I Never Thought I’d Comment On A Senate Race In This Blog

I almost feel like I’m coming late for the conversation on Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s claims of having “dabbled into witchcraft” twenty years ago. The news cycle is so short these days that a weekly blog like this can miss the entire life of a news story, even one with as much staying power as this one, and it looks like most other Pagan blogs have already said their piece and moved on. But the comedians are still working with the story (I really like Kristen Wiig’s version on SNL this weekend) and there’s one aspect of the coverage that still bothers me, so here goes.

Maybe – no, probably – it’s hard for me to get worked up about this just because I haven’t self-identified as a witch or Wiccan for over fifteen years now. I try to imagine if she’d talked about eating off of a Druid altar instead of a Satanic one, and I feel… Nah, I’d feel no different about it. Nor would  feel bad about watching political pundits and satirists talking about Druids, though I’d probably prepare myself for any questions that the local media asked me, since I’m one of the first contacts they find when they have a deadline approaching and do a Google search  for a local Pagan to ask stuff. But I’m one of those Pagans who think that most publicity helps us to gain acceptance, and I know that other Pagans either disagree with that or would prefer that we keep ourselves hidden. Or maybe I just don’t care what people think about me. Hard to say.

When I saw the recently released clip of her from Politically Incorrect (which I actually did watch regularly, though I can’t remember whether I saw that particular show), my first thought was that she was just plain lying. Her track record suggests that, certainly back in those days, she craved media attention, and I wouldn’t put it past her to lie or exaggerate in order to get it.

But okay, let’s assume that she was relating a real experience of hers as best as she could. Are we really so certain that this was a religious ritual of any sort? Or was this a boy trying to impress a girl in a dark way? Teenaged boys have done far stranger things in the hope of getting laid, haven’t they? If every high-schooler who said they were involved with Satanism actually was involved with Satanism, they’d probably be one of the largest non-Christian sects in the country. (Assuming that we define Satanism as non-Christian, which I know can be argued.)

But okay, let’s assume that this was an actual rite with religious intent that this kid was attempting to share with young Ms. O’Donnell. How do we know that he wasn’t a Satanist? What makes us assume that he must have been a Wiccan, and that O’Donnell mistakenly assumed(or decided through the interpretation of her later Christian faith) that he was a Satanist? There are some self-described Satanists out there, and they sometimes call what they do “witchcraft” too. Wiccan’s don’t have the word trademarked.

And that’s the part of this story that I find most upsetting. So many Pagans out there are expressing their dismay with the liberal politicians and pundits for using this story as a way to make O’Donnell look bad for their own purposes, and ignoring the feelings of real Pagans. (As though any religion should rely on the support of political commentators to justify its existence!) And yet I see many Pagans doing the exact same thing to the Satanists, jumping right into the arguments to defend their beliefs and practices without even acknowledging the possibility that the actual practices we’re talking about weren’t their own. Kudos to CBS News for interviewing an actual Satanist about the story, and further kudos to said Satanist for including Wiccans in his description of what Wiccans do and don’t do. But no kudos to the many Pagans out there who don’t seem to know or care about the other kinds of “witchcraft”. (For that matter, do we know it wasn’t an African-American boy performing native African magic? That’s been called “witchcraft” too.)

It saddens me to see a group that I consider so dedicated to the feelings of others acting so counter to their usual selves. I’ve known a few self-described Satanists, and they were all either minor nutjobs or total nutjobs in my opinion, but they at least deserve to have their existence acknowledged so people can make up their own minds about them. But would it really be so hard to add a “well it might have been a Satanic rite but that’s not what we Wiccans do” nod to the debate? If only the Wiccans could come up with some kind of rule to encourage themselves to treat others with respect, and maybe they would get that respect in return in a grand cosmic sort of way, maybe even multiplied by a factor of some sort, a number between, I don’t know, two and four? That might be an act of magic worth the effort. Just a thought.

