February Feast (Imbolg) 2018

This February Feast marks the inaugural rite of the Protogrove of the Singing Oak Springs. I was fortunate enough to have a hand in planning the ritual and was tasked with drafting the liturgy, a responsibility I very much enjoyed. The hearth culture for the evening was Insular Celtic, and we honored Brigid as the deity of the evening. We gathered at rented space in a local community center, and 5 friends gathered to celebrate the occasion.

In my own liturgical practice, music plays a central role, and I wanted to incorporate as much as I could into this rite. After conferring with the group, I chose “We Approach the Sacred Grove” for our processional song, and I played soft instrumental music during all of the prayers and sacrifices.

This occasion is also of note because it marks an important anniversary for me, so  I chose to renew my Dedicant’s Oath during the rite

A copy of the complete ritual is attached as a PDF file here: Feb_Feast_2018

 

Samhain at Circle Sanctuary

For the past few months, I’ve been bellyaching about my need for a critical mass of pagan folks during the High Days. Even though I enjoy solitary rites and small group rituals, I find that I occasionally need to experience the kind of energy that only comes from being around a big ol’ group of pagans. So off to Circle Sanctuary I went.

Circle hosts a three-day Samhain event that begins on Friday with the Witch’s Ball. I had to work on Friday and had an hour and a half drive to get there, so I arrived around 9 PM. The Witch’s Ball is a great party! About a hundred or so folks in costume, a live band, and lots to eat and drink. I met some cool cats and enjoyed sitting around the campfire with a group of shamans from Chicago.

Saturday’s program was markedly different from anything I’ve done for Samhain before. Instead of a unified and focused group ritual, the ministerial team created an experience that allowed for spontaneity, could accommodate a large group, and let participants design their own Samhain rite.

We began the evening with a mute supper. All of us, around 130 or so, were seated inside a large heated tent (the temperature had dipped into the low 30s so we were grateful for this). We sat, were served, and ate in complete silence. I’ve experienced a similar meal during Buddhist mindfulness retreats, but this was the first time I’ve done so in a pagan context.

The purpose of the silence was to mentally prepare us for the focal point of the night: communion with spirits/ancestors/deities (depending on the variety of pagan) and the transmission of oracles.

After our supper was complete, we gathered inside the tent again to drum and chant. We were introduced to a team of “twilight” folks, men and women who were ministers of some variety, who would take us one-by-one to visit an oracle should we want to do so.

This was a nice touch. When I knew the time was right to see the oracle, I was greeted warmly by a witch in a pointy hat who took me on a short walk to see the oracle of my choice. As we made our way to the temple room, she asked me if I needed any help formulating my question for the oracle. I told her I was in good shape.

The oracle experience was based on Greek culture. It was by no means a reconstructionist motif, and my Hellenic hardline friends might have been displeased, but I thought the design was creative and genuine.

Three oracles were present, each one representing a different aspect of the fates in Greek and Roman mythology. Clothos, the spinner, was dressed in white and, we were told, was there to guide those concerned with beginnings. Lachesis, the measurer, wore red and was there for those who were struggling to find their way in present circumstances. Atropos, the severed of threads, was adorned in black and was the oracle to see if you were focused on an ending of some kind.

I won’t tell you which oracle I saw or what she said, but I walked away from the experience feeling satisfied and overcome with awe. This was a very, very well done ceremony.

Afterwards, we had the opportunity to visit the Circle labyrinth, which was candlelit and decorated in harmony with the theme of the Fates and divination. As people drifted out of the labyrinth and towards the bonfires (one of which was massive!) they were mostly quiet, speaking sometimes in vague terms about their experience with the oracles.

The drumming and chanting continued under the main tent as I made my way home for the night, driving on dark and desolate roads under a bright half moon and the cloak of a frost-kissed night.

This was the best Samhain I’d had in a long time.

Autumn Equinox

I’ve already posted an overview of my experience at Sweetwood Temenos here. But for the purposes of my Dedicant Program, here’s a review of our ritual.

The community and rituals at Sweetwood are based in the Church of All Worlds tradition, and although I know a thing or two about CAW, this was the first time I’ve attended an event in this style.

The ritual structure was similar to what I’ve encountered at Wiccan events. We were purified by smudging and anointing before entering the circle. It is at this point that I had my only moment of awkwardness: after being smudged with sage, I stood before a young man who anointed my forehead with oil and said, “thou are god.”

