Lughnasadh Ritual Summary

Lughnasadh Ritual
August 2nd, 2015
Deities of the Occasion: Lugh and Ana
Offerings: bow and arrows
Omen: Hagalaz – Jera – Peorth
Return flow: ginger ale
Attendees: 5

Notes:

The risky part of doing your rituals outside is that nature happens, and it may not happen in a helpful way. The owner of the site called me on Saturday to warn me that a tree had fallen and was blocking the pathway to the nemeton, and since I couldn’t get anyone out there to deal with it during the day, we had to cancel Fire Watch. Rodney managed to get there early on Sunday, and it was just that the top of one tree had fallen down, not the giant tree lying crosswise that I had feared.

So we had a lovely ritual with a different set of offerings than we usually do for Lughnasadh, but it was just me, Rod and Gen, plus two new people. Frustrating as it is to have a low turnout at ritual, even when everyone has good reasons not to be there (work or other commitments), it’s even more frustrating when we get new folks who are clearly not going to experience the best ritual we could offer. (Frankly, I’m just glad Gen was there when they arrived. I know how it must look when you walk down a forest path and it’s just a creepy-looking guy like me sitting there.)

In any case, we did the ritual, fulfilling our promise to our gods and to ADF to do so, and the omen was passable. And at least it gave us lots of time to answer questions from the new folks.

Yeah, I just hate August in general. Autumn can’t arrive soon enough.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Summer Solstice Ritual Summary

Summer Solstice Ritual
June 21st, 2015
Deities of the Occasion: Bel and Danu
Offerings: oil / sun wheel
Omen: Othala – Laguz – Peorth
Return flow: lemonade
Attendees: 16

Notes:

Just me and Gen at Fire Watch, and with the grass so overgrown (Lyn thought we were coming the following weekend) I didn’t even try to walk down to the fire circle, so no actual fire. I again question why we’re scheduling an event that people keep telling me is a vital Grove tradition that we must continue to do, and then nobody but me and Gen shows up for it. The next two Fire Watches are already on the calendar, so I don’t want to cancel those, but next year I will once again suggest that we need to stop having it, or more accurately, stop pretending to have it. (Except for Samhain, which is the one time people actually show up for it.)

Okay, enough complaining. Other than that continuing issue, the ritual weekend really was a great one. My sister and brother-in-law were in town for the weekend, so after breakfast with them, they dropped me off at the nemeton around 11:15. I finally got to the site as early as I used to back when I had a car! The mosquitoes were out in force, but the repellent I used mostly worked on them, and I got to spend some quality time in the quiet, muted light of the pre-ritual nemeton. After a week of predictions of scattered thunderstorms, the weather we did get was far better than I had hoped for.

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The nemeton in the late morning sun of June, hours before the ritual begins.

Folks did eventually arrive (I could hear Rodney weed-whacking the grass for some time before he came down to the fire circle) and things got set up on time… -ish. Rod didn’t get the road sign out until 1:45, by which time a group of visitors from Michigan Council of Circles and Solitaries had arrived and thought they were lost. Thankfully, they did find us!

This was the first High Day ritual led by Serena. We encourage our new ritualists to begin at one of the two solstices, as Bel and Danu are always very appreciative of anything we do to honor them at those rites, and the folk are just as laid back about it. Nobody treats them with the personal intensity that some have for Samhain or Imbolc, and in this case, that’s a good thing. Rod and I have been teaching her how to do ritual, and there’s still a lot more for her to learn (Hek, there’s still a lot for me to learn), but I think it was a good first effort, and now that she’s taken a turn in the metaphorical driver’s seat, she’ll be even better at the next one.

(I’m still not sure whether we should have put accelerant on the sun wheel when she breathed fire on it, though.)

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The omen was good, the gods and the folk were pleased, and we shared the Lemonade of Life, as is our custom for this holiday. It was good to meet the folks from MCCS and the other new people who attended, and I look forward to Lughnasadh in a few weeks, and hope that the weather will be as good!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Beltaine Ritual Summary

Beltaine Ritual
May 3rd, 2015
Deities of the Occasion: Aren
Offerings: whiskey / fire jumping
Omen: Kenaz – Laguz – Dagaz
Return flow: bubbles / sparkling fruit juice
Attendees: 21

Notes:

Just four of us at Fire Watch, I’m sad to say. It was beautiful weather to be outside for the night! My thanks to Deanna and Elijah for staying the night and keeping the fire going.

Nobody came to the dawn rite (big surprise) so I think we need to come up with something at a different time of day that people might actually attend. People keep telling me that tbhis is an important tradition that they want to see continue, but then nobody actually wants to do it, and now that I have no feet I’m just not able to do it by myself, whether we’re okay with that or not.

On Sunday afternoon, Rodney has the nemeton set up early so he could keep watch over the road sign so the neighbors wouldn’t steal it again. Getting the Maypole ribbons onto the maple tree took a while, so we did start late, but once we got started, everything went well enough. Devi, the young daughter of Yanna, ended up being the May Queen, and led our procession to the nemeton, and also leapt over the fire as part of the main sacrifice, and also ended up tied to the tree during the Maypole Dance. We passed around a bottle of Crown Royal (which I’m told is whiskey, but I know nothing about liquor) for the individual praise, and poured that on the fire before she jumped. The omen was good (Kenaz – Laguz – Dagaz) and we blew bubbles, shared sparkling cider and jumped the fire. (I just sort of waved each prosthetic over it.) As always, folks stayed and socialized for a while after, and nemeton clean-up went smoothly.

Our next ritual will be the first one led by Serena, I hope everyone has a chance to attend!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Spring Equinox Ritual Summary

Spring Equinox Ritual
March 22nd, 2015
Deities of the Occasion: Ana
Offerings: colored eggs
Omen: Tiwaz – Fehu – Raido
Return flow: water / blessing of seeds and tools
Attendees: 8

Notes:

A more sparsely attended ritual than I’d have hoped for, given what a big deal this holiday is in our Grove practice. The weather was sunny but cold (I don’t think it ever got above 39 degrees F), which always makes me wonder whether people aren’t coming because they want the ritual to be outdoors, or that people think the ritual is outdoors but think we’re doing it outside in the cold. Obviously I’d love to have access to a site with both indoor and outdoor options available and be able to choose on the day of the rite, but until that happens I’d rather err on the side of “no dealing with snow” and settle for fewer folks.

At least one of my preferences for a good ritual happened early, as my ride got me there at 1:50, early than I’ve been able to get there lately, and also unusually early by the recent standards of the $3-taxi-for-cripples I rely on these days. Since the Friends were still cleaning up after their event in the basement, getting there any earlier wouldn’t have been an advantage.

Rodney arrived shortly after that and setting up the ritual space was done in plenty of time. One advantage of the indoor site is that I can move easily around the ritual space in my wheelchair, much more so than at the nemeton, even when the ground is dry, so setting up my own altar items was easy enough.

The ritual itself went very well. We found all of the colored eggs that Serena hid, so no nasty sulfurous surprises lurking in the bushes for anyone to find later. I told the Story of Ana (we considered having done as a group story, but I was concerned that not everyone would be comfortable telling a story when unprepared, plus we already did something like that at Imbolc), and we sang Ana’s song and offered the basket of eggs as the main sacrifice. The omen was good, so we blessed and drank water (tap water in Ann Arbor comes from the Huron, so why not?) and blessed seed packets and the tools we’d brought. All in all, a very enjoyable rite with decent energy, and I’m sorry more people weren’t there to experience it.

The potluck food was quite good, and the raffle was more popular than I’d have expected with such a small turnout. Cleanup was done pretty quickly and we were on our way home by 5.

The one different thin we tried for the ritual was actually before the ritual, with our posting of suggested meditation topics for Danu, Bel, and Ana for the three days before the actual rite. The online response from non-members was overwhelming (by our standards) and positive, though I’m not sure how many of our members actually used them. Hopefully I’ll be hearing stories from them about how well it went, and also stories from members of other Groves who are inspired to work with their own River Mothers!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Imbolc Ritual Summary

Imbolc Ritual
January 25th, 2015
Deities of the Occasion: Bríd
Offerings: bread / woven yarn circle
Omen: Nauthiz – Thurisaz – Algiz
Return flow: bread and cheese
Attendees: 16

Notes:

Another good turnout when not scheduling the ritual on Super Bowl Sunday. The down side of doing it early is that we missed getting listed in some of the area “what’s happening for Imbolc” postings, plus we had one interested new person who apparently didn’t check the calendar and just assumed we were doing it on the 1st. When the seven year cycle swings this way again, we should really reconsider the possibility of doing it on the second Sunday in February. But since the weeks shift around next year, we’ll probably end up doing it on January 31st regardless.

Gen and I didn’t get there until quarter past 2, so I was very happy to see the ritual items already set up, but not thrilled that I didn’t have time to mentally prepare myself as I like to do. Hopefully my performance didn’t suffer as a result.

Also unfortunate: Gen didn’t bring the Bríd dolly from her home, and I didn’t think to ask her because knowing how well she gets along with Bríd, I never considered that she might be the one who had it. I called Rodney that morning to make sure he brought her, and the poor guy spent I don’t know how long looking for it at his house, unsuccessfully of course. I will note that Gen did light a candle for the dolly when she got home, and we’ll make sure that she’s present next year.

