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Reflections, by Camil Tulcan

Reflections, by Camil Tulcan

What a week this has been.

The SDF liturgy is live, and the response has been tremendous. I don’t have any way of knowing what the perspective is from every person participating, and I kind of prefer that for the moment. It may seem that I’m coordinating some massively social endeavor, but there is still a need to preserve and make space for the solitude in my own personal practice, as well as in the practices of the SDF participants. The not knowing how everyone else thinks requires us to focus on our own experiences for the time being. I like that.

In addition to the SDF liturgy launch, I’ve done a ton of writing. The Wild Hunt piece went up on Tuesday, and today I published a piece about Yule at HuffPost Religion titled, Yule: Be The Light Of The Returning Sun.

I hope that the Yule piece inspires some discussion and dialogue. As I write in the post, I’ve really had a challenging time preparing for the High Day, even with all of the work I’m doing for SDF. I hope that the messages offered in the post, as well as in the forthcoming discussion, lead to some deeper understanding.

And, as if this flurry of writing weren’t enough to keep me busy, I’m going to be serving as the Bard in the Yule ritual for a local ADF Grove, Silver Branch Golden Horn. My friend, William Ashton, who is the Grove Organizer for the upcoming Mountain Ancestors Protogrove (more details to come), has been asked to lead this Norse observance of the Solstice, and William asked me to sing. It’s been an interesting experience to hold the space between a very solitary-centered work and a group ritual. The two have been living beside one another, and I can’t tell if they are discordant or not.

There’s also been a good bit of talk on Twitter and Facebook about how the Solitary Druid Fellowship is somewhat peculiar because its website is missing the hallmarks of Internet interactivity (i.e. the forum, the open comment thread, etc.). I’ve heard people’s thoughts, and tried to hold them up against my original intention behind this choice: I believe that there should be moments in a congregation – even a congregation that exists in the form of an unseen bond created through shared practice – when we should be silent; when we should withhold our opinions, and even our questions, or at least allow for them to live in our minds for a while before airing them to the world.

I believe this is valuable, because my experience has shown me that allowing ideas to gestate in solitude can lead to unexpected revelation.

True, online forums can invite a great deal of dialogue, and this dialogue can inspire to new ways of thinking as well. But my intention has always been for the Solitary Druid Fellowship to use the time we commit to dialogue and discussion for a very focussed and clear purpose.

At first, this purpose will be for those who use the liturgy in their practice to come to the SDF blog and share what that experience was like for them. This, I hope, will be a space where people feel safe to express what worked and what didn’t, and to try and unpack why. In time, there be more moments where it makes clear sense to open up spaces for dialogue, and I’d like to do that deliberately and with intention.

(For those who want more consistent conversation with solitaries, there is the ADF Solitaries SIG (Special Interest Group). It’s open to ADF members, and I’ve recently been nominated to be the SIG Coordinator. I’d like to see some synergy between the SIG and the Fellowship, while at the same time allowing certain spaces to remain silent, still, and free of active discussion.)

Perhaps it won’t be long before my not knowing takes a turn. I’ll start to know more about who the SDF is, what they appreciate, what they long for. I know I can’t please everyone, but I am certainly open to understanding the minds and hearts of the solitaries who wish to open up on the SDF blog.

What do you think?

Have you found that the decentralization of the SDF communication (i.e. the talk that takes place on Twitter and Facebook) to be a good way of keeping the SDF site as a clean resource (which is a term I’m just trying out)? Bishop In The Grove has clearly been a place where dialogue has thrived, but do you see there being a valuable reason to keep some spaces comment-free?

If those questions don’t get your brain churching, why don’t you pop over to my HuffPost piece and see if there are ideas there that resonate with you.

And, from my heart, may you have a blessed Solstice and a Happy Yule!

Last year on Lughnasad I was all worked up over food.

Riffling through some old files yesterday I discovered this entry:

I’m not sure there’s a way to talk about the “First Harvest” without paying mind to the fact that there is a severe drought across the land, or that in other parts of the country there is great flooding….

Is it possible that Neopagans (using the Bonewits definition of the term) are enacting the rituals of an earth tradition without being fully engaged as an Earth Tradition? Is it nostalgia we’re living in when we talk about “The First Harvest”?

I don’t harvest my own food. Do you know where your food comes from?

