Autumn Nights Near Otis

So what would convince me to spend 13 hours in a car on an overnight trip?  Why, the Traveling Clergy program, of course!  And why wouldn’t I want to go to Massachusetts and meet lots of ADF members I’d never met in person before, who might actually take my opinions seriously?  Besides the thirteen hours in the car, I mean.  Actually, I had already decided after seeing many requests for us to travel on High Day weekends that I would volunteer for the next one we got that wasn’t on a High Day, no matter where it was.  So when the Harvest Nights festival put in a request for mid-October, I did indeed volunteer.  I do love New England, and it also gave me a chance to visit the region where I was born, so that worked out.

It turned out that Jean Pagano was also going, and he also live in Michigan, so we arranged to travel together.  We left at about 7 PM Thursday, and in the middle of the Tigers game to boot.  (The sacrifices I make!)  I managed to do a few hours of the driving, given how not used to all-nighters I am these days, that’s about what I thought I could manage.  (Memo to self: Yeah, it’s probably too late for you to have children in this lifetime.  You’d never survive the first three years at this age.)  We arrived at Rob Lewis’ home in Albany (just across the river from my birth city of Troy) at about 8 AM Friday, joining Kirk and Robin who were already there, and I managed a nap and one last e-mail check before venturing into the world of no wifi.  After stopping at Price Chopper (really, that’s the store’s actual name) for potluck items, we all headed off to the site together, which only took an hour.

The site was a Girl Scout camp, which made for some new festival experiences, like no alcohol (ennh), quiet hours beginning at 10 (ennh), dormitory sleeping with seven of us in one section (ennh), and no wifi (the worst thing about the weekend).  Actually, the most annoying bit may have been the lack of anything resembling a nightstand or table in the sleeping areas: setting up my travel altar was far more of a challenge than I’d anticipated, but the window sill was just wide enough to handle it.  After dinner (I did manage to find Greek Gods yogurt at the store, which went over well), there was a scheduled “meet the Kins” thing where various folks would sit around the main area and answer questions about their hearth cultures.  Inertia prevailed, and we all stayed in one group and talked about various home practice topics.  Well, the clergy are traveling to these things to fulfill the needs of the people we visit, and there was clearly a need for that!

After getting up for Michael’s dawn rite the next morning (and I doubt I could have slept through it, since it was happening twenty feet away from my bed and only a curtain blocked the way), we had breakfast, and then I wandered about the site while Kirk did his presentation on ritual skills.  The lake was amazing!  After that, I did my presentation on invocations, even after Kirk had given away about half of it in his presentation, and was surprised to see so many people taking notes, as though what I had to say was worth writing down!  Not something I’m used to.  I guess I really have spent half of my life making invocations, haven’t I?

While Michael followed tat up with a workshop on trance techniques, I drove into town to check my e-mail and find out that they Wolverines were losing (this making the third year in a row that I’ve been out of state for the Spartans game), and didn’t get back until after 3, which was the scheduled time for the “meet the Guilds” session.  Since I’d promised to represent the Liturgists, I felt terrible about being late – until I walked in and saw only five people in the main room.  Apparently doing a trance workshop at a festival is a great way to convince people that they need a nap!

After dinner, we did the main ritual, in a nice space that was located right outside the front door of the building.  I’d been assigned the Waters section of the liturgy, so I went ahead and did it the way we SLuGs always do it, with everyone joining hands to focus their own energy and the blessings of the gods into the water.  I keep forgetting that other Groves don’t do that, and the look on Kirk’s face when he realized I expected him to grab my arm while I was holding the pitcher was priceless!  Oh, and I also remembered why we don’t do the Waters at our night rituals, my apologies to everyone I spilled on.  At least the omens were good (see Michael’s post for details) and no one died.

After that, Kathleen did a workshop on finding constellations and planets in the night sky, where we all made paper star chart gadgets, and then half the people just used their smartphones to do it.  Given how cloudy it had been off and on throughout the day, the stars were actually a lot more visible than I’d have expected.  And given how long it had been since I’d practiced backyard astronomy, I was surprised how many of them I recognized!

I went to bed early that night (and the fact that I got to sleep while everyone was talking in the main room proved how much I needed that), then got up early for the dawn rite again and breakfast.  Robb confirmed that the Tigers had lost the night before, which made me almost as sad as having to leave the festival.  Jean and I headed out right after breakfast.  I’d been hoping to stay for the “how to build your Grove” workshop at noon, since that’s something I actually know a little bit about, but it turned out the people who asked for that workshop hadn’t come to the festival anyway.

And so, thirteen hours and one Lions loss later, I was back home.  Seriously, all of my teams lost that weekend.  I am so not leaving the state again until after the NFL season ends.  Still, I was very happy to help ADF’s clergy continue our work to share our knowledge and experience with our more far-flung members, and I hope I get another chance to do it soon.

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

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DC 40? Is That A New Comic Book Series?

Having worked in computer security once upon a time, I may be more inclined to make analogies using it than the average person, but this time around, I can’t think of a better one: I’ve heard it argued that the most efficient computer virus ever developed wasn’t a piece of software at all.  No, it was the one where someone e-mails you and says that there’s a brand new virus being spread around by e-mail, and if you see a message with a particular subject line then don’t open it, and you have to forward the warning e-mail to everyone you know in order to stop it from spreading.  (“Just hurry up and forward this to every single person that you know!  Hit send right now!”)  The alleged virus doesn’t exist, of course, but the resources being used up by all of those e-mails being forwarded are comparable to the resources a real virus would consume, and a real virus would actually take time to write and test, as opposed to the two minutes that the e-mail took to write.

What brought that story to my mind?  Why, the DC 40 event, of course – or to be more accurate, the Neo-Pagan response to it.  A Christian group has decided that they’re in the minority in this country (when I see as many Hellenic and Norse temples in small towns as I do churches, I may almost take that part seriously) and they want their views heard and respected (no insult from me on that one, that’s a vital part of being an American IMHO) so they’re going to pray for all the politicians to convert, or for more proper Christians to be elected, or for Jesus to beat up the goddess Columbia, or something like that.  More amusing was their response to various Pagan individuals and groups who were organizing a prayer response of our own, by telling us that they were shooting blood-covered arrows of love at us.  (Images of the SNL/Trek TNG sketch where Data presents Picard with a human heart dipped in chocolate sprang to mind, personally.)

So okay, we have a group who are – threatening? – us with prayer, as well as praying to make Jesus lord over America.  I’ll give us collective credit that, if we are over-reacting, at least we’re over-reacting to a deliberate slight against our beliefs, rather than a stupid random comment that a celebrity made.  But what’s the proper response to this?  If we really do believe that acts of magic and prayer count for something when we do them, I don’t think we can just pretend that someone else’s prayers don’t count for anything.  That’s the mentality that they would apply to us, isn’t it?  That our prayers don’t count because our gods are (fake/less powerful/dead/actually demons)?

On the other hand, being that former computer security guy that I am, I can’t help but think of this in terms of that e-mail virus.  The greatest harm their prayer can do to us may not be its direct effects, but the indirect effect of distracting us from doing the happy, productive, Pagany things that we would otherwise have been doing. A spiritual speed bump to slow us down on our journey.

So what’s a Pagan to do?  Well, here’s what I’m going to do.  It’s not much, but it’s not nothing either.

* Keep on doing my daily devotionals and ritual offerings, like always.  Eudaimonia (Greek for “having happy daimons”, daimons being one’s personal messengers from the gods) is the best defense against anyone else’s prayers. (And if you don’t do regular work at your home shrine – or don’t have a home shrine – I can’t recommend it highly enough.  For developing a good relationship with the Kindreds, small things done regularly are way more effective than big things done sporadically.)

* On October 27th, the day when my home state is on the DC 40 list, I’ll make a special offering to Columbia (who I have thought of as the patron goddess of this country for about as long as I’ve been a Pagan) and recite the prayer that Ian wrote.

And that’s about it.  Living my life as well as I can (and as Pagan as I want it to be) is the best way to deflect their bloody prayer arrows.

Next week, a report on the very first festival I’ll be visiting as part of ADF’s Traveling Clergy Program!

