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Posts Tagged ‘Upstate NY’

I was brushing off my car, the wind whipping my hair around my face, when I caught myself silently grumbling about winter.  I actually really like winter, but I dislike driving in lake effect snow, and I don’t know of anyone who enjoys brushing off their car. As true as that is, I stopped the moment I realized that I was mentally whining and started to think about what I enjoy about the season.

  • Walks in a quiet, frosted forest.
  • Seeing animal tracks.
  • Big, fluffy flakes.
  • Feeding the birds in the cold of winter.
  • How prominent the evergreens become in our landscape.
  • The way the light hits icy water just right, making it look like crystal.
  • Frosty patterns on glass.
  • Dusty snow that easily falls away from the car on busy mornings.
  • How most insect pests hibernate or die from the cold.
  • Clear, gelid starlight.
  • Making snow people and snow fairies with my daughter.
  • Throwing snowballs at my husband, and dodging his retaliations.
  • Cozy evenings in with my family.
  • The anticipation and celebration of snow days.
  • The way my daughter’s eyes grow wide with wonder at the sight of snow.
  • How tough I feel for surviving Upstate NY winters every year.

Reflecting in this way made the challenges more bearable.  I hope I can still do this when January, February, and early March inevitably challenge us with even colder, icier days.

What are your favorite aspects of winter?

 

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When I first started this blog five years ago, it was originally called “North Country Pagan” because I wanted it to reflect my experiences finding things relevant to Paganism and Pagan culture in Northern NY.  My blog title eventually changed because I wanted to narrow my focus more on my spiritual path of choice, but I’d like to revamp and revive it as a subtopic within my blog.  As the Druidic community here grows, I thought it would be nice to discuss different events that are not organized by Northern Rivers Protogrove but, nevertheless, relate to, nourish, or engage us as Druids in training.  Much of what I discuss will likely be relevant to other Pagan paths as well.

Like many good little Druids in the modern era, I was called to my path out of a deep love and reverence for Nature.  I’m naturally drawn to organizations and activities that also embody that love and respect, regardless of religion.  The Thousand Islands Land Trust is such a group.  They work hard to put aside and preserve land along the Thousand Islands, build and maintain trails, plant trees, and install nesting grids for common terns.  They have also organized hikes and kayaking excursions.  Over the last few years, they have expanded their selection of community activities to involve people who may not be willing or able to engage in such physically demanding activities but still want to learn and engage with the local environment.  They now offer children’s programing, a community garden, yoga for all levels along the river, and now – “green movie nights!”

The first featured film was called “Chasing Ice.”  Part of the synopsis reads:

In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.

 

The film was exciting as it sounds and did not dissapoint. It was emotionally moving, intellectually stimulating, and visually spectacular.  The icy, glacial landscapes he and his team visited were as magical as they were distant to me.  It’s amazing how the glaciers are all at once mighty and fragile in our changing world.  Even if you are already convinced of global warming and of the urgency for us to make changes in our lives, the film is still worth seeing as it demonstrates the possibility for skeptics to change their mind which is uplifting.  If you consider the Earth your mother, you won’t want to miss seeing a side of her most of us take for granted.

I hope the Thousand Islands Land Trust hosts more green movie nights, and I hope that more Pagans in the area take advantage of them to expand their knowledge and awareness.  After all, our devotion to the Earth Mother shouldn’t stop with ritual.  We must remain educated on environmental issues and make practical changes in non-ritual contexts.

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Feet in Clayton, NY

Hubby and I relaxing in the St. Lawrence River, 2011.  Each year, my relationship with the local spirits strengthens. – Photo by Weretoad.

Sometimes, I ponder my path in relation to my location and nationality. There are times when I can’t help but wonder if my Druidism is somehow “less connected” than if I were actually living in Ireland, Scotland, England, Cornwall, etc…  Am I less connected to the Tuatha de Danann who are so intimately intertwined with the land of Ireland?  What of the myriad of other unseen spirits connected to Ireland?  And what of the spirits native to America and living cultures who still work with them?  When I make offerings to the Local Spirits, am I talking to spirits who followed my ancestors from their homeland, the Native spirits who dwell here, or both?

This post from August, particularly the last paragraph, had me thinking about it once more.  Are we, the descendants of Celtic and English diaspora, trying to overcompensate in the form of Celtic Reconstructionism and its methodology?  The seed of ADF was planted in America.  Although it is an international Druidic organization, the girth of its membership continues to be in America.  Compare ADF to OBOD, as John Michael Greer did and you’ll notice some interesting differences.  Having been a member of OBOD for a few months* I came to the conclusion that its rituals were more similar to Wicca, although still very beautiful!  So what does it mean when the biggest Druidic tradition in the UK feels more like Wicca compared to the American-born ADF with it’s reconstructionist methods?  As Greer notes, neither tradition is “real Druidism” as in historically handed down from the ancients.  Similarly, both address different needs and can be combined.  Indeed, some folks on the ADF e-lists were just discussing how they’ve successfully combined ADF and OBOD in their personal lives.