Perhaps this should be a theme of our harvest festivals. We celebrate the food we eat, and we take pause to consider how this food arrived to our table. Was it grown, picked, washed and served, or was it grown, assembled, packaged, and frozen?

The food part was a big hang up, and I had a difficult time seeing anything but the conflict between the “Old Ways,” and my total immersion in Western culture.

A few nights ago I was interviewed on The Psychic and the Witch, and toward the end of the interview I stumbled upon a different way of thinking about the holiday. It was as thought I managed to dust of the old metaphor machine in my brain, and for an instant I saw a different meaning of Lughnasad.

First, let’s acknowledge that — yes — it is good to know where your food comes from. And growing one’s own food, to whatever degree you can, provides you with a perspective on nourishment, as well a more intimate understanding of the power of the Earth Mother, which does not come from eating packaged food alone.

With all of that said, the realization that came was that I need to allow myself to look at this holiday, and perhaps the other 7 High Days, too, for its symbolic value. Metaphor is a gift religious people give ourselves, and we should use it when it serves us.

So…

Castlecraig Wheat Field, by Jrimas

The First Harvest is a time to take stock of our fields; to survey all that has grown throughout this year. Some seeds planted took root, and others did not. Some soil was better prepared, and better tended to. But, it’s undeniable that there has been change, and that change came through our hard labor, our perseverance, and on occasion, an unexpected storm.

Standing on my field, I can see a great, dynamic, living community around me. We share our voices, and we work to support one another as best we can. Since this time last year Bishop In The Grove has grown into quite a healthy garden. When each of you visit and share your stories, your insights, and your inquiries, you care for our common ground.

This blog produces a healthy crop.

But Lughnasad is a time to be proud of the work you’ve done, and also to prepare — both psychologically and physically, if necessary — for a slowing down of things. The days will get shorter and colder before long, and we must prepare ourselves by setting some things aside, yes?

But here’s where the metaphor gets complicated for me. I’d like to get some feedback from you.

“Taking stock of the fruits of our labor” is not difficult for me to wrap my mind around. I understand how that agricultural language can speak to matters of my personal productivity, innovation, creativity, and dedication to my path.

But preparing for winter? How do we, metaphorically, set things aside? Is there a pantry in our heart or mind where we can store jars of canned goodies, and if so, what do we keep in those jars?

How do we prepare, metaphorically, for the slower, colder days of Winter?

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?

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.

Earlier this week the air took a turn toward December, becoming wet and visible, and the moisture that fell in cold, slow-motion stuck quickly to the cars, the streets, and the sidewalks. On the morning after the storm a massacre of tree branches covered the earth around my house, proving both the strength of water and the fragility of wood.

What I like about the snow, and the timing of this particular storm being so close to Samhain, is the way in which it provides tactile evidence that the season is changing, that the Hallows are near. The shift toward winter is not simply an interesting idea; it is something to touch, to feel.

The dead leave little evidence of their continued living, so we are forced to find them at the intersection of interesting ideas and tactile experiences; we search for them in snow drifts, between the breaths of our chanting, and in the smoke rising from our censors. We listen for them in the floorboards of houses, too.

Do The Dead Dance?

In our new house of less than a week, my psychic husband and I have encountered some strange phenomena. The doorbell rings unexpectedly, and several other electrical devices make noise for no clear reason. There are creaks and bumps in empty spaces, and our kid gets creeped out whenever she walks past the staircase. She’s a certified Medium, by the way.

If these strange occurrences are more than faulty wiring, as everyone seems to think, then the dead may indeed be wresting with the same existential questions as are the living. Is a ghost fiddling with switches in an attempt to get our attention all that different from a group of Druids or Wiccans lighting our incense, ringing our bells or projecting our invisible parts into other realms in search of the Ancestors? Perhaps we’re all trying to do the same thing, just from opposite sides of an increasingly thinning veil.

I like the idea of the Dead doing ritual to make contact with the living. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but there’s comfort in thinking that certain aspects of this life are mirrored in the next. Or, rather, that aspects of the Other Side are mirrored over here.

As Samhain approaches, and people juggle their Halloween parties with their group gatherings and rituals, and Pagans across the land set aside some private time of reflection on the changing of the season, I wonder what the dead are doing. Do they gather in preparation for the coming days, sensing that the air has changed? Can they feel the transition? Is it snowing over there, too?

Do the dead dance naked around the fire…

…like some of us do?

