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!

 

 

 

 

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.

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.