public opinion when we ourselves stop perpetuating the falsehood that we all believe or practice the same way.

 

 

 

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In my last post, I briefly mentioned that the ADF group I founded a few years ago grew into an official Grove.  I’m so proud of my grovies.  We have all worked so hard to get to this point.  I definitely could not have done this by myself.  Whenever I lead rituals, I make a point to have multiple people in major speaking parts so it’s not just me.  I love when grove members step up to lead rituals or workshops.  I love how we have taken turns coming up with activities, sharing supplies, making favors, leading magical workings, hosting private gatherings, offering extra eyes to keep track of kids, donating art and time…  Despite some occasional bumps and growing pains (which are inevitable), we’ve continued to grow intellectually, spiritually, and we grow closer as a Druid family who truly love and support each other.  I look forward to many years with my beautiful grovies. Hail to Northern Rivers Grove!

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Our info table at the 2016 FAE Fest.

Last weekend, my Grove participated in the 3rd annual Faery and Earth Festival in Watertown, NY.  Originally scheduled in August, organizers moved the date to October 1st due to stormy weather.  This “sun date” was a great success!  It was a perfect early autumn day.  Northern Rivers Grove, ADF, had an info table, offered hospitality to workshop presenters, built our ever-evolving Earth Mother shrine, and lead the closing ritual for the second year in a row.  It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding to take part in.  The closing ritual, in particular, is a great way to showcase the ADF tradition, our own ritual skills, and our grove character.  Just as last year, we received a lot of positive feedback.

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A view of our Earth Mother Shrine.  Many of our artisans have contributed pieces over the last three years.  It continues to evolve into a beautiful devotional space.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

Personally, this was an opportunity for me to grow closer to the local Pagan community outside of my grove.  I’ve become one of the FAE Fest organizers after volunteering to coordinate workshops.  One of my favorite parts of the CNY PPD are the many educational opportunities, and I felt that the FAE Fest needed that extra bit of magic.  However, I knew that the founders were spread thin (reserving space, organizing art and food vendors, and paying entertainers…) so I stepped up to help make it happen.  I’m a big believer in volunteering when I see a need!  It was a challenge, for sure, and I learned a lot on the way, but it was worth it. We had workshops on a variety of topics – British fairy lore, herbal tea, tarot, deepening your Pagan faith, hoop dancing, belly dance, and the Native American medicine wheel. Education is important to me as a Druid, so it fits into my spiritual calling.  I was so happy to help, and I look forward to doing it again for 2017.

Reaching out to local Pagans to offer workshops gave me an opportunity to reconnect with dear friends and teachers, get to know acquaintances, and meet other Pagans with different backgrounds, traditions, and skills.

It’s funny.  I founded Northern Rivers years ago because other local groups weren’t meeting my needs.  I wanted something specifically focused on Druidism – the ADF tradition in particular.  I was younger then, and perhaps I said or did things that created distance between myself and the other groups in the area.  I reflected on this after I was invited to take part in CUUPs’ main ritual and help call the quarters – something I hadn’t done in 7 or so years!  Through my involvement with the FAE Fest, I’m finding that I’m working with other groups, other Pagans, who come from different traditions and experiences.  Sometimes very different.  I’m building bridges, focusing on our commonalities, and that’s the way it should be.  PPD and the FAE Fest is about coming together and celebrating our diverse community.  It’s interesting to me that Northern Rivers, a group that is more polytheistic and recon-oriented, matured and became an official Grove as I have also matured as an individual with regards to working with other, often very eclectic, NeoPagans.

Groups won’t always appeal to everyone.  We all have different needs.  The local Pagan community is like a forest – it is dynamic, with many different species.  Each is linked in some way, but all are required for the health and vibrancy of the forest.  When we come together, we celebrate each other – our beautiful similarities and differences.  We will support each other, our right to exists in an environment that is at times hostile to alternative religions. We are stronger together, and I’m so proud to be a part of that community building.  Hail to the local Pagan community!

