I Went Camping in the Woods and I Came Back a Druid

Organized sports never suited me. But wrestling with my faith? Someone should give out trophies. I would have a garage full.

When I left for the Eight Winds Festival, the first ADF gathering I’d ever attended, I was concerned that I may not be able to invest myself fully on account of a little religious indiscretion I had with the Cosmic Christ (if you didn’t hear about that, read this or this). I thought there was some need to resolve the conflict I experienced after reading Jesus Through Pagan Eyes in order to fully participate in the rituals, workshops and fire-side chats. To my delight, however, Jesus did not cockblock my weekend.

I spent four days firmly planted in polytheistic soil, surrounded by some of the brightest minds and the warmest hearts I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. I talked about the gods, talked to the gods, made offerings to the gods, and did so without any hesitation or reservation. And, I found that discussing my history in Christianity was welcomed by my fellow ADF Druids, in so much as it could provide a context for my perspective about liturgy, ritual and church structure. One need not dismiss what came before in order to value what is happening now, I learned.

If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog, you’ll know that from time to time I’ve been undecided about whether ADF or OBOD is best suited to my temperament. I’ve had many conversations online with others who go back and forth about which expression of modern Druidry is right for them. For some, this in-between spot suits them well, and I respect that. For me, though, after a weekend of Druidry, ADF style, I’ve realized that ADF provides the kind of religiosity that makes sense to me.

One festival attendee, Elizabeth, summed it up quite perfectly when she said,

“ADF intellectualizes spirituality, and spiritualizes the intellect.”

Spot on.

The intellect is a tool which can enrich so much of religious practice. You don’t have to suspend your critical thinking skills in order to engage with your religiosity as a mystic. There is a time and place for everything, and I appreciate how much ADF Druids value the mind.

I used to be concerned that ADF might lean too much toward scholarship, and by doing so make it difficult to originate anything new or spontaneous within the religious practice. I’m not a Reconstructionist at heart. But I now think that ADF’s approach to religion creates an amazing tension between the scholarly, and the intuitive, creative approaches to Pagan religious practice. As Ceisiwr Serith told me during his presentation on ritual theory,

“If you want to be a jazz musician, you better learn your scales.”

And that’s the whole point of ADF’s emphasis on the study of Proto-Indo-European cultures. It’s the reason that ADF suggests that Pagans look with a critical eye at any claim of “unbroken lineage.” Something does not have to be ancient to be relevant, but if you’re going to claim that it’s ancient, you better be able to cite some sources.

One’s own experience, their personal gnosis, should play a prominent role in their religious practice. Your intuition, your imagination — these things are valuable components of your growth as a mystic, a magician, or even simply as a Pagan. Ours is a tradition that allows each of us to be our own priest to the gods, whether that be expressed in private at our home shrine, or in public at open rituals.

ADF, I’ve come to believe, is a Neopagan Religion that is broad enough to include the mystic, the intellectual, the musician, the artist, and the priest. ADF provides a framework that can unite Pagans who feel drawn to many different ancient cultures, and it allows for enough autonomy for it not to feel like a dogmatic religion. ADF — if you can’t already tell by my gushing — is really floating my boat right now.

There is more to unpack, literally and metaphorically, but I’m not going to rush it. Many seeds were planted during the Eight Winds Festival, and they need their time to take root.

As Uncle Isaac used to say, “Fast as a speeding oak.”


28 responses to “I Went Camping in the Woods and I Came Back a Druid”

  1. […] has been a long time coming. The idea first came after the ADF festival, Eight Winds (which I wrote about here), and it’s been slowly working its way into being ever […]

  2. […] Saying the phrase “accept my sacrifice” with the same cadence and tone that we did at Eight Winds makes me feel — just a little — like I’m still at Eight Winds. Liturgy allows my […]

  3. Carol Avatar

    I remember Ciesiwr saying that in his workshop – and how awesome is it I can say that!? ha! Great posting Teo! It was nice meeting you at 8W. Being my first ADF festival as well, and meeting other ADF-ers in person, was truly amazing. It’s a very rare occurrence I can make it to Lower 48 for visits, but this trip was well worth the effort. Just being able to talk to others, and be surrounded by like-minded Druids, really connected me to my own spirituality and grounded me more in ADF. I am so looking forward to the next one 🙂 ~Carol

  4. Sisterlisa Avatar

    Teo, I am so happy to hear of your positive experience. The ADF Grove, Feather River, has had a lasting positive impact on my life and I am thrilled you got to spend some time at Eight Winds.

  5. Kilmrnock Avatar

    The other thing i wished to mention , after the ritual most groves have an informal pot luck dinner , what my grove calls revels . Eating after a ritual , as most of you know is a good way to ground yourself and besides a fun time to hang out and meet other ADF mebers and other pagans . All ADF rituals are open . A person doesn’t need to be a grove or ADF member to attend and jion in .FYI , The ADF website has a listing of all Groves and Protogroves that includes the focus and location of the grove and usualy has the groves website included . For those interested .     Kilm

  6. Kilmrnock Avatar

    Well teo …………these comments are comforting , worried we may loose you. The Druid , ADF community is still too small be be loosing good minds .Did you join a grove yet ?, that is where i’ve found my ADF heart .Celebrating our holidays with fellow Druids can be quite fullfilling as well. With it’s Indo- European slant there are groves to match whatever ethnicity or pantheon you personaly follow .Each grove usualy has it’s own Ethnic or pantheonic focus . The grove i belong to has a Celtic/Minor Norse focus as the two are quite interlinked .I personaly have Celtic recon leanings and also consider myself a Sinnsreachd /Druid . The scholorly slant of ADF and the recon community fit well together as do both Faiths beliefs as both are Celtic.Altho there are always exceptions most pagans ,Druids and recons included feel comfortable following a Pantheon or faith of thier own ancestry as i do . I am Scottish , English , Irish and a wee bit French …………..a Celt i am , a follower of the Tuatha de Dannon , family of Danu . Sinnsreachd and my ADF grove both follow TdeD.All the beliefs are shared w/ a few minor exceptions not enough to worry about . Teo, you may want to look into finding a grove of like minded Druids to hang out with and do rituals with . Altho a wee bit long ADF grove rituals are very powerful , and just plain wonderful  . I do daily devotionals , like any other Druid /CR , but there is nothing like the power of a group ADF ritual. Even if you don’t jion , an ADF ritual and grove gathering is a blast , check one out .     Kilm

  7. […] him “Uncle Oberon”.Teo Bishop went to the ADF’s recent Eight Winds Festival and came back utterly charmed. That’s all I have for now! Are there blogs, podcasts, or other Pagan news sources you think […]

  8. Rob Henderson Avatar

     Next festival we’re both at, I am so not sitting next to you.  Or any place that you were sitting earlier.  >8)

  9. WhiteBirch Avatar

    Wow, Teo, sounds like you had a wonderful experience. I’ve always (and I think I’ve mentioned it before) been attracted to the scholarly bent of ADF, but like you, I don’t think I’m really a reconstructionist at my core. I’d like to find something that resonates with my creative and expressive self while still being structured and intellectual enough that I don’t feel totally adrift in a sea of intuition. So, you don’t even know how you tempt me… It sounds like you spent four days in my vision of Pagan Utopia.

    I’ve actually had a couple month’s hiatus from both the larger Pagan communities and my own smaller one, while I made some personal decisions about my life, and during that time I parted ways from my tradition (through no fault of theirs, they’re great people, I just couldn’t be properly available to them for a while when they needed me to). Given that I’m suddenly more solitary than ever, I may just have to give ADF a harder look. Even though I’ve always considered myself more witch than druid, I’ve had an awfully hard time finding a witchcraft trad that works where I live, satisfies my need for structure, and doesn’t blur my polytheism more than I’m comfortable with.

  10. Teo Bishop Avatar

    Thank you so much, Romandruid (the name you carry with you all over the interwebs!) — it was a pleasure to meet you, too. I’m glad the post resonated with you, and I hope you continue to be a regular voice in this dialogue.

    Peace and blessings to you!

  11. Damh the Bard Avatar

    Wonderful! I’m so happy your fears were unfounded Teo, and that you have found your home with our Brothers and Sisters of the ADF. With every best wish on your path.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks, Damh. I appreciate the kind words and support.

      Yours in the way,

  12. Sharon Gorbacz Avatar
    Sharon Gorbacz

    Love your articles, and hope to meet you at one of ADF’s many festivals.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thank you, Sharon! I’m glad it spoke to you. I hope we get a chance to meet, too. In the meantime, feel free to follow the RSS of my blog and visit here again. I’d love for you to be a part of the dialogue.

  13. Crystal Groves Avatar

    Wonderful summary Teo.  I plan to attend my first Eight Winds in 2013, but have been to both Wellspring and Trillium and find your assessment fairly accurate 🙂

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, Crystal. I’m glad you dug the post. I hope to make it to Wellspring and Trillium. In fact, I scoured the ADF website yesterday to see what festival I could go to next! I’m hooked!!

      Peace to you.

  14. Guest Avatar

    “To my delight, however, Jesus did not cockblock my weekend.”

    Best. Phrase. Ever. Just sayin’

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      🙂 Thanks.

      Watch – I give it a month before it ends up on a bumper sticker.

