East Coast Gather 2015

Whew, it’s been a couple of weeks of crazy prepping for and going to the annual OBOD East Coast Gather. There was more than a little bit of crafting overdrive between finishing an item for the silent auction, random ritual paraphernalia (painted stones, hag tapers), and making sure all the labyrinth supplies were packed.

Bear journal for the silent auction.

Hag taper, lighting the way from Bard to Ovate.

Sacred stone WIP (not posting the final, well, because, reasons).

Better bloggers than I (John Beckett, A Druid Way) have done excellent rundowns of the individual events of ECG, so I’ll not tread that ground again here. My experience of this year’s gathering can be summed up in the words “kindness” and “community”.  There was an overwhelming amount of kindness: from Damh the Bard, who took time out of his busy schedule to play music with the kids, to John Beckett, who was willing to let me chew his ear off about polytheism and my Lady of Birds and Horses, to the young woman who kept an eye on my son so I could help with the Ovate initiations.  A harvest of kindness is something to be proud of, indeed.

Very blurry Damh the Bard.

On the community end of things, earlier this year I came up with a slightly nutty idea of creating a labyrinth for folks to walk (more of this story may show up in the Order’s magazine, Touchstone).  I probably could have done the whole thing myself; the beautiful thing was, I didn’t have to. The labyrinth was formed by over 330 LED color-changing tea lights, which had the (hopefully!) fae and fanciful effect of shift color and pattern as a person walked the path. Once the seed pattern was set, a small group of folks gathered to stuff candles into paper bags while the kids gathered up pebbles to keep them weighted down. Then, every night, a flock of volunteers descended to turn on the lights, and in the wee small hours of the morning, another crew gathered to turn them off.  None of this was officially organized. It was an outpouring of spontaneous community spirit which was humbling to behold.

Labyrinth by day…

…labyrinth by night.

Every year it’s hard to leave Druid Camp, as my kid calls it. But far better to be sad at the parting than to be excited to leave! Next year, we won’t be having any guest speakers. We’ll be able to dig deep and focus on each other’s wisdom, and twine our roots more deeply across this land. I can hardly wait!

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Dangerous Diaries

Druids training within OBOD are encouraged to document their experiences by creating some sort of physical journal. In fact many mystery schools coming out of either the Golden Dawn or grimoire traditions encourage the keeping of written notes about one’s spiritual and magical practice. (And actually, if one wants to note small irony, the inquisitors and witchhunters also were encouraged to keep diaries of their observations.) Even as far back as the PGM we find spell formulae being written down to preserve them and pass them along to other seekers.  In the West, at least, the written word is a cornerstone of preserving our esoteric and occult heritage.

However, on more than one occasion it has occurred to me that keeping a dairy can be a dangerous thing.  What were once meant to be private experiences, or only meant for the eyes of other like-minded people, can fall into the wrong hands.  Or, if not the wrong hands, hands that don’t know what to do with them.  Paper trails and documentation form the basis for our society, from legislative to judicial activities.  If it was written down or otherwise recorded, it can potentially be used against you.

Now in the age of the Internet, the diary has taken on a new, more public form: the blog.  This brings with it a whole new set of hazards. Not only are one’s thoughts potentially out in the open for everyone to see, but there is an undeniable risk of ego inflation and celebrity-seeking that one to simply not have to worry about with a private, physical journal.

In addition, there is the phenomenon of various subcultural blogospheres: the pagan blogosphere, the polytheistic blogosphere, the peak oil blogosphere, etc. Probably one of the most critical threats blogging poses to original thinking is constantly exposing the writer to confirmation bias. People tend to seek out like-minded folks – in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing – but time and again small, cliquish echo chambers are created around two or three forceful personalities who inadvertently begin to dictate the tenor and subject matter of what is or is not spiritually and socially significant.  I begin to think that I should be writing about whatever XYZ Topic the big-name-pagan-of-the-week is ranting about, when really, most of the time, I couldn’t give two figs about the latest online pagan community kerfuffle.

Media fasting is a concept I was first exposed to when I did an Ayeurvedic cleanse back in 2007. While I’m not sure I want to experience the “nothing but juiced greens for 21 days” again, the notion of separating myself from the constant drone of popular and news media has proved quite a useful tool.  I don’t read blogs except for Friday nights when I’m at the pub, and whatever I’m able to read in that time I get to, and anything else I pass to the trash bin.

