When Did the Pagans Turn Into Mr. Garrison?

Like most preteen boys, I was guilty of searching my house for the things that my parents kept hidden away so we children wouldn’t be exposed to them, and I found them, and I enjoyed them. I am of course referring to my parent’s George Carlin albums (what did you think I meant?) which I listened to after I got home from school but before my sister got home, like an hour later. Ah, it was pure bliss, not only to do something my parents had forbidden (or at least kinda discouraged), but because the material itself was brilliant. And it was brilliant not just because it was dirty (which it was) and not just because I’d never heard anything quite like it before (because it was dirty), but because it was so eye-opening to hear someone talk about dirty words and dirty thoughts and the good and bad aspects of a Catholic upbringing in such a meaningful and thoughtful way. And yet it was still hilariously funny.

I kept watching and listening to Carlin through the years, even when he wasn’t forbidden fruit, and as an adult I’ve bought several of his albums. One of my favorite routines from his later works is one where he compares Jesus to Joe Pesci (this was not too many years after Goodfellas came out) and he said he’s rather send his prayers for help to Pesci than to Jesus, because Joe Pesci seems like the kind of guy who can get things done. It’s funny, it makes us question the whole concept of prayer, and yeah, it might just be a little offensive to the Christians out there. And yet, I don’t remember hearing about any major protests or petitions when Carlin’s album was released. Maybe they’re just used to George Carlin saying those sorts of things, sure. Or maybe it just wasn’t that big a deal to the people who could have taken offense. Maybe they had better things to worry about, like helping the poor, or tending to their own spiritual needs, or mowing their lawns, or any of thousands of more meaningful activities.

So imagine my surprise when I wandered over to the few non-ADF pagan mailing lists I’m on, and discovered a flood of posts on Friday that accused Kathy Lee Gifford of hate speech against Pagans during one of her Today Show appearances. The posts refused to say what exactly she had said (a bad sign, if it was really that offensive people would be including the offensive quote and responding to it), and me being on dialup at home I wasn’t sure it would be worth the several hours of download time it would take, but fortunately it was a slow day at work so I managed to watch it there. What was the offensive remark? In a multiple-choice question being given to a future groom about the origin of the wedding ring tradition, one of the (incorrect) options was, “Pagans believed that carrying gold on the right side of the body was bad luck”. And Kathy Lee read it aloud as: “Pagans – those bad, nasty pagans – believed that…”

Wait, what? This is hate speech? That’s just an opinion. And not much of one at that. I’m not thrilled that she said it, of course. And if I somehow managed to get alone time with Ms. Gifford, (and that may be the most horrifying thought I have all day), I’d probably mention something about modern Paganism and suggest that we’re neither bad nor nasty. (Well, some of us smell nasty after we’ve spent a week at a festival without shower facilities, but that’s only temporary.) But even if I thought that Kathy Lee Gifford held any kind of sway over the hearts and minds of most Americans – and no, she doesn’t – this barely even counts as an insult. Heck, the 1988 movie Dragnet has probably done more serious damage to our image, just because I’ve talked to people who actually thought the word “pagan” was an acronym for “People Against Goodness And Normalcy”, which is taken directly from that movie.

So like any group of mature people, we all collectively shake our heads at the silliness of the comment and choose to get on with the real life of a neo-Pagan, honoring our gods and doing environmental work and… Oh, no, wait, we don’t. We set up online petitions to complain to NBC and demand an apology because (and I quote the petition site whose URL I’ve included below) “Ms. Gifford’s hate speech has done harm to American Pagans’ ability to live in peace with our neighbors of other faiths. By allowing her hate speech to be broadcast, her direct employer the TODAY Show, and their network, NBC, participate in that hate speech.”

Um. No. Hate speech is telling your neighbors to hurt you – I mean really hurt you, like with a gun or a club, not the word “nasty” – or at least stop to interacting with you. Hate speech is telling people blatant lies about your practices, like “Pagans eat babies” (I did eat a few Sugar Babies yesterday at work, does that count?) or that Pagans are godless (we have way more gods than Kathy Lee does, I betcha I betcha) or the like. “Bad” and “nasty”? The average review of The Love Guru had harsher language than that.

