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Posts Tagged ‘neopaganism’

A year ago I applied for and was accepted into the Initiate’s Program as my next step upon finishing the DP. I set out to do the IP work as a placeholder and a way to continue my studies and start to suss out whether I really did have a vocation to doing the Clergy Training Program. (I have questioned whether I have a vocation to clergy in every religion I’ve been part of, from mainstream Protestantism, to questioning if I would have a Catholic vocation, to seeking initiation in a Wiccan tradition.) I was solitary when I finished my DP, and initiation seemed the most logical step. To those ends, I completed (or partially completed) a portion of the study work in that time (Namely Divination I (posted here), Liturgy I (partially posted here) and Liturgy Practicum 1 (partially posted here)).

Over the last year, however, a lot has changed. I took up leadership of a study group, mentoring DP students and acting as a spiritual leader – writing rituals, providing divination and basic spiritual guidance, and acting as a guide and mentor. I also began participating with the local protogrove when I can (my job makes rituals on work nights nearly impossible in a city as large as Houston). They’ve been supportive of our study group, and it’s been an interesting experience to see how a more Neopagan protogrove operates (versus our more devotional polytheist leaning study group).

As well, I’ve struck up a friendship with Rev. William Ashton, who has been mentoring me in my steps toward leadership. This leadership, as well as the work with the local protogrove and my conversations with Rev. William, has dramatically reduced my fears over being a public pagan face in my area, and the spiritual leadership has done nothing but cement that I have a vocation to service on a clergy level.

In short, I am not sure the Initiate’s Path is where I need to be anymore – I think I need to be working towards becoming a part of ADF’s clergy.

As such, I have enrolled in the CTP-Preliminary coursework (6 courses, followed by an intention letter). I expect it will take me about 6 months to complete this work – or at least, that’s my goal. My Liturgy 1 work already counts toward the completion of CTP-Prelim, though it is being re-reviewed currently, since Clergy students have different expectations than Initiate students, and must be reviewed by a Clergy reviewer.

As such, I won’t be posting any more of my Liturgy 1 work until I have received word that it is up to snuff. My Divination I course will need to be re-reviewed as well, if I am accepted into the first circle of clergy training (henceforth CTP1). I was counseled to finish working on Liturgy Practicum 1 for now, simply so that it wasn’t a waste of 3 months of journaling, but to revisit the journal after I’ve finished the preliminary coursework for clergy training and decide (possibly with the help of my reviewer) if I need to re-do things.

Fortunately I do not have to abandon the Initiate’s Path – the courses that cross over will still cross over, and if I should seek initiation in the future, that path is still open to me.

I won’t lie and say that making this decision was easy. Well, that’s not exactly true – it was easy enough to sign up in the study program tracker, and easy enough to talk to the Preceptor about transferring my work over. But I’m more than a little intimidated by this step, both for the amount of work involved and the amount of scrutiny that I will be subjected to. Still, I’m fairly certain this is what I need to be doing, and the path I need to walk.

I’m going to leave this post tagged with both the Initiate’s Path and the Clergy Training Program. I’m leaving my coursework tagged on the page at the top of the site, and will be starting a second page for my CTP work. At this time I’ve completed Cosmology 1 as my next course to submit, and I’m working on IE Studies. (IE Myth is the course that intimidates me the most right now.)

I’ll continue to post my progress here though, as well as things I’m learning and struggling with. After all, journaling is a big part of this program, and while I can’t share everything publicly, I’ve come to appreciate comments and links that I get through this blog.

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Grove is the (slightly cliché, I’ll admit) term for a group of druids. It’s the standard operating system for ADF, and the point toward which the majority of ADF ritual is designed. Groves are groups of ADF members who meet regularly and celebrate rituals together at least for the 8 major high days of the wheel of the year.

The heart of ADF, groves provide places of community, worship, and learning. There are currently 75 groves in ADF, spread around the world (though most are in the United States). Unfortunately, while that seems like a pretty big number, and it is constantly growing, there are still big gaps between groves in a lot of the US (and even more so worldwide), so a lot of druids end up as solitaries (and some may even choose to remain solitary even in a place with access to a grove or protogrove).

