Monthly Archives: August 2016
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.
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 them a housewarming gift. We can also engage in a safety-conscious ghosti relationships with strangers by participating in the pay-it-forward method of hospitality. 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.
n.b. I have modified this essay from the original in order to reflect my current understanding of the virtue.