Wednesday Night’s All Right For Writing Rites

A much less eventful weekend this time than last, but that’s the nature of putting on public High Day rituals, eh? The weather here yesterday would have been lovely for an outdoor rite, today’s weather not so much. But I did go out into the wooded area behind the house to find a suitable branch for my “Easter Tree” this year. Really I should have had it set up before the official date of the equinox last Saturday, but this whole full-time job thing has definitely thrown my schedule off…

Oh, yes, I have a full-time job now. I hesitate to mention it because I consider this a Grove blog more than a personal one, but ultimately having a much bigger income from my “real job” will free me up to do more for the Grove and for my clergy studies, and will get me a car on the road again, which in turn will let me actually attend events that aren’t on an Ann Arbor bus line. Now I can find out what all of the metro Detroit pagans are up to, and maybe even get to Wellspring this year! I’m now a full-time meter reader with Accu-Read, wandering through people’s yards and reading electric and gas meters. They say it’s the worst job in the world if you hate numbers or dogs, so I think I should have no problems. >8)

The only Grove event we have for the next week – for the next two weeks, now that I look at the calendar – is our An Bruane session on Wednesday. We’ll be going over our ritual plans for the Fire Blessing Rite we’ll be performing at Michigan Mayfest in a month. They need the order of service by Thursday if we want it in the program book, so that works out. Since we knew another group was doing a Maypole dance ritual, I thought it would be good to go with something more traditionally Celtic, and I know that Beltinne (literally “Bel’s fire”) was a time when livestock and/or people were blessed by fire. Sadly, I don’t have a whole lot of Celtocentric research materials here at home, so seeking any further info on what the ancients did may be difficult. (Why oh why didn’t I say we’d be doing a Greek ritual instead? That I could research at home!) So I’ll get a basic outline put together, do what research I can, and we’ll talk it out on Wednesday and see what inspiration tells us. No, An Bruane isn’t always an exciting meeting, but it’s usually an important one, and I definitely want this to be a good ritual, since it will be the first ADF-style ritual that most of these folks will have seen.

Next week’s topic… I have no clue yet. Maybe a follow-up to my one a few weeks ago on the role of Pagan clergy, since I did address why I thought it was a good idea, but didn’t address why others think it’s a bad idea. And I know how much my five readers love trudging through a rebuttal!

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

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Snow Is Coming, It Must Be Spring!

For me, the ritual weekend actually started early on Friday afternoon, as I took the bus into Ypsilanti and stopped by Riverside Park and Frog Island Park. As I mentioned in my entry last fall, I always try to spend some time with the Huron River before any ritual I lead where Ana is the Deity of the Occasion. The park was a bit more crowded this time (not surprising, given how early in the day I got there last time), but it was still good to spend time with Grandfather Elm by the soccer field, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they’ve finally finished rebuilding the dock/pavilion after what feels like years! The river was running high and fast, surprising given how little rain we’d gotten so far that week.

After that, I went to Rod and Liz’s house in Ann Arbor for our winter-style indoor Fire Lighting ritual. We had a new person show up who found out about us from a Pagan Michigan posting on Facebook, so hey, Facebook is proving itself useful! We dyed the eggs for the ritual (and I feel like I should have brought some eggs from home so I could dye them for myself, we had so much dye made for so few eggs!) and assembled the seed packets we would give out for the return flow. Since I’d found two different kinds of large boxes of wildflower mix, one for shade and one for sun, I’d bought two kinds of fabric for the pouches, one a light yellow with flowers (for sunny), the other dark brown with owls and flowers (for shady). As always for the winter ones, the crafts portion of the ritual took an hour and a half, and the fire blessing took about 45 seconds. >8)

The next morning, I got a ride into Ann Arbor with my mom so I could bring all of my ritual accoutrements, and also stopped by Kinko’s – wait, sorry, Fed Ex Business Center or whatever they’re calling themselves now – to get the newsletters and orders of service printed up. I got to the Friends Meeting at about 11:30, which is about an hour earlier than even I want to get to the ritual site! The yoga group that I thought met from 10 to noon wasn’t there, but they’d written some things on the chalkboard, so I assume they’re just meeting earlier now. So I set up as much as I could, which took until 12:15 or so, and then just logged on to my laptop and waited for the ritual items to arrive.
Which they did a bit after 1, so Rodney and I set up the ritual circle while Liz frosted her cupcakes. We were done at 1:30, and I always feel like I can do the ritual better if things are ready to go in plenty of time! Candy, Serena and Fred arrived early, so we chatted for a while. As usual, most folks didn’t arrive until after 2, and some didn’t arrive until nearly 3. (Some day, I will start the ritual at 2 no matter how few people are there, just to keep people on their toes.)

We started a bit after three, with our usual ritual opening. Since my grandfather passed away last month, I did the Ancestors invocation myself. Since I consider someone with a recently-deceased family member to be spiritually closer to the Realm of the Ancestors, I always offer that role to anyone who I know has had that happen. Some folks take me up on it, some don’t, even I won’t obsess over that one too much, but I think it’s a good way to keep our Grove rituals meaningful to us as individuals.

