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Archive for the ‘Dedicant Path Essays’ Category

Lammas/Lughnasadh/Freyfaxi is the holiday celebrated on or around August 1st in the Wheel of the Year, and can have many different meanings depending on the particular culture your variety of Paganism celebrates (hence the many different names). Generally speaking, this is the first of the harvest festivals in the Wheel of the Year and is the celebration of the grain harvest.

Lammas is the Anglo-Saxon celebration of “loaf-mass”, when the first loaf of bread made from the new year’s wheat is blessed, and then used for magic, usually to protect the rest of the grain crop. In the Anglo-Saxon chronicle it is referred to as the “Feast of first fruits”, which is mirrored in the modern Pagan celebrations of this time as the first harvest. This time also marks the end of the hay harvest, and the beginning of the harvest of grains.

Lughnasadh is the Celtic celebration of the first harvest, as well as the commemoration of the god Lugh for his foster mother Tailtiu, who died after clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture (usually celebrated with games and sport and feasting). This was one of the Celtic “Fire festivals” and was often celebrated with bonfires and the visiting of holy wells. Ashes from Lughnasadh bonfires would be used to bless fields and livestock (A tradition that continues in Christianized Ireland, where priests frequently bless fields on this day). This was also traditionally a time of handfasting.

Freyfaxi may be a type of Norse festival of sacrificing horses to Freyr, who is the God of the harvest cycle in that culture. Unfortunately it seems to be named for a horse who was dedicated to Frey, but was stolen by a traitor priest who then defiled Frey’s holy stead, so I’m not really sure why there is a celebration in honor of it. (However, it is possible that there were horses sacrificed to Frey, it’s more the name that is concerning). In modern times it is seen as a sort of parallel to Lammas (which comes out of the Anglo-Saxon tradition). Some modern Norse traditions celebrate this time as one of community and sport, as it was the time of the annual All-Thing in late July and early August.

In modern Paganism, this is the time of the sacrifice of the Grain God, who lays down his life (as the grain is the “sacrifice”) only to rise again with the next year. This is commonly retold in the story of John Barleycorn, who dies and is reborn the next year. Many traditions practice offering up sacrifices in order to continue the turning of the seasons, in a mirror of the sacrifice of the God, who must die for the fields to be replenished the next year. The Goddess is pregnant at this time with the God who will be born again at Yule, to be sacrificed at Lammas the next year. Often this is celebrated with sacrifices of bread and other grains, and magic that centers around reaping the fruits of hard labors. Similarly to the Anglo-Saxon tradition, a loaf of bread is often baked and then ritually “sacrificed” to represent the sacrifice of the Grain God.

I usually celebrate this time of year by clearing out my garden in preparation for the fall planting season. It feels appropriate to be cutting down the old plants and starting the plot anew, with offerings of compost and manure. It’s still too hot to plant anything yet, but I try to start the “sacrifice” of the old plants that get tilled into the earth to renew the garden and bless the upcoming harvest (that will be ready in November or so). I also try to make freshly baked bread (usually cornbread, since I can’t eat gluten, so I don’t keep wheat in the house) to add to the sacrifices that are made at this time of year. This year, since I have just discovered the tradition of using that first, blessed loaf as a magical ward, I’ll be baking the bread, giving it as an offering, and then placing quarters of the loaf around the outside of my house.

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An account of the Dedicant’s efforts to work with nature, honor the Earth, and understand the impacts and effects of the Dedicant’s lifestyle choices on the environment and/or the local ecosystem and how she or he could make a difference to the environment on a local level. (500 word min)

I’ve had a personal relationship with nature since I was a small child, when I had a “Nature Sanctuary” in the woods behind my house (there was a goodish sized clearing with an old stump), and I would have nature rituals there. How this managed not to attract the attention of my very Christian parents I will never know, but I treasure those memories, and when I go to nature in visualization I often start from my memories of that place. I like to meditate outside, and while I’m fortunate to live in a place where it is temperate except for during the summer (when it is miserable to be outside), that means I live with the Cult of The Eternal Yard Work, and during pretty much any daylight hours I can hear the sounds of yard machinery. During the week, weekends, evenings, mornings – it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve even tried going to the local park to meditate when I get extra time, but there I am regaled by the sounds of the local airforce base.

