The First Decade (and a half) Of Many

As with any High Day, the week before is a flurry of activity for me, Beltaine perhaps moreso since there’s so much more involved. Besides the ritual planning on Tuesday night, and getting my own personal offerings ready (given my former status as Grove Fool, I do set a higher standard for myself on this particular holiday), and trying to get a new issue of our parody newsletter put together (I have a few ideas, but probably not enough for a whole two-sheeter), and packing my bags for an overnight stay at Botsford, plus the increase in phone calls and e-mails that people tend to send right before the big holidays, well, it can be intimidating and thrilling all at once. Like climbing the first hill of a roller coaster. So no long article this week, but I will reprint the article I wrote for Shining Lakes News five years ago, to note our Grove’s tenth anniversary. This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of the creation of our nemeton, our first public rite, and our provisional charter from ADF. Even with as much work as we’ve put into this rand Experiment of ours, it still takes my breath away to realize that we’ve kept it going for so long. I hope that most of you can join us this coming weekend for one or more of our Beltaine-y activities!

May of 1994. The Chunnel was officially opened, connecting the lands where the ancient Gauls and Britons once lived. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first Black president of South Africa. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis passed away. And Michael Fay received his caning in Singapore. Okay, so not everything that happens in a particular month is of long-term importance. But one thing happened that may not have made as many headlines as the Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley wedding, but had a profound effect on my life, and probably yours as well. Shining Lakes Grove received its official provisional charter from ADF, and held its first ritual at our nemeton at Botsford Recreational Preserve.

Here’s how Fox, our founding Senior Druid, described the making and blessing of the nemeton and that first ritual:

Toward the end of April we began to gather enough regulars that we were able to start working on our Nemeton site. It is located just outside of Ann Arbor in the middle of a 20-acre mature forest. It is on private property and our landlord is willing to put up with such things as fires, drumming, nudity [not true any longer about the nudity, though, and no, I don’t know why!-Rob], etc and we can advertise its location. He does charge us a fee to use the site though.

Before we began any work to modify the site we held a ritual to claim the right to do so. (7 attendees) We had an extremely powerful ritual and seemed to have made very good contact. We consecrated the site, made offerings to the local land spirits, the spirits of the peoples who once lived there, and the Gods that they worshipped (in other words we used no Indo-European Godforms or ancestors due to the intention of the rite, this was probably the only time that we will work with these local spirits). We informed them of our intentions and asked for their acceptance of us in their midst. Our omen taker was so dumb-struck by the energies that we had contacted that he declared that there was no need to cast runes, we could all feel a strong sense of connection and acceptance from the land and the spirits.

We cleared the underbrush from the natural clearing where our site is located. We erected an 18′ , made a fire pit, dug an offering shaft, and erected a gateway using two 6′ sections cut from the top of the bilĂ© (more on them later). The site has a large stone (about 2′ tall) sticking out of the ground on the edge of the clearing which became our Mother Earth Altar/Shrine. [This was before we had contacted Ana and were still using the standard Earth Mother concept.-Rob]

On 5/7 we held our Beltane ritual. It was a bit of a difficult affair because we were POURED on through most of the ritual. We built a large shelter over part of the ceremonial grounds and about a dozen brave souls carried out the ritual. We danced (sloshed) the May Pole (Mud Pole) and even had a mythological pantomime in the rain. I was kind of disappointed because things didn’t go off very smoothly but a few of the members seemed to get a fair amount from it. If nothing else it was a good opportunity to strengthen the bonds within the Grove through adversity and we gave birth to a new Pagan saying . . . So MUD it be!

And later that month at Wellspring, we officially received our Provisional Charter. Now here we are, nearly ten years later, and we just received our Full Charter. Fast as a speeding oak, right?

The first few local pagan groups I was involved with didn’t last their first year, so it still fills me with awe that this one has lasted so long. I really believe that we are blessed by our Gods, our Ancestors, and the Nature Spirits. And I feel blessed to have so many wonderful people in this Grove, through the years and right this minute, who have kept this Grove going through good times and bad. We’ve contacted our local river goddess and our tribal gods, we’ve done eighty public High Day rituals, and we’ve shared what we’ve learned with our local community and our remote friends on the Internet. May the Kindreds continue to bless us and our work for decades to come!

