On the Proper Growing Seasons for Flowers and Faiths

I’ve been seeing a lot of irises during my delivery rounds this past week, lots of new purple and yellow and white blooms in people’s yards all around this area. Every time I see an iris I think of two different gods: Manannan, to whom the citizens of the Isle of Man once paid a yearly rent of iris flowers; and Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Seeing so many different colors of iris this year, I’m not at all surprised that these flowers would be named after her!

In addition to irises, other flowers have been occupying my time this past week. After forgetting to buy new potting soil for the last two months, I *finally* bought some and planted the wildflower seeds that we took as a return blessing at our Spring Equinox ritual. They’ve already sprouted, and along with a lovely little apple mint plant I bought with the potting soil, I’ll be placing their pots outside tomorrow, with a small American flag planted alongside to celebrate Memorial Day. Usually I try to visit a cemetery and leave flowers at some of the veterans’ graves, but the lack of a working car will stymie that for this year. Next year, in chrysanthemum! Or something like that.

I’ve also been thinking about another kind of new growth sprouting forth, in the more symbolic sense: our children. No, not yours and mine, I don’t have any yet and I’m not putting any claim on yours! >8) But collectively, the children of everyone involved in the Neo-Pagan movement. No, I don’t have any children, nor do I have any background in education, so I don’t doubt that some folks will be skipping over any opinions I express on the subject, and I’m sure I can live with that. One thing I do know a little something about, though, is what the Ancients did, and I know that they didn’t exclude their children from honoring their gods and ancestors. The Greek ritual for naming a newborn child involved carrying the baby around the household hearth, the symbolic center of the home and the family, to formally introduce the child to Hestia. The Romans expected their children to take part in all of the household rites. (One of my favorite scenes from the most recent season of Doctor Who shows a disobedient teenaged boy being ordered by his mother to make offerings to the lares, and he goes to the lararium in a huff and flicks water on the altar while saying “I honor you” etc. in an annoyed monotone. I imagine scenes like that took place more than a few times in the real Rome.) And children were present at any civic ritual in Greece or Rome, much as they would be in attendance at any city parade in modern times. When religion was part of everyday living in every household, of course the children were involved.

So it surprises me that so many pagans these days seem to treat religion as something that our children must not be exposed to until they’re older. Sam, the woman I carpooled with for our dawn Beltaine rite, mentioned seeing this on an online discussion board recently, and told me how puzzled she was by this attitude. I noted that I had seen this attitude many times, both online and from pagans I talked to at real live in-person festivals that I’d attended, and I didn’t agree with it. From what I can tell, the objections seem to go one of two ways. The first is that pagan ritual is very sexual in nature, therefore children shouldn’t be exposed to ritual until they know something about sex. Uhhhh, okay, if you really think that all pagan rituals are symbolic sex acts, then I guess that makes sense, though I hope these people aren’t letting their kids dance or plug electrical appliances into outlets or ride trains through tunnels or anything else that could possibly symbolize sex.

The other attitude expressed, and the one that really truly puzzles me, is that children shouldn’t be exposed to religion because children should have an open mind about religion and not be forced by their parents into one particular path. Er, why on earth not? It’s not like children always stay in whatever path they were raised in – if that were the case, Gen and I would still be Catholic, Rodney would still be Mormon, and so on, and our Grove would have no members. (An empty nemeton, waiting for Neo-Pagans to spontaneously erupt from the ground like mushrooms – now there’s an image!) And will a child really be well served by being treated as a tabula rasa, and letting them figure out all things spiritual on their own? These are beings who need adults to teach them how to pee and poo into a toilet, never mind understanding the nature of the divine. And as I noted, these beings do have the amazing ability to make up their own minds about these things later in life, regardless of what they were raised in. I intend to raise my children (if and when I ever do manage to have any in this lifetime) in m own Hellenic faith, sharing in my household practices, letting them have their own personal altars in their rooms, and joining me for group rituals with SLG or whatever group I’m a member of – with the full and firm understanding that when they hit the age of thirteen, they have every right to tell me and my gods to go screw ourselves. And if they can make a good case for saying so at a younger age, that works for me too. I’m quite happy to have them spend their adult lives telling their friends about their crazy dad who actually believed the Greek gods were real. Much better than the alternative of letting them go unprepared into the world and letting every cult leader get a chance at hitting them with a belief system that appeals to my kids simply because they don’t know any better, nor know how to test a set of beliefs to see whether they’re beneficial or harmful.

