I think I may have had a breakthrough (Ostara in review)

Mar 29, 2016

I’ve been feeling a little bit like I don’t have enough of an emotional reaction to these rituals. I know that emotional dulling is a side-effect of the antidepressants that keep me functional, but I was still hoping that ritual would be able to reach through that. Well, I had an emotional reaction to my Ostara ritual, and it was well, that was a total disaster.

It probably wasn’t quite that bad. I was trying something new for the fire - I’ve always wanted a proper fire bowl for my rituals, but I’m stuck doing them inside in a no-smoking apartment, so my options were limited. I saw someone mention epsom salt and rubbing alcohol as a good indoor fire option, so I tried that (without any prior rehearsing). By halfway through the fire was almost out, and I had to light some candles just to make sure I wouldn’t lose it completely before I was done. (And it left a lingering alcohol-smell I wasn’t fond of, either.)

The offerings went all over the place, too. I wanted to do an Anglo-Saxon rite, and I found a script from Sassafrass Grove on the ADF site that I was able to modify to a solitary ritual, but there were *lots* of sacrifices in there, and silly me, I decided to go ahead with all of them, even though I was doing it all on my own and on a small table to boot. The shrine was a mess by the time I was done. I had moved the shrine to a new location - partly because I’d been planning this for a while and partly because I didn’t want that much open flame right next to the curtains - and I didn’t have a representation of the World Tree. I’d read somewhere that the druid’s body may serve as the Tree, so I thought, sure, I can do that, but my focus was shot all to hell and it was not a success. And the omens…well, one of them was the Nine of Swords, which I think says it all.

And another was the Page of Swords Reversed, which I think of as “all talk and no action.” Which was appropriate for this rite, because that’s exactly what I was doing. I went through the motions of the ritual, but I wasn’t feeling it, and I wasn’t putting any of my own energy into it. More than once I caught myself reading from the script with no memory of having spoken the words. Partly this was an issue of timing - I had plans on Sunday, the equinox proper, so I did the rite on Wednesday evening, the following full moon. But this meant doing a rite after work and before dinner, and I was already tired, cranky, and unwilling before I started. I was even more miserable when I was done.

I sat down to write up my notes afterward, still in a sour mood, and realized that I wasn’t the only one I’d disappointed with this rite. If ritual and sacrifice are about building a relationship with the gods and spirits, I’d just done the equivalent of showing up to a date and spending the whole evening looking at my phone. It wasn’t enough to admit I’d done it wrong, I had to fix things.

So I did it again. Thursday morning before work (I work the evening shift on Thursday) I downloaded the text and narration of the Simple Rite from the ADF website - they offer a basic rite that is designed to be done by a novice with a more experienced practitioner narrating guidance as you go along, and provide an audio file for the novice who doesn’t have a more experienced practitioner to help. I didn’t try to get fancy, sticking with the text of the rite as written and the basic offerings, ale, oil, and incense, that the script recommends. It still wasn't perfect - the narration gave out about two-thirds of the way through, and I had to refill the fire bowl twice, and the second time I lit the bottle of rubbing alcohol on fire. So much for the fire bowl. I prefer the scent of candles, anyway - burning wax smells like ritual to me.

And then on Friday I did it again. And on Saturday. And Sunday. In my frustration on Wednesday night, I said that I’d do it every day for a month if I had to, and if I’ve learned anything from the lore it’s that oaths sworn in a fit of pique are still binding. I’m hoping that after a week or so I can dispense with the narration (which does indeed only go as far as the first two-thirds of the ritual, but that works enough to get me into the right mindset that I can usually wrap it up pretty well on my own), and that after a month I’ll know the Core Order of Ritual well enough to be able to elaborate again for Beltane. Already I feel my relationships with the Kindreds are stronger; more practice, more sacrifice, can only help. And I’m finding a daily rite helps the day feel complete. Who knows, I might keep doing this daily after the month is over, too.

I feel like I've had a bit of a breakthrough, like I've been going through the motions and only now have seen what the point of it all is. A recurring lesson of this year has been understanding that there's nothing that really "doesn't count." I've always been a person very driven by external success - good grades, good performance reviews, good reputation. I've never gamed the system, really, but I'm very good at finding the loopholes in it, at finding ways to bend the rules that don't really hurt me. But when the rules are only between me and the gods, there's no amount of bending them that doesn't count, no loopholes that don't hurt. It's been difficult, but it can only help in the long run.


