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ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #2

Clifton, Chas S. Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America. Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2006. Print.

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Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America follows the rise of Wicca and other neopagan religions from their beginnings in the early 20th century to the present day, with especial focus on developments in the 1960s and 70s. While the story of Wicca itself is the driving force of the text, Author Chris Clifton could hardly ignore Wicca’s influence on and by other pagan religions, thus resulting in a well-researched comprehensive text chronicling the growth of many of the biggest Neopagan religions to take root in American soil during the 20th century.

This text takes a much needed comparative-studies approach to American pagan practices. Studies of pre-Christian, European pagan religions are necessarily comparative in nature, so too should be the studies of the neopagan religions inspired by them. There is an unfortunate tendency for followers of non-Wiccan pagan paths to distance themselves from Wicca as much as possible. It is this distance which Clifton successfully bridges by demonstrating how Wicca has touched, however indirectly, all American Pagans, from the “traditional” witches claiming a pre-Wiccan lineage to the reconstructionist Heathens who refuse to associate with the broader pagan umbrella, much less Wicca.

Although Clifton gives more attention to some (non-Wiccan) religions than others, with reconstructionist-based paths receiving the least of it, the over-all scope of the text is impressive for its size. Clifton, in fact, addresses this very issue in his introduction by means of a clever island analogy wherein he concludes that “to tell one story . . . is to tell many stories” (4). And hence, the story of Wicca becomes the story of American Paganism. Or rather, the story of a British mystery tradition which makes its way to American soil and evolves into the nature religion we recognize it as today.

I highly recommend this book to all Indo-European-based Neopagans, Wiccan and non-Wiccan alike. Don’t let preconceived notions or biases put you off. I, myself, came to this text with little enthusiasm. Had it not been recommended reading for my Dedicant Path studies, I may never have picked this book up on my own. I hope that my review can convince others not to pass this one by!

ADF Dedicant Path: Book Review #1

I’ve been putting off the book-review portion of the DP for some time now. I was/am not sure if I still plan to submit my essays for official approval, so it hasn’t been a priority. But I haven’t been writing anything else on my blog recently, so I figured I may as well write a book review.

Jones, Prudence, and Nigel Pennick. A History of Pagan Europe. London: Routledge,an Imprint of Taylor & Francis, 2011. Print.

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A History of Pagan Europe gives a broad but detailed overview of the culture, politics, and religious practices of pagans in Europe before Christian conversion. The book is organized more or less by geographical region. The focus varies from region to region, with some chapters focusing more on religious practices and others on politics, but the overall effect is a picture of how these and culture as a whole are interrelated. The authors’ primary aim, besides documenting history, is to examine how some pagan practices have survived the centuries relatively unchanged despite political opposition and forced religious conversion.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of this book is its holistic approach to history. Anthropology, sociology, religious studies, and the cold hard facts of history come together to provide a vibrant glimpse into times long gone. This book is of value to both academics and neopagans alike. Although neopagans do not live in the same time as pre-Christian pagans, it is important that they have an understanding of the context from which the practices they immerse themselves in today come. It is easier to adapt old customs to modern life if we understand their original purpose. And since the purpose of religious customs cannot be separated from culture and politics, knowledge of these is also essential.

Having a long and arduous academic history (in comparative literature among other subjects), this book was not especially eye-opening to me, but I did gain some insight none the less. A lot of it was review, but review of things that I had forgotten. I had a basic understanding of the interconnectedness of all Indo-European religions, but it was fascinating to read the particulars, like a puzzle coming together. For example, I know the number nine is significant in Germanic paganism and is a multiple of three, which is significant to the Celts, but I learned from this book about a Romanian ceremony that lasted nine days and involved nine boundary points (190). It was the random, seemingly trivial facts like these that were of the most interest to me in this text.

I recommend this book to all neo-pagans interested in an European-based pagan spirituality. It isn’t a quick read, but it is worth the effort. A lot of information is contained in the 200+ pages. I ended up reading though the book twice. The first time was a speed-read in order to form an outline in my head to fill in during the second read-through. It may also be helpful to keep a notebook on hand to write down important dates, events, and names, since the book jumps around a lot in time and some names recur often enough that it is helpful to have a reference point. For those lucky few with a superb short term memory, notes may still come in handy for future research endeavors. Regardless of how one choses to tackle this book, s/he will not regret it!

