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

Samhain Weekend Summary

Samhain Ritual Weekend
November 7th and 8th, 2014
Deity of the Occasion: Ana and Lugh / The Ancestors and Manannan
Offerings: mask-making / bread
Omen: Sowilo – Ingwaz – Ansuz / Uruz – Thurisaz – Gebo
Return flow: cider / bread
Attendees: 9 / 19

Notes:

Fire Watch was pleasant, despite the neighbors honking their car horn in an effort to annoy us. Ten of us were there to light the ritual fire, swear in the Grove officers for their new term, and our very stripped-down Pompaia ritual to bless the nemeton.

Nine people were at the afternoon rite, all adults, to honor Ana and Lugh. The ritual went well enough, but using a ritual script written to be accessible to children when children don’t show up is seeming more and more silly to me these days. The afternoon rite is far more likely to get adults who can’t make it to the evening ritual, and I feel like we’re doing them a disservice and we should really just do one of our regular unscripted full-on High Day rites instead. It’s not like those are child-hostile.

The evening rite saw nineteen people brave the darkness and the somewhat cold to join us in our illuminated nemeton to honor Manannan and the Ancestors. The setting is always beautiful, and there was a real presence and a real power to the rite.

After, we had our Ancestor Supper, participated in by all of five people, because as I’ve learned over the years, most people would rather do the social jibber-jabber thing than do yet another religious thing. Still, I’m a Priest who takes the whole “honor the Kindreds” thing seriously, and I’d rather see it done with just a dedicated few of us than not see it done at all.

Now it’s time for us to get all warm with three indoor rites before we return to our nemeton in the spring. Until then, may our ritual space spend the winter sleeping well beneath Danu’s shiny blanket.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid (for yet another term), Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Fall Equinox Ritual Summary

Fall Equinox Ritual
September 21st, 2014
Deity of the Occasion: Sif
Offerings: grain and whiskey
Omen: Jera – Fehu – Ehwaz
Return flow: bread
24 attendees

Notes:

Our first non-Celtic High Day ritual. I’m still not thrilled with the idea, as I think we should be focusing on our Grove pantheon for High Day rites and work with other cultures at other rites, but I’m sensing that most other people don’t feel that way. In any case, the rite went smoothly, and Rod did a good job of leading it.

We had nineteen people from the Ann Arbor Universalist Unitarian Church attended as part of their youth education program, which wasn’t quite overwhelming, but close! They were great guests and asked a lot of good questions.

I’m sad we didn’t get more of our own members there, though. I know it looked like it was going to rain, and it really did come down hard the night before (we cancelled Fire Watch because of it) but we only got a few brief showers. Clearly we don’t have that “must do all of our rituals outside no matter what” mentality that some groups do.

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

Sacred Fire at Detroit Pagan Pride

Back in May, I was intrigued by the online updates from the pan-Pagan Beltania festival in Colorado from the Rev. Bill Ashton, ADF’s clergy member in Boulder. He spent the entire four days of the festival tending the ritual fire and assisting the festival attendees with making offerings or doing other workings. That sounded like an amazing way to share ADF’s practices with the rest of the community, and one that I might want to try locally. Well, not for four days, but for some decent amount of time at a public event.

A fire at ConVocation would be out of the question, of course, because of its indoor setting, and I knew the Michigan Pagan Festival already had a weekend-long flame that somebody else took care of, so I suggested the idea to the organizers of Detroit pagan Pride Day, and once we got the details of how big the fire would be, they agreed!

Drum was kind enough to transport, me, my wheelchair, and the brazier and other supplies to Hazel Park, and Jeff from Cedarsong Grove brought firewood. We had a location next to a large oak tree which gave us shade for the first few hours of the event, at least (pesky moving sun) and got the fire going easily enough, given the stiff breeze that kept trying to put out the firestarter sticks. Once the fire was burning on its own, I added the nine sacred woods provided by Rhiannon, said the blessing prayer, and settled in.

Given how well I usually do in the heat of August, it actually wasn’t too bad sitting outside all afternoon. I was also surprised at how easily I could move my wheelchair around on the grassy surfaces. I only needed a few breaks, and Jason from Cedarsong helped out with that, as well as Rose and Rob from Oriental Rose, and Kestrel stopped by late in the afternoon. Other than a few restroom visits, the only break I took was for the raffle, where I managed to win a Terry Pratchett book.

And people came with offerings. I had brought olive oil in case people didn’t have anything to offer (two people used it), and I also brought a bowl in case people wanted to offer things that weren’t safe to burn (nobody did). Some people wrote things on paper and burned those, others brought offerings from home, and a few apparently offered things they had just bought from the vendors. My estimate is that we had around twenty people make offerings throughout the day. As I’d hoped, it was a good way to share the *ghosti- experience with non-ADF members without actually having to prepare a workshop or anything.

At around 6:30 I let the fire die down, and we managed to put it out with water from the coolers the kitchen staff had been using. Rose kindly offered to pour the wet ashes into one of the grills in the park, which was as safe and sacred a place to put the ashes as I could think of. And Drum and I packed up and he drove me home.

All in all, it was a great experience, even if I didn’t get to participate in any rituals or workshops, and I would definitely do it again next year, possibly with a presentation on sacred fire in Indo-European traditions. That would mean more advance work for me to do, of course, but compared to organizing an Ann Arbor Pagan Pride event, it should be very easy. Speaking of which, I’m one of the organizers for Ann Arbor Pagan Pride, and we hope to have our first event in September of 2015, but I’ll go into more detail about that later, when we have any kind of detail to go into.

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