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.

 

 

 

Book Review – Greek Religion

Introduction

Students seeking a thorough introduction to the religious practices and beliefs of Hellenic civilization need look no further than Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion. First published in 1977, Greek Religion remains the definitive survey of the theories, scholarship, and archaeological evidence related to the religion of the Hellenes. Burkert maps out the most recent and prominent theories of the development of ancient Greek religion while simultaneously acknowledging that there is much that is not known.

 
One of Burkert’s most useful contributions is his comparison of the mythological and poetic stylizations of Greek religion to existing archaeological and linguistic evidence. Burkert makes clear that Homeric poetry is just as likely to obscure and distort the beliefs and practices of Hellenic culture as it is illuminate them.

 
Burkert’s introduction to Greek Religion begins with an exploration of the most prominent scholarship in the field of ancient Hellenic religion. Burkert identifies the work of Wilhelm Mannhardt, James Frazer, and Jane Harrison as forces which have shaped 20th (and 21st) century ideas about Greek civilization and culture, and counts the theories of Emile Durkheim and Sigmund Freud among the lenses which have dramatically altered modern interpretations of the ancient civilization.

 
Burkert also spends time exploring our sources for what we do know about Greek religion, and acknowledges that literature, especially in the form of Homeric poetry, is our “principal evidence” (4). However, the picture that emerges in the works of Homer is sometimes at odds with what we have learned from other sources: ancient Greek art, inscriptions, statues, pottery, cult monuments, altars, ritual vessels, votive gifts, and temples.

 
Finally, Burkert uses the remainder of his introduction to sketch out the Mycenaean, Minoan, Indo-European, and Near Eastern influences on the religious practices of the ancient Greeks. Burkert argues that it is more accurate to speak of a “plural of Greek religions” (8) than a single unified system of belief or practice. Further, Burkert argues that “The Greeks themselves regarded the various manifestations of their religious life as essentially compatible, as a diversity of practice in devotion to the same gods, within the framework of a single world.” (8).

 

In other words, religion in ancient Greece was characterized by the mutation and proliferation of beliefs and practices as well as the influence of local customs and varying degrees of influence from other civilizations.

Prehistory and the Minoan-Mycenaean Age

In laying the foundation for a contemporary examination of Ancient Greek religion, Burkert notes that “for all periods of prehistory, the evidence of language to interpret the manifold and often confusing finds is lost forever. Moreover, what survives is always only a very one-sided assortment of remains decided by the accidents of physics and chemistry” (10). In other words, there is only so much we can ever expect to know about what the ancient Greeks believed or how they practiced their religion.

 
Burkert quickly stakes out the various influences on Greek religion, by pointing out that many of the plants and animals that are today seen as characteristically Greek were in fact imports from the East. This is significant because it means that cultures to the East of the Greeks wielded considerable influence over them from the Neolithic period onward. Burkert also calls into question the once widely popular theory of a prehistoric, matriarchal culture in which a “great Mother” goddess was widely worshipped. Burkert argues that such speculations go “far beyond the evidence” (12) and notes that this theory is being increasingly met with skepticism.

Instead, Burkert suggests that archaeological evidence from the excavations at Çatal Hüyük offer more insight into the earliest Greek cultures. From Çatal Hüyük archaeologists have learned what they do know about the earliest sanctuary sites and are given a glimpse at a tradition of religious continuity that stretches back over five thousand years.

Indo-European, Minoan, and Mycenaean Influences on Greek Religion

At this point Burkert begins to consider the second major influence on early Greek religion: the Indo-European migrations. After offering a short summary of the IE hypothesis, Burkert notes that Greece only came under the IE influence in the Bronze Age (16). From this point forward, Burkert traces linguistic evidence beginning with the first known record of the Greek language in Linear B. In staking out the significance of linguistic forensics, Burkert observes that

The vocabulary of Indo-European enshrines a spiritual world in which value structures, social divisions, and also religious ideas may be discerned. Evident is the patriarchal organization, the central position of the father within the extended family; agriculture is known, but pasturage, cattle, and horses and much more important. (17)

Burkert also considers the mingling of the IE Greek language with linguistic elements from neighboring civilizations, concluding that “there is no single origin of Greek religion (17).

 
For the remainder of the first chapter, Burkert focuses on what is known about the two major influences on Greek religion, the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. Particularly helpful is his discussion of their places of worship/sanctuaries, including mountain peaks, caves, trees, graves, temples, and homes shrines. Also familiar to ADF members will be the practice of exchanging gifts with the deities in exchange for blessings or some divine intervention.

