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Posts Tagged ‘Study Programs’

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.

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Kitty is not as interested in reading as I am, apparently.

 In regards to practice, my spirituality is fairly strong.  While I’m not currently engaging in anything new, I’ve worked to perform daily and nightly devotionals, as well as weekly rituals that follow ADF’s liturgy.  While I occasionally falter (especially when I am not feeling well), I have definitely worked to maintain my hearth practice and relationships to spirit allies.

My studies, however, have lagged recently.  I don’t want to let that slide.  Progressing within my ADF studies is important to me because I want to know more and improve my practice.  I also feel compelled to serve my community.  Increased study will only help me become a better protogrove leader and liturgist.  A week ago, I decided to dig back into my Divination 2 studies.  In particular, I’m digging into Carmina Gadelica for examples of animal augury.  I also ordered a couple books for the Nature Awareness course.  They arrived today!  While I currently can’t read or write the way I used to (my daughter likes to sit in my lap a LOT), I refuse to give up!  It may take me another year or even three to complete the Generalist Study Program or the Initiate Study Program, but I’m growing “as fast as a speeding oak!”

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If  you celebrate anything in December, it’s usually a busy time.  Regardless of the positives experienced, I think it’s safe to assume that most people are worn out after it’s all said and done.  I certainly felt depleted!  Today, I restored myself physically, intellectually, and spiritually.

Northern NY is finally getting snow!  The roads have been a bit messy, but that didn’t keep me from visiting my massage therapist at Harmony Day Spa.    I  go every other month or so for a basic Swedish massage from Ashley, although I have received hot and cold stone therapy, as well as a sound healing technique she offers.  She’s absolutely amazing, and I always feel rejuvenated when I leave.  I always say, some women treat themselves to shoes or manicures – I indulge in massage.  My back loves me for it!

As for the intellection restoration, I’m putting my spare time to good use and delving back into the academic side of ADF’s advanced study programs.  I reviewed what I left off on, and I’m hoping to finish IE Myth before I go back to work.  I can’t make any promises, but I am hoping!  I’m also working on Divination 2. I spent some time today pouring through Carmina Gadelica looking for examples of auguries with some success!  It’s so fascinating, and is deepening my understanding and experience with the Druid Animal Oracle cards I love so much.

I restored myself spiritually but going to my altar earlier for my weekly ritual.  Yes, I’ve kept that up weekly, but after such a busy, extended weekend, returning to my sacred space felt really good.  Time away from home almost always disrupts my daily devotionals and other routines.  Furthermore, I worked to clean and sain my altar.  The space needed a good cleansing. Taking the time to remove dust, incense ash, cat fur, and candle wax felt like removing cobwebs in my mind.  Taking pride in one’s spiritual focal point is a way of showing good hospitality to the Kindreds who visit, and the act reaffirms one’s commitments.  As we move to the secular New Year, I will be doing a lot more cleaning – both physical and spiritual.

 

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Elderberry syrup in progress. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 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.

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My little one joins me at my altar for a daily devotional. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

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.

 

 

 

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Although my divination method of choice remains “The Druid Animal Oracle,” I’ve been working to improve my understanding of ogham.  Each day, after I perform my morning or afternoon devotional, I ask for an omen for the day and draw an ogham symbol from a muslin bag.  I’m getting better at interpreting certain symbols and seeing how they could relate to my day, both as I head to known destinations and activities, and in reflection at the end of the day.  Other symbols, however, continue to elude me.  Part of this is due to the variety of interpretations in the books I have.  Others seem very ominous, only for my day to be relatively stress-free.  This left me confused and second-guessing the symbols.  I wasn’t about to give up, though, as I know that questioning and critiquing are part of the learning process.

