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Archive for the ‘Druid In This Place’ Category

I spoke this message to the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church this morning, as a guest speaker (though I am a sometimes congregant there as well). I hope you enjoy it – I didn’t speak this exactly as-is; I went off book about 3/4 of the way through, and it went very well. I hope I have more opportunities to give this kind of message – it’s not as common to give “sermons” in the pagan community!

I want to thank Rev. Beisner for inviting me here to speak with you today, and to thank all of you who are here to explore a bit with me about my experience in as an animist, pagan, polytheist, and druid.

I’ll admit to sitting for a long time, staring at an open document, as I thought about where to start – there’s so much that goes into my polytheist practice, I wasn’t sure how to crack it open in a valuable way to folks who might not have any experience with it as a living tradition. Eventually I settled on a bit of a challenging idea – that my polytheism provides me with the space to resist the toxic aspects of materialism that have come to define our western culture.

So let’s unpack that a bit –

First – polytheism is the religious regard for many real gods. I see the gods as real, distinct, individual beings who are worthy of our honor and respect, and with whom I can enter into relationships of reciprocal hospitality. This is a belief system that embraces plurality – truth has multiple sources, and no one god, one tradition, one system has a monopoly on truth. Polytheism is not a religion. There are many polytheist religions, and they have different thoughts about the gods and how best to relate to them. There are many ways to be a polytheist.

Reciprocal hospitality is the idea that there is such a thing as right relationship, and that it is our Job – with a capital j – as humans to maintain right relationship with each other, with the earth, and with the many gods and spirits with whom we share this existence. Our ancestors had a strong tradition of hospitality as the contract that should never be broken, and we strive to maintain that balance.

Materialism is the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. It takes science – itself a wonderful thing – and turns it from a good servant into a tyrannical master. Even among many monotheists, there’s a strong assumption that everything has a rational explanation that is grounded in science. If it can’t be measured and tested, if it isn’t falsifiable, then it can’t exist. When polytheists talk about their experiences of many gods, a materialist assumes they cannot be talking about encounters with actual spiritual beings.

Of course, that’s a challenging thing to say to a group of smart, educated people like yourselves – but I think it’s good to entertain challenging things now and again, so that we can step into each other’s shoes and begin to understand the many different ways that we relate to the astonishing world in which we live. As Aristotle is famous for saying, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

I came to polytheism through theology – perhaps an unusual path, but it’s served me well. I grew up in the mainstream, liberal Protestant churches, with a brief stint in Catholicism, and then an even briefer time where I tried on atheism as a worldview – but I found that I had too many very real experiences to truly find atheism a good fit, and about twelve or so years ago I started down the pagan path that would lead me to becoming a priest of the many gods.

Ultimately it was the problem of evil that cemented my understanding of the world as being inspirited, being full of beings with whom I can have relationships.

Now, I’m far from the first person raised in a monotheist culture to have struggled with the problem of evil. For those of you not familiar, the problem of evil is the struggle with how an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god could allow evil to exist in the world. Many writers in many traditions have written about this – such that there’s an entire set of religious studies (called theodicies) that address the issue. For me, though, none of them satisfied my deep misgivings about the world and the terrible things that had happened not only to me but also to other people I loved and trusted.

It was Rev. Ian Corrigan – an ADF priest and archdruid emeritus – who first sparked the inquiry I had into polytheist theology as something that I can and should be interested in, with a discussion of how nature provides us with a model through which we can understand the divine. He says, in his essay “Approaching Polytheist Theology”:

Skeptics sometimes say that if there was a God it would look the same to everyone. The problem with that, of course, that they are only disbelieving in a monotheistic God. If there were only one god, it might look the same to everyone, but since the Divine doesn’t look the same to everyone, it makes sense to assume that there is not just one god. That’s the first lesson I draw from Nature as model of the Divine. In nature there is no unique or single thing. Nowhere in nature is there a category of things of which there is only one. Snowflakes are individually unique, but there is never only one snowflake. Things have variations that make each thing individual, but each thing is always part of a category.

To expand that into the problem of evil, when the gods are no longer all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving – when they are what author Terry Pratchett would call “Small Gods” – the problem of evil simply goes away. Because evil simply exists in the world as a result of all of the various persons – human and non, animate and inanimate, divine and mundane – having competing priorities. Sometimes bad things just happen and it’s nobody’s “fault”. This discovery left me seriously pondering my spirituality (which was, at the time, fairly pantheist – which is to say that god is in everything).

I was, as it were, hooked. So I kept reading.

With no mythic image of a being that is either the ruler or the sum of the cosmos, polytheistic philosophy is free to pursue real diversity, real tolerance. We assert that the Cosmos is intrinsically multiple in expression, whether as chemicals or as the stuff of spirit. The best attempts to depict Cosmic Wholeness might be mandalas – patterns made up of the dance of an often vast number of distinct persons and things. No single symbol, or being, can express the totality of Cosmos.