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There’s been some discussion on ADF’s Facebook page about how to include children in public rituals. Many people with more experience have already offered some excellent advice. I absolutely have to point you towards Rev. Melissa Hill’s article on the topic.  My daughter is now a toddler, and Northern Rivers is only a little older than her.  We were founded just before my pregnancy, and our protogrove has grown up with the intent to be family friendly.  Now we’re about four years old, and in addition to my tot, we have different members who have a six-year-old and a six-month-old.  We also have regulars with kids between nearly 2 and 10, with an occasional teenager.  We’ve actually gained regulars because of how family-friendly we are.  I won’t say that we are experts at including children in public rituals.  Plenty of other groves have been doing it for longer*, but it’s part of ADF’s fabric.  My tradition was founded with the intent to offer public rituals, and since much of the public includes children…well, there you go!  Considering that my job is in the educational sector, I also take it very seriously.  The Druids of old were teachers, after all, and including the next generation of tree-hugging dirt-worshipers is valuable, in my humble opinion.  Even if they do as I did, and convert to something else, I think providing a foundation is important.

Here is a humble list of suggestions given in the form of our Nine Virtues.

The fire from Northern Rivers’ first members-only Bonfire Night.  Kids were there, and nobody died in the process!  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2016.

 

    • Wisdom – First of all, please keep in mind that, once more, we are still learning ourselves.  Also remember that all children are different, so there is no  one-size-fits-all approach.  In addition, all parents and parental situations are different.  I come from a place of privilege in that my husband is always there to watch my daughter, allowing me to lead most of Northern Rivers rituals, and to engage in the headspace I need for spiritual activities.  Listen to your own wisdom.  What are you able to do as a guardian?  What does your child really need at this time?Aso, a discussion of wisdom would not be complete without mentioning safety.  Most ADF rituals involve active fire since it’s a central part of our cosmology.  Northern Rivers always includes a bit about fire safety in our pre-ritual briefings.  Whether it’s bonfires, candles, or incense, young children are supposed to stay with their parents and only approach fires while holding a hand.  We always warn before pouring spirits into a bonfire.  (Kids often get excited about this since it makes the fire go poof!)  Finally, as an adult, model your own wisdom as you engage with fire and other ritual elements.

 

    • Vision – A grove or protogrove must first strive towards being family-friendly in order to start that journey.  Even if you don’t have children but hope to one day, start thinking about what kind of environment you’d like to create for your own children.  Actively engage with the rest of your group when planning liturgy.  Plan your bylaws with kids in mind.  Encourage and support other parents in your group when they express needs or want to try something different that could engage kiddos.  Don’t forget the adults in the process, though.  Open rituals are for everyone, so take adult concerns seriously too.  Perhaps plan some adult-only events once in awhile for “deeper” work such as trance or group initiations.  (Hint: a group Pinterest board can be a great way to brainstorm activities for future events.  Here’s Northern Rivers’ group board.)

 

    • Courage – Related to vision, don’t be afraid to try new things.  Northern Rivers experimented with having potluck before ritual so that we did the bulk of our cleaning before, then we could leave a little earlier.  This meant kids could go to bed sooner.  While this worked for Bealtaine, which was a day-long event in conjunction with the Kripalu Yoga and Wellness Center’s Labyrinth Walk Day, a majority of the group (including parents of young children) decided that they would rather do potlucks after ritual.  Hey, we had to try it first!It’s also important for the group to have courage when dealing with behavioral issues.  Our work towards creating a family-friendly space has been largely successful, but there were a couple of stressful times when we had to put our collective feet down because of major behavioral issues.  The result was that the voting members created a policy on including children.  You can see it here.  I will be the first to admit that this meant a couple people could not return because they didn’t have baby sitters during rituals.  That made me sad, however we had to consider the needs of the many in the group.   Sometimes being a grove organizer is hard, but that’s a post for another time…

 