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

Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (Oh And Next Weekend Too)

A few various and diverse (but still mostly SLG-related) topics:

Last night – well technically Sunday morning – I did a solitary version of the Genocide Prevention Ritual that Polytheist Charity has been promoting this month. It was okay, but I realized just how out of practice I am when it comes to using scripted ritual text. At Grove rituals we almost never use prepared text, and the few times that we do, it’s just for individual sections of the rite. And for my home rites, either I improvise or I use phrases that I memorized long ago. If I had to do it over again, I’d just read the suggested script and then do my own home rite with a few changes. Still, I’d encourage everyone to consider doing this rite themselves between now and the end of the month. For more info:

This afternoon, we did our annual pre-Beltaine ritual site cleanup. Rod and Liz joined me in the mild drizzle to rake the nemeton and the trails, redig the Well a bit, and make sure that no trees had fallen into the circle during the winter months. Other than the pillar of our Greek altar having fallen down (which took me all of 45 seconds to fix), everything was in good shape. I even found the little wooden turtle that I had put on the Nature Spirits altar at Samhain and didn’t manage to find when we were packing up in the dark. (Memo to self: Next year, if we must clean up before Sunday morning, bring larger flashlights.) It’s lost one leg and the string broke so its head won’t bobble any more, but its inanimate survival instinct still carried it through a Michigan winter. I’ll definitely bring it to the Beltaine ritual, and definitely keep an eye on it this time.

Next week’s Modern Druidry class is a bust so far, with nobody signing up yet. If nobody signs up by Friday night it’ll be canceled. Not a huge loss, I wouldn’t mind a Sunday afternoon to myself. >8) I’m intrigued though that three people have e-mailed me saying they want to attend the class but can’t make it on that particular date. Clearly there’s interest in learning about our Grove’s history and practices, well that or people think it’ll be a class where I teach meditation and spellwork and such. This is the main reason I don’t charge for the class, since it’s more or less a two to three hour infomercial for the Grove, to give people a chance to figure out whether we’re what they’re looking for in a religious/spiritual group. Usually we aren’t, and that’s okay in the grand scheme of things, but there’s no way I’d charge people to find that out. I only ever came up with the Modern Druidry class idea because people kept telling me things like, “I *want* to attend one of your rituals, but since I’ve never learned anything about Druids, I know I wouldn’t understand it.” ADF’s mission is to provide public rituals that anyone can get something out of, so if that statement is true, then I’ve completely failed as an ADF liturgist. Anyone out there who’s reading this, please don’t let a perceived lack of information on your part prevent you from joining us in our celebrations!

I occasionally wonder whether offering a high-price class on something at Crazy Wisdom would be a good way for me or the Grove to get some actual money, but I honestly don’t think I’m skilled enough at the sorts of things that those high priced classes teach. Herbalism? I have some knowledge and experience, but a good book would probably be more a more effective teacher. Divination? I’m okay at it, but not great. Energy work? Bleah, I gave up on that years ago. Liturgical design and ritual performance? Now THAT I’m good at – and the New Agers with the cash to throw around would have little to no interest. Obscure Greek mythological references? Uh, right. Huge market in those. And I also worry that the people who would come to see “a real Druid” teach them would be expecting someone a little more Celtophilic than I. Ah well.

Speaking of things that are free because they haven’t figured out how to make money off of them, don’t forget that I’m on Twitter! Lurking between the tweets about the online pirate game I play and the online, er, mouse game that I play, I do occasionally comment about SLG and ADF and my faith and beliefs and such. Feel free to follow me at: Oh, and I can be followed on Facebook as well: I have a MySpace account too, but I almost never go there any more. Never did, really. E-mail‘s still the best way to reach me anyway. Yes, I’m over the age of 25, I still prefer e-mail. Deal with it, I ain’t getting any younger. >8)

Next week, I’ll probably do a more Beltaine-y article. Unless something comes up. Which it might. Beltaine is wacky like that!

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

The Christian Origins of Equinox?

