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.

Practicing Together #10

Seed thought taken from Leaning into Mystery’s “Practicing Together” weekly series.

I noticed  the hawthorns blooming. I noticed the swans in the southwest, the red winged blackbirds in the north, the wood ducks in the northwest and the woodpecker in the east. I noticed the hum that comes from the land in the spring and summer, and discovered a new path through the white pine grove that I had never seen before.

This week, I invite in clarity. Clarity of purpose, clarity of motivation, clarity of action. I invite in the Dawn Shiner, and the true seeing that he brings.

Ways this could happen: Color breathing white and yellow. Entering the Eastern Gate in meditation. Invoking Mercury and the Sun in my morning practice.

What went well: Embracing spontaneity served me very well. I was able to adapt to different needs during our grove Beltane ceremony, and take advantage of the coincidences and synchronicities that where available to me. This resulted in an open, sensitive ritual, and an impromptu meal of garlic mustard pesto later in the week!

Updates: More oghams gathered—hawthorn for Huathe and a new piece of pine for Ailim. I’ve decided to leave the bark on the fews, which means I also need to replace the willow stick. Both it and the old pine few have taken up residence in my crane bag, though, so nothing is wasted.

Hemlock

First off, in case anyone here is reading from Europe, I’m not talking about the stuff Socrates used to end his days. Why the shared name? Supposedly, when the needles of Eastern/Canadian hemlock, or Tsuga canadensis,  are crushed, they produce a smell similar to that of poison hemlock. However, Eastern hemlock is a slow-growing, long-lived tree that, unlike many conifers, actually needs the shade of taller hardwood trees to grow well. It is very sensitive to sun, wind and moisture variation, all of which can cause die-back during the winter.

name? Supposedly, when the needles of Eastern/Canadian hemlock, or Tsuga canadensis,  are crushed, they produce a smell similar to that of poison hemlock. However, Eastern hemlock is a slow-growing, long-lived tree that, unlike many conifers, actually needs the shade of taller hardwood trees to grow well. It is very sensitive to sun, wind and moisture variation, all of which can cause die-back during the winter.

Sadly, Eastern hemlock faces a moderate level of threat from the wooly adelgid, which was introduced from East Asia (those Tsuga are resistant to it, happily). The major problem with the death of a single hemlock is its shallow and wide-spread root system: if a large tree falls, it is very likely to take many younger trees with it as well.

Because of its longevity and love of damp places, Hemlock is what I replace Yew with in my Northeast ogham set. Interestingly enough, none of the magical authors whose books I own address Tsuga, though plenty mention poison hemlock. Astrologically, because of its slow development, I associate it with Saturn, and with the element of Earth, though she embodies Spirit as well to my mind, particularly since male and female cones are formed on the same tree. I’ve always found Hemlock to be very open to humans, both curious and sassy. She’s a wonderful tree under which to meditate, and for those working the Ovate grade of OBOD,  she can be a wonderful candidate to watch over both the Rite of the Tree and the Rite of the Ancestors.