Or Maybe A Trip To The Mouth Of The Huron, To Be Different!

What, is the holiday weekend over already? For someone who hasn’t had four days off in a row since Wellspring, all this not-working time has felt weird. Besides getting my desktop PC officially back in one piece and re-softwared (except for the HTML/Web design stuff), I’ve gotten started on “the calendar file”, which sets our tentative schedule for all of 2011. At the business meetings, we finalize the events for the coming quarter right before the rituals where the newsletter comes out, but this gives us a rough idea of what we have coming up. Working on the calendar (not to mention those four days off) has gotten me thinking about doing some new (or at least not done for a few years) events next year. We’ll be discussing some of these at An Bruane on Tuesday night of this week, but since I didn’t have any more pressing topic to write about for the blog, why not share my thoughts here first?

We often head out to the Manannan Shrine during the summer and fall, but never in the winter. The snow on the ground would make it a tiny bit harder to walk there, and probably a lot harder to find the path, but it could be a unique experience. Down sides to this are that we don’t strongly associate the winter with Manannan, and of course the strong possibility that nobody would show up because of the cold. All you people who tell me you’d much rather do all of our rites outdoors, here’s your chance to prove it!

Similarly, I think a winter trip to Big Lake would be incredible. I stopped by there once upon a February many years ago on my way home from Auburn Hills and a Detroit Vipers game, back when I had enough of a disposable income to actually go to Auburn Hills for a minor league hockey game just because I felt like it. Being able to walk out onto the ice and stand above the source of the Huron River is an amazing experience for any Ana fan. Down sides here are the same as the Shrine visit, plus the fraidy cats who won’t feel safe walking on the ice, even though the ice fishers will be there too, and they know way more about where the ice is strong than we do.

While I’m staying in my mother’s home for the coming year (yes, the plan is to move out), she actually wants to have us host some events here. There’s actually a good amount of space down here in the basement, Running monthly worship services would be tempting, if I thought anyone would actually make the trip to South Lyon for them. (It might actually be worse if we just got interested non-members but none of our regulars besides me  – if I showed up to a “big group’s” worship service and only one guy was there to run it, and he was running it in the basement of the house where he lives, even I’d be a little creeped out.) A social event, like bringing back Game Night or Movie Night like we used to have back in the early years of the Grove, would probably be a bigger draw. (Yes, I know that some of you out there are thinking that a church would have more people show up to regular religious services than to social events, and I wish I could agree, but I remember the paltry attendance of our old Druidic Worship Circles all too well. And that was back when we had 95 members.)

One place where we could definitely run a ritual with lots of people in attendance is ConVocation. The Hellenic ritual I submitted wasn’t accepted for the official convention schedule, but given how many rituals with Hellenic gods were accepted, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. But we do have a suite again this year (assuming we get the money donated to cover the cost, of course), and we could in theory run an ADF-style ritual there, plus workshops. Down side to that is that running a ritual in a space with lots of people flowing in an out would be challenging at best. The alternative would be closing the suite off during the rite, which would rather defeat the purpose of a hospitality suite. And if too many people show up, the space could get very cramped very quickly. (Maybe have Rodney assemble a Viking raid on one of the official rituals so we can seize their conference room?)

And of course, as we plan our winter activities, the Brídeog question comes up again. After two years of getting lots of people asking to have their homes visited and nobody asking to do the travelling, I don’t even know if it’s worth the trouble to list it on the calendar any more. But people have been asking about it again, much earlier than usual – but of course, asking for the visit and not the travel. It’s definitely one of the suckier aspects of being the liturgical/spiritual leader of the Grove, torn between wanting to honor one of our Grove deities in the manner we used for many years, a way that can be both fun and meaningful, but not being able to convince any of my Grovemates that it’s worth an evening of riding around in a car. Part of me thinks it’s my fault because of my usual social incompetence and lack of persuasive skills, and part of my thinks that if Bríd is as good a goddess of hearth and community as we think she is, she should be able to do the “inspiring” bit herself. For now, my inclination is to leave it off the calendar but leave the Saturday before Imbolc open in case someone actually does volunteer. Much as I want to list it again, I don’t want to have to cancel the blasted thing for a third year in a row. That’s not doing me, us, or Bríd any favors.

So for those of you who’ve never been to An Bruane, this is the sort of thing we discuss. That, and computer games!

