Honor Between the Gods and the Folk Goes Both Ways

Let me start by telling you a story from my mother’s mother’s mother youth, back when she lived in northern Italy. She lived in a farming community, and there hadn’t been rain for a long time, and everyone’s crops were suffering. Everyone at the local church prayed and prayed to that church’s saint (wish I could remember which one it was, sorry Nuna!) and still no rain. So they removed the saint’s statue from the sanctuary and buried it in the church’s cemetery, and started looking around for a different saint to whom they could rededicate the church. Then the rain finally came, and they dug up the statue and put it back in the sanctuary, and that was that.

I first heard that story back when I was a child and was still (nominally) Catholic, and it has always amused me, throughout the various religious views I’ve held in all of the years between. To think that my great-grandmother, one of the most religiously conservative relatives I’ve had, would have that kind of attitude toward her church’s patron saint, perfectly willing to “fire” him for failure to perform. Even within the confines of a monotheist religion, there were certain expectations that their divine figures had to live up to. Yes, I know you can argue that saint worship isn’t monotheistic, but it’s certainly more monotheistic than our modern Pagan religions, never mind the ancient ones!

So maybe that’s why I’ve been less surprised over the years than some of my fellow Pagan practitioners and scholars when I’ve read about the ways of the Ancients and seen their less formal and, yes, more demanding ways of communicating with their gods. Sure, there was a lot of flattery and a lot of polite asking, but it wasn’t all that way. Several of the magical scrolls of ancient Greece included demands and threats toward the gods being addressed. Most amusing to me were the ones where the magician writing the scroll noted how impressive his own magic powers were, and that’s why the god being addressed should obey his will. Can you imagine any modern monotheist putting something like that into a prayer? No, it’s clear that the attitudes that the ancient had toward their gods were far different than what we’re familiar with in our modern culture. Having grown up in a modern culture myself (yes, it’s true, I’m not really an ancient Hellene), I have to keep in mind during my own religious studies and practices that my own worldview is very different from that of the Ancients, and that I need to make a conscious decision whether to emulate them or not, and that sometimes it’s worth trying to do things in the ancient manner to get a better understanding of their ways, even if it’s not something I’m used to. Hek, *especially* if it’s not something I’m used to.

So why am I rambling on about “firing” one’s gods in this week’s blog entry? No, I’m not planning a performance review of any of our Grove’s deities, and even if I were, I’d be doing a lot of meditative work and a lot of consulting with my Grovemates first. Just because I’m the “spiritual leader” of my Grove doesn’t mean I can ignore the wants and needs of others. But damned if I’m not a little disappointed with one of our seven gods right now. For the second year in a row, we’ve had to cancel our Brídeog because of a lack of interest from our members. While we did have two people ask to have their homes visited this year (which is one more than last year), we had absolutely no one who wanted to do the traveling from house to house. Sure, I could have done it by myself if my car were in working order, but even if it had been, should I really be doing what is allegedly a “community ritual” by myself? No. And last year at Imbolc, I told Bríd that I wasn’t going to finish the offering song I’d started writing for her unless we had a successful Brídeog the next year, and if she wanted it written that she’d better convince some folks to get off their asses and do it. And nobody did, so no song. (Nope, I’m not even gonna give you a hint about it. The work I’ve done on it stays hidden on the hard drive.)

So what do we do now? Well, I think we can safely remove the Brídeog from the list of Grove activities for nest year, and but it on the shelf next to the Fool’s Competition and the Lughnasadh Games and the Druidic Worship Circles and everything else that we used to do but the interest died off. That’s a damn shame, but I’m not going to put my personal energy into trying to sustain something that nobody else cares about.

The real question becomes, what do we do with Bríd? We used to have a lot of die-hard Bright Lady devotees in the Grove way back when, but most of them have left us now. And I’ve had some folks tell me that they really feel no personal connection to her at all, and that the Imbolc ritual means little to them. And the clergyperson in me keeps thinking that if any of our Grove deities should be able to work their own inspirational powers to get people interested in her, Bríd is the one who should be able to do it. No, I’m not ready to bury the corn dolly in the back yard just yet, but I’ll say it here as well as at our ritual events next weekend: Bright Bríd, Queen of Inspiration, I can’t do this one by myself. If you want our tribe to keep you in our rituals, you need to get some light a’shining into their heads and hearts. We’ve kept our local community going for sixteen years now, and overcome the loss of dozens of members and thousands of dollars, and I really think that was in part through your blessings of community and the hearth fire. But I’m a polytheist, and I serve the people as well as the gods, and if we get a better offer from some other deity out there, I have to listen.