    • Piety – Encourage the kids who attend to join the adults in keeping the old ways!  We don’t have an alternative play activity during our rituals.  They are meant for everyone who comes.  Many of the traditions are already kid-friendly.  For Imbolc, the kids carried in the Brighid doll while we sang.  Our protogrove tradition for the Spring Equinox is drumming to wake up the Nature Spirits; kids love it.  Maypole for Bealtaine, of course, but be prepared for chaos and imperfection.  Embrace it.My number one piece of advice for parents who want to bring their kids to our rituals is to start including their kids in their home practice.  In my twelve or so years of experience I’ve observed that children who are brought up Pagan are better-behaved at group rituals because they are used to it.  They know there are quiet times.  My toddler can do age-appropriate meditation (very short, focusing on breathing and using imagination).  It prepares kids for larger activities.  Depending on the age, they wont be able to engage in the same way as adults, but they start to understand what it means to give offerings.  Bee loves to give offerings to Nature Spirits, the Ancestors, and Brighid, for example.  She gets excited about it.  The six-year-old in our group loves to help her mother give offerings.  She pours while her mother speaks.  Older kids are ready for smaller ritual parts, and teens may be ready to take some major roles.  Include kids in your piety, show trust in the older kids, and they will get excited to attend ritual.

 

    • Integrity – Going back to the other virtues, you have to know what is best for everyone.  You must strike a balance, but it starts with you and your own values as a parent and/or group leader.  Look to the virtues.  What do you need?  What do the children need?  What does your own child need?  What do the adults in the group need?  Compromise must happen to meet those needs, but work to maintain that balance.  If something (or someone) makes you or the group uncomfortable or unable to engage with activities, have the integrity (and wisdom and courage) to speak up about it.  Sometimes it means making some very hard decisions.  If your child has special needs, then be honest with the group.  A couple regulars have been very up-front about their kids having autism, for example.  We have much to learn and I hope that we can continue to improve and meet their needs as best as we can, but we can’t start that journey until other parents are honest about it.  If you, as a guardian, decide that a group is not working for your child, please have the integrity to tell the group why.  You may not be able to return to the group, but they could learn from your perspective, at least.Though you can’t please everyone all the time, trust your instincts and do what works for the collective, young and old, most of the time.

 

    • Perseverance –
      When Northern Rivers first started, child attendance was sporadic.  Facebook RSVPs are not always accurate.  I would plan activities for kids, then those families wouldn’t come!  It’s totally frustrating, but I valued having the activities, so I kept planning them, though simplified.  Coloring pages may not be educationally valuable or creative, but it’s easy to have them and a pack of washable crayons on hand no matter what!  Now that members are parents, we always have something, even if it’s bringing a basket of dinosaurs for them to play with while we talk about a book.  Once you continually have children in attendance, don’t forget that kids will be kids.  Not every ritual or activity will engage all kids. I’ve planned what I thought were fun things only to have most decide they’d rather kick a soccer around instead.  I didn’t let that stop me from trying other things.  (And now my husband always brings a soccer during the green half of the year and is prepared to kick it with the kids so there is adult supervision.)  Keep trying, and stick to your vision.  Support other parents when they or their kids have a bad day.

 

Ring Around the Maypole. Photo by Weretoad, 2016.

 

    • Moderation – Returning to the idea of balance, remember the adults.  Perhaps a ritual totally directed to pre-schoolers is nice once in a blue-moon, but that will not appeal to most adults every High Day.  (I’ve heard of some larger groups having a pre-school appropriate ritual before or after the main ritual, but smaller groups will likely struggle with that due to the amount of prep required.)  Instead, approach your rituals the way good teachers approach lessons.  There should be variation.  Don’t rely on too much talking and listening.  Encourage group participation with chanting and “call and response” of important phrases (“Let the gates be open!”  “Nature Spirits, be with us!”).  Include movement, even simple gestures such as raising arms or  waving spirals over the Triple Hallows.  I’ve started to include movement in our Two Powers meditations.  Basically, I incorporate simple yoga moves but leave it really open-ended so people who prefer to sit can participate**.  We bring drums, sticks, and egg shakers to our circles so that everyone, young and old, can make music in addition to or instead of chanting.  In that way, we have small periods of quiet/listening, and then small periods of movement and noise.  We encourage everyone to make praise offerings at a certain time, and allow people to express themselves according to their own styles (as long as it’s respectful to everyone and the Earth). Before rituals, we try to mix up our workshops.  Sometimes we have social time, sometimes we have guided discussions about Druidic topics, sometimes we practice new chants, do seasonal arts and crafts…  This year, we did  an egg hunt for the Spring Equinox.   We play games and swim for Lughnasadh.  It does require planning, so delegate, delegate, delegate!  I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea.  I’ve found that I get burnt out if I am planning the ritual and the activities before.  In the end, just strive so that everyone can engage with the ritual in some way.