I would post this on the petition site, but I worry that my entry would be deemed a show of support, so I’ll just ask it here and hope that any of the 1735 (so far) people who have posted there will respond here. How the (F word from George Carlin’s list) has Kathy Lee’s comment really harmed you? Really? Heck, I’ll take anything more serious than “the clerk at the supermarket looked at me funny” as a valid answer. I really want to know why you’re devoting your energy to something that seems so meaningless, when we have so many problems to deal with that are actually – what’s the word I’m looking for – “real”.

In the meantime, I’ll go to my bedroom altar and pray to Joe Pesci to put a stop to all of the anti-Pagan hate speech in the world. Because he seems like a guy who can get stuff done!

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

Related Reading:

George Carlin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Carlin
For those who disagree with me and want to help with the “effort”: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/quotnasty-bad-pagansquot-protesting-hate-speech-on-nbc
And for those who don’t get the reference in the title: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weight_Gain_4000

Raindrops Kept Falling On Our Heads

Well, gosh, don’t I feel all wet Almost literally. The weather forecast said that there would be scattered thunderstorms yesterday afternoon, and scattered thunderstorms today as well. So I decided that we’d go ahead and do the ritual yesterday as scheduled, and take our chances. Well, yesterday during the rite, a downpour began during the praise offerings, and it kept sprinkling for the rest of the afternoon. And today, no rain at all. Feh. Not that I couldn’t handle a rite in the rain, mind you – and I’m glad that so many people did stay even after the water came – but obviously I’m disappointed that there were a lot of people who might have come to the rite if the forecast had been better. But then if I’d postponed the ritual to Sunday, our attendance would have plummeted anyway. Until we get a ritual site that can handle both indoor and outdoor rites for us, there’s not much we can do anyway, and I really should stop second-guessing myself.

The sad part is that other than the rain, the ritual itself went just fine. The offerings were accepted (even though the rain was so loud during the individual praise section that I couldn’t hear some folks – maybe we need some lessons on voice projection), the omen was good (Berkana Tir Gebo, which Rod took to mean a gift from both Danu and Bel), and other than dampness and a much cooler air temperature than we’re used to for a June rite, everything felt good. Maybe we should consider the water a gift from Danu, and take it in the spirit in which it was given.

The one real question I have left to ponder is whether or not our drenched ritual is going to affect how the reporters at the ritual write about us. Yep, we got more reporters, this time from the Ann Arbor Observer. Their annual City Guide does articles on various groups around town, and this time they’re thinking of including us as one of the featured churches. I assured them that it doesn’t always rain on our rituals, and I think they believed me. >8) I’ll let everyone here know if/when the article is published.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some dropcloths to air out.

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

PS – If this week’s entry is just too short for you and you crave more SLG reading material, the new issue of Shining Lakes News is online at http://shininglakes.bravehost.com/slnpdf/SLN-summer08.pdf

Our Tribal Father

After having lunch with my own personal father today, I thought I’d write about my other father, our Grove’s tribal father god, Lugh.  Then it occurred to me that the perfect article about Lugh was already on our Web site, and that I couldn’t improve upon it, so I’ll include it here.  While it may not be an original gift to give to Lugh on this day, I hope he’ll appreciate a clever regifting.  >8)  Remember that our three-day Lughnasadh celebration is coming up on August 1st through 3rd, and if you would like to give a workshop or class, let me know!

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


(pronounced LOO)

Our Celtic ancestors believed that all things descended from the divine as we do today. As such each tribe had a special relationship with a certain god whom they identified as their divine ancestor or tribal father. This patron represented the heritage of the people and was the very embodiment of their spiritual identity.

As the tribes migrated from place to place this tribal god, among many other deities, would travel with them. When they settled in a new place they conducted a special ceremony of sacred marriage wherein the father god was wed to the goddess of the land, the sovereignty goddess. Through this new relationship the folk of the tribe became the adopted children of the mother goddess of their new land and could settle in peace.

The concept of an ancestral god was a challenge to An Bruane. Traditionally this was not information that had to be sought, it was simply passed from generation to generation. Not only have we lost that continuity with the past but, as a newly formed tribe of diverse racial, social, and geographic backgrounds, we didn’t even have a common ancestral link to the past.

The search for a deity to represent the heritage and spiritual character of this new tribe began. It was clear to us that some divine power had seen fit to draw together such diverse people into one group, we just had to find some way to ask him to reveal himself more clearly.

We constructed a pair of effigies to help in this effort. The first made from terra-cotta colored clay moistened with water from the Huron River and fashioned into the form of a woman as a representation of Ana. A second, masculine form was made from a grayish colored clay. We collected hair and nail trimmings from as many grove members as we could and placed these within the clay at the effigy’s heart.

This male statue was left nameless and indefinite. On the eve of the Summer Solstice we brought out these statues and gathered in the forest by the light of our sacred fire. Throughout the night we used trance and divination to gather hints and observations as to the identity of this mysterious god. At last, a strikingly coherent portrait of the grove’s tribal god emerged, a being much like the Irish god Lugh and content to be known by that name.

Our Lugh, as with some of our other deities, differs in some characteristics from the god that appears in the textbooks. We explain this by our belief that, like all other beings, the deities change over time. While we accept that those entities that appear in ancient mythology are the same beings whom we are directly experiencing today, we see these accounts as snapshots of the deities at one point in time.

Lugh is a sky god who is strongly connected with fire, the sun, and the weather. He bears a torc and a brilliantly shining spear that is sometimes seen in the form of lightning. He is the god of all skills and arts, of excellence in every imaginable endeavor. He lives at the top of our tribal tree in the traditional seat of kingship and acts as the protector and guide of his people.. Especially sacred to him are eagles, which can be seen nesting near the river mouth, crows, which keep watch over all that happens in the land, and the ash tree.

The day after his identity was revealed the sacred marriage of sovereignty was enacted and celebrated by the grove. During this rite Ana accepted Lugh, and by extension us, in a sacred bond. From that point on we adopted the title “Tuatha de Anann”, the people of the goddess Ana. It is by this relationship that we may live in peace with the spirits of this place and gather the harvest of the land for our own survival. This relationship comes with an obligation as well, to live in honor and responsibility to our new-found mother and our wild kin in this place.

An appropriate offering to Lugh would be any work of skill such as art, music or poetry.

Related reading:
Our Grove’s Deities: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/

Yes, ADF Has Some Offline Activities As Well

It’s been five months now since I started writing this blog, and I’m not sure what to make of things so far. I’m happy with the quality of most of the articles I’ve written so far, and satisfied with how few times I’ve needed to run an old article of mine from another source instead of coming up with something new. This pilgrimage into a new region of the Internet seems to be progressing smoothly, and yet the blog gets almost no comments. Then again, I don’t read many blogs so I don’t know how many comments I should really be expecting.

I’ve been thinking about online paganism a lot this past week, because of one blog entry I read from someone who’s considering leaving ADF because she thinks the people on the mailing lists are too mean, and also from one ADF mailing list where people were being mean to each other. The Fates have given us a greater tool to help us build Our Own Druidry than any of the Ancients could have imagined, but apparently we haven’t yet learned the skills to use it properly.

My advice is, was, and will for the foreseeable future be: ADF is not the mailing lists. Or, the lists are not ADF, if that sounds better. ADF is about doing research and learning the ways of the ancients and performing rituals and honoring the gods and getting together with others to share in these joys and experiences. Yes, our e-mail lists can be used for the “sharing” part, but you need to be doing the other stuff in order to share it, right? If the lists are the only part of ADF that you’re experiencing, or even if you consider them the most important part, then as the LoLcats say, “ur doing it rong”. And if you’re getting something meaningful out of our rituals and/or our study program, but if the mailing lists aren’t helping you, then sign off of the lists. No, really, I did just say that. Being on an ADF e-mail list just isn’t important enough for you to endure suffering. (Unless you’re an officer within the organization, in which case, you knew the risks when you signed up for that job. >8)

I would add – and this is useful for people who aren’t in ADF and will never be on our mailing lists, as I think it applies to just about all computer-mediated communication – Disagreement does not constitute a personal attack. When we communicate with other human beings, the experience consists of lots of different aspects – tone of voice, facial expression, body language – that don’t come through when we use a text-only medium. And it seems to be human nature to fill in those gaps as best we can, only we don’t seem to be very good at it yet. If someone posts an unconfirmed personal gnosis like, to take a real example I was once told, “Bríd told me that she likes bees and wants a beehive-shaped candle on her altar”, and I respond, “I’m not aware of any documented research that Bríd was into bees”, then that’s what I mean. I’m not aware of any documentation. Not “you’re an idiot” or “you’re worshipping Bríd wrong and she must hate you for it” (and that’s a divine can of worms that I’d never open in any case) or “you don’t belong in ADF”, no. Just that I’ve never seen or heard of that view before. (And it’s not like I’ve read every book on paleopagan practices ever written, for all I know there really is an ideas that the ancients thought the same thing!)