The group offering was each of us tying a piece of thread into a chain while telling one line of a story and passing it around the circle. It went more smoothly than I’d anticipated and I definitely got a good feeling from it. Now that we’re honoring Bríd as a goddess of inspiration instead of focusing on her hearth aspect, our rituals definitely have a better flow to them.

The omen was questionable, but Rod said he had a good feeling from it, so we went with that. With Algiz at the end, I’d interpret it as the energy of the fire penetrating through a barrier to help us connect to the divine.

After the rite, we actually had enough people to run a successful raffle, and the youth project involved making groundhog puppets. Or maybe they were beavers, I’m not sure.

All in all, a wonderful rite, and it was good to see so many old friends again and meet a few new ones!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

The Downside Of “Come As You Are” Religion

(I wrote this article as a response to Conor Davis’ request for more article geared toward a young Pagan audience, hence the relative lack of ADF-specific language.)

When facing many of life’s great dilemmas, my mind turns to the issues of Mad Magazine I read during my tween years. I still remember many of them vividly, and I can see how the writing affected my own sense of humor and writing, noticeable still.

I’d thought that the “come as you are” party was a fad limited to the 1970s, but a Google search says that there was a 1954 episode of “Ozzie and Harriet” with the title, and apparently some people still do them, but I learned about them in the ‘70s and never heard of them again, so in my own head, a ‘70s thing it remains. The host calls guests up and tells them that a party is happening at their home right now, and that the guests should show up wearing whatever clothing they happen to be wearing. At least part of the appeal is that instead of the guests trying (and possibly failing) to match an established dress code, they will arrive in lots of different kinds of clothing, and it won’t matter because whatever they are wearing is the correct dress.

I’ll condense the Dave Berg cartoon from Mad down to the last panel, which shows a couple entering a room where several people are wearing l different kinds of clothing (suit, casual, swimwear, just a bathrobe, etc.) and staring awkwardly at each other, and one of the folks entering says, “That’s what I hate about these parties. No matter what you’re wearing, you feel like it’s the wrong thing.”

An amusing bit of cognitive dissonance there, especially to a tween who barely grasps why anyone would want to go to a spur of the moment party anyway. (Actually, I’m still not sure I get it as an adult.) And it’s an image that has stuck with me for over three decades now, and it’s the image that always comes to me whenever a Pagan tells me they’re worried that they’re somehow doing their Paganism wrongly.

When I started getting involved with Paganism back in 1990, the relative lack of restrictions had a certain appeal to me. Not so much in the public group rites I attended, because I quickly grasped that randomly figuring out what to do for ritual in the middle of the ritual wasn’t an effective way of building energy or connecting with the Gods or much of anything else. But in private, at the home shrine I’d assembled myself with only the loosest idea of what to put on it, doing rituals based on scripts from every Pagan and Wiccan book I could get my hands on, it was liberating to be so free, to know that I could experiment and see what worked and what I liked and as long as I didn’t burn the house down or make myself ill from inhaling too much incense, it was all good. Eventually my practice started to streamline into what I’d now call devotional polytheism, and when I started attending the local ADF Grove’s rituals and saw that that they were doing looked a lot like what I wanted to do, I started adopting their practices into my own. Nineteen years later, that’s still where I am.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that more people who come to ADF and to Paganism in general seem to want more specific instruction than I had, more than most of us had back in the’90s. Specifically, many of them say that they want those details of how to do it correctly “because I’m afraid that what I’ve been doing so far is wrong”. After learning to practice in a culture that was so open and tolerant that nobody expressed such a concern, that was a bit of a shock to hear. I generally feel very uncomfortable when people come to me asking for that level of instruction, like I’m going to ruin their learning experience if I just hand it all to them, even as I sense that these people are genuinely concerned and might seriously consider leaving Paganism altogether rather than keep doing it incorrectly, whatever they think that means. I’m trying to give them a path where everything they practice is fine, and they think it must mean that everything they practice is wrong. I’ve become the priest of a “come as you are” religion, for better and for worse.

I’d be tempted to blame it on not having a face-to-face working group to practice with, as I know that practicing any kind of ritual or religion in a group tends to reinforce belief better than solitary practice does, but I’ve known plenty of people with working groups who still feel that way about their household practice. If you’re not in a region where the dominant culture constantly shows you what other people do in private, and you don’t get some kind of group reinforcement because it’s a solitary activity, then how do you know for sure you’re doing it right? I can guess that I’m using the right technique to brush my teeth because I see people in movies and on TV brushing their teeth and it looks the same. How to behave when you’re alone in your car, or on a romantic getaway weekend, or even how to say your prayers to a monotheist God before you go to bed, all are reinforced through the lore we read and hear and see all around us. But only a few movies show us anything claiming to be a Pagan ritual, and most of those are lurid and overdone for storytelling purposes. It’s no wonder that we’re left wondering whether we’re on the right track.