Mar 23, 2016
Some holidays have a more complex cultural context and ritual motive, but the spring High Days have always seemed pretty self-evident to me, and Ostara most of all. No more snow! No more ice! No more blizzards! Hooray!

Granted, in the midwestern United States, Ostara usually isn’t all that spring-like, but it’s a start. This year, global climate change has given us a damn pleasant Spring Equinox. I’m uncomfortable being wholly pleased about that for a variety of reasons, but I can’t deny that temperatures over sixty make my life a much nicer place to be.

When I was observing a pretty strict Irish religion, I neglected the Spring Equinox (and its partner in autumn) because there’s not really much evidence the Irish did any damn thing about it. Ostara has a new connotation for me now, though - it was the first High Day ADF ritual I ever attended, with the local grove whose rituals I can’t usually make it to thanks to my work schedule. I wish I could make it more often, but I will be forever grateful for their invitation and the very welcoming and illuminating experience I had there.

Since I’m celebrating Ostara properly this year as a member of ADF, and not just attempting to shoehorn it in to an Irish ritual calendar, I’m planning an Anglo-Saxon rite. Alaric Albertsson, in his book Travels Through Middle-earth, points out that even if we don’t know much about her, Eostre must have been a tremendously important goddess to the Anglo-Saxons. After all, in most of the other European languages, Easter is called something along the lines of Pasch, from the Hebrew. I met Eostre for the first time at that grove rite last year, and I am looking forward to meeting her again, and letting her know that I am still here. I was in a bad place last Ostara, in a great deal of pain, which has greatly lessened now, and I get the feeling she’d be glad to know that.

Personal Religion

Mar 13, 2016
I’m coming at this whole training at a different angle from the Dedicant Path guide; I joined ADF because my personal paganism was already Celtic and Irish, and therefore druidry seemed like a logical next step. I’ve always had a broad range of interests, but Irish mythology has been an abiding one since I was a child. I still have some of the books of Irish fairy stories and legends from my childhood, actually - although I’ve been supplementing them with better-researched, more historically accurate versions for a while now. In college, I spent a semester abroad in Ireland, and I took the opportunity to visit all the sacred sites I could find. (I still want to climb Croagh Patrick one day.) It’s always seemed to me the perfect combination of knowable - the archaeological record is rich, and there are a number of written legends - and mysterious - so different from the Classical mythology I learned first, its deities so complex and difficult to pin down! So choosing a hearth culture for my ADF practice is pretty simple - Irish paganism it is.

Of course it’s not that simple. I’ve also been interested, on and off, in Anglo-Saxon and Norse paganism. I admit, sometimes because the Norse religion is just better attested in history than the Irish, and it’s similar enough to get me through. But there’s a lot of cross-pollination between Ireland and northern Europe - Dublin was a Viking city, after all - and between Ireland and Britain. Welsh mythology has never quite done it for me, for some reason, but the Anglo-Saxon stuff I find interesting. Well, all that and a lot more - but those are the pantheons I feel drawn to, the gods and spirits who seem to speak to me.

When I was a teenager I dedicated myself to Macha with a blood sacrifice - just a few drops, but that’s the kind of thing you do when you’re a teenage Pagan. Still, it’s not a relationship I can abandon. I haven’t felt connected to Macha in some time, but in truth I am working on some emotional blocks right now that I feel could use the touch of a war goddess.

My more abiding patron has been Brigid, goddess of the fire and the well. I’ve always been a creative person, and Brigid’s fire has meant much to me. My relationship with her has waxed and waned; it’s feeling a little weak at the moment.

But I think my closest, friendliest relationship with a diety has been with Ogma, an Irish god known as both a warrior and as the inventor of the ogam script. I became intrigued by Ogma when first learning ogam, and quickly found him to be a welcoming, protective, encouraging force. I think of him as akin to, and possibly also a patron of, Bikers Against Child Abuse. He’s also one of the few deities who seem wholly embodied when I interact with them. His strengths are those of the world, and he still lives in it.

I plan to use ADF’s teachings and practices to deepen my knowledge of and connection with these deities and the Irish Pagan culture generally, and to learn more about Norse and Anglo-Saxon traditions so that I can incorporate those into my own practice instead of just thinking about them. Reflecting on the First Oath I took at Samhain, I’m pleased at where I am and the work that I’ve done. I may not be matching the onward march of the guidebook, but far from abandoning the work as I’d feared, I’ve carried my practice forward and I’m excited to see what I can still learn to do. We’re coming up on a year since I’ve joined ADF, it has been a fulfilling, challenging year. I can’t wait to see where the work takes me next.

