Imbolc By Any Other Name…

It’s that time of year again, Imbolc right around the corner.  And every year for several years now, I ask why?  I go through the motions, but truthfully, feel nothing for this high day.  I am not Celtic nor am I drawn to Brid, even though I have lots of Irish and Scotts blood in me, there is no connection to this hearth.  So every year I ask myself why?  Why must I honor Imbolc? Just because I am told its tradition?  Aren’t there other ways to honor this high day?

 

This year I decided to ask others why instead.  I posted a question on ADF General Decision board and got some very interesting answers that, truthfully, are helping me with this high day.  So I thought I’d share my thoughts and the answers that were giving to me.

 

It is interesting all the different traditions that go along with this day, many that I had never associated with it, but now a light bulb is going off in my head.  The tradition of spring cleaning and preparing for the upcoming spring season seems to be a big part of the high day. This makes some sense to me but I think what made more sense was when a grove mate suggested including the Cailleach with our working of Brid.  After reading the myths that link these two goddesses together it does make sense and adds a depth that I hadn’t felt before.  I must admit though, the one big thing I enjoy about honoring Brid on Imbolc is all the crafty items you get to make, sorry, that’s just me.  I love making these kinds of things.

 

Several people had mentioned ways of honoring their own pantheon at this time of year.  Some honored deities associated with healing or plants, example Airmid, Epona and Demeter.  Demeter and Epona are associated with plants and the harvests to come while Airmid is an Irish goddess of healing, specifically herbs.  I find the Airmid the most interesting of the three because of her link to herbs, which I am teaching myself and have been for years.  Another person had mentioned that their grove honored Perkunas and Gabija, both Baltic deities.  Perkunas purifies the earth, getting it ready for spring will Gabija is also the goddess of hearth and fire. In the examples giving me, I find it interesting that they all share the aspect of preparing for spring, the coming of plants or are a hearth goddess, in the case of Gabija.  I had never before thought of this time along the lines they have and truthfully, it brings up a lot of interesting thoughts and ideas.

 

The Norse hearth cultures honor Disting, also known as Ewemeolc, on Feb 1 or 2.  The common tradition of this high day is blessing objects or tools and starting new projects.  Disting is very similar to Imbolc.  I’m curious as to why they are so close, could it been a case of neighbors influencing each other?

 

While all these traditions are still based on the assumption that spring is beginning, I still have to agree with the comment that had been made that being in Michigan, it’s the middle of winter, spring isn’t coming yet.  But what is coming is little more sunshine every day.  Maybe that’s why I don’t connect so much with this high day.  It doesn’t feel like spring is coming, to cold and dark, but it is the mid-point and it is getting lighter out sooner, the days are starting to get longer.  Maybe by only a few minutes, but it is happening.  That part I can connect with.

 

Another tidbit mentioned, that I thought was interesting was the fact that a lot of people refer to the high days as Solstice, Equinox or Cross-quarter (add seasonal description) not Imbolc because of the fact they do not celebrate it.  This makes sense because you are describing what you are doing but not calling it something it isn’t.

 

After taking notes, looking up different deities mentioned and different practices, I’m glad I asked this question.  It’s helped me define what I want in my own practice and helped me understand a little more about different groves way of handling this high day and different ways to honor Imbolc itself.

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A Mediterranean Spinach Salad With Snackers And A Donation On The Side

Back in August, I was contacted by the manager of the local – well, one of the local – Olga’s Kitchen to see if we were interested in one of their promotional opportunities.  And honestly, I probably would have blown it off if Rod and Gen hadn’t sounded so excited about it when I mentioned it at the business meeting.  On one pre-assigned day, for anyone who bought anything at the Olga’s at Plymouth Crossing and gave them the flyer with our name of it, 15% of the bill would be donated to SLG.  (20% in August, presumably because it’s a slow month for them.)

