"Ritual is poetry in the realm of acts." - Ross Nichols
Anyone who has ever attended a Druid ritual should easily be able to tell you about how much we love sacrifices and offerings. You can’t go for more than a few minutes before something is being offered to a number of different beings and objects. If it isn’t the Earth Mother, then it is one of the Kindred (Ancestors, Nature spirits, Divinities, or the Spirit of the occasion), or one of the Hallows (Fire, Well, Tree). We loving giving gifts in ritual and this is not limited to physical objects such as herbs, incense, oils, or alcohol. Sometimes our offerings are songs, poems, and art. I would be tempted to call us pyromaniacs since the majority of the sacrifices we give in my Grove go into the fire, but I know that there is more to it than just the simple love of watching the pretty flames lick the offerings into ash. If anything, the silver and other heavy objects make such satisfying plunking noises when offered to the well.
Sacrifice is a big scary word as most of modern society understands it. It is a word that implies the giving up of something of greatest value for a higher cause. A soldier could be called to sacrifice life and limb for the country’s safety. During the period of time known as Lent in the Christian tradition, a person is called to sacrifice something as a means to spiritual growth. I think this sometimes backfires, as in the case of a friend of mine who told me she had given up church for Lent and just never bothered to pick it back up again. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (http://etymonline.com), the word sacrifice has the Latin roots sacra, which means "sacred rites," and facere which means "to do, perform.” So in short a sacrifice originally meant to make sacred, or a sacred action. It isn’t until the 1300s and later that the word takes on a connotation of giving something up.
We in ADF view sacrifices as a way to create a Ghosti relationship with the Kindreds. Ghosti is a proto-indo-european word that is the root for our words for both guest and host. It speaks of how guests and hosts should act toward one another. We often say in ADF that, “A gift requires a gift in return.” Just as when I invite friends over for dinner I give them food and water; I also provide for the Kindreds that I have invited into my life and ritual. In return they give me their presence and gifts that go beyond anything I could quantify.
The sacrifices or offerings I make are an act of simple hospitality given to help strengthen, feed, and please those spirits willing to accept my invitation. This is why study into what the Kindreds wish to have offered is so important. I wouldn’t give a friend who is allergic to nuts a walnut-laced brownie. I also wouldn’t offer Poseidon olive oil, since the olive tree was why he lost patronage of Athens. When acceptable sacrifices are made to the Kindreds, this increases their mana (this is a Pacific Islander concept of natural magical energy) and provides an energy base from which they can work to increase order out of chaos in both my life and in the world in general. Do I honestly think that the Kindreds “need” my offerings? Yes, and no. I think they ramble along well enough without my prayers, offerings, and sacrifices; but I do feel that what I give helps to strengthen them so that they are capable of more. Much the way a gentle touch of a friend can help rally a sick person in the hospital, so do my gifts and worship help. Okay, not the best image since the Gods are far from sickly people in the hospital, but I hope I have made my point.
At the end of the day, what I want most from my religion is relationship with the powers that be (in the case of my druidry, that is the Kindreds). Sacrifice is the manner in which I foster a relationship with the spirits. What I give opens the doors to communication, whereas the omens are how I create a two way street for that communication to happen. Sacrifices are a type of physical/kinetic prayer, and a very effective one. I find the action of placing my offering into the fire much more moving and powerful than simple words said empty of action. Maybe this is why it is common to hear in ADF the phrase, “Let us pray by a good fire.” If ritual is poetry in the realm of acts, as stated by Mr. Nichols, then sacrifice is the poem set to song.
The First Ad Astra Druid Retreat or How I Spent My Weekend
Our very first Grove retreat is over and man howdy am I a wiped girl. I am not a people person by any stretch of the imagination. I am a shy introvert who requires a great deal of time to myself to recharge my battery. Playing host to close to 30 people is not something I consider doing every day, but this event was well worth every ounce of energy put into it. It was so worth it, that I am already planning next year’s event in my head. Bigger, better, longer, and yes, I am talking about the next retreat and not something else.
For opening ritual I wanted to give people a chance to turn their intentions for the day into some form of physical action. I personally feel that more can be gotten if clear goals are stated up front. In this case, the folk lit candles and whispered their intentions to the flame. We asked as a community for Hephaestus to take our thoughts and ideas, and make them into reality. I am unsure how well this ritual was received, and will freely admit it was not my strongest work. I am not normally nervous about standing up in front of people, but this opening made my belly do flips flops, and then add a jump rope trick or two just to be sure. I didn’t get any complaints, so it must have been somewhat decent.
