A couple weeks ago I wrote about creating the Solitary Druid Fellowship, an extension of ADF designed to serve the broader community of solitary Pagans and Druids by providing them with a shared liturgical practice. I’m currently in discussion with the Clergy Council of ADF to work out the final details of the site launch (sign up here to be notified), and I’m spending a lot of time mulling over what it means to practice in solitude.
At the same time I’m also preparing to take part in an ADF grove ritual here in Denver. I’ve been asked to be the Bard, so I’m learning new songs, rearranging old chants, and trying to envision how to best use my musicality in the context of a group ritual.
The truth is, I find comfort in solitary work. When you do ritual alone, you are working with the agreements you have made in your own heart; agreements that you’ve made with yourself, perhaps with your gods, spirits or ancestors. These agreements cover what you believe about who you are, about who or what the gods are, and about your role in the cosmos. You make these agreements to believe, to suspend belief, or to practice your devotion. The agreements made by the solitary practitioner need never be put up for a vote, judged by a governing body, or scrutinized by committee.
With group work, though, agreements are a different beast.
Consensus must be reached in group, and there are politics to contend with. The needs of the many must be considered, as should be the overall welfare of the group. The agreements one makes in her heart are still her own, but they cannot be treated as law, doctrine, or as “the way it must be.” They have to be held up against the agreements everyone else has made.
Discerning how to do that can be difficult, especially when the agreements other people have made seem to be so different from your own.
But they’re talking about the gods like the gods are their best friends…
They’re talking about the gods like the gods are complete strangers…
They’re talking about the gods like the gods are judges, overseers, politicians, warriors, or any other purely human thing.
When are they going to talk about something that’s relevant to me?
No matter what agreement you’ve made, what decision you’ve reached about what religion means to you, when you participate in a ritual led by others you will have to to examine those agreements, perhaps even question their validity. Questioning your agreements can be a good thing, though. If you’ve made the agreement that your truth is The Truth, for example, or that your way is The Way, it might be time to do a little questioning.
When I wrote the first Solitary Druid Fellowship liturgy (which should be made public on the week of the Solstice), I made a point of keeping certain aspects of the ritual neutral. I indicated places in the ritual where one could substitute the names of their gods, or the language specific to their hearth culture. I wrote in sections that encourage people to use their creativity in order to create a meaningful solitary rite.
But one person’s neutrality is another’s loaded gun.
We do the best we can, I guess. We write the rituals or prepare the songs in accordance with the agreements we’ve made in our heart, and we try to remember the shared agreements we’ve made with one another.
Shared agreements! Yes — that’s key, I think. What are the shared agreements we’ve made with one another? One has to ask that of herself before participating in a group ritual, or even a non-religious group gathering. What are things we’ve decided to collectively hold up as true, relevant, meaningful, appropriate, necessary? These agreements we make should be — no, they are — at the core of what we do. The question is, are we having open dialogue about what those agreements look like?
Please take a moment to think about the work you’ve done in groups — whether that be in a grove, a coven, a church or a community group. Think about your shared agreements. How did you reach them? Were they a point of contention, or did they bring the group together?
How much of our shared agreements are assumed, passed down, unexamined? When do our shared agreements need to be mended, or amended? When do they need to be re-written altogether? How often are we, in group, holding up these agreements to the light? Are we looking for cracks, beauty marks, frayed edges, or are we seeing only a projection of the agreements made in our own heart?
What are some of your shared agreements?
Excellent questions, Teo.
I’d love to see the idea of “discernment” gain some traction in our community — both as an individual process, and as a community process. I’ve been really inspired by my dear friend, Cat Chapin-Bishop, and the Quaker process of discernment, which involves gathering together to sit and be in each other’s presence in the presence of our god/gods. I think any process of discernment has to begin by being grounded in and drawing nourishment and support from that sense of presence if it is to grow in a healthy and helpful way.
I love this comment, Alison. Your perspective totally resonates with me.
Perhaps it would be worth organizing some such events at Pagan gatherings…
For me, personally, group agreements have always become a source of contention. Both in church and in an open circle group. It always came down to being told, “you’re doing it all wrong.” Even when it seemed right to me. This is actually the reason I have become solitary. Every time I think it might be nice to join a group or coven, the memories of these instances resurface and I abandon the idea of group worship.
This is not to say that I don’t appreciate, or even refuse to seek out assistance and advice when I come up on a road block. I just take exception to be told flat out that if I’m not doing it their way, I’m doing it completely wrong.
I think to make a shared agreement work, all parties must be willing to accept the differences of the individual without judgement. From that point, I believe that compromises can be reached effectively for the benefit of the entire group, therefore meeting everyone’s needs.
This reminds me too of how a sound marriage functions. This can be applied to many kinds of relationships, maybe business partnerships as well. To move forward together, involved parties have to get on the same page and work from common ground. It won’t work if it is merely a collection of individual visions, ideas, goals, or ideologies. Shared agreements are both key and core to all of these being sound, functional relationships.
