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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.”

I’ve been a stay-at-home Pagan, a bookish Pagan, a CUUPS ritual-attending Pagan, and a blogging Pagan. But as of yet, I have not been a festival-going Pagan.

That all changes this week.

On Wednesday I shall make my way to the Prosser Ranch group campground, located just outside the town of Truckee, California, and celebrate Druidism, ADF style, at the annual Eight Winds festival.

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The timing of this religious retreat is rather interesting. Over the last month, swamped as I’ve been with work-related travel and the upkeep and promotion of my Indiegogo Campaign (which, by the way, wraps up in a little over a week…nudge, nudge), I’ve neglected my daily practice. Some days I approach my shrine with an open heart and a still mind, but most mornings I dive straight into work without much attention at all to the gods or to my spirit. There’s been no consistency, only a cursory amount of reverence or piety, and a whole heaping load of worry and stress.

On top of all that, I just finished reading a book about Jesus, and it’s thrown my mind into a bit of a tailspin.

[STAY CALM — This is not a conversion post.]

The book, Jesus through Pagan Eyes: Bridging Neopagan Perspectives with a Progressive Vision of Christ, has done quite a number on me. I’ve written a review for HuffPost called, “Every Conceivable Jesus: A Review of ‘Jesus Through Pagan Eyes,'” and it should be published sometime this week (UPDATE: Post published on 6/26). The long and the short of it is this:

Reading Rev. Mark Townsend describe his complicated, rich, and heartfelt understanding of the many persons of Jesus reminded me of what I loved about being a Christian, and reading the book’s essays and interviews from Pagans about their perspectives on Jesus left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Perhaps reading a book about a central figure from a Pagan tradition — say, Pan or Lugh — in which two dozen Christians reflect on that particular god’s relevance (or irrelevance) in their religious lives would affect me similarly. In any case, it was the lone Christian in the bunch whose voice resonated with me most, and I’m not exactly sure what that means.

I remember writing about a similar quandary last Winter, and one of my readers responded with something like, “If you want to be a Christian, be a Christian. If you want to be a Pagan, be a Pagan. But pick one already!” I found the comment to be rather rude, and terribly reductive. We are never just one thing. We are always the sum of our parts, a work in progress, a collage. Many of our parts remain hidden from us until we are ready to understand them, but they’re all there. We are mysteries, even unto ourselves, and part of the wonder of living is unpacking the mystery.

Know thyself is a process, not a single action.

To be reminded in such a visceral way of my former expression of religiosity on the eve of a celebration of my newer expression of religiosity is confusing, to say the least. It makes me wonder whether or not I will be able to surrender completely to the experience of fellowship and ritual at Eight Winds, or if I will be consumed by my own questioning. My hope is that there will be opportunities for dialogue with other ADF members, and through that dialogue we might come to know one another (and ourselves) a little better. Perhaps Jesus will hitch a ride to the Druid camp, and I’ll be forced again to examine who he is in relationship to this new, thoroughly Pagan environment. Or, maybe when we’re all naked and dancing around a fire (which, in my imagination, is key to any successful Pagan gathering), Jesus will calmly retreat into the background, and await rediscovery at some future point.

I wonder – do you find that religious retreats or Pagan festivals provided you with opportunities to explore and express the more complicated sides of your religious path? Do they serve the purpose of simply affirming what we know about ourselves and our traditions, or do they challenge our assumptions? Have you ever gone to a festival expecting one thing, but you ended up experiencing something altogether different?

Feel free to share your festival experiences, or reflections on anything in this post. Then, click here for a clip of some wicked, unreleased Pagan music.

There is an intrinsic connection between creativity and spirituality, I think. The impuse to create feels very much to me like the impulse to worship, to do ritual, or to pray.

Perhaps this is why my heart sang out so loundly when I first found the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. OBOD asserts that the spirit of creativity and inspiration, the Awen, flows through me and through all things, and by learning to nurture my relationship to the Awen I can develop the foundation for a living, thriving, vibrant spiritual tradition.

I write a lot about religion here on Patheos (understandibly), and I think that in doing so I sometimes forget that it was creativity which first led me to Druidry. To be a Bard, I learned through OBOD, is to be connected to a great, cosmic, creative force, and to be expressive with one’s voice is to be in service to your tribe, your people, your planet. Cultivating creativity allows the Bard to become her own Creator, a maker of enchanting beauty, a living source of inspiration. While I’ve found that the religiosity of ADF Druidism speaks to me, and the voice of the Reconstructionist fascinates me, it continues to be this connection between creativity and spirit that nourishes me.

To sing is to expose the dark richness of the soil (the soul), to turn it over, and expose it to the light. Strip away all of the adorments of our spiritual traditions, remove any of our religious or cultural markers, and we are left with our breath, our song, our creative fire. Stand naked in the forest, breathe in the air of life which permeates this planet, and your voice can become something truly magical.

With that, I make an offering today — a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and a testiment to the power and movement of the Awen — by lifting up my voice in the presence of the living earth, our Great Mother.

Peace be with you on this glorious day.

I remember when I first came out as gay, I wanted to read other gay writers. I wanted to listen to gay music, and wear gay t-shirts, and stitch a gay patch to my high school backpack. Gay was the thing to be, as far as I was concerned, and “gay bling” was hot currency.

Along with my proclivity for rainbows came the opinion that the lack of this dearth of gay pride was a clear indication that there was gay bigotry afoot. Certainly, if they weren’t shouting slogans at the front of the Chorus Line, they were holding up “God Hates Fags” signs with the other Christianists.

This was a simple, reductive way of viewing the world, and one that provided me with a sense of both victimhood, and superiority.

That’s a dangerous mix, right there.

I was reminded of that experience a few weeks back when I was scrolling through the HuffPost Religion page, looking for something remotely Pagan. Compared to WitchVox, this place was a barren desert. Search “Pagan” on the site, and you come up with a few references to New Gingrich, some pieces on Stonehenge and Beltane, and a piece on how Easter eggs have pagan roots.

I’m not hating on any of those posts, but there was a part of me that wanted something more.

In my time on Patheos, I’ve witnessed some amazing writing, reporting, and community dialogue taking place on the Pagan Channel blogs. On my blog alone, started as it was to be a place for me to process my own work through ADF’s Dedicant Path, I’ve seen vibrant, respectful, meaningful dialogue taking place. We don’t post here so that our ideas win out; we post here to initiate or further along the conversation. We post here to be understood, or to ask questions, or to raise a point that seems missing from the conversation. By and large, this has been a respectful, insightful process.

I’m happy to see that HuffPost is beginning to open up the doors for more inclusion of Pagan and polytheist expressions of religion. They published the post, Pagan Books: 27 Essential Texts about Paganism For Your Bookshelf. From the piece:

Recently HuffPost Religion put a call out to our community about books on Paganism that every Pagan and those interested in the varied strands of Paganism should read.

The result is this great list of 27 books that range from introductory to scholarly in nature and cover the entire gamut of Pagan religions — Witchcraft, Wicca, Shamanism, Asatru, Druidism, Egyptian and Hellenic.

These books grapple with issues of sexuality, tell personal stories of faith, and provide information on the various Pagan religious rites. HuffPost Religion hopes that this list will be equally valuable for those who identify as Pagans, as well as those who are interested in Paganism, both academically and as a spiritual pursuit.

Many of you contributed to this list on Facebook, under the organization of David Dashifen Kees. I’m grateful for your contributions, and the time and effort David put into this task. The list, I’m sure you’ll agree, is far from conclusive. The idea that 27 books would ever cover the “entire gamut” of “Pagan religions” is likely inspiring more than one spark across the Interwebs, but come on — it’s a start, no? For many looking at this list of books, the idea that there was anything to Paganism outside of Wicca (the Buffy kind) will be somewhat of a shocker.

The inclusion of more representations of Paganism on HuffPost is a step in the right direction, I think. The gay teenager in me, the one who scrolls through sites in search of Pagan Pride, is calmed for the moment. But if that teenager is ever going to grow into maturity, it may be time to become a little more proactive in the conversation, myself. If one notices that there is something missing in the world, that might just mean that they are the person to create it.

So, I submitted a post to them. And, they accepted. It’s called, “How Do We Talk About Paganism?

