They’re Like Giant Smurfs, Only Nakeder

Grove-wise, it’s been a quiet week, but then, the period between the Yule ritual and mid-January always is. With our members’ commitments to the other holidays at this time of year, what with shopping and parties and travel and all, I know that we won’t get a lot of participation in anything we schedule, nor will we get many inquiries from interested non-members. And that’s certainly okay with me, since I’m not *that* obsessed with keeping our Grove active, and even if I were, I know that the pre-Imbolc period is one of our busiest of the year. Really, the only down side to the downtime is that I run low on things to blog about here. >8)

Today, my mom and I went to see Avatar in 3-D on the IMAX screen at Showcase. Having heard so many good things about it so far, my only real concern was its 160-minute running time, and that wasn’t helped by having to wait for an hour past the scheduled starting time because they were having technical difficulties with the projector! But once the film started, wow. Amazing visuals, a decent story, and even after sitting in one place for three and a half hours, I never for a minute felt like the pace was dragging. It’s definitely worth seeing in theaters, even if you have as little money for movie-watching as I do, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it win the Best Picture Oscar.

So the real question is, as the Wild Hunt blog asked recently: Is it a Pagan movie? Opinions seem to vary wildly, depending on who you ask. The Navi culture has many obvious similarities to Native American cultures, and the trees of their world functioning as a single life form may have a touch of nature worship to it, but then that function is explained in scientific terms as well, so I don’t know that any real live human watching it would have to feel the same way about our real live world. (Side note: For those interested in stories that explain ancient myth systems in science fiction terms, I’d say that Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny is even better than this film.) And even if we do consider that aspect of the story to be spiritually important to its viewers, is that really a form of Paganism? It’s panentheism (“god is in everything”), sure, and probably pantheism (“god is everything”) as well, but it’s not polytheism (“there are many gods”), and now that I’m in my old fuddy-duddy conservative Druid years, I consider that the more explicit requirement for me to deem something “Pagan”. Yeah, we don’t all agree on a definition for what is and isn’t Pagan, and I respect the beliefs of those who think that pantheism equals paganism, but after twenty years on this path, I know what I think. Honestly, the most pagan thing about the movie from my point of view is its title, which comes to us from a Hindu term referring to the earthly manifestations of their deities.

So no, I don’t consider this a movie that extols Pagan virtues, any more than “The Legend of Bagger Vance” extolled Hindu virtues because it was based on the Bhagavad Gita (no, really!), but a movie doesn’t have to be Pagan for a Pagan to see it and enjoy it. So go see it!

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

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Guess Who’s Coming To Yule? Everyone!

I always find it both fascinating and frustrating to realize how much our Grove’s attendance – and consequently our donation income – depends on the weather. Two years ago, we had decent weather and 24 attendees at our Yule rite. Last year, we had heavy snow the night before, and all of ten people showed up. This was one of the reasons I’d hoped to schedule this year’s rite on the 12th, but the site was already booked for that date, so we had to settle for the 19th.

As thoughts of moving next year’s Yule ritual to November 20th danced in my head, I went to Rod and Liz’s house on Friday night to do our Fire Lighting Ceremony, the indoor version of Fire Watch. Since we can’t have lit candles at the ICC Ed Center, the Yule lighting is more of a symbolic gesture, but it’s good to get together with folks in a more relaxed atmosphere than a ritual provides. (Except when Gen’s car gets stuck in the snow, as it did last year.) The Yule one also gives us a chance to make ornaments to decorate the tree during the rite, but since we weren’t doing the tree decorating this year, all we really had to occupy ourselves was making the ornaments for the return blessing, and eating popcorn. And seven folks showed up, and that’s what we did! (While I borrowed Liz’s computer to print the order of service out, and realizing that I’d copied the wrong file to my flash drive, had to re-edit it as well.) Part of me thinks we really need to come up with something more to do at Fire Lighting, and part of me thinks we don’t. Perhaps Imbolc will bring some kind of inspiration?

On Saturday morning, I took the bus early to stop by Office Max and get our copying done, and a quick stop at Dollar Tree for some raffle and potluck items. I got to the Ed Center at about quarter to twelve, happy to know that I could spend some time acclimating to the ritual space while using the high speed wifi connection with my laptop – and mildly angered to find out that the wifi there didn’t actually work. Hmph. Well, I did what I could to get the place ready by myself, and Rod and Liz arrived early with the ritual regalia so we had pretty much everything in place by 1:30. Val, who was bringing some of the ritual items, called to let me know that they’d be late, so we waited.

And since there was only a little snowfall that morning, the flood of people came pouring in! Noal and Julie brought some friend, Fox and Sean and Aidan came for the first time this year, and the Kellers and the student who e-mailed me a few weeks ago, and Chuck came to his first ritual in quite some time, and Matt Rindfleisch actually showing on time… You don’t really appreciate how small the ground floor of the Ed Center is until you have thirty people milling about!

Once Val and Paul and Jan got there, Val went upstairs to set up her ritual items. The crowd was very lively and talkative so I wasn’t too worried about the ritual starting late, but I didn’t want to push things too far, so we managed to get everything ready at about 3:15. Late, but not our latest start. >8) We processed upstairs to the ritual area and, after adding about ten more chairs to the circle we’d set up, got things started.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we decided to add a section honoring the Roman god Saturnus to the rite, since Val and Paul practice Roman religion in their home and they asked about it, and since we felt that Danu and Bel would be the most laid back of our Grove gods in terms of doing something experimental like that. So after the Ana invocation, and some impromptu handing-out of head-covering scarves, Val did a Vesta invocation. And then, after doing the rest of the rite as usual, I called on Danu, then Val did offerings to Saturnus, and then I called Bel. (And I really should have done Bel first since this is more Danu’s holiday and her call should have been closer to the center of the rite, but oh well. It’s not like Danu gets upset over such things!)

For the focus object, we passed a basket containing the offerings we were going to make during the group praise: mead for Danu; barley for Saturnus; and gelt (gold-wrapped chocolate coins) for Bel. During the individual praise, my lovely new cell phone rang, and I left the ritual area to take the call. Yeah, I know it looked like I had forgotten to turn it off, but in fact it was deliberate, I always leave my phone on when we do rituals at the Ed Center because it’s so hard to find and lost latecomers invariably call for directions, even a hundred minutes after the official starting time. (Those who were at 2007’s Yule may remember the same thing happening.) I hate to come across as rude in ritual space, but I’d hate it more if someone never got to the ritual at all.

For the group praise, we had everyone move in a circle around the bilĂ©, where we had altars set up for the three Deities of the Occasion. Well, we *tried* to have everyone move in a circle, but with thirty people in that small a space, gridlock ensued. (One of my many Rules of Ritual: A ritual plan that works great for ten people won’t work for fifty. Or something like that, plug your own numbers in there to suit your taste.) But with a little prodding we managed to get everyone around the altars and make offerings to each. (My one big mistake of the rite – I forgot to lead us in our traditional Danu’s Waver of Power. On the other hand, it’s not like we had a low-energy crowd this time around. I’ll remember it next year, for sure!)

The omen was super- good (Fehu – Wunjo – Tiwaz), and so we asked the gods to bless the ornaments we’d made the night before, and passed them around the circle. And we had enough for everyone – except me. *sniff* Paul graciously gave up one of his family’s ornaments so I could have one.

After we closed things up, we adjourned downstairs for the potluck and the raffle, and more noisy boisterousness from the crowd. Once the crowd left, Rod and Liz and I managed to get the ritual area packed up, and they left while I waited for Gen to finish up at work and pick me up. We’d been hoping to go to a party that evening, but the road conditions had gotten worse so we just went home instead.

So how did the combination of cultures work out? Pretty well, I thought. The change in gears between the formal Roman invocations and our more free-wheeling improv style was a bit jarring to me, but I know that I care more about these things than our average ritual attendee. But it didn’t disrupt the overall flow or energy of the rite, and the omen was very good, so I’ll call it a success. Hopefully I can convince Val and Paul to do some specific Roman rituals at our multiple-day ritual weekends this coming year, so people can get a better feel for that particular ritual style.

