Over the Traffic and Through the Goods?

It’s been a fairly quiet Thanksgiving weekend for me personally. I spent the day itself at my mom’s house where she hosted me and a few of her friends, and I spent most of the day alternating between going online and being attacked by her two Leonbergers. Saturday, Nat and Tim took me to the movies (The Men Who Stare At Goats, I liked it a lot) and dinner for a better-late-than-never birthday thing, and then I went to Leeron and (now a Grove member) Matt’s annual gaming party and stayed until 2 AM. Okay, maybe a little intense, but it still fits the “quiet” description. >8)

I didn’t go out shopping on Black Friday, more from lack of money and general tendency to avoid crowded spaces than from any objection to the concept of a shopping holiday. If we live in a consumer society, then a civic holiday for people to go wild in their consumer behavior makes perfect sense to me. It’s like Lupercalia but with less sex and more electronics! (Less sex and more electronics, wait a minute, that sounds like if *I* ran Lupercalia…)

And yes, I do know about Buy Nothing Day, and I actually used to take part in it back when it was held earlier in the year. A day of abstinence/fasting from one of the culture’s dominant activities can also be meaningful, and give us new insights. I gave up on it when they pushed it to Black Friday, though. Hearing a bunch of middle to upper-middle class people telling all of the country’s poor folks to abstain from shopping on the one day of the year when prices are their lowest is arrogant at best. If I were determined to overthrow the capitalist paradigm or some such, then maybe I’d see the appeal of going head to head with the other holiday, but I’m not, so I don’t. And having a holiday whose sole purpose is to oppose someone else’s holiday isn’t a direction I’d want to go in either. What’s next, is someone going to have a big free buffet right next to a Catholic church on Good Friday, or in daylight hours near a mosque during Ramadan? If the folks who run BND ever move it back to its original date, I’ll likely take part again, until then I will decline.

Lest it seems like I’m only thinking of everyone else’s holiday, yep, Yule is nearly here! Our first ritual planning session is on Tuesday. Two of our new/old members have some ideas on working traditional Saturnalia activities into our usual ritual, and I’m intrigued by the possibilities. Check here next week for the results, or better yet be there on Tuesday and help us decide!

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

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What’s A Pirate’s Favorite Online Chat Program? Aye – Arrrr – Sea

Many many years ago, around the time I first became Senior Druid of SLG, I was also the moderator for ADF’s weekly IRC chats. It was fun, and I thought I did a decent enough job of running ’em, but eventually I decided that I was spreading myself too thin and that other people could handle running an online chat, as opposed to other things I was doing, like, say, being clergy. I also lost my taste for real-time online chat anyway, and I’m still not sure whether that was a particular personal change of taste or just me getting old. Either way, the chats eventually fell into disuse. The channel was kept open, but without a moderator running a regular session, an IRC channel is about as socially active as a desert oasis. Slightly more active than the desert itself, but not by much!

So I was definitely happy to see the chats reactivated a few months ago. (There are also video chats, but video chat plus me on a dialup connection equals me hearing almost nothing and seeing less.) Sadly, they’re held on Tuesday nights, which almost always conflict with a Grove meeting of some sort, so I’d not been able to stop by. But the “solitary topics” chat is on the third Saturday of the month, and I was free last night, so I joined in. It was good to see the sols using the space to connect with other sols, well and me and the other non-sols who showed up. >8) Being in a Grove for thirteen years makes it all too easy to forget what it’s like not to have people to talk to about pagan things. On the other hand, their comments of “if I was in a Grove it would be easier to motivate myself to work on the Dedicant Path” made me literally laugh out loud. I assure you all, I can’t motivate my Grovemates to do much of anything that they don’t already want to do!

