Visualize Whirled Peas

I sit here watching the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Any holdover of an ancient ritual always fascinates me, even if they’ve added a rock concert and people in spandex-with-Christmas-lights-built-in bouncing around in large transparent balls. The lighting of a sacred (even if they don’t use that word) flame at the beginning of a big event, and its extinguishing at the end, show what a primal and universal symbol fire still is.

But I already did a blog entry on the Olympic flame in 2008, so why repeat myself? Instead, I’ll mention another thing I saw during the coverage of the Games this year that was a little surprising and also a little bit pagan. Before one of the ski events, they showed clips of some of the athletes standing away from the ski run, their eyes closed, their hands and bodies swaying back and forth in the pattern of the course they were about to race on. The announcer said that this was an example of “visualization”, where they would run through the course in their minds before actually skiing on it, and apparently most of the skiers do this. I wasn’t surprised by their doing it, I already know about the experiments involving shooting a basketball and how visualization without practicing was nearly as effective as practicing alone. I guess I’m either surprised that they’d never shown it in earlier Olympic coverage, or surprised that they decided to show it this year. A sign of more acceptance of “New Age” practices? Or did they just have to work harder to fill their coverage?

Having a background in ceremonial magic before I joined ADF, I’ve been very familiar with using it as a magical technique as well. It’s definitely a useful skill to have when we do our meditation and contacting work at An Bruane, but it’s not something we use much in our High Day rites. Having studied and discussed visualization for twenty years now, I know all too well that not everyone is good at it, and I would never want to design a public ritual that members of the public wouldn’t be able to get something out of because they didn’t have the training or the aptitude for it. The interest level among my Grovemates in attending courses on magical techniques seems to be pretty low, I’m not sure whether this is from lack of interest or from people already having learned them elsewhere. We seem to do well enough without it.

ADF Vice ArchDruid Kirk Thomas has suggested that ritual leaders do a brief visualization of the various assembled Kindreds after their invocation, to help the participants feel their presence. Kalvin Thomas did this at the rite he led last weekend at ConVocation. I have to admit I felt it a little jarring, if only because it was phrased as “see the Nature Spirits enter, see the Ancestors enter, see the Gods enter”, and this was after we’d invited all three of the Kindreds already. While I’m not a Roman practitioner myself, I always feel that the only reason you go back and do a ritual part a second time is if you screwed it up the first time, and the whole time we were doing the visualization, I was thinking, “What? What did we do wrong, that we have to have them enter again?” If we do start using this technique at our own rituals (and I’m certainly inclined to try it out at least once), rest assured we’ll be telling people to see the assembled Kindreds already in the ritual space. No backsies in the liturgy!

And now I’ve seen William Shatner do a monologue for the closing ceremony, including a reference to making love in a canoe. I honestly thought he was going to do that Monty Python joke about American beer, and wondered if he would really use the F word on live television. Apparently not. Still, it’s good to be reminded that sometimes even an experienced practitioner cannot visualize things as bizarre as the real world can provide!

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

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ConVocation Journaling

(Being a series of entries written almost entirely from The Met Hotel in Troy, Michigan.)

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

10:58 AM

At home now, waiting for a ride from Rod and Liz. Nancy was kind enough to come over last night and get the hospitality bin and t-shirts, so I should be able to fit in Rod and Liz’s car. Everything is packed and ready to go!

4:15 PM

The suite is smaller than I expected, but does have a TV and fridge and microwave at least. Awaiting delivery of the chair and tables here so I can finish setup, then I can go actually register for the convention.

5:57 PM

Still waiting on the tables and chairs to show up after two phone calls to the front desk.  Grr.  At least I got signed in to the convention without any problems.

7:49 PM

Back from opening ritual. Not bad for a generic pagan rite, but I’m so not into energy raising as a ritual invocation technique any more. They brought in an eight foot tall tower (in keeping with this year’s convention theme) and people wrote things on it to show what they felt oppressed them. Nice idea, would have worked better if the tower wasn’t dark brown and we could have seen what was written! Tables arrived at about 6:15, nearly done setting everything up here.

