I found ADF after having spent several years as a non-practicing pagan. I had pagan beliefs, but rarely applied them to my life. I had no altar, no garden, and no group with which to celebrate pagan holidays. Though I dabbled in Wicca and Eastern spiritual practices, I did so as I teenager seeking association with something cool and exotic, while lacking true commitment. Eventually, I lost interest in Wicca, but I didn’t know where to go from there. Eastern religions remained of interest, but a feeling of cultural disconnect kept me from fully embracing any of them as my own. I labeled myself an eclectic witch and pagan, but I felt lost in the sea of spiritual practices. Eclecticism was not right for me either. I tried to resign myself to a secular life, but I couldn’t do it. I returned to my spiritual quest in early 2015 with more resolve than ever before.
Having already explored Eastern spirituality and eclecticism, I knew I needed something more focused and culturally relevant. I first came across Germanic and Celtic reconstructionist paths, which were almost what I wanted, but I didn’t want to give up eclectic and neopagan influences entirely. I wanted focus with a healthy dose of flexibility. Fortunately, ADF offers exactly this. I don’t remember exactly how it was that I came upon ADF; I am inclined to say it was pure chance. At any rate, I knew almost immediately that it was exactly what I sought. I paid for membership and began the Dedicant Path (DP) within a week of discovering ADF’s website.
My first altar was a TV tray. I gathered up what I could find around the house to serve as the recommended altar items and set up my rudimentary altar outside under my Ash tree to give my initial oath. I was so excited to finally be doing, rather than just believing. The energy was notably strong that day. The sky was overcast and it thundered. Since Thunor played no small role in leading me to my Hearth Culture, I took the weather to be a good sign. It wasn’t long before I had a permanent altar set up indoors.
I began the DP fairly confident that Anglo-Saxon would my Hearth Culture, but I also considered a dual Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Hearth Culture. I decided to focus on one at a time, beginning with Anglo-Saxon. I became discouraged fairly early on with the lack of information available about Saxon paganism relative to Norse paganism. Even more troubling was the lack of community. Most of my online Germanic-pagan acquaintances follow a Norse path and the Grove that I joined focuses on the Norse and Celtic. I tired of having to translate all of my Saxon terminology to Norse in order to communicate with my Grove and on my blog. I considered going the Norse route myself in order to go with the grain for once in my life. This was a very short-lived consideration. I felt overwhelmingly compelled to return to the Anglo-Saxon Hearth. I feel at home with this Hearth Culture. I feel like I belong here, like the Gods (especially Thunor) want me here. It is still possible that I will integrate the Celtic pantheon into my private practice later on, but for now it is enough that my Grove recognizes it.
Although I have an especially close relationship with Thunor and at least one other deity, I have not formally accepted a patron. I refer to all seven of my personal pantheon as my matrons and patrons in the sense that I focus my worship on these seven among the larger Anglo-Saxon pantheon. Also, in the last month so, I’ve decided to decrease the frequency of my matron and patron devotionals in order to increase my focus on the other two Kindreds. A dedicated patron type of relationship is not right for me at this time, though I am not ruling it out.
Nothing about my spiritual practice is set in stone. I may return my focus to the Gods, and I may not. I might accept a single patron and I might not. I trust that the Kindreds will guide me and I will adjust my practice accordingly. For the time being, I am immensely satisfied with my paganism. I never thought that I would get to this point, but here I am!
The Three Kindreds of ADF druidry are the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, and the Shining Ones. Each of these play a different role in our lives, some being more involved with us than others. My own understanding of and relationship to Kindreds has changed since I first started out on this path.
The Ancestors: The Ancestors are the departed souls of our own blood lineage, of our cultural lands, and the heroes of our hearts regardless of relationship. There are many places our Ancestors might end up after death. Some are reincarnated to live among us once again, while others might be taken into the hall of one of the Gods to be of service to that particular deity. Therefore, not all of them are able to be of assistance to their descendants. Some, however, join the ranks of the Ylfe (Alfar) and Idesa (Disir), semi-divine beings who are able and willing to watch over us. Given that the term Ylfe refers to the entire race of Light Elves, our ancestral guardians might also be counted as one of the Nature Spirits, indicating that the three Kindreds do not exist as isolated groups with unrelated duties and motives.
I did not always take an interest in ancestor worship. This has changed significantly since joining ADF. I did not know how to connect to or relate to beings that I have little in common with besides genetics. I did not accept that blood should create a default connection between people. As far as immediate family is concerned, it makes sense that there is a connection because we live(d) together – strong bonds are bound to develop. I attribute my feelings towards blood ancestors to the modern world. Families don’t stay together the way they did a two thousand years ago. Even the nuclear family breaks apart as children grow up and move away. The ancestral bonds that the ancient pagans felt were likely a result of having remained in the same area together for many generations. The bond was more than blood.
Nevertheless, my Dedicant Path (DP) studies inspired me to learn more about my blood lineage. I am exceptionally fortunate to have a mother who maintains all of our genealogical records and collects stories about our Ancestors whenever she can. I do not necessarily feel a connection to every Ancestor she tells me of, but some I can imagine getting along with well if I had met them during their lifetime. I have learned much about where I came from and I feel a lot better about honoring those who had a hand in bringing me here, whether I can relate to them otherwise or not. Also, the concept of an ancestor being anyone who helped get me to where I am, blood relative or not, was one I had not considered before my DP studies. This too has increased my interest in Ancestor worship.
The Nature Spirits: This is somewhat of a catch-all category for spirits who are neither Gods nor Ancestors. The title “nature spirit” seems self-explanatory enough. One would think it refers to spirits whose domain and primary concern is nature. Indeed, such spirits are part of the Nature Spirit Kindred, but so are many other wights. The general consensus seems to be that the Nature Spirit Kindred is the one least interested in, and sometimes hostile towards humans. I do not think this is a fair assessment considering the diversity of spirits which fall into this category. I’ve already noted above that some of our ancestors join the ranks of the Nature Kin, and the Cofgodas (household gods) are, by their very title, particularly concerned with human and domestic affairs. Considering that only a small portion of human spirits are part of ones Ancestral lineage, it seems to me that there must be as many, if not more Nature Kin interested in human affairs as there are Ancestors.
Because this Kindred includes so many different classes of wight, my relationship with it is somewhat complex. For most of my indoor ADF-style rituals, I have called on the Nature Kin, using this exact term, but I felt odd doing so. Though I know this Kindred includes more than the Landwihta (land wights), I have a hard time not thinking only of them when I use the term “Nature Spirits.” I noticed that Our Own Druidry refers to them as “The Noble Spirits” (42), in one section of the text, but this term too does not agree with me as it seems descriptive of all three Kindreds.
Since I already honor the Cofgodas at a shrine over my hearth and since any other wight of this Kindred, apart from the Alfar (which are already included as Ancestors) will probably not be present at my indoor rituals, it seems superfluous to call on the Nature Spirits for my main altar devotionals. The Gods and Ancestors might keep an ear out for the call of humans around the globe, but the Nature Spirits are very much localized beings whose acquaintance we make only by visiting their domain. When I want to honor or make offerings to the Nature Spirits on my own land, I go outside and talk to my trees and other plants. I make offerings to the Earth before I plant seedlings. I sit outside and simply feel my connection with them.
The Shining Ones: These are the Gods and Goddesses and are among the most powerful of all the Spirits. As with the other two Kindreds, the Shining Ones do not fit exclusively into their own category. Ing Fréa, for example, is ruler of the Ylfe and may even be considered one of them by association. Some Gods and Goddesses are part Ettin, a race whose power matches that of the Gods but who are not necessarily allies of Gods or humans. Some still, such as Sunne and Móna, were even once human.
This is the Kindred I was most keen on interacting with when I began the DP. They were less obscure to me than the others, even if significantly higher up in the chain of hierarchy. I was familiar with their names and their stories. They are the flashy, powerful, and famous ones among the spirits. As I got to know my own personal pantheon and came close to taking a single patron, my relationship with the other two Kindreds also grew. I became less dependent on the familiarity of the Shining Ones and more curious about the others. I had hoped, early on, that I would be one of the special “chosen ones” of a God or Goddess. I must admit that I am the type who craves the spotlight as long as it doesn’t interfere with my introversion. But as time went on, my desire for this type of relationship lessened. I no longer hope for it as I did before, but I am open to the possibility if the opportunity presents itself.