My local group is a Protogrove – the step before becoming a full grove. It requires fewer people, but the ultimate goal is to work towards full grove status. Groves perform regular community service and provide a space for public ritual and community, fulfilling the vision of ADF to become a public Neopagan church.

Grove-centered spirituality is a different beast for me, since I am so strongly tied to my solitary practice. I’ve enjoyed working in the small group that is my study group, but I still do solitary rituals for high days. My local protogrove is also strongly Irish/Welsh focused, and while I don’t mind doing rituals in whatever hearth culture the group prefers, I still like to have my Anglo-Saxon/Germanic rituals when possible.

Still, plugging into a local Neopagan community, however small they may be, has been useful for me, at least in terms of inspiring me to stick with the practices that I know are important to my work, and in giving me something to help keep me accountable (the study group is really good for that).

I am hoping that our work as a study group will help further the local protogrove and vice versa, and I really do think that the two will work well together, blending their ritual practice with the more academic side of Druidry. And hey, maybe we’ll rub off on each other a bit in the meantime, and start to see more crossover between the groups. From what I have seen of the two groups, they can bring us some of the joy and levity that is so important in a good working religion, and we can provide the reverence and study that form the other half of ADF’s work. I think it will be a good partnership.

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I’ve mentioned before that I have some mental health issues. This occasionally intersects with my paganism, but not usually in ways that anyone would notice who didn’t already know I have these issues.

My official diagnosis is GAD, PTSD, and rapid-cycling Bipolar II. Before you decide what that means, let me explain what it means in my case. I suffer from frequent anxiety that is not directed at a source – this can be social, environmental, or just there because it feels like being there. I am fairly easily overwhelmed. I survived several traumatic events and have anxiety and depression related to those events, or things that remind me of those events, and of the three diagnoses a flare up of this is by far the most disruptive. And I have periods of hypomania that last 2-5 days (essentially “high energy” – I’m not delusional, psychotic, or out of touch with reality, but I don’t sleep much, and I might reorganize the filing cabinet 3 times in 3 days, or go on a cleaning binge, or do a ton of writing), followed by 3-4 weeks of moderate to severe depression. Because I have more than three episodes like this a year (in 2013 I had 5), I am classified as “rapid cycling”, and because I don’t have true mania, but experience hypomania, I am dealing with some type of Bipolar II. (Read the Wikipedia links for more info.)

I am under the care of two competent medical professionals to deal with this (just as I am under the care of a competent medical professional to manage my EDS). I take medicine to help regulate my neurochemicals, and I do behavioral and situational management to minimize the likelihood of triggering an episode of any of these. It took awhile to straighten out exactly what was going on (I was in a prolonged state of severe depression when I started this journey), but we’re on the right track now, and just tweaking as we go – for the most part, both I and my doctors are happy with my mental state right now.

Unfortunately, my diagnosis did not make me any friends in my previous attempt at paganism. My former HPS has written that people with bipolar should probably not be witches, because they have enough trouble differentiating reality. Personally, I think that’s more than a little unfair, given that there’s an entire bipolar diagnosis that doesn’t include true mania or psychosis, but she’s allowed to run her coven however she would like, and I understand that there can be a lot of fear and stigma about mental health in communities that practice alternative spirituality, trance, and energy work. (Also particularly in the BTW community, where a bipolar person caused a lot of harm several years ago, so they are understandably wary of anyone wearing that label.) That said, I think I have the capacity to be a pretty good witch when I put my mind to it – something I have been doing more often on my own of late.

One thing that was troubling for awhile was dealing with what seemed to be energy feedback/rebounds after doing ritual though. It worried me because I really LIKE doing group rituals, and didn’t want my brain to get in the way of that.