Next week, hopefully some news on those long-overdue Web site updates.

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

Harry Potter Again

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later: Not merely content to reuse articles I’d written that had been published elsewhere, I’m now reusing an article that I posted here!  Granted, it was over two years ago, and after seeing the newest Harry Potter movie yesterday I was actually thinking about some of the same things, so it’s kinda sorta current, in a way. But I have not much new stuff to report here, other than the new ConVocation schedule finally being posted, which hardly warranted its own entry. Still, I’m somewhat sad that my one accepted workshop appears to be on Sunday, negating any chance of using it to plug the Hellenic rite I want to run in the suite. Then again, with several other alleged Hellenic rites on the schedule, maybe we’d be better off just running a straight ADF rite. I’ll post more on our upcoming ritual plans next week.

For whatever reason – I honestly couldn’t tell you why – I never did read any of the Harry Potter books until just last month. It’s not that I didn’t want to, mind you, as I haven’t yet heard anyone tell me they hated the books, and what I knew of them sounded worthwhile. Maybe it’s because I hadn’t been reading many novels at all, with so many other time commitments in my life these days. (I wish I’d known how quickly I would get through them once I’d started!) Only after seeing the movie on opening night did I actually borrow a copy of the first book from a friend. And I am definitely enjoying them!

During the years when I wasn’t reading the books, I did of course notice a lot of discussion about them on the Internet, and the occasional newspaper article. Much of the discussion-or should I say arguing-was about whether it was appropriate for Christians to read them. I don’t claim to be a scholar of any monotheistic tradition, so I can’t give any kind of reasoned opinion in that context. I do know that some Christian sects believe that any act of magic is contrary to the teachings of their God, and while I don’t share their beliefs, I do respect them for at least being consistent in applying said beliefs. Of course, other sects are more open to the possibility that their God may tolerate, or even help them with, acts that we consider “magic.” Christian parents are going to have to decide for themselves what’s appropriate for their young ones to read.

The more intriguing question from my perspective, and one that I think I can give an informed opinion on, is whether the books are actually pagan in flavor. I haven’t seen much in the mainstream press from pagans commenting on the books (apart from some British witches who were complaining about the direction in which the wizards hold their brooms while flying), but pagans on the Internet have had a lot to say about it, with just about every opinion imaginable being voiced by someone out there. Some say that they think Hogwarts is exactly what a pagan school would be like, others have said that they don’t find a single pagan element in them. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, says that she herself is a Christian, and is quick to point out that not a single child has told her that the books convinced them to become a pagan. (And those of you out there who believed that satirical article from The Onion which quoted Rowling as saying that the books were intended to make children worship Satan-shame on you! Learn some critical thinking, for the gods’ sakes!)

So what do I think? Are the books pagan? I’ll give a definitive “yes and no” answer to that one.

Why “no”? Well, frankly, I don’t see much of real pagan practice in them. Sure, the kids use wands and ride brooms and make potions-things that every stereotypical witch has been shown to do for hundreds of years. (I believe this makes the Harry Potter books about as pagan as the Broom Hilda comic strip.) Where are the rituals? Why isn’t anyone even talking about the gods, never mind talking with them? No, I don’t see a lot of overt pagan practice or philosophy in these books. The influences seem more mainstream, including Roald Dahl’s books, and the “schoolboy adventure” genre that has been a literary staple for British boys, and to a lesser extent in America. Myself, I see more Encyclopedia Brown than The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft in these books.

So why “yes”? Rowling has said that she did research on folk traditions for her books, and it shows. The references to gods and characters from pagan mythology are everywhere! To mention just a few: Fluffy the three-headed dog is clearly Kerberos, the dog who guards the path to the Underworld in Greek myth. And Hagrid himself was named after a god who was thrown out of Olympus, but was allowed by Zeus (or was it Dumbledore?) to stay on and take care of the animals. Mrs. Trelawney, the prophecy teacher, has a first name of Sybil, which was also the term for the prophetesses of the Oracle at Delphi. One character is named Remus, like the Roman character who was raised by a she-wolf, because . . . well, I won’t give it away for those who haven’t read that book yet. Parvati Patil is named after a Hindu goddess, and her sister Padma’s name means “lotus,” a symbol of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. And even non-pagan legends are included. Did you know that Harry’s owl Hedwig shares her name with the patron saint of communication? I just thought Hedwig was the name of a transsexual singer…. (Don’t ask.)