And to all five of my readers, a blessed solstice, a merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and anything else you want this holiday season!

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

Damn To The Depths Whatever Man What Thought Of “Parliament”.

I assume that all five of this blog’s readers follow some other blogs as well, and if not, I highly recommend The Wild Hunt as an excellent source of Pagan-related news. Many of the articles make for fascinating reading, including recent articles covering the Pagan presence at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia. The discussion on the blog articles there has been, well, worth thinking about at least. In particular, this article seems to have raised a few hackles among our community. It seemed pretty clear to me upon reading the presentation’s title that the intent was “these ancient Europeans were pagan”, not “only these traditions are allowed to use the word ‘Pagan’ to describe themselves”, but it looks like my Conservation of Oppression theory is raising its ugly head again, and folks are eager to complain about how mistreated they are.

Ultimately, I just don’t get it. I appreciate the efforts of the folks who have gone to the Parliament to introduce so many religious leaders from around the world to our traditions, at least in a general sense, and I think it will make things easier for us Pagans in the long run. But does anything that they said there last week really have any impact on what we Pagans do in our day to day lives, honoring our gods in our homes, working in our local groups, or even at our big festivals? So a few people out there in another part of the world might possibly think that Wiccans aren’t really Pagan. How many more people in our own neighborhoods don’t know who Pagans are or what they do because we just plain don’t tell them? Isn’t our own reclusiveness a bigger obstacle to our growth than any workshop could be? Yes, I speak in generalities here, and I know lots of Pagans (myself included) work very hard to be very open and talk about who we are and what we do, and I’m still a little sympathetic to the folks who really feel that they can’t be open for fear of reprisals from their neighbors and family. But if we really want to build a religion – well, group of religions, really – that people will take seriously, then we need to worry less about what other people do at conferences and more about what we do in our own local communities. I do wish well to the folks who want to make an impact at the global level, but I’m totally a “think locally, act locally” pagan, and I make no secret of that!

Speaking of which, I need to start getting things together for our Yule ritual on Saturday. I hope to see many of you there (weather forecast says some snow but not a blizzard, so driving conditions should be good), and I’ll let you all know how it went in next week’s entry!

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

Saturnus: A New Kind of Ritual?

So we had our Liturgists’ Roundtable this past Tuesday, and sadly something came up and I couldn’t be there myself, but it sounds like Rod and Gen and Val and Paul came up with some decent ideas for a Saturnalia-influenced Yule ritual for the 19th. Obviously I’m sad that I couldn’t take part in it, ritual planning is one of my favorite Grove-related things to do, but it’s good to know that everyone else can handle it if needed.

I called Rodney before the meeting to let him know that my main concern was making sure that Bel and Danu, our traditional Deities of the Occasion for Yule, were still honored at the rite, but other than that I was open to changing things up. Maintaining our relationships with our Grove deities is the priority for our High Day rites, as far as I’m concerned. But Bel and Danu always seem very laid-back and accepting of whatever we do for them, so I figured if we were going to add a Roman deity to any High Day without offending our usual DotO, either Yule or Summer Solstice would be the best bet.

So this time out, we’ll be having three Deities of the Occasion: Bel, Danu, and Saturnus, with separate offerings for each. A little unusual, but well within the rules for ADF ritual. We’ll be keeping our usual ritual style for the most part, doing multiple cultures within one ritual almost never works from my experience, so it’s up to Saturnus to decide if he wants to show up to a not-exclusively-Roman rite. To “cover” the issue of Roman religion requiring the participants to keep their heads covered during ritual, we’ll be encouraging everyone to wear silly hats. (My Santa hat is ready!) And we won’t be doing our decorating of a live tree, though that isn’t as much about the DotO’s as it is about how difficult and expensive it is to get a live tree to the site. But we will still be doing tree ornaments as the return blessing, as we’ve done for well over a decade now.

Will it be an interesting combination or a total mess? Will the new folks like it or will they be weirded out? Will there be another big snow storm like last year and nobody shows up at all? As a continuation of the Grand Experiment That Is ADF, I look forward to finding out, and I hope that many of you will get to take part in it!

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