Do you feel like it might be possible for us to have the same quality of dialogue on HuffPost that we have on Bishop In The Grove? Do you think that this opening could provide Pagans and polytheists a chance to be better understood? I wonder what you think about this kind of representation of Paganism on mainstream sites.

First image that came up when I googled, "Druid."

Ever since I took the name, Teo Bishop, and made it my own — both in a religious sense and through the proper legal channels — I’ve had cause to explain what it is that I do on this blog. My writing, as well as my deepening engagement with my own spiritual work, are both major influences on my decision to undergo this transition.

Identity is interesting, and something that often goes undiscussed. What we are, how we identify, is often more experienced than it is questioned. That is, this seems to be true for many people I know.

Then there are people like me, my queer compatriots, and my Pagan brethren who appear to always be in a rich, complicated, and often conflict-laden dialogue about what it means to be us; always debating which words are right to use, and which are out-of-bounds. In fact, it was my little inquiry into identity with publicly not-Pagan, totally world-adventurer, Drew Jacob, back in May of last year which led to his firestorm-post, Why I’m Not Pagan, and my followup piece, Pagan is the New Gay. The whole back-and-forth put my lil’Druid blog on the map.

When I started writing Bishop In The Grove, my intention was to have this blog be a place for me to document my studies through a training program offered through the American Druid fellowship, Ár nDraiocht Féin (ADF). This was going to be my Dedicant Journal, a series of writings that charted my progress on the Dedicant Path. But, it wasn’t long before my focus shifted, and questions of identity began to surface.

How was I to reconcile the Christianity of my youth with this burgeoning practice of polytheistic Druidry? What, exactly, did it mean to be a “Druid?” How could I avoid falling into the trap of allowing this new religious expression to become a kind of role-play? How was I to remain authentic, both to myself and to my community? (Dig through the Post Archive and you’ll find evidence of all of this….and more.)

The conclusion I’ve reached, which is still very much an idea to be examined, is that my spiritual and religious life is intended to be more of a dialogue than a single state of being. Any religious moniker I take, be it Christian (as it was for two decades), Druid, Neopagan, or Pagan, it is most important to me that this title is representative of an ecosystem of practice as well as serving as an introduction to a discussion on belief. The latter may not be paramount, but it is important to me. Practice also means more than how I approach my home shrine; it also extends to the way I navigate my internal world, the world of ideas and emotions, and which methods and approaches I use to engage with my thoughts and inquiries.

Druid, then, is not simply a title which connects me to ancient Celts, or to other Indo-European peoples; it is a word that is representative of a very modern, very immediate, and very personal religious expression which is influenced by a variety of modern, and possibly ancient religious technologies, some Irish, others American, and some completely unique to me; and at the same time, the word points to a practice of deliberate and persistent inquiry, introspection, and contemplation.

This resonates with me personally, and so this is how I intend to use the term.

But would you say that I have, what a friend recently called, “a Druid’s perspective?”

In an interfaith setting, where individuals are often called to speak as ambassadors for their religious or spiritual traditions, how does my definition hold up? Patheos is an interfaith blogging website, and my blog is the lone Druid’s Grove on their servers, but what I’m talking about is real, person-to-person, interfaith work.

How does the description I’ve offered of Druid resonate with you? Does it make sense? If you use the word to describe yourself, does it feel accurate to your experience? If you reject the word altogether, could you explain why?

Second, could you imagine a situation in which a modern Druid is acting as a representative for the wider community of Druids within an interfaith setting? How would you feel about there being an “Ambassador of Druidry” to other faith traditions?

Overlooking El Matador beach

I drove an hour to Malibu for my Spring Equinox ritual. The location was a secluded, public beach called “El Matador.” The site opened at 8, and I arrived just a few minutes after the top of the hour.

I followed the dirt trail down the edge of the cliff side, wearing jeans and work boots and too many layers. I’d overdressed, fearing that the ocean would bring a chill to my skin, but the sun was already up and it was plenty warm.

 

Once at the bottom, I started searching out a spot for my ritual. There were several coves and nooks that traced the edge of the beach, and I wanted to make sure I was far enough from the path that I’d have some privacy. I wasn’t exactly certain how this was going to go, and I didn’t want an audience.

 

I climbed over and around a few large crags, timing my stride with the crashing of the tide. I waited until it moved back, and then ran to the next high clearing. The sand was saturated and sinking, and it swallowed my boots with every step.

I came upon a clearing. This would be where I performed my first solo, High Day ritual.

My offerings, my boots, and my army bag

I brought with me a loaf of locally baked wheat bread and a bottle of locally brewed beer as my offerings. Something about bringing offerings made in the area felt right. I carried the beer and bread in my hunter green backpack, along with my tarot cards, my travel altar, and my two Pagan prayer books. I didn’t know if I’d use the books, but it seemed like I should have them nearby in the event that I needed to find words to speak.

I set down my bag, took out the bread and the beer, and began to take off my clothes. I’d leave on my jeans, but nothing else. I removed all of the ritual items from my backpack and laid them on dry reeds.

I tried to twist off the beer top, but it wouldn’t budge. It wasn’t the kind, and I had no opener with me. I put the edge of my key along the bottle cap and tried to pry it open, but it slipped and my finger dragged across the sharp lip, slicing two small gashes near my knuckle. I sucked off the blood and continued to try to open the beer by dragging the bottle top along the edge of the rocks, being careful not to break the glass. It budged a little; enough to allow a trickle of alcohol to pour out.

That would have to do.

I set my ritual items at what seemed like a good distance away from the water, placed my new hand-made stole over my naked shoulders, and walked barefoot towards the sea.

I lifted my hands and began.

The ocean crashed louder.

I thanked and praised the Earth Mother, and I found that the words came fast and easy. There is something qualitatively different about outdoor ritual, especially in the moments where you acknowledge the power of the land. I noticed this right away.

I called on my Gatekeeper, Arawn. I invited the Kindred: first the Nature Spirits (which needed no invitation, really), then the Ancestors, then the Shining Ones. I called upon Brighid, for I have a deep connection with her, and it seemed right that I praise her. I’d never before made offerings to a God that I didn’t already have some sort of relationship with. That is…until the next moment.

I called on Manannán mac Lir.

Then, things changed.

I spoke of the greatness of the ocean, of the power and strength of the water, and I gave him praise. I said that I had offerings of beer that I would give to him, and I turned to retrieve the bottle. Once I had it in my hand, I knelt down and began to allow a trickle of alcohol to pour onto the sand. Just then, the tide rushed in — a good twenty feet higher than it had at any moment prior — and pushed me off-balance! The water rushed up towards my tiny, portable altar and consumed it, putting out my little candle and filling my tin with sand. I laughed out loud, amazed at what had happened, and rushed to grab my belongings before the water swept them away.

It took me a moment to recompose myself. I felt small, and slightly shaken. Keeping the form of my ritual, I turned over three cards to get a message or omen from the Kindred, and the cards were sobering. They affirmed my feeling that I did not realize how very real all of this was.

I felt humbled in that moment.

I gave thanks to Manannán, Brighid, and the Kindred, called on Arawn to close the gates, gave thanks to the Earth Mother, and was finished. I staggered back to my wet pile of possessions, gathered them up, and began the journey back to the beginning.

My Equinox ritual was not a heady experience. In fact, I’m not even sure what to think about it. I encountered something much greater than I’d imagined. I can only describe this feeling as a visceral reverence.

It is a new season, indeed.

Have you ever had a ritual experience that shook you to the core; one that took you out of your head and brought you into deeper communion with the world around you? If so, how did it change you? Did it affect the way you think about yourself, about the mysteries of the universe, about the nature of the Gods?

We set fire to the kitchen last night.

Metaphorically, I mean.

The conversation started while I was preparing dinner, and it continued on throughout the meal and into the clean-up. I woke up thinking about it, and I feel compelled to share some of it with you, my readers; my community of dig-deepers.

I’m not sure how to tie all of this together just yet, and I feel like some of these ideas may be much more foundational for me than I’m even aware. This may be future book-stuff, to be honest.

Buckle up. I’m about to throw a lot your way.

Embodied Theology

My friend has reached the conclusion that any theology which is not an embodied theology inevitably leads to fundamentalism. I asked for clarification.

“By ’embodied theology,’ do you mean, any theology which locates the divine in some place other than in our body, in the place we live, in our immediate world?”