Once the opening was done, we went outside for our usual egg hunt. Rodney and Jen (not Gen) had hidden the eggs, and Rodney told me he’d put most of them in obvious places because it was really cold outside and he didn’t want to be out there any longer than he had to. (The forecast early in the week had said it would be 60 and sunny, and I was worried that we’d get complaints about having to do the ritual indoors. The high ended up being 42, and it was cloudy, so no complaints were made.) We then went back inside and I told the story of Ana, and I hadn’t remembered that I didn’t do the story last year, so I felt way out of practice with it, I really wish I’d rehearsed it beforehand, but I thought it was passable. After offering the collected eggs to Ana, Rodney took the omen, and it was good (Wunjo – Uruz – Peorth), so we passed the seed packets around for everyone to take one (or two, we had plenty for the 25 people who attended) and I took the water bowl we used for purification around so folks could bless their own seeds and tools. (I blessed my laptop and flash drive – hey, did I ever say I was a gardener?)

And we closed things up and had a good potluck (which was actually meatless, even though most of us weren’t bothering to do the official Meatout Day as proclaimed by Governor Granholm), and Sean had the kids (and a few of the adults, myself included) plant a few starter seeds. For the first time in many years, I actually had the first winning raffle ticket! I went home with a small pot of two daffodils (we’ll see how long I can keep them alive, as I said, I’m no gardener) (then again my live tree from last Yule is still alive three months later, and I’ve never managed that before) and a pack of two yo-yo’s. And we got things cleaned up and left a bit after 6.

All in all, a very good ritual, and I’m once again glad that we did it indoors. Obviously I’d love to have a site where we have both an indoor and outdoor option available to us and can decide on the day of the ritual, but I like the feel of the Friends Meeting, and I’m kind of sad that we only ever do two rituals there per year. I’m also a little sad that the only new folks I saw came in after the ritual started and left just a few minutes after it ended without talking to anyone – what, are we that scary? But it’s good to spend time with so many friends, it’s good to do ritual, it’s good to honor our river mother, and it’s even better to know that spring is finally here!

Except that it snowed a little today. But that’s Michigan for you.

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

Clergy! Good Gods, Y’all! What Are They Good For? Absolutely Something!

My views on the role of Pagan clergy have definitely changed since I started down this path twenty years ago. (Egads, that means that next year it will officially have lasted for half of my life.) Back in my early twenties, when I heard the phrase “every Pagan is their own priest”, I thought it was totally cool and revolutionary and stuff. Fight the power!

Given how old I am now, I guess a slightly more conservative attitude was inevitable, and if anything I’m a little surprised how much of a “fight the power” kind of guy I still am. But on the clergy thing, I’ve completely changed. Now I see that “everyone is their own priest” thing as elitist claptrap. Sure, every Pagan *can* act as their own priest, I’m definitely not claiming to have any special relationship with the gods in general, and certainly not with someone else’s household gods. I’m definitely a “Protestant Pagan” in that sense. But spending this much time as a Pagan, and as a Senior Druid, and as a Dedicant Clergyperson in ADF, I know all too well that not everyone *wants* to be their own Priest. And further – and here’s the bit I know will get some people out there angry with me – not everyone is *good* at it either. Many people through the years have asked me for help creating personal household rituals or ideas for their altars, and I’m not about to tell them to figure it all out for themselves. Nor the folks without the experience or self-confidence to do their own ritual or magical work. Yeah, I suppose I could run a thirteen-week class to teach people everything they need to know (assuming I had the patience to be a teacher), but is that really something most people want to commit to? Sure it would be great if everyone was an expert at household ritual. It would also be great if everyone could sew their own clothing and fix all of their own car problems. Reality doesn’t work that way, and I’m happy to share my knowledge and experience – which I’ve put a lot of my own time and effort into acquiring – with those who hear the call of the old gods but don’t necessarily know what to do about it.

I think that Pagan clergy can also fill other roles besides helping people with their personal religious practices, of course. In addition to leading group ritual with our Groves or other kinds of groups, we can perform specialized rituals like weddings, funerals, and sainings (or whatever we’re calling Pagan baptisms these days), which most people wouldn’t need to do for themselves more than a few times in their lifetime, and so might not have the chance or the inclination to get good at performing them.
And since the clergy of other religions perform pastoral counseling, I think our clergyfolks should be ready to do the same. (No, I’m not thrilled with the word “pastoral” in this context, as I certainly don’t think of other Pagans as sheep, but I have yet to hear a term that would mean something similar to most people. I’ve heard “professional helping” used before, but to me a professional helper is someone who picks up your dry cleaning and drops the kids off at soccer practices while you’re at work, not someone you talk to about your problems.)

I think that prison work is important, too, and definitely not something we can take a “let them be their own priest” attitude toward. These are folks who want at least a little external guidance in their practices and their interactions with the gods. And prisons generally aren’t keen on letting random pagans come into the prison to help with rituals, they require some kind of official recognition of clergy status. I just got a letter from a prisoner in Adrian who is leading rituals for his Pagan group, only because nobody else in the group feels capable of it, and he desperately wants a clergyperson’s advice, if not their presence. Should we tell him to figure it out himself? And hope that the other prisoners still get something out of the rituals?

And of course, there’s the hardest part about being a Pagan clergyperson, and the main reason I haven’t been able to convince anyone of my Grovemates that they can be Senior Druid instead of me: the public relations part of it. Whether we like it or not, the media doesn’t want to do interviews with random Pagans who claim to be authorities on the subject, and when they look for someone to interview for their Halloween or summer solstice articles, the letters R E and V in front of someone’s name are a good sign in their view. And when prison chaplains, or hospital chaplains, or other authorities are looking for information on what Pagans do and need, the same rule applies. No, I definitely don’t feel like I know everything I should about our traditions, and I probably still won’t even after I finish the Third Circle of the ADF Clergy training Program, but I definitely know enough to be helpful in those situations, and I honestly think that one good newspaper article (well, newspaper Web site article, these days) or helping one prisoner or hospital patient to honor their gods and make themselves get better is worth more than a hundred angry letters about how someone has denigrated the name of Paganism somewhere.

So if you don’t think you need a priest to practice your Paganism, I’m fine with that. But as a whole, I think our movement needs well-trained clergy out there, or we’ll forever be spinning our wheels reinventing the wheel – no, wait, that metaphor’s too weird even for me. Or we’ll forever be struggling, both in terms of taking care of our own and being taken seriously by others.

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

On Cranes And Lightning (Hold The Syrup)

I was hoping to write this week’s article about the maple syrup-gathering party at former Senior Druid Fox’s farm yesterday, but something else came up and I was forced to cancel. Hopefully I’ll be able to attend other farm-related activities later in the year and tell you about them, but in the meantime, those of you wondering what Fox was up to, that’s what he’s up to!

I did manage to see The Lightning Thief this afternoon, and was actually pretty impressed! I’ve started the book but haven’t gotten very far into it (damn me and my reading stuff for my ADF/SLG functions instead), and from what I’ve read, I’m sure I’ll like the book better than the movie. Certainly I had a few issues with it, like the depiction of Hades as a bad guy and Persephone as his prisoner (but I’d still call it more accurate than that dreadful History Channel show about them), and Percy’s use of fresh water to activate his “Poseidon powers” (the ancient Greeks considered “sweet (fresh) water” and salt water to be almost entirely different substances, certainly in terms of divine powers and magico-religious usage – at least a mention of “fresh water doesn’t work as well as salt water” would have made me happier). Still, it was a decent story, with a few neat twists (recasting the Land of the Lotus Eaters from The Odyssey as a Las Vegas casino was sheer brilliance), and the basic message of heroes fighting to maintain the relationship between humans and gods certainly fits with the themes of the ancient stories. (I’m actually getting worried about the new version of Clash of the Titans coming out next month, as the commercials are making it look like the theme is “mankind outgrowing/defeating the gods”, which would be quite the turnoff for me, and obviously not in keeping with the old stories.)

On a much more modern note, after getting my tax refund money, I finally ordered Call of the Crane, the manual for ADF’s first approved Order, the Order of the Crane. I admit to some trepidation about approving Orders in general, since I worry that having subgroups within ADF that maintain secrets and mysteries isn’t the best way to promote an outward-looking public Pagan church. On the other hand, the Ancients certainly had very similar groups within their cultures (the phratries of ancient Greece come to my mind first, of course!) and ADF members definitely want to explore this form of devotion within an ADF context, so I’m all in favor of letting things proceed and seeing what happens.

The book is very well written, that’s for sure! It reminds me a lot of the various ceremonial magic(k) texts I read twenty years ago in my earliest days of spiritual exploration. Suggesting that people actually have to do particular things on a regular basis to build their relationship with a spirit is something we don’t see often enough in Neo-Paganism, IMHO. It was a little odd reading all the written prayers, though, since that’s something we really don’t do much of in SLG. There’s good and bad in having everyone do the ritual invocations without a pre-written script, of course. One of the bad is that we’re never going to be able to sell a breviary like other Groves do. >8)

So am I going to join the Order? Honestly, I haven’t decided yet. I like the idea of it, but I don’t want to overcommit myself, and my work with SLG and the ADF Clergy Council will always come first in my priorities. I’ve already promised myself and my gods that I’d get Third Circle clergy status at some point, and I have to be very careful about taking on anything else that would get in the way of that. Also, I’m the official clergy advisor for another Order that’s forming, and I think I’d need to make my involvement with the Order I’m actually advising a higher priority than any other Order! But I definitely like the Cranes’ focus on service, and once I’m living someplace better than this apartment in the bad part of Ypsilanti, I’d love to have people over for the monthly healing circles. So we shall see.

Next week, I pontificate – or should that be druidicate? – on the role of clergy in a modern Neo-Pagan group.

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