Blackthorn has been one ogham symbol that has continued to bloggle me.  Skip Ellison’s book Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids summarizes its meaning as “Trouble & negativity” (125).  Ian Corrigan also touched on Ogham in his work A Druid’s Companion: Lore & Rituals for the Work of Druidry.  He summarizes its meaning as “trouble and protection.”  Finally, Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham by Steve Blamires simplifies blackthorn as such: “Be prepared for a transition; prepare for something about to end; sudden change; death” (253).   It’s quite the variety, but the common denominator is always fairly negative.  Of course, most authors expand on the tree by looking at its folklore and biology.  Blackthorn, however, continued to confuse me in part because of the symbolism associated with other trees.  For example, some authors equate hawthorn with “unpleasant period(s)” (Blamires 253), or yew with death (Corrigan and Ellison).  According to Cúchulainn, heather could also relate to death through his comparing it to the “shroud of the lifeless one,” (Ellison 47).  Ultimately, one has to consider all the information as well as our own perceptions, but I was feeling overwhelmed.  Perhaps part of this is my own inexperience with actual, living blackthorns?

Then I started to think about blackthorn in terms of “strife.”  Many authors link its Gaelic name for the ogham, “straif” or “straiph,” with the English word “strife.”  I was repeatedly drawing blackthorn, and I was getting worried.  At the same time, I’ve been pouring over books to work on an ADF course – Indo European Mythology 1.  There’s a major comparative element to it, so I decided to pull out all my materials from my college mythology class.  Oh, the wealth of material I have on Greek mythology!  I was rereading Hesiod’s “Works and Days,” which outlines good morals as well as when and how Ancient Greeks should have performed certain tasks.  It’s quite a fascinating peek back in time, honestly, one that people who follow a Celtic hearth culture could only dream of finding.  Anyway, Hesiod discusses strife:

And I will speak to Perses the naked truth:
There was never one kind of Strife.  Indeed on this earth
two kinds exist.  The one is praised by her friends,
the other found blameworthy.  These two are not of one mind.
The one – so harsh – fosters evil war and the fray of battle.
No man loves this oppressive Strife, but compulsion
and divine will grant her a share of honor.
The other one is black Night’s elder daughter;
and the son of Kronos, who dwells on ethereal heights,
planted her in the roots of the earth and among men.
She is much better, and she stirs even the shiftless on to work.
A man will long for work when he sees a man of wealth
who rushes with zeal to plow and plant
and husband his homestead.  One neighbor envies another
who hastens to his riches.  This Strife is good for mortals.
Then potters eye one another’s success and craftsmen, too;
the beggar’s envy is a beggar, the singer’s a singer.
Perses, treasure this thought deep down in your heart,
do not let malicious Strife curb your zeal for work
so you can see and hear the brawls of the market place. (lines 10 – 29, translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis)

This passage was a reminder not to lose sight of the less ominous interpretations of straif.  They are also part of the blackthorn.  Just as Hesiod says there are two kinds of strife, a positive and negative, blackthorn has its sides.  It depends on the perception and context.  The thorny bush could indeed be protective in certain circumstances.  I don’t see death in it, though.  I feel that yew, with its association with graveyards, has a better connection to death than blackthorn, but the latter surely relates to trouble and difficulties in reaching our goals due to all those thorns.

Later that day, I further meditated on blackthorn while at yoga class.  Before we started, our teacher set an intention for us.  She asked us to think about transitions.  As we went through our stretches, breathing, and movement, she would remind us to stop and think about the processes we go through to transition between one pose and another.  Sometimes, those transitions were quite challenging.  They sometimes made me feel a little clumsy or sore, yet they were part of an ongoing process.

It dawned on me that the blackthorn I was drawing could relate to a transition I’ve been going through in my career.   It’s certainly been stressful, but not dreadful.  All the blackthorn could be related to the strife of hard work as I transitioned, and the difficulties of that process.

This whole experience, while probably kind of roundabout, has felt like a breakthrough in my understanding of some of the ogham symbols.  Let the journey continue!

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I am very nearly finished with one of the advanced ADF study programs – Liturgy Practicum 1.  I lost track of time, and when I saw that I had journaled for over the required four months, I was surprised to see that it’s time to submit!  What once seemed daunting is now nearly over!