Remember my earlier article about the Grand Experiment That Is ADF? Keep in mind, part of that experiment is comparing notes and seeing where our experiences and opinions match, and where they don’t. Nobody said we were always going to come up with the same answers, and it would be boring if we did. (I’d mention the parable about the blind men describing an elephant, but I kinda hate that one, to be honest.)

And yes, for you solitary-types out there, I know it’s harder for you to have those non-online experiences when you’re working alone, and you rely more on e-mail for your ADF experience. Being a solitary is a lot harder than being in a Grove, I know, and I won’t tell you otherwise. But if you’re already willing to put in the extra effort to do your own rituals and prod yourself in your studies [1], I hope you’re also willing to put in the teeny bit of extra effort to understand the nature of e-mail and not take offense when none is intended.

Well that’s enough pseudo-lecturing from me for one week, I’ll come up with a happier topic for next time.

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

[1] Then again, I’ve been prodding my Grovemates to finish the Dedicant Path for about ten years now, and a grand total of one of them has actually done so. Being in a Grove isn’t exactly a cure-all for inertia. >8)

Summertime, And The Liturgy’s Easy

As I’ve been doing my floral deliveries around the area, it’s been hard not to notice how many irises have been blooming recently. Partly because irises are so beautiful, and partly because the ones here at my house hadn’t bloomed yet. I was getting a little worried about them, but today as I left the house to meet a couple who I’ll be marrying in August – officiating their wedding, that is – I saw that they had finally come out. The blooms are smaller than I remember them being last year, but at this point, I’ll take any sign of impending summer that I can get!

Our Summer Solstice rite is coming up in a few weeks, and our first planning meeting is in a few days. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, despite what most folks think, the solstice wasn’t a big holiday to the ancient Celts, so this has left us with a lot of latitude in how we choose to celebrate it here in SLG. At our An Bruane sessions over the years, we’ve chosen to honor both Bel and Danu at our summer and winter solstice rites. Not because we think that we need to honor both a male and a female deity at the rite, mind you, because we don’t do the duotheist thing. (Only three of our nine High Day rituals have more than one Deity of the Occasion.) Nor can we cite any ancient practice to support it, though maybe a better scholar than I can do so. No, we’ve chosen to honor them both at those rites because they asked us to, during our guided meditations at An Bruane. And personally, it feels rite to me to honor both the warm solar power of Bel and the cold watery power of Danu at the same rite. Honoring one and ignoring the other would be unbalanced, and I don’t think it would work as well.

They both appear to us as grandparently types, and like most grandparents, they seem very pleased by any offerings we make to them. Bel asked us to burn things for him, so that’s been a regular part of our Summer Solstice rites. (And hey, people like burning things at ritual. Like to burn ‘em, like to watch ‘em burn. Sometimes I think we’re a religion of pyros.) Other than that, they seem very open to anything we want to do for them.

So remember, if you want to help us plan the rite, our Liturgists’ Roundtables will be on June 3rd and 17th, and yes, everyone is welcome to attend. (Though if you’ve never been to one of our rituals, it may be a bit confuzzling.) The rite itself will be on the 21st, and the night before that will be Fire Watch, and with only about ten hours of darkness it’ll be the easiest one to stay at all night, if that’s your thing. >8) The solstice rite may not be an intense one, even by our standards, but it’s certainly a fun one.

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

Related Reading:
Our event schedule in HTML: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/schedule.html
Our event schedule in Google calendar: http://www.google.com/calendar/render?cid=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Fcalendar%2Ffeeds%2Fkargach%40yahoo.com%2Fpublic%2Fbasic

PS – In case you were wondering, no, we don’t call it “Midsummer”, well I personally don’t anyway. Because it’s the beginning of summer, not the middle of it! Even if we define “summer” as the period from Beltaine to Samhain, i.e. the light half of the Celtic year, then the halfway point would be in early August, and the solstice would better be called “Earlysummer”. Which would be silly. So “Summer Solstice” it is!