Friday, February 19th

12:51 AM

And tonight was supposed to be the night people cleared out early. Ha! Eight people here sand they show no signs of slowing, fortunately I was going to stay up for a while playing Facebook games anyway. >8) Only a few new folks stopped by, including an odder-than-usual appearance from Jeana Jordan, who gave us roses and chocolate-covered ginger Altoids. Mostly it’s been Grove members using the room as a safe haven from the insanity of the convention atmosphere. Between 8 and 9 it was just me, Paul, Val, and Janek, most other folks were at classes, and I kinda wanted to visit the Northern Grove ritual just to see what they’re like, I only know them from their e-mail announcements, but someone had to watch the room. The perils of being both a pagan leader and a responsible person! After classes let out, we had quite the crowd here. And still do! Lots of talking, lots of watching Janek not quite stand up by himself, and of courser we watched the men’s figure skating finals.

8:52 AM

Folks finally left around 2 AM, got to bed 45 minutes later. Now playing Dr. Horrible on the telly while I clean up last night’s mess. Gods I hope the housekeeping staff can give us more trash cans, there seems to be a desperate shortage. Anyone who thinks that having “more power in ADF” is desirable probably doesn’t realize that playing housemaid before and after events is the most noticeable change when you do!

12:39 PM

A quiet morning in the suite, a few folks stopped by. Not being a coffee drinker, I always underestimate the effect that that has to attract people to the room! After folks were back from classes, I went to the Merchant Room, and I definitely need to go back to pick up gemstones and other supplies before I go. The Art Room was okay, nothing I fell in love with. The one nude print had Post-It notes over the naughty bits. No, really.

4:10 PM

Nobody showed up for our schedule Run Valdr class here in the room. We all went to the “what do we know about the Druids” class at 2, which was actually quite good. Other than his claim that there were probably no female druids, I didn’t disagree with any of it. Bursts of loud laughter from the room next door did make for some odd commentary, though! Back at the room now, and several people are finding that their room keys don’t work any more. The hotel is definitely having issues this weekend.

8:29 PM

And the room party is in full swing, or as full a swing as we ever manage. People are slowly arriving, the folks from Cedarsong Grove got here a few hours ago as well. Nobody came by for my talk on chthonic deities, I guess that no topic can outdraw dinner! Noal and I stopped by the “meet your local group” event in the meetup room, which was a dozen group leaders and one new person, which was about what I expected.

Saturday, February 20th

12:18 AM

The room party is now at its most crowded, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me. Good thing I can sleep in on Monday! We’ve been watching Olympic coverage on TV, including the skeleton runs, and also playing “the twelve point zero zero zeroes”, the Vulcan version of the dozens. “Your mama is so dumb, when the engineer told her to put fuel in the antimatter drive, she threw her daddy’s sister in there!” No, I’m not drunk. The drunk people are behaving even more weirdly than I am.

10:38 AM

Folks did indeed stay chatting until 2 AM again, I got to bed right after that. Room cleaning didn’t take too long, we’re apparently a neat and tidy bunch this year. Left the room a bit after 9 (after extensive Mouse Hunt discussion with Dylan) for the Odin ritual being done by Twilight Flame. This being Kalvin’s first ritual ever at the convention, Rod and I went over stuff with him to make sure it would be understandable to the ConVo crowd. The rite started on time (one advantage of having the earliest time slot of the day) and went very well, I think the non-ADF folk “got” what was happening. Simple openings and offerings, then sacrifices to Odin, the omen was good (Nauthiz- Fehu – Ingwaz, need is addressed by resources and leads to harmony) and nobody died! Best part for me was seeing Kalvin walk around the circle wile doing invocations, since I’m the only one in SLG who does that, I really had no clue what it looked like from an observer’s perspective, it looked very cool! Attendance was 29 including Kestrel who arrived late. Very good to see our Regional Druid there (who had to leave for work right after the rite ended), Barbara Wright, and the folks from up north, who I’ve never gotten to do ritual with before. We’re back in the room now, relaxing.

4:05 PM

Val and I went to the merchant area and I picked up some supplies: soaps, incense, gemstones, and rooibos tea. The woman with peppermint lip balm was out, someone bought her whole stock yesterday (there must have been at least two dozen just in the basket) but she may have more tomorrow. Back in the room, three different people have napped on the other bed (besides the one I’ve been using) just this afternoon. Combined with nobody coming for my planned talk on ADF cosmology, it’s clear that the suite is far more useful to our members as a sanctuary than to outré org as a teaching tool, which is fine. I guess people are actually eating and shopping during the eating-and-shopping breaks. Kim and Gen have arrived as well, we’ll see who else is still coming!

