What The Outdwellers Did For Winter Vacation

Have you heard the old Pagan saying about Nature being our cathedral, the trees of the forest being its pillars, and the golden rays of the sun being the candlelight on our altar?  Yeah, well, as it turns out, our cathedral can also be attacked by the barbarian hordes.

Since the very first year of our existence, our grove had worked in a permanent nemeton set up on somebody else’s property.  First Don Botsford, and now Lyn.  The problems with having our nemeton on someone else’s land have always been apparent, as when Don passed away and we had to find a new location, but our members and guests alike have always felt a strong connection to the land where we’ve dug the Well and built the fire circle and made offering to the Kindreds.  When we lost our access to the Botsford Preserve and I suggested that we might have to start holding our outdoor rituals in public parks or rented indoor spaces (reality check: this is where most ADF groups do their public rites), the disapproval was universal.  We lucked out in finding a space at Cavallo, spend a year doing ritual in the field building our relationships with both the land spirits and the landlord, and then we found a clearing in the woods that we could turn into a nemeton, and that’s where we’ve been for three years now.

While the property owner loves us and the energy we bring (her tenants at the stable comment on it a lot), her neighbors aren’t quite as thrilled.  They aren’t brave enough to come up to me and tell me they have a problem with me, though apparently one of them loves telling our folks who walk to and from the bathroom that they “don’t like strangers”.  For a while, that was the extent of it, but then the signs we put by the road started disappearing (along with Gen’s LED light we were using to illuminate it), and one was torn and left in pieces.  Any doubts I had as to who was doing it vanished at the next rite when one of the neighbors drove out to the road, saw Rodney sitting next to the sign, and turned right around and drove home.

So having someone keep an eye on the signs was as much as we needed to worry about until February, when Lyn called to ask if any of us had been to the site, which of course we hadn’t because we do our winter rites indoors.  She said it looks like the Epona statue was gone, and that it looked like things were missing from the circle but she wasn’t sure what.  (She loves having us there, but she doesn’t attend the rituals and really couldn’t be expected to know what shrines and such we have set up.)  I asked the Grove officers if they could stop by the site and see what, if anything, had happened, but nobody could manage to get there during daylight hours before our regularly scheduled nemeton work day last weekend.

When Gen and I got to the nemeton that day, Rodney confirmed it.  The Epona statue that Candy painted to honor the horses of the farm was gone, though the support stones were still there.  (And having carried that thing back when I still had my own feet, I know that it weighed over fifty pounds.  That they removed the statue but not the other things still seems hard to believe.)  Our Kindred altars, the herm, and the bricks of the Well had all been thrown from the circle into the woods.  (We managed to find all of those, save one brick.)  And what firewood we had left last year was gone.  Rodney had put everything back; in hindsight, we should have at least gotten photos, and probably filed a report with the police.  After that, we did our usual raking and firewood gathering and made offerings to the Kindreds, just like every other nemeton work day.  As we left, Gen put one of the Epona statue’s support bricks on tops of the other to make an impromptu altar, and gave a grain offering to Epona.

epona stone

Was it the neighbors?  I can’t prove it, but I have no other suspects.  Whoever it was has committed trespassing and vandalism, at a minimum.  And I have no reason to think they haven’t gone right back and done it again.  I’m not too worried about the shrine stands, those can be replaced easily enough, plus we can do a ritual without them if we need to (other than marking the Well so people don’t step into it).  If there was any risk of harm to the people attending our rituals, that would concern me, but the cowardly nature of these acts make me think that they will never confront us directly.

Will we be looking for a new site to hold our rituals?  Of course not.  If these people think they can motivate us by making us afraid, then they don’t know us and our practices.  They think that fear will motivate us because they themselves are motivated by it, and that’s a shame.  But I will not act out of fear.  We have the legal right to be in that place, we have worked hard to make it our sacred space and to build good relations with the land, and I don’t give up on my relationships so easily. A statue can be replaced, as we Pagans were reminded last year, but we still have each other and the blessings of the Kindreds, and no pathetic trespasser can take those from us.

How do I honor the Three Kindreds in this matter?  Not hard: I honor the local Land Spirits by continuing to make offerings and ask for their blessings; I honor my grandmother by following her advice about never giving a bully what they want; and I honor my patroness Athena by honoring the laws of the land and working within our legal system to bring these criminals to justice.

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

Rob Henderson’s Trip to Minnesota, April 2nd – 4th, 1999

(Seventeen years ago this weekend, I made a trip to Minnesota to visit an ADF Protogrove and help them hold a ritual near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  When I registered for the upcoming ADF Upper Midwest Retreat last week, I remembered this article I wrote about that earlier trip (complete with photos taken with a non-digital camera), and thought that I should repost it here.  Enjoy!

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

How do you wake up a sleeping lake in Minnesota? You get a Druid from Michigan to help you! That’s what Roy and Laura Shoemake (of Song of the Hounds Protogrove, ADF) told me, anyway. I’m their grove mentor, as part of ADF’s Grove Organizing Committee, and they asked me to attend their first public ritual on April 3rd, 1999. Obviously it wasn’t a small request, since I don’t head out to Minnesota all that often, but I talked it over with my gods and ancestors, and they thought it was a good idea. So off I went! (Some would say I was off already, of course.)

On Friday, I navigated Fritz (my Ford Festiva) though the holiday airport traffic, barely found a parking spot, and went in. I got checked in and got to the gate a mere fifteen minutes early – whew! Then the plane was half an hour late. Oh well. The flight to Chicago was smooth. It was my first flight in about twenty years, but I loved flying as a kid, so I knew I wouldn’t be upset now, and I was right.

I was flying into Chicago at night
Watching the lake turn the sky into blue green smoke
The sun was setting to the left of the plane
And the cabin was filled with an unearthly glow
In 27D I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a movie screen
(Liz Phair, “Stratford-on-Guy”)

After resetting my watch to Central time, I walked about halfway across O’Hare (and realized why everyone who flies frequently tells me that Detroit Metro is an ugly airport: because it is, and O’Hare isn’t) and just barely made my connecting flight to Fargo. After flying for an hour and a half (and seeing nothing but blackness through the window), we landed. Laura was waiting for me, and we made the hour and a half drive to their home, passing by what seemed like several hundred of Minnesota’s Ten Thousand Lakes on the way. (I usually touch my finger to my forehead to acknowledge the spirits of the lakes and rivers I pass when I’m in a car, but that got real old real fast. >8)

The next morning, Jack and Sheri Rector had arrived from Mankato to help out with the ritual. Everything was pretty much ready, except for one little thing: the script. YIPE! Roy and Laura had been busy all week, and hadn’t written any invocations down, and of course they weren’t experienced enough with ADF ritual to improvise. Fortunately, I had just finished working on a solitary adaptation of SLG’s Imbolc ritual, which was chock full of good invocations. (Most of them written by our own Kami Landy. Take a bow, Kami!) Within an hour, the ritual text was ready.

It was about a two-hour drive to Lake Itasca, and we passed by another few hundred lakes on the way. In defiance of Pagan Standard Time, we arrived well before 3 o’clock, to discover that only one of the entrances was open, and only one of the ranger stations was open to sell permits. After driving for another half hour (and another hundred lakes), we made it to the meeting place right on time. Whew! There were about fifteen folks from Orenda North, the eclectic pagan group from the nearby town of Bemidji. (Yes, there’s a real town named Bemidji.)

A few of us went out exploring for a good ritual site. We wandered down a hill, then crossed a small bridge over a stream about twenty feet wide. Could it be…? Yes, it was the Mississippi River. A few minutes later, we were at the headwaters, where the water from Lake Itasca pours out over a bridge of stepping stones and becomes the Mississippi. Most of the lake was frozen over, but the rushing waters were very liquid. (And very cold!)

headwaters_zps8d51eac1The headwaters of the Mississippi

signpost_zpsc24a360bThe marker: “Here 1475 ft. above the ocean the mighty Mississippi begins to flow on its winding way 2552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico”

We wandered further and uphill to a picnic area with firepits and lots of trees, and behind a hill which protected us from the wind. Perfect! We went back to gather the others, then somehow managed to get all of the ritual gear and potluck food back to the spot. Actually, it wasn’t all that difficult to move the ritual gear, since Song of the Hounds hasn’t built up a huge stash of statuary and altar items like we have. The food took up far more weight. I change into my blue chiton and sandals, but left on my shirt and jeans, as a concession to the cold. (Without the wind, it was in the 40 to 45 degree range.)

jacksheri_zpsd0b45b2aJack and Sheri try to stay warm

Once we had the minimal altars set up (including my Athenian owl, the one personal altar item I’d brought along) and poured water from three sources (the Huron River, the Mississippi, and the lake by the Shoemake’s old home) into the well, we got the ritual started. I’m not used to doing group ritual with a script, so it felt a little awkward, but it seemed to work well. We called upon Brid to warm the waters and the land, and passed around a drinking horn to toast her. (I had a grape soda, and shared it with the kids.)

roylaurahorn_zpse6b1aa38Roy and Laura making an offering

roylauracard_zps4d410c60Roy and Laura taking the omen

After the usual post-ritual socializing in the cold, we packed up and headed home. We stopped by the headwaters again so I could fill up a 3-liter soda bottle with water, then I poured some water from the Huron into the Mississippi and said a quick prayer to the two rivers.

After the drive home was finished (and we nearly lost Jack and Sheri to a wrong turn on the Minnesota country roads), we stayed up way too late looking at Sheri’s beadwork and yapping. (Don’cha know?) And I reset my watch for Daylight Savings before going to bed.

The next morning was Easter Sunday, and Tim and Garrett (and Lady)went questing for hidden candy. It had snowed overnight – maybe that spring ritual didn’t work! Not to worry, though, it all melted by noon. We had breakfast and watched a video (Get Shorty, which I’ve wanted to see for ages), then spent some time discussing the ritual and how they could do it better next time. (Writing the script more than four hours in advance would be a good start. >8) Then we packed into the car and went back to Fargo. And I actually got to see the lakes this time!

The earth looked like it was lit from within
Like a poorly assembled electrical ball as we moved
Out of the farmlands into the grid
The plan of a city was all that you saw
And all of these people sitting totally still
As the ground raced beneath them thirty thousand feet down
(same song)

The flight to Chicago was a lot nicer this time, as the sun was up and I could actually see the ground. Which wasn’t much to look at, really, except for the Mississippi, which was a lot wider this far south. Lots of farms, several hundred more lakes (with lots of houses circling them, and few houses anywhere else), and the occasional cumulus cloud casting a shadow over them. The flight to Detroit was uneventful, except for having to set my watch ahead an hour when we went back to Eastern time. (Three time changes in one weekend! My head was spinning!) The only downer was getting back into my Festiva to listen to the radio stations of my native city, and discovering that my favorite station had changed formats from alternative rock to classic Motown while I was gone. “Huh? Did I take the wrong plane and wind up in some city that plays Motown on 105.1??? And if I’m in the wrong city, how did Fritz get here?”

All in all, it was a great experience, and I hope to do it again. Preferably during a warmer month.