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


Feels Like Fall Is Finally Here

It was definitely an odd week leading up to our ritual weekend. The early weather forecast said mostly sunny and no chance of rain on Friday or Saturday, which slowly turned to scattered showers and then to definite rain on Friday and part of Saturday. I started an article on orthopraxy and acceptance in ADF, which after three paragraphs I knew would come across as a series of whiney personal attacks (even more so than my usual articles) so had to ditch that on Thursday night, and then on Friday the Kellers sent me two different messages that they’d be late for Fire Watch, and then arrived before I’d gotten the fire lit. Fortunately, Fire Watch itself went smoothly enough, with the fire nice and large before the rain came 9thanks in part to Sean’s portable air mattress pump) and Matt stopped by and said that my desktop PC should be working in a few days so I won’t have to keep using this tiny toy-sized keyboard on this laptop!

After getting up early to make sure the ballots and orders or service were done, I went to Kinko’s to get them printed and copied (plus the new issue of Shining Lakes News that Gen had gotten done on Friday night) and stop by Bandemer Park (site of our Grove picnic in July) to spend time by the river, as I try to do before any ritual where we honor Ana. Having a car sure made it a lot easier than last year’s fall-body workout, though! I thought about getting in some disc golf at Bandemer, but even with the rain that morning, there was a line of people at the course. (Is there any weather they won’t play in?) So I got to Botsford in plenty of time to get things set up. Once Rod and Liz arrived, wit Barbara and her friends helping to carry and set thing up, the space was ready well before 2, which always makes me happy.

Nineteen people raved the potential rain to be there. The clouds were low in the sky, but the weatherman’s morning promise of four hours without rain held true as we started down the path to the nemeton. I forgot to have Rob (no, not me, the other one) do the Outsider offering up at the fire circle, but since he’d brought his offering down to the nemeton, that worked out for the best. The rest of the opening portion went smoothly, even the unity song Paul wrote last year and I couldn’t remember the tune and the only MIDI I had of it was on the aforementioned not-yet-working desktop PC. (Though in fairness, Paul couldn’t remember the tune either.)

The ritual outline had us passing the cornucopia full of gourds around the circle and then decorating the gourds, as we did last year, but I felt it would be better to have the decorated gourds used as the focus object for the individual praise offerings, so I switched that up. (Yes, on purpose. I do that sometimes.) The downside was that it didn’t give the Stag Dancers a graceful way to leave the nemeton quietly while Rodney got everyone chanting “Hoof and Horn”, but oh well, I don’t think we were disruptive, and it’s not like people didn’t know the dance was coming. After a quick costume change in the woods, we came down the path and oh so subtly tried to signal to everyone that they needed to be clapping. (I need to tattoo that to Rodney’s hand next year!) The dance itself went as well as usual, other than the raffia “skirt” I wear around my head not quite falling to pieces as I danced, our Producers really need to make us a replacement next year. We then took the gourds and apples out into the woods as our offering, and the omen was good (Algiz – Mannaz – Fehu), and so we had cider and donuts as our return flow.

Once we closed up the space and ended the rite, we got everything packed up quickly, just in case that four hour window of no rain ended early, but other than a sprinkle for a few minutes, we didn’t get any rain for the rest of the afternoon. We did the potluck and the raffle (sadly I didn’t get the book of the Havamal), and Sean had the children do leaf pressings in contact paper, which I can actually remember doing as a child myself. And a good time was had by all! Or at least nobody complained about it too much. Our two new attendees, David and Breezy, said they really enjoyed it, and I personally felt a real sense of connection and peace during and after the rite. Or maybe I was just coming down from all the frantic preparations I’d been doing all week, hard to say. Either way, it was worth it! Fall is here, and I can actually spend time outside without feeling like I’m going to melt! Hail Autumn!

