Gnothi Seauton – “Know Thyself”

I’m consider myself to be an adventurous Neopagan, and I take great pleasure in attending rituals with groups from across the pagan spectrum. I enjoy meeting the different people, seeing how they are living out their Neopagan spirituality, and learning from their experiences. Most of all, I enjoy exploring other liturgical styles and seeing what does and does not work in the context of group rites.

I spent the Autumn Equinox with a group that draws heavily on the CAW tradition. The people were great, the ritual space excellent, and the liturgy was well done. Upon entering our circle, I was smudged and anointed as I had been countless times before. But something was different this time. As he drew a symbol on my forehead with blessed oil, a fellow pagan said to me, “Thou art God.”

I’ve heard the expression before, but for some reason it caught me off guard. I know—or at least I think I know—what he meant when he said this. I think he was paying me a great compliment, telling me that he recognized the spark of divinity that resided in me. This was a good and gentle greeting, but I was not able to respond with words. I simply smiled, bowed in gratitude, and walked into the circle. After I had taken a few steps, he turned over his shoulder and said, “Blessed Be.”

Awkward!

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to return the greeting, or that I am some sort of fundamentalist, a my-way-or-the-highway kind of pagan. The words “thou art god” just caught my attention in a way they never had before.

I know why.

First, I identify as a Druid, and this greeting is not common in my regular liturgical practice. We just don’t say this to one another, so I didn’t automatically respond. Second, although I’m comfortable in just about any IE tradition, my hearth culture is Hellenic. As a Hellenic Pagan, I know that one of the Delphic Maxim reads, “gnōthi seauton” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν). In English, this means, “know thyself.” Or more precisely, “know what you are.”

Delphi

Remains of the Temple of the Oracle at Delphi

This phrase, inscribed at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, serves as a warning to humans. It’s a reminder that, in Greek mythology, mortals who forget their mortality or think of themselves as the equal of the gods, do not fare well. In fact, horrible things tend to happen to them. For Hellenic Pagans, comparing oneself to a god is a risky enterprise. And this “thou art god” business gave me a start.

So there is a theological question for me to work out here. To what extent to I recognize my own inherent divinity? How am I to reconcile the clear distinction between humans and deities with the Neopagan principle that divinity manifests in all forms of life?

TBC…

 

 

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.

My Indo-European ancestry

For many Druids and other Neopagans, ancestry is a focal point of their spiritual practice and one that determines the tradition or culture in which he or she practices. They feel a direct connection to their ancestors and try to honor their ways as best they can.

My experience has been quite different. My family did not preserve records of our past, and information about my heritage beyond three or four generations was difficult to obtain. This is due in part to illiteracy, poverty, and unreliable record keeping up through the beginning of the 20th century. My people had no family bibles to call upon, no important historical figures to which our name was tied, and no close relatives in another country to help keep our past alive.

To illustrate, I have copies of my third great grandfather’s enlistment and discharge papers from the Confederate Army. He was a wheelwright by trade, but a sharecropper in reality. He was illiterate and could not sign his own name, so the land owner to whom he was in debt had to sign for him. My grandfather simply marked an “X” for his signature. I believe my grandfather needed his landlord’s permission because he was in debt to him. Unconfirmed, but I’d place a wager on it.

So when people are not creating their own written records, the past gets lost. I have long suspected, based on the surnames present in our family tree, that my family was predominantly Western European, with an emphasis on the British Isles. So I did one of those DNA tests, and…

Wow.

The test confirmed my suspicion that much of my family originated in the British Isles. About half of my DNA is common in Ireland, Britain, and Wales. But the other half, well there were some surprises there.

The remaining half of my DNA comes from across Europe and Western Asia. I have genetic connections to Finland, Greece, Eastern Europe, and Turkey.

In short, I’m a Euro mutt.

 

 

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.