Three iterations of field notes.

Three iterations of field notes.

There’s also something to be said for eschewing the entirety of the blogosphere and plumbing one’s own depths for inspiration. Over the past several months, instead of trawling the Internet for ideas I return to my little book of Ovate field notes. Once a week or so I go through and highlight potential blogging topics in yellow, spiritual observations in pink, and observations about the natural world in green. Then I make a series of seed drafts within WordPress that I can come back to and play with at a later time. I love how this has helped keep my writing on track and true to me. (I also love how it lets me indulge in the luxury of my own handmade journals and a fountain pen.)

Only being able to speak for myself, as a blogger I do find myself craving “likes.” This ain’t healthy, folks.  It becomes an obsession rather than a metric. With that in mind I’m actually going to remove the “like” button from my blog posts.* I find myself increasingly irritated that a post which took hours of research or creative struggle gets only a little notice, while a flippant statement with the intellectual and emotional rigor of “I like cheese!” garners an avalanche of little WP stars. It’s very easy for me to fall into the trap of people pleasing, and an abundance of likes definitely feeds into that character trait – whether or not what I’m writing is what I want to be writing or should be writing for my own path and truth.

You don’t need to depend upon Internet echo chambers for inspiration. Just go out and sit in the sun, listen to the gulls, and taste the salt of the sea. Awen flows in the quiet spaces between, if we let it – not in the incessant static buzz of the blogosphere.

*Comments are always welcome, and I love engaging people in discussions, so please do continue to drop notes about posts that move you for whatever reason. 

Ovate Field Notes: Vol. 3

 One of the most useful skills I’ve acquired in the Ovate grade, is that of making my own journals. I never considered myself a particularly consistent journaler, but now looking over my work not only during this grade, but in the Bardic grade, and even back to college and high school, I’ve written a fair amount.

Like most teenagers I started writing/journaling about every day occurrences. My English teacher senior year made journaling part of his curriculum. We had to do one entry a week, and if there was anything that we wanted to write about that was too private, he told us to tape the pages together. It was not only an excellent exercisein consistancy, but in trust as well. I’m happy to say he never broke it.

I found though, that I’m not a particularly consistent journaler when examined over the course of years. However, I am very consistent for very intense periods of time, such as when I was on a dig in Wales, or interning at a museum in Greece.

Like most spiritual practices today, OBOD greatly encourages keeping a record of your  journey. In an early lesson, there was a gentle suggestion that if you have trouble finding the perfect journal for your Ovate work, you might consider making your own. And of course, the opportunity to derail my studies by learning a new craft was irresistible!

This brings us to yesterday. I had finally filled my second little book of ovate fieldnotes, so it was time to make another. My technique is a mishmash of various instructions gleaned from the Internet (I actually did a practical class in this sort of bookbinding for ECG one year). It works pretty well for me, however, and is exponentially less expensive than mass-produced journals.

Three iterations of field notes.

Three iterations of field notes.

January Hearthside: The Faerie Realms

Untitled by James Dempsey c 2014.

Untitled by James Dempsey c 2014.

This past Monday, those of us who were fortunate enough to have Martin Luther King Day off gathered at Sarah Fuhro’s house to have a discussion about and meditation on the faerie realm (or realms, depending on your perceptions of such things).

Sadly I arrived late, and so missed the beginning of the hearthside, but it was great to spend time in these folks’ company nonetheless. Walking into Sarah’s east-facing dining room, I was greeted by the sight of my grovies meditating in the sun, like a troop of ring-tailed lemurs. Even just catching the tail (ha!) end of the journey was nice, and I used the time to confer with my own guides as the others in the room made their way back.

Lemurs meditate, just like Druids!

Discussion focused largely on those beings classified as devas or plant spirits for the most part, with Jdth recounting quite a bit of her Findhorn experiences.  After settling down to a fantastic lunch of lentil soup, root soup, and assorted sweets, James had a lovely treat for us all: painting he’d made since his muse returned that reminded him of the fae.  I absolutely love the one I chose. It reminds me of the ferns that grace my grove in the deepest heat of summer.  Inspired work, indeed!