I still hold devotionals for the seven deities of my personal pantheon, but not as frequently as I did originally. Initially, I had dedicated one day of the week to each of my matrons and patrons (I use these terms loosely to refer to the deities of my solitary devotionals) and held devotionals daily. I have recently decided to change my devotional schedule to every 8 days, so that I still honor my matrons and patrons on the days I associate with them, but I am not overwhelming them with contact and making subpar offerings. I also hope that the omens I take from any one deity every 56 days will be more meaningful.
I knew from the beginning that the mental discipline component of the Dedicant Path (DP) would be the most challenging of the requirements for me to complete. It is, in fact, one of the reasons that my time spent on this path has exceeded a year. I officially began the DP in mid June of 2015 and attempted to begin my 23 weeks of meditation in mid September of 2015. After many failed attempts at consecutive weeks of meditation, I finally managed to begin a weekly routine by March of 2016.
Despite the rocky beginning, I was proud of myself for managing to meditate every other week or two weeks, many of which included multiple days of meditation. But impressing myself was not enough to pass the requirement. When I realized I had run out of time to complete the 23 required weeks within a year, I felt somewhat defeated, but I kept at it none the less.
My inability to meditate weekly in the beginning had nothing to do with lack of interest, but everything to do with lack of time. I was a graduate student when I began the DP. Though it is usually easy to invent or steal time for interests, meditation is an interest that requires an alert mind. Unfortunately, I spent all of my potential free time half awake or asleep. I could sleep just about any where at any time. Never before had I ever been able to sleep so easily. I must thank graduate school for curing my insomnia. It should go without saying that meditation was physically impossible for me much of the time. Nevertheless, I made every effort to attempt it several days a week in those first months. Many times I’d pull out my meditation cushion, light a candle, and proceed to the nearest comfortable location to take a nap instead.
When I left graduate school, I didn’t quite find the spare time or freedom from fatigue that I had expected, but I managed to schedule my naps more efficiently. I could finally guarantee myself times to meditate when I wouldn’t be falling asleep. Having spent most of my non-consecutive weekly meditations exploring my options, I had a pretty good idea of what worked for me and what didn’t when I started the official 23 weeks. I had previously tried meditative coloring, walking meditation, Zazen, visualization, guided meditation, and journeying. I also experimented with different background music and sound affects.
It turns out that Zazen is my favorite. Therefor, it became my default for regular meditation sessions when I started the 23 weeks for the last time. When I first began meditating, simply focusing on or counting breaths was challenging. Thinking about my breathing caused me some anxiety, as does thinking about my heartbeat. The more I focused on my breath, the more I felt like I couldn’t do it naturally. I felt like I wasn’t getting enough air and I kept yawning, which distracted me from the meditation. It was my initial difficulty with Zazen that started me on an exploration of the alternatives, though I kept returning to it periodically as a test of my progress. All of the different forms of meditation I tried presented a challenge to some degree, but I believe that each of them had a cumulative positive effect on my mental abilities which made revisiting previously challenging activities a little easier each time.
Though I encountered the bulk of my challenges before I started a consecutive 23 weeks of meditation, I am including the most notable of them for reference. When Zazen proved to be a challenge, as described above, I decided to add music to my meditation sessions, thinking that it may distract me from my anxiety about my breath. Indeed the music helped, but it took me a while to find music (or sound effects) that didn’t also cause me anxiety in other ways. As a woman with Aspergers, I have many sensory sensitivities. Many sounds, and even what seem like harmless melodies, can cause me distress. Often, I would find a meditation track to listen to only to be caught off guard ten minutes into it when a new sound is suddenly introduced. After a while, I found that I was able to calm myself of more severe sound-induced anxiety attacks because of my simultaneous work with breathing and periodic return to silent meditation.
