Upper Midwest Retreat 2018 – Athens, Wisconsin

 

UMR2

Attendees at the 2018 ADF Upper Midwest Retreat

 

Overview

The 2018 ADF Upper Midwest Retreat was held May 11-13th at Deeply Rooted Church in Athens, WI. 

The retreat was attended by 16 ADF members and friends and organized by Protogrove of the Whispering Spirits in Appleton, WI and Wild Onion Grove in Chicago. Grove members from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan were among those present. In addition, the caretakers/staff of Deeply Rooted Church were with us throughout the weekend.

Deeply Rooted Church

Deeply Rooted Church is an organization that describes itself as an intentional pagan community. They host a number of groups who are seeking the quietude, space, and accommodations required for spiritual gatherings, but individuals may also visit by first checking their calendar and making a reservation ahead of time.

Deeply Rooted consists of acres of secluded woodlands and some simple, rustic facilities. There is dedicated space for tent camping, as well as a central lodge in which guests can reserve a bed in a communal sleeping space. The lodge also consists of a kitchen area with a gas stove, spaces for gathering, and many, many books.

There is no running water at Deeply Rooted, so it’s necessary to bring potable water with you. This also means that there are no flush toilets; instead, the site features a composting outhouse and a designated whizzing tree. An enormous iron stove provides ample warmth inside the main lodge.

 

In addition to the facilities, Deeply also features some designated devotional spaces including a shrine and two areas for rituals.

What Happened at the Retreat…

Since much of the ADF membership in the Midwest is scattered or solitary, one critical aspect of this retreat was simply having time to connect with and engage fellow druids. The retreat organizers provided a schedule and framework for our discussions, but from the beginning people it was clear that people were interested in talking, sharing, and getting to know one another.

The opening ritual on Friday evening allowed everyone an opportunity to introduce themselves and to reveal a little about their hearth cultures and interests. This provided a natural transition into our Friday night retreat topic: hospitality and gifting within our various traditions.

Saturday began with fruit, homemade crepes, and coffee (but not biscuits, alas!) We spent the day exploring consent culture and healthy boundaries in the pagan community, enjoying a demonstration of weaving techniques on an inkle loom, and discussing personal devotional practices.

Main Ritual

Our main ritual on Saturday afternoon took place in the Oak Grove, a dedicated ritual space in the woods behind the lodge. Our presiders were Amy and Drum, and the ritual was designed and organized by Dale. Mary served as our diviner and other members lent their assistance to help make our Indo-European hearth rite a success.

 

What Else?

After our ritual, the community enjoyed a pot-luck feast and the company of their fellow druids. The iron stove kept us warm inside the lodge, while a bonfire outside gave us an additional opportunity for fellowship with each other and the staff of Deeply Rooted Church.

 

 

 

Variations on the May Feast in the Hellenic Tradition(s)

While many of my pagan friends and colleagues are celebrating Beltane this weekend, those of us who identify with or practice within Hellenic paganism have a number of options on our celebratory calendar. Which deities will I honor? Will I emphasize the community/civic aspects of the holiday, or the agricultural cycle? What aspects of Hellenic culture correspond most closely to what the larger pagan world is celebrating? 

When it comes to answering questions such as these, Hellenic pagans are in luck. Ancient Greek religion does not require that we adhere to an orthodoxy in our practices or beliefs. In addition, Hellenic paganism is particularly rich in both its theology and mythology, so we have an enormous amount of material from which we can mine.

In other words, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to celebrating the May Feast (or whatever you call this time around May 1). Here are a few ideas:

Observe the Festival of Thargelia

Thargelia is a summer festival observed during the first week of the month of Thargelion. The month and the festival are named “for the thargēlos or bread specially baked for the occasion from the first flour of the year and carried in procession to the altar” (Zaidman and Pantel, 38). Alternately, Burkert describes the Thargelia as coinciding with the beginning of the corn harvest (226). In both cases, it is clear that the festival marks a critical phase in the agricultural cycle.

More on that shortly. But Thargelia is also an occasion to mark the  birth two of the most important deities in Hellenic religion: the twins Artemis and Apollo.

Artemis & Apollo

My friends know that I can go on and on about these two. They are my patron deities and I’m something of an evangelical pagan when it comes to them. Have you heard the good news–er, I mean the very interesting and somewhat good news about the goddess Artemis? (Gotta work on that speech!) So today I will restrain myself and keep it simple. Why celebrate these two particular deities during the May Feast?

Of the two, Apollo’s significance is most obvious. He’s the god who controls (and hopefully prevents) crop blight and plagues such as mice and locusts. Honoring Apollo is a straightforward means of trying to keep the corn harvest safe.

Artemis’ connection to the agricultural cycles is less apparent, but she too plays an important function. As the deity whose domain includes wilderness, hunting, and birth, Artemis also plays a pivotal role in the livelihood of the ancient Greeks.

Demeter & Dionysus

Another alternative to the Thargelia would be to celebrate and honor Demeter and Dionysus. Not two deities that are usually associated with one another, but they share some important correspondences. Demeter is the deity of grain and all cultivated vegetation, while Dionysus’ realm includes wild plants (and wine!).

Marking Demeter’s reunion with her daughter Kore might also be appropriate at this time, since (at least in the northern/western hemisphere) farming has begun and the forests are thriving with new plant life.

So there are a few possibilities for celebrating the May Feast as a Hellenic pagan. I’m sure there are many more, and I’d love for you to tell me about them in the comments below. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

New Pagan(ish) shirts

 

Ok, so I’ve been super busy with other projects for awhile now, but I’m starting to have time to resume keeping up with my pagan blogging. Don’t judge me, but here are a couple of new photos to get something fresh on the blog. Summer festival season is here, and my wardrobe needed some new additions.

The first is a shirt from Brew City Brands, a local company that makes Wisconsin-themed apparel, gifts, and souvenirs. I’ve never seen a hodag, but you can read all about them here.

The second is a design created by Ian Corrigan at TeePublic. I’m most excited about this one (bought it in 2 colors, no less) because it features original ADF artwork and symbolism. Hell yeah!

I also really like the quality of the shirt from TeePublic. A lot of t-shirts available these days are made for an athletic or slim fit, and that just doesn’t work for me. All of TeePublic’s designs are available in multiple styles, so it’s easier to find a fit that works for you. I’m 5’8 and have a dad bod, so the classic fit was the way to go. No need to call unnecessary attention to the belly.

 

 

 

Book Review – Drawing Down the Moon

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America.  Penguin Books. New York: 2006.

 

Summary

In the preface to the 2006 revised edition of Drawing Down the Moon, Margot Adler observes that “the dominant spiritual trend of our time is militant fundamentalism” (x). From this point of departure, Adler begins a survey of Neopaganism in the 21st century that explores not only the history of this spiritual movement but also the political forces from which it arose and which continue to shape it.

Adler considers the political implications of a polytheist system of belief in a world in which monotheism prevails, explores the relationship between the Neopagan movement, the earth, and environmentalism, and provides a thorough historical overview of the relationship between witchcraft and feminism. In the new edition, Adler covers additional topics such as Heathenism and the intersection of the LGBT movement and Neopaganism.

Adler’s warm style, her inclusion of firsthand interviews as well as personal stories, and the scope of her research make Drawing Down the Moon a delight to read and a critical starting point for anyone who wants to understand Neopaganism. Adler sorts through the current state of academic research in order to distinguish fact from fantasy, and she does so without ever diminishing the importance of the imaginative aspect of Neopaganism. Many of the most well-known leaders and figures from across the Neopagan spectrum are interviewed here, and most of the major Neopagan organizations are described in detail. Adler also captures the remarkable diversity of the Neopagan movement: she considers a range of philosophies, approaches to ritual, and life experiences.

What I enjoyed most about Adler’s book is the emphasis she places on the relationship between Neopaganism and the political forces that continue to shape it. Her consideration of the works of Arnold Toynbee and Lynn White provided a crucial introduction to (or reminder of) the stakes for Neopaganism in the debate over environmentalism. Adler uses the question of earth-centered spirituality as an entry point to another illuminating topic: the differing political repercussions of polytheistic and monotheistic systems of belief.

Adler focuses on the political elsewhere as well. Chapters 4 – 8 explore the history of witchcraft and the related questions of women’s oppression and feminism. This section of the book covers a great deal of historical ground and sets aside many of the popular misconceptions about witchcraft, Wicca, and witches. I found the section on Heathenism in Chapter 9 to be extremely helpful when it comes to understanding the different branches of Heathenism as well as the variety of Heathen perspectives on the topics of race, family, and conservative values.

Finally, one real gem of the book is that it is filled with insights from Isaac Bonewits. It is clear from the beginning that Adler held his opinions in high regard, but she also notes his sometimes turbulent relationships with other personalities in the Neopagan movement. Adler even provides a brief overview of Druidry in North America and summarizes the founding of ADF (pp 336-343).