“Yes.”

I instantly saw what she meant, and agreed. Then, I paused.

But doesn’t this create a problem when we approach our altars or ritual spaces and invoke deity/deities to come into our space? Doesn’t the need for invitation imply that they are not present to start with?

I voiced this concern.

“They’re already there,” my husband stated.

Then why, I wondered, do we use language that implies separateness from the Gods or other spiritual beings? Is that useful? Or, more importantly is it accurate?

(Chew on that.)

Reciprocity

There is a conversation happening among some Pagans about the need to make offerings to the Gods in order to win their favor. In essence, I lay some relevant item on my altar and ask that my offering be received, and then — Gods willing — the Gods comply.

My friend framed this as, “Capitalist Theology.”

When she said those words, my mind broke a little.

The idea of reciprocity is very important in ADF as a foundation of right relationship to the Gods. We give as a sign of respect, and to justify our asking. But to assert that in order to get something from the Divine we must first give a gift is very much like saying, “In order to get a paycheck, I must show up at work and do my necessary duties.”

Capitalist Theology.

A different idea of theology was offered up as an alternative: Grace Theology.

(If you feel a Christian-language trigger, please recognize that and try to put it aside for a moment. Take “Grace” to represent something broader, and more universally relevant a concept. If you don’t think it is, we can discuss that.)

Rather than work for your blessings, which is an extension of a Capitalist Theology, one simply acknowledges that there is already a great providence in the world, and we are best served (and best able to serve) by creating more space for receiving. The cultivation of our openness and ability to receive is the foundation of a Grace Theology.

(Now, chew on that.)

Altar Talk

Here’s the thing — every morning I make offerings at my altar, and I use language that asserts that I’m making these offerings to honor and respect the Gods, Ancestors and Nature Spirits… and to be in good favor with them. The question is, when I’m doing this what is going through my mind?

Do I really think that the Gods need my little thimble of oil? Does the Divine need anything? If I don’t believe that these things offerings and sacrifices are absolutely necessary in order to be on the Gods’ good side, what is the purpose of daily ritual?

The conclusion I reached, somewhere between clearing the table and pacing around the kitchen, was that we do these things to create an awareness about what is happening within us; what is already, always occurring. Everything we do in ritual is (or, perhaps should be) focussed on creating an inner awareness of a spiritual constant (i.e. the presence of the Divine in its various forms).

If I make offerings, I am doing so in order to create the experience of gratitude, respect, and reverence. Making regular offerings is also a way of experiencing my commitment to a personal religion, my commitment to the Gods.

(Still chewing?)

Reciprocity + Grace

There can be a balance, we decided as we sat on the countertop, bellies full, between reciprocity and grace. Reciprocity provides people with an opportunity to experience humility, gratitude, thankfulness. These are all useful human experiences. Grace also teaches a kind of humility, because one must accept that no matter what is given, materially speaking, no gift is really necessary.

There is a tension between these two ideas.

Perhaps — and this is the idea that really set me ablaze — it is the act of holding tension between reciprocity and grace that is the foundation of any genuinely relevant theology.

(All chewed out?)

Get ready to spit it out!

Take the time you need. Think on these ideas for a minute. Think about it over the weekend. Think on them for a lifetime, if you’d like. But, really sit with them. Let them burrow deep.

Then, let’s continue this conversation. Share the conversation with a friend. Take it wherever you feel like it should go. Ask questions! Tell me a parable! Anything!

I can’t wait to read your thoughts.

I find that the best way to get my house clean is to throw a party.

My desk may be covered with books and papers, my laundry bin filled, and my various interests — knitting and sewing being those that come with the most accessories — all sprawled out across the dining room table, but as soon as I decide to invite people over? POOF!! I’m a bearded Mary Poppins, snapping my fingers at the furniture. Before the song is over, my house looks marvelous.

All it took was a spoon full of sugar and an Evite.

This happens in extreme cases, too. When my husband and I sold our house last year and moved across town to a slightly smaller, more manageable rental, we scheduled a gathering with friends exactly one week after our move in date. It wasn’t a “help us unpack our boxes” party, or a “let’s hang art” soiree. Nnnnope. It was the end of October, and we threw a Halloween party. Boxes be damned!!

In seven days, we unpacked all of our bags, hung all of our art, filled every drawer and shelf, and made the crucial decisions about where to sit, where to eat, and where to place the plants so that they’d have the best chance of survival. It was a whirlwind of a week, but we got it done. And, were it not for us becoming impromptu party planners, the process may have dragged on for weeks — months, even.

I bring this up because The Spring Equinox (Alban Eilir/Eostre/Ostara) is exactly two weeks from today, and I have no idea what I’m going to do to celebrate. I’ll be away from home, cloistered in a hotel room in Los Angeles, far from my altar, my ritual garb, and the big, budding Maple Tree in my backyard. I imagined myself doing ritual under that tree once the snow melted, inviting a few friends to take part with me. But, that isn’t going to happen this month.

I could just prepare a personal ritual, making it a full-fledged, ADF style, bells and whistles affair, and perform it alone on the morning of the Equinox. There is an ADF grove in Southern California, Raven’s Cry Grove, and they celebrate (as many of our groups do) on the Saturday following the actual Equinox, but I’ll be traveling on that day as well.

See, part of my study requirement with ADF (Ár nDraíocht Féin) is to honor and celebrate each of the eight High Days throughout a single year, and to record my experiences. Ideally, I would celebrate the High Days with a group of ADF Druids, but this isn’t a strict requirement. Only four of the eight rituals need to be ADF style.

It’s just that I want to have an ADF ritual on the Equinox, and I want to share it with others. The quality of my religious experience changes greatly when I take part in ritual and fellowship with like-minded folk. I felt this most profoundly during PantheaCon when I was asked to participate in the ADF ritual alongside the Senior Clergy.

I wasn’t expecting to be involved in any way. It was a last-minute decision made by the clergy — literally, the night before the ritual. And, just like with our moving-in Halloween party, I made it work. I purchased a long, green robe in the PantheaCon vendor room, I processed into the room beside the priests like a pro, and when it was my time, I stepped into the center, lifted my voice, invoked the spirit of Inspiration, and felt a real sense of purpose and belonging.

For the rest of the ritual, I was fully present, fully engaged, and swept up in reverent worship.

And that’s the thing — I love being with people. It doesn’t matter if it’s a themed party or a sacred ritual, I love the energy of a group. When I clean house, I’m readying the space so that all those who enter will feel welcome, relaxed, and happy. My guests are my motivators, and my reward. But now, as I look toward the coming Equinox, I have no guests for which to prepare, or even a fixed space to make ready.

So, I’m reaching out to you, my friends and loyal readers. Maybe you could brainstorm with me.

If you’ve been a solitary — either by choice or by circumstance — how did you celebrate the High Days? If you have experience at leading groups, what do you do to prepare for your gatherings? If you have insights into how I might approach my situation, I would love hear them! Please post them in the comments.

In this last week of post-Pantheacon decompression, I’ve discovered a few things about myself.

First, as much as I am invested in my online work, either through blogging or social networking, nothing compares to real-life, skin and sweat, handshakes and hugs interaction. You can imagine all you want about how great it would feel to dance, but that isn’t the same as dancing.

And, I love to dance.

Pantheacon, my first large Pagan gathering, provided me with the opportunity to embody my spiritual practice, and to present myself as a spiritual and religious person. I wore my little “Druid” nameplate, a keepsake of Uncle Isaac, I introduced myself proudly to everyone I met, and I became at different moments a student, an inquisitor, a historian and a kid in a candy store. I had permission to engage in dialogue about complicated, esoteric ideas with a number of great thinkers, not because that permission was explicitly given to me by someone else, but because I gave it to myself. It was kind of self-liberation. I highly recommend it.

Second, I’ve learned that I have an easier time investing in my religious practice if I’m given — or, again, if I give myself — a more active role. If I’m left to watch from the sidelines I may be more inclined to criticize, analyze, and generally keep a distance between me and what’s actually going on. Skills of observation are useful to a writer, but observation doesn’t always trump experience. Sometimes it’s better to get your hands dirty.

And, I love dirt.

