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.

 

 

 

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.