Dec 29, 2015
Well, Yule was a long time ago, but it's been busy (surely one day Yule will again fall on a day I have off, and I can actually take some time to do the thing properly?) and I didn't get it written up soon enough.

Once again I used the ritual text from the Crane Breviary and found it entirely adequate but underwhelming. (It also leaves out some of my favorite bits of the one group ADF ritual I attended, such as the offering to the Outsiders, which means I forget about them until after it's too late.) I'm afraid this means I'm going to have to write my own for Imbolg. Which means I'm going to have to plan ahead a little better for that one.

Yes, once again I was woefully underprepared - worse this time than Samhain. I also realized partway through the ritual that the text made much more sense for the day *after* the solstice, whereas I was doing ritual at night just a couple of hours before astronomical solstice. Preparation, preparation.

But I did have offerings for everyone - oil and wine for the gods and the ancestors, nuts and pinecones for the Good Neighbors, a mirror for the sun, grain for the Earth Mother. And the ritual itself went fairly smoothly, although it lacked that particular ineffable quality that I associate with really good ritual. I called Manannan as Gatekeeper again, and that relationship seems to be going fairly well, so I suspect I should do something else to strengthen it between holidays.

I did run into a small snag with logistics - my printer stopped working, so I had to read the text of the ritual off my tablet. I didn't like it. Of course, I don't particularly like reading text off paper either, so maybe the answer is just that I need to memorize the liturgy before I become really satisfied with my rituals. More preparation.

For omens I drew the Queen of Cups, the Page of Swords reversed, and the Two of Cups reversed - emotional security, undelivered promises, and a misunderstanding. (To dramatically oversimplify.) I can't help but think about the job I didn't take at the beginning of December, the move I'm not going to make after all. I'm sure I made the right decision, but it is a loss of opportunity. If nothing else, it means I'm going to have to work harder to make sure I take advantage of the opportunities I do have, the ones I didn't lose by not moving.

I also can't help but compare the amount of time I spent on Christmas, a family and social holiday, versus Yule, a religious and personally meaningful holiday. Granted, there were far fewer people expecting things from me for Yule - but those people were the gods and spirits. I'm going to have to think about priorities too, it seems. And work on my preparation.

Io Saturnalia!

Dec 21, 2015
I am a little surprised to discover that Yule appears to be my favorite holiday. For the longest time it was Samhain - because it's witchy, I guess, and because liminality appeals to me. But for several years now I've been finding the liminality of Samhain and Beltane to be more of a drain on my energy than anything else. Then it was Imbolc, being as it was the holiday of my patroness, but we are not going to talk about how long it's been since I've properly celebrated Imbolc. But Yule - well, I always know when the Solstice is coming. The others depend on my awareness of the calendar, but I can feel Yule in my bones.

I grew up in a Christian household, and we celebrated Christmas. Still do, for the most part - I'm going back to Iowa to see my family in just a couple of days. I have an artificial Christmas tree up in my living room because my lease forbids real trees, but it doesn't say anything about wreaths, so I have a pine wreath on the door which I'll cannibalize for my altar decorations this evening. I have already spent too much money on presents, and I'm planning to go out today and spend more. Christmas is still a big part of this season for me, and I'm sure that's part of the reason I haven't traditionally thought of Yule as an important holiday for me: I was trying to get out from under the Christian influence.

It's a terrible cliché of pagan writing, but nevertheless it is true that Christmas is in December because of Yule. There is a reason everyone has a party on the winter solstice, and even all our modern conveniences can't change the fact that the sun has been gone, and she is coming back.

The sun is coming back.


Alone in my mind

Dec 15, 2015
Last week's homework for the Dedicant Path was to begin a program of mental training. I, er, have not been particularly rigorous about this.

I started meditating regularly - which, for purposes of this discussion, means at least once a week - a few months ago, when I started going to therapy. My depression seems to be at its worst in the summer, for some reason, and I was trying to head things off at the pass. "At this point I would suggest meditation, except everyone always tells me they're doing it wrong," my therapist said more than once. "They're not. That's how it works." I don't know if she was using reverse psychology on me or what, but I finally threw up my hands and decided to start meditating.

I've never been very good at seated meditation. I get self-conscious and begin to be convinced that I'm breathing wrong. But walking meditation hasn't worked well for me either, so I scrounged around for an app that might work. I settled on Stop, Breathe, and Think, an app that has a soothing, friendly-sounding narrator and enough guided meditations that I haven't gotten bored yet. Between this and The Mindful Way Through Depression, the book that finally convinced me that I wasn't meditating wrong after all, my mental health has improved drastically.

So I kept up my meditations last week, but I'm not quite sure this is the thing I want to be doing for my religion. The guided meditations in Stop, Breathe, and Think are very Buddhist, and I still don't do terribly well with un-guided sitting meditation. But it can't hurt for going on with, and perhaps with luck I'll stumble upon a good alternative soon. It's much easier to stumble upon these things when you're looking for them.


Dec 6, 2015
I've had a hellishly busy week, so I was relieved to see that this week's Dedicant Path work was simple: build an altar. I already have an altar; how hard could it be to transition it to an ADF style?

Harder than I thought, actually, and also simpler.

The altar was in the back of my mind all week, churning around, and I could never come up with an image I liked. I knew, though, that I wanted it to be in the living room. I live alone, finally, so there's no reason for it to be tucked away. I want to use my altar for more than just high day rituals, and making it easy to reach makes that easier.

main altar

But what to include? I've been pagan for about fifteen years now, and I've accumulated a lot of Pagan Stuff. You know the kind. Candles in every color, bowls and jars and oils and bits of natural debris, athames and wands and divinatory tools of every kind.

In the end, I went for simple, not only because I was pressed for time in the chaos of this week but also because I just found out I'll be moving by the end of the month. I'm an overdecorator by nature, so in my new home I'll probably end up loading a table down with witchy nonsense, but for now I've settled for using my houseplant as the Tree, my cauldron as the Well, and my tripartate candleabra as the Flame, plus my offering cup. It's the bare bones of an altar, and I like it for now.

traveling altar - packed
traveling altar - set up
And then, since I'm getting ready to move and may not have a new home until February, I decided to overhaul my traveling altar, too. I've had this for years, a carved wooden box full of everything I think I might need to do ritual or magic if I'm away from my home altar. This box was cluttered too, so I stripped it down to the basics: a piece of felt for an altar cloth, a broken branch from the trees where I've been doing my nature practice for the Tree, a small dish for the Well, and a candle for the Flame. I added a tiny clay bowl for offerings, a serpent/flame talisman I made that represents Brigid, and a mini Tarot deck for casting omens. (It's handy to have a divination-tool addiction, sometimes.) On second thought, I'll keep my primary Tarot deck on the main altar, too; it's been out, as I do some studying, but there's no reason it can't rest there instead of on the coffee table.

It's a small thing for me, building a new altar, but I'm glad it's done. I could use an excuse for some peace and quiet in the next month.

A small delay

Nov 23, 2015
I'm holding back a week on the DP schedule. Two reasons - one, it'll give me a chance to get caught up on my reading. (I meant to do my reading last week, really I did!) And two, the schedule suffers from the unfortunate but unavoidable fact that the High Days aren't evenly spaced throughout the year. This way, I'll get an extra week of reading in and my homework will line up nicely for Yule.

Expect to see my reaction to my first Indo-European studies text here next week! (And oh, do I have Opinions.)

An Hour In Nature (Cold Winter Coming)

Nov 15, 2015
So I'm working through the ADF Dedicant's Path with the assistance of a handy guidebook called The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year (delightfully included in ADF membership), which lays out all the work you have to do for the DP week by week, with homework. Since I am notorious for starting big and finishing not at all, I figured this was probably the best way to handle things. I rushed the first couple of weeks to do my first ritual at Samhain, and now I'm settling in for the long haul. The guide strongly suggests keeping a journal for all the steps along the way, and indeed some parts of the journal are required as part of the formal documentation of the work; you may consider this my dedicant's journal.

The homework for week four was to spend an hour in nature. After all, we are druids, we are neo-pagans, and nature is important to us. The guidebook acknowledges that many people do start at Samhain and therefore in many parts of the world it's getting cold outside. The only concession it makes is to warn you not to pick a spot that's likely to be difficult to get to in the snow. So out I went, into the late autumn weather, to see what I could commune with.

At first I'd planned to go out to one of the many forest preserves in Chicagoland, but after doing some of the reading I decided instead to stick to my own backyard, for several reasons. One is that if I'm going to make this a regular practice, I'm much more likely to avoid going out all the way to a forest preserve than I am to avoid stepping out my door and hanging out with a tree for a while. But another is more philosophical.

We tend, in the developed world, to think of nature as "out there," somewhere separate from our homes and daily lives. But it isn't. Nature is, in fact, everything everywhere all around us. Humans are nature, and human-made things are nature. The seasons turn in cities and in the countries alike - weather changes, the sun rises and sets earlier or later depending on the time of year, the moon spins through her cycle no matter where you stand on the planet. Now granted, there's a difference in the kind of nature from my houseplant to the linden trees in the yard to the prairie preserves five miles away to the Grand Canyon halfway across the country, but it's all nature. I didn't want to emphasize the difference but the closeness - so I went out in the yard.

I went first to the tree in the corner of the property, out of sight of most of the other apartments in my building, where I leave my offerings after ritual. I'd been there not five minutes when a fat grey squirrel ran under the fence and stopped shock still within a foot of me. Then she climbed to the top of the fence and started making angry squirrel noises, presumably warning all the other squirrels (there are a lot of them) that some human had come invading their territory. So I moved. I don't want to be rude, after all.

There's another small cluster of trees up by the side door to the building - four almost in a square, and another one nearby, with a stump right next to it. I settled into the square, partially sheltered from the wind, and wondered what kind of trees they were. Well, thanks to the glory of the modern age, I can find out, right? About half an hour with Google and the Arbor Day tree identifier informed me that they are probably linden trees, which are nice shady ornamentals, useful soft wood that is good for carving, and produce medicinal flowers which make a lovely tea. I'd like a more confident identification before I go consuming anything, but I must say that I'm intrigued by the thought of linden-flower tea. I'll have to keep that in mind come spring.

Near the end of my hour, I did a grounding and centering meditation. moving my awareness throughout my body before pushing it down into the ground and through the grass, into the earth to meet the Mother. I'm fairly certain the chills I got from that are different from the ones I was getting from the wind. It wasn't the kind of day I'd have picked for this work on my own - but I'm glad I did it, nonetheless, and I'll do it again.

(And since I'm a druid, some elementary astrological observations seem pertinent: the moon is a narrow waxing crescent, and sunset was at about 4:30 in the afternoon.)

Samhain 2015

Nov 9, 2015
Samhain 2015 altar

I performed my first ADF-style Samhain ritual on the morning of November 1st. I usually prefer to do it on Halloween night, but I'd been at work all day (in a corset, no less) and I wanted to be fresh for the first ritual I'd done in six months.

I set up my altar on a table facing the window that usually isn't used for anything, using my houseplant (a legacy from my grandmother's funeral) as the Tree, a single red taper for the Flame, and my small copper cauldron as the Well. I also set aside another bowl for offerings. I sat, which I usually don't do, in one of my dining chairs; it worked much better than I expected. For the text of the ritual, I used the ritual in the Crane Breviary & Guide Book sample provided on the ADF website. It wasn't ideal for my purposes - I have some intellectual doubts about Cernunnos which interfere with my spiritual connections, and some of the terminology isn't natural for me - but one of the reasons I joined ADF in the first place was to have resources like this to work from instead of making up my own religion from scratch every time I tried to do anything. So in the interests of getting a ritual accomplished without tearing my own hair out (or becoming so frustrated with the customization process that I didn't get it done at all), I went ahead with what was there, with two small adjustments: I called Manannan as Gatekeeper, and I added my First Oath in the Working segment.

Next time, I want more poetry.

I may have done my First Oath before, in the spring when I first joined ADF and was ambitious enough to start the Dedicant's Path right away, before my depression took over and I had to start again. I honestly can't remember. I figured that if I couldn't remember, it wouldn't hurt anything to start over. Based on the advice in The Dedicant's Path Through the Wheel of the Year and [that one article on the website], I set it to rhythm and chanted it, which rang better in my ears and in my soul than just speaking the words. I'd like to incorporate a chant of my First Oath into a regular practice - but I'll need a regular practice for that to work.

So I offered sacrifices of oil and silver coins to Cernunnos, despite my reservations, and thought them well accepted; I offered sacrifices of whiskey and apples to the Ancestors, which went over very well. I wrote a letter to my grandmother, who passed in 2006, and who I was very close with when she was alive. I miss her advice and her practicality, and it was good to be able to tell her so, and to be heard. I drew the omens from my Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck. I'd love to use ogam for my omens, and I think eventually I will, but for the time being I know the Tarot well enough to read it without references. I'll learn the ogam in time. From the Ancestors, I drew the Six of Wands, victory and recognition. From the Fair Folk, the Knight of Pentacles, financial stability. And from the Gods, The Sun, joy. And above and beyond the omens themselves, I liked the nice way they fit into the patterns of the Tarot, from concrete to abstract, in a way I think fits the three categories of spirits well.
at the end of ritual

I'm still struggling with how I feel in ritual. I keep wanting it to be more than it is, to sweep me away and feel incredible and profound. It felt real, this time, but not profound. (It may just be that I'm not familiar enough yet with the ADF Order of Ritual to combine script and visualization effectively.) I could see the Gates opening in my mind's eye, and closing again at the end of the ritual, but I could not tell you how things were different when they were open. I felt the presence of the Ancestors, but not so much of the spirits or the gods (although I admit there was something from Manannan that I don't yet understand). But. The physical sensations were extremely powerful. The smell of oil and whiskey and apples and grain was profound and satisfying. My hands remembered how to make offerings, where to rest during ritual, how to hold the dip pen I always used to use in my ritual writings. I felt settled and peaceful when I was done, moreso than I have done in a long time, and I know the ritual that I did was the right thing to do.