 

    • Hospitality- When advertising your events, emphasize that you strive to be family-friendly.  Make sure that your rituals are in safe locations.  Some groups feel able to offer open rites at their homes, and that can be nice if the home is already childproof.  However, our group has decided that we don’t want strangers in our homes out of safety concerns, hence why we rent space at the Yoga Center.  We’ve found that many people are comfortable attending a public place that also has some privacy, and it gives us a neutral area in which to meet with prospective members who may one day come to our private gatherings at our homes.  In the meantime, the yoga center is mostly accessible (their stone circle is not easy to get to with a wheel chair), is heated in the winter, has a kitchen, and a bathroom.  In our pre-ritual briefings, I always make sure parents know that they can come and go from the ritual space as they or their children need.  In the winter months, we have our rituals inside because it’s just easier (and safer) for the little ones and their parents. It can get downright bitter in Northern NY.  We also make sure everyone knows our events are pro-breastfeeding as we are also pro-good health, pro-the Earth, pro-positive sexuality, and pro-positive body image.  It just makes sense and is part of our collective integrity.  If, for some reason, your group is not comfortable with open breastfeeding, at least make sure you have a quiet room for mothers that is not a bathroom.Also make sure that everyone looks out for the group to maintain the safe space.  I don’t know about you, but Northern Rivers Protogrove is a spiritual family.  I definitely don’t want to leave my kids with a stranger, and we don’t have a babysitting area during our rituals so everyone is included, but we all keep watch.  Other adults will step up if a kid approaches the fire and the parent isn’t close or looking.  We will intervene if a guest acts inappropriately around children. Many of us who are full members are such close friends, that we will hold babies for bathroom breaks, or lead an alternative activity during workshops that is near enough for comfort.  As I mentioned, we have a policy for children and the behaviors we do and do not accept.  Reciprocity is a two-way street.  If kids and parents can’t return our kindness (not to mention the hospitality of the property we rent), they have to stay home until they are mature enough to celebrate with us.Oh, and don’t forget that kids love to snack.  Having healthy munchies around in addition to potluck fare for later can go a long way towards improved behavior!  Hungry kids are cranky kids.  (Works for adults too!)

 

    • Fertility- No, I’m not going to tell you to start making babies to populate your groves.  I am going to encourage creativity (fertility of the mind) to engage with the children who will inevitably find their way into your groves.  Returning to vision, don’t be afraid to try new things.  Sometimes the best ideas come out of perceived failures (such as our ever “imperfect” Maypoles that are laugh-out-loud fun for everyone in attendance all the same).  Sometimes they just happen, like my spontaneous but fun “ring-around-the-Maypole” dance which is sure to become a tradition.  Hold true to your virtues, and your family friendly protogrove will grow!

 

Best of luck in making your own groups family-friendly.  If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments.

* The first grove I belonged to, Muin Mound Grove, always had children in attendance.  Seeing their successful inclusion showed me that it could be done long before I was ready to have kids myself.

** Yet another post for another time!

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Just a quick share today. I’m super busy with appointments and breastfeeding!

My friend RavynStar shared this link on her FB last night. I found myself nodding in agreement and feeling frustrated with the status quo. Who knows what religion, if any, my daughter will embrace, but it’s annoying to think that she may have to deal with the same issues that I do as an adult. I’m not keen on “bashing Christianity,” but there’s a difference between that and constructive criticism about the culture surrounding most forms of Christianity in America. People who practice this religion are privileged. Just raising the question of who is and isn’t privileged can be a huge provocation to some people, but I’ve always found it a fascinating, if complex and often dangerous, topic. To make any progress in this area, we of minority beliefs need to reflect on the ways we are not as privileged. I didn’t even think of some until reading the list!

First take a look:

30+ Examples of Christian Privilege — Everyday Feminism.

Now, rather than sit around and complain about Christianity, how can we in the Pagan and/or Polytheistic communities react in a way that is productive and positive? How have other minority beliefs made strides in the right direction?

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I was very touched by this post from the blog “A Forest Door.”  There has been a lot of drama in the “Pagan” online community lately.  Paganism vs. Polytheism.  Secular Humanists Pagans/Atheist Pagans vs. theists.  Vegetarian Pagans vs. Omnivorous Pagans.  Pop culture icons as deities vs traditional Gods.  The list goes on and on, and, honestly, the topics aren’t new.  They come up every once and awhile.  It’s no surprise – they’re actually quite interesting!  Yet the drama and mental masturbation that result can be completely exhausting.  I’ve largely avoided these topics because I just don’t have the mental energy to deal with them right now.

So why did the aforementioned blog post make an impression on me?

The author is showing self-integrity.  There are plenty of people writing things that impact, or could impact, everyone in the Pagan community.  Or rather, there are a lot of people trying to do that (it’s very hard to please everyone)!  And that’s all well and good, but there are still plenty of us who want to focus on our own thing.  We’re not blogging to argue or persuade necessarily – we just want to share our thoughts.

The internet is a wonderful tool in that I’ve been able to connect with a variety of Pagan/Polytheistic folk with a wide array of perspectives of deity, magic, liturgy, cultural influence, etc.  A great many are fellow ADFers or people influenced by some degree of reconstructionism.  Many others are very “eclectic” for lack of a better word.  I get that and I respect it.  It’s not for me, though.  I always feel a bit awkward when getting to know a new eclectic Pagan (online or off).  Some are new to the scene and don’t realize there’s more out there than what is essentially Wicca.  Others have been eclectic for years and, in trying to be helpful, provide suggestions or interpretations to my experiences that are not of my own religious practice.  I appreciate that and find it interesting, but it’s always really awkward explaining how some things just don’t mesh with what I’m experiencing or my hearth culture.  And then there are folks who view deity differently and try to get into intense philosophical debates with me.  I’ve never been really interested in that…  I enjoy learning about different perspectives, but people who try to tell me how and what to believe are not individuals I enjoy spending time with.  And trust me – I have a great many friends who view deity differently and we get along fine because we are accepting of one another.

What I’m trying to say is that all of us are called to practice in our own way (if we want to practice a spirituality/religion at all).  It’s a beautiful thing!  I celebrate diversity and love joining others of different paths for their rituals, but I don’t want folks to feel bad or discouraged when I don’t want to incorporate something from their tradition into my own practices.  I also don’t want people to take terrible offense when I embrace history and place value on cultural authenticity rather than “whatever feels right.”  I’m not perfect and don’t claim to practice a purely Celtic path, but I try the best I can, and my efforts to infuse my spirituality with authentic Celtic tradition give what I do great personal meaning.   I also hope my own readers understand that what I write about is about my experiences in Druidism and Celtic-inspired spirituality.  I don’t feel my way is the only way.  I definitely don’t want people to look at this blog and think I’m the best representative for ADF or liberal Celtic Recons or Pagans or Polytheists, etc…  I want people to look at my blog and see what I do.  I keep this blog to record and share my experiences, inspiration, and things I’ve learned.  Maybe some of it will be useful to you, but if not, that’s fine too!  More than anything, I hope to inspire others seeking to live a Druidic life to do so in the best way for them!  My approach is: “This is what I learned in my research, this is what I feel about it, this is how I applied it to my life, and here are my results.  Now you try – if you want!”

