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My Queer friends don’t want to be called Gay or Lesbian. Too many connotations. Not accurate enough to their own personal experiences. They’re much more complex than what those labels allow for. Gay is too easily marketed to, and at this point completely co-opted by the mainstream.

Gay is Will & Grace. Queer doesn’t even own a TV.

My Gay friends don’t really understand Queer. What’s wrong with Gay, they ask? There’s a history to the label; rich and complicated, and worth preserving. You lose that legacy when you abandon the label. So what if you’re anti-mainstream? You’re still subject to oppression from the mainstream, aren’t you? Bigots don’t care if you call yourself queer or gay or faggot or tranny. Its all the same to them. You’re Other, no matter how you choose to self-identify.

Thus, the Gays, Lesbians and Queers remain distant, abbreviated letters — G’s, L’s & Q’s, with B’s & T’s squeezed tightly between the three stodgy siblings.

Pagans Are SO Gay

I’m watching this debate go on about the validity of the term “Pagan”, and whether or not it’s useful anymore. Admittedly, I’m a newbie in the Pagan community. But, I am no newbie Gay. And, I feel there’s a valuable parallel between our struggles that no one is picking up on.

The GLBTQ…xyz community, in actuality, is not the tightest knit community. We have little pockets of community. We micro-organize. We have bars, community centers, gathering places, apps. We have parades. But, we’re a tiny minority living in the midst of an often antagonistic majority, and the subcultures within our subculture often don’t understand each other or work toward a common end.

I see the same thing going on right now with Pagans.

Some Polytheists may not consider themselves Pagan any more than most Queers consider themselves Gay. But, the Queers are out there having that crazy homo-sex. You know… the thing that first led the Gays to seek one another out, to organize in protest of widespread oppression? Remember all that Stonewall jazz?….

And the Polytheists are out there worshipping those same Old Gods that all the Pagans are buying statues of in our local metaphysical shops. Polytheists may approach their religion with more academic backing (or they may not), and they may feel compelled to reestablish and align themselves with cultural identifiers and practices which have long since disappeared (i.e. Reconstructionism). But, whether you trace back your spiritual lineage to Gardner or to an unnamed Celtic Warrior of Old, you’re still a part of something that’s happening right now, in the world. This world. The present.

Identity v.s. Branding

This isn’t so much a question of identity. We’re pluralistic, the LGBTQ’s & the Pollies/Pagans. There isn’t ever going to be a single identity which we can embody, and I think it would be a shame to make that a goal. Our diversity is what gives our respective cultures their intrinsic value. I don’t think anyone is trying to reduce us down to the lowest common denominator.

This is really a question of how do we — Polytheists and Pagans — wish to be portrayed outside of the festival grounds. I wouldn’t use the battle language that Laura LaVoie used, but the sentiment here is mostly the same. When we try to make our place in this world, amidst a religious majority that might not allow us the space or respect we deserve, what will unite us as a people. Our title?

T. Thorn Coyle may have said it best when she wrote:

What do I think is this thing that ties such diverse ways and means of practice, experience, and belief together? We all have a sense of “Divine with us on earth.” The Gods are not just far off in Asgard, they are in our gardens and our homes. Goddesses don’t just live in some distant place, they help us run our businesses, and teach our children. And these Gods and Goddesses have their own agency, too. Paganism(s) and systems of magick – as they exist in contemporary religious expression in this loosely knit group of practitioners – hold theologies of immanence in common, whether this is directly acknowledged or not.

Do we need to develop any more interfaith language around this? Must we have a single word that defines the whole group? Or, is it possible for us to make space for an individual’s choice to reject Capital Letter Titles in favor of a label that feels more specific and resonant with her own religious approach (like, for example “I am a priest of the Old Belief, a polytheist through and through, and more than anything else the Heroic Life is my religion“).

It’s a Queer approach, but if done with respect for the hardcore Pagans and the diehard Gays it may be the next step in our spiritual and cultural evolution.

What do you think?

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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.

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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

This morning I received a sweet note in my Facebook inbox from “Ankhie”, the Weiser Books web guru. She wrote to inform me that my post, “In the beginning, there was Weiser…” was selected as the winner of the Weiser Books 100th Blog Post Challenge.

Ah, sweet victory. I do love it so…

🙂

In all seriousness, this was more than just a contest win for me. It was an affirmation that the writing I do, and have done for several years now, either here at Bishop In The Grove or at my former blog, The Epiphanic Oath, is worth reading. As much as I’m going to enjoy digging through the Weiser Conside Guides to Alchemy, Yoga for Magick, Herbal Magick, Practical Astrology and Aleister Crowley — and believe me, I will — I feel that this message from Weiser was the real prize.

So, if you’re new to this blog, have a look around. If you like what you read, subscribe to my feed. This site was created, primarily, to be a record of my progress through the Dedicant Year for Ár nDraíocht Féin, A Druid Fellowship, of which I am currently a member. There are entries about my personal experiences in mediation and ritual, as well as musings about what it means to be forging a path as a Pagan in today’s world. If you’re interested in reading more about the community building that I spoke of in my winning Weiser post, browse through the archives at The Epiphanic Oath. You’ll see the posts about Kissing The Limitless, as well as a whole host of entries on the Tarot with card illustrations by the terrifically talented artist, Robert Place.

You can contact me through the site, or feel free to visit my page on Facebook or Twitter. And, if you read something here that sparks your imagination, please post a comment of your own. I look forward to hearing new voices!