And I promise all five of my readers that we’re still going to have a great ritual to honor Bright Bríd next Saturday, and I hope that you can all be there and give her a chance to impress you!

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

PS – I’m no seer, but I’ll pick the Saints to win next week. And if they don’t, I’m burying them in the back yard! >8)

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Bríd Is Coming, Are You Ready?

No new article this week, as I just returned from a three-day trip to my aunt’s house in Maryland to spend time with my grandparents. With the Brídeog coming up next Saturday (and with two people already signed up to be visited it looks like we won’t have to cancel it again!), I decided to reprint my old pre-Imbolc article, with the dates and phone numbers updated for this year’s events. I hope that everyone in our area can take part in some or all of our tradition to honor our Grove’s hearth goddess!

One of the most eagerly anticipated High Days of our year is coming up next: Imbolc. This is the holiday when we honor Bríd, our Grove’s hearth goddess. This holiday also has many traditions associated with it, from the ancient Celts to the modern-day Irish. I thought I’d share some of those traditions with you, so you’ll be ready to welcome Bríd into your home, and into our rite in February.

One of the traditional ways to honor Bríd at this time of year is to clean your home. The concept of “spring cleaning” has its origins in this practice. And really, when would you rather be doing your annual indoor cleaning? When there are several feet of snow on the ground, or when the flowers are blooming and the birds singing? You may want to use a birch branch to symbolically sweep the floors, as birch is a tree associated with new beginnings.

Another Imbolc tradition is the making of Bríd Crosses, which we use during the Brídeog (see below). Bríd Crosses are woven out of straw, in much the same way that a Native American “God’s Eye” is made. The crosses are traditionally hung over the doors of the home, and protect the home from fire. We’ll start making our Bríd Crosses, along with new clothing for the Bríd dolly itself, at our An Bruane session on January 27th.

One of my favorite Grove traditions for Imbolc is the Brídeog, which we’ve been doing since 1997. It will be held on January 30th this year. Based on a more modern Irish tradition, it consists of traveling from home to home with our Bríd dolly, called a “brídeog” (BREEJ-oag) in Irish Gaelic. The traveling party (a.k.a. the Biddies) enters the home carrying the dolly, along with several hand puppets, and singing loudly. The dolly is then carried through the house as blessings are said. The biddies then ask for an offering of food to help the needy—we accept nonperishable food for Food Gatherers. They then give the household a Bríd Cross (see above) and depart on their merry way to the next home. (If you’d like the Biddies to visit your home this year, contact us at 734-277-1897 or robh@shininglakes.org .)

The night before each of our winter High Day rites, we hold our Fire Lighting Ceremony, where we bless the ritual flame. The Imbolc Fire Lighting is particularly significant, because Bríd was believed to travel the world on the night before her holiday, accompanied by the cow that nursed her when she was an infant. During the night, we hang two cloths from a bush near the fire. This gives Bríd a chance to visit us during the night and bless them. One of the cloths is cut up into pieces, and the pieces are distributed to the women and children of the community, to bring Bríd’s protection. The other cloth, called the Bratach Bríd, is one of our Grove relics, and kept from year to year to accumulate Bríd’s blessings. The Bratach Bríd was a traditional tool of midwives, used during the birthing process to ensure a safe delivery for both mother and child. Our own Bratach has been present at three births so far.

Finally, the Imbolc rite itself will be held on February 6th this year. I can’t give many details on the ritual, since we haven’t created it yet! Our Liturgists’ Roundtable will be held on February 3rd, and anyone (Grove member or not) is encouraged to attend and help us design our rite.
I hope that these ideas help you to celebrate Imbolc in your own household, and I hope you all have a chance to join us in our community celebration as well! For the dates, times, and locations of the meetings mentioned in this article, see the calendar in this newsletter, or call 734-277-1897 or e-mail robh@shininglakes.org. Also, for more information on Bríd and Imbolc, Fox has written a few articles about them, which you can read at: http://www.shininglakes.org/deities/bridol.html.

Yours in service to the Kindreds and the Grove,
Rev. Rob Henderson, Senior Druid

What Do You Mean, It Doesn’t Have To Be Lynx-Compatible Any More?

