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Posts Tagged ‘gatekeeper’

This World is not Conclusion.
A Sequel stands beyond –
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
It beckons, and it baffles –
Philosophy, don’t know –
And through a Riddle, at the last –
Sagacity, must go –
To guess it, puzzles scholars –
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown –
Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies –
Blushes, if any see –
Plucks at a twig of Evidence –
And asks a Vane, the way –
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit –
Strong Hallelujahs roll –
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul –

Emily Dickinson, LXXXIII

To call this final, capstone essay “Discipline” is oddly suited to the journey I have been on since beginning the clergy student discipline. In fact, over the course of this work, I have changed nearly every facet of my mundane life, including completely reinventing my personal practice, and yet still maintained the disciplines set before me – to pray, to take retreat time. Even in the fallow times, I knew that this practice would sustain me. It sustained me through a new job in a new field, moving, numerous mental health challenges, the death of my 10 year marriage and subsequent divorce, and the reinventing of myself that is ongoing as I step forward into the world unfettered by my previous expectations of myself.

This is not to say I never faltered – in the darkest days of my divorce, there was certainly not a lot of incentive to pray beyond knowing that I needed to pray. But I did it anyway, and coming out the other side of it I find myself having grown and changed in ways that seem both miniscule and radical at the same time.

So what have I done, or come to do over the course of my time as a clergy student?

I have a daily practice – one that has now expanded to include the practice of a daily office. My decision to pray every day, three times a day, has been hugely rewarding to my devotional practices and to my closeness to my gods and spirits. I have a (mostly) weekly practice, where I do a larger ritual that encompasses divination, usually a full core order, though usually improvised. I maintain a once-monthly retreat day, finding solace in my practices according to the clergy student discipline. I keep the high days, often with multiple rituals, both private and with my grove.

I also lead weekly study sessions on various topics, provide care and advice and spiritual counseling to my grove, and provide divination and mentorship to my grove and to a small cadre of new pagans online from all around the world. I’ve given presentations at festivals, written articles for Oak Leaves and for publication in other online spaces, and generally turned from a solitary, sheltered pagan into a public face in my community and online.

In short, I have started “priesting” – to coin the present participle of the noun.

I find it fitting that the rune that has followed me throughout my time as a clergy student is Gyfu – the gift, the rune of hospitality and reciprocity. Through it I have continued to find my space in the community, online, and with the spirits – through the giving and receiving of gifts. I have given good gifts, such as are within my power, and I have received blessings abundantly in return.

My relationship with the Earth Mother and the Gatekeeper has grown as well. They are part of my daily devotions, each receiving a prayer every morning, as well as at my monthly longer rituals.

As an Anglo-Saxon druid, I have an easy connection to the Earth Mother, as we know the Anglo-Saxons revered her. I simply call her Eorþan Modor, which just means Mother Earth. She is the ground on which I walk, and I honor her both in the green spaces around my apartment and in the garden that I grow on my small balcony. I find there is nothing so fitting as growing some of my own food and herbs, that I can enjoy – and then give back as offerings themselves. But she is also a challenging goddess to serve. I see in her remnants of Nerthus, from whom she descends, veiled and mysterious, a peacekeeper, but also demanding of sacrifice. I say to her “may I learn the meaning of true grace through your guidance,” but she is enigmatic at times. Other times she is simply the fertile ground of agriculture, which is so prevalent only half an hour’s drive from where I live.

Finding my gatekeeper was more challenging. There is always Woden to ask for the task, but he remains distant from me. Hama – the cognate to the Norse Heimdall – is another easy deity to ask, but though I work with him closely as the patron of Nine Waves, he never felt right in my personal rituals. I went so far as to ask Modgud – the giantess who guards the gates of Hel – but she was completely unresponsive. So I started looking for unconventional gatekeepers, and realized that the essence of a gatekeeper is their liminality – their ability to exist both in one world and the next, to traverse the worlds and cross the boundaries. So I reached out to Eostre – the Anglo-Saxon goddess who is honored in the early spring, usually celebrated by modern pagans at the Equinox. Her name is cognate with many other goddesses – Ostara, Eos, Aurora, Usas, and the Proto-Indo European *Hausos – in meaning East, and in being associated with the dawn. Her reaction to being asked to walk with me through the gates can only be described as joyful, and so with her help, I speak into the worlds. She is the Guardian of the Gates of Dawn, the radiant maiden of the East, who dances upon the boundary between night and day.

My personal devotional practice is, as began in my Dedicant work, dominated by my relationship with Ing Frea (Freyr/Ingui/Yngvi). As much as this path has been one of becoming a public priest, it has also included the trials and tribulations of becoming his devotional priest as well. I do not know yet what that will entail fully, but I trust in him and his guidance and advice. He is the sacrifice and sacrificer, death and rebirth, the golden god of the grain, the harvest lord, providence and the sacrificial king. In him, my practice is rooted deeply. (Though strangely, his rune almost never shows up in my readings, and when it does, it often indicates harvests rather than Himself.)

Journaling has never been a strong suit of mine, and my omen records are extremely intermittent, unfortunately, due to having lost some of my documentation when my apartment was struck by lightning last May, which took out part of my hard drive – a lesson in backing up your documents to the cloud, certainly. I do know that my journals – most of which are published on my blog – have given me a chance to go deeper into this practice, to own it, and to come into my ownership of it.