But let’s move beyond the organizations because, when it comes down to it, the bulk of a modern Druid’s time is spent in his or her home and environment.  What about living modern, American Druidism?  You know – connecting to the spirit world in all we do every day.

When you start studying the folk beliefs of the Celts, it becomes clear how location-centered it is.  Well X has a being associated with it.  The spirit of Well X lives in Well X, not Well Z over in America.  At least, so the old beliefs would make it seem.  The Ancient Celts did migrate, and some deities seemed to travel with the tribe.  Peter Berresford Ellis writes, “There are over 400 names of Celtic deities, male and female, recorded but the vast majority would appear to be local deities, tribal gods and goddesses.  However, that leaves some hundred or so who are to be found throughout the Celtic world; indeed, many of the deities are clearly the major deities of the Celts” (160).  What this says to me is that the tribal deities, beings like Lugh, Brighid, and An Dagda, are concerned with humanity and open to communication regardless of location.  My theory has been that, by creating welcoming altars, we create a means of communing – a “spirit phone” or a “guest house”.  But the spirit of Well X?  He or she is only reached at his/her well.  Make a pilgrimage and visit, be inspired by that well’s lore, but otherwise you must find new well spirits in the “New World.”

But who are these American spirits?  Nature Spirits?  Gods?  Demigods?  Nature Spirits elevated to some Godhood status through increase worship thus power?  Are they Native or immigrants like our ancestors?  The answer seems to be, “It’s complicated.”

Arch Druid Emeritis of ADF, Rev. Skip Ellison, presented a workshop called “The Fairy Races of the British Isles” a few years ago in Utica, NY.  He explained the various beings and how to work with them, of course, but he also shared his theory with regards to the question above.  Ellison postulates that some spirits emigrated with the diaspora.  It makes sense if you consider beings attached to tribes or households.  Why wouldn’t they follow the people they have a relationship with?  Ellison suggests they settled where their humans settled.  If so, is there antagonism between those spirits and the Native?  If spirits mate, did they mate with Native spirits?  Is thinking this horrendously disrespectful to Native American cultures?  Add to that the reality that the Ancient Celts would take up worshipping the spirit of the rivers they settled near, what do us modern practitioners do in America?  I feel very drawn to the rivers I live near, particularly the St. Lawrence.  Before their lives and traditions here were disrupted by white settlers, the Iroquois who lived in the North Country called the Thousand Islands “The Great Spirit’s Garden” and considered it a sacred hunting ground (Jacox and Kleinhans, 7).  When I go to honor the spirit of the St. Lawrence, am I disrespecting Native culture?  The Ancient Celts saw rivers as female spirits, and I have felt similarly about the St. Lawrence – but is that just my intellectual assumption or genuine unverified personal gnosis?  It is difficult to find information on Native beliefs surrounding the river.  Did they believe it to have a guardian spirit?  Was it female or male?

Once more, the answers seem complicated, and I suspect my perspective will grow and evolve as I learn and practice more.  Despite the uncertainties, it feels important for me to connect to this land.  My time spent in England, Cornwall, and Ireland was precious.  I felt a deep reawakening, a feeling of ‘coming home’ in some ways, and a connection to the history and my ancestors there.  When I went to Ireland, I could not help but wonder if my ancestors who left it all those years ago for a chance at a new life were looking at her again through my eyes.  When I visited ancient, sacred sites, I felt that I was visiting the oldest and most favored “homes” of the Gods I love.  Yet when I returned to Upstate NY, although the Nature Spirits have their own personality, the Old Gods I strive to honor were still there to listen.

In this month of October, as we move towards Samhain, I am going to explore, research, and reflect on my relationship to the ancestors.  I cannot do that without considering my place as the descendant of the diaspora who came here over a century ago.  Without a doubt, it influences my Druidism.  The question is how?  I hope you’ll join me in my thoughts and discussion.

* I left OBOD because the study program was too expensive for me and, as Greer’s article points out, it’s a huge part of the organization.  There are also fewer groups in America.  Community is important to me, and ADF just has more easily-found groves in the US.  I may look into OBOD down the road when I have more funds, especially because their approach is so beautiful and lyrical.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  The Celts: A History.  Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY: 2004.
Jacox, Helen P. & Kleinhans Jr., Eugene B.  Thousand Island Park: One Hundred Years, and Then Some.  Valhalla Printing Co, T.I.P., NY: 1975.

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