I feel an especially strong connection to nature at the beach. There is a magic to the ocean (and a feeling of being very small in the face of a very great power) that I find is both soothing and discomforting in a very good way. I try to get to the beach as often as I can, even if it’s just to sit on the seawall for an hour or two and listen to the waves. I love to meditate on the beach, where the sound of the waves becomes almost trance-inducing, and where the combination of warm sun, gentle waves (it is the gulf coast), the sea breeze, and the sand between my toes is like a healing balm for my soul. I have seen the truly powerful effects of the sea as well as the peaceful ones, so I am under no misconceptions about it being a force to be reckoned with. The sea I usually encounter is a gentle one, though, and I truly enjoy those moments of connectedness that I feel there.

My other main connection to nature comes from caring for the little bit of Earth around my house. While I spend a lot of time outside, and am an avid gardener, I don’t meditate in my yard much because of the machinery noise, so I sustain my relationships either through active cultivation or through visualization inside where it’s quiet. My strongest connection to nature is probably through my garden and my yard, where I can have a direct impact.

Gardening helps me to connect with the Wheel of the Year (even though I live in a place with odd growing seasons compared to those in Northern Europe) and to the powers that drive that cycle. It also puts me in touch with the Earth herself. While I more frequently address the power of nature (and the cycle of life and death) as masculine, I feel the Earth itself is strongly feminine. I honor my connection to the Earth as her child: as the saying goes “from you all things emerge, and to you all things return”. I suppose that means I honor the Earth as a Goddess in her own right, though in my rituals I sometimes give her a name (often Nerthus, but sometimes Jord, or Danu). I am just as comfortable with her just being Earth, or Gaia, or the Earth Mother, and I actively seek to make my presence here one of respect and honor. I know that the modern lifestyle is not always conducive to Earth-friendly living, and that dichotomy is something I truly struggle with.

In light of that struggle, there are a number of things I do on a regular basis that seem mundane on the surface but are a crucial part of my Druidry. I compost as much as I possibly can – and buy compostable containers when I can as well. I use that compost to feed my garden, which I do not put chemical fertilizers on (though I do use an abundance of manure and supplemental compost, as the land here is almost entirely red clay). I also do not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in my yard – with one exception: fire ants. Both my husband and I are ferociously allergic to fire ant bites, so they are my one pesticide exception. I also recycle as many things as possible, and try to buy recyclable packaging as much as possible. I use only re-usable bags at the grocery store, including some mesh produce bags that have drastically reduced the amount of plastic that comes through our house. We are also slowly replacing the light bulbs in our home with LED lights, as they use almost no electricity. Also, I keep the thermostat set very high in the summer (80-82 degrees in the house) to reduce our air conditioning usage. I try to buy cleaners that are biodegradable (or use things like vinegar and baking soda), as well as using personal care products that don’t use plastic containers or contain petrochemical-derived ingredients.

What could I be doing better? Lots of things. My recycling efforts are notable, but I haven’t taken a stand against purchasing things that have nonrecyclable packaging entirely. I also sometimes get lazy and throw things away instead of cleaning them out to be recycled. I would also like to be a better advocate for my landbase. I live in a threatened area – the coastal wetlands. These wetlands are disappearing rapidly, due to a combination of human encroachment and changes in the waterlines, and while my area was not personally affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the plants and animals in this ecosystem are still threatened. I would like to look for some local conservation organizations to support, though that support will primarily need to be financial for now.

Overall I feel like I’ve had my connections with nature pretty solidly created before I started the Dedicant Path, so over the last year I’ve spent my time reinforcing and thinking about those connections that I had already made. I also stepped up my efforts at living responsibly. This is one of the aspects that drew me to Druidry, and while I haven’t always thought of it as honoring the Earth Mother as a Goddess, caring for the planet – especially the little corner I’m responsible for – is something I’ve found important for a very long time. I hope as I continue with Druidry that these connections will only deepen, especially as I make more relationships with the Nature Spirits as a Kindred.

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A brief description, with photos if possible, of the Dedicant’s home shrine and plans for future improvements. (150 words min.)

