The Biddings of the Biddies

And here I was contemplating just a few weeks ago whether I’d have anything new to say about our Grove’s various annual traditions after writing for this blog for over a year. Glancing back at last January’s entries, I now see that I really didn’t say anything at all about the Brídeog! Well, a brief mention in this article, but nothing to give the non-SluG reader a sense of what it’s about. I only included our actual Imbolc weekend practices in the article about Imbolc, of course that’s enough to do a double-sized article, since so many traditions have been built up around Bríd over the years, both in Ireland and in our Grove.

Starting back in 1997, our Grove has done our own variation of the old Irish tradition of the Brídeog. Our information about the Brídeog procession doesn’t go all the way back to pre-Christian Ireland, but we thought it was a fair assumption that practices centering around Saint Brigit have been at least influenced by the ancient practices surrounding Bríd/Brigidh/(your ad here)/whatever name for the Exalted One you want to use. A group of us (known as “biddies”, a traditional nickname form of “Bridget”) decorate our Grove’s corn dolly and carry her from house to house – well, drive her, we being moderns and this being winter – to bestow her blessings upon the homes and those who live in them. There’s fun, there’s singing, there’s praying, there’s collection for our favorite local food bank, and there’s a real sense of connection to the Ancients and the Goddess who was right there in their household every day.

Over the years, we’ve had busy processions and not so busy processions. 1999 saw so many requests that we had to start in the afternoon and were still out past midnight; other years have seen us visit all of two homes. This year isn’t looking busy so far, with all of one request for us to visit. I can understand the reticence, no really, as my mother pointed out this morning a lot of people aren’t thrilled with the thought of having strangers invade their house, even when it’s only a mock invasion. But I do think that folks are really missing out on something that takes us beyond our High Day rituals into the real meat of our practice and our faith. If the only reason you’ve given the Brídeog a miss before is because you don’t want visitors to your home, at least consider joining the processional. A three-house Brideog can still be very energetic and meaningful if we have enough people involved.

And if you can’t be involved in the Brídeog at all, there’s still our An Bruane session on Tuesday evening (7 PM, 263 Larkspur, Ann Arbor), when we’ll be making the Bríd Crosses and decorating the corn dolly. While An Bruane is usually our only members-only event, we’re opening this one up to anyone who wants to take part. People who are better with handicrafts than I am (i.e. everyone) can help us prepare for both the Brídeog procession and the Imbolc ritual.

For more info on Bríd and her traditions, check out these articles written by our former Senior Druid, Fox: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/deities/bridol.html

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

Related Reading:
What we did for our 1998 Brídeog: http://www.shininglakes.bravehost.com/brideog98.html

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Dollies, Buggies, Connies. and Communities

Various small posts combined, because I can!

Snow, snow, and more snow. Well at least I didn’t have to drive in it today! I know I talk about Danu’s blanket being a good thing, but this is getting to be a bit much. Especially since I’m supposed to be convincing everyone to join in the Brídeog festivities coming up in a few weeks. For those new to the blog and/or the Grove, the Brídeog is an adaptation of an old Irish custom where a group of us travel from house to house, carrying our Bríd dolly with us, singing song and collecting food for Food Gatherers. Kind of like Christmas caroling, only we carry am idol around your house. We only have one person signed up so far to be visited, and we always need people to join us in our travels. Contact me (734-262-1052 or robh@shininglakes.org) if you’d like to take part in either fashion. (Given how far dispersed the blog readers are, I guess I should ask folks to be realistic and only ask for a visit if they’re within fifty or so miles of Ann Arbor.)

Speaking of the snow making things difficult for anyone to get anything done, one group who doesn’t have that problem at all: stoneflies! Yes, these amazing insects have found a great ecological niche in which to survive and thrive: streams in January. Their motto: “Live and breed in the stream when the fish aren’t around.” The Huron River Watershed Council, with whom we’ve done many service projects throughout the years, are again sending folks out into the rivershed to take stonefly samples to gauge the health of the river system. It’s too late to sign up for this one, but we wish our Grove members who will be taking part both luck and warmth, and hopefully it’s not too early to put a bug in everyone’s ear (ha ha) about the spring and fall stream search events. Keep an eye on the Grove schedule page, we always include the HRWC events that we take part in.

Jumping topics with no attempt at a segue, Rod told me that ADF Vice Archdruid Kirk Thomas will be visiting ConVocation this year, making it that much more embarrassing that I almost certainly won’t be able to attend because of my work schedule. Well I probably could be there just for Sunday, but I don’t know that a two hour appearance would count for much. I’m still aiming for an appearance at Wellspring this year, and I’m hoping that I can convince our Grove members to pledge money during the next few months so we can get a suite at ConVo in 2010, like we used to. Actually, we only got the full suite in 2002 and 2006, so we’re due to get one again in 2010, right? Like the Winter Olympics? >8) Keep an eye out for Shining Lakes News in March for details, if we do decide to make the attempt. Our last attempt at raising money for ConVocation was, er, sad. I’m open to any and all suggestions to make it work this time. (Hey, Ohio Groves! Ever been to a pagan convention and helped put on a room party? Now’s your chance!)

