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.