As I wrote about in my last post, I’ve been consistent in approaching my altar each morning for the better part of the last month. No matter how groggy I feel, I perform a short ceremony to honor Those who I honor, and then I start my day. I do what’s worked for me before, and open myself to whatever happens. Sometimes I improvise, and other times I follow my simple liturgy. Regardless of what transpires, the regularity of the ritual is proving to be very nourishing.

With my daily ritual firmly in place, I’ve decided to return to the Dedicant Path, an ADF study program which seeks to develop one’s own personal religion (Neopagan Druidism), while deepening one’s knowledge about the Indo-European cultures of antiquity. I feel that ADF has something very valuable to offer me, and this was confirmed by my experience in ritual and in fellowship with the ADF members I met at Pantheacon.

I’ve also decided to return to University and seek a degree in religious studies. This decision requires much more planning and preparation, and it probably won’t come to pass for another 12 or 18 months. But, I feel that if I’m going to take myself seriously as a writer on religious matters, not to mention if I’m going to ask anyone else to do the same, I have to put in the work.

When I commented on my Facebook page about looking into applying to Marylhurst University for further study, an ADF Druid who I met in San Jose replied,

“Do it, brother. You were called to lead.”

If he’s right, then I have a lot of work to do. And, if he’s right, I have a lot thinking to do about what it means to be a leader.

There have been great discussions on blogs and in podcasts about Pagan leadership, and I’d like to continue that dialogue here at Bishop in the Grove. My readership is so diverse, and so willing to engage in deep thinking about practice, tradition, philosophy, and belief, that it would be foolish of me not to ask you what you think about leadership.

What does effective religious leadership look like to you? Do you expect leaders to be well-educated? Charismatic? Inspirational? Instructive?

When you think about leadership in the Pagan community, where do you think we’ve gotten it right, and where do we have room for improvement?

Please, lend me your insights into what leadership means. And then, if you know someone who might have a valuable perspective on this subject, pass along this post.

My religion is experienced in the doing.

This became clear to me as I entered the sacred space of our ADF ritual at Pantheacon, lifted my voice to invoke the spirit of Inspiration, and, for a moment, left my mind behind.

When I stepped in front of the altar and began to sing, I was performing a religious and magickal act. It was spontaneous and improvisational, and it originated from within my heart. It was the purest offering I could make.

In that moment, I was not thinking about what it meant to be a Druid. I was not weighing the strengths and weaknesses of the various Druid traditions, or squabbling over the definition of a word or title. No – I was invoking. I was calling down, stirring up, igniting the fire of inspiration in my own heart and in the hearts of all those present.

There was nothing intellectual about it.

“Worship requires action – it is not an intellectual task.”

These words came from Jean “Drum” Pagano, a man I met during my weekend in San Jose. Drum has been involved with ADF since the earliest days, and he serves in various leadership positions within the organization. Drum’s voice, in the few conversations we had in person and through his written word, resonates deeply with me.

Have you ever met someone and felt instantly as though you understood something about them, as though something inside them was very similar to something inside you?

That’s how it felt when I met Drum.

Drum says that worship requires action, and I heard that very message echoed by other Pagan leaders during the conference. So much of what we do in our day-to-day lives is mind work. We blog about our ideas, we argue about our differences, we share memes on Facebook ad nauseam (which, in my opinion, is very low mind work), and we allow this to consume great portions of our day.

What happens, then, when we spend our lives in our mind, on our screens, and even in the pages of our books, but we do not practice the action of worship?

It is no surprise that during November and December of last year, a time when I felt most conflicted about my religious path, that my altar was a wasteland; vacant, and unused. I did not approach it because I was uncertain if I believed in the words that I was saying each morning. I thought about it, and thought about it, and when I couldn’t decide how to think about it, I did nothing.

(If you were reading my blog during that time, you might remember a change in my tone. If you weren’t, you’ll find evidence of the change in the Archives.)

The result of my lack of doing was a period of spiritual stasis. In the absence of regular worship I became a bit more cynical, a little jaded even, and there was no sign of the fire in my heart which I speak of so often. I sing from this fire. I write from this fire. I make love from this fire. Worship keeps the fire burning, even as worship is an extension of this fire.

But then, after I became tired of the cold, dim reality of a life without reverence, I began my daily practice again. When I did, something changed.

I lit a candle, prepared a chalice of water, and laid out a wand made of wood. I gave thanks to the Mother. I called upon the God who had aided me before in the creation of sacred space, and was happy to discover that I could feel His presence again. I made offerings to the Gods and Goddesses, known and unknown, to the Ancestors, and to the Spirits of the Land. I lit a fire for Brighid, and gave thanks to Her. I did all of these things, stumbling from time to time, but reverent as I could muster, and my consciousness began to shift back toward the fire.

Worship requires action. You cannot think yourself into a state of transpersonal awareness. You must do something.

I wonder (more of an imaginative act than an intellection one) if you’ve experienced something similar. Have you been through periods when you thought more than you felt? And, if so, did that throw you off? Perhaps you have a different relationship to the intellect altogether. Perhaps it is a starting point for your experience of worship.

I always love to know what my readers think, but this time I’m going ask:

What do you do?

I brought my little tin-can altar to Pantheacon, and set it up in my hotel room on the glass, circular end table next to the lounge chair. The conference program was rather stern about not burning incense or lighting candles anywhere in the hotel, but I chose to believe that the rules didn’t include small tea lights and mini-tapers on end tables. Honestly, if I’m standing naked before an altar I can guarantee you that I’ll be the first to notice if something catches on fire.

Bringing my altar with me provided a feeling of continuity at the start of the unfamiliar experience, and doing ritual this morning offered a similar sense of familiarity as I try to make sense of all that’s happened over the past few days. I’ve resisted posting platitudes about Pantheacon, either on my blog or on Facebook, because the experience of this gathering was profound for me. It’s worthy of more than a quick summary.

I recognize that there is a great deal of controversy stirring about online regarding the Z Budapest ritual, and I’m going to give myself a little more time before I write about that. I was at the scene, seated with Thorn and the other 89 silent protesters, positioned directly across from Z when she emerged from the conference room to speak at the group. I wrote furiously in my little notebook to capture as many details as I could, and I intend to put a post together that not only describes the scene of the protest, but also reflects on some of the subtler points that we miss beneath the cacophony of internet chatter and bickering.

I think it’s important to remember — not only for me, but also for those who were unable to attend Pantheacon — that this conference was much more than a single controversy over gender identity and the policies of inclusion and exclusion to ritual. Those dialogues did occur, and are worth unpacking even further. But, we must try to place a single conversation in its proper context, even if we believe that the message at the heart of that conversation is revolutionary, or urgent.

Pantheacon was, itself, a kind of ritual. We gathered in a hotel, sanctified the space, and proceeded to seek knowledge, explore community, and challenge our assumptions about who we are, what we believe, and why we practice as we do. It was a complicated ritual, and, as with most rituals, there is always room for improvement.

Pantheacon was a dynamic and enriching experience. Participating in it affirmed for me a number of things, not the least of which is that I have no qualms about identifying as a Pagan anymore. The discussion about that word, while fascinating for a time, is much less important to me than it was just a few months ago. Not only am I comfortable using the term “Pagan” to broadly identify what I do, I make the distinction that what I do is not all of who I am. Moving into this awareness is liberating.

I intend to explore these revelations in the coming days, as well as to describe what I discovered about my relationship to ADF Druidry, OBOD, and Celtic Reconstructionism, what it felt like to invoke the spirit of Inspiration into ritual space, and what immediate challenges I believe have been presented to me for my own spiritual growth and development.

I’m not going to try to do this all at once. I don’t feel an immediate urgency to understand Pantheacon, right now. I’m going to take my time, let it steep for a little longer. After all, the energy raised in a ritual truly begins to serve its purpose once the ritual has ended, no? If that’s true, then the real effect of Pantheacon begins now.

Rather than become overwhelmed by that truth, I approach my altar and light a candle. I center myself, call upon Those who I call upon, and carry on with my life. I hold on to the thread of continuity which led me to Pantheacon, and I trust this it will lead me to more enchantment, more challenges, and more opportunities to serve my community, my land, my Gods. I do all of this with a deeper sense of self, a burgeoning belief about my purpose as a writer, a teacher and a creative soul, and with the feeling of profound gratitude.

That is where I begin on the first day after my first Pantheacon.