I’ve been to a lot of pagan rituals over the years, but this is the first time that these words have been said to me. Not being used to the greeting, I did not know how to respond. I simply smiled and said, “thank you.” The anointer was definitely not expecting that, lol!

I didn’t know what else to say. In my own practice, not only is such a phrase not used (within the context of ADF or as a solitary) but as a Hellenic Druid there is quite a mythological history of NOT equating oneself with the gods. It never ends well. But I know (I think) that this isn’t exactly what the greeting was meant to convey, so I just politely said thanks and continued to enjoy the ceremony. Plurality and adaptability are essential pagan qualities, if you ask me.

After our purification and entrance, we had a bit of drumming and music. We were lead by a priest and priestess who talked about the agricultural cycle, but their main point of focus was on solar and lunar deities. In the tradition of this particular group, the priest and priestess are untethered from gender-assigned mythological roles. In other words, they preferred not to think of the sun as masculine and the moon as feminine, but instead traded roles each year. (At this particular time, the priest was connecting with lunar energy, while the priestess was in tune with solar deities.)

The group conducted an energy raising exercise, shared a communal cup of wine, and closed the ceremony with drumming and dancing. Most of the participants were camping, so the drumming and fellowship lasted late into the evening.

 

Autumn Equinox – Hearth shrine

Even though I celebrated the autumn equinox with an eclectic pagan group, I always try to keep my hearth decorated appropriately for the season. Above are two photos of my home shrine.

1st photo – a personal offering made in the forest at SweetWood. I set this up inside the ritual space as a votive for Artemis and the woodland spirits. This is about as simple as it gets: a candle, my olivewood bowl of keys and coins (I take these everywhere as they are personal power symbols and blessed for spiritual use only), and a bunch of acorns I gathered in the forest.

Photos 2 & 3 – I use a small cast-iron saucepan for my well, a living plant for my tree, and a candle for my fire. There is incense, some fresh-picked flowers, acorns, and berries, and personal tokens as an offering, and my current deity symbols (a rabbit and golden pillar). There is also a jar of water from a sacred well here in Wisconsin, some decorative items, and of course, Papa Smurf.

 

Midsummer with Wild Onion Grove

Midsummer altar with Wild Onion grove.

I drove down to Chicago to spend Midsummer with the folks of Wild Onion Grove. This was my first time celebrating with the group and, with one exception, my first time meeting everyone from WOG.

The hearth culture of the day was Hellenic, with a focus on Athena and the festival of Panathenaea. We met in a city park in what is probably the most public ritual space I’ve ever been in–there were several other celebration going on within a few steps of us, including a family reunion and a birthday party.

The group that gathered seemed to be eclectic and not entirely ADF, but the ritual did not reflect this. It was ADF style through-and-through. We began by consecrating our time and space, first with a musical signal and then by processing into our space and marking the sigil on each other. We then offered honor to Hestia and the Earth Mother, and the goddess Iris as the gatekeeper. (I usually honor Hecate as gatekeeper in my personal rituals, so this was new to me.) Apollo was petitioned as our bardic inspiration, and I made the offering to the outdwellers.

For the central part of the ritual, libations, praise, and storytelling were offered to Athena. For my part, I brought some homemade crackers that I baked for the occasion (didn’t have spelt flour, alas!), some olive oil from my kitchen,  and told the legend of how women lost the right to vote in Athens.

According to Walter Burkert in Greek Religion, the people of Athens decided to hold a vote to see which deity–Poseidon or Athena–would be the principal patron of the city. The women supported Athena, while the men wanted to honor Poseidon. When the votes were cast, the women outnumbered the men by a single vote. So the city went to Athena. However, in retaliation, the men took away the women’s right to vote from that day forward. Not the most encouraging story from a humanist or feminist perspective, but it is part of the lore and a story which few know.

After our offerings were made, the omen was taken. The consensus among the group seemed to be that the omen was positive and the offerings were accepted, but some believed it also called attention to Apollo. Since Apollo is one of my principle deities, I was not sure what to make of this. After all, I think it’s always a good idea to call attention to Apollo!