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

PS – For whatever odd reason which is beyond my comprehension, we got the “Journal of the Week” award from our hosting site. By the time you read this, it’ll be a new week and we won’t be listed as current winners, but here’s a button to prove that we won it, for whatever that’s worth:

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Not To Be Confused With Marvel Supervillain Midnight’s Fire

Some folks have asked me why I never attended the one and only ADF festival that’s been held here in my home state of Michigan since, well, since our Grove stopped doing our big Lughnasadh in 2002. Sadly, the nswer was pretty straightforward: utter lack of money and car, plus a job that wouldn’t let me get a Saturday off easily. (Getting High Days off for Grove rites eight times a year was hard enough!) Much the same reason I never attended Wellspring or Summerlands or any other festival during the last eight years. But with a new job and a working car this year, I finally had a chance to drive up to Bellaire for the Midnight Flame Festival, cosponsored by Grove of the Midnight Sun and Grove of the Twilight Flame, Michigan’s northernmost ADF groups. Flip (Senior Druid of Midnight Sun) owns the Chain O Lakes Campground there, and this late in the season, there’s plenty of room for a festival. And even better, the cure for the one thing I dislike about most festivals: cabins! No need to tent!

I drove straight there after work on Friday (the festival started Thursday night, but I can’t afford to take a day off for it, I’m not making THAT much more money) and got there shortly before the 9 PM rite to Nerthus started – or would have, if my GPS had taken me to the right location. The golfers staying at the Chain O Lakes Motel did know where the Chain O Lakes Campground was, though, so I got there at 9:15 or so – and discovered that this was the only festival I’ve ever been to where things start on time. And since I had no clue where the nemeton on the site was, and they weren’t making enough noise for me to find them, I explored the campground as best I could in the dark until they were done. Ah well, yet another opportunity for me to totally not connect with the Earth Mother. I’ve sold my spirit to my local river, that’s for sure.

After some small amount of socializing with everyone by the biggest fire pit I’ve ever seen, Deb did manage to get me into a cabin so I could get to sleep at around midnight, which doesn’t sound like much unless you know that my current work schedule has be going to bed around 10 most nights. After sleeping in until 7:30 (yes, for me that’s sleeping in) I had breakfast (they actually make breakfast for everyone!) and then attended Barbara’s trance workshop and Kirk’s voice and movement workshop, a shortened version of his long workshop on using theater techniques to improve our ritual performances, good stuff! And after lunch and a nap (the soft rain plus not being stuck in a tent made that very appealing) I sat in on Skip’s workshop on getting in touch with local land spirits, and added to and corrected a few of the things he said about what SLG had done. (The source of the Huron is in the mountains? I don’t think there are any mountains within 300 miles of Big Lake. Fox, what did you tell him exactly? >8)

I then changed into my white chiton and got materials for my Apollo ritual from Flip. I’d been planning on a trip to the supermarket to get the barley, olive oil, and wine that I needed, but with Flip also being Chief of the Brewer’s Guild, he actually did have barley there! I did my presentation on Hades and Persephone and correcting some misperceptions about them (based on an entry I did here last year, and hopefully to be on the ConVocation schedule this year) which was well attended and well received, and then we went outside (it had stopped raining) for the rite, which I’d adapted from the Neokoroi’s Noumenia rite. I’ve done plenty of full ADF COoR Hellenic rites before, and wanted to try a more traditional, stripped-down one instead, and I liked how it went. I was surprised that 17 of the 25 or so attendees were there, maybe there really is some interest in Hellenism from the non-Hellenes of ADF!

We had dinner after that (fresh cooked ham and turkey!) and then did the Sumbel, which was more mellow than most of the Sumbels I’ve been to, but I think that better suited the mood of this festival. I didn’t stay up too long after that, between being tired and the usual rule about the dramatics at a festival never starting before midnight. (Though I suspect there wasn’t much drama after midnight at this particular one!)

The next morning I visited the petting zoo section of the campground with Melissa and her daughters, then stayed for the Upper Midwest regional meeting (apparently everyone wants us to do a suite at ConVocation again, which I guess I expected) and a visit to the site’s nemeton (in case I show up late again next year, I’ll now where to find everyone!) before the closing rite and the saying of goodbyes. I stopped at a local disc golf course (memo to self: if you play disc golf on a course at the top of a ski slope, the wind will do many wacky things to your throws) before driving back home.