However, I have figured out where my energy work was causing problems, over the last year or so, and have fortunately been able to entirely resolve it – I don’t have any energy issues with group ritual anymore. Basically, I was dealing with high social anxiety and large amounts of highly concentrated energy without the self-care to know I needed more time than most to ‘come down’ off the spiritual high, or risk kicking myself into depression for a week or two. Now that I’ve figured out what I need to do – manage my anxiety through various behavioral practices, give myself a few minutes alone after a ritual to make sure I ground REALLY well (which I can struggle to do in social situations), and make sure I have some down time before putting myself in another stressful situation – I’ve stopped having mental rebound issues after rituals. I realized this was probably mental health related when I was having trouble in group ritual, but not in ritual by myself. Also, since figuring this out, I have not only participated in, but led several group rituals that had high energy components without issue.

ADF thankfully has no issue with mental illness, but occasionally I struggle with common things asked of members of ADF – especially trance states. I am not the only person to struggle with this, though, and I know I can learn to do it, given time and practice. I have gotten much better at meditation since working with ADF, so I know it’s possible (even on medications!) and even likely that I will be successful at working in trance states. I’ve learned so far that having some kind of audio – drumming or “white noise” – dramatically helps with my ability to focus and zone out enough to approach a trance journey. Also that laying flat on my back is more useful than sitting cross legged or in a chair. It’s just a matter of figuring out and training my particular brain – chemicals and all.

All that said, I am not defined by the classifications in my doctor’s chart, or by the medications I take. I am still a highly functional person with a lot of motivation, a good job, a supportive family, a stable relationship, and generally a stable life and lifestyle. I occasionally bite off more than I can chew, but I manage that like anyone else would. When I go through periods of depression, I hunker down, turn up the self-care, and deal with it until it goes away. (Therapy is helpful for this.) It doesn’t define my life, it’s merely one aspect of who I am as a person – and thus is something that will always be part of my Paganism. For the most part, I am as normal a Pagan as any of us are.

I’m sharing this largely as a statement to say that mental illness and mystical experiences are not mutually exclusive. Yes, it’s hard in the midst of a depressive episode to feel really connected to your Gods, but it is possible, and often helpful, to maintain a devotional practice even through those depressions. I use the meditation techniques I’ve learned both as spiritual exercises and as ways of managing anxiety. I rely on routines to help me get through tough times, and those routines often have a spiritual component to them.

It’s all interconnected, and it can all work.

Stigma against mental illness is a very real thing, even in the Pagan community. I’ve debated about posting about this for awhile, because I don’t want it to blow back on me later. But I think it’s important for people with mental illness who can afford to be open about it to do so where they feel safe. (I don’t share this at work, for example, because I don’t want to risk the repercussions of it.) We are members of your community – huge numbers of people suffer from depression and anxiety – and I’d venture to guess we’re a larger part of the Pagan community than most people guess. (Often people with mental illnesses leave mainstream social and religious groups because they don’t get the care and support they need.)

ADF does a good job of being open to people with mental illnesses, as much as a small religious organization can. I imagine there is a lot more support in areas where there are active groves. So far it hasn’t hindered me in my studies there (or even come up, except when I have mentioned it as something that is affecting my work). I hope I can continue in that trend as I lead my study group and work towards the Initiate’s Path.

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It’s an expression I don’t really like, as it’s a bit twee for my tastes, and I don’t want to co-opt the QUILTBAG community’s term for living in secret (because I think that’s kind of shitty).

But it’s also the best term I have for the life I’m living as a Druid and a Neopagan, and there are definitely some similarities (in some places in the US) to being openly Neopagan, especially if you work with children.

My family is extremely Christian. My inlaws are extremely Christian. My mother-in-law is on record as saying that not being Christian is valid grounds for divorce, and though I have repeatedly explained that I can not and will not return to church, every time they visit, they go church shopping for us, and invite us to go. (I decline, but my husband usually goes).

My workplace, while fairly openminded and diverse, is probably not ready to have a Neopagan Druid in their midst (even if there are Hindu and Muslim people in the office in large numbers). I’d like to think I could explain it well enough now that I could have an intelligent discussion or three with various people, but I know my extremely Catholic coworker would be weirded out, and that I’d be a topic of inter-office gossip, at least among the other people in my position.

