Out Like a Lion?

I’m working on two ADF Clergy Training Program courses that I promised I’d have done by Tuesday night, so no big article from me this week.

I did take some time to day to get my Easter decorations out. First I went outside into a nasty snowstorm (thank the gods I decided to do my shopping this morning when it was still above freezing) to get a dead branch, which I brought back inside and put in a pot of dirt. I then hung colored eggs (blown, so they were light enough not to snap the smaller branches) and a few carved wooden rabbits on it. I also have some ceramic egg-shaped candy dishes that my grandmother painted (and in retrospect, I’m really wishing I had brought them to the ritual for the Ancestors altar) and a few smaller knick-knacks. The Easter Tree was always a big deal in my house when I grew up, and even at a young age I could see it as the mirror reflection of the Christmas Tree. Instead of a living tree to carry life through the winter, we decorated a dead branch with symbols of life to welcome the spring and the warmth and the new. I suppose if I were an obsessive pagan I’d insist on calling it a “spring tree”, or maybe an “Ostara tree” if I were Wiccan. Then again, even though I’ve gotten into saying “oh my gods” and “Hek” instead of “hell” as my pagan practice has continued, I still can’t say “Yule Tree” without a conscious effort. It’ll always be a Christmas Tree to me. Part of practicing Our Own Druidry is honoring our Ancestors, and that includes honoring the traditions that they handed down to us if they still have any kind of meaning for us, even if they have the wrong name.

Speaking of names, next week I’ll ponder the good and bad of “pagan names”. You think I like them? You don’t know me. >8) Then again, if you think I don’t have anything good to say about them, well maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do. See you then!

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

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Ana, Come Be With Us

Mmm, lovely, my desktop PC is back in action and I have nice big keys on my nice big keyboard to type with. No more feeling like Gulliver trying to blog from Lilliput! Sadly, I do have to reinstall most of my software, and on a dialup modem that will likely take me at least a week, but better than being trapped on a laptop.

Friday evening saw us at Rod and Liz’s home for the fire lighting. We had a total of seven people there including the latecomers (of which I was technically one), and we colored eggs and made seed packets for the main rite. No inclement weather or slippery roads to deal with, either. And the newsletter was finished and ready top copy as well! It was the kind of easy-going, casual, pleasant pre-ritual evening that always makes me worry that the ritual itself is going to go disastrously bad.
Weather is never an issue for our spring rites, since we schedule them indoors at the Friends Meeting and do parts of the ritual outside. The Spring Equinox rite always tricky, since we either risk annoying people by doing an indoor rite when it’s warm and sunny out, or scaring people away completely by doing it outdoors in a snowstorm. While it was sunny out, the temperature was not too much above 40, so while I probably could have done the whole thing outside comfortable in short sleeves, I suspect most people were happy to spend most of the time in the warm indoors.

Gen and I got there later than I’d have liked, but we still had enough time to get everything set up by about quarter after 2, and of course we never manage to get the rite proper started before 2:45. Given that Rodney was leading the ritual this time, I wasn’t too concerned about my own mental preparations for the rite anyway. So everything before we got started went smoothly enough. Gen’s nephew Noah and niece Abby joined us for the day, since Abby is apparently very into egg hunts lately.

So we managed to get volunteers for all of the ritual roles, we got started as on time as we ever do, and things went well. No mistakes or odd things during the invocations, and everything felt good. We went outside to do the pre-praise egg hunt, as a symbolic form of finding new life emerging from the land, and that took a little longer than usual, since our egg hiders (Mike and Corey) tried to make some of the especially challenging. I don’t know which of them put an egg on top of the crossbar above the swing set, but obviously I should have made it a little more clear to them that encouraging our younger children to climb out to grab an egg was not what we had in mind. >8) Eventually we did recover all of the eggs, so the Friends won’t have any sulfurous surprises waiting on their lawn in a few weeks’ time.