While I certainly don’t think that Rowling herself follows our path, I do think that she connects her works to these ancient and powerful tales, and because of that, these stories connect us to the Gods and the Ancestors in a meaningful way. Feeling and understanding your connections to the Kindreds and to the world around you is an important part of ADF Druidry, and I hope you feel that sense of connection and draw strength from it every day. And if these stories of a young orphaned hero resonate with you and inspire you to live a better and happier life, then that’s some pretty powerful magic, whatever anyone else may think.

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


The Daylight Hours Dwindle, As Do My Topic Ideas

Another day-late entry, not as much because I was busy or tired yesterday (though I was both) but more because I didn’t have any hugely pressing issues on my mind to write about. Has it finally happened? Have I run out of ideas? Do I need to start doing repeats of old articles?

Well, a few things I can note this week:

* Our Imbolc and Spring Equinox ritual dates are set for February 5th and March 19th, respectively, at the Friends Meeting. The basement space was open for our first choices, so no Sunday or one-week-too-late rituals as we’ve had to do a few times before. Of course, if we had our own land/building, we wouldn’t have to worry about having our rituals on the days we wanted, but that’s a long way off.

* Speaking of temple space, I saw an interesting link from a Buddhist monastery listing the temple services it provides. It might be interesting for us to list similar services that I and/or the Grove can provide, though I don’t know how people would react if we listed cash prices for those services, and I know how overwhelmed I’d be if I even implied that I’d do them for free! Money concerns aside (or not), any thoughts from my five readers on what services they do or don’t expect their Grove to be able to provide?

* And speaking of Buddhists (it’s almost like I planned this sequence of paragraphs, but i didn’t, really), I had done a brief interview with a local reporter over the summer about local churches’ views on GLBT issues, mainly on how open we were to homosexual members and whether we had special support groups for them, to which I (and apparently most of the churches in Ann Arbor) said “sure” and “no, it’s not really an issue for us”, respectively. The reporter said it would be in the upcoming issue of the Crazy Wisdom Community Journal, which came out in September. Being super-egotistical as usual, I only just remembered this a few days ago, and went to check the online version of the Journal, to find… no article. Maybe it’s not news that Ann Arbor churches are more accepting of GLBT folk?

And that’s about all I can think to write about for now. Maybe after I turn 42 on Friday, old age will bring me some sudden new insight that I will need to share with everyone! Until then, I hope to see folks at Coffee Hour on Friday, and if not, well then not too long after that.

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

The Post-Samhain Report

So when my Samhain preparations began in earnest on Thursday, things started out both well and not-so-well. I left the plates for the Ancestors Plaque at the etching store, and it looked like everything there was going well, so I called Don to make sure he knew we were coming to the preserve this weekend. I thought we had left him a newsletter last time so he’d know when our Samhain was, but I wanted to make sure. Well, no, he’d had no idea we were coming this weekend, had thought we were coming last weekend because “don’t you usually do something at Halloween?”, and had tried calling me on my haven’t-used-it-or-paid-for-it-for-eleven-months old phone number – and had heard my message on the voice-mail and left me a message. Seriously, T-Mobile? I can understand your not assigning the number to someone else yet, but you didn’t see fit to disable the damn thing? Visions of eleven months of inquiries about our Grove and our rituals never being answered danced angrily through my head as I went home to pack and get the orders of service and my Greek ritual script ready.

Friday went smoothly enough at work, giving me time to go to the store for ritual supplies, get the newly-etched plates for the Ancestors Plaque reattached, and getting the orders of service printed up. I got to Botsford at 6:30 to get the firs started, only to discover that the big fire-lighting matches I keep there had been moved from their dry safe spot and the striking board wouldn’t ignite them. This being one of the two rituals where we have to rekindle the Grove Flame, I hadn’t brought a lit candle from home as I try to do for the fire lighting, but Don had a propane igniter and I did manage to get it going. A new person showed up at… 6:35? Not sure what she was expecting to see 25 minutes before the official starting time, besides me putting wood on a fire. Folks did start to arrive a bit after 7 and we got the fire blessed at 7:30. The swearing in of the officers for the coming year was delayed by Rodney not being there yet, one phone call plus fifteen minutes later he arrived and we took our oaths.