Ah, what a beautiful January day it was here today, it actually got above freezing for a little while in the afternoon, and I think I saw a blue patch between the clouds! Spring is probably no more than three months away! Yay!

This past week, I continued the long, arduous project of restructuring our Grove’s Web site. Paul came up with a good CSS design for the pages, and now I’m going to implement it on all the files on the site so that it will only look five years out of date instead of twelve years out of date. First on the list has been going through all of the files to see what I want to keep and what needs to go. I was actually surprised how few of the files I’ve marked for deletion: the “guided tour of SLG” pages which I thought I’d killed in our last revamp seven years ago, and a few others. I’ll also need to update our FAQ list pages, while most of them are still accurate, a few need more current information, and I’m sure people will feel more confident in their accuracy if the “last updated” date is a little more recent.

Most of the reworking will be a question of merging some of the files – notably the song parodies I’ve written which are scattered all over the place – and probably adding subdirectories for the bigger file groups, like rituals and publications. Not that most of the site’s readers will notice it, but having four hundred files in one directory is just harder to work through on my end. Ah, for the simpler days of 1997 when we had more like fifty files!

Once that’s done, I’ll get the CSS stuff into all of the files, which will require a fair amount of testing because I’ve never worked with style sheets before. But hey, it’ll be a learning experience, right?

And once that’s done, then it’s done. I’d like to see us move our mailing lists to the new server at some point, and Paul is hoping to get an online membership database working, but first things first. The overhaul is long overdue, and hopefully will make us look a little better in the virtual eyes of the online pagan community.

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

PS – For a preview of what the new site will look like, visit: http://www.shininglakes.org/index2.php

Wednesday Night’s All Right For, Um, Stuff

The three-week gap in the Grove’s calendar of events draws to a close this week, and with it come our first Wednesday night meetings in, wow, I’m not even sure. I think our old Bardic Liturgist meetings at Marae’s house were on Wednesdays, but I’m not completely certain of that. A long time, anyway. We moved all of our Tuesday night meetings to Wednesdays because Rod and Jude had some scheduling issues with Tuesdays for the first part of the year, and not (as I know you all suspect) because Lost is on Tuesdays this year and Gen and I would have to miss every meeting as a result. When April rolls around we may move the meetings back to Tuesday, or not, we’ll see how it goes.

Scheduling Grove events is a tricky business. Now that we’re only printing our newsletter four times a year, we need to have three months of events scheduled for each one. We can add events after the newsletter is published, but then the attendance is likely to be lower because the folks who rely on the newsletter simply won’t know about it. Now that we’re not mailing out paper copies of SLN to save money, I’d almost want us to go back to publishing one at every High Day to make our scheduling process more flexible, if I didn’t think the editor would become enraged. Not to mention I’d have to write twice as many articles, and I’m already running low on topics to write about as you can see from this tiny post. >8)

On an unrelated note, the final payment for our suite at this year’s ConVocation is due next weekend, and it looks like we’re about $100 short at the moment. Please feel free to use the PayPal link on our Web site to send in a donation to help guarantee that we get the space, and any extra money we get will go toward food and drinks and other suite-related expenses.

Next week, an update on our Web site’s update.

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

Through the Doorway of Janus

Nothing too exciting to report on this week. Sure, it’s a new year and all that, but that’s not a particularly pagan holiday in my mind. It’s funny, I have to keep reminding myself that this is (by the most commonly used definition, if not the technical one) a new decade. Is it that this past decade has been so full of strife and turmoil, or is it because we never did agree on a name for it? (I always wanted it to be “the Aughties”.) (And we’re probably never going to agree on a name for the current decade either, I bet.)

This year certainly holds promise for our Grove’s participation in big activities with other groups in the area, between our having a room suite again at ConVocation (assuming we can get that last $100 we need by next week, and yes we’re still taking donations!), and participating in Michigan Mayfest (in, er, April), and the nearest Pagan Pride Day actually not scheduling its event on our High Day weekend, we’ll have many more opportunities to share our lore and traditions with folks who haven’t had a chance to attend our events. The real trick, of course, will be me getting my car back on the road, but I think that may actually be within striking distance now. Time will tell.

I was going to fill out this week’s entry with the article I wrote for the most recent Shining Lakes News, but given that I posted the PDF version online today, that would be silly. You can go read it there, and also check out Val’s article on Saturnalia traditions.

Next week, I’ll find an actual topic for the blog article, or die trying!

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