One comment that did surprise me was in response to what sols would want ADF to provide for them: daily devotionals written for non-Celtic hearth cultures. Not that I’m shocked that anyone would want them, I’d just never heard anyone ask before. I guess I figured that anyone who didn’t like the Celtic versions in the Dedicant Path manual would write their own. That’ll definitely give me something to think about writing in the next few months, assuming I have any free time as I work two jobs for the holidays.

If you’re interested in ADF’s video or IRC chats, you can get the current schedule here.

Next week’s topic, um, I don’t know yet. Post-Black Friday musings, perhaps?

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

And Euripides Was A Better Writer Than Aeschylus Anyway

The ADF e-mail lists are often quiet, often noisy, sometimes interesting, sometimes not, just like, well, like most e-mail lists. (As opposed to forums, which are always noisy and seldom interesting, but that’s just my opinion! >8) While I’m not allowed to repost messages from any of the lists, I did want to mention the contents of one that was put on the Hellenic Kin’s list last week. The poster felt that she was being called by the goddess Athena to do spiritual work with her, but she was reluctant to respond because she had an issue with Athena. Specifically, that during the story of the trial of Orestes, Apollo argued in Orestes’ defense that killing one’s mother wasn’t as grave a matter as killing one’s father, because mothers only nurse the seed of the male and therefore the relationship between mother and child isn’t as strong as the one between father and child. And that Athena cast the deciding vote to acquit Orestes, and that therefore this meant that Athena hated women.

A lot of stuff to address there for a modern Hellenic Neo-Pagan priest, eh? Fortunately, many of the other members of the Kin gave her the good advice of “be receptive and ask her what she wants from you” that I would have given as well, for any general query of this sort. No harm in doing that, and if a god’s demands are more than you’re willing to give, you can always say “no thanks”. But I did respond with a few other points, and I figured those would be good to share here as well. Since I *am* allowed to repost my own stuff from the lists, I’ll save myself a bit of typing:

Mainly I wanted to note here that the issue you’re having a problem with isn’t really from a myth, is it? It’s from a play. A play that was written by one man and entered into a competition with other plays at a festival. Not exactly what I’d consider “the word of the gods”, any more than the average Christian would consider the movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” an accurate depiction of their god’s beliefs or tenets. And even if we do take “The Eumenides” as an accurate account of how the Greeks viewed their gods, I just reread  the relevant bits of the version at the Perseus Project  (http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/) , and after Apollo says the part about women being merely vessels, Athena turns  the proceedings over to the jury without commenting on Apollo’s claim. And when she  casts the tie-breaking vote, she votes for mercy, not for “I think women suck”. I’m not reading this as an anti-feminist decision on her part.

Now, if you’re upset because the ancient Greeks really did believe that thing about women only acting as vessels to the life-giving seed of a man, well, yeah. Like most of our Ancestors, they weren’t perfect, and like some of our Ancestors, they could be downright stupid in some ways. My grandfather, a skilled lawyer and a talented spy (no, really. he was), believed to his dying day that smearing butter on a burn was the best way to treat it. And my grandmother was a talented teacher and school superintendent, and never managed to stop smoking. Dealing with that dissonance between revering our predecessors and understanding their flaws is part of the human experience, and doing that at a cultural level is part of the Pagan reconstructionist experience. Welcome to the club. >8)

I suppose I could have extended the list of personal failings of my Ancestors (couldn’t we all?) but you get the idea.

On a personal note, I believe that the gods do change over time – more slowly than we “Children of Earth” do, sure, but I definitely don’t believe that they are completely static and unevolving. If the gods are being honored and made offerings to by modern Pagans (and worse from the view of the Ancient Greeks, modern Pagans most of whom don’t speak Greek), then presumably they will either adapt to our modern needs, or choose not to accept the offerings. And if a god contacts you by whatever method and wants you to talk to them, presumably they believe that you can do something positive for them, whether you think so or not. You don’t have to accept, of course, but I ask you not to reject the offer out of hand.

And many have already written about the relationship between the “real” gods and the stories that are told of them. We in ADF don’t have an official “party line” on the nature of the divine, so it’s unlikely that we’d ever have an official stance on this issue anyway. We leave it up to our members (and everyone else, really) to decide that for themselves. I would only point out that a lot of the stories we hear about other people aren’t true either, or are at least a little exaggerated, and would we really expect that to be any different for the gods? Work with them, honor them, build a relationship with them, and that will be more important and more wonderful than what anyone else thinks about them.

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

Warmest. Samhain. Ever.

Ever since we started holding our Samhain rites outdoors in 1997, I’ve always worried about the weather for that weekend. November in Michigan isn’t usually warm by anyone’s standards, and some of our Samhain evenings have been barely above freezing. I think we actually had a light snowfall during one of them. So after last weekend’s frosty Halloween night, I was thrilled to see forecasts of high 50s and no rain for this past weekend! Between that and the article on us in AnnArbor.com last weekend, I was hoping for a larger than average turnout for our first more-than-just-rituals Samhain weekend.

Sadly, things got off to a rocky start as I had to work late, and didn’t get to the site until 7:30. And since this is Samhain, I had to be the one to kindle the Grove Flame for the coming half of the year, so everyone who did manage to get there on time had to wait in the freezing – well, 45 degree – dark until I got there. And of course, this was the one Fire Watch where we had more than four people there on time. I think I counted around 15 figures waiting in the gloom for us. Oops! Memo to self: next Samhain, start at 8, not 7.

Once the fire was lit and blessed, things went far more smoothly. Jude also had to work late, but all of the other officers were there, so we did our traditional swearing in of the new Leadership Council just a little behind schedule. Then Kestrel led us down to the nemeton for a quick hof blessing, where we added rocks to the Norse altar and made it look a lot, er, rockier? Well definitely more altarlike. And a Winternights rite to honor the dead. Kestrel did write up a script for us, which I’ll put on the Grove Web site as soon as I manage to decode the handwriting. >8)

Then back up to the fire circle, where Gen and I gave a rambling talk about the chthonic gods of the ancient Greeks. It’s always hard to tell whether your audience is really interested when you’re giving a talk around a fire on a cold night, or if they just need warmth. But several people did tell me later how much they enjoyed it, and the new folks who said they’d gained new insight into how to view the gods was especially touching.

So home I went with the Flame, and spent the rest of the evening checking e-mail and smelling the fire’s smoke on my hands. Always a powerful sensation, especially given how little I can usually smell. The next morning, I caught an early bus to get back to Botsford, with a stop at Dollar Tree for soda for the potluck and Halloween candy for the afternoon rite, and got there a bit after noon. The weather was gorgeous, it felt like 60 and the skies were cloudless!

At 1 o’clock we had a fair sized group assembles already for Nancy’s workshop on jewelry making, which I didn’t see because I was setting things up, and anyway when am I ever going to make jewelry?

The afternoon rite got started as close to on-time as our rituals ever do. >8) We went to the nemeton to honor Ana and Lugh, and six children and sixteen adults decorated popsicle sticks and decorated the Ana stone with them. The omen was good (Ansuz – Gebo – Teihwaz) and the energy level was the light and pleasant one I prefer for the early rite.

Back up at the Fire Circle, we had our usual raffle and potluck (and went through nearly all of the food that had been brought, very unusual!), and then Barbara demonstrated wool spinning and Sean had the children make construction paper “greeting cards” for the Ancestors altar for the evening rite. As more folks showed up for said rite, we got to work making our traditional luminaria with paper bags, tealight candles, and sand. Rod and Sean set up the tiki torches in the ritual circle using the last of the lamp oil we bought three years ago, and still it was warm out!