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

Every Ritual Presents Its Own Unique Challenges, All Right

And the record for “most time between a High Day and the blog post about it” goes to…  This one!  Because my desktop computer died on Monday morning and I’ve been spending most of the week trying to do all of the usual post-ritual computer activities on my laptop, which, between the tiny keyboard and my not having set everything up on it (like, say, being able to send files to our Web site), has taken me way longer than usual.  So seven days later, here I am, learning all about Open Office Writer and finally getting this thing ready.

Really, other than one difference, it was a fairly typical fall equinox rite for us. Lots of worrying about the weather on my part, with the forecasts for Sunday changing regularly throughout the week. Me having to get an article ready for the new issue of SLN, which I wrote on a day I stayed home sick from work and hopefully doesn’t look like the ramblings of someone who stayed home sick from work. And me trying to get in touch with absolutely anyone associated with the ritual site, a much more difficult task since Don passed away, to make sure they knew we were coming. I even went to the preserve on Tuesday, but other than hearing a dog barking in the bathroom, couldn’t find anyone there. (Remember the dog. That will be important in a bit.) A phone call to Don’s executor and his acknowledging that we could use the site finally put me at ease.

So Saturday finally came, and after a visit to Lansing Pagan Pride Day (a shorter drive from Ann Arbor that Detroit PPD was, sadly) and the Cedarsong Grove booth there, and a trip with my dad, sister, and brother-in-law to our favorite corn maze, I came back to Ann Arbor for Fire Watch. The barking dog was still in the bathroom, and I was worried that it had been stuck there for five days, but this time the light was on so obviously someone had been there. I got the fire started with the firewood I’d brought from home, the Kellers arrived, we blessed the fire, and I stayed for a few hours before heading home. Given how good the weather was, I was really surprised we didn’t have more people there for the fire lighting. (The Kellers attempted to use the bathroom, but the dog was apparently in no mood to share.)

So Sunday morning came, I got the car packed with my ritual items, stopped by Kinko’s (or whatever they’re calling it now) to get the newsletters and orders of service printed, then to Kroger to buy the small gourds we would decorate for our group praise – and they didn’t have any? At all? A quick side-trip downtown to Sparrow and I found some. (The clerk there told me that they had only just received their shipment after waiting all month.) So I managed to get to the preserve just after noon, about when I was expecting to arrive. And that’s when Sean and Kris told me what they’d discovered the night before. I went down to the nemeton to assess the situation, and yep, they were right.

Someone was living in our ritual circle.

The dog, it turned out, belongs to one of Don’s granddaughters, who had set up camp in the nemeton, with her tent’s guy wires tied to our bile, a palette of many boxes sitting next to it, and a cooking pot in our fire circle. And everything covered with tarps. Think “hobo camp”. A quick assessment told me that even if she were willing to let us move everything, it would take ten of us half an hour to do it. So no access to the nemeton for the ritual this time. At all.

Well, every ritual presents its own unique challenges, and some of them are more unique than others. I called Rod to let him know the situation, then spent the next half hour or so looking around the fire circle and trying to figure out how best we could set it up as a ritual circle. Once Rod and Liz arrived with the ritual regalia, setup actually went pretty smoothly, in small part because we didn’t have to carry everything all the way down the trails this time! It wasn’t my ideal situation to have the socializing area and the ritual area be the same, but there wasn’t anywhere else on the site that would have been better, particularly because of our need for a fire circle of some sort. So no tree in the middle this time, instead the fire would be in the center of the space, with the well bowl and a chosen tree on the outer edge of the space.

Folks arrived as usual, including many new folks who could never attend on Saturdays but could on our new Sunday date, and the weather stayed good. Actually, I don’t even think it was cloudy the whole time we were there, despite the earlier forecasts of off-and-on showers all afternoon. The time for the ritual came, we walked over to the house so we could actually process into the circle, and then we processed into the circle.

The ritual itself went pretty darn well, I thought, despite the last-minute sort-of change of venue. Rob (the one who isn’t me) performed the gate opening that he’d written, and everyone liked it. We did our usual decoration of the gourds to honor Ana and the Nature Spirits, and didn’t even run out of gourds, which worried me given that we had nineteen people there and I could only get thirteen gourds. The Stag Dance was a bit clunky – well, clunkier than usual – because we didn’t have a tree in the center, and dancing through the fire would have been, well, not good. So we danced in the open area to the side of the fire circle, by where the tree was. We did manage to get everyone dancing around at the end, though, so all ended up well. (As an aside, Rod said later that he doesn’t like how the dance just kind of peters off at the end, without a definite ending point of some sort. I can see his point, that liturgically and energetically it might be better to have some great gong or clap or something, but I’d never seen any Pagan ritual using a dance as the central part of the rite where they didn’t just let it go until everyone was tired out. Anyone else got experience with that?)

We offered the gourds in the woods – after Kim reminded me about that, I really should remember to use my script when I’m tired and out of breath from dancing – and the omen was good. (Jera – Othala – Perthro: A reference to having established a home, but having to take a chance on moving to a new home? Sounds very appropriate to our situation now.) We blessed and drank cider (thanks to Raven for getting some on the way to the rite, after I’d forgotten), closed things up, and spent a while socializing. (Now that I type that, I wonder if I should have made everyone recess out of the fire circle area before returning for the food and the raffle, but it seemed to work out okay.) The only sad thing about the socializing was finding out via smartphone that we’d missed one of the most impressive comebacks the Detroit Lions have ever pulled off. I knew there was a reason not to do rituals on Sunday!  >8)

So for those wondering (and I assume that’s most of you), the Botsford Preserve is being put up for sale. The executor described it as “highly unlikely” that a sale would go through before our Samhain ritual, so we’ve gone ahead and scheduled it there. While it’s possible that the new owner(s) will let us continue to use the nemeton (it’s in the cannot-be-developed section of the property) but we can’t assume that, so we’re treating Samhain as our last ritual in our nemeton after seventeen years. We’ve never held an outdoor High Day ritual anywhere else (not counting our old Lughnasadh festivals) so this is going to be new territory for us, both literally and metaphorically. We may well have to hold our rituals in public parks from now on, but given that most ADF Groves do that, it certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world for us. It occurred to me as I was lighting the fire on Saturday night that Shining Lakes Protogrove officially came into existence in September of 1993, making this ritual our eighteenth “birthday”, and maybe it wasn’t a coincidence in the grand scheme of things that our eighteen year old Grove would have to leave its childhood home and find someplace else to live. And that may not be a bad thing, in the long run.

—–

And one last note on this ritual, based on what I did today:

I went to CROP Walk for the second time, hoping to get a better turnout than last year when I was the only one from SLG who walked. Since we’d voted o make this our quarterly service project, several people expressed an interest, but Serena got sick and Candy stayed home to take care of her, and as the walk began, I was the only Grove member in the church. But who should be waiting outside but Brent, who had come to the ritual on Sunday and wanted to join us, but apparently didn’t want to set foot inside the church. (Yes, it was sunny today, so I’m pretty sure he’s not a vampire.)

We did the five mile walk instead of the one mile walk, not too hard for me since I work as a meter reader, and it gave him a chance to ask questions about what we do, and gave me a rare chance to find out what kind of questions someone would ask when they know next to nothing about us. (Psst, folks, you can e-mail me questions too. Just saying.) One of his comments that surprised me? He’s only been to two of our rites, Beltaine and Fall Equinox of this year, and he noted how “low energy” the first one was, compared to the somewhat higher energy of the equinox. It didn’t surprise me that he was expecting more energy at a pagan ritual, of course. (For info on why I don’t think high energy ritual is required – or even advisable – for public rites, see pretty much anything else I’ve ever written.) No, the surprise was that he thought Beltaine was low energy – that has to be our highest energy ritual of the year – and tat the fall rite was higher energy than that? But then he added that after attending a ritual and understanding how our liturgy differs from Wicca and the other traditions he was familiar with, that  he had a better feel for what was going on, that the opening of the gates felt stronger to him (some credit to Rob for that) and the calling of the Kindreds and everything else better resonated with him.  So is this proof that folks need to work with our system (and probably anyone else’s system too) for a while to get better results from it? Or that I have absolutely no concept of how energy works? Could be either, I suppose, but I’m going with the former.

Oh, and once again, I missed an exciting comeback by the Lions. We may need to consider scheduling Grove events for every game day to make sure they keep winning.

Next week (or maybe sooner), my thoughts on the DC40 silliness and how we Pagans should respond to it.

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