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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’ve been mulling over this post for awhile now because of things I continually see in the Pagan community.  Although some of us prefer to be solitary, there are plenty more who would like camaraderie.  Maybe it’s just to make friends so you have someone who already gets you and your bone collection.  Maybe it’s so you actually have people to celebrate or practice magic with.  Once you decide that these things are of value to you, what do you do next?  You probably do what most of us do – hit the internet big time.  The options are seemingly endless.  Meetup, Facebook…  Not to mention the plethora of smaller social networking sites geared towards Pagans.  But once you start finding Pagans in your neck of the woods, what do you do then?

Now I don’t count myself an expert on any of this, mostly because I’m still young, but I’ve had a fair share of experience in seeking out Pagan community.  I’ve been a member or visitor of various groups over the last decade or so.  I’ve also been part of forming, reorganizing, and joining well-established groups.  As I learn more about Druidism and Paganism in general, I also have learned what makes a good group.  To me there are three things that really matter: Is the group a dangerous cult?  Does the group have something to do with your path of interest or is it opened?  And finally –  Does the group possess a certain amount of etiquette?

 Etiquette.  Good behavior.  Decorum.  Courtesy.  Niceties.  However you put it, it all comes back to how you treat someone.  Some of that could go along with Isaac Bonewits’ cult danger.  If someone treats you as if you are below them, there’s a possibility that the group leader or member is part of something you don’t want to belong to.  But lets leave severe egomaniacs aside.

The following is a sign to me that the group in question is not worth looking further into:

  • If the group is supposedly “all paths,” eclectic, or a Pagan network, yet the focus is clearly on one specific path.  This is a tricky one sometimes because you might simply be a minority in an area that is heavily populated by another path.  Before giving up entirely, see if they are opened to a ritual in your tradition for an upcoming high day.  How do they react when you share your own beliefs?
  • If the group shoots down all of your suggestions, ideas, or traditions, especially if it is an open group with no established high priests or priestesses, do you really want to stick around?
  • If you are talked down to.  This is a big one, especially for people who already have some experience under their belts.  Nobody likes to feel as if they are a child.  There’s a difference between being a teacher to an adult and a teacher to a child, and you’ll know if you’re experiencing the latter.  Nobody likes it when someone acts as if you cannot read or don’t understand.  Nobody wants to have their suggestions continuously shot down by established group members.
  • If the body language of the leaders or more established members suggests that they do not care about your tradition or your beliefs.  Attend a few times but if you feel like you’re continuously hitting a wall, why bother?
  • If a group does not do an adequate pre-ritual briefing and then ridicules you, acts terse, or is gruff when you do something wrong.  A group that cannot explain how it expects you to move, ignores teaching opportunities, and fails to have a sense of humor or patience is not worth your time.  It can hurt to be told that a part of ritual you worked so hard on just didn’t go over well, but you have to be able to reflect on your failures and get over them.  Don’t take your blunders out on your ritual participants.
  • Group leaders should not expect that everyone comes with the same amount of experience or knowledge.  Even a more experienced Pagan could have been taught differently.  Group leaders should value those teachings and patiently explain new ways of doing this.  If a group leader acts as if you are unintelligent or that your previous teachings were all bunk, he or she is probably not someone who has the patience to be a good teacher.  Some material isn’t as good as others, but they should be viewed as stepping stones – schema – to better understandings.  The moment a group leader shuts someone down is the moment that person loses interest.

For a Pagan group to continue flourishing, new members are necessary.  Nobody wants to become stagnant.  New members with fresh ideas are important!  Discussion about diversity is tremendously important and should not be silenced in open groups.  Even closed groups with a set tradition benefit from such discussions in a comparative sense.  Now, if people are very new, you want to treat them as a valued member. For covens or groves that have an established tradition, tactfully inform newbies when a suggestion doesn’t feel appropriate and explain why kindly.  When a suggestion isn’t something that is totally backwards to your workings, be willing to experiment a little.  Just as in a classroom, students learn best when they feel successful and creative.  Help them learn how to be both in the framework of your path.  Be balanced in how firmly you adhere to tradition.  If you are creative enough, you will find how to incorporate many new ideas into an established liturgy!