I don’t have any awesome and wondrous secrets to telling you whether your practice is right or wrong for you. To some extent personal ritual is always going to be personal, and I don’t think there’s one system that will work perfectly for everyone. Even when you have a script laid out before you, I think you should be willing to adapt it to your own needs, if your tradition allows it. In ADF, we do have a formal Core Order of Ritual that we’ve spent decades developing and refining, but we still only require its use for our groups’ public rituals and for some of our students in training. We know that people may want or need something else in their home practice, and we’re fine with that.

What I can give you is some advice from my early days that I think would be useful to any Pagan who wants to make their practice the best it can be, regardless of their tradition or path.

* Have some form of daily practice. If you’re up for doing a full-blown High Day rite every day, then hey, knock yourself out, but simple works just as well. A daily meditation, or some basic form of purification, or just light a candle and say a simple prayer. Regular practice will become a very part of your being and affect your whole life far more effectively than huge but sporadic rites. Yes, you should still do the huge sporadic rites as well, as you and your tradition see fit, but constant practice makes a huge difference.

* Along those lines, if you do miss a day, don’t beat yourself up too badly about it. Things happen. You may have a sick child or some other emergency to deal with. Or you may end up in the hospital for seven months after surgery, as I did. The important part is to simply resume doing them as soon as you can. If it helps, you could devise some kind of basic expiation rite to make up for missing a few days, like a purification with salt water or a special prayer of apology. Absolutely positively do not get it into your head that you need to make up for the simple rites you’ve missed by doing some kind of super-special big rite to all the gods and spirits. That’s a trap that even an experienced Pagan can fall into, and every day that passes without doing anything makes the hypothetical make-good ritual every more imposing, which makes you more likely not to get it done, and so the snowball grows as it rolls down the hill. Just get yourself back to doing it daily.

* Document, document, document! If you’re not already doing so, keep a journal of your practices. Include as much detail as you need to remember what you did the same as usual, and what you did that was different, if anything, and include your own reactions and feelings. You’ll also want to keep a general journal of your life alongside it, or included with it. Isaac Bonewits, the founder of ADF, used to say that nobody should critique a ritual until 24 hours had passed, in part because the full effects of the ritual might not be felt until well after it had ended, so be observant and open to that possibility. Then be willing to go back to your journal and look at your past practices and results. The things that work for you, and the things that don’t, may be much easier to spot that way.

Should you discuss your personal practices with others? To the extent that you’re comfortable doing so, sure. I’m hugely introverted and generally not into sharing any part of my personal life in detail, and I suspect there are a lot of Pagans out there who feel the same. But if you’re willing to compare notes with someone else who’s also up for it, then that should work. And if you’re practicing with a partner or a family, then you’ll definitely want to share in the process!

So my advice for anyone who’s worried that they’re doing it wrong: You probably aren’t. And if you are, there are things you can do to make it less wrong. But ultimately, it’s you and your relationships with the spirits that will decide the rightness or wrongness of it. With a regular practice and a good sense of kharis or *ghosti- or reciprocity or whatever your trad calls it, you’ll be ready for anything that life throws at you, no matter what you happen to be wearing at the time.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Yule Ritual Summary

Yule Ritual
December 14th, 2014
Deities of the Occasion: Danu and Bel
Offerings: decorating cookies / cookies and milk
Omen: Berkana – Othala – Gebo
Return flow: cookies and milk
Attendees: 10

Notes:

No one came to the Fire Lighting at my apartment the night before. I don’t know whether it’s a general lack of interest in doing it (it’s not as though Fire Swatch draws a lot of people these days, and that’s outside in the woods) or just the usual time commitments people are subject to in December. We’ll see how many people come to the next two . (On the bright side, we had decided not to do ornaments for the return flow, so I didn’t get stuck making those myself!)

Gen and I arrived at the site at 2, expecting to find the Friends still cleaning up the basement after their event, but it was quite empty, apart from Daniela who was the only one to arrive early. Rod arrived not too long after, so we were ready to go by about 2:40. (Now watch, we’ll show up at 1:30 for Imbolc and they’ll all still be there.)

The ritual itself went smoothly, Only ten people were present, but I’m relatively okay with a Yule ritual being small and more intimate, compared to, say, a small Spring Equinox or Beltaine. We decorated sugar cookies (loved Rod’s Storm Trooper head on a bell-shaped cookie) and offered them to Danu and Bel along with a glass of milk. The omen was good, so we shared cookies and milk for the return flow. (No, not the same cookies and milk we offered, all you people who think we don’t know how offerings work.)

The potluck and socializing went fairly quickly, and there weren’t enough people present to justify a raffle, so we cleaned up and left before sunset, which is saying something when sunset is a bit past 5!

Now begins the usual three week period of no Grove events, as people do have many other commitments to take care of. Here’s wishing you all happy holidays and a blessed new year!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF