Good News and Bad News

I have nothing new to report on locally besides our continued preparations for Samhain, and my continued hopes that the weather will still be good in a few weeks!

Well, I take that back. I did an interview with a reporter from (the descendant of our now-defunct local newspaper the Ann Arbor News) about our Grove’s Samhain traditions. She told me she was hoping to write a piece comparing what we did with other area pagan groups, and in turn what some of the Christian and other non-pagan churches were doing, but apparently I was one of the very few people who got back to her about being interviewed, so we may get a larger share of the article than we’d expected. I’ll post the URL in the comments here when the article goes online.

But the biggest news item for the week isn’t local, nor is it good: Isaac Bonewits, ADF’s distinguished founder (or “Extinguished Flounder”), has been diagnosed with colon cancer and is currently in the hospital awaiting further test results. Please keep both Isaac and his wife Phaedra in your thoughts and prayers, and you can check here for updates on their status:

In the meantime, happy Halloween to everyone, and if you celebrate on the “official” date of November 1st, a blessed Samhain to you!

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

Getting Ready For Samhain

As the temperature here fluctuates between 30 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit from day to day, or at least it seems to, my thoughts turn to our Samhain ritual, and all the things I need to do to get our Grove ready for it. The weather isn’t something I can do much about, and it saddens me to know that while a warmish clearish day could get us forty or more people to show up, a cold(er than usual) Saturday night with any kind of rain means we’ll be lucky to get twenty. But if we had the ritual indoors, then we’d get complaints about not being close to nature. We definitely need to find a site where we can hold the rite either indoors or outdoors depending on the weather – but of course that would be even more expensive to rent that the sites we use now. And so it goes. And we wonder why pagan leaders are collectively so prone to stress. All of the hard parts of being a minister, and almost none of the support systems that the big churches have for their clergy.

But I don’t intend this to be an “agony aunt” article, and there are plenty of things I can do to get us ready. First off this week, I got copies of Shining Lakes News to local stores Crazy Wisdom and Motte and Bailey. While we don’t get a huge turnout from either (I love Crazy Wisdom dearly, but the vast majority of the folks there are too New-Agey or too Buddhist to want to attend anything we do), it’s still good to get our info out to the community. Even if none of them show up to any of our events, we can hopefully educate them a tiny bit about who we are and what we do. (Oh, and Grove members get a ten percent discount at Motte and Bailey. I should remind people about that more often. Their sections on European history have excellent material for any student in any of ADF’s training programs.)

On the more virtual front, I’ve posted our Samhain weekend schedule on our Web site, and posted it on WitchVox and our Facebook group and various other places online. These listings, and the ones we get in the Ann Arbor Observer, are the ones that get us folks showing up, or at least e-mailing us for more info. Well, I suppose if we threw a lot of money into advertising, we’d get even more attention, but we don’t have that kind of money, and of course there’s the PR issue of not wanting to look like we’re desperate to convert people. Which we aren’t, really. Of course, my writing here about wanting lots of people to show up could be construed as desperation, which maybe it is a little. >8)  But I know from thirteen and a half years in this Grove that more people almost always means a better ritual, both in the practical sense and the magico-spiritual sense. And I want our rituals to be good ones. That’s my job.

Beyond that, I know that Samhain is nearing because I’m getting more e-mail inquiries about our Grove, but this can also be super-frustrating for me because most of the senders assume that we don’t want them showing up to our ritual because rituals are private affairs and they’re outsiders and… (banging head on desk repeatedly) Would I spend this much time trying to get the word out about our Samhain ritual if I didn’t want people to be there? Do they think I’m such a sadist that I want everyone to know what a great group of pagans we are and what a great weekend of events we have going, and they can’t come? Am I Cartman from that episode of South Park where he buys the amusement park? Feh. Decades of most pagan groups being Wiccan or Wiccan-influenced has convinced too many people that rituals are secret things people do in someone’s living room and you only get to attend if you know somebody first. And no matter what I do, that’s not gonna change for another decade or two at least. I only hope that doing to work of publicizing our open rituals makes it easier for future Senior Druids in that regard.

The next big step in Samhain preparation is, of course, our liturgists’ meeting on Tuesday, where we’ll come up with the overall themes for the various rituals we’ll be doing on the 6th and 7th of November. We’ve been getting very good turnout for the last few meetings, and I’m confident that we’ll have some good, strong ideas that will make our Samhain great.

After that, I’ll need to get my own workshop ready. Yes, I probably do know enough about Hades and the other chthonic gods of ancient Greece to talk for at least half an hour, but if I really want to give them proper honor, I need to prepare notes and such.

Other that that, the only Samhain prep I’ve been doing is actually Halloween prep. I’ve got my various decorations out around the house, of course living in a basement apartment I don’t have a lot of lawn space to work with, but every window I have is now decorated! I used to put jack o’lanterns our at my door, but being in the back of the house, I quickly discovered that any pumpkin I leave there will be devoured by squirrels within an hour, since there’s no human activity to scare them off. So all carved pumpkins I’ve done since then have stayed indoors. Not showy, but I do like the smell of ’em, especially with candles in them! And roasted pumpkin seeds are one of the few foods that I can actually make well.