The first workshop was fantastic. Michael covered all the different types of prayer, including: Adoratory prayers, Thanksgiving, Petitionary/ Supplication, Expiatory prayers (prayers that ask for forgiveness), Loving, and Meditative prayers. Michael made sure to expand upon Expiatory prayers, and when and why they might be needed, even though we do not really have a concept of sin in Paganism. The part that stood out most to me was the idea of writing prayers down. Good prayers are best when they are able to be used again. Drum then took over and gave us ideas on how to take the different types of prayer and use them in a single hearth culture. He gave wonderful examples of how he uses them with his own Irish hearth. The hands on activity of writing our own prayers was very helpful, and I hope others enjoyed doing this as much as I did.
The second workshop was the one I was looking forward to the most. I have a very hard time connecting with my ancestors, mostly because my relationship with my living family is nearly nonexistent. Drum did such a brilliant job of explaining who the different types of ancestors are, and how they play into his personal druidry. He talked about the ancestors of the bone, those who had lived on this land before we came, and I truly think I have a better relationship with them than I do with ancestors of the blood. One thing I am going to work on is asking my blood ancestors for help in how to deal with living relatives. Maybe, with their help, I can improve both relationships with them and those living.
The last workshop was ritual basics. This is where Amanda screwed the pooch. I lost track of time hanging out with folk, and didn’t get the workshop started till way late. Poor Michael probably had a huge amount more to say, but I cut him off so that ritual wouldn’t start way late as well. This was a very important workshop, full of great ideas for how to do good ritual. Too bad I promptly ignored it all when we did the full ritual right afterwards. Just kidding! Well, mostly, but in my defense the ritual was written well before hand, and wasn’t gonna change it minutes before we used the script. Michael spoke about how to arrange the altar and people so that everyone could hear and see what was going on. He also talked about intentional movement, something I tend to be bad at. If you read this, I should add that I am so very sorry Michael. I wish I hadn’t started so late, so that we could have heard more.
Last came the full ADF COoR rite in honor of Athena, Metis, Prometheus, and Epimetheus. I truly feel that they felt honored and pleased with the ritual. I led a real quick path working so that people might have a chance to meet these wonderful deities that don’t get the love they deserve (not that I am biased or anything). Afterwords, Michael and Drum talked about how we do some things differently in our Grove, and that there might even be stuff that they might steal. I really wished I had asked what was different and what they were taking (this way I’d know what bits we were doing well enough to consider taking). I don’t get a lot of feedback generally, so I am hoping that anyone who was there will leave some thoughts in comments. I really would like to know what we do well, and what could use some work. In general if you went and would like to leave a quick note for what you’d like to see for next year, I’d greatly appreciate it. I would also like to add that I am grateful for those brewers willing to share their wonderful yummies. Next year can only be better. To the stars we go! Ad Astra!
The clergy are coming! The clergy are coming! One serious disadvantage to being in a minority faith that requires a great deal of training before a person is allowed to call themselves “clergy,” is that the clergy are a bit few, and far between. There are no ADF clergy members in Kansas. The clergy training program is very intense, and even once clergy status is obtained, continued education is required to maintain that status. Needless to say, it is a huge commitment of time and energy. This means we have clergy who know what they are talking about, but it also means that many people are without clergy in their area of the country.
ADF has a traveling clergy program that helps small Groves like Ad Astra have a chance to experience time with clergy. The program provides a small amount of money to help the clergy pay for travel costs, but I suspect that a great deal of money still comes out of pocket. Ad Astra is extremely blessed to be having two priests coming out for our retreat. They will be spending time hanging out, answering questions, doing ritual, as well as leading workshops. Since we do not have paid clergy in ADF, these wonderful folk have had to take time off from day jobs to come out to see us. The sacrifice of time, energy, and money that our priests are putting out amazes and humbles me.
“So, who’s coming?” you ask.
Rev. Jean (Drum) Pagano, is the current Vice Arch Druid, ADF ListMaster, Manager of the ADF Store, and the reason that our Grove exists at all. I met Drum while up at a festival in Michigan, where he proceeded to talk me into starting a Proto Grove (even though I was the only ADF member in Topeka and the next closest member was in Missouri). I’m still not quite sure how he did that. He has been an ADF member for 28 years. He is currently a reviewer, and advocate for the ADF Study Programs; and an ADF Journeyman Bard (soon to be Master Bard). Drum has written a number of articles for Oak Leaves, has written a book of poetry entitled “Arise from Vapours”; and has studied and worked with the ogham for 23 years. Drum is also currently a member of Cedarsong Grove.