By the time we were ready to get started, it was fully dark outside, but the luminaria lit our way down the path to the nemeton, and the torches lit the circle very nicely. At least, until the oil ran out in most of them about twenty minutes into the rite. >8) I’m kinda torn about that, actually – I liked having the place lit up, but having things slowly get dark as we called the Ancestors into the circle had its own kind of charm. After the opening invocations, we called upon Manannan to be in the circle with us, and then in a new twist we thought up at the Liturgists’ Roundtable meeting, asked folks to call upon gods of death and psychopompery from other cultures, which I thought went well. I’d have preferred to get people to actually volunteer in advance like we’d wanted, but that’s a disappointment I’ve had to get used to for all kinds of ritual plans. But enough people were willing to do it off the cuff that I still think it worked.

After that, we passed the Ancestor doll (aka “Uncle Fester”) around the circle twice, once for folks to call upon their Ancestors to be present, and again for the individual praise offerings. We then did group praise by throwing flax seed into the fire, and since we apparently didn’t have the whiskey offering I thought we were going to use for the main sacrifice, I threw the rest of the flax into the fire for one big crackling burst of light. The omen was again good (Inguz – Berkana – Raido, I think, I may be transposing the first two runes), and the energy of the rite had the deep energy that I prefer for the evening rite.

Back up at the Fire Circle again, we had a lovely table set up where I placed the Fester doll and those of us who had brought food for the Ancestor Supper placed portions of the food on a plate for the Ancestors. Sadly, most of the 32 attendees ignored this lovely event and stayed over at the potluck table filling their own plates. That and the meager $81 in donations we got for a weekend that cost us $100 for the site fee plus a bit more for ritual props and copying costs was a bit of a downer for me personally. After all of the work that I and others put into making this magical (in more ways than one) weekend happen, that was a bit of a metaphorical face-slap. To think that if I took half the energy I put into providing open public ritual and spent it teaching New Age crystal Reiki nonsense for $90 an hour, I’d not only be able to support myself a Hek of a lot better than my flower delivery job lets me do, ugh. And it also keeps hitting me that if we moved the ritual to one of our indoor sites, we’d probably lose a lot less money on it, even if we did get fewer people in attendance. Still, the number of people who told me after the rite how beautiful and powerful the experience had been for them, and how many of them want to work on the ADF Dedicant Program in the coming year, did make me feel a little better.

And as with last year, since I still haven’t been able to get my car on the road again (see aforementioned comment about supporting myself), we had to get the whole site cleaned in the dark. Which actually went a lot better than it did last year, in part because it was still very warm and not at all damp, and a few people did stay late to help.

So yeah, all in all a good Samhain weekend, and I’m glad we expanded it and added workshops this year. I just wish I could find a way to make the event both spiritually compelling and not a money loser for us.

Next week, some commentary on the nature of dealing with ancient cultures, the gods they honored, and the beliefs that they held.

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

Short Late-Night Entry

Short entry this week, as I got home at 1:15 AM from a babysitting gig. Besides, what is there to say beyond “I’m going to be frantically getting ready for Samhain this week and will report on it in next weekend’s entry”?

Well, one thing that’s definitely worth mentioning, my interview with the report from AnnArbor.com was published yesterday! Well, sort of. I mentioned in last week’s entry that I’d been interviewed by a reporter for an article about what all of the various churches in the area were doing for Halloween, and I hinted at her comment to me that not a lot of people were calling her back besides me. Well, it looks like there really weren’t a whole lot of people calling her back, because the article never materialized on the site. But on Friday I got a call from a different reporter, wanting to interview me in what our Grove does for Samhain. So I did another interview, and that’s the one that became the article you see on their site now. I’m certainly glad that we got to share a bit of what we do with the public, even if no gods actually got mentioned in the article. (And I even spelled “Manannan” for her to make sure she got it right! >8)

Current forecast is for the coming weekend to be a little warmer than this weekend was, but with scattered showers. Here’s hoping that warmth and a newspaper article will still get us a good attendance for our many Samhain activities. (And remember, the preserve is an old-growth forest, the trees will buffer us from most of the wind!)

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