We headed back inside and reenacted to story of Ana. Rodney wanted to read the story aloud and have volunteers pantomime the parts of the story. I was a little worried that this would come across a little too much like an elementary school talent show, and that the reaction would be somewhere between boredom and giggles, but I thought it worked out okay. It wasn’t any sillier than, well, any other group praise offering that we do. Gen brought some shiny “ting” strips from the flower shop for the several people playing the part of the raging torrent of water/sap, and I really did like both the visual and the sound of having them move around the circle where we stood, and slowly coming under Ana’s control. I played Bel, a tricky role for this story since I have to be both an inspiring solar father and a comparatively weak and powerless winter sun at the same time. I noticed that Rodney didn’t mention the sun’s/Bel’s return to strength during the story, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal, it is Ana’s story after all.

Okay, well maybe it was a big deal. After the main sacrifice of the eggs, Kestrel did a rune reading and came up with “still need fire”. Hmm. Was Bel feeling left out and voiced his concern? Or was Ana putting in a good word for her father? Either way, we decided to pass a lit candle around the circle and have everyone talk about how much they loved the sun and the spring. The next reading was better (I think Thurisaz – Fehu – Lagu? I must try to write these down) and so we proceeded with the return flow. It seems worth noting that most of our “bad omens” tend not to be an issue of not giving proper honor to the deity of the occasion, but rather a need to honor another deity as well. I know some folks in ADF feel that personal offering to gods and spirits other that the DotO aren’t appropriate for a High Day rite, but I’ve always disagreed, and I’ll have to keep this in mind the next time the subject comes up.

Anyway, we went outside, blessed the seed packets and the various work tools that some of us brought along. I blessed my flash drive as a symbol for both of my computers. Then we headed back inside, closed up the ritual space, and had the usual fun potluck and raffle and talking and all of that. I ran the raffle for the first time in years, since I’m usually too busy with other things. We actually had quite a surplus of raffle items, many of which went unchosen. (Oh, if any of my five devoted readers want two free passes to the Your Spiritness psychic fair in Warren on April 25th, let me know!)

And wonder of wonders, we had an actual youth activity for the first time in years! Sean brought along some seeds and soil and small pots, and the children (and a fair number of the adults) planted them and took them home.

So all in all it was a really good rite, no big screwups, only the one small screwup that I noticed, and we apparently fixed that one anyway. My thanks to Rodney for running the rite, and to everyone who joined us!

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

Beware the Ideas of March!

A few random small pieces put together in seemingly random order:

Congratulations to Grove members Sean and Kris Keller on becoming grandparents! I would include full details here but all I have is what they posted on Twitter: Sasha gave birth to Carleigh (6 lb 10 oz) at 4:30 Saturday afternoon.

Speaking of Twitter, I’ve been using it regularly for a few months now, and enjoying it more than any other IM program I’ve used. I’ve deliberately avoided IM programs for about a decade now, since I always felt like they combined the worst aspects of phone calls and e-mails without the better aspects of either. I already have plenty of distractions getting in my way when I’m online, thanks! But the broadcast nature of Twitter lets me feel like I can ignore it for several minutes (or hours) if I want, and the 140 character limit does get people to focus on what they want to say, in the same way that a proper haiku does. If you want to follow me, I’m at http://twitter.com/kargach , just be warned that many of my posts are related to the one MMORPG I play, so don’t let the pirate talk throw you. >8)

On another online front, I’ve been thinking about two posts this past week from the Wild Hunt blog about the ARIS survey on the number of members in various religions in this country. I do admit to some interest in how many self-proclaimed Pagans are out there (hey, I’m as prone to “steeple envy” as any clergyperson), but I hope that we are all more concerned about making our religions good and meaningful to our members and our gods, more than we care about our size. I’m certainly glad that Gus diZerega raises the point on his own blog about a lack of teachers hindering our potential growth, though I don’t have any easy suggestions for how we would collectively go about getting them. Getting pagans to give money to such an endeavor would work, but getting money out of pagans is another issue altogether! And with the current and soon-to-come economic problems, the number of people who will have both the motivation and the free time to act as teachers is unlikely to go up. So some sadness.

On a happier note, we won’t have an official date until later this week, but SLG will once again be hosting a monthly Game Night for Grove members and other interested folks to get together and play board games and whatever else folks want to bring. We’ll be doing it on Saturday evenings (dates yet to be determined, check our schedule page or our Google calendar) at the WRAP building (319 Braun Ct., Ann Arbor) and we hope to see lots of people there!