I’m buzzing. Vibrating. I know that sounds New Age-y, but that’s really what it feels like to be in my body at this moment.

I’m sitting in the lobby of the San Jose DoubleTree Hotel, and Pantheacon is exploding all around me. There are men in skirts, women in top hats, people whose gender is a complete mystery, elders, newbies (like me), and a general spirit of something happening.

This is the place to be, and I’m here.

*grin*

Oh, and did I mention that there is a strong corseted faction? Because there is, and it’s amazing.

I’m overwhelmed, really. I didn’t know it would feel quite so exhilarating to be near this many strange, and delightfully decorated people. It’s as though my books have been made flesh.

For real.

I’ve spoken with Jim Dickinson, the Project Manager for the Pagan Library in Delaware, Ivo Domínguez, Jr., Author and Teacher, and Candace Kant, Ph.D, the new Dean of Students for Cherry Hill Seminary.

All before lunch.

For the majority of my time as an out-and-about Pagan, I’ve lived on the page and the screen. But this? This is something all together different. This is real. Real, and feathered, and leathered, and bearded, and adorned, and sitting right across from me.

All accoutrements aside, I’m thrilled that my day is scheduled to include:

1. A presentation by Raven Grimassi, Lon Milo DuQuette, T. Thorn CoyleDiana Paxson, Orion Foxwood, Mary K. Greer, and Jacki Smith (“A Witch, A Seer, and a Crowleyite Walk Into a Bar”) put on by Weiser Books.

2. Introductions to many an ADF member, including Rev. Medb Olson when she leads her presentation, “Group Dynamics for Pagan Organizations.”

3. Ivo’s presentation, “Triple Shadow: The Shadow of the Lower, Middle, & Higher Self.” (He has the most impressive beard, doesn’t he?)

4. Who KNOWS what else!!

I’ve been reminded on many occasion to eat regular meals, drink water, and breathe. I’ll try to remember those.

I’m not going to attempt to do anything now except relish this feeling. There will be time to process later, time to sort through the images, the messages and the emotions and see what it might all mean.

For now, I soak in the energy!

(If you want to follow my up-to-the-minute posts, follow me on Twitter and Facebook. I’ll be posting…a lot.)

Here’s why ADF is awesome: The Core Order of Ritual.

There are other reasons, too, but the Core Order of Ritual (or COoR) tops my list at the moment.

The COoR is the key liturgical framework for ritual that unites the Druids of Ár nDraíocht Féin, regardless of what Hearth Tradition they’ve adopted for themselves or for their groves. Each group can make subtle variations to the language of the ritual, paying homage to the Gods with whom they are in relationship (Celtic, Vedic, Norse, etc.), but the basic form is always the same.

The COoR is to ADF Druids what the rites of the Book of Common Prayer are to Episcopalians. Both are blueprints, which, if followed, can create for the practitioner a deep, enriched spiritual and religious experience.

As I’ve written before, liturgy is important to me. I find comfort in its structure, consistency, and rhythm. As I return to my altar this week, I need not have resolved all of my questions of belief in order to enact my ritual, for my ritual has a form which is independent of my state of belief or faith. The form allows the rite to function, and through fully engaging with the form I become open once again to something divine.

It’s amazing, really. It works.

Full disclosure: I was hesitant about ADF at first. I found Druidry through OBOD, the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, which is based out of England. The British Druids, led by the eloquent and satiny-voiced, Phillip Carr-Gomm, were attractive to me for their emphasis on inner work and psychology. Theirs is not a strictly liturgical, religious Druidism, but rather a philosophical model which can be applied (in their experience and perspective) to a wide variety of religious traditions. Plus, OBOD emphasizes the re-enchantment of the world, and I believe that’s a concept with which all Pagans should concern themselves.

ADF, on the other hand, felt very much like the religion that I was leaving. ADF is public about being non-dogmatic, but at the same time they affirm a very particular viewpoint on the nature of the Gods (hard-polytheist, by and large), the paramount importance of historicity, and a religious identity that sets itself very much apart from the Abrahamic traditions. If you read any of my November and December writing (which can be found in the Post Archive page), you’ll know that I go back and forth on Christianity, and on setting up your identity in opposition to another religious tradition.

I didn’t think I needed another religion after Episcopalianism. That wasn’t what Paganism was going to be for me. Religion, with all of its rules and guidelines, felt counter-intuitive; counter-Pagan, if you will.

I’ve bounced back and forth between OBOD and ADF for a couple of years now, undecided as to which kind of Druid I should be. I listen religiously to Dahm the Bard’s excellent podcast, Druidcast (which I highly recommend for its production value, creative contributions, and the glimpse it offers into what British Druidry looks like today). I also continued to revisit the audio lessons from OBOD’s Bardic Grade correspondence course. The information contained in them may conflict with the perspective of the more reconstructionist-minded Druids of ADF, but I liked it just the same.

But, as I wrote about in my last post, there is a special place in my heart (and on my altar) for the founder of ADF, Isaac Bonewits. He may have spoken against some of the very practices and beliefs held by OBOD that resonate in my heart, but he’s still an important figure in my spiritual formation.

And now I am rediscovering the value of the COoR, and in the process reconciling myself to the fact that I am, indeed, a religious person. I need the form. I flourish in the form. Religion, as I’m experiencing it as a Solitary Druid, can be a fresh fire, rekindled every morning I return to my altar. Religion need not be the enemy. Religion is just a tool; a system. In truth, I needn’t even spend too much time thinking about this practice asreligion. It’s my ritual. My personal practice to honor the Cosmos and all of its divine creatures.

There’s reason, I think, to be at peace with the back-and-forth-ness. I’m rarely just one thing. I float, I drift, and then I plant my feet on something firm. I engage in ritual, and remember something about myself. The process is a sacred one, even in the more difficult moments.

What a pleasant discovery.

So what of it, my friends and loyal readers — how do you experience ritual? Do you share with me this love of liturgy, or are you more freeform? Does your personal practice resemble something religious, structured and blueprinted, or is it mystical and abstract?

Liturgy works for me. What works for you?

I’m wearing Isaac Bonewits’s belt buckle. Have been for days.

The pewter Pan, which once held up the pants of a great Druid, is now playing his flute just above my zipper. This seems both an appropriate and terribly dangerous location for the randy God.

I’ve never been a devotee of Pan — at least, not in the traditional sense. I was a bit rowdy in my younger days. As a gay man born at the tail-end of the gayest, most sexually liberated, pre-AIDS decade in the century (1979, to be exact), I spent the better part of my early 20’s trying to make up for all the good times I’d missed.

Let’s just say… I would have made Pan proud.

But it wasn’t devotion to the Greek God, or a nostalgia for my free loving days that led me to bid higher and higher on the belt buckle, or on the “DRUID” name tag that I also won from Phaedra Bonewits’s eBay store.  No — it was Isaac. I wanted something that had belonged to him, and I wanted it for a very specific reason.

I’ve been drifting for weeks. I’ve had no personal practice, no clear sense of religious identity. One reader of mine, the writer, Gavin Andrew, asked in response to my post, Questioning Paganism…Again,

“So Teo, what do you do? What is it that resonates, in your very bones?”

It was a simple enough question. For Pagans, by and large, it is what we do that defines us. But I couldn’t answer him. Something about the simplicity of his question made me uncomfortable, perhaps because I hadn’t been doing much of anything for quite some time. My only regular act of doing was the picking apart of other people’s ideas, the dissecting of the various rituals I attended, and the mining of my own thoughts, feelings and experiences in search of good blog content.

That’s hardly a holistic, rich, and inspired spiritual practice.

If I’d been truly honest, I might have responded to Gavin in the past tense by saying:

I used to do a morning devotional, ADF style, before my home altar, during which I made offerings to the Gods (a.k.a. the Shining Ones), the Ancestors of blood, spirit, religion, tradition and place (a mouthful, yes, but I don’t like leaving people out), and the Spirits of the Land.

Used to.

I used to meditate, and seek out the presence of divine beings in my mind, my heart, my home and throughout the world I walked in. I used to feel confident in identifying as a Neopagan Druid; one who was seeking to forge something new and authentic in his life. I used to think a lot about Pagan ministry, too, as a possible vocation for me down the road.

These past tense practices are not completely lost to me, though they’ve often felt that way. I like to think that they’ve just been on hiatus; frozen in a stillness indicative of winter. They’ve been trapped under the snow; hidden from the sun.

But, the fire of spring is soon to return.

Imbolc, the holiday which honors the Goddess, Brighid, to whom Isaac was devoted in his life and whose symbol I had tattooed to my wrist on a pilgrimage to Ireland, is just a little over a week away. The winter cannot last forever, and neither can this spiritual stasis. The sun will return, and with it – I hope – will come a renewed, pious fire within me.

I bought Isaac’s belt buckle because I wanted to have something tangible to remind me of these things that I used to be passionate about. I wear it to aid me in connecting to the person who stood still before an altar, heart open, raising offerings to the Great Mystery, in all of its various parts and persons. I wear it to instill confidence, to inspire curiosity, and because it makes me smile. I wear it because Isaac was a person who believed in excellence, and who assumed that all of us were capable of such — if we were to commit ourselves to doing the hard work.

This is what I am doing now. This is how I’m beginning to re-engage with my spiritual practice.

Do the work, I imagine Isaac saying as I fasten Pan to the tattered old belt once worn by my grandfather.

Do the work.

So, this morning I returned to my altar for the first time in months. I tightened up my belt, and did the work.

So I’m talking with one my best girlfriends this morning, pacing around her kitchen as she cooks up some kale, and I’m telling her the story of me being told by a women that,

“Women, by nature, understand the Goddess better than men,”

or that,

There’s just something about women that makes it easier for us to understand human emotions,”

or some other such gender-stereotypical malarky.

I told her how there was going to be this paradigm shift from God-centered spirituality to Goddess-centered spirituality, and that I didn’t know what that meant for men (who, in this new paradigm stood the chance of becoming othered from the Goddess, just as for centuries woman have been othered by a “male” God).

Then, my friend, in true lioness form, puts the spatula down and says,

You need both. You need the Goddess and the God. You need the balance. You can’t just have one, or say that we’re moving from one to the other.

You. need. both.

Picture it: clouds part in the kitchen, the eggs sizzling in the background, and Clarity in the form of my friend arrives with the Goddess on one arm and the God on the other. Together they surround the fiercest woman I know and say to me — “See… we’re both here.”

Holy crap… I think I may be a Wiccan, I thought to myself.

Gender’s big on my brain at the moment. The Goddess, or the Divine Feminine (not sure if the capitalization is necessary), made her way through my last blog post, and she isn’t going anywhere soon, it seems.

A common theme in the responses, which at this point number well over 50, is that the idea of the Goddess taking center stage and replacing the God is false. Or, rather, it’s incomplete because it’s imbalanced. The problem in the logic, in this attempt to conceive of or work within some Goddess-exclusive paradigm, is in thinking that either God or Goddess should – or could – take the place of the other.

Standing in the kitchen, this God/Goddess balance finally made sense to me. It seemed correct, logical. It may still be lacking (isn’t everything lacking just a little bit?), but it felt right.

But What Will The Druids Say?

I’m an ADF Druid for a little over a year now, and there’s much about the group’s theology that I’m still wrestling with. They are not Wiccan, they’ll have you know. Nowhere close. They edge nearer to Reconstructionism, the practice of approximating and seeking to recreate the religious and cultural practices of an ancient culture within a modern context, than does the other group to which I belong – OBOD.

The OBOD model has a great deal of flexibility built within it, as it isn’t really a religious system as much as it a philosophical one. There are OBOD members for whom the idea of God and Goddess working together makes perfect sense, and they hold that theological tenant while still perceiving their path to be druidic, in nature. Some OBOD’ers even practice what is called, DruidCraft, a blending of Revivalist Druidry and Wicca.

Maybe that’s where I’m headed?

Personally, I think that we live in a world of many Gods (intentionally capitalized, because I think they’re distinct, divine beings), and I also think that this idea of God and Goddess may speak to something very true.

What I’m not sure of is how to reconcile those differing theological viewpoints.

Forgive me for my machinations, but I feel this need to find and develop a firm religious identity; one that is exactly what it is, and that functions in a clear, delineated way. I want something that simply is one thing.

But then, I’m standing in the kitchen with my friend, who’s not a Wiccan, thinking that Wiccan theology makes a lot of sense, just as parts of ADF Druidism make a lot of sense, and OBOD philosophy makes a lot of sense, and I come face to face with the awareness that it all makes sense, a little.

My need for something firm and fixed is countered by an awareness that Divine Reality, if there is such a thing, is actually formless and fluid.

Despite my best efforts, I end up walking between these conflicting ideas, trying to hold the tension between the two. This seems like my spiritual and religious path, to be honest: some sort of Sacred In Between-ness.

Ok, Bishop In The Grove readers — here’s where you come in. Let’s keep the conversation going.

How do these insights resonate with you? Have you had a similar experience of being in between traditions, and if so, does that feel comfortable to you? How have you been able to reconcile conflicting ideas about the God, the Goddess, or The Gods?

Post your thoughts, musings or questions in the comment section, and then click “Share” to post to Facebook, Tweet it, or pass it along to a friend who you think might have something interesting to contribute.

The burly, bearded, leather wearing Heathens didn’t quite know what to make of Sister Who, but that didn’t stop them from helping build her Interfaith Chapel.

Sister Who squinted as she gave the instructions for how to put which pole into which joint, and when she did her fake eyelashes fluttered like plastic butterflies. Every piece of her chain-link chapel was numbered, Sister Who explained, and alignment was key. If they didn’t go in just right they would bind.

Her voice was low and cello-like.

I looked at the brute of Heathens and I presumed that they were no stranger to construction. They’d built a thing or two in their time. A house, maybe. Or a battle fort, more like. These men grew shoulders two hands wide, and more than one of them carried a Leatherman on their belt. They were men who looked very much like men, unlike Sister Who, who did not.

But the brute took the instructions quietly, and didn’t make a fuss when everything collapsed a little halfway through the erection of the bell tower. They let Sister Who explain her number system without interruption, as she impressed upon them the need to return the alan wrench to it’s proper place after the screws were tightened, and they were patient and careful in the placement of each purple, spray-painted bar.

The Heathens were nothing but respectful to the Sister Who.

Nuns in Drag

What is totally and completely “other” to mainstream society can be no big for Pagans. Witches, Druids, and long bearded Heathens move in and about the Pagan Pride Fest environment with comfort and ease in cloaks and kilts, adorned with pewter hammers and pentacles, staffs in hand, bodies tattooed and glittered, and there is a level of acceptance that one doesn’t find in “normal” society. Pagans have created a new set of norms, which, if they were to become too rigid or backed by dogma, could easily lead to a king of Pagan mainstreaming. But for now, it seems, at least in Denver, the “live and let live” mentality is still alive and kicking.

Sister Who, a gay man and former body builder, who dresses in a black nun outfit and builds an interfaith chapel open to freaks of all make and model, could be considered the liminal among the fringe. She is the person at the Pagan festival who inspires curiosity and wonder in the Witch.

What is that all about, I was asked.

That’s Sister Who, I said, as if we all should already be aware of her.

There is great value in being a representative of the liminal. We forget that sometimes in our quest to attain greater acceptance in society, or protection under the law.

We’re just like you, we exclaim.

But it would be hard for some of us to look at Sister Who and make that statement.

The person who is willing to be the clown, willing to be slightly absurd in the face of oppressive hegemony, teaches us lessons about our own desire to restrict or bind the self-expression of others. We flinch at the sight of their strangeness, and in that moment we have an opportunity to better understand the reaction of the people who flinch at the sight of us.

A Druid Said WHAT?

I overheard a discussion at this Saturday’s Front Range Pagan Pride in which an ADF Druid exclaimed that Wicca was just wrong. I didn’t catch all of the details, but I know Gerald Gardener came up – something about historical inaccuracies (an issue that many of my ADF brethren take up with revivalists traditions).

I thought to myself, even Pagans are susceptible to self-righteousness. People subjected to societal bigotry can become bigots; Women can wield power like misogynists and alienate men as they attempt to empower women; Gays can stereotype Straights or be hateful towards Transgendered people; any of us who have been “othered” possess a distinct knowledge of how to “other.” We’ve watched people build a wall to keep us out, and now, on the outskirts, we build a wall to keep ourselves protected.

