Monthly Archives: September 2016

ADF Dedicant Path: Personal Religion

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!

 

 

ADF Dedicant Path: The Three Kindreds

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.

 

 

ADF Dedicant Path: Mental Discipline

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.

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