In full darkness now, we laid out the food we’d brought for the Ancestors’ Supper, and sat around the fire talking about our Ancestors for a little while. Last year we’d tried to do this after the Saturday evening rite, but I think all of five of us went over to the table where we had it set up, with everyone else grabbing potluck food and socializing with each other and ignoring my requests to join us in sharing food with the Ancestors. It’s not often that I’m disappointed in the piety of Neo-Pagans, since my concept of it is pretty loose, but that was definitely one of those times. Determined not to let that happen again, we moved it to Friday this year, and even though there were only nine of us present at that point, we were all taking part, and that felt a lot better to me.

After changing into my white chiton (with shirt and trousers on underneath, even by my standards it was getting cold), we got the ritual to Demeter underway. I’d first intended to do it at Lughnasadh three months ago, but hadn’t come up with any good theme for it, and our attendance that weekend was abysmal, so I decided to hold off on it until Samhain weekend. After discussing it at An Bruane on Tuesday, and further discussions with Gen, we hit upon a good plan: a sort of mini-Thesmophoria, where we would offer terra cotta pigs into a pit, along with libations, and dig up the pigs on the night of our Beltaine Fire Watch to be given out to the participants. I assembled a script from the basic Noumenia outline I’d used at Midnight Flame, plus Callimachus’ hymn to Demeter, which talked about her sad wanderings in search of her daughter just like the Homeric hymn did, but in about one-fifth the space. (Hey, if the Hellenes had had to perform rituals in 35 degree Fahrenheit weather, they’d have kept it short too!) We got a few of the smaller tiki torches lit and carried them, along with the libations, to the nemeton – there’s definitely something awesome about a torchlight processional! And then I found that the torches were bright enough to read by, so that was a bonus, not having to hold a flashlight to read the hymn. We dug a small hole between the Well and the herm, and made the offerings there, and filled the hole back up before returning to the fire circle. I only stayed for a little while after that, thankfully the Kellers stayed the night to keep the fire going. I brought the new Grove Flame home and got it into a seven-day candle, where I see it burning brightly even as I type this.

The next morning, I made sure I had all the supplies we needed for the rites, and amazingly, I did! So no need to go into town early for more shopping. I ran into heavy traffic in Ann Arbor at 11:45 for a football game that was scheduled to start at noon, and I had to resist the urge to roll down my window and shout, “THE GAME STARTS IN FIFTEEN MINUTES, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?” I was at the preserve at noon, Rodney got there not too long after that, and we managed to get both the fire circle and the nemeton set up by about 1:20. Candy brought the new donation box she’d made for us, with the Grove logo hand-painted on it, which looks great!

It warmed up to somewhere around 45 degrees when we got the afternoon rite started. Fifteen of us (including a whole two children, Damon and Dylan, for the “family friendly” half of our Samhain rites) went to the nemeton to honor Ana and Lugh’s reunion for the dark half of the year, and decorated the nemeton with pipe cleaners – oops, I mean “chenille sticks” – and craft sticks and ribbon.  The omen was good (Berkana – Nauthiz – Eiwaz) and we drank the sparkling grape juice that Sean was kind enough to get us when both Candy and I forgot to bring the Meijer Goblin Juice we’d both meant to bring.

Back up at the fire circle, we had our usual raffle and potluck, and then I did the brief “how to use the Greek Alphabet oracle” presentation and Val did her workshop on Roman household religion that we’d both originally intended to do at Lughnasadh. (Funny how so much of this weekend seemed to be things from Lughnasadh that we didn’t have enough people to do then!) All of two people showed up for the “drumming circle” that Don had told me would be there from 4 to 8, and they ended up joining in our festivities, despite not having any idea what Samhain or paganism were.