Well, on this one i can speak from both perspectives sorta , i hold a Celtic recon perspective i actualy belong to 2 groups . Let me explain Altho i am a ADF grove member , my personal faith is Sinnsreachd , A celtic tribal Faith . As we have no groups in this area i basicaly practice my faith as a solitary . But my ADF grove is Celt / minor norse focused so the two can work together for the most part w/ only minor differences .I am not a loner , i personaly love group ritual , and the power that can create . Atleast within our grove thier is no real litergy that has compromised any of our members personal beliefs or growth. I searched and found a group that follows the same pantheon i do , so there are no real conflicts that way . Just for the record i’m a hard celtic pantheonist, follow the Tuatha De Dannann.But like most Pagans i first found Wicca when i ventured into this journey so the Neo pagan stuff in ADF doesn’t bother me that much altho i have left those ways behind and moved more to a strict Celtic faith . I have had many powerful things happen with my grove and had help during difficult times , but my daily practice is solitary . So i can understand both perspectives . Kilm
And this grove operates by/with concensice , decisions about ritual and basic group operation are made with all the members in mind and our chosen pantheon .Our main rituals are seasonal and use accepted methods and formats from ADF .Something we can all understand and agree apon .All grove meetings are open to all grove members . The grove is operated in an open tranperant way . Kilm
The lack of discussion or even acknowledgement of differences and different agreements (in relation to deities) was the reason I left my local grove and didn’t look back. Every time I tried to speak my view I was talked over by the ‘leader’ or subjected to a (repetitive) rant about all the horrible things the group had gone through. It’s actually turned me off of ADF entirely because the experience was so sour.
I’m very sorry you had that experience with one of our groups. I would never tell anyone that their view of deity or how to have a relationship with the Gods was wrong. We have plenty of people who attend our rituals whose beliefs are very different from mine, and as long as they’re getting something out of the ritual experience, they’re welcome to participate.
I have to second what Rob Henderson said – I’m very sorry that your experience was so negative. As a grove, we sometimes struggle to incorporate multiple pantheons, multiple deities, to be certain that everyone “gets there moment” as it were. Ultimately, we decided to “take turns” – you know, like we did in elementary school? We rotate through the high days using a fairly standard schedule of pantheons, but we also have the occasional grove only rite that falls outside of high days, and at those, we encourage experimentation – try new roles, or try connecting with a new or different deity. In that way, we try to allow everyone to be “heard”.
This is one of the points of ADF groups ina Druid IE context is the variety of ethnic focuses . Altho Celt is the most common ADF groves have many ethnic centers or focus . Their Gods and practices are based on this focus .The point being a person can find a group that practices as they do , follows a pantheon that suits them . ADF being IE polytheistic in make up and practice . My being Hard polytheist Celt i found a grove with the same focus . Granted ADF is not for everyone most groves try to work for those they can . And all rituals are open to the public . For general info IE means Indo European, the ethnic bases for Indian and most western European society .
This post brings many things to my mind, less about agreements and more about communal and solitary practice. It sounds as if there is an underlying assumption in your post that what happens in communal practice needs to be relevant to the individual at all times, or strictly in alignment with the values and convictions of the individual. I have found however, that one of the things I enjoy the most about group ritual is that it gives me good opportunities to experience new or different things, for example, to come into the presence of other people’s Gods.
I have very little personal connection to the Celtic deities, and yet I know Brigid, Lugh, the Morrigan, Mannanan, and to a lesser extent Cuchulain (to name a few from the top of my head), because I have participated in rituals put on by their devotees. I feel it’s enriching to bear witness to someone else’s acts of devotion, even if, when it comes time to give an offering, I simply give a “Hey, how’s it going?” token gift.
Of course, I don’t feel it’s necessary to practice with people whose ways run counter to my own, but there’s a wide range of practices that are good and pleasing that aren’t what I myself do.
I saw the comments about personal relevance a little differently. To me, it sounds as though Teo is acknowledging that a group ritual is NOT going to be relevant to each individual at all times, and that if you expect it to be you’re going to have trouble making any connection at all. Thus, how to balance between solitary practice where it can be entirely your own path, and group practice, where it can’t. Make sense?
This has been a tricky question for me lately. The church I attend is actually in the process of deliberately doing this, as we move toward starting the search for a new pastor. And I am very much afraid of that process.
I’m afraid because I like the vision I have of my church. It’s why I continue to attend services (about 25% of them, at least, which is about the best I’ve ever done since freshman year of college) and why I take my toddler son with me when I go. There’s good people there, accepting people.
BUT I have not yet explicitly come out to more than three people about being atheist with pagan leanings. I know how I hope people would react, and I have an idea of the likely response, but I don’t KNOW for sure. They’re Lutherans, not Unitarians, after all. Strong, caring, liberal, social justice minded Lutherans, but still… theists. And theist can be verrrrry touchy with atheists. On the other hand, I’ve been wearing my pentacle for three years now and always argue the rationalist position during discussions of theology, so it’s probably not going to be a HUGE surprise to anyone.
I just don’t want to go through an examination of our shared assumptions and find out we share so few that I don’t feel comfortable there anymore.
I enjoy participating in public ritual occasionally for the opportunity to be around other pagans and to feel a solidarity in being pagan. But honestly, I enjoy solitary ritual most because I only do and say those things that are relevant and meaningful to me. I have participated in rituals with a group who only acknowledges the Goddess and have gone to a ritual that centered on dragons. Neither of those concepts are extremely meaningful to me, as I don’t see deity in that way and I have never worked with dragons. That is why I am happy to be a solitary: rituals are intimate and tailored to fit.