Guided meditations were difficult for me as well because I had trouble syncing my thoughts, actions, and body with the prompts. It bothered me that my deep breaths in and out never lined up with the corresponding instruction. Guided tree and Two Powers meditations were challenging because my physical form didn’t always align well with descriptions for where my roots or branches were supposed to be growing from. If I was seated in a chair and roots grew from my feet, for example, I felt off balance because they weren’t also growing from my spine. Guided meditations have become easier since I began journey meditations, which help me attain detachment from my physical form while in meditation.
My current meditation routine involves a Zazen meditation once a week, preceding my weekly devotional. When I started the 23 weeks, I was doing daily devotionals, but I would only do a long meditation session before one of them and a quick Two Powers meditation before the others. In addition to my weekly Zazen meditation, I continue to explore other methods, though I don’t do so every week. Most recently, I have been exploring shamanistic journeying in more depth. I recently attended a shamanism workshop which, I am happy to say, was a lot more rewarding than it would have been had I not spent the last several months (or rather, year and some months) building up my mental discipline.
My home shrine has come a long way since I started out over a year ago with a TV-tray, a three wick scented jar candle, and an incense burner. Although I am happy with my current set up, I have plans for a separate ancestor altar as well as small shrine shelves for individual deities on the wall near my main altar.
My current altar setup consists of the following:
Three Tier Oak Table: I had this table custom made to fit on the ledge the runs around the wall of my study. I chose Oak in honor of Thunor, whom I credit with leading me to my current path.
Chimes: I use these to initiate rites.
Yew-tree Candle Holders: These hold one candle for each of the Kindreds.
Mini Mala: Prayer beads dedicated to Fréo
Meditation Beads: I didn’t like these beads for meditation, but I left them on my altar as a representation of me. There is a goddess figure at one end of the beads and a charm with a moon and stars at the other. I think of it as representing my place in the universe, from where I am now spiraling out to the universe beyond.
Offering Bowls: I use two Japanese-style tea cups for my offering bowls.
Sowilo Rune: A memento of the very first ritual I attended with my grove.
Crystals: Those on my altar are associated with spiritual communication, magic, and psychic ability. The Leaf shaped-bowl near by contains grounding and protection stones.
Well: This is one of my favorite pieces on my altar. It is a gongfu tea cup with tiny feet on the bottom. I am a big fan of tea, if it isn’t apparent already.
Pendulum: My first and only pendulum sits on my altar to aid me when I need extra clarification for omens.
Artificial Bonsai: I also have a cherry blossom one that I put on my altar during the Spring season. I want to acquire one with autumn foliage as well sometime in the future.
Ritual Cord: When I purchased this cord, I had no particular use in mind. I was just very drawn to it. It was advertised as a ‘dark moon’ cord, for rituals and magic involving the dark moon. It has a tiny bat charm on one end and a crescent moon charm on the other. I put it on my altar on a whim and the space felt immediately more magical. This cord has come to represent so many things to me, that I couldn’t possibly list them all here, but suffice it to say that it has become a permanent fixture on my altar.
Our Own Druidry defines fertility as,
Bounty of mind, body and spirit, involving creativity, production of objects, food, works of art, etc., an appreciation of the physical, sensual, nurturing
Merriam-Webster defines fertility as,
the ability to produce young
the ability to support the growth of many plants
the ability to produce many ideas
As a modest and childfree woman, you can guess that I have had a complicated relationship with the term “fertility.” According to ADF, I am not alone in this, though I used to think I was , at least among pagans, most of whom seem to be significantly more open about sex than I. Though many of them are also childfree, fertility connotes perceived ability to produce offspring rather than the actual act of doing so. Therefor, presenting oneself as sexually fertile was the essence of fertility in my narrow mind.
In my time as a dedicant, I have come to learn that to be fertile means so much more than body positivity, sky clad rituals, and getting laid. Nevertheless, one can hardly deny that the term, with no other descriptors, implies ability to produce offspring before any other connotation. Even Merriam-Webster recognizes this. It is much like the term “Doctor.” Any one who holds a doctorate degree is a doctor, but with no other descriptors, “doctor” implies medical doctor before any other type. Similarly, describing a woman as “fertile” is much different than saying she has a fertile mind, for example. The connotation of a word is no small thing to be cast aside.
Yet setting connotation aside anyway, fertility as a virtue remains problematic for me in that unlike the other virtues of ADF, it is inherently an ability rather than an action. In my other virtue essays, I stress the importance of action over ability whenever the provided definitions do not. I can have a fertile body and a fertile mind, but if I never use them to provide something of benefit to the world, then I am not being virtuous. Perhaps “productivity” may be a better term to use in place of “fertility.” Though not as poetic, it embodies the spirit of the third triad of virtues, all of which belong to the producing class.
Our Own Druidry defines moderation as,
Cultivating one’s appetites so that one is neither a slave to them nor driven to ill health (mental or physical), through excess or deficiency.
Merriam-Webster defines moderation as,
avoiding extremes of behavior or expression : observing reasonable limits
The Nine Virtues Study packet introduces moderation with the following quote from St. Augustine,
To many, total abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.
In my own experience, this is very true. Abstinence is easier because it involves no mental effort outside of keeping control of the will. Moderation also involves controlling the will, but the rules beyond that are not so clear. To give a personal example, I recently underwent a no-added sugar challenge for three weeks. I had to give up not only obvious sweets, but also to purchase healthy foods with no added sugars. Besides the minor nuisance of having to read every single nutritional label while shopping, the “challenge” was not as much of a challenge as I had expected. Sure, I craved sweets during this time, but my goals were clear and I am a decently disciplined person when I put my mind to it. Efforts to deliberately moderate (not abstain from) sweets is no where near as simple.
The problem arises when trying to define “moderate.” Is it simply avoiding extremes as the dictionary claims? Even if so, our diet and other life choices are not laid out as mathematical problems to solve. There is no universal “average” to apply to moderation. What is too much sugar? Is it consuming more than a recommended serving? Eating until your stomach hurts? Using generic serving sizes and other guidelines can leave me feeling deprived rather than moderate.
But moderation isn’t as (theoretically) simple as avoiding extremes. We cannot experience life to the fullest if we never experience extremes. Extremes are what help us to appreciate the rest of the spectrum and learn life lessons. Moderation, to me, means not getting stuck in any one part of the spectrum for too long. I say, have a night of excess drinking, experience a hang over, but don’t do it every weekend. There is no such thing as a state of perfect balance, only a give and take that will eventually balance itself out in the end if we live our lives by this virtue.
When I was a little girl, my parents took me on regular Sunday drives. We visited the most beautiful locations. I grew up in Montana, so even the shortest drives provided amazing scenery. But as the immature child I was, I complained about having to sit next to my siblings and tried my best to hide in whatever book I brought with me. My parents warned me that, someday, I might regret not having looked out the window on these drives. I looked sometimes. I even acknowledged from time to time that it was pretty out there. But I took it for granted. I didn’t know that these were special places, gems among the wonders of nature.
Then I grew up and I moved away. I always assumed that driving 30 minutes out of town would yield “the wild.” I was terribly wrong. I spent three years in Florida immediately after leaving Montana. An eight hour drive from one end of the state to the other was one of the most depressing experiences I have ever had. I discovered a very long boring interstate crowded with semi-trucks the entire way and no scenery to write home about. I felt immediately claustrophobic. Not only from being cramped in a small car, but also from the feeling of not being able to escape “city” for so many hours.
I am currently living in Colorado, in the Denver metro area. When I first moved here, I was bummed with the lack of pretty parks. I knew I was going to a city, so I didn’t expect too much, but I thought Colorado, of all places, would have decent pockets of nature even within the metro area. It has “open spaces;” boring flat lands surrounded by visible urban life. I was especially sad to find that most of the trails nearby are concrete. If I want to walk along the South Platte river, I have to use a sidewalk. There are some short (less than half a mile) stretches of soft ground, but for the most part everything has a manmade feel about it.
After a year or so in Denver, I joined ADF and began my dedicant studies. On the ADF website and elsewhere, I read accounts of urban pagans finding nature in the city and I felt a renewed sense of motivation to connect with what is available to me. Per the recommendation in Michael Dangler’s Through the Wheel of the Year, I found a nature spot to begin this part of the dedicant’s path. There is a very small nature preserve only a ten minute drive from my house. It consists of a gravel trail around a lake. Despite being such a small area, it packs a lot of wildlife: coyotes, great blue herons, geese, pelicans, bullfrogs, and bull snakes to name only some of it. I dutifully visited this spot every few days for a few months, trying my best not to let the surrounding urban landscape get me down. When the winter hit, my visits became less frequent.