My Druid altar sits in my “craft” room (it is a craft room both in the sense of sewing and knitting and in the sense of magical craft). The room is just off the main hallway of my home, and I walk by it several times each day going to and from our office. It is, by necessity, in a room that’s easy to close off when we have guests – both because it is not anywhere near appropriate for a small child, and because I am still a closeted Druid, and do not wish to share my religion with my (very Christian) family.

The altar itself sits on a bookshelf on the eastern wall, and I use the bookshelf to store all of my magical and religious tools as well as other less obviously religious books (like my mythology books). I try to have it keep a low profile, though my more recent updates have it looking more obviously altar-like and less like just a cluttered bookshelf.

I perform all of my ADF rituals here, as well as most of my meditation (I keep a cushion on the floor in front of the bookshelf for seated meditation). The shelf is standing-height accessible, so I stand for all of my ritual observances.

altar4-13a(The room my altar is in is yellow, so it’s hard not to get very yellow tinged pictures!)

On the altar I have a (handmade) metal Tree that hangs on the wall, a trio of votive candles as my Fire (along with an incense burner) and a Well handmade by a carpenter of carefully jointed wooden pieces. I also have two small Tree of Life wood-burned tree pieces from The Magical Druid, to help balance the altar and because I like having the extra representations of trees there. There are as well a set of tingshas I use as my musical signal to begin my rituals, a goblet for offerings and receiving blessings, some small bowls and a tiny pitcher for offerings, and a large wooden bowl to accept offerings, since it seems unwise to pour them on the carpet. I keep my runes on the altar as well, plus a large “holey” stone that a good friend of mine brought back from a military trip. I am sure he thought I was weird to ask him to bring me a rock with a natural hole in it, but he’s a geologist, so I figured he’d be sympathetic.

On the second shelf I have two larger candles, mostly because I like candles, as well as some owl figurines (a Nature Spirit I am particularly close to), some amber jewelry (to help me connect with Freya), a wooden acorn (to represent ADF Druidry) and a small green man figure.

Future altar updates include adding statuary for the various Gods I work with, particularly Freyr (I am thinking of looking for a small boar to represent him, as that will provoke fewer questions than an obviously phallic statue would) and something for Njord. A small wagon would be appropriate for Nerthus as well. These additions are waiting mostly on budget and on finding statues I like – I tend to find a lot of the things online too shiney or modern or just don’t like them much. I figure I can afford to be picky when it comes to my Gods. I don’t know where exactly I will PUT all of these things, but perhaps it will be time for my owls to move elsewhere, or for me to expand to a bigger surface. Right now, though, this version of my altar is highly functional, and I am always happy to settle into my rituals here. The setup is easy to use, and not too cluttered, but still contains everything I need.

I should note that I also keep a “hearth shrine” at my stove, where I light candles daily as part of my remembrance of my ancestors. There are no ritual objects there, only the candles I burn and my dedication to keeping the stove clean and the area tidy. I try not to light candles there if the kitchen is not clean, out of honor for my Disir.

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I conducted my Midsummer ritual on Friday, June 21 as close to noon as I could arrange it, which ended up being about 3pm (the earliest I could get off work). This was a solitary ADF style ritual that followed the Core Order of Ritual, and was based around Ian Corrigan’s Solitary Blessing Rite, as I didn’t feel as connected to the Solitary Druid Fellowship ritual this high day. I did not honor a named Earth Mother or Gatekeeper, but I specifically honored Freyr as my patron and Sunna as the honored Deity of the rite. I brought incense for the fire and silver for the well, and the rest of the offerings were of a Peach Melomel (fruit mead) brewed not far from where I live in Texas.

I went back to a ritual that I know and love for this high day, because I couldn’t find anything I really liked – poetry or published ritual wise. Nothing was speaking to me, so I opted to work from an established template, albeit a generic ADF one and not a generic Norse one. I felt that the ritual went well – the poetry of the blessing rite is powerful and easy to read, and it flowed well in speech and in tempo of the ritual. I would have liked to do more to specifically honor Sunna, beyond a basic offering, but I didn’t have anything prepared. In hindsight, I should have improvised some praise offerings – I will remember that for my next ritual!

One thing I didn’t do (again) was remember to feed the Two Powers into the opening of the Gates, which I keep saying I need to do. Perhaps I will go back and re-read my previous ritual write ups next time before I start a high day ritual, to remember the things I’m supposed to be learning from this!