So what was the bestest thing about the festival? Running a workshop and ritual that people like is good, of course, and so was the petting zoo, but I think the best part was just getting to talk to people I don’t get to see very often, and the chance to meet so many of the other ADF members of Michigan who I only knew through Facebook. And while this was one of the least attended festivals I’ve been to, I really think that this worked in its favor, giving people a chance to take part in everything that was going on and getting to interact with everyone else who was there. Which is not to say I don’t hope there are more people there next year, of course, especially if I can get more Hellenes up there to do a bigger ritual. >8) I’m only sorry that I missed the first three years of this Michigan ADF tradition, and I hope that I have no obstacles to returning for many years to come.

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

Virtual Ramblings On Virtual Topics

A few computer-related thoughts this week, as I prepare to pack and get my ritual and workshop ready for Midnight Flame:

Oh spammers, is there anything online that you won’t try to ruin? Over the past few days, one or more of ‘em have been trying to post responses into the older entries of this blog, with links to whatever it is they think my five readers will actually give them money for. Actually, I’m sure it’s the imaginary readers of the blog – the search engine crawlers – that they’re really trying to target. Either way, I always drop whatever I’m doing when I get the e-mail notifying me of a comment to go delete them – which is even ore annoying since these spammers only seem to post between 1 and 6 AM Michigan time, making it pretty much the first thing I do in the morning when it happens. And this is with the stupid “type these four characters in” ting turned on, I can only imagine how much worse things would be if it wasn’t. It’s not to the point where I’d want to kill the blog because of it, but damn it’s annoying.

Of course, with so many other blogging sites out there, I could just try moving it. The only reason I chose Bravehost was out of the desire to keep the Grove’s Web services on one server, and once they lobotomized their free Web hosting services, that killed any loyalty I had to keeping the blog here. but I’m not in a hurry to go around telling everyone our new URL, so here it’ll stay for a while at least. It would be nice if we could get some blog software running on our current Web server, but I suspect that the software that’s available is either too costly for us (keeping in mind that $20 a year is too costly for us these days) or just sucky. And there are other things I’d want us to get first, like some kind of chat program so we can do online liturgy meetings in our own virtual space instead of borrowing ADF’s IRC channel. (Speaking of which, don’t forget that we have a liturgy meeting on Tuesday, 7 PM our time, in room #slg on ADF’s IRC channel!)

Speaking of keeping things on one server, I’ve definitely been feeling like we have too many online presences lately, and I’m not sure what to do about it. I’d like our Facebook group a lot more if I could get the blasted thing to e-mail me whenever someone did a wall post, or if anyone seemed to do wall posts there besides folks who want info on the Grove and would probably be better off just e-mailing us. At least we don’t have both a group page *and* a fan page there, which I actually briefly considered. I still think it’s odd that so many of our Groves do the “fan page” thing instead of a religious group page, as others have said, I’d feel weird saying I was a “fan” of my church. And there’s our MySpace page, which I don’t think I’ve visited in nearly a year. (Has anyone?) We still have the Announce list on Yahoogroups, though I don’t know if anyone is really following that list who isn’t already on our discussion list and sees the exact same posts on the discuss list already. But then nobody seems to want to use the discuss list to actually discuss anything, only to let me post announcements there. Or questions or attempts at starting discussions, which nobody ever responds to.

And as though our online efforts weren’t split up enough, some folks actually want us to set up forums instead of a mailing list, which I’ve been resistant to because of my personal hatred of all forum software that I’ve seen in the last ten years (much of which doesn’t even seem as functional as the forum software I used in college in the ‘80’s), and my fear of people seeing months- or years-old discussions and thinking that they’re current. That, or having no recent activity, and people concluding that our Grove is dead. But some people seem to love forums as much as I hate them, and if the Grove ever has one, I don’t dare not read it as long as I’m the Senior Druid. (That might be the event that actually gets me to resign as SD, now that I think about it.) Maybe if someone actually does find forum software that e-mails me everything so I never have to log on to the Web interface to use it, I’d be, well not happy, but at least not annoyed about it.

Okay, that’s enough whiney rambling for this week. Next week, a write-up of the great time I’ll have had at Midnight Flame, assuming I get home early enough to write it up before I collapse.

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