And finally, I spent the afternoon getting SLG a presence on LiveJournal, MySpace, and Facebook. (Well, in between watching football plays I did.) As it was with this blog a year ago, I don’t know exactly what these online efforts will accomplish, but I think it’s worth the attempt. No promises that we’ll keep any of them around indefinitely, that will depend on how much of a pain they are to maintain. On the other hand, if we get eight new people at the next ritual who tell me they found out about us from Facebook, I’ll be keeping that in mind as well! Sign up for any and all of them at:

http://community.livejournal.com/slgadf/
http://www.myspace.com/slgadf
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=49187967046

And don’t forget our other online presences that are available to members and non-members alike: our actual official Web site; our Announcement mailing list on Yahoo; and of course, this blog.

(Oh, and if anyone can come up with a better looking event announcement than this one, let me know. I think it looks okay, but I never claimed to be a graphics designer.)

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

Gods, Odds and Sods?

Blackadder: [rewriting the dictionary] Baldrick, what have you done?
Baldrick: I’ve done “C” and “D.”
Blackadder: Right. Let’s have it, then.
Baldrick: Right. “Big blue wobbly thing that mermaids live in.”
Blackadder: What’s that?
Baldrick: “C.”
Blackadder: Yes. Tiny misunderstanding. Still, my hopes weren’t high. Oh, and “D?”
Baldrick: I’m quite pleased with “dog.”
Blackadder: Yes, and your definition of “dog” is?
Baldrick: “Not a cat.”

A fun quote from one of my favorite TV series, and one that was very much in mind as I was reading the “Outgrowing Paganism?” article on Jason Pitzl-Waters’ Wild Hunt blog. Reading though the many comments left there, I found myself wondering whether every different poster was using a completely different definition of Paganism. Some people say they can’t imagine Paganism without spirituality and/or gods, others think that most pagans don’t believe in any gods. As an umbrella term, apparently the only definition that can really be applied is a slight variation on Baldrick’s: “Not a Christian.”

This is nothing new, of course. In the ancient times before I joined ADF, at the ripe young age of 27, I’d been with a few other more generically pagan groups, but never found something that quite worked for me. I knew that I believed in the gods and that they were more than just thought-forms bouncing around inside my head, even if I didn’t (and probably never could) have a concrete idea of exactly what they were. (Thirteen years later and deep into a pagan clergy training program, I still don’t. >8) I had no interest in honoring amorphous blobs of energy in my ritual workings. That sounded far too much like an episode of Star Trek, and not even a good episode of Star Trek. I tried the Wiccan duotheism thing but that never really clicked for me. The “gods are aspects of a greater being” thing was far too impersonal. And I never thought my gods were omnipotent. Living in a world with multiple omnipotent deities sounded far too much like an episode of Bewitched, and not even a good episode of Bewitched. I really lucked out in finding a local congregation of a pagan org where believing in multiple non-omnipotent deities was the norm. If SLG hadn’t been here, I really don’t know what direction my personal practice would have taken. I’d probably have joined Hellenion or one of the other more Greek-centric groups, but not having a local group to work with would have been… well, I can’t know for sure. I’d probably have tried to be involved in some pagan group or another, even if I didn’t feel like I quite fit in.

So I do have a little sympathy when reading though the replies in that Wild Hunt thread, for the people who feel like they don’t quite fit in. I’ve been there, if from the other side. And yet the tone of the threads – yes, I know how risky it is to infer a tone from any Internet posting – but it seems like people are assuming, if not a conspiracy against them, at least a strong dislike of them because of their particular belief(s) in deity. I don’t know, maybe there is some grand anti-agnostic sentiment out there in the pagan community at large. Personally, I’ve always thought that people have a certain level of paranoia that they need to maintain, and if real life doesn’t give them enough oppression to sustain that level of paranoia, they’ll start making up oppressions that don’t really exist, often within the people they interact with regularly. (I’ll call it “Rob’s Conservation of Oppression Theory” until I come up with something better.) Just because people don’t agree with you means they hate you and your beliefs, or even care about them really. I’m sure there are Web sites out there that say such things, but really, nobody should assume that any article on the Internet represents the opinion of more than one person. (Including this one.) But here in ADF and SLG, that’s not a concern for us. I know several of our members do believe in the gods, and I know some who don’t. That’s cool. The question for us is never “what do you believe?”, but “does it work?” Most of what we do seems to work, and when it doesn’t, well it’s time to try something else and see if it does.

So yes, not all Pagans agree on what the nature of deity is, or even whether it exists. Some Pagans think that the other Pagans who disagree with them hate them, or want to exclude them. Some Pagans think that some of the people who call themselves Pagans aren’t real Pagans at all, and some Pagans think it’s silly to argue about such things. And the real kicker? Replace the word “Pagans” with “Christians”, and all of those statements are still true. And they’re the ones that some of us accuse of being a single big entity working together to convert us or shame us or call us “nasty and bad” on national television or whatever we’re accusing “the Christians” of doing these days. Maybe there’s still hope for us Pagans to get along with each other and work together after all.

Feh, it’s late and this article is long as it is. I leave you with one of the few inspirational quotes I know that sums up how I feel about theism and atheism and monism and all that, a line I first heard on a TV show written by an avowed atheist, oddly enough: “We are the universe trying to understand itself.” The end result may not always be pretty, but it’s sometimes beautiful, and always worth pursuing.

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

PS – Oh right, I almost forgot that all five of my readers were eagerly awaiting my decision whether to continue this blog. The answer is “yes”, and I’ll try to continue the weekly posts, but no promises at this point. Reading the Wild Hunt and writing this article convinced me that I do still have a few things left to say on behalf of the Grove and my own role within it. See you next week!

Working With Winter, Planning For Spring

So now the winter is hard upon us. Well, not too hard, it definitely felt like it was above freezing when I went outside this afternoon, but it’s definitely not autumn any more, nor is spring here yet. So winter it is! My own activities today were mostly indoors, and included moving bookshelves around and catching up on e-mail. And writing this blog entry, of course. >8) It’s interesting how my mindset has already gotten into a Bríd kind of mood, wanting to do indoor cleaning and writing and those things we associate with our Grove’s hearth goddess. I think I must do this for every High Day that’s coming up, whatever time of year it is. The cold weather does kind of force the issue, though.

Cold outside or not, though, it’s not too early to plan ahead, especially when you’re the guy who’s supposed to be planning things ahead for your entire Grove. Specifically thinking in terms of what we can do this spring to get people more active in Grove events. I’ll likely do another of my Modern Druidry classes in April or May, since that seems to be a time of year when people want to learn more about our practices and beliefs, and it’s a good excuse to make a visit to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens or some other fun outdoor site in the area. But this class would only be of interest to new Grove members, or interested non-members. Is there something more we can be doing for our regulars?

As I’ve noted before, our membership is very spread out these days, geographically speaking. We’re well past the point where most of our members live within ten miles of downtown Ann Arbor (heck, I’m 15 miles away these days, and I’m still one of the closest members), and I don’t expect us to get back to the days when we could have two meetings a week and expect a decent turnout. I can sympathize with people skipping the business meetings, and if you actually trust me, Rod, and Gen to come up with decent rituals, then I can understand not coming to the Liturgists’ Roundtables. Just remember that the next time Rod and I come up with an idea like the “cow puzzle” for group praise, that you could have stopped it, so it’s really your fault, not mine and Rod’s. >8)

Coffee Hour still convinces people to come to Ann Arbor once a month, and I’m thinking that another social event each month would have some potential. Once upon a time we had a monthly Game Night, with board and card games, and it was fairly popular. If we can find a good place to hold it, I’d like to try doing that again. Sadly, my own apartment is, oh how to put it nicely, not in a good part of town? I wouldn’t be comfortable having guests over, and I’ll leave it at that. If someone in the Grove has a residence in a nicer part of town and is willing to open it up to a Game Night event, please do let me know.

Another very popular event from our past was Producers’ Day, or whatever the Producers’ Guild called their meetings. Actually, I think they just called them Producers’ Guild Meetings. They would do various and diverse crafts projects, and everyone in the Grove who was good at third function stuff like that (read: everyone in the Grove but me) would come together and make stuff and talk. They haven’t had a meeting for a while now, and I need to pester them about that at the business meeting next week.

Those are the event ideas I’d like to pursue for now. I’m sure that at least a few of my readers are wondering why I haven’t mentioned the bizarre idea that our Druid church might actually try to have, y’know, regular church services. “Regular” in this case meaning “more often than once every six or seven weeks”. We’ve discussed it many times throughout the years and even tried running biweekly rituals. Everyone said that regular services would be a great thing for us to do, so we spent a lot of time putting together ritual scripts, and then we got two or three people to actually show up to them. And this was when we had over fifty members! No, I think we need to focus on social and educational events for now, and if/when there’s a demand for it (not to mention a good place to hold them), we can look at doing more frequent rituals again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more housework to do!

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

Related Reading:
Druidic Worship Services, our one serious attempt at more-frequent-than-High-Day ritual: http://shininglakes.bravehost.com/dwc.html