ADF Dedicant Path: Nine Virtues (Fertility)

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 “production” 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.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Nine Virtues (Moderation)

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.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Nature Awareness (final essay)

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.

Roadblocks to Devotional Work

 

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 about 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.

 

 

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Nine Virtues (Hospitality)

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.

 

 

Letting Go of the Past

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.

ADF Dedicant Path: Nine Virtues (Perseverence)

Our Own Druidry defines perseverence as,

drive; the motivation to pursue goals even when that pursuit becomes difficult.

Merriam-Webster defines perseverance as,

continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.

When I think of perseverance, this quote from Norman Vincent immediately comes to mind:

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

It is almost ironic to think that the benefits of perseverance do not lie exclusively in acquisition of the goal, especially since the work done reaching it is assumed to be unpleasant. If we persevere to complete a college degree or win a marathon, for example, what benefit is there to those who fail?  And what even constitutes failure in terms of perseverance? Is the student who willfully drops out of school more guilty of lacking perseverance than the runner who loses despite his or her best efforts? Do either of them “land among the stars?”

To persevere is to reach for a goal for as long as that goal is important to the one reaching. Much like the oath-keeping component of integrity, perseverance loses its quality as a virtue when a goal is sought out of stubborness rather than for the right reasons. The student who sets out to earn a college degree may discover a better opportunity that does not require a college education.

To “land among the stars” is to recognize the benefits of work completed on the way to a goal never met. The marathon runner may have lost the race, but they are stronger both mentally and physically for having undergone the experience. The student’s education may not be necessary for their new opportunity, but it may prove useful nonetheless. Time spent reaching a goal is time wasted only if we chose to see it as such.

 

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Two Powers

The Two Powers meditation is the grounding and centering exercise that ADF recommends proceed all ritual and magical workings. ADF recognizes the Two as being the primal powers of Earth and Sky, though there are other complementary powers that can work in place of these. Some ADF druids opt to work with powers more closely attuned to their hearth cultures. Followers of the Norse hearth culture, for example, might chose to work with Fire and Ice instead of Earth and Sky. Although my Anglo Saxon (AS) hearth culture is closely related to the Norse, there is no link between AS and Norse cosmology reliable enough to turn me towards a Fire and Ice combination for my own meditation.

Fortunately, the Earth and Sky combination resonates with me strongly enough that I do not mind the lack of a hearth-culture specific option. Working with Earth and Sky powers places me conveniently in sync with ADF’s triple hallows: fire (via Sky), well (via Earth), and tree (myself). After a Two Powers mediation, I am grounded via my connection with the Earth, centered via my alignment with the sacred center, and in an ideal position to open the gates for ritual.

Although the Earth and Sky powers resonated strongly with me in theory from the beginning, it took me a few months to work out the details of the meditation to my satisfaction. I experimented with several different postures, visualizations, and scripts, all based on the Earth and Sky duo, until I finally settled on a slightly modified version of Ian Corrigan’s Two Powers meditation from his text, The Book of Visions. As is often suggested, I envision the Sky Power as warm and ordering, while the Earth Power is cool and chaotic. I do not adhere to such strict associations outside of meditation, but it makes sense to simplify them in this context less I clutter my mind and counteract the intended effects of a grounding and centering activity.

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Nine Virtues (Integrity)

Our Own Druidry defines integrity as,

Honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect, selfconfidence.

Merriam-Webster defines integrity as,

Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.

Integrity to me is, at its core, about honesty to oneself. If one is honest to oneself, trustworthiness will follow by default. It is open to debate how much honesty involves telling literal truths at all times. The important thing is whether or not the self believes their choices to be fair and trustworthy. This is what being honest to oneself means. As for oath-keeping, I do not see it to be an inherantly necessary attribute of integrity, although it often accompanies it.

Since honesty to oneself is the key to integrity, it follows that internal honesty can and should overrule an oath if a person deems their oath to contradict with their morals. This does not mean that if one breaks an oath that they will be free from repercussion. Oath keeping is an inherently internal and external affair. No amount of self-honesty can save one from the consequences of breaking an oath. Oath-making is serious business. But we are humans and prone to making bad decisions, including oaths, if even with the best of intentions at the time of making them. To have integrity relative to oaths is to make one and potentially break it while acting with self-honesty on both counts. In other words, to have integrity is to be willing to admit when we are wrong and to accept the consequences. Keeping an oath after one comes to believe it to be immoral in order to avoid the repercussions of breaking it is not an example of integrity.

ADF Dedicant Path: Eighth High Day Recap (Midsummer)

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This Midsummer high day marks my one year anniversary with the Silver Branch Golden Horn grove and it is my eighth high day as a dedicant. I have come a long way since I first showed up for public ritual a year ago, nervous, anxious, and entirely ungrounded. This year, I felt exceptionally grounded, which resulted in a more meaningful and pleasant experience than I have ever had previously.

We celebrated Midsummer on the Saturday before the solstice.  It was a 100 ºF day, but the shade under our grove of trees made it bearable. Our patron and gatekeeper this high day was Heimdall. Although an unconventional choice of patron for this day, I thought it wonderful that we honored him outside of his usual gatekeeping duties. Because the June moon is known, among other names, as the strawberry moon, and because it would be full on the solstice, I made a personal offering of strawberry shortcake to Móna. The strawberries were extra special because they were my very first garden produce. they were tiny and I only had three in total, but I was proud of them nonetheless. I have been struggling to get a garden growing this year, so I also offered a strawberry to the nature spirits as a thank you for my first fruits this year.

The ritual, overall, went very well. Despite a few loud vehicles and seedy sorts hanging around in the park near us, we all felt a lot of positive energy raised during ritual. The Kindreds, too, were pleased, according to the omens. We asked the Shining Ones for a message about the upcoming summer season and received Raido, the rune of journeys both physical and spiritual. We asked the ancestors what lessons there were to learn at this time and received Elhaz, a rune we also received last time and one that calls for spiritual development. We asked the Nature spirits how we can live in harmony with them and received Ehwaz, the rune of trust and teamwork. All of these omens were interpreted as positive. In other good news, myself and fellow grove attendee Rae were admitted as official members of the grove on this day.

 

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