Oh, and there’s one more thing I need to make sure I do before the big day. I need to spend some time outside, now that the temperatures are finally cool enough that I can actually be comfortable staying out for hours at a time. And the colors have finally started changing around here, and viewed from a distance the trees are right at that balance between red/orange and green that I love so much! And if I have to suffer the stressful bits of being a Druid priest, I should get to enjoy the fun bits too!

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

On Servers, Shrines, Cathedrals, and Bards

After my first ADF Clergy Retreat last weekend, just about any week would seem light on Druid activities by comparison! But there were several things going on this week, even if none of them was quite that intense.

I migrated the SLG Web site to a new server provided by Matt and Leeron at Strategic Computer Solutions, so not only do we have half a gig of disk space to work with (literally a hundred times the space our previous server was letting us have), but now we have php and MySQL available, plus we can host our own mailing lists! Now that the site is up on the new server, the next step is to remove the site from the old server so people don’t keep accessing it for the next several months and wonder why there haven’t been any updates! Then we’ll implement the format redesign that Paul has developed for us.

The first new additions to the Web site since August were… the photos from July’s Manannan Shrine visit back in July. Yes, Rodney finally got them to me! You can see them here.

And we got them just in time for our new visit to the Shrine on Tuesday night. It was raining all day, and I know a few people stayed home because of it, but when the four of us (me, Gen, Matt, and Anne) travelled out to the site, it stopped raining right as we got there, and it was noticeably warmer than it had been during the day. Kestrel drove out by herself but we never did see her or her car, so she told us later that she just left. Somehow we managed to spot the “no trespassing sign” and the tree stump in the dark, and while we did overshoot the shrine area on the path, once we got to the lake shore we walked back toward the road and found it easily enough. Frog chirps surrounded us as we made our offerings, tied bells to one of the trees (along with a silver necklace offering from Matt), and collected water from the swamp for use at Samhain. We did take some photos, which will almost certainly not look as good as the ones from July, but we’ll post them as soon as we can.

Saturday night brought us Game Night, but only four of us were there. Granted, Matt had his mother’s wedding to attend, but the drop in attendance around the six month point seems typical for a lot of events we’ve tried to do throughout the years. Hopefully the winter months and their “do stuff inside” spirit will bring us a few more folks. Those of us who did attend played the “Pillars of the Earth” board game that I bought last year on Black Friday. (I didn’t know the store was doing a “40% off everything” sale that day, sometimes dumb luck does pay!) The learning curve was pretty steep, but once we understood the basic turn sequence, things moved very quickly, and in the end it was fun! There’s a certain geeky perversion to playing a board game based on a novel from Oprah’s Book Club (and the only novel from that list that I’ve actually read, other than a few passages from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works in my college Spanish classes), and the perseverance of the characters in the book to build something that most of them would never live long enough to see is still an inspiration to me. I don’t know exactly what SLG or ADF will become in future decades, but I hope that future generations will benefit from the work we do now. And hopefully the current generations will get something out of it too. >8)

For those in the area interested in bardic things, Paul and Val will be holding their “let’s see if there’s any interest in reviving our local Bardic Guild” meeting on Saturday night. I won’t be able to attend myself (Gen’s niece’s and nephew’s birthday party is the same night), but I hope that there’s enough interest to get things rolling again. We’ve had quite a bard shortage in the Grove for the last ten years, and some new songs and other liturgical material would be a very good thing. Hek, getting any Guild meetings happening again would be a good thing. A spread-out membership plus high gas prices plus a bad economy have definitely not been kind to our non-ritual attendance in general. Will the bards inspire a change in that? My fingers are crossed! You can contact Val at or (248) 586-9222 for more info.

And speaking of ritual attendance, the schedule for our Samhain weekend is now online! Remember, you’re more than welcome to attend just some of the events. I really don’t think I should have to say that, but so many people tell me after our weekend-long events, “Well, I wanted to come, but I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, so I didn’t think I would be allowed.” You’re allowed. Really truly. I hope to see you all there for any part of it!

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

Tredara and Back Again

I just got home from the ADF Clergy Retreat in Cleveland around an hour ago. Since I’m still feeling mildly discombobulated from the travel and the rest of the weekend, rather than trying to put any kind of coherent narrative together, I’ll just throw things out at random and you can share in my mild discombobulation!

* Traveling by Greyhound was far more pleasant than I’d anticipated. Granted, part of that was my being on buses empty enough that I didn’t have to sit right next to anyone for four of the five legs, the one leg where I did have to share felt far more cramped. Still, between reading and sleeping, the hours passed by fairly quickly. The only down side of the trip there was walking into the Cleveland bus station just in time to watch the last out of the Tigers losing. >8(

* Michael and Jenni got to the Cleveland bus station about ten minutes after I arrived, they’d gotten such a late start from Columbus that they didn’t even bother trying to stop by Tredara before picking me up. The car ride was spent mostly discussing Study Program stuff.