So we agreed to do it that month, but the date when we were going to be at Plymouth Crossing for Coffee Hour anyway was already taken, so we got stuck with a different date and had all of five people show up all day.  Granted, there was no cost to us (other than the effort we put into publicizing it), and they did send us thirteen dollars for it, and thirteen bucks is thirteen bucks, but I e-mailed the manager our schedule for Coffee Hour and said that we would happily do it again on any of those dates, but if those dates were already taken by another group then we would pass.

Happily, we’ve managed to get our chosen dates for every month since September, and our attendance has gone up.  I’ve suggested that folks get there between 6:30 and 7 so we can go directly to Sweetwaters for Coffee Hour when it starts at 8, but folks can show up at any time on the date and it will count, as long as they have a copy of the magic flyer at: http://shininglakes.org/olgas.pdf

You can always check our schedule for upcoming fundraisers (and other events) at either http://shininglakes.org/schedule.html or http://shininglakes.org/googlecal.html.

And remember, we’re always interested in any new fundraising ideas that folks may have.  Running a Grove, and renting spaces and buying supplies for our rituals, does cost money, and our membership dues and our ritual raffle proceeds often aren’t enough to cover those expenses.  So if you have a sound and sensible idea for a fundraiser, let Rodney (our Treasurer) know.  If you have a ridiculous idea for a fundraiser, tell me instead, ‘cause I love those!

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

Scents and Rituals

Friday I was listening to a morning radio show and they were asking people a question.  If someone offered you a million dollars to give up one of your senses, which one would it be?  It seems the most popular answer was their sense of smell.  The reasons were logical.  No one wanted to be blind or deaf, losing your sense of touch could lead to very dangerous situations and losing your sense of taste?  Well, no one wanted to lose that because they liked eating to much.  They all stated they could live without their sense of smell.  That it was the least important sense. Really? Sense of smell not important?  Well, I can’t say I agree with them.

While all the senses are equally important, in my humble opinion, and each enriches our lives in there own way.  I believe that our sense of smell effects us more then most people realize.

What does this have to do with home practice, rituals or spiritual workings you ask? Okay, let’s do some visualization.  Close your eyes and imagine a bright sunny summer day.  What do you see?  What are you feeling? What are you smelling?  Smelling you ask? Yes, what scent makes you think of summer? Is it fresh cut grass? A barbeque?  Water at the lake?  How about picturing Yule.  What scent reminds you Yule?  Scents are good for triggering memories and emotions.

When you are creating a ritual, you think about the offerings, what you’re going to say, maybe even certain dance, music, extras like that.  Unfortunately a lot of time the scents used during a ritual is not taking into consideration.  In a ritual you are trying to create an atmosphere, a certain feel to what you are doing or experiencing.  If you use the right scent, the experience will be outstanding or at the least good.  But the wrong scent?  It can ruin what you are doing.  No matter how much thought and preparation used, if you use a scent you don’t like it will throw off everything.  When you use a smell you really don’t like you are not going to be concentrating on what you want to accomplish, no, you are going to be thinking about that horrible smell.

Now, there are many ways to add scents to your rituals, meditations or whatever you are working on at the moment.  The most popular way is through stick or cone incense.  In my opinion they are okay, I am not as happy with them as I used to because of the chemicals used in them or animal byproduct.  But just recently I have discovered some stick incense made that are organic and do not have animal byproduct in it.  You can also make your own; this is an adventure in itself.  Another popular method is burning herbs on a charcoal or throwing them into a fire.  And last but not least is using a simmering pot and essential oils.

What ever method you decide to try, just remember, use the scents you like, the ones that help you feel more connected to what you are doing.  Adding scents to your practice will add a whole new depth to your practice.  Be creative, be adventurous.  You will be glad you did.

Trying To Fit A Triangular Goddess Into A Circular Hole?