I live in Texas. I went to a Southern Baptist university, and have spent the majority of my life bouncing between dominations – from American Baptist to United Methodist to “converting” to Catholicism in college. I never settled in anywhere, and my break with the Catholic church was ugly, to state things mildly. I can talk the talk though – I’ve taken theology and Christian history classes, attended chapel my whole university career, and seriously studied the Bible for years.

I use that knowledge to “pass” as vaguely Christian, or at least “historically” Christian. I send out Christmas cards (that never actually say Christmas on them, and that are always nature related, and where I never mention Jesus). I go to church with my family on Easter when I can’t get out of it, because I can grit my teeth for an hour to make my mother happy.

I’m fairly conflicted about it, really. I don’t like lying, and my spirituality is becoming a bigger and bigger force in my life. It’s fairly easy to hide in a bedroom for now, but the book collection from ADF studies is growing steadily. I’m leading a study group where I’ll be meeting other Pagans, and taking on that responsibility inevitably means meeting other people. I don’t have a pagan name, which is typical for ADF, but sometimes I wish I used one for things like this. (Also, someone else outed me on the blog with my real name in the comments, which I was trying to avoid. Apparently not everyone gives two shits about people’s privacy online.)

So my general way of answering questions is to deflect. If you ask me straight up “Are you a Christian”, I will say no. But most other questions can be deflected. I can talk about ethics and values, can talk about Christian theology and history, I can talk about world religions and meditation and general spirituality. As a theist (although a polytheist), I can talk about the nature of Gods and the like. I have a World Tree and a Globe on my desk at work, and a calendar of nature and meditative sayings, plus an Old Farmer’s Almanac daily calendar. I surround myself with clues that someone who knows what to look for will see, but I don’t choose to actually talk about what any of it means.

Eventually, this will be problematic. If my husband and I have children, I suspect I will approach going to the Unitarian Universalist church for that, since it makes a lot of sense for children in my area to have a church they go to. But my family will want to know if I’m raising them Christian (or more specifically, from my inlaws, why I’m not raising them United Methodist), and will want to teach them all about Jesus. My grandfather will want to dedicate the child to Christ. My husband is fairly agnostic, but I don’t know if he would be okay with me raising Neopagan children.

Also, the farther I go in ADF, the more likely it is that my real name will become associated with the organization, either through publication or through working towards clergy certification. ADF is very clear that they are looking to create a *public* tradition of Neopagan Druidry, and a lot of members don’t have a lot of patience (or thought) for people trying to remain under the radar.

In short, this is a subject that fills me with a lot of mental indecision. There are benefits to just being open about things (though there are a lot of places where it’s none of anyone’s business, like work), but I face the possibility of real rejection from my family over it. As the oldest child, I’m expected to lead by example (something I’ve not done very well on this front, as my little brother and his wife are 3x a week churchgoers and host Bible study and Life Group at their house). I don’t face rejection well, and I still struggle a lot with “disappointing” my family. I’ve dropped hints on things like facebook that I no longer buy into a mainstream monotheist mindset, and gotten a lot of “oh well Jesus is okay with that” responses, because they’re not willing to see the change.

So for now, I stay in the “Broom Closet” (If you’re a Druid, is it a “Tree closet”?). I’ll cross those other bridges when I come to them.

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A Druid Fellowship (ADF) is an international fellowship devoted to creating a public tradition of Neopagan Druidry. It’s the foundational tradition from which I work, and the general guide for my rituals and devotional practice.

Fundamentally, ADF takes its cues from the ancient Indo-European cultures – the Celts, Norse, Greek, Baltic, Roman, Indo-Iranian, and Vedic cultures (among others) that make up the Indo-European language group. There are similarities across all of these ancient religions, and ADF has taken those similarities, combined them with modern Neopaganism, and created what we call Our Druidry.