* We got to Tredara around 10:30, marking: the first time that I ever met Jessie (the benefactor who provided me with the bus tickets), Carrion, and Raven; the second time I ever met Kirk; and the first time I’d seen everyone other than Michael and Jenni since 2002.

* After some discussion on the role of clergy in ADF, I handed Michael my university transcript, the final requirement standing between me and First Circle Priest status! Now I have a mere three years to finish the Second Circle work. Given the word counts on some of those courses, I should probably start sometime around now.

* I spent both nights in the camper that A.J. and Steph use at Brushwood every summer. I couldn’t have chosen a better welcome mat that the skull and crossbones with “get your booty in here” underneath! Since my assigned trailermates were apparently wussies who were afraid of a little cold (well cancelled by the propane heating) and slept in the house on the floor instead, I had the camper to myself.

* Sleeping until my usual 9 AM wake-up time, I nearly missed breakfast (Ian’s dulcet tones saying “Henderson get your ass in here or no breakfast” certainly helped), but I did manage to eat the leftovers while we discussed religious orders within ADF, and plans for the initiation rite that night. While discussing what to have the many folks not directly involved with the initiation do during that time, I noted that I hadn’t done the Clergy Attunement yet, so that settled that, we were going to do a trance journey.

* Afternoon discussions were on sabbaticals and more discussion on the role of clergy within ADF, with many tangents. (And me crying when I checked the score of the Wolverines/Spartans game on my laptop.)

* Late afternoon saw us going out to the “back forty” of the property, where we travelled past the large meadow where Stone Creed does its rites to the smaller nemeton behind it, and the hidden and even smaller circle in the woods behind *that*, and we cleaned both of those and gathered firewood in preparation for the evening’s work.

* Dinner was takeaway from the local Chinese place. No, really, it was. I had chicken chop suey, not my favoritest but I was trying to keep my spending down.

* And then the ritual! I wore my autumn robes, but with trousers, and regular shoes instead of sandals. The cold or the wet I could have handled without them, but the combination was a bit much even for me. Watching Kirk and Michael do all of the ritual roles gave me that same kind of “bilĂ© envy” that Rodney always seems to have when he comes back from a festival. As good as SLG’s rituals are (IMHO), seeing everything done by people who are really experienced and talented turns the metaphorical ritual intensity knob up to eleven. I know that this isn’t something we can work easily into our High Day rites (see the writeup on our 2008 fall ritual for our not-dreadful-but-not-amazing attempt at doing so), but I do want to see if we can get a bit more explicitly ritual work into our An Bruane sessions for the coming year. Or maybe just a workshop or two on improving our personal abilities at ritual performance, if we can get anyone to attend.

* As much as I love my gods, I don’t think I’d ever carry stinky salmon around with me as an offering for them, even if they asked. Kirk is a very devoted Priest indeed.

* I won’t comment on the specific initiatory work that took place, partly because it’s secret, and much more partly because I wasn’t there and I know next to nothing about what they did! >8) The rest of us stayed at the “small” nemeton where Sue led us in our trance journey. Since this was my first time doing our specialized clergy trance work, everyone insisted that I sit right next to the fire so I could get the strongest effect, which was very nice except for the portions where I felt like my trousers were about to catch fire. After the journey, we shared various chants until the Archdruids and new Initiates returned. (If I’d remembered enough of the lyrics to any of them, I’d have done some of my Odyssey/Yellow Submarine songs per Jenni’s request. Damn me not being able to remember my own lyrics! I’m old!)

* After closing up, we went back to the house and socialized for a while before bed, where I logged on to find that the Twins were now tied with the Tigers for that last playoff spot. From now on, I don’t go to any Clergy Retreat when any of my teams are playing big games.

* I set the alarm for Sunday morning just in case I slept late, no more missed breakfast for me! Sunday morning work was light, including final discussion of the role of clergy in ADF, and getting Kirk and Michael to take the oaths that we’d forgotten to make them take the night before. That done, Michael, Jenni and I headed out early to make sure that I got to the bus station in time.

* And other than taking a few hours longer because of an extra transfer, the bus trip home was uneventful.

And now, all I have to do is catch up on e-mail and everything else I haven’t done around the house for three days.

My thanks to Ian and Sue for hosting us, to Michael and Jenni for going out of their way to get me from and to the bus station, to Jessie for getting me the bus tickets in the first place, to Michael again for getting me the Coke from the store so I didn’t go into withdrawal, to A.J. and Steph for providing the camper, and to all the Clergy Council members who were there, I miss you all already!

Next week, a report on our Manannan Shrine visit, and hopefully our Web site will be up and running on our new server.

Rev. (for three more years at least!) Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF