Get Me To The Hellenic! (retreat)

Having read EuripidesBacchae back in college, and hearing that the attendance at the first ever ADF Hellenic Kin Retreat would be five women and me, I was understandably concerned about what might happen to me there. Well, maybe not being literally torn to pieces, but it’s not often that I go to spend the night at someone else’s house with a bunch of people I don’t know that well. Actually, I don’t think I’ve done that since, um, ever. But Columbus isn’t that long a drive from here, and I certainly wanted to be involved with it. I was head of the Hellenic Kin for several years, but lack of money prevented me from attending festivals or doing much of anything with it beyond online activities. So any chance to see a real-world offshoot of the group I’d been with for so long was very appealing!

Although the retreat began on Friday, I had to stay in Ann Arbor for our Grove’s Coffee Hour that night, so I didn’t leave until Saturday morning. The drive to Irisa’s home in Columbus was uneventful, if hot. (Still better than working outside in those conditions, though!) When I got there, Jan, Janet and Irisa were making clay disks with Greek letters for use with Michel’s Greek Oracle system. I didn’t want to muck around with clay, but I may well do a craft workshop at our Lughnasadh for folks to make wooden disk versions.

While some of the folks went out to buy supplies, I took a nap, and did manage to wake up shortly before Anthony from Silver Falls Grove arrived, making me no longer the only man present and therefore safe from the being torn apart that surely would have befallen me that evening. We made some incense (and each got to take some of it home), then had dinner before the main ritual. Well, for me, since I missed the Hestia devotions the night before, it was the only ritual!

The rite itself was a small group version of the Panathenaea Festival, to honor Athena. I’d brought some of my altar items to place on Irisa’s hearth for the rite, as did some of the others, and I brought olive oil from my kitchen as an offering. It was definitely an unusual experience for me, to be doing a rite for my patroness where I wasn’t the one leading the ritual! It went very well, I didn’t even mind the energy work and grounding and centering stuff (I generally don’t mind them as much for small private ritual as I do for big public rites), and the omen was good and nobody died.

After the rite I tried to get to sleep, but couldn’t quite manage, so I went back downstairs just in time to not be able to join everyone in the hot tub because they all came inside when they saw lightning. (This is shaping up to be “The Year Without A Hot Tub” for me.) We stayed up late and talk for a while instead.

Sunday (this) morning, I got up earlier than everyone else (no surprise given my work schedule these days) and had breakfast and played Facebook games until everyone else was up. We did a quick closing ceremony before I headed back north to negligibly cooler climes. Odd to think that it was only a four hour drive, but I was still the one who had traveled the farthest for the Retreat!

So as far as I know, this was the first in-person retreat specifically for any of ADF’s Kins (not counting meeting at larger festivals), and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. As good as being in an online group can be (and that’s certainly better than nothing), nothing can compare to the work we do at in-person events, both in terms of a satisfying experience and of inspiring us to continue doing the work in our own homes and with our local Groves. I know that when I’m doing the Greek-themed events at our Lughnasadh in a few weeks, I’ll be thinking of the powerful experiences I had this weekend!

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

PS – Don’t forget the “Rolling Coin Ritual” planned for tomorrow (Monday the 26th) to help Isaac and Phaedra’s Bonewits with his medical expenses! More details can be found here.

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Out, Out, Darned Pagans!

Lately, many of the Pagan blogs have been talking about the whole “coming out” thing. Blame it on The Wild Hunt and its Pagan+Politics offshoot, where one of the regular contributors suggested an international “Pagan Coming Out Day”, which was of course followed by lots of other bloggers ranting about what a terrible terrible idea it was and how dare she try to pressure them into coming out and so on and so on. I’ll know that our movement has truly come of age when most of our members don’t assume that any suggestion that anyone makes for us is a command from on high, and I blame that on our status as a silent minority religion in our culture – which, ironically, might not be a problem if a few more of us were out. But before I move on, I’d best establish some ground rules, so my six readers don’t jump to the same erroneous conclusions that the Pagan+Politics readers seem to have done.

I don’t want anyone to risk their physical safety by coming out.

No, really, I’m not commanding you all to sacrifice your lives or health for the movement. We don’t have much of a martyrdom tradition in Neo-Paganism, and even if we did, that’s not a decision I get to make for anyone else. Granted, most Americans will never be in the same situation as the Lebanese P+P commenter who said that he could literally face a death sentence from his government if he publicly stated he was a Pagan, but if you really think you’re at risk, don’t do it. It ain’t worth it.

I don’t want anyone to risk their spiritual well-being by coming out.

This one’s a little more nebulous, of course, but I know that many Pagans out there are just plain uncomfortable being public. That’s not something that I personally get – and this is coming from someone who’s spent most of his life as a nerd desperately trying to avoid attention – but again, it’s not my place to tell anyone else how to deal with that. I suspect that most of the “closeted” Pagans would feel a lot better by not feeling like they had to hide things from the rest of the world. But I suspect that a lot of Pagans really enjoy the secrecy aspects of it. Personally, any allure of keeping my beliefs a secret from everyone else in the world died in me nearly twenty years ago, but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves.

I don’t want anyone to risk their job by coming out.

Sure, I’d like to think that people don’t get into trouble with their bosses because of such things, but I’m too much the realist to think it always works out that way. And even in that case, there’s always a chance of legal recourse, as opposed to the folks who don’t get hired in the first place because of their religion. If our local economy ever gets back to what things were like in the 1990’s, maybe I can make a comment about finding another job with a better employer instead, but for now, once again, that’s a decision you’ll have to make yourself.

“Coming out” just means being honest about your beliefs, not proselytizing or wearing pentagram necklaces to work or covering your car with Pagan bumper stickers or &c.

As often happens in any discussion among Pagans from vastly different traditions and backgrounds, a lot of the argument about whether to come out arises from differing definitions of the concept. I don’t have any bumper stickers nor do I wear my Grove necklace unless I’m going to an official Grove function, but I consider myself out. I think of being out as being honest with friends and family about who you are and what you do. That’s it. Wear the necklace to work if you really want to, but that’s not what “out” means to me. (If my knowledge of gay lingo is accurate, this is the difference between being “out” and being “out loud”, and I don’t think we need anyone to be “loud” in this sense.

So there we go, I’ve spent lots of text space convincing you that you don’t need to be out, or out loud. And yet I do think that everyone should be as out as they can be. (Well, maybe people with cars that look like this should be a little less out, if only for aesthetic reasons!) Why would I ask you all to do something that I admit is genuinely difficult? For the simple reason that it will make our community a better one. Maybe not right away, but years down the road. The Stonewall Riots happened less than a year after I was born, so I certainly don’t remember what life was like before then, but I do remember the 70’s pretty well, and the 80’s even better than that. I remember what a stigma it was to be gay in most parts of this country, and I’ve seen it slowly get better for them since that time. When I was in high school, most people didn’t think they knew anyone who was GLBT, except maybe their hairdresser. Now, most people do. When I was in college, anti-sodomy laws were still considered constitutional. Now, same-sex marriage is legal in several states and countries. And that didn’t happen because the GLBT folks stayed in their living rooms and did energy work. Nor did it happen just because of activist work, although that certainly helped. It happened because a few people were open about it, and that made a few more people feel comfortable enough to be open as well, and so on. Once they were visible, and in large numbers, it became that much harder for people to demonize them, or pretend that they didn’t really exist.

The same could happen for us if we’re up to the challenge. I know all too well that being a Pagan in the Ann Arbor area is like playing a computer game in “Easy” mode (if not “Trainer” mode), but that only inspires me to be even more out to make up for all of the Pagans who can’t. My family and friends have known about my religion for decades now, and I’m more than willing to do media interviews and other public appearances to talk about us. It would be easier (and maybe a little less stressful to me) if more Pagans out there would do the same. I know I won’t live long enough to see the “promised land” of full acceptance and tolerance by the mainstream culture, but it would be nice to see things change quickly enough that I can tell that it’s happening.

(And seriously, it’s about being open, not being in-your-face. Tone it down with the bumper stickers, folks. You’re scaring the horses.)

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

Picnic By The Riverside

And now that we’re into July, the summer slowdown is well and truly underway. Everyone seems to have a different reason for it – being out of town on vacation or at festivals, higher gasoline prices, or just plain not liking the heat – but our Grove’s events in July and August always have a lower turnout than at other times of the year. My attempts at getting folks to go mini-golfing in past years have usually gotten very low turnouts, Coffee Hour attendance gets a bit sparse, and even Lughnasadh doesn’t seem have the drawing power of any of our other outdoor High Day rites. So when Jude suggested a picnic as our summer social activity, I was hopeful that we could get a decent number of people there, but worried that nobody would show up at all.

Per Rodney’s suggestion, we scheduled the picnic at Bandemer Park on the north side of Ann Arbor, which I’d never visited until a few weeks ago. It’s a very compact park, created on a small piece of land, but it does amazingly well with the space it has. There’s a boat launch right on the Huron, perfect for sitting with one’s feet in the water (and for launching boats, I suppose), a nice picnic shelter, a fire circle (which I still haven’t seen myself), and a nine hole disc golf course, which was clearly the biggest draw in the park as I arrived on Sunday morning. Just about every car I saw pull in had people with discs getting out.