It is neither a wholly modern nor a wholly ancient practice – it combines elements of both. Most ADF Druids work within a “hearth culture” – one of the ancient Indo-European cultures that lends flavor to their practice. We work with the pantheons and cultural practices of our hearth culture, but also celebrate the 8 Neopagan high days of the year (Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Eostara, Beltaine, Litha/Summer Solstice, Lammas, Mabon/Autumn Equinox). ADF divides its cosmos into threes (most often), where the spirits we worship are divided into Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits, and the center of our cosmos is the Sacred Fire, Sacred Well, and World Tree (or some variation therein – some cultures have a mountain instead of a tree, for example). We do not, in public ritual, cast circles or call elemental quarters, and we are (generally) hard polytheists, believing that the gods are individual beings with likes and dislikes.

In general, ADF is orthopraxic – which is to say, what you DO is more important than what you BELIEVE. Whether you believe the Earth Mother to be a named Goddess, a primal force, the earth itself, a greater bio-organism (like the Gaia hypothesis) or none of the above, if you are honoring the Earth Mother, you are performing a step in the ADF order of ritual.

Also, ADF generally is unconcerned with its members private practice. Druidic ritual, as defined by ADF, is primarily a way of gathering the public. The Core Order of Ritual is required for any ADF public ritual – but not even remotely required for all the private, home hearth rituals that happen all the time in ADF. My private practice is Core Order flavored, and I try to do Core Order rituals for the High Days, but if I don’t get all the steps in, that’s okay. ADF strongly encourages its members to have both a group and a private practice if possible.

I work with the Anglo-Saxon and Norse hearths within ADF (with occasional forays into Gaulish/Continental Celtic myth). I do not consider myself a reconstructionist, though I have reconstructionist tendencies – I like reading source documents and myths, and using those to base my practice, but I am also a modern Druid, with practices that would seem foreign to my A-S and Norse ancestors (like environmentalism). I try to allow my practice to be guided by the ancient cultures, but if something isn’t working, I am not afraid to branch out and try something new as well.

You can learn more about ADF on their website – http://www.adf.org

I really like this article about the Nine Central Tenets of Druidic Ritual to give you an idea of what things we find important as practitioners of Modern Druidry.

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This year, in addition to the Yule ritual we’ll be doing tomorrow night with our little study group, I’m planning to loosely follow along with Three Cranes Grove for their “Yule Along”. It’s a set of 12 “feasts” between the solstice and the new year, intended to bring reflection and celebration of the season. I like the idea a lot, and though I’ll be traveling for part of it, I definitely want to do some of these activities.

This is what they have suggested, as well as my plans for each day:

  • 12/19 Greeting the winter wanderer (Woden) – I’ll do an offering to the Wild Hunt (mostly propitiatory – while I honor the Hunt, I don’t want them hanging around my house!)
  • 12/20 Mother’s night/Idesa/Solstice vigil (to be posted that day) – Yule Ritual to the Idesa and Frige, with bonus Solstice Vigil Candles lit from the setting sun, to be burned throughout Yule. Opportunity for oathmaking here; I am considering an oath towards this new study group, to solidify my commitment to them.
  • 12/21 Solstice Day – Baking! Lighting candles! Hooray for the Sun!
  • 12/22 Nature Spirits – Offerings to the nature spirits
  • 12/23 Feast of Fools – Not sure yet what to do here. This is typically about role reversal, but I may just do something silly with my husband/friends.
  • 12/24 Alfar and housewights – housecleaning and offerings to the spirits of my home
  • 12/25 Spirit of hospitality and gifting – Presents! Hooray!
  • 12/26 Celebrations of winter/snow – Celebrating being warm with my family.
  • 12/27 Celebration of the evergreen – More presents, this time with extended family. I need to figure out how to work evergreens into this.
  • 12/28 God/desses of the household (Frige) – Knitting! Lots of knitting, as I’m working on two big projects right now.
  • 12/29 Shining ones – Offerings to Thunor, Frige, and Ing Frea
  • 12/30 Bringing in the boar (Ing Frea, deities/spirits concerning oaths) – Roast beast! (Roast beast is a feast I don’t mind in the least!) I’ll make pot roast and consider my new year’s resolutions and any oaths I am considering making.
  • 12/31 Twelfth Night — Resolutions, divination, remembrances, gratitudes – Party! Big party at my house, with friends and games and fun and champagne. I’ll initiate a conversation about resolutions, and maybe do some divination regarding the new year.
  • 1/1 New Year’s Day — Returning the home to regular time – Clean up, take down, and put away all the holiday stuffs. Get ready to go back to work, cook lunches, and make some pre-prepared meals. Basically return to the normal routine.