I found it easier to visit my own back yard during the winter than I did the nature preserve. When the weather warmed up again, I explored a few other areas away from home and returned to my previously-selected spot a few times, but I found that my bond with the Earth Mother was strongest in my own yard. At the end of the day, the nature I found out and about in the city wasn’t much different from what I had at home already. Everything around here is still “city” no matter what natural-sounding title they give to the place. So I returned home and started forging a bond with the land spirits on my own land. I did a small land-bidding ritual and took up the task of gardening for the first time in my life. My time spent working the land has increased my bond with the Earth more than any other activity over the past year.
I took new interest in the trees growing in and near my own yard, identifying for the first time what an Ash tree looks like and a Russian Olive Tree. I’ve always loved trees, but besides my favorites, I never knew how to identify any of them. I began purchasing houseplants, having always feared my brown thumb in the past. I now have hanging baskets, a succulent plant, two ivies, a money tree, and of course my fruit and vegetable plants.
I take the time to talk to the Ash tree in my back yard, whom I’ve named Lou. I discovered that Lou is sick and has Lilac Ash Borer. He has since been pruned, balanced and scheduled for a bug treatment later this year. While he was being pruned, the arborists discovered an owl’s nest. It wasn’t currently being used, but appears to have been used last year. Owl is my current life totem, one I recognize as having replaced my birth totem due to significant spiritual transformation. I performed my initial dedicant’s Oath under Lou last year and I think it no small omen that Owl was nearby at the time, though I didn’t see her.
In my front yard, I planted a young red oak tree named Atlas as representative of my new found connection with the land and in honor of my patron, Thunor, who led me to my current spiritual path.
I like to consider myself an environmentalist, but it wasn’t until I started gardening that I became especially aware of my impact on it. I have gone through phases of more or less environemental-friendliness, but the Earth wasn’t on my mind all the time and when it wasn’t, an anti-hoarding condition compelled me to dispose of things irresponsibly. Now that I am out in my garden everyday, and watering plants indoors as well, nature is on my mind more often than not.
Despite my anti-hoarding condition, I am donating and recycling more than ever before. It stresses me to hold onto stuff I don’t want for too long, but I have been finding ways to cope as well as relying on my husband’s support to get things to charity before I throw them out. I’ve also started composting this year. The changes I’ve made may be small for now, but they are steps in the right direction and my journey has only begun.
I am not very good at freestyling my life. I need structure, I need routine, I need an instructional manual for just about everything. Okay, I don’t need it, I am known for some decently creative feats, but I don’t like to waste my time figuring out what has already been figured out. “Why fix something that isn’t broken?” is my motto. I like efficiency in everything I do. I am perfectly capable of figuring out some gadget without reading the manual, but why waste precious time when someone already figured it out for me?
This applies to my spiritual life as well. Yes, I realize that this is a strange place to apply such thinking, since spirituality these days is all about individuality. But I am what I am. I joined ADF because it provided me with the instruction-manual I needed to get started with my devotional work. However, I am not one to simply follow the instructions blindly. I also require logic. Yes, logic, even in the ostensibly illogical field of spirituality. I really, really want to just follow a devotional script from the ADF website and get on with my day. I want to honor my Gods and Ancestors, but I don’t want to spend all day figuring out how to do it. My time is short and valuable.
For the most part, I have been able to easily substitute logical alternatives to parts of ADF-style rituals that do not make sense to me. But sometimes, I come across a roadblock that holds me up longer than necessary. And I really mean that it holds me up. I will skip my devotionals for as long as I am stressing over some nit-picky aspect of my script that doesn’t suit me quite right. At the moment, I am held up by the whole Gatekeeper part of the ADF ritual.