After making my offerings I asked “What blessings do you have for me in return for the offerings I have made?” and drew the following runes:

  • Berkano: Birch, Strength, Flexibility, Resourcefulness. This is the rune of resourcefulness and making something from nothing, and Rev. Dangler speaks of it as the rune of “female strength” (Very Basics of Runes 47). It speaks of birth and rebirth, and physical or mental growth. There is also an element of strength and pride to this rune meaning, alongside the current of fertility and creativity, that you can see in the last two lines of the rune poem. I see self-sufficiency as well, in the first lines of the poem (the tree that brings forth new trees generated from its own leaves)
  • Dagaz: Day – Rising sun, New day, Deliverance. This is a rune of a bright future, of good hope and promising things to come. Also, in Dangler’s Very Basics of Runes, he speaks of a sort of divine intervention aspect to this rune, that the blessings it brings are “heaven sent” (53). The idea that light will wash away evil, and gives hope and happiness to all. Daylight clarity as opposed to nighttime uncertainty. A time to plan or embark upon an enterprise. The power of change directed by your own will, transformation. Hope/happiness, the ideal. Breakthrough, awakening, awareness.
  • Othila: Stationary Wealth, Ancestors, Completion. This is inherited wealth or property, the kind of wealth that is passed from generation to generation and is stable and secure. Safety, increase, and abundance, or perhaps the completion of a task in such a way that it is stable and secure. Acting from your center, with all the support of your ancestors and your heritage, and being secure in their values.

We give you abundant blessings to get you through tough times. Things will end, and end well, and a new day will dawn.

I didn’t divide up the blessing questions between the Kindreds, since I was honoring both the three Kindreds and some Honored Deities. I feel like this is a pretty powerfully positive omen, which is encouraging, as a lot of things have been pretty rough going in my life of late.  I really couldn’t ask for a better blessing – strength, flexibility, resourcefulness, the brightness of a new day and new beginnings and a promising future, and the completion of a stable task (or wealth! I’m OK with wealth too!). I hope I get to see these blessings in action between now and Lammas in 6 weeks. It will be a good summer, if so.

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The Summer Solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) occurs on or around June 21 every year, and marks the astronomical point at which the sun has reached its highest altitude in the sky. This produces the longest day/shortest night of the year, and the holy day of Midsummer or the Summer Solstice is celebrated at this time. This holiday is often referred to as Litha among various branches of neopaganism, a reference to Bede’s naming of the months of the summer.*

Historically this holiday was celebrated in most of Northern Europe, especially the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the Germanic lands, where celebrations included bonfires and the picking of golden-flowered plants, supposed to have miraculous healing powers. In the Scandinavia, where the sun sets very late and rises very early resulting in extremely long days, the Sun is the central figure, as well as the lit bonfires and celebrations of community. People frequently danced around (and through!) bonfires as a ritual of protection, as well as driving cattle through the fires to protect them. The strength of the Sun makes the crops grow, and there is a great deal of promised bounty as people tend the crops and prepare for the upcoming harvest.

In the Neopagan myth, this is the time of the second battle between the Holly King and the Oak King, where the Holly King defeats the Oak King (who has reigned since Yule) and will then rule until December when the two will battle again. This begins the “Dark” half of the year, where the Sun’s power wanes and the days grow shorter again until the cycle begins anew at Yule.

Bonfires are a very common method of celebrating this high day, often accompanied by all night vigils. This seems to be both an honoring of fire and a warding against wildfires, which are at their most dangerous during the hot dry summer months. The spirits of the land are also important at this time. Most central, however, is honoring the Sun at her (or his) strongest point in the year. I usually make a special point to watch both the sunrise and the sunset on Midsummer, and always have a “bonfire” in my charcoal grill, where I make offerings to Sunna, who is at her brightest (and most destructive!) at this time. As a tropical Pagan, my relationship with Sunna is one of deep respect as well as joy, for while it is sunny here most of the year, and I love basking in her warmth, it is very dangerous to underestimate the power of Sunna in summer, especially on exposed skin.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

Fertility: The quality or state of being fertile.

