Last year, around mid-October, I decided to do something different with my spiritual life. I was struggling where I was, six or so months after having left/been asked to leave (it’s complicated) a BTW coven where I had been an apprentice for close to 2 years. In my mind, I was preparing for initiation. Apparently that wasn’t how things were supposed to work out, and in the intervening time my HPS has made it clear that she doesn’t think people with my particular brand of mental illness (Bipolar/Anxiety/PTSD) are cut out for Witchcraft in general. Regardless of how I feel about this, it’s not likely to change her mind, and I found myself mired down in trying to sort out what I wanted from my spirituality and struggling with the transition from group-focused work back to only doing solitary work.
So I decided to try something new.
After doing a lot of reading on the ADF website, I jumped in with both feet, submitted my membership, and started on the Dedicant Path. I set myself the goal of completing it in a year – to do a “year and a day” with ADF – something I’d already been doing with my previous path. I didn’t know what I really wanted out of ADF, more than just to explore a new type of Neopagan spirituality and see if, as the song says, a change would do me good.
Over the last 11 months, I’ve worked my way through the DP, guided loosely by Rev. Dangler’s Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year book (which I highly recommend). Some of the work was decidedly remedial – I’ve been a practicing Neopagan for awhile, so writing about what the High Days in the wheel of the year were celebrating was a homework assignment and not particularly spiritually nourishing. Still, even those assignments got me to put my thoughts out in text, and sometimes challenged me to learn new things (especially as I started exploring the Northern Traditions/Norse Hearth). I was an established meditator, so that requirement mainly was about documentation, but again I used it to challenge what I had been doing and build new spiritual practices that could sustain me going forward, particularly the mental grove exercises.
What I liked about this work, especially with the guidance of the WOTY book, was how it paced me well over the course of a year. Yes, I finished a little early, but I didn’t get burned out after trying to finish all of the assignments in the first week. Slow growth is hard for me; I tend to get excited and try to do ALL THE THINGS. Because I paced myself, I think I got more out of it – I truly spent a year thinking and working on Druidry, with the end result being that I’m fairly comfortable in this system of practice now.
I also learned that I don’t have it in me to be a reconstructionist. While I like history, and definitely enjoy original texts and learning from original sources (or translated original sources), I have no desire to try to recreate accurately a historical Paganism. I am a modern Neopagan, and my practice reflects that. I use ADF-style rituals with no hesitation, even though I know aspects of those rituals aren’t found in the historical Northern Traditions. I combine aspects of the various Germanic Paganisms, knowing that they are related enough to work well in ritual together – my work with the Disir/Matronae isn’t documented directly in Anglo-Saxon Britain (Nor are the Gods Njord and Nerthus) but I haven’t found any trouble working with those elements, even in the same ritual, because they come from closely related cultures. Overall I find academic study interesting and often enlightening, but I don’t want to make it the focus of my Druidry – I am, and always will be, a modern Pagan.
I’ve developed (and am continuing to work on) relationships with a variety of different Spirits, from my Prairie Godmothers (and other Disir/Matronae) to Ing Frey and the other Vanir. As well, I am cultivating a deeper relationship with the land spirits and house spirits that I share my day to day life with. This isn’t new work, but these are mostly new entities for me to build relationships with. This isn’t something that comes particularly easily to me, so I’ve had to really work at this aspect of the Dedicant Path and my Druidry. I’ve found it rewarding, and feel much closer to my various Ancestors as a result. My work with Ing Frey was strongest earlier in the year, but I’m working on restoring that and making it stronger. I had some pretty significant mental roadblocks to working with Him, but He seems willing to be patient with me as I work through them. (Many thanks to Beth for a really enlightening rune reading to help with this.)
I’m also developing a new community of Pagans online, through the various ADF lists, twitter, and (ugh) Facebook. While it makes me very nervous to be involved with Facebook, it seems like a lot of the community is active there, so I’m willing to take a risk. (I don’t like the idea of someone snooping through my Facebook groups and asking me questions about my religion, but I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my privacy settings extremely strong so far. I need to go through and make sure that’s still up to date though.)
As well, I’m developing a community offline – there is a local Protogrove, and though my original efforts to contact them were fruitless, I’m told there are others who are actively trying to build the community here, so I am looking to find them and see if I can get involved. The Protogrove is Celtic, but I don’t think they’d mind an Anglo-Saxon Druid so much (and I don’t mind Celtic rituals either). I also have friends (online and off) who are beginning their Dedicant Path studies, or thinking of doing so, and I look forward to working with them as they worked with me as I did this program.
Is ADF what I thought it would be? Yes and no. As a solitary, ADF is largely what I make of it, and so I’ve been able to shape the materials into something that works for me. But it’s not the same as working in a close knit tradition either – which is fine, but I definitely miss that aspect of my previous work. It has what is, for me, a good balance of innovation and study, which helps me fine tune my practice. The overtly public nature of ADF makes me a little nervous, but I am not required to publicly do anything, so I can live with other people’s openness. I definitely don’t feel like I’m “done” in ADF – there is more here for me to do, and the last year is only the first step on that path. Whether that means I’m here “for good” or just “for now” I don’t know, but I feel that I’m being guided to go deeper into this tradition. I don’t know what my “place” will be – as a solitary, or as part of the community, or both – but I feel like it is possible for me to make a place for myself in this spiritual community.
Along those lines, I am going to be working on the Initiates Path as my next step in ADF. I do not have a desire to pursue the Clergy Training Program at this time, nor do I have a working community where I could complete that work, but the Initiates Path seems to be the logical next step for me. I am not giving myself a timeline to do this program, because I don’t yet know how I will take to it. It is both more mystical and more scholarly than the DP. I am thinking of starting with Divination I, because I have been seeking to deepen my relationship with the runes I use in ritual. I am encouraged by the idea of adding a relationship to the Elder Wise to my practice, and of serving the ADF community.
I still miss the group I worked with before joining ADF – it’s possible I will always miss them. Maybe in the future I will be able to go back to that path, though it might have to be with a different group, as while it’s possible I don’t truly have Bipolar (just something that looks/acts like it due to other issues), I will probably always have some elements of Anxiety and PTSD to deal with. For now, I am trying to be content with my new experiences and community and not compare them to things I’ve done in the past. I am striving to excel at Druidry – both as a way to grow my personal spirituality and service to the Gods and Spirits, as well as serving the folk within a greater community.
I can only hope that, through my continued practice and studies, I will continue to grow spiritually and mentally, and develop better and deeper relationships to my Gods and Spirits. In the end, that’s the most important part, right?
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