We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off To Have A Good Rite, Oh No

During the two weeks before one of our High Day rites, I usually get several e-mails and phone calls from new folks who only just found out that we exist and that we do public pagan rites. Sometimes the folks who call know more or less what Druids do, and sometimes not. But the phone call I got a few days ago included a question which was, um, not what I usually get.

The caller (I won’t share her name, partly for confidentiality but mainly because she didn’t tell me >8) asked what happens at a ritual. I gave her the usual “we make sacred space, invite the gods, make offerings, ask blessings, and sing and dance a bit” answer that I give when people ask me for a short explanation. Well, no, she said she wanted a more detailed description than that. Well, it’s hard to come up with a balance between giving a more detailed explanation than my usual and boring the pants off of someone, especially when I’m driving while talking on my cell phone and I really hate doing that, but I gave it a go. And then I got to the point where I said, “And for this holiday, we’ll be jumping over a fire, since it’s traditional for this time of year as an act of purification and blessing.”

The voice on the other end of the phone said faintly, “Ah, and that’s when we take our clothes off.”

I paused. I can’t have heard that correctly, can I? “No, we don’t build the fire high enough that it would light anyone’s clothing, and if you’re asking whether we do any part of the ritual naked, we don’t.”

“You don’t?”

“No, the site we use doesn’t allow it, and even if we did, that’s not something our Grove would do at a ritual. Skyclad ritual is more a Wiccan tradition than a Druid one, though most Wiccan groups don’t do it either.”

“Oh.” Pause. “Do you know any Wiccan groups in the area who do?”

After explaining that I did not know of any area groups that do skyclad stuff, either I lost the signal on my cell phone or she hung up on me. I frankly admit my puzzlement over the whole conversation, and I genuinely hope she does attend our rite next weekend so I can find out just exactly what she’s looking for in a pagan group. But if nothing else, she did give me the idea for this week’s blog entry, mainly why we don’t do naked ritual in SLG.

The first one to mention is the one I mentioned above: the sites we use don’t let us. Don Botsford, the owner of the nature preserve where we hold our summer rites, doesn’t allow it on his property. Nor do the ICC Ed Center or the Friends Meeting. And per ADF policy, we obey the rules of the sites we use. Good neighbors make good, um, neighbors? Or was that fences? Something like that.

The second reason: Why bother? As I noted years ago in my Wiccan days, if the magical energy I’m working with can’t penetrate one or two layers of cloth, how can I expect it to do anything even moderately powerful? “Go forth, Cone of Power, and get me a better job!” “I’ll try, but I can’t seem to get past your socks…” (Okay, maybe my socks are more powerful than magical energy, but still.) One can make the argument that wearing special ritual garb can make it easier to focus, of course. And one can try to stretch that to include nudity as a form of special ritual garb, but personally I don’t buy it. We get naked for plenty of other things in life that aren’t religious ritual, unless your bathing and/or showering are holy experiences. And if you’re in a group ritual, and nudity is your ritual garb, does that mean everyone has to get naked? Even the ones who don’t want to?

Which leads to the final reason I’ll mention here: SLG and ADF are all about doing public High Day rituals. Public, as in, we want to promote an inviting atmosphere where anyone can attend and take part in a meaningful spiritual experience. If some of us are wandering around naked, can we really have that atmosphere? We’re not all comfortable being nude, and we’re certainly not all comfortable having our children attend clothing-optional events. Nothing against the naturists out there, of course. I do know a few of them and they’re great people. And they know that not everyone is a naturist, and that not everything in life should be clothing optional.

So if you’ll be attending any part of our Beltaine celebrations this weekend, there’s no dress code. (In fact, this is the one High Day where I don’t wear robes.) Dress in anything you like. But please, wear something!

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

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Caught Between a Park and a Wood Place

The warmth of spring has well and truly arrived here in the Ann Arbor area, and so I turn to the thing I always do when the warmth gets here: I go inside and write. >8) No, I’ve been known to go outside once in a while, but I’m working on the ADF Clergy Training Program, and this time of year seems perfect for working on the Nature Awareness course. Among the various bits I need to write about is:

3. Describe the park or patch of untended nature closest to your home and what kind of park it is. (minimum 100 words)

This gives me a difficult decision, because my house… Well why don’t I let Google Maps show you:

My house is in the center, across the street (behind the giant green arrow that somebody stuck into my mailbox) is a city park, and right behind my house is untended forest land. You can see the path in the photo leading off to the east, where many acres at the rear of the various properties on my street are still wild forest. Well, as wild as forest gets in Ypsilanti anyway.

I hadn’t really considered the space where I live to be liminal in that context, but yeah, I guess I do live halfway between tended nature and untended nature. I have a feeling I’m going to go over a hundred words for this one. >8)

If you’re enjoying the weather as much as I am, make sure you get out and enjoy a large dose of the outdoors (tended or not) before it gets too much hotter. (I admit it, I’m no fan of summer. I’d rather be cold than hot, that’s just me.) And if you live in the Ann Arbor area, don’t forget about our Grove’s community service projects with the Huron River Watershed Council. It’s too late to register for next week’s River Roundup, but you can still help out with Bug ID Day. Lots of untrained folks like you and me can help the experts measure the quality of the Huron River and the various streams in its rivershed by sorting our the insect samples that will be collected at the Roundup. It’s on May 4th (the day after our Beltaine), it’s easy, and it does make a difference!