I’m still here!

So don’t send out a search party just yet… :p

So where exactly have I been? Oh you know, here, there, everywhere but blogging. Obviously.

I did my Dedicant Oath, by the way, during Harvest Home. Here’s a video of it:

ADF Dedicant Oath

I have not, however, submitted my final materials yet for evaluation. You may notice that the book reports section under the DP tab is lacking in actual reports. I was all happily preparing to submit some half-arsed reports, the kind that result from having read books while falling asleep (because I was so damn tired everyday after work). But I realized that I would only be cheating myself going through with it, so I am now re-reading one of the texts and have selected an alternate text to read for one of the categories because #reasons. You should see book reports popping up here in the next couple of weeks.

In other news, I have officially began the work for starting my business. A name, a DBA registration with my state, a tax number, a business bank account. It’s all feeling so real. But the most exciting part? I finally have the funds I need to purchase supplies for start up. And indeed, the first orders have been placed. SO MUCH TEH EXCITE!

What I need to figure out before officially opening up shop is the logistics of the marketing. I know I’m doing leather crafts and that I want to stick to new-age, pagan, or generally whimsical themes. Hand-carved journal covers are definitely in the plans.  There are other crafts I want to include, but I need to figure out how to put it all together into a branding that makes sense. I’m tentatively aiming for a January opening on Etsy, but we’ll see how that goes.

I’ll keep everyone posted!

 

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: 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: Eighth High Day Essay (Summer Solstice)

The summer solstice is known variably as Midsummer or Litha. As the longest day of the year, celebrations usually involve honoring a sun deity and building bonfires to represent the light and heat of the sun. It is also a popular tradition to gather herbs for medicinal and magical use, since they, like the sun, are thought to be at their most potent (Wodening, 112).

At Midsummer, the Earth is in full bloom, and green is the reigning color. Some believe this is when the Green Man, or Oak King, is at the height of his reign, while others believe the Holly King takes over at Midsummer. No matter which version of the myth you subscribe to, there is no denying the significance of the Green Man at Midsummer.

Similar to the spring and autumn cross-quarters, Midsummer is thought to be a time when the veil between the worlds in thin. But where the autumn cross-quarter is dedicated to the Dead and the spring cross-quarter to the witches, Midsummer is for the Fae.

Works Cited

Wodening, Swain. Path to the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism for Beginners. Huntsville, MO: Wednesbury Shire, 2012. Print.

ADF Dedicant Path: The Two Powers (Essay Prep.)

Do you do this meditation as your daily meditation, or as part of daily rituals?

I use the Two-Powers meditation more often than not as part of my daily rituals, though when I am short on time I will choose between either the Two-Powers or another meditation. I prefer to preface all other meditations with the Two-Powers when I have time. I haven’t found the accelerated versions of the Two Powers to be effective for me, so if I am short on time, I skip it all together.

Apart from formal meditation time and daily rituals, if I have a quiet moment during my day, I will practice different Two-Powers techniqiues, such as the accelerated versions or just different visualizations.

Can you describe how it feels?

For quite some time, it didn’t feel like it is supposed to. When I say “supposed to,” I refer to its function as a grounding and centering activity. I was too distracted sorting out the particulars of my visualization to feel grounded or centered. I struggled to match up guided versions of the meditation with my exact sitting or standing position. Sitting cross legged on the floor with a guide telling me to imagine the Earth Power rising up through my feet was distracting. Similarly, sitting in a chair drawing it up from both my tailbone and feet was too much to visualize at once. My seat being higher than my feet made the symmetry off and only imagining one working over the other made me feel off balance. I tried recording my own guide and using no guide at all but my memory. No matter how I chose to approach it, I left the experience feeling less grounded than I did coming into it.

I decided to put the Two Powers meditation on hold for a few weeks, until I could master a simple breath-work meditation. Multiple sources recommend diving right into visualization activities. I have no trouble with visualization in-and-of-itself, but pairing it with meditation was too much for me to handle at once. Separating the two was a big help to me.

Once I brought the Two Powers back into play, they produced a significantly more fulfilling experience than they had originally. I still had to sort out some kinks with the visualizations and my physical situation, but I could manage them without disrupting the entire meditation.