Peace to all who read these words!

Teo

This May I’ll be attending my first ADF Gathering — Wellspring 2011! I’m very, very excited.

Here’s the description of the event from ADF’s website:

Sound the Horn of Gathering, and light the Fire of the Feast! The Wellspring Gathering brings together the Elders, hard-working managers and membership of A.D.F. for a long weekend of worship and magic, teaching and learning music and fellowship.

We will be having a three part Bardic competition this year to include one of each: a song, a story and finally poetry. We will have a sign-up for the competition at the registration pavilion. The winner will receive a trophy of a necklace for the year(s) they are the winner of the competition. This will be set up as a performance on the schedule of events. This will allow all interested to come during the day time to see the many different talents we have in ADF. The judges will sit in on all the performances and the finalists will repeat there performance on Saturday night at the pot luck/brewers competition.

YES, I said Brewers Competition. Any of you that have a brew to bring to the event please try and get it there before Friday noon (unless other arrangements have been made). If you will not be there and want to join email me (AJ Gooch) and we can work it out. Mead and Beer are always welcome!

The band for the Saturday night pot luck will be The Mickeys a new band for the event. They have been to Brushwood for many events. This is sure to be a great time.

Also this year there will be an altar set at the front of the hospitality area for groves and solitaries to bring an item from their altar(s) to place there for the event. This is to show our unity in ADF and to carry the energy back home. Please mark your item with name and contact information in case it is accidentally left behind. BE READY FOR SOME CHANGES THIS YEAR.

Oh how I would LOVE to win the Bardic competition! I have 3 months to prepare an original song, story & poem for the event. That should be plenty of time!

Are any of my fellow Druids, Pagans or Dedicants-In-Training considering attending? What say you – join me for a song around the fire?

 

UPDATE 1/4/11

After speaking with my  husband, the one personal who knows intimately what I can and cannot juggle, I’ve decided to remove my name from the ballot. Childlike excitement aside, this position should be filled by someone who knows that they can commit the time, and I can’t do that. I can offer my enthusiasm now, and I have the heart for it, but I’d do all of ADF a disservice if I took the position and then was unable to fulfill my duties. It would be better for me to continue, to the best of my ability, to reach out in a spirit of fellowship to other ADF members, and leave the responsibility of coordinating them to someone with a more reliable schedule.

This morning I volunteered to be nominated for the position of Coordinator of the ADF SolSIG, or Solitary Special Interest Group.

A week ago, when members of the Solitary SIG were approached about the position opening, I reluctantly passed. A part of me, the eternal seven year old, wanted to say “YES, YES! Pick me! Pick me! I can do it! Let me show you!”

But, the grownup won out.

November through January are typically lighter months for me. I do more reading, more writing; I retreat inward and experience an expansion in my esoteric studies, my spiritual life. As the Wheel turns and the air gets warmer, so speeds up the pace of my profession. I’m never really sure how busy I will be, or how much time I’ll have from February on.

The seven year old in me doesn’t think about these sorts of things. He only wants to make friends, be his best, be loved.

But then the e-mail came this morning, and I saw that there was still a need for nominees. I changed my mind. I told the Solitary SIG that I would submit my name for the ballot.

Why, if I’m trying to be a grownup, trying to take on only what I think I can handle, would I do such a thing?

Simple. I find evidence of The Kindred in the lives of my fellow human beings. Through others, I see myself, and I remember that I am connected to them, they to me, and us to the Cosmos. I love people, and I long for everyone’s spirit to expand in their lives. They deserve it, and I would like to help in whatever way I can.

So, my name is on the ballot. I don’t know if I will be chosen to serve, but if I am I hope to bring this spirit of love and fellowship to the position. I will stand in service to my fellow seekers, and to The Kindred, if it be their collective will for me to do so.

The Druid path requires a different kind of faith that what I’ve known before. This new faith is a faith in the power and relevance of my own actions.

One must believe that the Kindred are conscious and aware – that could be a leap of faith for many of us. But, outside of that, one must believe strongly that the actions one takes, either in ritual, or prayer, or through some other form of worship, are sufficient in order for them to be effective. I’m not certain how one receives the definitive word from the Kindred that said actions are insufficient – I think that is the reason that divination is used in ADF ritual. But, before any evidence is given one way or the other, the Druid must approach the Kindred with sincerity. This, I’m starting to see.

Sincerity, as my husband told me yesterday morning, can be the best offering one makes to the Divine.

When I was a part of the Christian church, I was called to have faith in my beliefs. That faith was offered up as a bit of sustenance to get me through spiritual drought. I’m reminded of that drought now, but what I’m experiencing these days is less an absence of spirit and more an absence of community.

I wish there was a Druid gathering every week. I wish we celebrated every Moon cycle, and met regularly to better our liturgical skills and our knowledge of the Old Ways. I wish there was a Druid Center in every neighborhood. I wish that we didn’t meet in basements, but instead we gathered in bright places filled with beautiful representations of our Cosmos.

I wish we had an ADF Church.

I find myself drifting between the High Days, longing for something more consistent, more continuous. Eight days out of every three-sixty-five? That isn’t enough for me.

This, I suppose, is where my new understanding of faith must step in. If I long for continuity in my spiritual life, I must create continuity in my spiritual life. Faith, in this case, is the act of doing my daily, spiritual work.

It’s a different kind of sustenance, needed to get me through a different kind of drought.