This discipline has become a part of my practice of sovereignty, and through it I express myself in the world. I stand at the precipice, having finished the coursework, but not yet applied for ordination, and I find myself returning to the words of Emily Dickinson – this has been a great adventure, one that has been hard, at times exhausting, but always rewarding. It is with much anticipation that I step forward into the sequel, and get to see what lies beyond.

VSLM

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1.   Describe the generation of the cosmos, and what is done in ADF ritual to ensure that the cosmos remains in order. (300 words min.)

ADF’s ritual structure is, at its heart, a re-creation of the cosmos. We first channel Fire and Water – the two primordial forces – and then we recreate the world itself, through the three hallows of Fire (which connects us to the upperworld), Well (which connects us to the lower world) and Tree (which exists in our world and yet stretches to contain all the worlds). By creating a sacred center via the powers of Fire and Water, we re-create the order that maintains the worlds themselves, and we perform the right actions – the rta – that uphold the cosmos itself (Dangler).

The cosmos was itself created by sacrifice, when the primordial being (frequently “Twin”) is killed or dismembered (frequently by “Man”) and its body is used to form the world. This is reflected in several hearth cultures, including the Vedic Perusha, the Norse Ymir, and the Roman twins Romulus and Remus (Thomas). This sacrifice of the primordial being is what brings about the cosmos itself.

In each Core Order ritual, each element of the cosmos is taken and put in its proper place. The ultimate order is maintained, as “ritual order takes the formless and gives it shape” (Serith). Like the Fire and Ice combining in Ginnungagap to make the Giant Ymir, from whom the very worlds are formed, our Rituals combine Fire and Water (which are themselves both ordered and chaotic, depending on the form they take) into the elements of order that represent the cosmos itself. “From a point where the ritual begins; through to the description of the cosmos; past the sacralization and population of that cosmos; and even in the blessings poured forth upon us by the Kindreds, we are engaging in an emulation of the rta and following the example given to us by the Kindreds” (Dangler).

We then take those elements and through them we pour our sacrifices – and sacrifices themselves are ordering, as they align our purposes with each other and with the Kindreds (Dangler). “The sacrificial order takes Chaos and forms it into a non-destructive but still vivifying flow”, a flow that we can use and channel into our world as something sanctified and sanctifying (Serith). In recreating the cosmos in each ritual, we reinforce the order, the right truth of the cosmos, and then in the return flow the cosmos pours back into us the power to transform ourselves and our world, to affect and remake us after the proper order of things.

As well as the general order of ritual itself, there is the cycle of rituals that we maintain that upholds the proper order of the cosmos. As Neopagan Druids we keep the Wheel of the Year, and in celebrating key events in the cycle of the year itself, we help progress those events and ensure that they continue in the right order. We, in a sense, become agents of the cosmic order ourselves, and ensure the persistence of the cosmos (Dangler).

2.   Describe the physical items that exemplify the sacred center in ADF ritual, and how each constituent part reflects the vision of an ordered cosmos. (300 words min.)

The sacred center in ADF ritual is most often represented by the Fire, the Well, and the Tree. Typically, in an ADF ritual, the fire is represented some type of actual fire (whether a bonfire or simply a candle, though electric fires can also be used), and the well is represented by water in some form (typically in a bowl or cauldron, though sometimes in a dug well or pit). Representations of the tree can vary from an actual tree, to cut branches, to symbolic trees carved out of other materials, to potted plants, to posts and world pillars. In all three cases, exceptions can be had, especially exceptions of necessity. A Druid in a dorm room, for example, might not be able to have anything more than some red and orange tissue paper to represent their fire, where a Druid practicing from deployment might have to do entirely without physical representations of the hallows, or with a simple set of hallows drawn on notebook paper.

These three hallows act as gates to the otherworlds, and articulate the power of the sacred center to reach into all the worlds.

  • “The Fire points upward, with its leaping tongues and rising smoke, toward the Heaven Realm” (Newburg). Fire transmits our sacrifices (which are cosmos affirming) into the upper worlds and makes them available to the spirits.
  • “The Well leads down toward the Underworld” (Newburg). The Well gives us a connection to the Ancestors, who lit fires and prayed before us, and from whom we learn about how to maintain the world order itself.
  • “The Tree, like Yggdrasil, connects all the worlds” (Newburg). The tree is an example of an axis mundi – the axis around which all the worlds turn, and the central feature of them all. The Tree is perhaps the most interconnected of the hallows, and represents the connections we have with the spirits, be they natural, divine, or ancestral.

The three elements of the sacred center are also interconnected, and their connections maintain elements of the sacred order. “The Tree (the axis mundi) is fed by water from the Well. The Tree drops fruit into the Well. Back and forth they exchange their gifts, and the Cosmos is maintained thereby” (Serith). The Tree (the axis mundi) extends into the heavens, where light nourishes it and blesses it with green leaves. In exchange, the tree carries upward the messages of the middle world, and the Cosmos is again maintained. Fire is said to be “connected intimately with the celestial waters, often said to be born from them” (Dangler). Each element of the sacred center feeds into the others, and together they form the hallows around which ADF performs its rituals. While each individually can represent elements of the cosmic order, together they present a full picture of the order of the cosmos – an order which is reciprocal, and balanced upon the giving and receiving of gifts.

(more…)

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