Several of us got the luminaria assembled and set up in plenty of time, and I think we could actually have started on time at 6:45 if I’d really wanted to! But no, I’m too inherently nice and I knew that people would have a hard time finding the place in the dark, plus several folks ran off for coffee right before the appointed time anyway. So at around 7:15 a grand total of 26 of us processed to the nemeton. I’d forgotten that we had talked about actually having orders of service printed for the evening ritual, even after Gen ordered the mini-flashlights from Oriental Trading so people could read them. Sadly, this also meant that I didn’t have a sheet to work with, so I had to run the ritual from memory. It actually went pretty well, except that I called Manannan earlier than I’d originally intended, we usually call him, after the other Kindreds but before the Ancestors, making him sort of a co-Deity of the Occasion along with the Ancestors, who aren’t a Deity but you know what I mean. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I realized I’d made that mistake, after all the early signs were that Manannan wouldn’t be as heavily involved in the rite this time. And then I forgot that we’d planned to pass a bottle of whiskey for Manannan as the focus object for individual praise, too. Let’s say I was waiting eagerly/worriedly for the omen for most of the rite.  >8)

But the central part of the rite was fine. We passed the Ancestor Doll (aka “Uncle Fester”) around the circle, asking folks to call their own Ancestors to be in the doll and join us for the rite. As we hope for every year but only manage sometimes, this was a very powerful experience for the participants, many of whom sniffled a bit. (But maybe that was just the cold!) I then placed the doll by the plate and cup we had prepared as an offering back at the fire circle. We used the bowl of pumpkin seeds for the individual praise, then offered flax seed to the fire for the group praise, and for the main sacrifice we poured the whiskey into the fire for Manannan and took the Ancestors’ food/drink offerings out into the woods. The omen did turn out good, by Rodney’s reading at least (Berkana – Raido – Isa, a new beginning as we move into the winter) and so we passed the pumpkin seeds around as the return blessing, which I really should have carried around myself so people weren’t trying to hold the bowl and the scoop and put seeds into their hands all at the same time. (Remember that for next year, Rob!) I also did a quick blessing for Barbara’s new sword, per her request.

After closing up the ritual space, we went back to the fire circle for food and socializing. Many folks left immediately or close to it, but most of us stayed for a few hours, including the drum circle folks, who drummed until Don shined the bright light from his building which apparently means, “hey, it’s after 10, stop drumming!” Gen’s jack-o-lanterns looked very impressive, especially with the flashing disco lights inside. (We really should have gotten pictures.) Most of us left around 10:45.

And this (Sunday) morning, Rod, Sean, Kris and I went back to the site at 10 to clean up. Rodney got the ritual stuff packed up the night before, but there was still enough to keep us busy for nearly an hour. I stopped by the nemeton one last time to say goodbye to it for the winter months, wondering what it will look like come April when we return to prepare it for Beltaine. Hopefully not too many fallen trees this year!

So all in all, it was a really incredible Samhain weekend, with lots of different people taking part in our many different activities and having a great time. The only annoyance? It was ten degrees warmer today than it was yesterday, and it’s going to be ten degrees warmer than that on Tuesday. Why couldn’t we have had the warm part a few days early? Ah well. I’ll take cold and dry over not quite as cold but wet for any Samhain.

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

The Post-Halloween, On-Wiccan-Samhain, Pre-Our-Samhain Wrap-Up

Halloween is done, bringing an end to scary TV shows, and soon election season will be done as well, bringing an end to scary TV commercials. Now it’s time to focus on getting ready for our Samhain weekend! I still want to do a rewrite of the script for the afternoon rite, our only actual scripted rite at SLG, since we haven’t changed it for about ten years now. And I still need to put together the Friday evening rite to Demeter – I guess we have a topic for An Bruane tomorrow!

My big concern for the weekend is, as usual, the weather. Current forecast is for snow (!!!) on Thursday night, but slightly warmer Friday and Saturday, and no precipitation then. Not the incredibly balmy weekend (by November standards) we had last year, but not our coldest either, and I’ll take clear and cold over wet and nearly as cold for any of our outdoor rites.

In other news, we finally got confirmation on our suite at ConVocation! We’re getting the suite they used for Hospitality last year. The good part is, it’s a full suite with actual furniture and stuff, not the former military recruitment suite we had last time. The bad part is, we’re probably going to get lots of people coming in who think it’s still the convention’s suite, come in, eat our food, and leave. Ah well. We need $300 by the end of this month and another $725 by January 24th to keep the reservation, but it does include two bedrooms, so anyone who doesn’t have a hotel room and donates $275 gets one of ‘em.

And the bestest news of all, at least for me personally: my desktop computer is back! Once I get this entry done, I’ll set it up and start getting things reinstalled. In addition to finally getting my hands back on a keyboard big enough for my hands to actually use, I’ll be able to get updates to the Grove’s Web site done again. Yay!

I hope to see everyone at the ritual site sometime this weekend!

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