 
Burkert’s summary is exhaustive. One of my favorite lines from conclusion of this chapter is this:

…the fire altar which stands open to the sky is the most essential part of the sanctuary. This is not an exchange of gifts celebrated by a hierarchical society of gods, kings, priests, and commoners: together on the same level, men and women stand here about the altar, experience and bring death, honor the immortals and in eating affirm life in its conditionality: it is the solidarity of mortals in the face of the immortals. (53)

The remainder of Greek Religion consists of a catalog of what was, at the time, everything known from archaeological and linguistic evidence. Burkert gives ample consideration to topics such as rituals and sanctuaries, the Gods, the dead and the chthonic cult, polytheism, plurality in beliefs and practices, various cults and mystery traditions, festivals and calendars, and the emergence and impact of new philosophical traditions on the Hellenic religion.

 
Overall, Greek Religion is an essential resource for anyone interested in the Hellenic religion and in celebrating ADF Druidry in the Hellenic tradition. The book is almost encyclopedic in scope, so it serves as a both an excellent introduction to the subject as well as an indispensable reference guide.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Essay – Fall Feast

The last of the harvest festivals marks the end (or beginning) of the agricultural year and the turning point from which a period of fertility, growth, and abundance gives way to a fallow time of rest, darkness, and regeneration. The festival is most commonly referred to as Samhain, and the mythology, lore, and customs most commonly associated with the season and its secular counterpart, Halloween, are derived from Celtic and Germanic Pagan traditions.

For most Neopagans, the Fall Feast is a fire festival which marks the end of summer and preparations for the perilous winter to come. In earlier agrarian societies, harvests were stored and animals are slaughtered in order to ensure survival through the long, cold season. Of course these cycles are still repeated, but 21st century Neopagans such as myself are no longer as spiritually connected the agricultural processes or animal husbandry which lie at the heart of the feast.

In the spiritual sense, the Fall Feast is generally celebrated by Neopagans as the time when the division between life and death is least pronounced. Put another way, the Fall Feast brings into sharp relief the frail nature of life and its dependence on the cycles of life and death. Animals must be slaughtered for food, vegetation must succumb to the cold in order to regenerate, and the question of whether or not one will survive the coming winter surfaces.

The idea that the spiritual world or realm of the dead is accessible to the living at this time derives from Celtic tradition, and this concept has heavily influenced spiritual and secular celebrations of the feast. Ancestor worship, divination, and magic are common themes for this High Day. Masking, revelry, and fear of the restless dead are also elements of the broader celebration.

A direct and commensurate celebration to the Fall Feast of the Celtic and Germanic traditions is elusive within Hellenic Paganism. The agricultural cycles of the Mediterranean do not align closely to those of cultures in the more northern or western regions of Europe, so Hellenic Druids are forced to make a choice: recreate (as best we can) the culturally-appropriate festivals of Thesmophoria or perhaps the Eleusinian Mysteries (of which we know virtually nothing), or adapt the practices of the Ancient Greeks to the rubrics of the more widely-celebrated Fall Feast. I choose the latter option.

In my practice, the Fall Feast occurs within an agricultural cycle and climate similar to that of Northern and Western Europe. By the end of October, the frosts have arrived, the fields are harvested, and meteorological winter has begun.  The days are noticeabley shorter, and it is nearly dark by the time I arrive home from work everyday at 5PM. This trend of decreasing sunlight is dramatic this far north, and it has a pronounced effect on my mood. I know that it will be almost two months before the light begins to increase, and I settle into a habit of sleeping longer and spending much more time indoors.

For my Fall Feast, I honor Demeter, the Goddess of grains, fruits, and cultivated vegetation, as well the myth of Kore/Persephone and Hades, which for the ancient Greeks explained the seasonal change from summer into winter. I embrace the dying of one year and the rest that must come before the commencement of the next. I find it natural and fitting to also celebrate my ancestors at this time. I also lean into the magical and divinatory significance of the season because this is a liminal time and the hinge upon which the agricultural season changes.

 

 

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.

Book Review – The Druids

 

The Druids. Ellis, Peter Berresford. Constable & Co. London: 1994.

 

Ellis’ book is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in Druids or Celtic society, but it is especially helpful for those exploring ADF Druidry or beginning their Dedicant Program. Ellis is clear from the very beginning that the historical information available about the Druids is incomplete and that what information we do have may have been distorted or fabricated. Ellis provides an excellent overview of the historical writings which describe the Druids and/or Celtic society while at the same time remaining in conversation with other recent or current scholars and their interpretations of these writings.

In his own words, Ellis acknowledges from the beginning that “no Druid, nor sympathetic contemporary observer, ever committed to writing the necessary unequivocal information” (11) of the sort that would provide an undisputed, historical account of who the Druids really were. Instead, he reminds us that that “one person’s Druid is another person’s fantasy “(11) and that in the pursuit of any sound understanding of who the Druids were or what they believed depends upon the quality and scope of the inquiry.

