But Should I Get The Minotaur Down From The Attic As Well?

We ADF Druids all have an interest in ancient artifacts, as part of our study of the ancient cultures that we seek to emulate. Most of us don’t own any ancient artifacts, of course, so we have to make do with museum visits and reading books. But there’s still a lot we can learn from these objects of the past. (Knowing that the ancient Greeks actually wrote curse tablets to hinder the abilities of athletes they didn’t like gives me a perspective on their life that reading their myths could never quite do!) I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be on an archaeological dig and make some incredible discovery. (And then maybe grab it and escape from a bunch of Nazis using my bullwhip, but now I’m just getting my fantasies muddled.)

ADF has only been around for twenty five years now, and while the 1980s may seem like an eternity ago, our own artifacts can’t be called “ancient” just yet. Still, being Senior Druid of a Grove that’s nearly fifteen years old, I can sometimes make a mini-expedition of my own to find one of our old ritual objects. This was the case today when I got our old canvas labyrinth out of storage so we can use it this weekend at our Lughnasadh festival.

Back in February of 2000, when I went to ConVocation (our local area’s metaphysical convention), I attended a workshop on labyrinths where the folks running it had put together a portable labyrinth using a large blue tarpaulin and masking tape. I was so impressed that I told Gen Stoyak I wanted to do something similar, and she suggested using a large canvas sheet instead of a tarp so it would be more durable. She, being far better at working with fabrics than I will ever be, sewed together several pieces of canvas to make a single 20 foot by 19 foot piece. (She somehow managed to do this in the hallway of her condo, which was long enough but nowhere near wide enough. Another mystery of the Producer Caste that I will never understand!) Meanwhile, I took an image file of a simple seven-circuit labyrinth on my PC and overlaid a 20 by 19 grid onto it. We took the canvas out to my parent’s farm where we could stretch it out properly, and Gen installed several grommets around the edge so we could drive tent stakes through to keep the wind from blowing it out of place. Then I laid out a 20 by 19 grid with masking tape, and I used my handy little blueprint to paint the image on the canvas.

We took the labyrinth to Wellspring, a local Pagan picnic, and a few of our Lughnasadh festivals, but we haven’t used it in several years. (With my work schedule I haven’t been able to travel to a lot of non-Grove events, and I didn’t want to overuse it at our own events.) When Jude Howison told me she wanted to do a workshop on labyrinths at this year’s Lughnasadh, I knew it was time to get the old labyrinth out again. This afternoon, I stretched it out in my back yard. It was like taking a trip in a time machine – well, a time machine that can only go back five years, but still impressive. The cloth is still in good shape, there are a few stains but we can probably get those out, and the little drawing of a slug I did in the corner with “5-14-00” was still there. I walked it once again, and despite the wind trying to blow the pattern out from under me, it felt good. (Yes, I still have the tent stakes and we’ll be using them next weekend. >8)

I’m glad I had a chance to rediscover something from my Grove’s past, and if it proves popular at our festival, maybe we can make it a regular part of our Grove practices one again. If not, well, I can always put it back into storage an look forward to rediscovering it again.

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

Related reading:
The Labyrinth Society: http://www.labyrinthsociety.org/

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Jinkies! Looks Like We’ve Got An Art Fair On Our Hands!

Every summer, the natives flee as the hordes descend upon our local area, to rampage across the landscape, pillaging and plundering and spending $5 for a small lemonade. Art Fair returned to Ann Arbor this week, loved by its many visitors and hated by most local residents for the disruption it causes to our lives. I’m not actually a resident of Ann Arbor, and my apartment in Ypsilanti is far enough away that I don’t even notice an increase in car traffic. But I work downtown, and delivering flowers means I not only have to maneuver around the closed streets, I also have to find creative places to park for those few deliveries I need to take there. I can appreciate the economic boost it gives our local retailers during the long, slow summer months, though I’d feel better if our flower store saw some of that boost as well. Nobody comes to art fair to buy a vase of roses. >8)

Being an ADF Druid, I’m constantly studying the things that happen around me and asking myself if there are any ancient customs that are similar. In this particular case, I can’t help but think of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which happened annually in a small town near Athens for many centuries. No, I’m not thinking in terms of the mystery rite itself. Although we still don’t know exactly what happened during the climactic part of the weeklong ceremony. It’s pretty unlikely that it centered around any kind of artwork.

No, I’m thinking in terms of the massive influx of people who came from all over the Greek-speaking world to take part in it, and the hordes of merchants who got there first to ply their wares. What must it have been like to live in a small community like that, but to have that many people show up for nine days out of every year? Did they look forward to it, did they dread it, or a little of both? If Art Fair is any indication, it probably leaned more toward dread. Then again, living in a city that was the center of worship for a major Greek goddess certainly must have counted for something in the hearts of the people. Rather than the scattershot energy of people with too much money wandering the streets looking for ways to get rid of said money, the focus and devotion toward Demeter must have felt different.

We can’t know for certain, of course, so this is all in the realm of speculation and Unconfirmed Personal Gnosis, a concept which deserves its own article later. >8) For now, I’ll just ponder what happened millennia ago and what happened last week, and I’ll wonder what it would be like for us modern neo-Pagans to have a similar kind of devotional festival some day. (Yes, I know about Starwood and other big festivals, but those aren’t devoted to one particular religious ceremony. Festivals with lots of different groups doing lots of different things sound like a very different kind of festival. Actually, now that I think of it, they sound a lot like Art Fair, and I think I’ve had as much of that as I can stand for one summer!) Our Grove’s Lughnasadh is like a small step in the direction, but I can only imagine what a Lughnasadh with hundreds in attendance would be like, both it terms of the ritual and the festivities surrounding it.

Anyway, enough rambling from me. Here are a few links with good information on the Eleusinian Mysteries, if you’d like to read further.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleusinian_Mysteries
http://users.erols.com/nbeach/eleusis.html

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

The Summertime Blues (Or Is That Lughs?)

The period between the Summer Solstice and the beginning of September is always a slow time for our Grove. Our regular meetings in July and August always have a low attendance. Not that I blame folks for having lives outside the Grove, of course – I mean, I’m the Senior Druid, so this is my life, or a fair chunk of it at least. But this is the time of year when folks go out of town for long periods, either for a summer vacation or the various big Pagan festivals like Starwood. (Our religion considers both nature and our families sacred, so we can’t be surprised when people choose to spend time with them!) And even when folks are still in the area, this summer’s gas prices aren’t conducive to driving for non-essential trips. So Grove-wise, this is the time of year when I focus on things I can do at home, like my work on the ADF Clergy Training Program or writing articles, and wait for the cool breeze of fall to bring back both fresh faces and old hands to our meetings.

There is one notable exception to this summer slowdown, and that’s our Lughnasadh festival. It’s the one High Day we have during July and August, and our High Days always draw a big crowd. Many of you will remember the period from 1996 to 2002 when we held Lughnasadh at a conference center, and we charged admission and it ran for four days with lots and lots of rituals and workshops, and all that fun stuff that the big name festivals do. But that was back in the days of our Grove having 90 members, and our Senior Druid also being the Arch Druid so folks from out of town felt more of a desire to come visit us. When Fox retired from the SD position and our numbers dropped to under twenty, we didn’t have the money or the attendees to keep that running. For a few years we held a one-day Lughnasadh at lovely Gallup Park in Ann Arbor, and then we moved it to our regular High Day sire at Botsford Recreational Preserve, where we’ve been doing it as a two-day event. This year, due to popular demand, we’re expanding to three days, so hopefully folks who can only attend for one day will still be able to join us and take part.

So what goes on at a Lughnasadh? We still have several rituals and workshops throughout the weekend, along with food and conversation, and overnight camping for those so inclined. Our main rite on Sunday will be to honor Lugh, the Irish god who has identified himself to us as our tribal patron god, and as such holds a special place in our Grove. In addition to making our offerings during the main rite itself, we view the entire weekend as a form of praise offering. As Lugh is a god skilled at many crafts, so we hold craft workshops for everyone to display their own such skills. We also hold a small bardic competition, and we hold various workshops throughout the weekend to share our knowledge. And we’ll be doing other rituals during the weekend, including a Greek-themed one for those of us who aren’t exclusively Celtic in our practice.

If you’re in the area (or willing to drive a bit), please do join us for all or part of our weekend! Whatever your interests, we’ll have something you’ll like.

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

Related Reading:
Lughnasadh 2008 Info: http://shininglakes.bravehost.com/lughad.html
(Some scheduled events will likely be moved around before Lughnasadh weekend arrives, and some may be added. Check back later for updates!)

Harry Potter and the Critics of Magic

(Yes, it’s a repeat, originally written for the Yule 2001 issue of Shining Lakes News.  Sorry, I was busy writing other things this weekend.  And I thought it would make a good contrast to the article last week, though, to remind us all (and especially the ones complaining about Ms. Gifford) that some of the folks who object to our traditions are convinced that the mainstream media loves us and hates them.  Yes, this particular metaphorical knife does cut both ways.)

For whatever reason – I honestly couldn’t tell you why – I never did read any of the Harry Potter books until just last month. It’s not that I didn’t want to, mind you, as I haven’t yet heard anyone tell me they hated the books, and what I knew of them sounded worthwhile. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been reading many novels at all, with so many other time commitments in my life these days. (I wish I’d known how quickly I would get through them once I’d started!) Only after seeing the movie on opening night did I actually borrow a copy of the first book from a friend. And I am definitely enjoying them!

During the years when I wasn’t reading the books, I did of course notice a lot of discussion about them on the Internet, and the occasional newspaper article. Much of the discussion-or should I say arguing-was about whether it was appropriate for Christians to read them. I don’t claim to be a scholar of any monotheistic tradition, so I can’t give any kind of reasoned opinion in that context. I do know that some Christian sects believe that any act of magic is contrary to the teachings of their God, and while I don’t share their beliefs, I do respect them for at least being consistent in applying said beliefs. Of course, other sects are more open to the possibility that their God may tolerate, or even help them with, acts that we consider “magic.” Christian parents are going to have to decide for themselves what’s appropriate for their young ones to read.

The more intriguing question from my perspective, and one that I think I can give an informed opinion on, is whether the books are actually pagan in flavor. I haven’t seen much in the mainstream press from pagans commenting on the books (apart from some British witches who were complaining about the direction in which the wizards hold their brooms while flying), but pagans on the Internet have had a lot to say about it, with just about every opinion imaginable being voiced by someone out there. Some say that they think Hogwarts is exactly what a pagan school would be like, others have said that they don’t find a single pagan element in them. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, says that she herself is a Christian, and is quick to point out that not a single child has told her that the books convinced them to become a pagan. (And those of you out there who believed that satirical article from The Onion which quoted Rowling as saying that the books were intended to make children worship Satan-shame on you! Learn some critical thinking, for the gods’ sakes!)

So what do I think? Are the books pagan? I’ll give a definitive “yes and no” answer to that one.

Why “no”? Well, frankly, I don’t see much of real pagan practice in them. Sure, the kids use wands and ride brooms and make potions-things that every stereotypical witch has been shown to do for hundreds of years. (I believe this makes the Harry Potter books about as pagan as the Broom Hilda comic strip.) Where are the rituals? Why isn’t anyone even talking about the gods, never mind talking with them? No, I don’t see a lot of overt pagan practice or philosophy in these books. The influences seem more mainstream, including Roald Dahl’s books, and the “schoolboy adventure” genre that has been a literary staple for British boys, and to a lesser extent in America. Myself, I see more Encyclopedia Brown than The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft in these books.

So why “yes”? Rowling has said that she did research on folk traditions for her books, and it shows. The references to gods and characters from pagan mythology are everywhere! To mention just a few: Fluffy the three-headed dog is clearly Kerberos, the dog who guards the path to the Underworld in Greek myth. And Hagrid himself was named after a god who was thrown out of Olympus, but was allowed by Zeus (or was it Dumbledore?) to stay on and take care of the animals. Mrs. Trelawney, the prophecy teacher, has a first name of Sybil, which was also the term for the prophetesses of the Oracle at Delphi. One character is named Remus, like the Roman character who was raised by a she-wolf, because . . . well, I won’t give it away for those who haven’t read that book yet. Parvati Patil is named after a Hindu goddess, and her sister Padma’s name means “lotus,” a symbol of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. And even non-pagan legends are included. Did you know that Harry’s owl Hedwig shares her name with the patron saint of communication? I just thought Hedwig was the name of a transsexual singer…. (Don’t ask.)

While I certainly don’t think that Rowling herself follows our path, I do think that she connects her works to these ancient and powerful tales, and because of that, these stories connect us to the Gods and the Ancestors in a meaningful way. Feeling and understanding your connections to the Kindreds and to the world around you is an important part of ADF Druidry, and I hope you feel that sense of connection and draw strength from it every day. And if these stories of a young orphaned hero resonate with you and inspire you to live a better and happier life, then that’s some pretty powerful magic, whatever anyone else may think.

Yours in service to the Kindreds and the Grove,
Rev. Rob Henderson, Senior Druid

Bibliography: