Grove Worship vs. Home Worship (in a fight to the death, live at the Palace, this Saturday night!)

(Assisting folks with school projects and handling hospital counseling issues have eaten up my writing time this week, so I’m posting an article I wrote for Shining Lakes News, Imbolc 2000.  But it’s just as true now!)

One of the more common questions I’m asked as Senior Druid (and was asked waaaaay back when I was an Assistant SD) is, “What if I don’t consider myself a Druid? Am I still allowed to join Shining Lakes Grove? If I do join, do I have to stop practicing my current beliefs and only practice Druid rituals?” (Well, okay, that’s three questions, but they’re related. Work with me here, people!)

SLG has always looked to the practices of our spiritual ancestors, the pre-Christian Indo-European peoples, for our inspiration. On this topic, we find that the ancient cultures drew a sharp distinction between community worship and home worship. The ancient Greeks are a good example. Each community as a whole would have certain deities who were honored during public rites. These rites would bring everyone together and build a group identity for everyone in the community. But each household would have its own deities, which the would honor on a regular basis. They even went so far as to use the informal verb tense when addressing their household gods, while using the formal verb tense in community rites or at public shrines.

Here at Shining Lakes Grove, we come together eight times a year for big community rituals, and we do other rites throughout the year, such as the Sacred Hunt, the Dawn Rite at Beltaine, and the Brídeog procession. We also have our An Bruane meetings, where we do both scholarly research and spiritual work to develop the Grove’s cosmology and rituals.

But that doesn’t stop us from doing our own household practices as well. We encourage our members to have their own personal spiritual practice, and we don’t much care what that practice is: Druidic, Wiccan, Voudon, Christian, whatever! Fox, our former Senior Druid, works with the Dagda at home. While the Dagda is a Celtic deity, he isn’t one of the deities our Grove specifically honors. My own household practices are mostly Hellenic adaptations of materials from the ADF Dedicant Program. It’s actually pretty rare to see me invoking any non-Greek deities at home, apart from Ana and Lugh. And Genevieve Stoyak, our Outreach Coordinator, honors the Virgin Mary in her home workings.

If we limited our Grove’s membership to those who worshipped the exact same deities, then we’d probably have only three or four members. By honoring our Grove deities at Grove rites, and continuing our home practices with out own deities, we can come together as a group and build community without discarding our own personal beliefs.

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

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Down By The Riverside (Not!)

This past week was quite stressful. Lots of late days at work, which meant late nights preparing ritual items and orders of service, which in turn meant little sleep for me before a ritual I was going to lead. Then throw in over seven inches of snowfall meant no Fire Lighting Ceremony, as even Gen and I weren’t willing to drive the 1.5 miles to Rodney’s house through those conditions. (Apparently one new person did so, though – hello Mike, and I think you’re mad for driving through that snow! >8)

The worst part of this hectic week, though, is that I didn’t get a chance to stop by the Huron River and spend some time communing with Ana. Every previous spring ritual I’ve done, I’d managed to spend at least a few minutes somewhere along the riverside, meditation and getting in touch with her presence. Well, her more immediate presence, I should say, since as the goddess of the rivershed she’s always present there in a way.

So, there I was at the ritual site, getting there a whopping thirty minutes before the official starting time instead of my usual ninety, and no river visit. What to do? Well, I figured I had two chance to get at least some contact with Ana, and I availed myself of both. The first was easy: I drank some tap water. Yep, one of the good things about being in a river-worshiping Grove is knowing exactly where your local tap water comes from, and since the building where we held the ritual was in the city of Ann Arbor, I knew that it came straight from the Huron (after a little treatment, of course) So I drank some water and thought about Ana and my many visits to the Huron River throughout my life: the Lower Huron MetroPark when I was a child; the Nichols Arboretum as a college student; and Big Lake as an adult.

The other thing I did was to go outside and rub some of that newly fallen snow on my forehead. Sure, we in SLG associate the snow with the goddess Danu – but after that show melts, it will enter the ground and descend to the water table, which is Ana’s domain. Not the optimal method, but better than nothing.

So how did the ritual itself go? Well, I forgot a few songs (blame that on the lack of sleep, and I really should have kept a closer on my liturgical worksheet) but Rodney gave me the metaphorical prods, so we covered that. The egg hunt outside was as enthusiastic as ever, even with the fallen snow to contend with, and my telling of Ana’s story felt powerful to me, hopefully it did to others as well. The omen was good (Ansuz – Dagaz – Lagu, and we love seeing Lagu come up in any ritual to Ana!) and, as Rodney always says, nobody died. And seeing thirty people brave the snow – well, the snow had stopped falling and the roads were well cleared by noon, but still, seeing thirty people show up was heartwarming. So, a successful ritual as far as I’m concerned!