And of course, don’t forget that our Spring Equinox ritual is next Saturday, at the Friends Meeting (1420 Hill St., Ann Arbor) at 2 PM. Bring any tools (ritual, career, or whatever you like) to be blessed, and we’ll do our traditional egg hunt and the story of our river goddess Ana. Rodney will tell the story of how Ana saved the land, and we’ll have some intrepid volunteers acting out the stories as he tells it. If you always wanted to do a ritual role but didn’t feel comfortable talking or memorizing lines, this is your chance! Keep an eye on our announcements list for details.

And if you can’t be there on Saturday, let me wish you a happy first day of spring a little early!

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

Don’t Be A Victim Of The Victim Mentality

(No burning issues on my mind this week, other than being happy to see buds on the trees around my house, but I didn’t think I could get a whole article out of that. Well, not an article that would be even moderately interesting to read. >8) Here’s an article I wrote for Shining Lakes News back in 2000. The IRC chats are gone (as far as I know anyway) but I think the rest of it is still relevant.)

On Sunday nights, I often participate in ADF’s online chat session on IRC (Internet Relay Chat). This gives various folks from all around the world, ADF members and non-members alike, a chance to get together and discuss various issues. A few weeks ago, one fellow wanted to ask some questions about the event that he’ll be hosting for Pagan Pride Day this year. He has never hosted a public event before. I suppose I would have expected his first question to be about finding a site, how to advertise the event, coming up with good programming, having a charity drive tied into the event, something like that. Instead, his first question for the group was, “How do I deal with the protestors?” I thought, “Protestors? With everything else he needs to get done, he’s worried about protestors?”

Last year, there was a “Blessed Be and Meet Me in DC” mirror event held in the Detroit area. This event which had gotten front page coverage in the Detroit Free Press, and been advertised in local newspapers and magazines, in a metropolitan area with a population of over 4.5 million. And the sum total of protestors consisted of two small groups putting fliers on people’s windshields in the parking lot.

I find myself both surprised and saddened by the number of pagans I see who seem tormented by the possible interference of a group of people who may or may not exist. Sure, there are lots of people out there who don’t agree with our beliefs. Unless you’re a hermit living in a cave, you probably interact with non-pagans every day. But ask yourself, how many of those people are really concerned about what you do in your private life? And of those people, how many of them are actually going to devote their time and energy to stopping you, or even trying to dissuade you? In my own workplace, several of my coworkers know that I’m a Druid, many of those folks are practicing Christians, and none of them has ever been hostile toward me. Their reactions have ranged from “oh, okay” to “neat, tell me more about that!”

Indeed, some of the best conversations I’ve had about ADF and SLG have been with a former coworker who was a Charismatic Christian. Apart from the obvious differences in our religious beliefs, we actually had a good deal in common! Both of us were active in small (less than 100 member) congregations, both of our groups had trouble raising money, both of our groups had interpersonal issues which affected the whole congregation, and so on. And we both respected each other’s beliefs, and we never got hostile with each other.

In the original text of the ADF Dedicant Program, Ian Corrigan wrote: “Although there are circumstances beyond your control that can stand in your way or harm you and yours, you need not be at the mercy of those forces. Our modern word ‘Ethics’ comes directly from the Greek ethikos. For all of the Greek philosophers, ethikos was about achieving eudaimonia, literally ‘good fate,’ or ‘with the favor of the gods.’ Eudaimonia is usually translated as ‘fulfillment,’ or ‘leading a flourishing life.’ For the ancients, ethics was about having as much control as possible over one’s well-being. Although some aspects of eudaimonia are external to the individual, like having sufficient food, warmth, friends and loved ones with whom to interact, most of the elements of a flourishing life are internal goods which are within our control, or at least influence.”