This past year, knowing that many of the folks who attend our rituals don’t work with our Grove’s deities in their own household practice, I committed to writing a guided meditation for each of our High Days, for folks to use at home to help get them in touch with the rite’s deities before the actual rites.  I didn’t get a huge number of comments about them, overall, but I’m getting used to the fact that many of the people who like something I write (or feel indifferent to it) will never feel the need to tell me so.  Most of the comments I did get, especially for the meditations involving Ana, were very positive.

Most.

And then there were the responses I got to the Bríd meditation for Imbolc.

I don’t want to get into details, since I do think that discussing the particulars of trance journey visions falls under the purview of clergy confidentiality.  But the two people who did share their experiences with me both got a strongly negative sense from their encounter with the Bright Queen, and a refusal to interact with them.  And of course, I heard the usual reports of “I didn’t do the meditation because I don’t like Bríd any more” from the same folks I’ve been getting them from for several years now.

So there I sat, duly elected by the membership of the Grove to deal with our rituals and liturgy, being told by our tradition (both ancient Irish tradition and the tradition our Grove has developed over nineteen years) and a few of our members that we absolutely have to keep working with Bríd, being told by more of our members that they feel no connection to her any more and that she doesn’t seem to feel a connection to them either, and me in the middle, forced to resolve this, and getting no message from the deity in question beyond “you’d better figure something out”.

What to do?  Bring more people in and make them figure it out!  Well no, not exactly that, but this is exactly the sort of quandary that An Bruane was designed to handle.  If no one of us can figure out a solution, then maybe more than one of us working together can figure it out.  (Besides, I’ve never been the charismatic leader type.)  So I dedicated our December An Bruane session to figuring out where to go from here, with all options – including not working with Bríd any longer – being on the table.  Rod and Gen made the trip to my home for the meeting.

I began by noting that, thanks to Imbolc being bumped forward into January because (now that we’re doing rituals on Sundays) people didn’t want to do it on Super Bowl Sunday, meant that the Ann Arbor Observer had already listed the Imbolc in its print version and online calendar as a ritual to Bríd.  And I didn’t want to risk the bad PR of having any local Bríd fans read the listing, show up for the rite, and find out that we’d fired their favorite goddess.  So not honoring Bríd this year was probably out, although we could still consider either adding another deity or two to the rite.  (Even after sixteen years, there are aspects of running a public group that can catch me by surprise.  Having to deal with how other org’s list our events on their calendars is one of those.)

We all agreed that one of the difficult parts of coming up with a meaningful Imbolc ritual based in Irish traditions is that those traditions are difficult to apply to a modern Pagan group made up of people from all around southeastern Michigan who travel to Ann Arbor for the rite.  The traditions we know of are either centered around a single household (the cleaning, the presentation of the corn dolly, the hanging of a Bríd cross), centered around a village (the Brídeog procession), or centered around sacred sites like wells.  We don’t have a sacred well specific to Bríd to work with, and even if we did, you tell me how much attendance we’d get for an outdoor rite in the middle of winter.  And our Grove isn’t a household, or a village, and pretending that it is has never quite seemed to work.  If we owned a building, such rituals might fit in well with our relationship to Bríd.

So if we don’t have a common hearth that we share, does it even make sense to have a hearth goddess act as our goddess of community?  While there are plenty of Indo-European cultures who defined their community by the sacred flames of a goddess (Hestia and Vesta leap to mind), it’s hardly a requirement of ADF’s or SLG’s rules that we must have a Grove hearth goddess.  And it was Gen who pointed out during our An Bruane discussion that we do have a goddess who inspires most of our members to do both home rituals and community workings to honor her, who has a sacred site that we visit at least once a year, and in all other respects functions as our goddess of community.  Hek, her name even appears on our official Grove logo and banner and T-shirts and the name of the blog you’re reading right now.  And her name isn’t Bríd, it’s Ana.

So is this the reason we’ve had such trouble working with Bríd, and vice versa?  That we’ve been acting as though she’s our goddess of community, but she really isn’t?  Is restoring a mutually beneficial relationship as simple as changing our expectations of her?  It’s not as though there aren’t plenty of other things associated with her that we could work with instead.  Between fire, the bardic arts, healing, blacksmithing, midwifery, and livestock, she’s one of the most aspect-heavy deities out there.

So going into the Liturgists’ Roundtable next Tuesday, that’s what I’m going to recommend.  Just use Bríd as the only deity of the occasion, and de-emphasize her hearth and community aspects.  Pick something else, or maybe three something elses if we’re feeling ambitious.  Let’s all hold candles and pass a flame from person to person, let’s have an improv poetry contest, let’s pretend to be cows, let’s go find a pregnant woman and make her give birth, okay maybe not that last one, but let’s not worry about making people kneel before the dolly as we bring it in, and let’s not even say the word “hearth”, and we’ll see how it goes.

If things still don’t go well and people still don’t want to work with Bríd, then I won’t rule out finding another deity to try working with next year.  Gen did some research and even if we don’t want to go to a different hearth culture (which I don’t, for a variety of reasons), it looks like honoring the Cailleach would be entirely appropriate at this time of year.  My preference is to keep working with the deities we’ve contacted over the years instead of just pulling them out of a book, but I’m sure that a year’s lead time would give us plenty of opportunity to contact the Cailleach, or any other deity out there who wants to work with us for this High Day.

As always, I invite people to share their opinions here, and at our ritual planning meeting on Tuesday.  I suspect that more than a few of you will have some opinions about this.  >8)

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

The Move Is Complete

All of the posts from the old blog site should now be here as well.

Be warned that I made no attempt at checking whether the old links still worked.  Given how old some of the entries are, I’m sure that many of them do not.  If it’s a link to something on our old Web server, replacing “shininglakes.bravehost.com” with “shininglakes.org” should get you to the right page on the new one.

– Rob

Farewell, Raven

(Posted by the ADF ArchDruid on Wednesday:)

This morning Rev. George Lee (Raven Mann) passed away in the presence of his wife. He had been in the hospital for an operation due to his failing health and had an unexpected blood clot in his lungs. He was 49.

Raven Mann was an effective priest and ritual leader, and also an accomplished liturgist. He served as the ADF Preceptor during the latter half of Rev. Skip Ellison’s term as Archdruid and made many contributions to the deliberations of the ADF Clergy Council. His passing will be a great loss to ADF.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Rev. Kelly Kingston (Carrion Mann) and their daughter Morrighan at this sad time. We also pray that he may pass quickly to the Otherworlds in the company of his Ancestors.

Raven, we will miss you, and we pray that you will lift a glass in the Otherworlds when we call on our Ancestors in the years to come. With cries of “ghosti!” we trust that you have now joined the ranks of the Ancient Wise for the benefit of us all.

Goodbye for now, old friend.

Rev. Kirk Thomas
ADF Archdruid

I can’t say that I knew Raven super-well. I knew him as well as I knew anyone who I mostly interacted with on e-mail lists, I suppose. Despite my lack of transportation for most of the time he was in ADF, I was fortunate enough to see Raven in person a few times, including a few months ago right after the Clergy Retreat. His work on our Study Programs during his time as ADF Preceptor was both impressive and much needed. From now on, every time I see one of our members finish the Dedicant Program, I’m going to remember him and how hard he worked to make that process easier and more complete than it was when I did it back in the 90’s. And his insights into how clergy should function in a Grove, based on his time as a Protestant minister, were always enlightening.

A memorial site has been created for donations to the Mann family. You can make a donation at 6thnight.org. All funds will go the family.

Sadly, my current work situation means I won’t have the option of going to the memorial service in Erie tomorrow. I will certainly be making offerings for him at our next ritual, and anyone else is welcome to join me in doing so. In the meantime, please keep his family in your prayers.

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