The Nine Virtues: Piety

Mar 7, 2016
  1. Veneration or reverence of the Supreme Being, and love of his character; loving obedience to the will of God, and earnest devotion to his service.
  2. Duty; dutifulness; filial reverence and devotion; affectionate reverence and service shown toward parents, relatives, benefactors, country, etc.

I have been inclined in myself to say that piety is only the second of those definitions, but I think the first is implied in it: duty without love is empty and indeed damaging to the dutiful, and it undermines those to whom the duty is done. Still, I’d swap the priority, for me at least. Duty comes first, but it comes out of love. Love in itself is not enough. (I was raised Protestant, but you’d never know it. I’ve never believed that faith without works amounts to anything at all.)

Who is pious? This might be the toughest question in the bunch, because pious to me means righteous, holier-than-thou, hypocritical. Who is pious in a way that I see as virtue? The people who protest the abuses of the Church, both large and small c. Mother Teresa. Monks, nuns, and others living a purely religious life. My grandmother was pious, even if not faithful; she went to church every week no matter what. I have not, particularly recently, been especially pious. A lot of things in my life fell apart in the past four or five years, and my relationship with the gods was one of the first things to go.

What is the definition of piety? The DP guide defines it as "Correct observance of ritual and social traditions, the maintenance of the agreements (both personal and societal) we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty." This matches with my instinctual drift toward the second dictionary definition, and feels more right to me, although the American in me bristles at “correct.” I’m also inclined to edit “maintenance of…agreements” into “maintenance of relationships.” It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. Relationships, to me, implies something long-running that both parties have a certain investment in, above and beyond whatever short-term contractual arrangements might have been made. A relationship is something you work for and on, both individually and on a larger scale.

The whole thing is complicated, of course, by the fact that we’re taking what was once the religion of an entire culture (or, you know, set of cultures) and trying to do it in a pluralistic society with virtually no official support, which is not unheard of (see: ancient Rome and its territories) but is an unusual position for these kinds of relationships to be situated in. Which is a big part of the reason I joined ADF. I can’t always make it to group rituals; I’m fairly nomadic and haven’t been able to settle down into a single real-world Pagan cultural group. But by paying dues to ADF I’m helping to support group, public ritual, done in my tradition or something close to it, for the good of all.

Huh, seems like I think paying tithe is piety. Well, that makes a certain amount of sense; sacrifice is part of the exchange economy we share with the spirits, and tithe is one step away from sacrifice.

Who is pious in the lore? Now this one is harder. I don’t know of anyone off the top of my head from Irish mythology; the Irish relationship with the gods is so tense. I’m tempted to call out True Thomas, who kept his bargains with the Sidhe. (Impiety is more common, I think, particularly where the Sidhe are concerned. And punished accordingly.) And there’s Patrick, of course. I will have to do my research.

When have I been pious? I have wracked my brains and what I have come up with is that period of time when I was in college - possibly a little earlier, possibly a little later, possibly as little as a year or two, I honestly can’t remember - when I was celebrating Imbolc regularly and devoutly, with a fresh loaf of bread and some charms and a ritual. It was immensely fulfilling and reassuring, and I miss it terribly. I feel like it also coincides with the last time I wasn’t depressed at that time of year, which… all my relationships fall apart when I’m depressed, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my relationship with the gods does as well.

I wonder what it would be like to bake bread for Brigid when it isn’t Imbolc. I think it would be good.

More often, I’ve felt impious, when I realize it has been weeks or months since I’ve done a ritual, said a prayer, offered anything in sacrifice. Relationships are fuzzy things, and I’ve never been particularly good at them. It’s far too easy for me to let something slide as not terribly important - as each small action is not terribly important in the grand scheme of things - until the accumulated weight of the actions I didn’t take is bearing down on me.

Your understanding of the virtue. I do think piety is a virtue, although it’s a difficult one for me. It’s related to the virtue of - I don’t know if there’s a single word for it, the ability to get along with others and to occupy a place in the social web. But piety is less about the social web (although it’s connected to it) and more about the cosmic web, occupying a place that is connected to the Midrealm we live in and to the gods and ancestors and the Good Neighbors, and paying your dues to each of them in turn as well as receiving the support and sustenance from each of them in turn. Piety is understanding that no man is an island, and acting accordingly, on a cosmic scale.

I still can’t shake the association of piety with obnoxious hypocritical people, so I wish there was another word, but I can’t find one right now. I’m willing to try to do the work of changing the associations in my mind instead.