But Sister Who sat in a chapel where the walls were see-through. Everyone was welcome there. No one was wrong. All were blessed.

Thank The Heathens

The Heathens led the closing ritual of the Front Range Pagan Pride event. The blot stirred up the winds of Odin, and we each were blessed with the sanctified water. Sister Who stood a few people down from me, and I wondered if the leader of the rite would flinch before shaking his bit of branch her way.

He didn’t.

She was one of them – one of us – paying respect to the Gods, paying respect to one another. She, and all of us standing in circle together were an example how Pagan Pride events can be great. We come together with the opportunity to celebrate our differences, our “other-ness.” We give one another a chance to build someone else’s temple, to worship someone else’s deity, and to do so with the grace of a Sacred Clown.

"In service to the personal and spiritual growth of others" - Sister Who

Have you ever been to an interfaith gathering where you experienced either a real sense of coming together, or an undercurrent of alienation? If so, tell me about your experiences in the comment section. And if you’d like to extend the conversation even further, share this post with your friends on Facebook or Twitter.

We are all solitary. Even those of us who practice with a group, or who gather at festivals to dance around fires, or stand in circles under full moons. We are all solitary, still.

There are politics in Groves and Covens, just as in Churches and Temples. There are people who seek to shape things in their image, and to bend the will of the universe to their liking. And, there are people who just long to be loved, and respected, and made to feel important, regardless of the size of their theological vocabulary or their experience as a ritualist.

They are solitary, too.

There’s been an ongoing conversation in my solitary world with other solitaries, with Pagan politicians and with my husband about the idea of ministry, and what it means to me, personally, and to me as a member of the greater, if somewhat formless, Pagan community.

Words like ministry, or worship, or even prayer have been met with a certain degree of hesitation from my fellow paganus; an unwillingness to even consider how these words, rooted as they seem to be in Christian culture, might be aplicable to our spiritual tradition and experience.

That’s fine. I’m not here to evangelize, especially not for the sake of vocabulary.

But, I’m still feeling drawn to the resonance of certain words; ministry, most of all.

Ablaze In The Water

When I think of ministry, I think of fire. Fire, for me, is a symbol for transformation, for the exercising of one’s True Will, for both the stream of thoughts on the page and also the explosion those thoughts make as they are born into experience. Fire, in my imagination, resides primarily in the heart.

Ministry, as I understand it, is the act of nurturing that fire, both in yourself and in others. One who ministers is one who keeps the fire burning, or who teaches others the skills needed for this internal fire tending.

Viewing ministry in this way allows me, and people of many varying traditions – monotheistic, polytheistic, agnostic, atheist – to develop a craft of caring for the hearts of other people. Ministry, in this light, is more an art form than an extension of any sort of dogmatic imperative.

I brought up ministry to my ADF mentor, and told him about this fire in the heart. He suggested that it may also be good to imagine a fire in the head. The “Imbas“, or quite literally, “fire in the head” in Gaelic, is the inspiration from the Gods which drives us to create. It is also the substance, metaphysically speaking, which connects the Heavens, the Underworld, and this place we live in, often called the Mid Earth.

I like the idea that something inside me, something which connects my heart, my mind, and all of my creative parts is also the thing which connects me to my Ancestors, to my Gods, to this Earth and all of its inhabitants. There’s got to be a word for it in English… in every language. If not, there should be.

A Question Of Vocation

I grew up in a tradition of priests, not ministers. Now I’m in a world of priest and priestesses, and all I can think about is ministry. For a time, I thought I should be a priest. Recently, I considered that maybe I’m cut out for ministry.

Perhaps I could be both.

Priesthood, as I understood it then and as I’ve seen it played out now in ADF Druidry, is mainly a function of serving the community through leading ritual and through keeping the sacred days sacred.

I could do that as a solitary practitioner.

Ministry, as I’ve defined it above, is really about keeping the fire burning. I can make a practice of keeping watch of my fire, making sure it is lit, well fueled, tended to. Then I can reach out to those closest to me – as an act of compassion as well as one of piety – to care for them; to keep their fire burning.

This, perhaps, makes being solitary less solitary.

But I will always be a solitary. So will you. Even if we develop community around ourselves, there is an aspect of our journey that will always be done alone. I say this not to sound morose, or to suggest that we be pitied. This is just the truth.

There is cause for gladness, though.

The fire connects us. The fire, which led me to these words, leads you to creation, to re-creation, to transformation and new growth. In the fire, we are never truly alone. Through the fire, we are connected to all that has been before us and all that will ever be; we are one with the Ancestors, and we become the Ancestors of those to come; we glean insight into the nature of Divine Reality, and we discover the magic in the ordinary world we live and work in.

The fire brings light, and the fire destroys, and the fire prepares the ground for new beginnings; be they in your heart, in your head, or on the furthest edge of your imagination. The fire reaches that place, and the fire is that place.

 

A Blessing On You

May your heart and head be lit ablaze with the fire of Imbas, of transformative creativity, and may the awareness of this fire be with you, always.

May you be a Priest, a Priestess, and one who ministers to the fire.

 

If these words have spoken to you, and if you’d like to speak to my understanding of the fire, or more importantly, to your understanding of the fire, please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you. And, let the blaze illuminate the computer screens of all your friends by sharing the post on Facebook, Twitter and Google+!

Over the past few days I’ve taken great pleasure in reading and re-reading the posts of the Rogue Priest, Mr. Drew Jacob, who describes himself as,

Priest of many gods. Freelance author, nonprofit professional, and full-time adventurer.

I like Drew. He’s intellectually rigorous, but not snobby. He’s thoughtful and respectful of his readership, and he challenges us to think broader and deeper.

I think I’d end up a regular at his Temple if it weren’t 900 miles away.

Drew doesn’t identify as a Pagan, although I took him for one. I asked him how exactly he wasn’t Pagan, and he did a mighty fine job explaining that in this post, “Why I’m Not Pagan“. Give it a read.

In response, I’m writing to explain my relationship with the identifier, Pagan, and how it sometimes fits and often does not fit my sense of religious identity.

An Acolyte’s Primer

There’s no better preparation for becoming a liturgist, Pagan or otherwise, than to train directly with a priest in the Episcopal Church. They do liturgy well. I discovered a love of ritual at a very young age. Eight, maybe? The smells of incense, the white robes and rope belts, the ringing of bells and the chanting… it was heavenly.

I loved church. I loved being a part of a community. My priest taught me, directly and by example, that my actions, be they ceremonial or mundane, helped to created something vibrant and meaningful for myself and for others. Liturgy can be truly transformative magic, and the magic took root in my soul. But more importantly, the magic had context within the community. It served a greater purpose than my own personal fulfillment.

Did I love Jesus? Was a Bible thumper? No, not exactly. I didn’t not love Jesus. It just wasn’t really about him, blasphemous as that may have seemed. It was more about all the stuff that surrounded Jesus; the myth made manifest through our actions. That’s what made me feel good about being Christian. That, and the community of people who cared about me.

The Beauty of Ruin

I had my hard times with the church, don’t get me wrong. But I always returned because I believed in the magic that happened during the services, and between the people who showed up. I believed in an incarnate Spirit, and that She wasn’t just some idea for theologians to parse out. The Spirit was real, and moved through a place. God was a mystery, but the Spirit was the the source of the most amazing, moving, meaningful magic.

For a brief while, I was a youth leader for the Juniors and Seniors at my Cathedral. I was tattooed, queer, and unwilling to allow them to rest on dogmatic laurels. I challenged my kids’ assumptions about God, about faith and about the strange and often uncomfortable intersection of the two. I opened them up to the idea that there was more than one way to connect with the Divine. I told them that I didn’t really care what they believed. I just cared that they sought out something deeper. I wanted them to experience the magic I’d felt in my heart.

In time, I came to realize that the Church was not concerned so much with magic. The Church is a business, a bureaucracy. Ultimately, it all boils down to belief, and due process. Jesus is God, and God is Love, and saying that Love is the Law is legalism, eventually.

So, in spite of all the joy it brought me, I left.

by Hee K. Chun

From That To This

Being Pagan is much more than simply not being Christian. You don’t walk away from the Church and just – poof! – you’re a Pagan. At least, this has not been my experience.

Two years ago I found OBOD, The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, and I thought that their expression of Druidry might be a good fit for me. They hold up creativity as sacred, and their understanding of Awen (a Welsh word meaning, literally, inspiration) felt very much like my understanding of the Spirit. I sent off for their correspondence course.

OBOD isn’t a religion, per se. They are a Druid Order, and they approach Druidry more as a philosophy. You don’t have to be Pagan to be a Druid, they posit, and their stance was important to me at the onset of my new quest, because I didn’t know if I was Pagan. I just knew I was seeking something mystical, magical and communal. I was seeking an immediate connection to the Source — the Awen.

OBOD’s study course was interesting for a while, but I slowly lost interest. I had no community support, and the absence of religious structure left me feeling aimless in my studies.

I found religion and structure in ADF, or Ár nDraíocht Féin (Our Druidry in Irish). ADF also offers a study course, but it leans more towards the anthropological and less to the philosophical. ADF is much more like a Reconstructionist tradition, placing high emphasis on building a religious practice the approaches the traditions of the Indo-European people. Accuracy is paramount. ADF is also explicitly Pagan.

Pagan as Pre-requisite

I joined ADF and decided that I might be able to find the magic by participating in the religion. Rather than chase the Spirit, I would build the Temple. creating a home in which the Spirit could dwell.

And I’ve done that, at least on a small scale. I have an altar, and I worship daily. I’ve taken to reading books on polytheism, Indo-European tradition and Celtic deities. I have a personal religion now, albeit one I still don’t completely understand, and it satisfies my need for fragrant, candle-lit, ceremonial liturgy. What it doesn’t do, however, is provide any real sense of community.

A Context of Communion

It comes to down to is this: I believe that a solitary, Pagan/Druid practice is not a viable substitute for communal worship. Not for me, at least. The work I do alone should prepare me for work I do in community. Magic requires context in order for it to be valuable to anyone other than just myself, and community creates the context.

I think Pagans – and for now, I include myself in that category – would do good to sit with the idea of Communion, as it relates to community. Set aside the Christian connotation for a moment. I’m not talking about the consumption of body & blood. I’m talking about the something more universal.

See, communion is more than just a Christian sacrament. Communion is a human birthright. We commune with one another so that we might catch a glimpse, experience a moment of kinship with the spiritual forces that create our world, and with whom we work to create the magic in our lives.

Communion, as an extension of community, creates the context through which our personal magic is imbued with purpose.

So, for now, I’m a Pagan in search of Communion. This is my new starting point.

If this was post was interesting to you, please be a good friend and tweet or Facebook share it.

My friend and fellow Dedicant in the ADF Druidry Training Course, Kristin of Grey Wren’s Flight, had a mighty fine idea on Monday. She decided that in response to the disconnect we often feel between our experiences of real-life, physically manifest, grit’n’grime spiritual practice and the text-based, idea-centered, socially networked way we communicate online, she would share a photo of her spiritual work space. It is, in effect, a reminder that she does exist somewhere in the world…not just on my computer screen.

So, I join her today in the sharing.

Here is a photo of a my bookshelf, messy and well-used. My jars of herbs and roots sit beside candles, oils and a small statue of Hekate (while not a Goddess of my primary Hearth, she still makes herself known now and then). I’ve placed my ADF membership card in front of a cherished copy of The Solitary Druid and some other scary academic books I’ve still yet to read. The silhouetted photo of me on a pilgrimage to Ireland is a reminder of my time in the Episcopal Church; a time where I first commented to the sacred land of my spiritual ancestors.

There’s plenty more tucked into drawers and hiding inside leather pouches. But, I’ll keep that bit of mystery for another post.

Thanks to Kristin for encouraging this first Show & Tell Post!

Show and Tell #1

 

There was no mention of the Full Moon at the most recent Full Moon rite I attended. This struck me as strange, but I didn’t bring it up. After all, I hadn’t arranged the Meetup and I wasn’t leading the ritual. But, I did take note.

Are we what we say we are, I wondered.

Some of the people in attendance, myself included, introduced themselves using their self-chosen, magical or Pagan names. Mine, Teo, is a derivation of my given name and, admittedly, lacks a certain mystic flair that those chosen names of the fantasy/animal-totem variety possess. I could have been a Wolf Claw, or a White Dragon. Instead, just Teo – pronounced “tAy-oh”. The unusual name sometimes makes for awkward introductions, even at Pagan Meetups.

“Teo,” I say, extending my hand.

“Pardon?”

“TAAY-oh.”

An awkward nod. A polite, understanding smile. You’re Pagan, the smile acknowledges. A bit strange, and I accept that because I’m a bit strange, too.

Are we who we say we are, I wondered.

There’s a buzz in the Pago-blogosphere about this idea of expostmodernism, specifically as it relates to religion, it’s survival, or it’s demise. According to Drew Jacob, “the core of expostmodernism is a culture shift in a direction that is pro-individual,” and the primacy of the individual’s personal journey. Individuation by selection of a new name fits right into the expostmodernism ethos.

The expostmodern seeker, as Drew describes her, is not unlike the author of this blog. I write into the void, meeting on occasion, either here or on another blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook, a like-minded, text-based traveler with whom I try to forge something akin to a pen-pal relationship. Except, I don’t have the benefit of seeing their handwriting, catching their scent on the page, touching something – anything – tactile and of the earth. Its all text. Text projected onto glass. Scrying through code, the expostmodernist forges a kind of community that doesn’t resemble the groves, covens or mystical orders that I imagined when I first started down this path.

Drew may be right. The future of religious community may be grounded (a word that is ironic, possibly inappropriate to use in this context) in text/hypertext-based, Internet-centered communication. However, my deep longing for physical, organic, of-the-dirt community, marked and made fleshy by the sensory experiences (sharing food, lighting non-virtual fires) which are unattainable through the internet, gives me cause to question whether the eventuality he predicts will provide the spiritual sustenance I need.

Who will stir the soup?

My family is a kitchen family. We gather where the food is made, we pontificate where the food is made, we fantasize where the food is made. We make magic around the gas-stove hearth, along with hand-rolled tortillas and fried eggs, and the doing is part of what connects the members of this family to one another. The shared activity, and all of the mess it can make, creates for us a sacred space. A sacred spiritual, yet very much physical space, filled with sweet, savory and sometimes burnt smells and tastes.

I think Drew is hitting on something close to home when he describes the desires of expostmodern individuals.  I crave a communal experience, not simply the sense of belonging to a religious order. For me (a true start to an expostmodern sentence) it isn’t a question of form, so much as it is a question of quality. I’d like to attend a Full Moon ritual that leaves me breathless and awestruck at the sight of our heavenly Queen. I’d like for someone to ask me — “Teo…where did that come from?”, and then I’d like for that same person to follow me online & dig deep into my blog posts and unpack ideas with me. I’d like continuity between what I conjure up on my computer screen and what I’m cooking in my kitchen.

Is that too much to ask for in an expostmodern world?

 

To read the post which started all of this discussion, click here.

The Spring comes, and my life transforms. It seems to be almost as reliable as the coming of the Cottonwood snow. It happens every year, this pull towards the world; this letting go of Winter’s introspection.

In the past week, I’ve experienced a great upheaval and shifting in my professional and personal life. Relationships are changing, and I’m doing my best to remain calm and steady, respectful of the balance between what I can do to move things forward and what the currents are naturally doing on their own. It’s been hard, and I’m a little exhausted.

I think this pulling back from intense spiritual work, including a break from blogging and a relaxing of pressure around my DP work, has allowed me to prepare for this shift. My daily practice is still strong — stronger than ever, in fact. My devotionals have become so deeply a part of my life that I almost cannot remember what it was like without them. This sacred time feels less like a requisite of the DP course, and more a natural extension of my being.

In light of the hefty transitions and the attention they require, I’ve decided not to attend Wellspring. This saddens me a bit, as I was really looking forward to meeting my fellow sojourners in the flesh. But, I just turned over a huge plot of land, and I’m planting a season’s worth of new seed. You don’t just up and leave during the first few days and weeks after planting. You stick around. You water the earth. I have to make sense of what is coming, and I need to be here in order to do that.

I pray that all of my friends and readers have been well since last I wrote here, and I hope that you’ll reach out to say hello. To all of those attending Wellspring, I hope you have a brilliant weekend. I’ll send my spirit to be with you around the sacred fire.

Bright blessings,

Teo