For my earliest devotionals, I called on Hama (Heimdall) as my Gatekeeper. But it didn’t feel right. At first I thought maybe He wasn’t pleased with my offerings, then I considered that maybe He didn’t like being called on for such a trivial pursuit as my solitary devotionals. Not necessarily because he only cares about large group ritual, although this could be as well, but because he wasn’t one of my personal pantheon outside of my desire to call on him as Gatekeeper. So I decided instead to select a Gatekeeper with whom I already had a close relationship. Thunor was the obvious choice, being the God who has been with me the longest and has an interest in my life.
Thunor is, as far as my experience with him, friendly and very approachable. He doesn’t seem to mind that I call on him as Gatekeeper for every one of my devotionals, but I have started to feel like I am taking advantage of his generosity. He might be friendly, but he is still a God and I need to treat him with the respect he deserves as one.
Therefore, I have been considering my alternatives. I have considered that perhaps He leaves enough residual energy from his presence to hold me over for opening the Gates on my own until it is the day that he is patron of my devotional (which also happens to be the same day that I do a full COoR for all three Kindreds). I also considered that, according to ADF, we don’t absolutely need to open the Gates to be heard by the Kindreds, but communication is more effective if we do. The example provided on the ADF website compares calling out for help in an emergency with a ritual. The Kindreds can hear us clearly in the former, but “the connection to the [Them] is not always clear, strong, or efficient,” in the latter case. Besides this very black and white example, ADF is not particularly clear about when we can expect the spirit world to hear us and when it is best to open the Gates.
Some long-time druids reserve opening the Gates for full COoR rites, but don’t open them for daily devotionals. Does this mean we can assume the patron of a daily devotional can hear us clearly without the Gates? Perhaps the logic here is that, once one has built up a relationship with a deity, the channel of communication becomes strong enough to forego the Gates. If this is the case, then calling on a Gatekeeper would be needed for all daily devotionals until such relationships are built.
Well, alright then, I have more or less built up a relationship with my personal pantheon, so the above concern is moot. But the Gatekeeper’s only function isn’t only to open the Gates, it is also to act as guardian. This is indeed one of the other reasons I selected Thunor as my Gatekeeper. Now I am trying to figure out when I should need a guardian and when not. If I am not formally opening Gates for a devotional, do I need protection? What does it mean to communicate with a single deity and not open the Gates before hand? Is it a secure line of communication in this case? I am tentatively of the mind to believe that it is.
Problem almost solved. If I accept that my matrons and patrons can hear me without the Gates, then I only need a Gatekeeper for my full Kindreds devotional. But what if I don’t accept this? I’ve tossed around the idea of calling on an animal spirit as Gatekeeper instead of a deity. To be sure I am not waisting the time of a spirit who has much other work to do unrelated to me, I thought calling on my own totem animal would be appropriate rather than, say, the squirrel messenger that scurries up and down Eormensyll (Norse: Yggdrasil). Since Owl is also well known as a traveler between realms, this seemed like the perfect option at first. Then the details crept in to pester me. What would I offer to Owl in return for gatekeeping duties? Owls in nature only feast on fresh prey. It would be silly to offer Owl the same things I offer to the Gods. Perhaps a scented candle? ritual oil? Would my journeys with Owl during meditation count as a sort of offering? And does Owl really travel between all realms, or just between Earth and the Underworld? Barn Owls are primarily associated with contacting the dead. But my Owl is a Barred Owl. Does this make a difference? If I decide that the only simple devotional I might want extra protection for is the one I do for Hela, then Owl is a perfect choice. Even moreso since I don’t know that Thunor is the best choice for underworld communication.
So many questions to sort out, it causes me much stress! I just want to do my devotionals and be confident about them.
Our Own Druidry defines hospitality as,
Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humor, and the honouring of “a gift for a gift.”
Merriam-Webster defines hospitality as,
generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests.
There was a time in Indo-European history when a weary traveler could almost always trust that he would receive room and board at the nearest residence. Today, the idea of stopping for a rest at a stranger’s home is absurd. The cultural climate has changed significantly over the centuries as has the role of hospitality.
Most people we let into our homes are friends or casual acquaintances at the very least. We generally don’t need to be reminded to be hospitable to people we know. A true test of hospitality occurs when we are in a ghosti, or guest-host, relationship with a stranger. And in fact, it is said that the gods used to test hospitality by stopping by peoples homes in disguise.