Happy Spring to all of you! (Except those reading this from the southern hemisphere, in which case, Happy Autumn!)

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

Help Us Make Our First Impression A Good One

Warm spring temperatures bring the thawing of the snow, and soon flowers will pop their heads up out of the ground, and so will folks who are interested in coming to one of our Grove events for the first time. I always thought that people would be more inclined to think about joining our community during the winter months, when they’re spending more time indoors and have more time to be contemplative. But no, it’s definitely the spring months when people start thinking in terms of spending time outdoors that their thoughts turn to our Grove and the neo-Pagan lifestyle (if there is such a thing). Hopefully those who do join us will find the joy of being pagan all year round rather than just a few months at a time.

In any case, the e-mails I’ve been getting this past week made me realize that we need a new FAQ list for our Web site, since many people want to come to one of our events but aren’t quite sure which one would be best. (And let me just say thank you and bless you to those of you who do realize that we’re an open group and you don’t need permission from me to attend our meetings, you brighten my heart!) So I’ll jot some notes down now, which will both serve as a blog article for today and an outline for something later.

In general, people want to take part in our Grove for one (or both) of two reasons: to be social with other like-minded people; and to be spiritual and/or religious. (If you consider those to be identical and want to know how I’m distinguishing them, that’ll have to wait for a later article, I so don’t have the space for that here.) Some events have more of one than the other, and some really have neither. Of the regular events we’re currently offering:

High Day Rituals
spiritual content: high
social content: high

Lots of us attend, and there’s lots of time before and after the actual rite to socialize. What’s not to love? (The exception to this is if you want to get one-on-one chat time with me, which some people actually seem to want. Generally I’m too busy on ritual day to spend a lot of time talking to any one person, since in addition to helping set up the ritual space and usually officiating the rite and helping clean up after the ritual, there are a few dozen people who want to talk to me about something. No, ritual days are not the time to go over your wedding plans!)

Fire Watch / Fire Lighting Ceremonies
spiritual content: high
social content: medium

Our pre-ritual rituals, so to speak. Nowhere near as many people show up (especially for the indoor winter ones), but still a good time to be both socially and ritually engaged.

Coffee Hour
spiritual content: medium
social content: high

Lots of us attend, but the conversation rarely covers Pagan topics directly. But if you want to meet our members but aren’t quite sure you feel comfortable attending a “pagan rite” just yet, this is probably your best bet.

Liturgists’ Roundtables
spiritual content: medium
social content: low

Our ritual planning is always open to everyone, but generally our members trust us to get things done without them. This is a good place to meet me and a few other members in a private setting, but if you don’t know our ritual format (or don’t care about it all that much), the actual meeting may well bore you.

Producers’ Guild Meetings
spiritual content: low
social content: medium

A few members get together to do craft projects. If you like doing crafts, this may be the best first event for you to attend, otherwise I’d pass. (The head of the Guild may well contest my opinion if/when she reads this.)

Business Meetings
spiritual content: none
social content: low

Only the officers attend, and we discuss finances and calendar planning and such. Do not do not do NOT make this your first SLG meeting. Please. We want you to come back.

An Bruane

Not open to folks who aren’t official members of SLG, so obviously this shouldn’t be your first event. >8)

Various Huron River Watershed Council events
spiritual content: low
social content: low

These are the events we do for our local rivershed protection group as part of our public service to the community. These aren’t really Grove events, and there are seldom more than three Grove members in attendance, and then they usually get split into separate teams. Probably better to come to some other events first.

So there are my opinions. Other grove members should feel free to agree or disagree with any of them in the comments here.

Think happy springy thoughts, and hopefully I’ll see many of you at the ritual on Saturday! (And don’t forget, egg dyeing at the Fire Lighting on Friday!)

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

First came Strawhenge, and then Stickhenge…

In 2007, I was interviewed twice by local reporters, first for the Detroit Free Press in June, and then for the Ann Arbor Observer in December. It was a great way to get the word out to people about our Grove and what we do, and to address misconceptions that folks might have about us. The most obvious one being the very reason that those newspapers wanted to do stories about us in June and December: that the solstices were important Druid holidays. Both reporters asked me about the significance of those special days to the ancient Druids, and I had to explain that no, the solar stuff wasn’t a big deal to the Celts. The follow-up they each asked me at the time (and I was impressed that they’d thought it through to that extent) was why the ancient Druidic site of Stonehenge was lined up to indicate the summer solstice if the solstices weren’t a big deal. I then got to explain to them that, well, Stonehenge was built a few millennia before the Druids or the Celts ever set foot on that island. And the people who built it certainly thought the solstices were important, but they weren’t the Druids. The Druids certainly used the site once they got there, of course, because hey, if I had a cool stone circle in my back yard I’d find a way to do rituals there whether I’d designed it or not!