As each of us talked about our own encounters, the only fair thing to say is that there seem to be as many discarnate critters as there are incarnate plants and animals living on this world. Seeing where they intersect our lives never ceases to fascinate, not to mention all the various cultural filters placed upon our interactions with these beings, whether we call them fairies, elves, devas, wights, or ancestors.

And of course there is infinite overlapping, mixing, and outright trampling of any and all of these classifications.  One of the more interesting part of our discussion revolved around a transcript of R.J. Stewart’s experience in a mound tomb.  Essentially Stewart believed that when the time came, a tribal leader would go into the tomb to become part of the earth itself, the Stone King, and continue advise his people from the mound long after his body died.  That leader in essence became a local god.  This is where the lines get delightfully blurry–what is a fairy vs, a land spirit vs. an ancestor vs. a god?  It’s similar to the discovery that humans and neanderthals were closely related enough to interbreed, and that some modern humans do in fact carry neanderthal DNA.  The takeaway: the lines between various sorts of fae are not as cut and dried as the magickal encyclopedias would have you believe.

9 Things I Love About My Grove

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  1. Our rituals are always outside. Always.
  2. Diversity. There is an incredible variety across age and economic level. Our youngest guest is 4, our oldest in her early 70s. There are doctors and potters,  IT folks and landscapers. We also have a great deal of religious diversity, shaman to christian, atheist to polytheist. We all come together to honor the earth and the turning seasons.
  3. Creativity. Good gods this Grove is blessed with an abundance of Awen. We have poets, potters, musicians, quilters, liturgists.
  4. Camaraderie. These are folks with whom I get together in between the high days. Sharing a cup of tea or a pint after ritual is always a joy, but seeing friends for the sake of just seeing friends is invaluable.
  5. Learning. Our members have such a wealth of knowledge, and are so generous in sharing it. It’s easy to gorge oneself on music, myth, art, divination, botany–almost any topic you could choose.
  6. Food. We have some amazing cooks. Eisteddfod feasts are not to be missed.
  7. Consistency.  The Grove has been holding eight rituals a year since the autumn of 1992. The familiarity and certainty that this creates is not only comforting, but provides a real and solid anchor for Druid work.
  8. Support. Everyone has rough patches, but not everyone has a community who is able to help them through it. People get divorced, lose jobs, become ill. The Grove has been there each time, not only with energetic support, but friendly practical advice.
  9. Experimental. There is no one set liturgist, and we’re not on the quest for the “perfect” ritual. Whomever is moved to write the rite is encouraged to do so, with much support from the senior members. Ritual style reflects the changing seasons, and always feels fresh and dynamic.

5th Annual OBOD ECG: Guest Speakers

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Awen bonfire, ECG 2014

There is just no way to completely describe the awesomeness of this year’s OBOD East Coast Gather.  It was our fifth year, and I’ve been attending since year one.  Each year is different, and like children, I can’t say that I’ve loved one more than the others because I’ve loved them all differently.  That being said, this year, devoted to the Goddess/goddesses was definitely one that deepened relationships with gods, community, and craft. The spread of DTIs* was rapid and joyous, and will doubtless inspire the tribe long into winter’s night.

One of the most wonderful things about ECG (aside from the food, the bonfires, and the mead) is its small size. Capped at 100 or so people, the scene is set for deeper conversations, renewed friendships, and lively discussions.  The guest speakers were so generous, both of their time and their wealth of experiences.  We were blessed with four wonderfully talented and amazing guests from the Isles this year: Kristoffer Hughes, Penny Billington, Arthur Billington, and Ursula Billington (yes, related!).

Kris heads up the Anglesey Druid Order, and has written a number of fantastic books.  His talk on Epona and the Cetlic Horse Goddess was engaging, entertaining, and sobering.  First of all, just getting to hear a native Welsh speaker say the names of gods and goddesses from the Mabinogi was a rare treat.  He spoke mainly of Rhiannon in her role as psychopomp, tying in many other threads of horse goddess lore, including the White Horse of Uffington and the revival of the Mari Lwyd.  Kris emphasized the importance of grief, and how our culture has sadly pathologized mourning (see the latest version of the DSM if you think he’s kidding).  He encouraged us all to think about how we want to die, and to make plans to ensure that our deaths and burials reflect how we lived our lives.  In the lifespan of the universe, a human only exists for a picosecond (0.000,000,000,001 seconds).  He challenged us to make the universe sit up and take notice in the time we’re here. Or, in his words, “Do epic shit.”