Although we aren’t, nor should be, as quick to admit a complete stranger into our homes today as in times past, situations still arise when a ghosti relationship with a stranger is possible and reasonable. The service people we let into our homes, if only for short while, should be treated with hospitality. When a new person moves into the neighborhood, we can act as a host by bringing a housewarming gift after which we might become the guest if invited inside. Although these situations are still appropriate today, it is not often that people take advantage of them to be hospitable. Hospitality is a dying virtue that can be easily revived if only a few of us set a good example. In this age of individuality, when communities are fragmented and neighbors don’t even know each other, hospitality is arguably the virtue we can most benefit from.
I’ve claimed whale as my totem animal for as long as I can remember. I spent a good portion of my childhood yearning for the sea, making plans to work with sea life and live near the ocean as soon as I grew up. I felt like I belonged there. I felt at home by the sea. I know the ocean is a healing place for almost everyone, but my feeling of belonging was stronger than a momentary feeling of comfort. Most people eventually feel homesick after a vacation, no matter how lovely the location. There are places I love to visit multiple times, but I could never imagine living in any of them forever. The ocean was not one of them. Although I had a slight preference for the American west coast, any costal location felt equally inviting as home.
Then I grew up. I’ve lived just about everywhere except by the sea. And as time passed, my desire for it lessened. The feeling of homesickness for a home I never had (by the sea) began to feel like a memory that wasn’t my own. I remember yearning for it. I remember it being home in a weird deja-vu kind of way. Eventually, after having experienced this same deja-vu homesickness feeling for a couple different times and places, I began to consider that maybe these were past life memories. But while my past-life memories of other places were very specific in time and place, my ocean home was not so specific. Perhaps my past life by the sea was as a migratory animal living ~in~ it rather than by it. Who knows. Maybe this is all madness and none of it means anything.
What I do know is that after I married, I desired nothing more than to return to my home of this lifetime in Montana. I contemplate the possibility of owning a vacation home by the sea, but Montana is where I want my forever home. When I visit Montana on holidays, I feel like I am home in realtime, not in a deja vu kind of way. All this while, however, I’ve continued to claim whale as my totem.
About a year ago, another animal spirit came into my life. I didn’t pay it much mind at first. I have a bad habit of ignoring messenger totems. But this one has been persistent for almost a year. I finally decided to pay attention. Is it just a message? Is it a new animal guide? I am aware that messenger animals tend to show up in real life wheres guides and totems show up in meditations and dreams. But since I wasn’t doing journey-type meditations, there was no opportunity to meet a guide in that way. I decided to change that. My first attempts at journeying were quite lovely, but I didn’t meet any spirit guides. Then I attempted to journey using shamanistic drumming tracks from youtube. With the addition of the drumming, my journey visualizations became much more detailed. I finally saw spirit animals. The first time, I was very disoriented. I saw owl, but the encounter was weird. It seemed like Owl was trying to get something from me but I was too guarded to open myself to him/her. I also saw unicorn in an abstract form – an outline like a drawing, with a black interior.
Usually, when I go on journey meditations, my starting point is the opening of a dense thicket of greenery leading to a beautiful meadow. On my most recent journey, however, the meadow transformed into a costal landscape. It was overcast and hinted at an oncoming storm. I wasn’t afraid. On the contrary, I was really excited. I thought whale was finally going to show itself to me and claim me once again. I walked towards the sea, I started to descend into the underworld via the sea, but something told me to turn back, that this wasn’t the right direction for me. I looked around for an alternative, confused about why I was on the coast if I wasn’t supposed to go to the sea. I saw a tree near by and entered at a hole near its base. I discovered the most beautiful place in the underworld and I saw unicorn again. But the most significant moment was when I shape-shifted into a bird. I did not expect this, but it was an amazing experience. I could see my wings only, but I could sense that I was Owl.
I suppose this experience was the sea telling me farewell. It is time for me to shed my past life and become who I am supposed to be in my current life. It was an amazingly powerful experience, but a sad one. Farewells are always sad. But I am happy to have finally embraced my new life totem. I suppose unicorn will be my journey guide, but I wish it would show to me in a more realistic form.