Rev. Michael J Dangler has been an ADF member for 11 years. He is currently an ADF Senior Priest; Preceptor of the ADF Clergy Council; a Past Senior Druid and Grove Priest of Three Cranes Grove, ADF, in Columbus, OH. Anyone who has ever thought about doing the study programs that ADF offers all its members, knows his name. He has written a great deal to help people learn what Druidry is all about and his work appears in Our Own Druidry, the handbook for the ADF Dedicant Path. He runs a Druid shop part time, has a regular day job, is a priest, and runs tons of workshops for ADF. I have met Michael a few times at various festivals and one Pagan Fire Seminar (that he co-founded and led).
To say I am excited to have these two here is a bit of an understatement. I was asked by a friend if I felt nervous to have the clergy coming out, since they will be seeing my ritual writing skills first hand. Honestly, I find it weird that I am not. I guess I figured they are coming to help us grow and stretch. I will learn while they are here, and hopefully by the end of our time together, I will put what they are teaching to good use in ritual and make them proud.
About a year ago, the University of Missouri put out a guide describing the various religions that could be found on campus and when their holy days occurred. The on-line version of the guide can be found here.
47 holidays are listed from a variety of religious traditions. The guide describes how observances of the holiday of any given religion could affect a student’s performance. One example is fasting during Ramadan; the guide recommends:
“If possible, avoid scheduling major academic deadlines during this time. Be sensitive to the fact that students and employees celebrating Ramadan will be fasting during the day (continuously for 30 days) and will likely have less stamina as a result. If planning an evening event, provide food accommodations if requested (Islamic dietary restrictions apply).”
First off, Mizzou, I want to applaud you. To take note of the holy days of minority religions, as well as the major ones, is a step in the right direction. The university is a place of diversity and to acknowledge that in an official guide, designed to help professors and others know when students may not be at top form for tests and other activities due to commitment to their religious obligations, just makes my heart glow. You are showing how much you care about your students, and how much you want them to succeed in their education.
The Pew Research Center and the most recent US census estimate the Pagan population to be between 900,000 to 1.2 million. Growth of Pagan religions over the last decade was close to 28%, as compared to the 3% of Christendom as a whole, and the negative growth of Protestantism here in the US. Many Pagans still remain in the closet about their religious beliefs for fear of persecution in the form of loss of jobs, housing, and children. This makes it extremely difficult to find out exactly what our numbers really are. While Paganism, as an umbrella term for a host of different religions, is far from becoming even one of the top three largest religions in this country, we are steadily growing and we are not going away anytime soon. I should also add that “Pagan” does not necessarily equal Wiccan, though Wicca is the largest portion of the Pagan population (just as Evangelical Christians are larger in the Christian population than Catholics, but still get lumped together as Christian in polls).
With all this said, here enters Fox News. They had both an on-line article as well as a segment on “Fox and Friends” where they addressed the guide that Mizzou had put out. If you want to be sure I am not making this up, you can read the on-line article here, as well as watch a clip of the “Fox and Friends” show here.
Tammy Bruce, radio host of the nationally syndicated “Tammy Bruce Show” and Fox News contributor, said she found the guide to be indicative of an unbecoming societal shift.
“It almost seems as though we’re looking for excuses for people to not have to take their commitments seriously,” Bruce told FoxNews.com. “It’s beyond political correctness; it’s almost like an excuse to do nothing. It’s like societal nihilism, where nothing matters.”
Tucker Carlson adds, “Every Wiccan I have ever know either compulsive Dungeons and Dragons player or is a middle aged, twice divorced, older woman, living in a rural area who works as a midwife.”
Read here. Forget the fact that the accommodations listed for the Pagan holidays equals zero recommendations. Not even a single, “Don’t schedule tests on these days.” Forget the fact that only 8 holidays are listed for Pagans, and not the 20 they seem to pull out of thin air on “Fox and Friends.” Lastly, forget that in the UK police are allowed to take the 8 Pagan holidays off (so, yes Fox, this does happen in other countries), or that Christians have only one less holiday listed than Pagans (coming in at 7 holidays for the year). The fact they can’t even be bothered to do basic journalism, and then claim in the clip that they are, in fact, journalists, boggles the mind.