Neopagans and the Environment

The value of Adler’s first chapter lies in her ability to clearly identify and define the concepts and terms crucial to an understanding of Neopaganism. In addition to examining terms such as “pagan,” “Neo-Paganism,” and “witch,” Adler begins by setting forth a few ideas that are shared across the Neopagan spectrum. She observes that “most Neo-Pagans sense an aliveness and ‘presence'” in nature…they share the goal of living in harmony with nature and they tend to view humanity’s ‘advancement’ and separation from nature as the prime source of alienation” (3-4).

The Neopagan relationship to nature is given a more thorough analysis in Chapters 2 and 13. First, Adler points to Toynbee’s 1972 article “The Religious Background of the Present Environmental Crisis,” in which he argues that the monotheistic worldview and value system have encouraged the exploitation and abuse of the environment and our natural resources. Adler also cites Lynn White’s “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” and identifies similarities with Toynbee’s article. She quotes White’s assertion that “by destroying Pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feeling of natural objects” (17).

As a bookend or complement to the question of Neopaganism’s relationship to the natural world, Adler closes her book with a chapter titled “Living on the Earth.” At this point, Adler argues that while most Neopagans do share an interest in environmental causes, there is no consensus on how to approach the issue. She notes a “deep split between Pagans whose commitment to ecological principles was strong and practical and those whose commitment was limited to a religious view” (396). In other words, there are Neopagans whose spiritual and political values are so indistinguishable that political action on behalf of the environment is an integral part of their religion. On the other hand, there are also Neopagans whose connection to the environment is of a purely spiritual nature: political activity is an entirely separate matter.

The Pagan Worldview

In Chapter 3, Adler sketches out what distinguishes a Neopagan philosophy from those of other religions and traditions. She writes that “at some level, Neopaganism is an attempt to reanimate the world of nature; or, perhaps more accurately, Neo-Pagan religions allow their participants to reenter the primeval world view, to participate in nature in a way that is not possible for most Westerners after childhood” (23). This is a passage with which I can readily identify. I too was drawn to Neopaganism because it offered an opportunity to experience the world in a mystical sense, as opposed to an inanimate landscape to be used for the benefit of myself and other humans.

Another benefit of Neopagan philosophy which is particular relevant during times of conflict is its openness to multiple worldviews and value systems. Adler writes that “polytheism has allowed a multitude of distinct groups to exist more or less in harmony, despite great divergences in beliefs and practices” (23). She also notes that the decentralized nature of Neopaganism and its flattened hierarchy of leadership may have “prevented these groups from being preyed upon by gurus and profiteers” (23). In other words, the Neopagan openness to new ideas, its rejection of fundamentalism, and relative lack of structure allow for an environment in which individuals are free to adopt ideas that work for them while discarding those which do not.

Finally, Adler uses part of her third chapter to consider theories of anthropology which claim that systems of belief evolve in “linear fashion” (24) and that monotheism is therefore superior to polytheism. Throughout this chapter, Adler gives voice to those who see the benefits of polytheistic religion and who are critical of the influence of monotheism, including Theodore Roszak, David Miller, and Isac Bonewits. Adler quotes Bonewits’ assertion that monotheism is “particularly useful in history when small groups of people wanted to control large numbers of people” (Adler, 32).  Further, Adler quotes Bonewits’ elaboration on monotheism that appeared in The Druid Chronicles (1976):

“far from being the crown of human thought and religion as its supporters have claimed for several bloody millennia, it is in fact a monstrous step backwards–a step that has been responsible for more human misery than any other idea in known history.” (Bonewits in Adler, 32)

Another salient point that arises in this chapter is the possibility that some traditions, including Wicca, could be perceived as monotheistic. This is especially true of Neopagan groups which focus exclusively on the worship of a great mother goddess. According to Adler, “one truly serious criticism of feminist Witchcraft has emerged…the fear that exclusive goddess worship can lead to a transcendent monotheism” (213). Put another way, a Neopagan system of belief that does not accommodate multiple points of view and which denies the validity of polytheism is no different than other forms of monotheism. Such a system of belief risks incorporating the very fundamentalism it denounces.