And so we shared a blessing cup and some fabulous herbal cookies, closed our ritual by thanking all of the deities, spirits of the land, and ancestors, and having a simple meditation and grounding. Because of our location and people’s schedules, we did not have much time for fellowship afterwards.

So I am grateful to be able to join fellow Druids in celebrating the solstice. I hope we meet again soon.

 

 

 

Spring Equinox

Things have been ridiculously busy lately. Not only am I working two jobs (and my PT gig is in full development mode) but I’m near the end of my final semester in grad school. Needless to say, it’s been hard to focus on the spring equinox.

I dyed some eggs, brought in some fresh flowers, and did a thorough cleaning of my apartment. “That is one of my regular spring rituals.” The weather was surprisingly cooperative so the BF and I went to a farm-to-table restaurant which also has a petting zoo and orchard. The trees were slightly tinged with green. Typical for this far north. I sometimes miss the warmth that I could count on around this time of year when I was living in the South.

Spring equinox is all about color for me. I don’t care if it’s still cold outside–the introduction of color is a way of jarring me out of the dull grey winter that’s been hovering overhead for months. I’m highly susceptible to SAD, so the sudden interruption of color into my landscape helps me break through my mental fog.

Otherwise, my ritual was simple. I honored Demeter at this time, focusing on her joyous reunion with Persephone. My offering included the dyed eggs and flowers, incense, and some well water from a place up north. I played some classical music and made sure all the windows were open to let in as much light as possible.

 

Imbolc at Circle sanctuary

There isn’t an ADF Grove near me so I decided to visit Circle Sanctuary and join their community for my Imbolc celebration. It’s a two hour trip from Milwaukee, but I had the day off and it was a beautiful morning for a drive.

Even though I’ve never been to Circle Sanctuary (CS), this community was instrumental in my early pagan development. Growing up in the conservative South, it was not easy to make connections and find resources on Paganism. At some point, I got hold of a book (probably something on Wicca) which included the contact info for CS and I was able to order a subscription to what was then called “Circle Sanctuary News.” I remember this newsletter well because it offered me my first glimpse into the larger Pagan community. I must have been around 16 or 17, because I was still living with my parents.

The CS Imbolc celebration began with an opening ritual and welcome, then moved into a  workshop on bread making, which included history, lore, and practical information on creating sourdough starters. The teachers walked us through the process of bread making with a batch that was later baked and used for the cakes and ale portion of the main ritual. The sourdough starter they used was cultivated from the previous Samhain celebration, and incorporated water from Brigid’s Well, a sacred water source at CS. Anyone who requested it received a portion of this sourdough starter to take home. Mine is in an old strawberry jam jar.

After the bread making workshop, we conducted a “burning of the yule greens” in a small bonfire outside. This was my favorite part of the day, because we made our way to the fire while someone played the bagpipes. It made for a beautiful moment, at once both solemn and festive. 20170204_123824

Afterward, CS hosted a community potluck, which was an excellent opportunity for me do some much needed networking. There were a handful of people from the MKE area, although I was disappointed that I did not run into any other Druids. Still, it was a delicious meal with good company.

During the afternoon session, Selena Fox gave a presentation called “Brigid: Fire Through the Ages,” in which she explored Pre-Christian, Christian, and contemporary history and culture of this goddess. This was followed by another presentation, “Brigid of the Cross: Daily Spiritual Practice.” I enjoyed this workshop very much because the presenter (Ana) stressed the importance of weaving pagan practices into our everyday lives and was an outstanding storyteller. She is a university chaplain from a college in Illinois and a practicing Pagan.

At 4:00, the schedule called for a guided meditation on “Brigid of the Well.” Instead of attending, I took the liberty of exploring the CS grounds on what turned out to be a nice snowy walk in the woods. I went down the sacred well and collected some water for my own hearth, and spent the next hour roaming through the woods and listening to the sounds of snowfall and wind rustling in the trees.

Things have been so hectic lately that I haven’t had (or taken) many opportunities to get out of the city and into the woods. My gut told me to get out there and enjoy some quiet time among the trees. There was a gorgeous silver sun, of which I am particularly fond, as well as a few birds and squirrels flitting about. But the real treat was the simple quietude and solitude.

The structure of the main ritual was Wiccan, including invocations to the directions, power raising, chant, and cakes & ale. The energy of the group (about 40 people) was vibrant. I’ll definitely find my way back.