  15. Rob Henderson Avatar

    I only wish we had the money to get all of our members to a weekend-long event of some sort to have the same kind of experiences that you had. It always seems to be the folks who only interact with us via e-mail who think that we’re all book and no spirit.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      There’s definitely a disconnect, Rob, and I’m not exactly sure what’s at the heart of it.

      Text is tricky. You have to be an excellent writer AND a diplomat in order to make up for what is lost without facial expressions, body language, smell, sight.

      I also think there may be reason to reconsider part of the public “face” of what we do. Even on the ADF website there are – literally – no faces. We are only our text. As much as the “I am Mormon” campaign may rub people funny, there’s something to be said for putting a face to the organization. I mentioned this to a friend yesterday, and she said she thought that “the closet” is so deeply ingrained.

      Can you think of other ways to convey the spirit of the organization?

      1. Rob Henderson Avatar

         Hard to say.  Having spent 43+ years on this planet with something resembling autism, I’ve never had difficulty interpreting the textual missives of others, because, hey, no data from body language or tone of voice?  Welcome to my world.  Everything I’ve learned about not over-reacting to what people say IRL works quite well here too.  (Maybe the solution is to make everyone else autistic too?  >8)

        My preference would be for everyone to get some real-life interaction with ADF instead of just thinking of us as a bunch of contentious mailing lists, but money-wise, we’re not even within dreaming reach of that.  Or we could go the other direction, as so many people have suggested to me over the years, and just ban solitaries from joining.  Before people fire up their e-mail clients to flame me: No, of course I didn’t consider it for a second.  But I do have to admit that it’s just plain harder for solitaries to feel connected to a group they’ve never met in person.  Is there some way we can convey to potential sol members that the path they’re choosing is going to be more difficult, without it sounding like we’re trying to scare them off?  If there is, I sure don’t know how to do it, even after staring this problem in the face for sixteen years.

        Or maybe the general trend of people spending more time participating in online groups and less time in FTF groups means that eventually people will just get used to the online version of us?

        1. Amanda Lynn Nielsen Thomas Avatar

          As we grow and expand our number of Groves that can hold retreats and festivals that solitaries can attend without driving 10+ hours to get to, I think that face to face that needs to happen, will.  There are huge regions where we are currently sparse in numbers, and states where we don’t have Groves, but I think this is slowly changing (at least from my rather sheltered perspective on the issue).

          Some people are nature solitaries and they need a place in our ranks as well, but many are such because there are no other options currently. When I was a solitaire, I made a huge point of going to get that face to face time, and now Kansas has a Grove.  I think this pattern will repeat itself with others as well.  We have a beautiful, wonderful, amazing religion… I just can’t imagine anyone who encounters it face to face wont be moved to help foster more of that community. 

          1. Niniann Avatar

            I don’t know if it will happen in my life time, but  I would be more than happy to give up being solitary if there was a grove near our rural area. When you have physical mobility issues , even a two hour drive to the nearest grove is not possible. I am sure there must be other members of ADF that only dream of being able to get to a grove’s High Day or an ADF Festival.  Fortunately being solitary when you are surrounded by nature and live in a beautiful part of New England is not a deterrent to your solitary religious practices. However, it would be so wonderful to be able to participate in ritual with a grove.

        2. Nick Egelhoff Avatar
          Nick Egelhoff

          Hmmm…I’d say with the decrease in cost for webcams and the advent of services like skype and Google Hangout might make this a bit more feasible. Not as ideal as festivals or having a local grove to worship & bond with, but possibly better than nothing.

        3. Kilmrnock Avatar

          Rob , this is why i suggested finding a local grove to celebrate with . At this point i my life i don’t have the money or time to attend large festivals ADF or otherwise . So Belonging to a local grove works well for me . Gives me a way to hang out with and meet other ADF Druids/ members .   Kilm

          1. Rob Henderson Avatar

             Yeah, I was assuming that most of our members know that Groves exist.  >8)  My concern is for the folks who don’t have a Grove within travel distance, like Niniann.  The ones for whom the only options are online interaction or no interaction.

  16. Brian Rush Avatar
    Brian Rush

    Nice post, and this fits very well with my own experiences and thoughts. Neopaganism continues to evolve, and increasingly (or so my wishful-thinking side whispers) we will evolve beyond the need for crutches like a belief in unbroken lineage and similar literalizations of myth. ADF seems to hit home in the bulls-eye, or at any rate you have done so in the context of what they do.

    1. Teo Bishop Avatar

      Thanks for the comment, Brian. Glad to hear from you.

      Myth remaining myth is important to me. It always has been, even when I identified as a Christian. I think that myth actually loses its richness when it is shoved into a small, literal interpretation. It was refreshing to discover that my fellow ADF’ers shared that perspective.

      Thanks again for being a part of the conversation here. I hope to see you back!