Fertile:1  a : producing or bearing fruit in great quantities : productive
b : characterized by great resourcefulness of thought or imagination : inventive <a fertile mind>
2  a (1) : capable of sustaining abundant plant growth <fertile soil> (2) : affording abundant possibilities for growth or development <damp bathrooms are fertile ground for fungi — Consumer Reports> <a fertile area for research>
b : capable of growing or developing <a fertile egg>
c (1) : capable of producing fruit (2) of an anther : containing pollen (3) : developing spores or spore-bearing organs
d : capable of breeding or reproducing

From Our Own Druidry (83)

Bounty of mind, body, and spirit, involving creativity, production of objects, food, works of art, etc., an appreciation of the physical, sensual, nurturing

(Note: As with Hospitality, I used the dictionary definition of Fertile, as Fertility was self-defining.)

I really like the first part of the ADF definition of Fertility: “Bounty of mind, body, and spirit.” Fertility is the act of creation, whether that be to create things, art, ideas, food, or babies. While babies are certainly a part of fertility, this virtue is so much more than just procreation (which is, of course, not something all Druids will be interested in!). Bringing an idea from germination to fruition is as fertile an act as planting a seed and growing it into a vegetable plant from which you harvest tomatoes. Much like with the creation of babies, fertility also includes caring for those ideas as they grow and change, as they influence and are influenced by others. This is a virtue that anyone can value and nourish, regardless of their desire (or lack thereof) to have children.

This virtue also has an element of appreciating our connection to the Earth herself. We are physical beings, and fertility is an aspect of that physicality that is valuable and desirable. Our spirits are not disembodied things, nurtured only by thoughts – we have bodies too, and are fully of the Earth. We are to appreciate our physical forms, and the world that we perceive through our senses.

Fertility, as a virtue, keeps us constantly moving forward into new things. If we value fertility, and fertile minds, we will nurture that in each other, and ADF will be richer for the community of creators that it contains. Of course, nobody can be constantly fertile all the time; moderation applies even here, and fallow periods are normal in between periods of great productivity. But fertility is the path forward. If vision is what lights and shows us the path forward, fertility is the virtue that will get us there.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

Moderate: 1 a : avoiding extremes of behavior or expression : observing reasonable limits <a moderate drinker>
b : calm, temperate
2 a : tending toward the mean or average amount or dimension
b : having average or less than average quality : mediocre
3 : professing or characterized by political or social beliefs that are not extreme
4 : limited in scope or effect

From Our Own Druidry (83)

Cultivating one’s appetites so that one is neither a slave to them nor driven to ill health (mental or physical), through excess or deficiency

Again here I’ve used the definition of “moderate” because “moderation” was self defining (“The state of being moderate”), and I found I got more traction and useful definition from the root word.

For me, moderation is the antithesis of “black and white” thinking. In a logic class I took once, we were instructed always to look for a third option, and then a fourth and fifth, when presented with an all or nothing proposition. This helps prevent logical fallacies, but it also helps prevent destructive behavior through obsession (either with excess or deficiency). Looking for the third option doesn’t necessarily mean a middle road (though often that is the case), but can simply mean avoiding the obstacle altogether, or finding a creative and unusual solution to a problem. I’ve explored this a little further in my post Adventures in Polytheism, for those curious.

It is a means of self-care and self-respect as well, to know one’s limits (both physical and mental), and to know how to use those limits but still function with respect to others. Much like hospitality, moderation will frequently run in with other people. The warrior virtues of integrity, courage, and perseverance will come in handy when cultivating moderation (to help you know and stick to your limits and your own sense of balance), and moderation can temper and balance those same warrior virtues (to keep you from running too far with any one idea). For me personally, moderation is the virtue that helps me know when I’ve pushed too far beyond what I can handle mentally, and to know when to balance self care with my desire to please others.

I find this an interesting choice to be included in the nine “primary” virtues of Druidry. While I certainly agree that it is a virtuous thing to cultivate moderation, I think it speaks to the nature of ADF as a group to seek a middle way – to accept both solitary and group work, to cultivate the intellectual mind and the intuitive mind, to be modern Neopagans but to take our cues from ancient cultures. Moderation is about balance, and it is, I think, included in the list in order to balance out some of the more polarizing of the virtues.

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