Liturgy practicum 1 has been incredibly useful to me in my Druidic studies.  It helped me rediscover my spiritual discipline after a long lapse due to grad school stress, pregnancy, and then getting used to being a mother.  Tackling the work forced me to evaluate my routines and priorities, and to make changes so that I could be more attentive to my spiritual needs.  At first, finding or making time for the work was a challenge, but then it became second nature.  Just as combing my hair makes me feel better before I leave my home, saying prayers of gratitude before my altar each morning helped me mentally prepare for the day.  It has became such a positive part of my life, and it really helped to strengthen me during some difficult times.

Supportive family helped with my success.  My husband understands that I want to do my smooring rite each night, for example, and he never complains when I linger downstairs to tidy the stove and say my prayers to Brighid while he gets our daughter changed and ready for bed.  It is the same on weekends.  When I tell him that I would like quiet time before my altar or out in the forest, he takes charge of holding or entertaining our tot while I recharge and do my thing.  Of course, there were many times when I saved my weekly full ritual for Saturday nights after my daughter fell asleep.

I intend to continue my work, not only because it will help carry me through other practical courses in the ISP, GSP and, eventually, clergy training, but I feel that it’s made me a stronger ritual leader, and it has deepend my connection to the Kindreds.  There is definitely room for improvement, though.  I’m constantly reflecting on and revising the prayers I write, for example.  I would love to continue my studies of Irish folk magic and include more traditional prayers – perhaps even learn them in Gaelic! Speaking of Irish, I’ve at least learned an English translation of a smooring prayer, and I’ve committed a couple short, useful Irish phrases to heart to utilize in my rites.  They are small steps but help me feel connected to my hearth culture and Ancestors.

I would also like to strengthen my bonds with specific spirit allies.  Although I say prayers of gratitute to all Kindreds in the morning, other prayers and routines throughout the day are focused on my relationship to Brighid specifically, the Earth Mother, or the Nature Spirits.  I recently noticed that I wasn’t paying enough attention to the Ancestors.  I started to include them in my prayers for safe travels and to protect the home, but I would like to develope a weekly ritual, perhaps, in which I stand before their shrine and make special offerings to them.  I have done that during the course of Liturgy Practicum 1, but not with any regularity.  That needs to change.  Some ADFers have described a daily or weekly ritual in which they drink tea or coffee at or near their ancestral shrine.  That really inspires me and appeals to my love of tea!

This course has given me the confidence to know that I still have the capacity to maintain a religious routine as a mother.  What’s more – it’s taught me that I can include my daughter in my practices!  Some of my favorite prayers or spiritual routines involve my daughter.  My child-friendly nighttime prayer was written with her in mind.  We say it every night.  While she doesn’t know all the words yet, she often initiates it by pointing to my altar or saying “tree.”  We always blow a kiss to the Kindreds when we finish, and it really makes me feel all fuzzy inside when she does it with enthusiasm.  It’s part of my spiritual routine, but it’s also part of her bedtime ritual.  It helps her feel safe and know that it’s time to rest.

If you’re considering the advanced study programs in ADF but aren’t sure if you can tackle this time commitment, I challenge you to try.  It may be hard at first, and it may force you to change your routines – maybe even wake up earlier in the morning- but I promise it is worth it.  Your connection to your spirituality will be deepened in a profound way, and you’ll truly feel that you are living your Druidism each and every day.

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The Latest Edition to my Bookshelf

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Good thing I’m a mythology nerd. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2015.

 

I’m still working my way through Patterns of Comparative Religion by Eliade.  It is quite the beast, but very interesting.  There is a lot of fascinating information within its pages, but it is not focused on Indo-European mythology the way Jaan Puhvel’s book is supposed to be.  I’m hoping that I find it a little more helpful as I continue to trudge through Indo-European Mythology 1 – one of ADF’s advanced study programs.  It’s taking me a long time, but I’m learning so much.  So much.

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