Oct 30, 2015

Samhain is one of the two major times of transition in the Irish calendar, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, and the end of the old year and the beginning of the old. (I think that's interesting, actually, that the year begins with early winter rather than ending in it: it really does highlight winter as a season of dormancy rather than strictly of death). It's a harvest time, but a late harvest: the last feast of plenty before the long, cold winter. In Irish lore and cycles, it's the time when the cattle herds were culled: those not expected to survive the winter formed the highlight the feast. 

 As a feast of the late harvest, the season of death and waiting, it's also a feast of the ancestors. At the end of the year, Donn gathers up the year's dead and brings them to the Isle of the Dead, somewhere in the west. The boundary between worlds is thin at the turning of the seasons, as one thing turns into another, so now is when we reach across that boundary to give thanks and praise, and to share one more meal with those who have gone before. 

 Samhain was the first Pagan holiday I ever celebrated, and I can still remember it vividly, the altar I set up in my childhood bedroom, the candles burning in the darkness, the cold October air stirring the flames into portents. It remains my favorite holiday, a season of death as transformation, a time to take joy in the abundance of the past year and reflect on its lessons. 

 I have a busy Samhain season this year: On Saturday I'll be at work at the library all day long, dressed as Janet Carter from the ballad of Tam Lin (another Samhain story). I have my ritual planned for Sunday, in which I'll also swear my First Oath as part of the Dedicant's Path. (Hopefully I'll have it written by then.) But Sunday is also the first of November, which is the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, which means I'll be spending at least several hours writing the first few thousand words of this year's novel. And then it's back to work on Monday - for a book discussion in the local brewpub. A better feast location I could not imagine.

First steps

Oct 27, 2015
Earlier this year, I joined Ár nDraíocht Féin, one of the two largest druidry organizations in the world. I was tremendously fed up with my community, here in the most Republican county in Illinois, and I wanted to do something to stake my claim on my own identity. And, living in the most Republican county in Illinois for the past three and a half years, throwing money at it seemed to be a reasonable solution.

 That, and I like ADF's style. They present themselves proudly as a neopagan organization, but they're not Wicca-based, only Wicca-influenced. Druidry really is the strongest current running through the order, from the organization's hierarchy to the emphasis on study and learning (and the prevalence of practicing Celtic pagans). I remembered them fondly from my time as a baby pagan when I eagerly sought out every article Isaac Bonewitz wrote. And, perhaps most importantly, ADF offers a real, thorough, self-driven course of druidic study. I was tired of trying to build a religion entirely on my own. It wasn't working, and it was exhausting. A path of study that I didn't entirely disagree with was sounding good enough.

I didn't exactly start the Dedicant's Path right away. I wanted to, and I meant to. The first High Holy Day after I signed on was Ostara, and I joined the local grove for their ritual. It was...interesting. (It'd been a long time since I celebrated ritual with other people, and even longer since I celebrated it with an established group. I'd forgotten how much intra-circle politics could affect things.) I'd had a rough winter, and I badly wanted this to be the beginning of something new and good. I prayed as hard as I could; I offered an egg to the Well in sacrifice, and I couldn't feel a damn thing. I kept going, for a little while. I celebrated the Summer Solstice for the first time in a long time. I read the materials they sent me. It never went anywhere.

But it's coming to the end of the year now, and it feels like it's time. The rough winter turned into a rough summer, and fall has barely happened here this year, but I've been working hard. I have a therapist again for the first time in years, one I actually get along with. I'm learning how mindfulness helps stop my depression from taking over my life. I feel like I'm becoming me again. And it's coming to the end of the year, and it feels like it's time. I joined ADF not expecting to agree with everything that they do, not expecting to become a major part of the organization, just to add a little structure to a life that badly needs it, and perhaps make it easier to find others walking similar paths. There are other things I want to explore, things that fall outside ADF's domain: Feri, and twentieth century occultism, and American witchcraft traditions. But the older I get the less I feel I have to do everything at once. I am doing this now, this Dedicant's Path, a year of practice and exploration - the First Triad of piety, virtue, and study. I want to see what I can do, and I want to prove that I can do it.

That's what I'm afraid of: that I won't, that I'll lose focus again and drop it in a couple of months, that I'll forget I'm supposed to be doing something important and it will vanish into the minutae of daily life. I fear this tendency that I know I have, but I'm starting to believe that my fear of it is one of the things keeping it alive, and the only thing to do is to go forward anyway, to be gentle with myself when I fall short of my own expectations, and to always, always move forward. I have resources now, the whole of an international order of druids behind me, with their research, their rituals, and their support. I am learning that I do not have to do this on my own. I hope I'll learn things I haven't even thought of yet.