Some of these will be a little difficult, but I think planning for them in advance will make sure I stick to it. I love the idea of making Yule a “season” – a time of feasting, sacrifice, and honoring the various Gods and spirits of my path. I think this is a fun way to do it, and it means a little bit of sacred time each day, instead of trying to cram it all into one day and getting burnt out.

What are you doing to celebrate the Solstice/Yule? Any family traditions you have that you’d like to share? I’m always looking for new traditions to borrow and try out!

Blessed Yule!

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So, for the last year and some months, I have been a solitary Druid. At first, this really bugged me – I had a few pagan friends, and a few resources in ADF to help me through rough spots, but no real community. Still, I got through the Dedicant Path, submitted it with pride, and joined the rank of ADF Dedicants – and now the rank of Initiate Students.

I was fully prepared, even though there is a local protogrove, to complete my studies alone. The Initiate’s Path is one of inner work, after all.

Then, as it turns out, the grove organizer from my local protogrove found out that all her emails were getting diverted, so she’d never received any of the emails I’d sent (and I’m of the belief that you send one email asking a question, and if you get no response, you send one follow-up. After that, you assume the person doesn’t want to talk to you). On top of that, my friend Yngvi* joined ADF – and started talking about it at his work (where I used to work), and – with the help of the Druidry article in the New York Times, found two coworkers and their significant others who were interested in Druidry.

And so, just two months after starting the Initiates Path, I find myself leading an ADF study group of 5-7 people as regularly as our schedules match up.

This is, on one hand, very good! I am building a new community (and possibly getting to meet some other active Druids in my area). I am drawing on my DP experience, and helping cultivate new Druids!

On the other? I’m suddenly feeling very protective of my Druidry. I did two rituals for Hallows – one with Yngvi and his wife, and one on my own, because it didn’t feel like a High Day without having done my own ritual in my own house at my own altar. This whole process has been a personal and private one, and it’s weird to suddenly be very open about it with new people – especially new people who are essentially strangers (even if Yngvi knows them well, I haven’t worked with him for almost 2 years, so I had never met these people before our first meeting last week). I am not, and probably never will be, openly pagan – there’s too much risk with my family, so it’s really quite odd and more than a little uncomfortable to be talking about things.

We have another meeting this week, and then a Yule ritual next week. I’m co-leading both (and writing the rituals for both), which should be interesting. (I’m kind of in this by the seat of my pants really.) There aren’t really any resources for how to run an ADF study group – especially if you’re not doing the Dedicant Path, and doubly so if your group isn’t particularly self motivated.

I’d love it if people would have questions or things to talk about, but our first meeting was very much me talking and them listening, and then not responding much when I asked questions (even leading questions they couldn’t get out of like “What do you find most interesting?” or “What is your experience with X?”). This probably means I need to get better at asking/planning questions and activities. (The Two Powers meditation seemed to go over pretty well.) We’ll probably either start working through the virtues or working through the COoR, depending on what people think this week. They’re gonna HAVE to choose, because Yngvi likes virtues and I like rituals, so we’ll have to have some kind of way to decide where we’re going first.

So I guess we’ll see what happens. I am cautiously optimistic about our little group. I know statistically they won’t all stay, which is fine, but I hope we can have some good experiences and learn stuff together. They say the best way to really learn something is to teach it, right?

*Note: It’s a little bit weird that one of my best friends uses as his online name one of the names of the God that I work with and for most closely. So far it’s not been an issue (as I usually call my God Ing Frea) but it’s still a bit odd. Also possibly a cool coincidence.

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