When stopping for lunch at a super-cheap Chinese restaurant on Friday, I got to hear a conservative commentator talking on the radio. He was addressing the concerns some of his friends had shared with him about whether it was Christian to celebrate Easter by coloring eggs, as this was a “pagan tradition” and they didn’t want to do something that would dishonor their faith. The host pointed out, quite rightly, that there were lots of other things that “good Christians” did that had their roots in ancient pagan traditions, like toasting (the kind that involves drinking alcohol, not heating bread) and headstones for burial sites. He even mentioned my own favorite, that the names of six of the twelve months of the year, and five of the seven days of the week, are named after actual pagan gods. (I do get some amusement out of people hemming and hawing over whether their dyeing eggs is an unwitting violation of their First Commandment, but they always perform that act in a month named after either Mars or Aphrodite, and that never registers as a problem.) The radio host said that if the act was being performed to honor the right God, that the origins weren’t a concern. It was good to hear a sensible, non-polemic comment like that on a talk radio show, even if he did indirectly call ancient pagan traditions “evil” and compare it to prostitution in its non-Godliness. I know I’ve been called worse. >8)

On the other hand – or maybe it’s the other side of the same hand? – I do worry a little when I hear my fellow pagans make a big deal out of how “the Christians stole our stuff!” and that so many of the symbols associated with modern holidays are “pagan in origin”. That may well be true (or maybe not, at least one “pagan origin of Easter” may have been a more modern invention), but so what? No, I’m serious. If dyeing eggs has been done as part of a Christian holiday celebration for the last thousand years, does its origin matter to those who do it? More importantly, does it really benefit us or do honor to our gods to make a big deal out of it? I’m pretty sure my mission as a neopagan clergyperson doesn’t involve tormenting monotheists by making them think that their god hates them. It’s not within my purview to tell monotheists how to worship – Hek, it’s barely within my purview to tell ADF members how they should worship! I leave it to them to decide for themselves what religious acts are proper or not, and I hope they’ll give me the same courtesy.

I’d write a bit more about the topic but it’s late, and anyway Symposiarch over on LiveJournal already wrote an excellent article on much the same subject. So go read that too!

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

PS – Oh, and for folks in the Ann Arbor area, we’ll be doing an impromptu nemeton cleanup at 3 PM next Sunday, to get ready for our upcoming Beltaine weekend. Everyone’s welcome to attend, and contact us at 734-262-1052 or if you need directions!

A Rose is a Rose is a Lady Rhiannon Ostara Silver-otter Ecru-raven

Ah, April in Michigan, where spring is in the air right up until the 5 inches of snow hit tomorrow… I’m glad I didn’t get around to shoving the winter coat into the back of the closet!

Speaking of closets, I wouldn’t be the first (or the hundredth) (or even the millionth) person to compare the growth of the pagan community in recent years to the growth of the LGBT community during its own early post-Stonewall years. We’ve suddenly come into the public eye, and we’re not all sure that we like being in the public eyes, but some of us want to be more active and promote ourselves and our quest for acceptance, etc. etc. Oh, and then there are the oddballs who don’t make us look as normal as we’d maybe like to be, but the media loves to point them out because they make for a more colorful story. For the LGBT folks, it was the leather queens and drag queens and, okay I admit I don’t know a lot about the esoterica of their movement and its identity, but I’ve certainly seen the TV new stories where hundreds of normally dressed people march in a parade with ten big guys in biker outfits, and guess who gets most of the screen time? Of course, we pagans have no shortage of people wearing tight outfits that we probably shouldn’t be wearing in public, or those wearing gaudy outfits that make us feel good but make everyone else look at us funny. But this week, I’ve been thinking about another part of our “culture” that gets the attention, especially in written media. Our names.

Folks who have known me through the years know that I’m not a fan of “magical names”. Yes, I know there’s a grand tradition of selecting a name for one’s spiritual workings that date back well past the beginnings of organized Wicca, all the way to the Order of the Golden Dawn and even earlier ceremonialists. (I started practicing ceremonial magic and paganism at about the same time, and was briefly a member of a ceremonialist group – but that’s a story for another article!) And yes, I know most of the people who have “pagan names” have either chosen them as part of their spiritual work, or have been given that name by a god or spirit. I’m too much of a believer in the Old Ways to ever tell anyone that something their gods told them to do is wrong, unless it literally violates the law of the land or inflicts pain on someone else. In this case, I freely admit that I don’t get it. Very early in my occult-and/or-pagan-practicing days, I knew that one of the reasons I was starting down that path was because I felt very fragmented, and that I wanted this practice to give me a sense of wholeness and well-being, and that doing the work under a different name or “magical persona” would be utterly counterproductive to that goal.