Anyway, it’s all hypothetical for my personal life for now, but I’m happy to see so many pagans in SLG and ADF and elsewhere making our tradition a part of their children’s lives, and I hope that those who feel otherwise at least understand why we’re choosing to do it this way. One can argue that the real benefit of any church comes from community and continuity rather than any direct divine influence, and I hope that we can bring those benefits to our people. Of course, I want to bring the good divine influence as well, but what did you expect, I’m a priest!

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

PS – Odd discovery of the day. “Pee” is an acceptable spelling according to the Word 2003 spell checker, but “poo” isn’t. Go figure.

PPS – While it’s definitely not safe for work, this video is one of the best parodies I’ve seen or heard in a long time, and since I know that some of my five readers don’t follow my on Facebook, I’ll put the link here as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_QyYaPWasos

And Next Time, Carcassonne!

So I didn’t go to see the new Star Trek movie last night! No, I’m not such an obsessive fan that I refuse to see a revamped version of it, and I’m actually nowhere near as much into Trek as people seem to assume. Just because I know the plot of every episode doesn’t mean I’m obsessive, it means I’ve seen every episode at least once and have a good memory. (If you want to see how I talk about a TV show I’ve followed obsessively, ask me about Doctor Who or Lost or Babylon 5 some time.) No, my employers all went to see it last night on the gigantic IMAX screen in Dearborn, and I had to pass, because I’d already committed to attend our Grove’s Game Night. After only one person besides me showed up last time, I probably could have been forgiven for cancelling, but it was only our second attempt at running one this year, and I know that nothing kills meeting attendance like finding out that the guy running it bailed with almost no warning. Besides, I can (and will) see the movie later. Happily, Paul and Valerie stopped by on their way home from an appointment in Adrian, so we actually did use the space for actual game playing, in this case Rummikub. So if the attendance goes up by one person every month, I’d be quite happy!

I do want to see us get Game Night going again, not just so I can play games with people I know (although that’s a good reason), not just so the Grove has another social activity that new folks will feel comfortable at (although that’s a good reason too), but because it give us a chance to work with the good folks at the WRAP Center, who are letting us use their space for our Game Night. I like getting the chance to work with another local non-profit group, and hopefully we can learn from each other. And hopefully they’ll remember to put us on the calendar so that some of their own members will show up to Game Night, and also the people working at the Aut Bar next door won’t come wandering by at 11 o’clock because they think somebody’s broken into the building because nobody told them we were going to be there. (See, I’m learning something already: other non-profits are just as disorganized as we are!)

I’d also like to see us get back to being more involved in other pagan events in the area, but if there’s an open pagan group in Washtenaw County besides us, well I sure don’t know about ’em. I do know about some events coming up in the Detroit area, but (a) Detroit is not an easy jaunt for someone whose car is still in need of repair, and (b) the events all seem to be on Saturdays, and I work Saturdays. And we can argue whether metro Detroit is really “in our area”, but that’s a matter of opinion of course. But lately, I’ve definitely been feeling like we haven’t promoted ourselves as well as we could have to other area pagans, and I feel mild guilt about that. Just a mild one, though. Serving my Grove and my Gods has to be my priority, and I think I’ve done a decent job of that, at least.

Speaking of which, I need to go get started on the two Clergy Training Program courses I still need to get done. Those of you going to Wellspring, think of me hunched over my computer writing about comparative mythology while you dance the bonfire!

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

The Last Time I Was In New Jersey

A brief entry this week, partly because I’ve been a bit busy this weekend and partly to balance out the novella I wrote last week.