When we take up polytheism, we are plainly rejecting the claims of some religions that their God is the creator, owner and operator of the Cosmos. But we are also granting that the worship of every Spirit is valid and honorable. We are saying that every people, and even every person, may have their special spirits, their private ways and worship, and find acceptance. We reject the notion of the ‘jealous God’. In polytheism all the god/desses worship one another, and their worshippers are seldom restricted to a single deity or form of worship. It is always proper to honor the gods of one’s neighbors, and to expect them to honor one’s own. We affirm that different life-ways, different paths, lead to different places. The Gods, the practices, even the morality of the farmer is distinct from that of the artisan, the merchant or the warrior. So we teach ourselves not to measure the world against our own standards, and to remember that there are many ways.

Our western culture wants to tell us that there is only one right answer, and that all other answers are wrong. It sets up fundamental duologies, the idea that if you’re not with me, you’re my enemy, that the world exists in black and white, and that for every question there is either a scientific answer or no answer at all.

My very first pagan teacher said to me one time, as we sat around her kitchen table, that whenever anyone presented an idea to me and told me to pick between two things, that I should always find a third answer, and if possible a fourth and fifth, in order to begin to train my mind to the idea that the world exists in a beautiful rainbow of colors, and that very few things are ever only this or that.

Our world is complex, and our experiences of the divine even more so. I’ve heard it said that as many as 30% of the population will have an otherwise-unexplainable religious experience sometime in their lives. That’s a staggering number, and speaks to the ubiquitous nature of religious experience around the world. Polytheism gives us the space to say your religious experiences can be as true for you as mine are to me. If your experience of the world is that it is devoid of spirit, then that is your experience of the world, and I’m not here to tell you otherwise. If your lived life says that there is a supreme creator of some kind, I have no mandate to tell you you’re wrong.

But as much as your beliefs should arise out of your experiences of the world, and I will not judge you for believing in many gods or none, I will judge your actions.

Polytheism is a set of religions that center right practice.

To use Greek, we are orthopraxic rather than having an orthodoxy – what you do is what matters, not what you believe about it. In every ADF ritual, we honor the earth mother. It doesn’t matter if you believe in the earth mother as a deity, as the planet itself, as some sort of Gaia hypothesis, as our local watershed, or something else entirely – if you are willing to touch the earth and honor it (however that looks for you) then we are all on the same page enough to join together in practice.

What does that say to us about the culture in which we live?

It says that polytheism provides a structure for us to resist the ways in which our American mindset does not leave room for the world to be enchanted, for us to experience the divine and the natural in an expanded and pluralistic way. My polytheist practice informs my commitment to justice, to right action, to living in right relationship with the gods, with the folk in my community and around the world, and with the land.

After all – that is the oath I made at my ordination:

I pledge to love the land, to serve the folk, and to honor the gods. To this do I dedicate my hands, my heart, and my head.

My service as a priest of the many gods includes justice, it includes environmentalism. It says that the world is full of spirits, human and non-human, animal and plant, animate and inanimate, and that I can and should live in right-relationship to those spirits. That I can be hospitable to my community, that I can serve the gods by caring for my landbase and by doing the work of social justice in my city and country.

It is the religious regard for many real gods – but it is so much more. Walking this path has reframed my entire experience of the world and my engagement with it.

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As a note – this post is pretty personal. It is 100% my personal opinions and experiences, and does not represent anyone other than me and where I am right now. Please take it for what it is, and know that I am sharing out of a desire to help myself process what I’ve been through. 

I’ve been an ADF priest for just over a year now. In that time, I’ve also become first a Dedicant and then an Initiate in another tradition (that is currently closed, so beyond calling it a polytheist religious order, I can’t say much about that other than that it was an intense experience and extremely powerful).

Also in that time, my grove has lost all of its founding members, and most of its regular members as well. At the time of my ordination, we pulled together a ritual team of almost 15 people to perform the ordination/May Day rite. This May Day we have – on a good week – 7 people. Our ritual attendance is down from 30+ to 10+. I have lost friends, deep heart-friends who I thought I could not run a grove without, and here I am… without them. I am burned out on service, and the grove is taking the whole month of May off to regroup, that I might come back ready to be their priest fully and with my whole heart.

ADF is a hard place to be right now, especially as a Mother Grove member – we had a hotly contested election where the people who I believe were looking to bring ADF forward into a more modern and streamlined version of a religious nonprofit (and who were eminently qualified to do so) lost their elections. I don’t think the people who won are terrible, and many of them are my friends, but I worry for the future of the organization that I’ve spent the last seven years devoted to, and through which I have my priestly credentials. I will continue to serve, because that is what I was elected to do, but deep worries niggle at my heart.