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

Related Reading:

The ADF Clergy Training Program (only viewable if you’re an ADF member, sorry everyone else!): http://www.adf.org/members/org/clergy-council/ctp/outline.html

Hurray, Hurray, it’s Beltaine Day! Outdoor Ritual Begins Today!

The wheel of the year turns, and where it was once snowy and cold, now it is rainy and not quite as cold. Hurray for spring in Michigan! And now our thoughts turn to the next High Day rite of our Grove calendar: Beltaine. (It would be more authentically Celtic, perhaps, to call it “Beltinne”, Irish for “Bel fire”, but we don’t because (a) we don’t honor Bel as the Deity of the Occasion for this rite, and (b) Beltaine is easier for people to pronounce correctly. >8) Beltaine is traditionally a time of boisterousness, a time to deliberate violate normal social conventions as a celebration of spring and warmth and fertility. Those who attend our rites throughout the year will notice that this is the only ritual where I don’t wear robes, as a sign of the uniqueness of this holiday.

Beltaine is on the opposite side of the Year Wheel from Samhain. As Samhain is the beginning of the dark half of the year, so Beltaine is the beginning of the light half, and we rekindle the Grove Flame anew at our Fire Watch ceremony the night before the rite. Since it’s the first outdoor rite of the year, we tend to have a lot more people attend Fire Watch – after being cooped up indoors for the winter, people are ready to spend the night outdoors!

Those who do stay the whole night – and those who are capable of getting out of bed at 4 in the morning – travel to Big Lake, the source of the Huron River, to perform our annual Dawn Beltaine rite. This is our own adaptation of an old Gaulish horse blessing rite, and maybe if someone brings a horse some day we can bless it there. (I shouldn’t say that, there are enough horse owners around here that someone might take me up on it!) We make offerings in the middle of the lake, collect water from there, then bring it to shore and hold it aloft to be touched by the first rays of the sun. This is the blessed water we use throughout the year at all of our rites.

That afternoon, after we’ve had a chance at a nap, we have the actual High Day rite. We honor Aren, a local god who we contacted through meditative work at our An Bruane sessions, and who identifies himself as a god of love and beauty and freedom, befitting the spring season. The rite includes choosing a May Queen or King (just one, we’re not dualists), a Maypole Dance, jumping a fire, and generally a lot of deliberate silliness. Those of you looking for a serious rite will probably want to steer clear, at least until our next ritual, but obviously I’d encourage you to join us and celebrate the season, in all of its joy and wackiness!

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

Related Reading:
SLG Dawn Rite FAQ List: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/faq/drfaq.html
Aren: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/aren.html

How We Found Our Allies

Even though I’ve lived in the Ann Arbor area (more or less) for the last 35 years, somehow I’ve never managed to attend any of the Ann Arbor Pow-Wows held at Crisler Arena. I’ve known many people who’ve attended them – when I was mentioning this article to Gen, she told me that she’d been twice, which I never knew! – but somehow I’ve managed never to get to one. And sadly, this weekend was no exception. I’m part Native American myself (my mother’s fathers’ mothers’ grandmother was full-blooded Montagnais, so I’m told), but I admit I’ve never had an overwhelming interest in Native American culture. It interests me, sure, but not in the personal way that it does some other neo-Pagans. So no, I’ve never made it a priority to be there, but I’d like to at some point.

Thinking about the Pow-Wow this weekend reminded me of how our Grove decided to address these issues way back when I first joined. We had originally considered the spirits of the Native Americans to be our version of the Sidhe, those Irish spirits who were forced underground by the coming of Christianity, and so we included them in our offerings to the Nature Spirits. But as seems obvious now, this was a rather insulting way to address them. This was back when our Grove seers would take separate omens from the Kindreds, and while the omens from the Deities and Ancestors were consistently good, the ones from the Nature Spirits were always bad, if not downright nasty.

What to do, what to do. We didn’t want to ignore the Native Americans, as we thought that would be insulting to them as well. There was some talk of incorporating some kind of traditional Native American practice into our rites, but that could be considered just as insulting. “Hey, not only are we gonna steal your land, let’s steal your customs as well!” The remaining native tribes on this continent don’t go out of their way to share their religious traditions with outsiders, and we thought it best to respect that.

Looking at the practices of the ancient Indo-Europeans, we saw that even in cases where two tribes had fought over control of a region (and that happened a lot), there was still some level of respect between the two sides, and that when the fighting was done, there would be some kind of formal treaty between them, and the Bards would even compose ballads of the noble and heroic acts of their opponents. This seemed a far cry from what we Americans had done! Obviously there’s only so much our Grove can do to redress the misdeeds of our recent Ancestors, but in the spirit of treaty and honor, we added an invocation to the spirits of the Native Americans and the spirits that they themselves honored to the beginning section of our High Day rites. Addressing them as the Allies rather than the Sidhe, we offer them a place by our hearth, that they may join our rite if they so choose. In this way, we hope to honor them without co-opting their practices.

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

Related Reading:
The Nature Spirits and the Allies: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/nsallies.html