Chris Sherbak flagged a few photos on Facebook that Jenni Hunt had posted in one of her albums, showing me from an ADF Leadership Retreat back in 1998. I don’t think I look any older now than I did then, which is probably not a sign of vanity so much as a sign of how old I looked then. (The joke I told in college is that when I was 17, people thought I looked 26, when I was 20, people thought I looked 26, and if I could keep that up for another twenty or thirty years, I’d be in good shape!) More poignant, though, is the photos’ reminder that I actually used to hold down a white collar job that paid me enough that I could actually afford to go to weekend retreats in New Jersey and attend every Wellspring. I don’t know whether to feel sad that I haven’t been to any festival since 2002, or impressed that I’ve somehow still maintained my interest level in ADF without the face-to-face interactions that seem so important to anyone else. Then again, I’m the guy who spent his teenage years talking to people online more than face-to-face (and this was in the 80’s when 1200bps was fast and communicating online took a lot of patience), so maybe not much of a surprise there. Still, I hope I can manage to afford at least one festival trip this year, and while I definitely won’t have the money quickly enough to even consider Wellspring this month, I’m going to try for either Summerland or Midnight Flame in the late summer. While e-mail is good for a lot of things, it’s still not as helpful at actually building new relationships as personal contact is, even I have to admit that.

Speaking of doing things in person, this week will be our second attempt at reviving Game Night as a Grove event. Rodney and I were alone at the last one, but being the persistent types that we are, we’re going to try again. And again, and probably at least once more after that. I saw this week that there’s a pirate-themed version of Munchkin now out, so hopefully my Mother’s Day check will be big enough for me to get that on Friday and we can try it out on Saturday. “We” hopefully being more than me and Rodney. >8) If you’re free on Saturday evening, please do stop by the WRAP building (316 Braun Ct. in Ann Arbor) and join us!

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

Welcoming the May-O

Wow, another long Beltaine weekend somehow survived! Every year I think that I must be getting too old to do the all-weekend-outside thing, and every weekend (so far at least) I’ve proven myself wrong. I did manage to get an early start on preparation, packing my ritual items a few days early, and also getting the order of service and Shiny Late Newts written and copied on Thursday. Every little bit helps!

Friday morning as I left work, I put out the Grove Flame on my stovetop, since the Flam has to be rekindled every Beltaine and Samhain. Gen picked me up and I loaded everything into her car, then after work I picked up a few things at the store and headed to the nemeton. Several folks were there early as well, and I got the fire started without difficulty. (Some day I may even try to do it without matches – then again I remember the one time I saw Fox try to start a fire with a bow drill. Painful to watch!) Throughout the evening we had fifteen people stop by the fire at some point, including several of the campers who spend the summer tenting in the preserve. About half part midnight, after I drove back to the flower store to get Gen her car back, I stretched out my blankets a little ways from the fire and slept as best I could. Occasional burst of dirty jokes came through from the fire circle, reminding me how all-pervasive the social bonding power of a fire can still be.

4:30 came early (doesn’t it always?) and I got everyone woken up so we could make the drive to Big Lake. Fox and his family didn’t come out this year, so we had to make do without his canoe. The Kellers took their own vehicle up, and Sam drove me up. We left a bit later than usual, but with no canoe-related activities to deal with, I figured we’d still make it to the lake with time to spare. I’d brought my glass bowl from home for the purpose (planning ahead pays off!), and after we sang the river song and threw our offerings into the lake, I bent down and collected water from the lake. We waited by the oak tree and listened to the calls of geese, woodpeckers, and even a turkey in the pre-dawn stillness. The sky was clear, so we actually did see the solar disc while it was still on the horizon behind the trees. Sam held the bowl aloft and we sang the blessing song, then collected the water into the bottles we’d brought, and then we drove back to the nemeton, where I managed to get a few more hours of sleep. (It was actually easier to sleep once the sun was up, since it was a bit warmer. Next year, I need to dress more warmly.)