Among the nine virtues listed in the DP text, we find:
* Courage: The ability to act appropriately in the face of danger
* Integrity: Honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect, self-confidence…
* Perseverance: Drive; the motivation to pursue goals even when that pursuit becomes difficult

I would ask everyone who reads this, whether you’re an ADF member or not, to remember these virtues, and to try to exemplify them in your own lives. None of us is perfect, of course, but even if you falter, you should keep on trying. That’s what perseverance is all about. >8)

I believe that if you try to live your life as best you can, taking care of yourself, helping those in need, and honoring the Kindreds, then the Kindreds and your fellow humans will help you in your times of need. Even if there really are a bunch of deranged fundamentalists who are determined to ruin your next ritual. (Which there probably aren’t.)

(now Rev.) Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

On Paganism and Amorphous Blobs

I wouldn’t exactly be the first person to wonder what defines “the Pagan community”. Or the hundredth. Or even the hundred thousandth. It seems to be the nature of our community that we each come up with our own ways of doing things, including defining our terms. But then, as often happens, arguments arise that have more to do with our terminology that with the things that really matter. Are Native Americans or Hindus “Pagan”? They wouldn’t say so. How about Satanists? Some of them would say so, but a lot of other folks would disagree. Do all pagans incorporate some form of nature worship into their beliefs? I would say no, and that polytheism is the more important factor in defining Paganism – and then lots of people would disagree with me there. And on it goes.

So if we can’t agree on a definition, is it possible to serve “the Pagan community” in any real sense? I would argue that it is, at least to some extent. ConVocation took place last weekend, a four day event bringing hundreds of people from many different traditions together. I managed to miss it once again, but folks at our Coffee Hour told me that they enjoyed it. Of course, their Web pages says that the convention is for “the many mystical spiritual paths and faiths who desire to teach each other and promote fellowship among all esoteric traditions”, so whether this is a “Pagan” event or not is still up for discussion! But this seems to me the best way to do a general “Pagan” event: have a singe group (the Magical Education Council) responsible for running it, and leave it open to whichever people and groups choose to be involved. The attempt that I’ve seen at getting multiple groups together to work on an event have been, um, well not as successful as ConVocation has been. Yes, I’m sure someone out there will have a response about how different groups in their own local community did something together and it was great. Please do post it, this blog needs more responses! I can only go with my own experiences, though, and every attempt I’ve seen at having multiple groups meet together turned into a “let’s all talk about what we’re each doing and try to convince everyone else to come help us out with that.” Except that we’re all working on our own stuff and generally don’t have that much time and energy to spend on other people’s projects, and even if we do, did we really have to spend two or more hours of our day driving to a central location for this? We couldn’t send out some flipping e-mail that would have accomplished the same thing, and maybe saved us enough time that we actually could have worked together on one of those projects?

Yes, I know the tone of the text makes it sound like I’m ranting. And I don’t know, maybe I am. My personal view is that “the Pagan community” is at best an amorphous blob of ill-defined blobbiness, and at worst an all-consuming hydra that will always take more from those who hope to serve it than it could ever give back. I’ve gotten so much more reward, both spiritual and physical, from pretty much any single SLG High Day ritual than I have from every “general Pagan” event I’ve been to in the last nineteen years combined. Working with actual people is always more satisfying than working with an abstract ideal, and as a computer programmer, it feels weird to say that, but it’s true. I won’t tell the people who want to serve “Paganism” that they’re doing the wrong thing, especially not if they’ve received a calling from their gods to do so. But I do think that the real work of our movement is best done locally, and within the context of a defined group or tradition, be it an ADF Grove or a Heathen group or even a generic Pagan/Wiccan group. And I’d also ask that folks have some idea of what they want to accomplish within the context of that group/trad, and to keep it realistic, and not to overcommit themselves. Yes, I know there are plenty of folks in ADF who take on more than they can handle, and I hope they read this and take it to heart. I think we’ll all get more accomplished that way.

I actually find myself wondering if my interest in working with specific groups and specific traditions instead of generic Paganism is a reflection of my own spiritual beliefs. As a confirmed and rather strict polytheist, I believe that the Gods are many and individual, not all parts of a greater whole deity thingy. I’ve never found satisfaction in worshiping amorphous blobs of energy. Maybe the people who do also get satisfaction out of devoting themselves to an amorphous blob of beliefs? Something to think about.

Anyway, whether you do it alone, with a group of friends, or a bunch of complete strangers, keep the faith!

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