What To Do When The Dead Come Knocking

We spend most of the year focussed on the human experience of living. We honor the Earth and celebrate points along an agricultural calendar because we eat food in order to be alive, and we see value in honoring the land from which that food came. We see new life born around us in the spring and summer, born of flesh and soil, and we celebrate the life that we create. Life, for the most part, is all about the living.

But Samhain is different. This High Day is about the intersection of the lives of the living with the lives of the dead. This holiday is about remembering that there is more to reality than our living experience of this world. There is more than what we grow, what we build, what we see blossoming all around us. There is a quality to death of which we can hardly conceive, and rather than push it away out of ignorance we embrace it in reverence. We celebrate the mystery, and we delight in the sacred unknowing.

So, on this coming High Day, the day that little Witches dream about during the sweltering heat of summer, the day that Puritans of old (and new) dread with every inch of their starched, Sunday suits, the day that warrants sweet candy, sultry stockings and a healthy pinch of spookiness, I think I shall listen for the call of the dead, for the rising chant of some ghostly group who, themselves, reach back with ethereal hands into this Earthly realm in search of some familiar feeling. I will open every ear I’ve got — on my head, in my hands, at the bottom of my feet — and I will listen for the call of those who’ve left this place to travel on to a land that even myth can barely approach. I will watch for their postcard, wait for their telegram, look for their fleeting face in the shimmering snow.

Perhaps they will arrive at my door in costume. Or, perhaps they’re already inside. Either way, they are welcome to cup of spiced cider on this blessed Samhain night!

 

If these words stirred something in you, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on Samhain, please do so in the comments. I always love to hear from you. And, I’d be grateful if you’d help broaden the conversation by sharing this post on Facebook or Twitter.

My heart is your hearth.

– A prayer offered to Brighid during my morning devotional

I began preparing for Imbolc long before the first snow. I knew Winter would be a season of great creative work for me, and I decided that the way I would make it through that work successfully was to consider all of it one big offering to Brighid. I would lift the work up in her honor, and remember her fire as I made my way through the ups and downs of the creative process.

My music would be my offering at Imbolc.

On the evening of February 2nd, I attended an Imbolc ritual at the Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church in Golden, Colorado, performed in traditional ADF style by Tony and Jorja from the Golden Branch Silver Horn Grove. The ritual itself was simple, but very pleasant. The environment was beautiful, and while this wasn’t an “official” ADF gathering (the UU’s are open to people of all traditions, including Pagans), I was glad that the rite was in a format I was familiar with.

There were two altars. On the larger of the two sat a statue of Brighid, in triple-goddess form, surrounded by yellow candles, in front of which was a large bowl for liquid offerings and a plate for dry offerings. The smaller altar was a place where attendants could leave items to be blessed, like their jewelry or tools. I brough several items, including two writing tools, a few musical tools, a wall plaque of Brighid and a Brighid’s cross I wear around my neck.

We were led through a basic mediation, which was designed to bring to our awareness the first moment of realization that Spring is on its way. The second was the Two Powers meditation, and this was the first time that I’d ever been led through it by someone else. If I could have changed anything about the meditation, I would have chosen to spend more time in the moment where the Two Powers meet. That is, to me, where the true magic comes from.

Once Manannan Mac Lir was called and the Gates opened, offerings were made to the Kindred. Then, we were invited to make our offering to Brighid. Interestingly, I found myself a little nervous at this point. I’d brought a small vial of oil to give as a public offering, but I knew that my true offering was something I couldn’t place in a bowl or on a dish. I hadn’t figured out how I would express what I’d done in this public setting.

So, I approached the altar and poured the oil into the ritual bowl. I closed my eyes and lifted up my heart to Brighid, as I have done every morning since I began my creative project. Then, I walked back to my chair, hoping that this public expression would be sufficient; that my private work would be pleasing to Her, and that She would understand all of what I had done in honor of Her. I completed my creative project by Imbolc, and offered it to Her and to the world during my trip to Los Angeles, just as I said I would do.

Imbolc is a High Day where we acknowledge and honor Brighid, yes. But, I think it is also an opportunity to acknowledge and honor all of the qualities which She represents in us. By being creative, by forging transformation in our personal or professional life, by deepening our sense of belonging in the world, we honor Brighid. We embody Her in our lives.

That may be the most meaningful offering we can make.