One advantage to being at Botsford overnight is having more than enough time to prepare. These days I haven’t been getting to the rituals until after 1, which can be frustrating when it doesn’t give me time to both physically get things set up and mentally prepare myself to lead ritual. No such problem this time, I had the tables by the fire circle decked out by 12:30. I forgot to bring the nice red drop cloths we’ve been using, though, but the dollar-store tablecloths I got looked good enough. And since Gen was doing a wedding all afternoon, we didn’t have access to the hospitality bin, but Mike was nice enough to get plates and cups and such that morning. Rod and Liz arrived early with the ritual gear, and we had the nemeton pretty much completely set up by 1:30. It’s the kind of super-early readiness that makes me worry that something disastrous will happen later to compensate for it, but the closest we got was when the folks putting the ribbons on the bilé forgot to tie them to the shaft before putting the bilé back in the ground, and they flew in the wind about six feet over our heads. Regular members and new faces continued to arrive early, and gather around the upper fire circle and talk.

Once I was convinced that U of M graduation traffic hadn’t delayed anyone else, we got started. This being our Beltaine rite, we do things a bit differently, in celebration of the boisterousness and joyousness of the spring season. We did the Outsiders offering first, followed by selecting our May King/Queen, in this case Steve, who comes to our Beltaine rituals with his wife and daughter. We did a “follow the leader” processional, which probably should have had a song with it, note for next year. The purifiers used face paint instead of ochre and an electric dragon bubble-blower instead of incense. The invocations were, well, fairly standard now that I look back at it. But I guess doing the whole ritual topsy-turvy would be a bit much. Once we had called upon Aren, we passed a glass flask of oil for the individual praise offerings. I was glad that people were more vocal than usual in their offerings, and even gladder than I save my own offering for last, as I always worry that my over-the-top offerings scare the new folks into not saying anything. (“I don’t have a song ready, I guess I should stay quiet.”)

My offering? Back in 1996 when we first contacted our local god of love and freedom at An Bruane, we tried to figure out through our trance work what name he was known by. I know I heard “Arawn”, which made no sense because Arawn was Welsh god who didn’t have anything to do with that. Others heard “Aren”, and that’s what we went with. But a few people said they heard “Arn”, and I thought, “Oh great, he’s the god of pirates. Arrrrrrn!” So I out on a pirate hat and wielded a pirate sword, and in honor of the great gods Arrrrrn, I taught two chants to the assembled congregants. Those on the east (port) side of the circle:

We are bloodthirsty pirates
And your ship we’ll smash and burn
Like a little twig
Snapping on the fire

And on the west (starboard):

Hook and sword, hook and sword
All your booty’s our reward
Shot and gun, shot and gun
All our pillaging is fun

The crowd learned it, well, about as well as I expected. (I actually got complaints that I hadn’t included these on the song sheets. A, individual praise offerings aren’t official ritual songs, and B, the surprise of the pirate offering might just have been dampened if anyone had read those before the ritual started.)

For group praise, we did our traditional “Dance of Transcending the Boundaries” (Hokey Pokey), followed by the Maypole dance. Sadly, since we were low on ribbon spools this year, I asked the Maypole topper makers to only do sixteen foot ribbons instead of our usual twenty feet. It wasn’t too awkward for most folks, but the circle was definitely a little on the tight side. Still, the dance itself was, well, as organized as ours ever are. Paul was nice enough to drum, and I scattered the rose petals on the ground, since Gen was still doing her wedding. Actually, the ribbon pattern on the bile afterwards was much neater than usual, maybe we should go with short ribbons every time?

After that, for our main sacrifice, we poured the flask of oil on the fire, and Steve jumped over the fire on behalf of the community. Rodney took the omen (Ehwaz – Fehu – Iera), and we shared May Wine (actual May Wine from St. Julian’s this time!) and sparkling strawberry as our return flow.

Back up at the fire circle, we had the usual potluck and raffle, and folks stayed around late. I think my time sense must have been off from spending a day offline (which is like a normal person spending a week offline), and most of us didn’t leave until after 6! gen did arrive to pick everything up and chat with those who were still there. I put the flam into a few soy candles and brought it home with me, where it now burns on my stovetop and will keep burning for the next six months. And so the summer half of the year begins! My thanks to everyone who joined us at some point during the weekend, and I hope to see you all at the summer solstice, if not sooner!

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