I set up in the picnic shelter, which I’d wanted to rent but the Parks Department wanted about $100 to rent either the shelter or the fire circle, which was well beyond what we could afford. But with the shelter empty and every visitor headed to the disc golf course, I figured we could use it up until someone else showed up to use it – which didn’t happen. (With that rental fee, I shouldn’t have been surprised that nobody else reserved it.) After half an hour of waiting and worrying, other folks did arrive, allaying my fears of a four-person picnic.

It was a very casual affair, with folks wandering about the park, visiting the river and the wooded areas around the shelter. After eating, we had our first official ritual of the day, a saining ritual for Jan. Since we hadn’t brought the full ritual regalia – or any of the ritual regalia – there was much improvising, with a small depression in the ground serving as the Well, and the barbecue grill by the shelter acting as the Fire. But I did remember to bring the Grove’s Blessed Water, and Jan certainly doesn’t object to me holding him, so the saining itself was easy enough. And so he is now welcomed and recognized as a fully individual member of our Grove.

After that, Paul, Rod and I tried out the golf discs I’d bought, with Valerie and Jan following us around the course. Since I had bought a three disc set, I ended up using the mid-range disc, Paul the driver, and Rod the putter for the whole course. And even with the heaviest of the discs, Rod still managed to win.  Hmph. It’s quite a fun sport, and I’ll probably enjoy it even more once I have any idea what I’m doing.

Back at the shelter, where everyone else had been sitting and talking, we ate some more and visited the river again, then Val led us in a Roman-style ritual, honoring Apollo, in which we offered stories and songs and poems to him. I sang my own composition “Hail to the Goddess Ana”, since I hadn’t prepared anything or brought my lyrics book. (Next year for sure!)

After that, we played some bocce before cleaning up the site and heading home. (But I stayed to play another round of disc golf, and not only managed to score even worse than on my first try, but injured myself slipping and sliding down a small hill – I now wonder if I’m the first person to end up bleeding during disc golf?)

So with an attendance of nine – huge by summer standards – and a good time had by all, I’m glad that we did the picnic instead of the mini-golf this year. I can go play mini-golf on my own time, and probably not even end up bleeding.  >8)

Next week, since every other Pagan blog seems to be talking about “coming out”, so will I.

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

A Life (Or At Least Three Months) Of Service

Ever since our founding back in the day, ADF has always strived to be a public and outward-looking organization. I don’t fault other people and groups for wanting to be closed and private if that’s their choice, but I’ve always felt that Paganism as a whole need to be more “out there”, both to improve our public image and to better honor our gods and our ways. That was just one more way in which ADF was the perfect place for me, and I still feel that way fourteen years later.

One requirement for ADF Groves that ties into this view is our public service requirement. At least once per quarter, every Grove must do some kind of service work for a local charity or nonprofit. (And even though our Groves are nonprofit organizations, working with ourselves doesn’t count.  >8) In past years, SLG has done lots of field work with the Huron River Watershed Council, food and dry good drives for Food Gatherers and the Humane Society, and once we even cleaned up a section of a MetroPark where someone had dumped a month or two worth of garbage among the trees. I learned some interesting things that evening, like how bad a turkey carcass can smell, and also that illegal dumpers generally aren’t smart enough to remove the evidence from their trash that would point right back to them, like, say, envelopes with their address on them.

For the current quarter, we’ll be doing another food and dry good drive for HARC, collecting the items at our Lughnasadh weekend on August 6th and 7th. Hopefully there will be a little less torrential downpour this year than there was last year, so we may actually get more than two bags’ worth of items!

One thing I’ve been thinking about lately is looking for a service activity that would actually get lots of us together at the same time and place and in the public eye. Food drives are very helpful, sure, but that just gets us a line in a list of donors on someone’s Web site. And the HRWC events are very visible, of course, but it’s been years since we’ve had more than two or three people attend one. I’d love to see a sizeable group of Druids show up somewhere and do good works in front of other people, for at least one of our quarterly events. Obviously we have to pick something that people would actually show up for, as too many of our Grove events are getting too little attendance these days. Ooh, there’s a thought, have one of the High Day rituals at a soup kitchen and trick everyone into showing up! But seriously, does anyone have any recommendations for something we could do as a group in real time?

On an unrelated note, don’t forget that our Grove Picnic will be next Sunday at Bandemer Park from noon to 6, and will include a saining ritual for Janek Hartzer, a Roman-style Ludi Apollinares ritual, and me trying to tune in the World Cup final on my portable radio. I may also pick up some discs to try out the disc golf course there. Please bring a dish to pass!

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