I was once told by another Pagan that I didn’t come to their group enough to have an opinion worth sharing to others.  At the time, I was more worried that I had hurt someone’s feelings, but I later reflected and realized how wrong he was!  I had every right to share my opinions about a group with another.  It’s said that first impressions are everything, and I had had at least five before deciding I needed to devote my time and energy to other things.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t have a right to share your thoughts with others.  If you feel that a group just isn’t for you, then trust your instincts.

However, as someone seeking community, etiquette goes both ways. Keep the following in mind:

  • Established groups have a history that you may not be aware of.  Some resistance to your traditions may be due to the actions of a previous visitor who was not the best representative.  Visit more than once to see if the group is opened to trying again.  Pay attention to body language.  Sometimes it’s not worth the heartache, but don’t burn your bridges entirely.  You could be a better model.
  • Always be civil – even when your tradition is in the minority and may be misunderstood.  You may have to stand up for yourself, but always breathe and think before you speak.  Remember, in an open circle, you are a representative of your path.  Bring your Gods, ancestors, teachers, and spirit allies honor by acting the best you are capable of.
  • If you know the group you are approaching follows a specific path, do not insist that they change their ways for you.  A circle, coven, or grove established around a tradition or hearth culture different from your own is not going to change.  Visit if you genuinely wish to learn, but don’t go as a combatant or with a plan to usurp control.
  • When there is a potluck, always bring a dish.  Ask ahead about dietary restrictions (if any) and do your best.  Ask for suggestions if you’re stumped.  If budget is an issue, drinks are an easy and affordable option – brew some iced tea or bring a bottle of orange juice.
  • Don’t expect to lead rituals right away.  You should visit a few times.  Take smaller parts in ritual.  If something isn’t clear, ask.  A good ritual leader will inform you early in the pre-ritual briefing and have a time for questions.  If something is left out and you still don’t grasp it, ask after ritual.
  • Don’t expect all rituals to be the same.  This is especially true if you are visiting a group who follows a different tradition than you’re used to.  The Kindreds aren’t always praised, Outsiders aren’t always acknowledged,  four quarters aren’t always called, circles aren’t always cast, doors aren’t always cut, and not everyone thinks the same about the spirit world.
  • Don’t make assumptions, especially when it comes to communication.  If you have an issue, take it up privately with that individual or with the group leader.  Do not slander people publicly.  It just is bad form and makes you look crazy.
  • Know that the group does not revolve around you and your needs.  Often, a group meets with a specific goal in mind – a seasonal ritual, an initiation, etc.  Don’t attend and expect the ritual or magic to address your personal needs.  Most circles are more than happy to do healing rites, blessings, banishings, etc – but only in advance and with a majority of support!  If in doubt, ask the group leader(s) and try to arrange something.
  • If a group just isn’t right for you, don’t make a huge deal of it.  Move on.  Again, try not to burn bridges.  You can and should be friends with people in other spiritual traditions!  It’s how you keep learning.

I’m certain there’s more to be said, but I’ve encountered and heard about too many of what I described above that I’ve come to see these as common issues.  In the past, I have been guilty of one or two – and trust me, it’s not fun.  Nobody wants to attend a circle when everyone is tense.  It’s always unfortunate when there’s drama…  thankfully, I haven’t encountered much of it off the internet.  Most of the time, Pagan groups I’ve worked with are full of very wonderful people.  Kudos to the wonderful people!

Part of what I like about ADF is the emphasis on hospitality and reciprocity. Hosts are good to their guests and guests are good to their hosts.  If you try to be the best host/guest you can be, you should have a pretty successful experience with forming or joining Pagan groups.  You can disagree but everyone should be civil.  Etiquette can go a long way to making a better overall Pagan community, both online and off!

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