9:54 PM

Nobody showed up specifically for the Study Program discussion at 5:30, completing the sweep of zero attendance for any of our in-suite workshops, yay! Melissa and Amy did discuss SP issues with me briefly, though, so that sort of counts. I went to dinner at Desoto’s in the hotel and paid way too much for what barely counted as a salad bar and taco bar, but the steak pieces were marinated and very yummy, and despite what people assume about me, I really do enjoy eating salad. Crowding forced me to share a table, but Bona Dea was a very pleasant dining companion. It’s a pity the place seemed so desperately understaffed, I wonder if they underestimated how many people would be here this weekend, or if they just plain don’t have enough staff in general. Back in the room at 7, people have been milling in and out all evening, then Cedarsong folks who are rooming in the other hotel used the suite to change for the masquerade ball, another useful thing for which to have a suite at the convention. Game Night started early, with Paul and I deducing the rules of Druidenwalzer (Waltz of the Druids) from the well-written German manual and the inadequate English translation the importer supplied, and we now have our third game of Carcassonne going. The Wicker Man is now playing on the TV. I’ll try to head down to the ballroom at some point.

Sunday, February 21st

1:35 AM

An earlier wrap-up to the evening than I had expected. >8) More games were played, including some folks attempting to start a game of Pillars of the Earth after 11 PM, which was doomed to failure. We watched Olympic curling on the TV, and I did journey down to the ballroom area to see the drumming (ah, energy raising, you’re good for fun, but I just can’t get into using you as a ritual technique any more), and I did dance the Time Warp at midnight, and looked around at the forty-somethings dancing to 80’s Retro music and was sad to realize that this was not an ironic statement of some sort. Back in the room, most folks went home or back to their rooms, I’m just keeping the room open because a few people have left their belongings here, and also Amy and Melissa from Cedarsong will be using the other bed in the main room tonight.

8:42 PM

I’d been hoping to do a morning report at the hotel, but the Kellers and Liz both took ill so we decided to pack everything up as quickly as possible and get going. I’m very glad we didn’t schedule any open room hours for today! Kalvin, Amy, Melissa and Joel stopped by to help us, and we posed for the official ADF picture, or as close to one as we were going to get. I stopped by the merchant room but they still didn’t have the peppermint lip balm, I’ll have to catch her at Michigan Mayfest and hope that she doesn’t get bought out early again. And now I’m home again and unpacking.

So all in all, was an enjoyable and strange experience, meeting people I haven’t seen in (literally) years, not attending many classes or rituals (but I really only missed one or two that I had any inclination to see, this year’s lineup just did not appeal to me personally, how many different forms of energy work do I need to hear about?), and while the suite didn’t fulfill its mission of providing education and information to the convention attendees, it certainly did fulfill its role as a sanctuary and staging area for the many ADF members who attended. Hopefully we can once again pull off the minor miracle of getting enough money to do this again next year, and maybe entice more ADF members from further afield to attend as well.

(The question now is, will I be able to attend Wellspring this year?)

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

On Fighting the Right Fights

Between Valentine’s Day and getting ready for ConVocation next weekend, this definitely won’t be a long entry, but I did want to state a point on one particular topic.

Once again stealing, er, being inspired by something from Jason Pitzl-Waters’ Wild Hunt Blog, I wanted to comment on the “desecration” of the newly created worship area for Pagans at the Air Force Academy. I understand how much that sucks for the young men and women who are actually there at the Academy (I know how freaked out I would have been if something like this happened to me at that age, Hek, even now I’d be a little rattled by it), and I hope that they will work with patience and determination to address this incident and continue with their rituals and other practices there.

That said, though, I hope that we Neo-Pagans in general can distinguish between “systemic acts of oppression carried out by those in power” and “things that a couple of drunk and/or stupid teenagers can accomplish by themselves at three in the morning”. Really, is leaving a cross there the worst thing that could have happened? Even a spray painted cross would have been harder to clean up. And more importantly, the officials at the Academy (the same ones who set up the space per their students’ requests in the first place) have condemned the act. Is crying foul on this act of cowardice really the best use of our energy? Will it change the culprits’ minds, or stop them from doing it again?

For those who think that it really is worth it (and I know there are plenty of ya out there, and I respect your opinion even if I disagree with it.), I hope that you’ll devote at least as much of your time and energy (and possibly money as well) to support Patrick McCollum’s lawsuit to allow prisoners in California to take part in “second tier” religions. The Lady Liberty League has some suggestions on their Web site. Or just take time out to write to the Colorado state senator who seems to think that oppressing Christians is wrong, but Christians oppressing other religions is cool. Even he has more of a potential to hurt us that the USAFA vandals do.