What parts of the meditation move you the most? The least? Does one power or the other seem stronger?

I can’t ascribe a preference to one over the other, at least not as a singular answer. On some days, both are equally as strong, and on other days, one feels more powerful than the other. I assume this is because I am in greater need of one or the other on any given day.

Months ago, I might have said that I am most moved by the Sky Power, which I envision as my personal pole star. That is, until I realized that it wasn’t the Sky Power itself that moved me, but the meeting of the Two Powers which takes place after I have already drawn up the Earth power.

Write a short paragraph on how the Sky Power is masculine and the Earth Power is feminine. Now, write another short paragraph about how the Sky Power is feminine and the Earth Power is masculine. Can you make both arguments? Which one convinces you more? Is either worth arguing?

Sky Power as masculine and Earth Power as feminine:

  • Mother Earth vs Father Sky mythology
  • Chaotic feminien vs. Ordered masculine
  • Waters come from the Earth. Water = feminine
  • Fire comes from the Sky. Fire = Masculine

Vice Versa:

  • Not all mythologies associate fire and sky with masculine, or Earth with the feminine.
  • The moon is in the sky and is, according to the neopagan perspective, feminine.
  • The Great Rite usually involves a Moon/Star/Sky goddess mating with the Horned God of the Earth.
  • The earliest IE cultures recognized a Sun goddess and Moon God => fire=feminine, water = masculine.

The Sky Power is sometimes described as “ordering” and the Earth Power is sometimes described as “chaotic”. Do you feel this is an accurate description of the Powers?

The way I personally visualize the Two Powers does indeed lend an ordering aspect to the Sky Power and a chaotic one to the Earth power, but I don’t see the either power as inherently one or the other. The chaos or order of either power depends entirely on perspective. The sky can look orderly at a particular point in time, or it can be chaotic in the form of star death and rebirth, thunderstorms, etc. The Earth as well can be either depending on perspective. The Earth element is attributed to the stable, grounded astrological signs. The Earth is the grounding force of the Two Powers and grounding is an ordered state of being.

If you have chosen a hearth culture, how does the mythology of that culture embrace the Two Powers?

I don’t know if the Anglo-Saxon lore matches up with Norse in this case, but I am aware that some following the Norse path envision the two powers as Fire and Ice. I do not find this presentation effective for my own meditations. I like to keep a Yin/Yang perspective whenever possible and I view Fire and Ice as too binary for my own Two Powers meditation.

ADF Dedicant Path: Nature Awareness 2 (Essay Prep.)

I began my nature awareness task by following Dangler’s advice to locate a special nature spot to visit regularly. I selected the nature preserve where I like to go jogging. It was an area I was already familiar with, but I hadn’t previously taken the time to really get in touch with the nature there. The nature-awareness activity forced me to explore the area outside of jogging, take note of the flora and fauna there and just experience the environment without my headphones on. This pursuit started out alright, but as soon as the weather became cold, I stopped going. 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. Even though only a few of my seeds sprouted and a cute baby rabbit ate most of my only kale plant, my time spent working the land has increased my bond with the Earth more than any other activity over the past year. The Oak tree I recently planted in my front yard is the most meaningful symbol of my new-found connection with the land. This weekend, I intend to purchase several starter plants for my garden in hopes that they work out better for me than starting from seeds. After all, my transplanted blackberry plant is still hanging in there. I have plans, when time and money allow, to make my own yard the natural retreat that I seek and which the city parks have denied me.

Questions from Dangler’s Through the Wheel of the Year:

1. Where does your trash go?

It goes to one of two landfills.

2. Are there options for recycling that you’re making use of? Why or why not?

I make use of my city’s single-stream recycling, which offers a major perk of convenience. I have struggled with pretty severe OCD-related anti-hoarding for much of my life. This results in a compulsive need to dispose of excess stuff in my environment as soon as possible. When recycling was a more obscure concept (i.e. no idea where to go, sorting confusion, not many people did it, etc), saving stuff to recycle until I could figure out where to go with it was nearly impossible. I tried, and during my better phases succeeded, but over all it became a huge source of stress. I especially struggled with cardboard boxes. Oh my word, those boxes. Once the internet took over as shopping-place-of-choice, boxes were everywhere all the time. And I threw them away. Then I would feel terribly guilty about not recycling them. The single-stream recycling program has alleviated so much of that anxiety.