The Billingtons are Bards in every sense of the word, whether they were performing around the campfire, inspiring us with lectures and meditations, or just encouraging everyone to express themselves creatively however they could–to paraphrase Penny (who write the inspiring Path of Druidry), the job of a artist is to go out there and do it, and if you do it imperfectly, well, so be it! Getting to chat even a little bit about music and the creative process with these folks was amazing. Arthur and Ursula have a wonderful musical synergy and her gypsy fiddling added such richness to Arthur’s bluesy guitar chords. They treated the campfire to rollicking renditions of the Ballad of John Barley Corn, and the Hoochie-Coochie Man amongst many others.

Penny’s talk on goddesses, totems, and the spirit world consisted of one part ritual, one part lecture, and one part meditation.  In order to create centered space, she has us sing a long E to the East, I to the South, O to the West and Ah to the North, ending with Mmmm back in the center.  After a brief introduction, Penny has us make groups of three or four to talk about what the word “goddess” means to us–quite a valuable exercise since we had everything from One Goddess worshipers to devotees of single, small, local goddesses.  There wasn’t an expectation of everyone ending up on the same page, but it was great to have it openly acknowledged that there were many, many ways of interacting with these great spiritual beings who are undeniably more than human, but also somehow less so.  Penny then went on to examine the different animals/totems/symbols associated with British goddesses, noting that in times of need, these beings draw strength from their animals–Rhiannon and her horse, or Branwen and her bird, for instance.  The last bit of the lecture was a wonderful meditation that led to an exploration of three symbols of Brigid: the horseshoe, the chalice, and snowdrops.  In all it was a wonderfully varied lecture, with many bits of wisdom that will doubtless serve as meditative seeds themselves.

It’s interesting to note that thus far, most of the ECG guests  have come across the pond to visit our little tribal gathering.  What amazes me is that they always, always, fit so seamlessly into the community.  Of course there are some cultural differences (pants vs. pants anyone?), but at the core we’re all Druids. We love this world, we love this life.  The forests of Camp Netimus have begun to sing our songs back to us, welcoming our return with golden branches and croaking ravens.  We’re here to love the land, love each other, and answer the Druid’s call to art, to justice, and to peace.  We come together once a year to combine our knowledge, our gifts, and our passions so that when we return home, we brings new harmonies back to our practices and our groves.

Now, let’s do some epic shit.

*Kris Hughes is responsible for the wonderful term DTI, or Druid Transmitted Infection.

Bardic Initiation

S. lighting the way for the initiate. Used with permission.

Wednesday night a few of us Grovies gathered to initiate B. into the Bardic Grade, or more specifically to reignite his journey on the Druid path. The site which watched over us is one the Grove has been using for many years, and you can feel the openness of the place, and the welcoming breeze to our work. A beaver splashed noisily as we set up the circle, which entertained my son no end.

I love our Grove for so many reasons: the camaraderie, the pool of knowledge, the creative spirit…but most of all I love the humor and kindness that all of our Grovies possess. We can pull of sober when it’s required, but if someone flubs a line, it is always smoothed over with a smile and some fancy word-work.

This was my first time acting as Grove Mother, with my friend A. as Head Druid. Part of me feels like I should have been nervous, but most of me was just excited to give B. the best initiation experience that we could. I think we met that goal.

Each of the Grovies had a gift for B. once the ceremony was completed. Mine was a set of meditation beads set up around nines and threes. The center bead was a “thunder egg” aka geode, the large rounds were banded agates, the counter beads were petrified wood, the start/end bead was ceramic, and the three tail beads were red jasper. Our initiate was a Pisces, so I hope this brings some Fire and Earth to his studies.

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Geode, red jasper, banded agate, petrified wood, ceramic, glass, silk.

Afterwards, we did as all good Druids do: we hit the local pub for post-ritual noms. Grounding and centering never tasted so good! May B. complete his Bardic journey with the love of the gods, goddesses, and all goodness.