Ellis also uses his introduction to sketch out his own theory about the Druids. According to his argument, the Druids were a kind of specialized group within Celtic society, a “parallel caste to the social group which developed in another other Indo-European—the Brahmins of Hindu culture” (14). If Ellis is correct, then the Druids may have served a number of functions throughout Celtic Europe, occupying such specialized occupations such as judges, lawyers, teachers, poets, political advisers, historians, or musicians.

From this starting point, Ellis embarks upon a thorough survey and analysis of the few written records regarding the Druids. In his second chapter, Ellis reviews theories about the origins of the Druids, including several possible meanings of and sources for the word “druid” itself. Ellis is convinced that the term druid means something akin to “[those with] oak knowledge” (39). He argues that the “Druid caste” (39) originated among forest dwelling societies as a group of men and women(!) who accumulated practical knowledge and survival techniques, and who became associated with the oak tree because of its role as a source of food and shelter and its prominence in native folklore and mythology. Ellis spends much of the chapter exploring the veneration of the oak tree throughout Europe and concludes that “the symbolism of the oak is all-pervasive in ancient Celtic culture” (42).

One critical point that Ellis makes in this chapter is that, as MacCulloch observes elsewhere, “there is no reason to believe that Druids did not exist wherever there were Celts” (46). He goes on to argue that throughout the Celtic world, there were groups of men and women who appear to be “Druids by other names” (46). This is especially significant considering the extensive influence of Celtic culture throughout Europe and the influence of a common Indo-European language. For those interested in ADF Druidry, this insight cannot be overstated. Since ADF Druidry includes the whole of the Indo-European spectrum, it is helpful to remember that the Celtic peoples and culture were not restricted to the British Isles or Western Europe.

The third chapter of The Druids provides a survey of Classical writings which describe (however inaccurately) the Druids, their practices, and their beliefs. The real value of the chapter lies in the way it traces written texts on the Druids to their common sources, and dissects the information through which modern understandings of the Druids have come into being. Ellis explores the political impulses behind many such writings, as in the case of Strabo and his Geographica. Ellis observes that the work “was a pointed attack on the Celts, which was written as a justification for Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul and the subsequent attempts to suppress the Celtic intelligentsia and their centers of learning” (53).

Ellis also focuses on criticism by other historians including Chadwick, who describes one passage of Pliny’s account of the Druids as “picturesque fantasia” (61). However, Ellis detects some truth in Pliny’s writings, particularly with regard to the association of the Druids with oak groves. Ellis notices that other authors similarly describe this association and concludes that it does not derive from a common source; he thereby enlists its support in defending his own position.

In chapter 4, Ellis examines the Christianization of Europe and its impact on Celtic culture. The first salient point he makes here is that it was the insular Celts (i.e., those of the British Isles), who most absorbed Druidic knowledge and practices. Ellis gives proper due to the Celtic monastic tradition and its emphasis on writing for providing access to our most illuminating insights into both Celtic and Druidic culture. Two insights presented by Ellis that were new to me include the incorporation of the Druidic tonsure into Celtic monasticism, and the relative omission of the Druidic tradition from Welsh narratives when compared to the Irish. The chapter focuses on the historical and cultural relationship between Druidism and Christianity, and concentrates on the literary traditions of the insular Celts.

Chapter 5 of The Druids is perhaps one of the most significant in terms of ADF Druidry. Not only does Ellis provide substantial proof that women were included in the ranks of the Druids, he also pays attention to the role of women in Celtic society in general. Ellis points out that the portrayal of Celtic culture by classical writers was distorted by their own biases towards women. He writes that “what we are actually looking at is a more permissive and open society, not fully understood by the foreign observers” (95).
Ellis reviews a selection of Welsh and Irish literature in which female figures are depicted as leaders, warriors, and sources of community power.

The first impressive moment of chapter 6 occurs when Ellis takes MacCulloch to task for a passage in The Religion of the Ancient Celts in which he describes the Celts as submissive to the will of the Druids. Ellis argues that what MacCulloch is doing is projecting his own experience as a Christian minister onto a culture that he does not fully understand.

Ellis also warns his readers that “no clear knowledge of the Druidic system of worship or ritual has come down to us in spite of romantics such as Edward Davies…” (114). He goes on to say that “having said this…we can glimpse some of the religious ideas and rituals connected with the pantheon of the Celtic deities and their roles by studying insular Celtic literatures and comparing them with the archaeological evidence and place-name references” (114).

The remainder of the chapter focuses on Irish and Welsh myth, including an examination of the great mother and the relationship between god/esses and heroes. Here, Ellis touches upon more well-known figures such as the Dagda as “the patron of Irish Druidism” (123), Cernunnos, the Gundestrup Cauldron, and the Stone of Destiny, as well as Celtic origin myths.