Next week, I’ll keep a log throughout the convention and post it here on Sunday night. If you’re there, please stop by our Grove’s suite (room 128, so they tell me), and if you can’t be there, feel free to follow my posts from the convention on Twitter or Facebook!

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

Welcome To The Doll’s House?

After my ponderings in last week’s entry about our failure to get anyone to participate in our Brídeog processional again this year and whether we needed to look for a new hearth goddess for our Grove, I wasn’t sure what to expect from our Imbolc ritual this year. A good omen, or a bad omen? A truly inspiring presence among us, or the building catching fire in the middle of the rite? And I was more worried that we really hadn’t come up with any great ideas at our first Liturgists’ Roundtable meeting, and I couldn’t be at Coffee Hour to talk about it because I was out of town. But our second Roundtable went fairly well, even if Rodney and I were once again the only people who showed up (I can never tell whether that’s from apathy or that my Grovemates just trust us to be able to create good rituals without them), we had a few good ideas that would change things up from last year, and so away we went!

Friday night’s Fire Lighting wasn’t anything spectacular. Our Yule and Spring Equinox pre-ritual fire ceremonies involve making ornaments or dyeing eggs for the rite, so there’s always a lot of crafty stuff to get done, but for Imbolc we really don’t have anything like that. Barbara and Liz went outside to lay the Bratach Bríd outside on a bush for the night so Bríd could bless it during her wanderings, and then we all sat inside and talked for a while. No, it’s not high energy or life changing, but not every ritual needs to be!

The next morning, I took the bus into town early, and since there’s a yoga class that uses the space every Saturday morning, I didn’t want to arrive too early, so I went to Pinball Pete’s for a while and played pinball for the first time in ages. (“Attack From Mars” was always a favorite of mine!) I timed it so I would arrive at the Friends Meeting right at 12:30, when they yoga folks are usually leaving – and the parking lot was deserted, and nobody was in the basement. Hmm. A bit odd, but it gave me plenty of time to relax before the rite. Rod and Liz arrived a bit after 1 with the ritual props and we got everything set up with plenty of time to spare.

So 2 o’clock rolled around, and then 2:15, and we had all of eleven people in the basement at that point. Given how sunny it was outside, I was surprised by the low attendance, since driving conditions wouldn’t be a concern for anyone used to Michigan winters, and the rite was indoors so cold wouldn’t be an issue either. Then folks started showing up, and by 2:45 we had our usual crowd of over twenty. It’s like everyone just got there half an hour later than usual.

So we got started way late as well (after 3), but things went fairly smoothly, no huge errors in the ritual performance, and the 8-month-old crawling around the circle didn’t come close to doing anything dangerous. For our focus object, we passed one of the Bríd Crosses that we’d made at the previous weeks An Bruane, which we’d intended to give out at the Brídeog, but I think I already said how that went. >8) After singing “Way to the Well” and offering the cross to our Bríd dolly, Rod took the omen, and it was good (Wunjo – Kenaz – Ansuz? I may be misremembering that last one). For our return blessing, we’d set up three altars around the bilé, one with a knife for folks to hold in a candle flame (for her smithing aspect), one with a mortar and pestle for folks to crush lavender (for her healing aspect), and one with two sheet of handmade paper for folks to write or draw on (for her bardic aspect). We also gave out pieces of the cloth we’d left out the night before, for folks to sew into their clothing or whatever other use they want to put it to.

After that, we closed things up, and had our potluck (just about everyone brought something with cheese in it, we need to diversify next year!) and our raffle, and Sean helped the kids make edible bird feeders out of bread, peanut butter, and seed. Most folks stayed long after the rite ended, and when I left at 5:45 because my ride was there, I think about half of the crowd was still there!

So all in all, it was a great ritual, and I think we all felt a special connection to Bríd and to our Grove and our community because of it. Yes, it’s frustrating sometimes to try to organize community-oriented things at a time of year when most people are more inclined to stay at home by themselves, and as I said in the statement of purpose, it’s always going to be a challenge for us to adapt what was a household ritual in ancient Ireland into a holiday for a large group of people who live all around southeastern Michigan, but we in ADF are usually up for a challenge like that, and the rewards can be wonderful.

(But I’m still looking forward to spring!)

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