I’m going to quote Elie Wiesel here, because it says what I think I feel about all of this:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

And in the midst of all that, my Gods have gone quiet. I was warned that Herself would do so after my Initiation – that she wanted me to make my oaths and then she’d be off until She needed me. But Himself usually has lots on his plate during this growing time of year, and I’ve felt so distant from it.

I’ve also felt distance from the Clergy Order work – I’ve missed our mutual trance journeys multiple times, nobody is really talking. I have supportive friends, but it seems like we’re all struggling right now.

In many ways I feel like I need to go seeking again – I’ve had these huge goals set before me, and step-by-step I’ve achieved them, despite sometimes insurmountable odds (bipolar disorder, getting divorced, massive life upheaval). And now that I am without a goal, without something I’m working towards, I find myself looking for the next thing as though what I am is somehow not enough.

But I am a Priest – I am a Priest of a deity who called me seven years ago and who showed up in my living room in 2017 and said “why aren’t you my priest yet” and then took from me the oaths He wanted. I am a sworn druid, witch, and client queen to a goddess I never saw myself working with, and who made no bones about exactly who and what She wanted my life to look like (which is not being Her priest, but is certainly a pile of responsibility). I carry the sickle and the black-handled dagger, both as weapons and as art upon my body – I made oaths, and I will keep them.

I am a Priest of ADF – oathed to serve the Gods, the Folk, and the Land – an oath I repeat to myself frequently, as it defines the core of my spiritual practice. I serve a Grove – even if that Grove looks nothing like the Grove that my heart-siblings and I set out to build when we started it. I serve a community, on interfaith councils and through open ritual. My work is grounded in being a priest of the Many Gods, in serving the Folk, in honoring the Land. I wear and honor the stola of a priest, and have the sigils of the cosmos permanently inked upon my arms that I may be always the sacred center itself.

I am an Initiate of the Henge of the Cobbled Path, with more work and one more step ahead of me on that path. Work that is deep and old and new and strange and strong. Work that sets a part of my life aside as “other” and sacred, and yet is 100% a part of everything else that I do. I am a standing stone, one of many who together make a place of great devotion and magic.

I am the Druid of the Swamp, a Druid of the Bayous, a devotee of the Bayou Woman and the deep sovereignty that flows in her waters. I have always talked about being the Druid of This Place, and since I moved into this apartment I don’t have land, and so I’ve set about becoming the druid of my local waterways – and that means the bayous that surround me, the salt marsh, the brackish waters and the liminal waterbirds. I slip between the worlds, the cormorant who slips into the water in search of her prey, who nests in the trees around the bayous.

And that should be enough.

I need to go deeper into the things that I already am – I have so much growth to do. So much that I need to learn, and practice, and do. I am no mystic, and yet I have one foot in that world, and I will do my best to serve where I am called.

So tonight, I will go to the otherworld, and I will find the fires and tend them. I will do the work that is called of me. And I will try to understand that I am enough – and if I am not enough, then that work will be set before me. I have been told to rest, that I am not needed yet, that I have the work of a devotee to do, and no more for now. That is and must be enough for me right now. And when They come calling, I will – hopefully – be able to answer fully with all of the things that I have become and learned and integrated into my being.

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Three Cranes Grove is hosting an Earth-Along to honor Earth Day this year. It’s three days of individual practice that we all do “together” (in our separate ways) to honor the Earth Mother.

Earth Along - Day 1

You can find a full liturgy of offering to the Earth Mother at the Three Cranes Blog today as well.

I was planning on doing some garden work, and some meditation with my plants, as I tend my bit of earth and remember that I am the Druid of this Place… except that it just started pouring, and I am absolutely slammed at work. Perhaps tonight’s walk can be specifically dedicated to the Earth Mother (assuming it is not still pouring rain), and I’ll say hello to the trees I’ve planted in our neighborhood over the last few years. (My neighborhood does a tree planting day in February every year, to replace trees in the common area who have died or been damaged.)

I encourage you to find your feet on the Earth sometime today if you can do nothing else.

Hail to you, Hertha, Mother Earth
We ask that you support and surround us
For this rite, as you do for all rites,
For this day, as you do for all days.

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The 2015 Spring Garden was almost a complete failure – the only thing that did well were the beans. So I’m back (from outerspace) with a new plan, some more mulch, a trash can full of compost, and plans to really *magic it up* this year. I am not content to just put the garden in the ground. This garden needs magic, or I fear it will go the way of last year’s garden, and I will get no tomatoes and be sad.

The container garden contains only herbs and one yellow squash plant that I’m attempting to make work. We’ll see:

  • cilantro
  • Italian oregano
  • straight neck yellow squash
  • scallions (green onions)

The actual garden bed contains:

  • Tomatoes (Arkansas Traveler, Globe, Sweet 100, Sweet Million, Yellow Pear, and Juliet) – almost all cherry tomatoes this year
  • TAM Jalapeno (3)
  • Sweet Banana Pepper (3)
  • Clemson Spineless Okra (4 hills of 2 plants)
  • Bush Blue Lake Beans (3 full rows)
  • Eggplant (Japanese Long)
  • Genovese Basil

The whole thing (except the bean rows, which haven’t sprouted yet) is mulched thickly with cedar shavings, which will hopefully help with weeds.

I’ve also got an order in for some “seed bombs” (mammoth dill, italian parsley, genovese basil, and mixed romaine) to toss in my garden bed with the aloe and the lime tree, to try to make something out of an otherwise useless little corner of garden. If it doesn’t work, I’m not super sad, but the seed balls look easy to use and sprout, and the bed gets lots of sun. That bed currently only contains the out of control aloe plants and Frank. Frank is my 15 year old oregano plant. He’s very hardy. At his largest, he was the size of a coffee table, but he’s much smaller than that now.

In the past, my most successful garden came after I blessed it with a drink that came out of a very powerful ritual. Next week is our Spring Equinox ritual, and so I think I will make extra of our sacred drink (remind me to post on that sometime) and use it to bless the garden. It’ll have strong blessings in it, and I can do a ritual myself to bless the ground. I’ve made a small earth mother talisman for our Druid Mooncast workings, so perhaps she will come and participate as well.

I really *really* don’t want another failed garden. It was so hard last year to look out and see it overtaken with weeds, not producing any fruit at all. I know I went and got a new job and spent the month of May living somewhere else, which didn’t help, but it still feels personal. So this year, I’m doing my best to ensure success.

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Last year I didn’t get a garden in – the first year since we’ve lived in our house that I waited too long and missed the planting window.

This year I was determined to not let that happen again, and so this past weekend, in celebration of the coming spring (and of my birthday, which was on the 2nd) ((and of the last freeze date, which is March 1 here)) we put in the garden.

My main garden bed is 10×12, so I’m limited to that plus what I can grow in containers. This year the in-ground bed contains:

  • Tomatoes (6) (Celebrity hybrid, my best producer in years past)
  • Eggplant (2) (White Beauty hybrid)
  • Okra (6 hills) (Clemson Spineless)
  • Beans (3 rows) (Bush Blue Lake)
  • Dill (Fernleaf)
  • Parsley (Flat leaf)
  • Cilantro
  • Basil (Genovese)

I also totally re-did my container garden, with a heavy weight toward hot and sweet peppers, which do very well here in pots (they don’t like as much water as tomatoes and eggplant and beans, so if I plant them in the main bed, they tend to not produce much). In containers I have:

  • Rosemary
  • Peppermint
  • Sweet Yellow Banana Peppers (6)
  • Jalapenos (6)
  • Sugar snap peas (with a trellis)
  • Picklebush cucumbers (with a trellis)
  • Zucchini (compact variety, hoping that works in a pot)

I can’t plant curcurbits in the ground because of downy and powdery mildew here, so I am trying them in pots. If it works, hooray, and if not, I’m only out the cost of the seed packets and a big tomato cage.

It was a perfect weekend for planting. 55 degrees and cloudy, with a light breeze – cool enough to need a light jacket, but hopefully also to help keep tiny seedlings from getting too stressed. My parents were in town to help with the garden, so it was a community effort, and quite fun. I got dirt under my fingernails and in my hair, and it was glorious.

At the end of the day, we grilled our dinner, and I made a burned offering of various herbs and resins to the fire, as a blessing for my newly replanted garden. I always try to make offerings to the fire when I can, and I’m planning a formal ritual for the gardens where I will take the blessings in return for the offerings I make, and pour them out over the plants (probably in the form of a watering can 🙂 ). The spirits of my garden tend to respond very well to poured offerings of various kinds as well (they’ve received everything from wine to cider to goats milk mixed with kahlua).

If all of this does well, I will be drowning in produce come May, which is exactly how I want it to be. I’ll make salsa and pickles and eat fresh warm tomatoes with fresh basil and olive oil and salt.

 

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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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I learned this charm from a former teacher. I’m not finding a source via a quick google search, though there are a few different versions floating around. This is the one I learned:

Look to the moon when she is round
Luck with you will then abound
All you seek for shall be found
In sea, or sky, or solid ground

I was taught to say the charm while turning a piece of silver in my palm and “charging” it in the moonlight; usually I use one of my silver rings for this!

Blessings of the full moon to you!

I got to see the full moon this morning on my drive to work (the full moon is surprisingly quite high in the sky at 5:45am), as well as getting to see the local bat colony in action around my neighborhood. My commute time doesn’t change, but the sun is changing in the sky, and it’s just the right twilight time now when I’m driving to be out when the bats are having their dinner.

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