I still struggle with items that can’t go in the curb-side bin — especially clothing. I am much better about this as of late, however. I keep my giveaway items in a bag to accumulate for as long as I can bear it, then I ask my husband to take it to a thrift store. Knowing that I can count on him to take my giveaways almost as soon as I ask alleviates much of my stress. I don’t have to worry about fitting it into my own schedule, which is usually what leads me to dump my unwanted stuff in the nearest trash bin. I know it sounds silly. When I am in a more stable state of mind, I can’t figure out what my problem is.

As for other forms of recycling that I make use of, I tried to recycle plastic bags for a while. Believe it or not, I was holding onto all the bags until I could take them to the nearest store to recycle. This was easier for me to handle than clothing recycling because I already make trips to the grocery store as part of my regular schedule. Unfortunately, my husband and I both noticed how much trash was mixed in with the bags at the place I usually went to. I doubt anyone takes the time to sort it out before recycling. I’ve also heard rumor that some retail stores don’t actually recycle the contents in bins labeled “recycle.” Even if I just went with it and hoped for the best, the bins were often overflowing when I went, so I couldn’t use them. I’m trying to figure out an alternative for the bag situation. I try not to use too many bags in the first place. I need to get better about bringing reusable bags with me to places. I do like to have some plastic bags on hand at home because I reuse them myself for various things. I should probably figure out alternatives for that as well, but you know – baby steps.

3. Are there steps you can take to help reduce the amount of refuse you create?

Besides what I already mentioned in question 2, yes, there is still so much I can do. I read stories about people who produce hardly any waste and I aspire to be one of them, but it’s a slow going process. I want to start composting and my husband is on board with that idea, so hopefully that will be my next eco-friendly step.

4. What happens to your wastewater?

It goes to a wastewater-treatment facility, where 95 percent of the pollutants are removed before being sent into the South Platte River.

5. What rivers are nearby? Do you have a connection to them? What sort of

connection?

The South Platte River is the major river of this area. A park near the river is one of a small handful of nature-spots in close proximity to me (i.e. within a 15 minute drive). I have taken walks by the river and filmed one of my recent youtube videos by it. My walks are usually pretty short because when it’s not too cold, there are too many bugs. I have yet to become familiar with all the seasons in the park and I am hoping to find just the right one to really appreciate the area without being too distracted by cold or bugs.

6. Describe the basic climate of your area. Is it often wet and rainy? Dry and

sunny? Wet and sunny? How has this affected the kinds of plants and

animals in the area?

Denver has a semi-arid climate and more sunny days than one would expect for a city near the Rocky Mountains. Apparently, we have enough sunny days to put Miami to shame. Incidentally, I remember sitting in a class last year when my professor remarked how the sun here is particularly obnoxious – that in no other place was she so blinded by it so often.

The most prevalent wildlife in the Denver-metro area includes geese, coyotes, and prairie dogs. The nature preserve where I go jogging is a coyote habitat and there are several open-space prairie dog habitats near by. Closer to the foothills, near Boulder, the diversity of wildlife increases. According to the city of Boulder website, there are 59 documented mammal species  and 100 species of birds in the area.

7. What visible effects have humans had on the natural landscapes around

you?

I am sure there are more sophisticated answers to this question than my own, but to me the answer is as simple as urbanization. Everything is city here. They could do so much more to make the parks in the area better retreats from the surrounding metropolis. There are too many industrial areas and boring open spaces with uninspiring views of even more city. Unless I go to the foothills near Boulder, there is no escaping the urban-industrial ambience.

8. Where do the winds usually come from? Are there different winds at

different times of the year?

The winds come primarily from the South except in April, they decide to mix it up and come from the North. :p

9. What major crops are grown in your region? Why are these particular crops

grown here?

Hay, corn, wheat, sunflowers, potatoes, cabbage, onions, peaches, apples, and cantaloupe are the major crops in Colorado.

10. Where does your power come from (i.e. nuclear, solar, coal, gas, etc.)?

46% Coal, 24% Natural Gas, 12% Wind, 12% Nuclear, and the rest from an assortment of other sources.

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