One last note on this chapter: Ellis observes that “the ancient Irish bards deemed that the river’s edge, the brink of water, was always that place where éicse, wisdom, knowledge and poetry was revealed” (118).

Chapter 7 is particularly fascinating for its insights into Celtic ritual practices. Ellis explores a range of rituals including “Druidic baptism” (133), the veneration of wells and springs, the ritual use and importance of fire, and Celtic funeral customs.

Another important point that Ellis brings up in this chapter is the dubiousness of Pliny’s description of the ritual significance of mistletoe. Ellis points out that Pliny is the only source of this information and directs his readers’ attention to similar practices in ancient Egypt. In other words, Ellis wonders whether or not Pliny has simply confused (deliberately or not) a practice of one foreign culture for that of another.

With regard to human sacrifice, Ellis concludes that “the idea of widespread human sacrifice among the Celts was mere Roman propaganda to support…imperial powers in their invasion of Celtic lands and destruction of the Druids” (154). Ellis takes strange turn here and redirects his argument toward supposed evidence of human sacrifice “occurring widely both in Greek and Roman civilizations” (154). Other scholars, including Elisabeth Vandiver, have observed that human sacrifice was detested by the Greeks and the Romans. Even though Rome was famous for its gladiator battles and blood spectacles, the ritual sacrifice of humans was rare.

The most illuminating insights from The Druids are presented in Chapter 8, ‘The Wisdom of the Druids.” Ellis begins by asserting that “there is certainly enough evidence to show that the Druidic caste was in charge of Celtic education” (157). But what I find most intriguing in this chapter is the frequency with which Ellis points to the relationship between Druidic philosophy and Indo-European philosophy. He writes that “the Druidic concept of Truth as the supreme power [is]…a basic Indo-European thought” (162).

Ellis examines the Irish teaching tradition and points out that the Druidic influence in the lay schools remained intact far longer than it did in the ecclesial schools. He also claims that the bardic schools lasted until the 17th century, when they were finally suppressed by the Christian Church. Ellis also points out that the Irish and Welsh proscriptions on written records was abandoned when they began writing in other languages. As a result, some of the Irish and Welsh keepers of Druidic wisdom began to write in Latin.

In the section devoted to Druidic philosophy, Ellis offers the following summary of Druidic teaching: “the Druids taught that one should live in harmony with nature, accepting that pain and death are not evils but part of the divine plan, and that the only evil is moral weakness” (168).

Throughout this chapter, Ellis points to similarities between Celtic and Hindu belief systems. For example, he observes that the modern Irish language the dead are referred to as being “in the place of Truth now” (169), a saying which has “an exact parallel in Persian-Iranian Parseeism” (169). As further evidence of the connection between Druidic philosophy and Indo-European thought, Ellis explores similarities in Celtic and Greek philosophy, patterns in mythology, taboos or geasa, and comparisons between Brehon and Hindu legal systems. For example, Ellis writes that “it seems very likely that the Druidic immortality of the soul was indeed a development from a common Indo-European idea, which developed with its own particular cultural attributes parallel to the Hindu philosophies and certainly to the metempsychosis of Pythagoras” (179).

The remainder of this lengthy chapter explores various functions of the Druids in Celtic society, including their work in the legal system, preservation of history, their work in music and poetry, medicine, divination, astrology, and magic.

Ellis begins the ninth and final chapter of the book by repeating and clarifying his thesis. He writes that

“My contention, which I hope I have demonstrated, is that the term Druid, in pre-Christian Celtic society, referred to social stratification, depicting the intellectual class. This division of social groups occurred in all Indo-European societies and is seen at its most obvious in modern times in the Hindu caste system. However, when Christianity established itself, the generic term Druid became corrupt, being connected with pagan society, and only applied to wizards, magicians, prophetic poets, and bards. (251)

The remainder of this chapter (and book) explores some of the ways in which the Druids have been romanticized and reconstructed. Ellis conducts a survey of literature related to the Druids, including some “historical” accounts that were the product of fantasy rather than research. Among his observations are instances in which the Druids were portrayed as “still in their gloomy oak groves with an oak-wreathed Druid, suitably robed, wielding a blood stained sacrificial knife” (253) and alternately, as “patriarchal Old Testament figures” (258).

Ellis also looks at the sources for many of the modern misconceptions about the Druids, including works by William Stukeley, Iolo Morganwg, William Blake, John Wood, and Simon Pelloutier. He then explores some facets of the Druid revival, including the Assembly of the Bard of Britain (1792), the Ancient Order of Druids (1781), the National Eisteddfod Association (1880), as well as more recent examples of uninformed scholarship and fantasy.

 

 

 

 

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…