The break down for the holidays is as follows:
Wiccan/Pagan: 8 holidays
Hindu: 5 holidays
Buddhist: 3 holidays
Baha'i: 3 holidays
Shinto: 2 holidays
Sikh: 2 holidays
Jain: 1 holiday
Taoist: 1 holiday
Confucian: 1 holiday
Jewish: 11 holidays
Christian (Protestant/RC): 7 holidays
Christian (E. Orthodox): 4 holidays
Islam: 3 holidays
So, the highest number of holidays are Jewish. Somehow that didn’t seem to even register with our friends at Fox news. I honestly would have been just as upset if it had. The number of Pagan holidays should not be an issue, just as the number of Christian and Jewish ones shouldn’t. Religion is a very personal, very powerful part of the human experience. We take that experience as little, or as far, as we need or want. That doesn’t mean my religion is any less important to me than it is to my Christian counterparts. This is NOT an attack on Christianity by the “liberals,” nor by the University. This is treating people of minority faiths as fully human people, just as committed to their religion as any one from a more recognized faith tradition. Mizzou, keep up the great job! Fox news, hire real journalists who know how to do a little background research before spouting off, please.
There are currently several on-line petitions asking Fox news to apologize. One can be found here.
Another (with 20,000 signatures when I last looked) can be found here.
Ad Astra has made some major changes in the last few months that have kept me extremely busy. First off we have applied and been granted full Grove status. This is very exciting for a couple of reasons, but the most important in my mind is that we are now the only full Grove in the central region of the US. This is a big deal and our membership is ready to get to work on proving to ADF that their trust in our little church in Kansas is well placed.
We are also preparing to have our very first Pagan/ Druid retreat. So far attendance is looking to be in the upper 30s, and this has me more than a tad bouncy. Who knew that Topeka would be such a great place for our community to grow and help others on this spiritual path? Our first retreat is quickly approaching, and I am beginning to feel the painfully sweet excitement that comes with anticipation. We will be doing two rituals during the day, that I am writing and rewriting as we speak/ type. The first will be a bit of a down and dirty quick opening for the day. The second will be a full ADF rite to close everything down for the day; a way to incorporate all the workshops of the day into physical action. I think I am more excited for the rituals then I am for the classes, but those are going to rock as well. In preparation I am making daily devotions and meditating on the deities we will be honoring on retreat day. I thought that maybe others would like to do this as well, so I figured a quick introduction to those we will be honoring might not be out of order.
Let us start with Metis, (Μῆτις), whose name means, "wisdom," "skill," or "craft". This powerful Titan of cunning wisdom is often times tied to Prometheus, as well as Zeus. Metis was the one who gave Zeus a potion to cause Kronos to vomit out Zeus' brothers and sisters. She is mother of Athena and Poros (creative ingenuity). We are honoring her in hopes that she will grant us wisdom and the skill to apply what will help us most. She is a skilled councilor to whom all the Gods listened to (well, before Zeus ate her), and I know I always need her help.
The second Deity we will be honoring is Prometheus (Προμηθεύς), whose name means forethought. Another Titan of clever thought, he is known for his intelligence, and as well as being a champion of humanity. In some stories, he and his brother, Epimetheus, worked together to create humanity out of clay.
Prometheus loved humans and wanted to give them the best he could. When it came time for the Gods and humans to agree what part of the sacrifices would go to the Gods and which to humans, Prometheus tricked Zeus into taking the inedible portion and leaving the good meat for the humans. Zeus punished the humans and Prometheus by taking away the gift of fire. This meant that prayers could not reach the Gods, for it was through the sacrifices to the fire that prayers reached the Divinities. The fire was also symbolic of technology and learning. Prometheus once again stood up for humanity and stole the fire from Zeus, returning it to the humans. The punishment Prometheus received for this action was severe, but not eternal. Eventually Zeus relented and allowed Herakles and Chiron to release Prometheus from the rock he was bound to.
Next, we have Epimetheus, (Ἐπιμηθεύς), whose name means hindsight, or after thought. Epimetheus is best known for his part in the Pandora story (in which his part is mainly to wed Pandora, and thus allows evil to enter the world through his wife), but he is also the co-creator and co-representative for humanity before the Gods. Les Amis, in his book, "Commemorating Epimetheus", speak of how it is Epimetheus that is credited with gifting with our knowledge of our dependency on each. It is through the gifts of Epimetheus that we humans understand the value of sharing, caring, meeting and dwelling and loving one another. It is through hindsight that we can see what is of most value, each other. This retreat is mostly about community, even as we build that community through the act of learning and celebrating together. I can not think of a better God to ask for help as we do this.
Last, but not least, we come to Athena (Ἀθηνᾶ). Athena has so many roles that sometimes it is hard to not to include her in everything I do. She is Goddess of crafts, women's work, democracy, war, and most importantly, reason combined with intelligent activity.
She is the daughter of Zeus and Metis, born fully clad in armor and screaming a battle cry that shook the heavens. Although, there are some myths out there that have her as the daughter of Cronus, and thus the sister of Zeus and Hera (This is based on a recorded myth written by Sanchuniathon, as saved for posterity by Eusebius).
I will admit that Athena holds a very special place in my heart and on my private altar space. She is the Goddess who opened the door of the Gods to me. She has always taken a special interest in me and we have a fairly powerful relationship.
The Wheel of the year is turning yet again. Litha is the Saxon name for the summer solstice, and is the time when it is thought that the power of the various Sun Deities' are defeated by those of the night. It is at this time of the year when the sun hits its highest peak, the longest day of the year, and begins the descent down toward the earth. This is another holiday that has a great deal to do with bonfires. This time, however, the fires were built not to bless, but to turn away evil spirits that were thought to grow in numbers as the sun began to drop south. Litha is also considered a time for divination, but mostly to find out about matters of love.
Today, Litha is still extremely popular in northern European countries. In Sweden, where the festival is called "Midsommar", Litha is even celebrated as a national holiday. Houses are decorated with bright summer flowers, both inside and out, and a maypoles are erected. The only holiday that beats out the popularity of Litha in Sweden is Christmas, when the Sun turns the tide and defeats the night.
Our small grove will light the fire and offer to Bridget, Aine, Danu, and Lugh. We shall share poetry, play games, eat more food of a sugary nature than we really should, and enjoy this last big hurrah before the time for the harvests begins. After Litha, the active, outward work increases into one huge burst, before leading to the quieter reflective work that goes with the darker time of year. I hope you will go out on the solstice and enjoy the longest day of the year in your own way.
Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not.
— Epicurus, "Letter to Menoeceus"
My family is a bit odd, and always has been. We tend to be rather non-contact, and by that I mean we don’t talk or get involved in each other’s lives. I have Uncles I have never met, a brother I talk to once every couple years, parents whom I talk to maybe twice a year, and see only every 3 or 4. It isn’t that we’re mad at each other, or in some sort of feud. We just are not connected by anything other than genetics, and that makes relationship hard when you don’t even live in the same state. We have no reason to just sort of run into each other, and so the only contact is that which we are willing to work for. We seem to just be too lazy to work that hard at it.
I think it is this family dynamic that has made ancestor work so extremely difficult for me. My contact with my living family is so nebulous, so how could I possibly know where to start with those gone into the grave? Enter National Geographic and their gene/deep ancestor test. I figured it was as good place to start as any. Being a woman I could only trace my female line, and somehow that seemed appropriate. The women are so easy to loose in the paper trails because of name changes and being lost to the emphasis placed men’s lines. So, I spent my money and swabbed my cheek expecting a result of England or extreme Western Europe. I was extremely surprised. The men’s last names in my family (especially on my mother’s side) almost come exclusively from western Europe, but my genetic test showed that the furthest west the female line comes from is possibly Romania, and that might be pushing it. I have more in common genetically with the Bedouin then I do with anyone from England, according to the test.
This allowed me a chance to focus on something a little more substantive during my trance work that focused on my ancestors. It didn’t solve all of my issues in trying to connect with this rather elusive group, but it did help. Part of the issue I do have with ancestor work is...how long does someone stay dead? Is it forever, or do people eventually reincarnate. Do they just devolve/solve after time into the ether of nothingness?
What happens after we die is a question that almost every major religion has tackled at some point. Each has come to same very different conclusions. My first response to what happens is, Who the hell knows, and even those who do know, don’t exactly tell much about it in clear terms. In the books I have been reading on Thanadoula work, I have learned of what is called, "Nearing Death consciousness." People who are in the process of dying often will see visions of those who have died before them, as well as a place that they cannot describe, but only speak of it as an amazing, beautiful place beyond words.
If we follow Terry Pratchett’s views on the subject (and I tend to think the man is on to something profound), everyone gets what they are expecting. If this is true, I most as like end up no where near the place that many of my more recent Christian ancestors found themselves after the great ending. Will I wake to find myself on the plains of Asphodel when I die? I doubt I will have been virtuous enough to get Elysium, or evil evil enough for Tartarus. Will I wind up in the heaven of my childhood faith? ~Shudder~ I certainly hope not. Will I eventually drink from the River Lethe, forget who I was, and be reborn? Will I simply slip into nothingness? I certainly have no issue with this last one.
This brings me back to my ancestors, and my work with them. Are the deepest, oldest of them still there to work with? I have no fast or ready answers. I just know that in my work, I feel something there. Perhaps the most recently dead, or those who have died and been reborn so many times that they can choose to stay as spirit? Hard to say for sure, but I guess I’ll know the truth of it, or lack there of, when I get there.
Chas Clifton over at Letter from Hardscrabble Creek recently asked (rhetorically, I should add), “What Do Pagans Get from Interfaith Activities?”
I am currently active in the Interfaith of Topeka, and I find this an interesting question, mostly because it was very hard for me to answer at first. What do I get from being involved? It isn’t more acceptance of Druidry as a religion, because those who attend would probably be fine with me calling Druidry a religion. Those who disagreed with me using those terms for my faith left a long time ago. I don’t get recognition within the community (either Pagan or general) for my once a month time spent with a group of mostly Christians. So, what do I get?
I think for me, Interfaith activities allow me a chance to share my experiences of my Gods while listening to how others interact with theirs. I like the conversation and the company. Where else in Topeka can I sit face to face with a Mormon, a Jew, a Protestant Christian, an Atheist, a Muslim and a Wiccan and have an extremely lively and civil conversation? This doesn’t mean we agree with each other, or don’t on occasion get offended, but we listen to each other. We respect and accept what people are saying as honest and heartfelt, even if it does not fit neatly into our worldview.
The thing that I don’t get from Interfaith is contact with some of the more conservative versions of (cough-Christian-cough) religious faith. These are the faiths that for whatever reason are scared to even sit at a table with people like me. These are the ones who see my pentacle and get an antsy look in their eyes; that somehow the action of sitting across a table to discuss our different faiths with respect and civility might somehow taint them, or make my faith somehow more legitimate. Of course, I would argue that my faith is legitimate with or without their approval. Have I ever told you how much I love the first amendment?
I grew up in one of these types of churches. I was raised with the idea that we couldn’t even visit other types of Christian churches, especially if they were one of those mainline ones, because they were not “real” Christians. They were deluded somehow and not quite reading the Bible correctly, or following the Spirit, or maybe even secretly or unbeknownst to them serving Satan. Fear ran high in that church. There were demons everywhere waiting to pounce and tear a good Christian down. I can’t remember how many times I was “saved,” because I was never sure if it had taken or not. It was constantly thrown in my face that I needed saving, because I must be backsliding. I was a teenager after all. Talk about a weak God, let alone faith. Today, the more conspiracy-prone side of me feels that this was more about power than any real theology.
For a long time I thought most Christians were of this ilk; afraid of their own shadows. This is something that Interfaith has given me, a chance to see that there are those out there who walk their faith humbly and without paralyzing fear of the other, and who can talk to another human being of a different religion without the need to convert, or burn. It doesn’t mean that they agree with me on how I view deity, sin, and everything else that their faith is about. It also doesn’t mean that I agree with them on who Jesus was/is or who Zeus was/is, but we can at least share space in peace.
"With regard to their actual course of studies, the main object of all education is, in their opinion, to imbue their scholars with a firm belief in the indestructibility of the human soul, which, according to their belief, merely passes at death from one tenement to another; for by such doctrine alone, they say, which robs death of all its terrors, can the highest form of human courage be developed. Subsidiary to the teachings of this main principle, they hold various lectures and discussions on astronomy, on the extent and geographical distribution of the globe, on the different branches of natural philosophy, and on many problems connected with religion".
—Julius Caesar, "De Bello Gallico", VI, 13
There is very little known about the early Druids. Most of our information comes from hostile sources like Julius Caesar, and there is still some debate on how much of it was wartime propaganda, and how much was true. What we do know is that there were Druid colleges and that it took some Druids twenty years to finish their training. They never wrote anything down, so we don’t know exactly what was taught, but reports say that the Druids were the keepers of the law, genealogy, and stories of the people. The Druids were the educators, lawyers, priests, doctors, and political negotiators of their day. There exist several sources that speak of how armies and battles could be stopped by the intervention of the local druid. We are told by the Greek and Roman sources that they believed in reincarnation, giving them a reputation for being Pythagoreans, even though this was not possible. The Druids were suppressed by the Romans and completed destroyed by the second century. Although our information is limited, modern archeology has allowed us to tease from old stories some of what the ancient Druids believed and how they performed their religious rites. Peter Berresford Ellis, in his book, “The Druids,” makes a strong case for both male and female druids, and posits that the druids of old were much like the Hindu caste of the Brahmin.
After the their demise by the Romans, the views of Druids became something of myth and romantic legend. We have no direct linage between the ancient Druids and those who call themselves Druids today, but our studies allow us to reconstruct some of their beliefs. We base much of our religion on the studies of the Indo-Europeans and what their religions looked like before Christianity. Not only do these cultures share a common language base, they also seem to share a common cosmology. Druids were very much in the Indo-European system and so probably shared a great deal in how they practiced with the others who share this language base. So, the question then becomes, without Druid colleges and a complete picture of Druids believed, how does one become a Druid now?
Short answer...pay ADF $25 and get a membership card. Okay, yeah this no more makes a person a Druid then a person going to church makes them a Christian. What makes a druid is the application of the value system. We have what is called the Dedicant’s Path (DP). The DP is just the beginning of how we train, but is well worth the time. It consists of a variety of essays that are submitted and graded. Some do not pass the first time round, and have to resubmit. My DP came in close to 32 pages and this is fairly short compared to many other submissions. The DP consists of the reading of three scholarly books chosen from a long list of acceptable research-quality texts. These books consist of one Indo-European studies title, a hearth culture title (we accept any culture that is Indo-European), and one study of modern paganism. We talk about what the nine Virtues mean and how to apply them to our lives. The part of the DP that was the most fun for me was the nature awareness section. Well, you can’t really call yourself an Earth based religion without some experience of the great outdoors, even if that outdoors is just in your own backyard. After the DP comes a series of choices for what path to take next. There is the generalists path, the initiates path, or training as clergy.
Our religion is structured around right action instead of right belief. We preform our rituals in certain ways and are asked to live our lives by how we interpret the virtues and the will of the Gods, Ancestors, and Nature Spirits (even what those beings are is open to interpretation). Next time, I’ll talk a bit about what my Hearth Culture is, but I would like to hear what you want to know about as well.
Yule is the darkest night of the year, when it seems the light will never return. The Sun drops to the lowest point on the horizon and stays there for three days, but then the miraculous happens. The Sun slowly starts to rise higher in the sky. It is almost imperceptible at first, and the biting cold of winter can sometimes blind us from the fact that the light is returning.
I once heard someone describe Yule as being half way out of the dark. I struggle without the warmth of the sun and the gentle kisses of its light on my skin. I crave and need that light, so for me Yule is one of the most joyous celebrations. This would be doubly true for the people for whom there was no such thing as the electric light. There is an ancient German custom of singing the sun up during the longest night. The Yule Log was lit, and the Yule hog, which has become the Christmas Ham, was served. Actually, many Pagan traditions have since become Christmas traditions.
"Two popular observances belonging to Christmas are more especially derived from the worship of our pagan ancestors—the hanging up of the mistletoe and the burning of the Yule log,” wrote Robert Chamber in his Book of Days (c. 1901).
The evergreens used for Christmas have Germanic as well as Roman influences. Saturnalia was a holiday at the time of the Solstice in which evergreen boughs were brought into the Roman home. The celebration would include masquerades in the streets, big festive meals, the visiting of friends, and the exchange of good-luck gifts called Strenae or lucky fruits. Masters and slaves would temporarily exchanging roles, which could be seen as a precursor to boxing day. The use of evergreens to decorate the streets and houses was also very noticeable during this great winter festival.
On the darkest night of the year, the winter solstice, we will gather in order to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun, as seen from societies of old. The rebirth of the great giver and sustainer of all earthly life, and the turning of the wheel of the year again. To paraphrase one of my favorite writers on the subject, if we did not celebrate the solstice, then the Sun would not rise again, and all we would have is a mere ball of flaming gas that would illuminate the world.