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Posts Tagged ‘study group’

It is with great excitement (and only a little abject terror) that I get to announce that the Clear Lake Druidic Study Group has chosen to branch out, and has been accepted as a new Protogrove in ADF. I am ostensibly the Grove Organizer, but as I am more interested in service/ministry/spiritual stuff, I have taken it upon myself to welcome volunteers to be in charge of things like “budgets” and “bylaws”.

We’re working on a website, and have a Facebook group (two things which seem to be required for group legitimacy these days).

Our name – Nine Waves – comes from a couple of sources. First, we are a coastal protogrove, and so an ocean reference seemed appropriate. Second, we work mostly in the northern hearth (Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic), and our chosen gatekeeper is Heimdall/Hama, who is said to be the son of nine waves. Third, we all thought it sounded nice (which is always important when naming things).

Not a whole lot has changed so far – we’re still meeting every Friday for coffee and study group, but we now have business meetings each month, and we’re working on some publicity stuff. ADF stresses open ritual – PUBLIC open ritual, to be exact – and so part of our job as a Protogrove is to let people know that we will be hosting High Days, and where to find us.

We don’t have a permanent ritual location yet, since it’s hard to find a place that works in both good weather and bad, but we did find a fairly large gazebo at a local park that worked nicely for Ostara. The only problem with it so far is a complete lack of electricity, and no place to build an actual fire, but candles are okay. (Note: Grove Ritual Organization Box needs a small supply of book lights for evenings when it gets dark during ritual.)

If you had told me three years ago when I joined ADF that I’d be part of ADF leadership, I probably would have laughed at you, but the change has been slow and steady, and I’ve learned a lot through running the study group. I hope I’m up to the task of leading a protogrove. I made an oath at our Ostara ritual that, barring crazy unforeseen acts, I would lead the PG for three years (unless they throw me out). I’m excited to see what kind of a community we can build in three years. There are 4 founding members of the protogrove, which is pretty neat (as that’s enough to be a chartered grove eventually), and I hope we only build from there.

 

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“Cat hoovering (also Cat vacuuming) – 1. any excuse to avoid writing, even vacuuming the cat (Gerri); 2. A pointless exercise used to avoid real work. (HughSider)”

I was reading this article by John Beckett (if you don’t read his blog, you should) on what priests are and aren’t. He said the following:

A priest serves as an exemplar.  He should model the behaviors and lifestyles he advocates.  He is human and will not be perfect in any of this, but he should strive to live a life in alignment with his highest values and in the spirit of the Gods and Goddesses he serves.  Or, to borrow a phrase from my Baptist childhood:  “practice what you preach.”

A priest will be a counselor.  Show a little competency in leadership and begin exemplifying the Divine to any extent and people will begin telling you more than you want to know about themselves.  One of the most valuable services a priest can provide is simply to listen and be an unanxious presence.

While a proper mixture of divination, prayer, ritual, and counseling can be helpful, a priest can’t solve people’s problems for them.  What he can do is to be with them and support them until they can solve their problems themselves.  A priest must also recognize the limits of his expertise – is what you’re hearing a spiritual problem or is it mental illness?  A priest must know when to say “I can’t help you – you need to see a mental health professional.”

A priest serves as an organizer.  He should make sure the trains run on time:  rituals are performed, offerings are made, classes are held, this-world actions are taken.  A priest doesn’t have to do all that himself (nor should he, in most cases), but he should make sure his religious community does the things it needs to do.  People can – and should, and at least occasionally – be allowed to fail.  Communities can never be allowed to fail.

Now, to start all this off – IANAP. I am not a priest. (or a priestess.) I am a Druid, and an ADF dedicant, and a student working towards Initiation. After which I intend to do at least the first circle of clergy training, so someday I will (maybe) be a priest.

However, I’m doing a lot of things that are similar to the work of priests right now (as would anyone who is in a position of leadership in a pagan group), and gradually getting more and more familiar with that role. But it’s a hard one, and one that I contemplate a lot. I don’t know if I have the personality or the credentials to do this “right.”

And I’d be lying if I said that my mental illness didn’t sometimes factor into my worries about my future in ADF. There’s a reason I started with the IP – Initiates are called to individual service, where Priests are called to community service. Individual service lets me set more boundaries to my own availability and time.

Plus? I’m a human being. I screw up. I get frustrated and say angry things that I don’t mean, or use a tone of voice that makes people feel defensive and hurt. I’ve only been working in an ADF community role for about 9 months, and I’ve already done that at least once that I am aware of. I haven’t had the chance to make amends about it either. (Having done so makes me feel doubly unqualified to do this work.)

I know this is what the virtues are for. They are guides, things to strive for, things to judge my actions against. Have I been a good host? Have I been a person of integrity? Have I shown wisdom? What is my vision? I know I did a bunch of essays on this in my dedicant work, but somehow I still feel like I’m redefining and reimagining those things in my life. As a solitary, the virtues were very personal, and were thus much easier to write about. In a position of leadership (even of a small group), the virtues get stickier. How do I maintain my focus and still be open to others? How do I maintain the traditions of the group but allow for change and growth? How do I respect that my local group has been around for 10 years (but not had much/any growth) but still convince them that growth is possible?

Yngvi would say (and has said) “We do the best we can with what we have, and the rest will follow.” And he’s right, but there’s a lot of in between to that kind of thing. Plus it’s getting hard to juggle supporting the protogrove, planning lessons for the study group (which includes dedicant mentoring), my increasingly complex daily practice, and my own studies on the IP. I’ve completed two courses, and I’m tackling the journaling portions of Liturgy Practicum and Divination II right now, plus the reading for I-E Studies (which will probably be my next submission). Things have changed rapidly from my writing some essays over a year into Druidry taking up a big chunk of my life – which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something to think about. (And maybe think about ways to maintain my identity as a person who is more than just a Druid.)

I’m probably thinking too hard about this, but it feels like I’ve gone from being someone who can do as she pleases with very little or no ramifications to anyone else to someone who is now *responsible* for stuff. And I dunno if I always like that feeling. But then, I also know I get a lot of fulfillment out of the work I do for the study group and the protogrove, so perhaps it’s a trade off. It’s one I think I’m glad I’ve made, but sometimes it’d be nice to not have to think deeply about every action, and just fly by the seat of my pants for a bit.

Lots of thoughts, not all of them productive, I’m sure.

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I’ve been sitting with my lack of knowledge a lot lately, inspired in part by conversations with Rev. William Ashton, ADF’s newest ordained priest (and someone I’m coming to call a friend, which is pretty neat). There’s just a lot I don’t know, and as someone who is obsessively academic (especially in school-type situations) this bothers me on a deep level. And yet, philosophically, I know that learning and discovery happen on the interface of what is known and what is unknown.

So I have been encouraged to really allow the discomfort of not knowing things to be present, in the hopes of becoming more comfortable with it. Because there’s just so much out there to know, and knowing what you don’t know is the first step towards learning.

In reality, I’ve been a practicing Druid just shy of two years, a practicing Pagan for close to ten. I have completed only the most rudimentary study program that ADF offers and am only just beginning the real coursework of the Initiate’s Path. The ancient Druids were the intelligentsia of their societies, and I’d like my own modern practice to follow in those footsteps (once I’ve done more of it, obviously), but I am still, essentially, a newbie, and there is a LOT that I don’t know. And yet I’m (co)leading a study group – something I think I’m singularly unqualified to do – and trying my best to steer these potential dedicants (and other assorted studiers of things Druidic) into productive and useful practices, and get them acquainted with as much knowledge as they are interested in pursuing.

And on top of that, just this last week, in a discussion about the priesthood and ADF’s clergy training program, one of my groupmates looked me square in the face and said “So are you planning on doing that?” I stammered out something incoherent, and Yngvi replied for me, “Eventually.” I can’t deny I have a calling to it in some form. I know what it means to be a minister (my grandfather is one), and yet I’ve still toyed with ministry (in various forms) in every spiritual pursuit I’ve ever undertaken, from contemplating Methodist seminary, to considering whether I had a Catholic vocation, to pursuing Wiccan initiation, and now to pursuing initiation and possibly clergy training under ADF’s model. In every spiritual path I’ve been part of, I have seriously considered ministry or priest(ess)hood in some form. (I take this to mean that my calling is to serve the folk, not to serve a particular God or set of gods, but that’s just my own interpretation.) Whether that calling will be satisfied with initiation or not, only time will tell. I just don’t know right now.

For some reason that bothers me. I like control, and planning ahead, and knowing where I’m going. I want cold, hard answers to things that just don’t have cold hard answers. The idea that the path will reveal itself as it is walked just makes me inherently uneasy. But the reality is? Two years ago I wouldn’t have ever guessed I’d be where I am (and neither would anyone else I knew, for that matter), so who knows where I’ll be in two years, let alone five or more. (At this rate, still working on the IP; I really need to get moving.)

Until then, though, I can add in the CTP retreat days to help strengthen my spiritual practice, do the coursework, keep my practice alive, and just see where things end up.

And when someone asks me something I don’t know the answer to? Well, that’s just more time to practice this virtue of not knowing.

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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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This week Yngvi and I finally got to meet up with three members of the local protogrove. They were all very friendly, and I think we’ll get on just fine. They are okay with us continuing our study group as is, and at least one of them would like to join up with us, since she wants to work on her DP.

Also the local Grove Organizer and I have the same birthday (March 2) and two other people (Yngvi and another lady) also have March birthdays, so we’re thinking of doing a Druid Birthday Bash of some sort, to celebrate.

My “radar” is still in good working order – I walked into the coffee shop and immediately picked out the people I was going to be chatting with (as did Yngvi, who I made do the first introductions, because I am kinda shy). Dunno what led me to go “those ladies. Those are the ladies from the PG”, but I did – and apparently they picked me out as soon as I walked in as well. Hooray for good intuition and “radar”.

I don’t know yet if we’ll be joining them for rituals regularly or not. They do rituals on the official “day” of the high day (so Beltane is always on May 1), which means weeknight rituals, and that’s tough for me. They aren’t far away, so it may work, but I’ll have to rearrange my whole weekly schedule to make it fit, and depending on the week, it may just not be possible. Plus, the study group will still be having high day rituals as we work our way through the different hearth cultures, and that may conflict with the PG rituals. My primary loyalty right now is to the study group, and since I’m leading that, I can have the rituals at our regular meeting time, so the high day is on the closest Friday to the actual official “day”. (We did Imbolc on Jan 31, for example.)

The PG is primarily Irish Celtic (they call themselves the Houston Celtic Druids in some online forums), but they weren’t phased by Yngvi and my Germanic/Scandinavian/Anglo-Saxon hearths. In fact, they seemed interested and curious, which I took to be a good sign. As well, my dreams about herons and cranes have continued – and I found out yesterday that one of the locals is a member of the Order of the Crane in ADF. I am not sure I’ll bring it up with her until I know her a little bit better, but it was interesting to hear that she’s involved there.

All in all it was a good first meeting. Yngvi and I will continue to lead the study group, now possibly with some new members from the PG, and we’ll see where things go as that progresses. Now that I have some faces and personalities to put with names, I’m more comfortable going to a ritual at someone’s private home, so that hurdle is out of the way as well.

ADF serves both communities and solitary pagans. I’ve spent most of my ADF time as a solitary, but that seems to be rapidly changing. It brings up a lot of my fears about being “out” as a pagan (I really don’t want a potential employer to be able to google me and find out my religion, among other things), but for now I can still fly under the radar, since leading a study group doesn’t require my name to be on any of the websites anywhere. I know I am somewhat gun-shy of joining up with a new pagan group, especially with how quickly my involvement in previous groups ended, but hopefully this will be good for me and my spiritual development.

I’m also taking suggestions for a name for our study group. Right now we’re calling ourselves the “Clear Lake Druidic Study Group”, which works, but isn’t very creative. There are four of us so far, but we may be growing. We’re primarily split between the Norse/AS and the Hellenic hearth cultures so far, but that may change as the newer folks start doing their own rituals at home and creating a devotional practice. Any suggestions are welcome!

 

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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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