I also know that many folks choose a pagan name for themselves just so they can publish and publicize and do other things without the people who know them finding out that they are actually pagan. Another thing I decided early on was that I would be as public as possible about my paganism without being obnoxious or proselytizing about it. Then again, I’ve lived in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area for most of that time, which may well be the most liberal region of this state. I can sympathize with those who don’t feel comfortable being open, and I try to be twice as open as I’m comfortable with to make up for it. >8) But other than a few nasty e-mails, I’ve never had a problem with it. Most people react with either disinterest or mild curiosity, and I’m cool with that. It’s funny, someone posting to one of the ADF lists a few weeks ago (that post and the responses to it got me started thinking about this article, in fact) wrote that paganism still had a lot of PR work to do before its practitioners could get their holidays off from work. I’ve had a lot of different kinds of jobs in the not quite twenty years since I started self-identifying as a pagan, from fast food and supermarket work to computer programming, and I have *never* had a problem getting my holidays off from work at any of them. (Indeed, telling my supermarket boss that I would happily work on any Christian holiday to make up for it left him ecstatic!)

So, yeah, I’ve never felt the need for a pagan name. Back before I joined SLG, when a friend pressed me to think of one that I would like, I decided that “Fox” would probably be the least annoying. Given that that was the pagan name of the guy who served as SLG’s first Senior Druid, I think we can all be happy that I didn’t choose that name for myself. >8) Oh, and during one e-mail discussion about silly pagan names, and how they all seemed like random combinations of colors and animal and deity names, I did once declare that I was “Hermes Magenta-Platypus”. I used to use it a lot for humorous pieces that I posted online, but I’ve mostly stopped, mainly because I’m afraid that someone will actually think that that’s my pagan name.

So why did I bring up those drag queens earlier in this article? Maybe I like writing about drag queens. Don’t judge me! >8) No, it’s because a lot of the names that people in our movement have are, um, what word to use? “Dumb” and its variants don’t really apply. Indeed, the creativity required for some of them astonishes me sometimes. “Weird”? No, I don’t consider weirdness a bad thing in and of itself. My one true musical idol proudly uses that word as part of his own stage persona. No, in thinking about this subject, I can only use one word, well two words, to express my annoyance: “Attention getting.” And not the good kind of attention, like I’ve been trying to bring to my Grove for the last ten years, but that kind of attention where non-pagans seriously wonder whether our alleged religious movement is just an overly elaborate form of live action role-playing game. Indeed, remember my mentioning earlier those few nasty e-mails I’ve gotten from Christians who felt the need to convert me? I’ve gotten far more e-mails throughout the years from people asking me whether my Grove really believed in the gods we say we believe in, or if this is just a joke or hoax of some sort. Honestly, I’d rather get the conversion attempt e-mails. At least they act like I’m real.

“Why do you care, Rob?” I hear some of you thinking. (Yes, my ears are just that good.) “Does it matter to you what other people think of us?” And my answer is, um, yeah, it does. My pagan path does not involve setting up a compound somewhere in the Upper Peninsula and hoping that the federal government doesn’t decide to pick on us. My pagan path is one of community, not just with other pagans but with other human beings, because I really do think that our faith makes us better people, not just in the eyes of the gods but in the eyes of our families and neighbors and random passers-by on the street. Most other churches want to have an active role in their community, and (and this bit may surprise some of the pagans out there) not just as a means to get more members and more money. Yes, it matters to me a great deal what the non-pagans out there think of us as a whole.

So is there hope, or do I have to resign myself to explaining to people that our rituals don’t involve character alignments and hit points? Once again, I look to our LGBT brethren (sistren? switch-hittren?) for inspiration. Yes, they’ve had the fringe element of their own movement to deal with for decades now. Yes, it can be argued that that fringe element impeded their journey to acceptance. But ya know what? They’re getting there anyway. Twenty years ago I’d never have thought that I’d see same-sex marriage legalized in Iowa within my lifetime, Actually, I don’t think I expected to see that in my lifetime as of last week! But there it is. And just about everyone knows someone who’s open about it, and the general attitude has moved from confusion and hatred to disinterest or mild curiosity. I think we’ll get there too, if we remain true to our gods and true to our faith, even if we don’t all stick with our birth names.

Again, I will repeat (since this article is huge by my standards and even I’m forgetting what I wrote back up at the top) that if you’re using a name that your gods told you to use, I’m fine with that. Our gods often give us extra challenges in our lives, and if that’s one of yours, go for it, and maybe you (and I, if you’re in a sharing mood) will learn something from it. I may consider your name a speed bump to our collective spiritual road trip, but I’m in this for the long haul, and if you are too, then hop on the bus with me and we’ll sort it out along the way.

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