Witches

Adler devotes more than a third of Drawing Down the Moon to the history and theories of Witchcraft. Her survey of academic and historical accounts of witches and the craft offers a unique glimpse into a religion (or practice, depending upon your point of view) that has been plagued by misconceptions, poor scholarship, false narratives, and controversial figures. Adler relies on interviews with leaders in various witchcraft traditions as well as her own research and personal experiences. The result is a gentle but through account of the origins of Witchcraft and an overview of the diversity among those who consider themselves to be witches.

Of all the information Adler presents in this section, Bonewits’ attempt to classify witches into three categories is some of the most useful. In doing so, Adler helps break open the spectrum of witchcraft and the various traditions/sources/histories that accompany it. Bonewits identifies three primary witchcraft traditions: Classical, Gothic, and Neopagan. According to him, Classical witches were those for whom the craft was a practice rather than a religion, a way of dealing with the world that called upon wisdom, insight, and cleverness. These were the wise women of the village: resourceful, shrewd, and knowledgeable. Gothic witches were those whose practice was an inversion of Christianity, a popular notion of witchcraft but one with few actual practitioners. Neopagan witchcraft is another term for Wicca.

Other insights in this section include Adler’s overview of the “family traditions” of witchcraft, feminist witches, and the politics of the larger witchcraft movement. She argues that “most revivalist witches in North America accept the universal Old Religion more as a metaphor than a literal reality, a spiritual truth rather than a geographic one”(82). She also points out that for many witches, belonging to a particular tradition such as Alexandrian or Gardnerian is of no import; newer traditions are just as valid as those with lineages.

Finally, Adler repeatedly uses the term “bending” when referring to the craft, For her, witchcraft is adaptable, creative, and resourceful. As a result, it is a practice/religion that naturally mutates and proliferates.

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.

 

SweetWood Temenos

The closest ADF groves in my neck of the woods are two hours north or two hours south of where I live.  So if I want to celebrate a High Day with the community, I have to make a rather long haul to one of the groups I can reach or celebrate with other pagan groups that are closer to home.

My original plan was to drive out to Circle Sanctuary and celebrate with their community. The nice thing about Circle’s festivals is that they have activities from morning to night, so it’s worth the drive in order to have a full day of engagement.

The weekend before the equinox, I ran across a brochure for a pagan sanctuary called Sweetwood Temenos. Their website indicated that they were hosting a weekend of camping, fellowship, and ritual for the equinox. It was a bit of a hike from where I live, a three hour drive into a part of the state I’ve not yet seen. But was in the mood for an adventure.

 

The website stated that all first-time visitors needed to call ahead in order to get directions. I did, and had a nice conversation with Jack, one of the two founders of the Temenos. I told him that I was affiliated with ADF and he asked me if I’d ever met Isaac or Ian. He seemed to hold them both in high regard.

So things were off to a promising start. I must have made a good impression because I was invited to join the group and given directions to the campsite. Saturday morning arrived, and off I went.

The drive up to Sweetwood was gorgeous. As a Southerner who relocated to the Midwest, my biggest complaint about my new home has never been the winter: it’s the flat land. Growing up near Chattanooga, I was used to rolling hills and complicated terrain. The drive into northwestern Wisconsin was the perfect remedy. This was farm country, which here meant plenty of corn and few people. This was a quiet place, marked by swollen hillsides and stunning Wisconsin forests.

I was able to locate the sanctuary with no trouble. It is a secluded place, off a county road and set back off the road between farmland and forest. The place offers a very private setting.

Upon arrival, I was greeted warmly and given a tour of the place. The temenos consists of 40+ acres nestled between farmland and forest, and includes

  • a spacious, wooded camping area
  • a large covered permanent structure that can serve as either a dining area or ritual space
  • an enormous permanent ritual circle
  • a shower house with flush toilets and hot water, handicapped accessible
  • a number of small shrines throughout the woods

All of the facilities were well kept and clean.  The ritual space was large enough to accommodate quite a sizable group (I’d estimate 50 or more could easily fit inside the circle) and I was told that standard capacity for the camping area was around 100. With some adjustments, I was told they could nearly double that capacity. I assume this meant extending the tent camping area beyond the wooded area and into the adjacent field.

The people I met at Sweetwood were kind and accommodating in every way. I very much enjoyed getting to know them. Most seemed to be interested in or influenced by the Church of All Worlds. I was the only Druid present at this time, but I’ve since learned of other ADF members who have spent time at SweetWood.

SweetWood is definitely a place to which I want to return. It’s a great location, excellent facility, and the company was second to none.

I’ll write a separate post about the ritual and fellowship.

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.