So I was intrigued when Gen passed along a link to a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times that talked about Stonehenge and other ancient sites, and compared them to our modern architecture and culture. Like many neo-Pagans, I have no problem seeing the similarities between what we do and what the Ancients did, but it was good to see a major metropolitan newspaper point it out as well.

Personally, I don’t think a week goes by that I don’t take a metaphorical step back, look at our road network or the old buildings in downtown Ann Arbor or our system of government (okay, maybe during primary season I’m less thrilled about that one) and feel grateful to our Ancestors, that they left us such good things to help us live our lives well. If you haven’t already, take some time to honor the Ancestors today!

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

Related Reading:

The article Current did on us: http://www.ecurrent.com/view_article.php?id=1524

The article the Free Press did on us: No longer available on their site (unless you want to pay for it), but e-mail us at kargach@netscape.com and we’ll send it to you

The Springiest Time of the Year

The wheel of the year keeps on turning, the sun rises earlier every day (and wakes me up, blast it), the snow on the ground turns to, um, slushier snow… Yes, spring is nearing here in the Ann Arbor area, and as always, our thoughts turn to baseball. Oh, and our equinox ritual. Yeah, that too!

Here in SLG, this is one of the two high days where we honor Ana, the goddess of the local rivershed, whose contacting I described in an earlier blog entry so I’ll spare you the recap. One of us (usually the ritual leader, but not necessarily) retells her story, and we offer her flowers. Okay, that doesn’t look exciting when I type it, but her story is a really powerful one, when told properly. I won’t ruin it for you, in case you don’t know it and you’ll be at the ritual, but here’s a hint: there’s water involved.

So what other traditions have we evolved for this holiday? One of our favorites is the egg hunt, where we hide several colored eggs in the outdoor section of the site that we rent for the occasion. This is based on the old Ukrainian pagan tradition of “pysanky”, which evolved throughout the years into the Easter Egg tradition that you’re no doubt familiar with. We collect the eggs before the praise offerings begin, and we use the eggs as both our focus object and the main sacrifice. The year we added this to the ritual, I wasn’t sure whether people would really respond well to it, given its association with that decidedly non-Pagan modern holiday, but seeing grown men and women running outside full tilt to look for eggs convinced me that this practice is deeply meaningful to us in its own weird way.

(And for those wondering, yes, we hold this ritual indoors. Sometimes the weather is nice enough that we could get away with doing it outside. Usually it isn’t, at least to normal people who think that fifty degrees Fahrenheit isn’t a comfy temperature for standing outside for several hours. I could probably handle it, but then I don’t want to do the ritual alone, so we play it safe and do it where we know it’ll be warm. Ideally we will one day have a site where we can do the ritual either indoors or outdoors and decide it at the last minute, but the site we use now doesn’t want us doing rituals in the yard, so we do it indoors.)

Another tradition we added to our spring equinox ritual years ago was the blessing of the seed. Back when we planted emmer wheat seeds every year – a tradition that we’ll bring back as soon as we get a good site to actually grow the wheat again – we blessed the seeds at this rite. We added an opportunity for people to bring in their own seeds, bulbs, and gardening tools to be blessed, and then we changed that to allow folks to bring the tools of whatever vocation they follow. (I usually bring a part of my computer, for instance.)

This year’s ritual will be on the 22nd, at the Friends Meeting (1420 Hill St., Ann Arbor) at 2 PM, and don’t worry if it’s snowing, it’ll be indoors, honest! So what new traditions will this or future years bring to our spring rite? Only time will tell. If you want to help us put together this years ritual, you can attend either of our planning meetings, on the 4th and the 18th. (7 PM, 263 Larkspur, Ann Arbor) Yes, anyone can attend, really! No reservations required!

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

Related Reading:

All about Ana: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/ana.html

Ukrainian eggs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pysanka

More on Ukrainian eggs: http://www.helium.com/tm/258206/easter-traditions-important-symbolism

Our wheat: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/cowwheat.html

SLG Schedule of Events: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/schedule.html