Monday, October 31, 2011

A Load Off

Something's been bothering me for a while. I first joined ADF in early 2008. I started on the Dedicant Program and went to one high rite (Imbolc), but then I drifted out of it. I went to an Episcopal church for a few months, and then started at the UU congregation I'm still part of -- and I never really did anything about that first oath I'd sworn at the start. I just dropped out without any real acknowledgment or formal ceremony to be released from it.

So since I've started back, it's been nagging at me that the Kindred might have reason to be aggrived with me about that. Tonight, with the help of Lynda and the Druidcraft tarot, I sought an answer.

With her guidance, I asked, "Do I need to do anything to make amends for falling short on keeping that oath?" Then a I drew a three-card spread. If all three are upright, the answer is "yes." If all three are reversed, then it's "no." Two one way and one the other would be a "yes, but.. " or "no, but.." response. And then the specific cards offer some insight on the reasons for the answer.

The answer as three cards reversed, all major arcana... an emphatic NO, I don't owe any amends. As for why ... the Wheel reversed shows the time wasn't right when I took the first oath. The Fferylt (Temperance in most decks) reversed suggested that things were not coming together right for me at that time. And the World reversed showed I didn't have enough enlightenment at the time to fully know what I was doing.

It's really a relief, and the specific cards do speak well to the reality of the times.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sea Change

We've been taking part in a class -- a discussion group, really -- at our UU church about our spiritual biographies. Essentially, the participants write essays on the role of religion and spirituality in their lives at different stages - childhood, adolesence, adulthood -- and then read and talk about them.

I noticed in mine that I spent a lot of years dealing with the intellectual aspects of faith and religion. For a very long time, my primary concern about any religious claim was whether it could be shown, objectively, to be true or at least, probable. I spent a lot of my time as a Christian reading apologetics, more to convince myself than anyone else.

Over the past few years, though, I've adopted a more universalist approach to religion, with less concern about the objective truth of faith claims and more attention paid to how different beliefs inspire people to act and treat one another.

As I move deeper into ADF study, I'm finding a great deal of value in the ritual side of it. The forms of Christianity I grew up were more concerned with the intellectual side than the ritual, and so I was trained to think of religious observance as something to think about rather than something to do. (I know there are forms of Christianity much more about the "smells and bells," but that's not where I was.)

Unitarian Universalism is also a highly intellectualized religion, and that's ok by me because I do appreciate that. But I'm finding paganism to be fulfilling in a different way. ADF emphasizes the intellectual side in individual study, but the group observances are about ritual and everyone taking part in a ceremony set aside to share the presence of the gods.

I'm not sure I would have been comfortable with that 15 or 20 years ago. But these days, it feels just right.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Shut Up, Brain

ADF's focus on regular mental discipline through meditation and trance is, I can see right now, going to be the most challenging part of the Dedicant path.

This morning I tried a simple mental stillness meditation. I began with counted breaths -- 4 beats in, 4 beats hold, 4 beats out, 4 beats hold, repeat -- and focused my attention on relaxation, from feet to head. Then I tried to simply count and exclude all other thoughts.

I was struck by how noisy my brain is. The thoughts fought back hard, and for every one I managed to quell by forcing my mind to attend to counting, two more it seemed would well up to take its place.

Finally, after what seemed like a long time, I managed a few breath cycles with no other thoughts intruding. Immediately upon noticing that, of course, I started thinking about how I had briefly managed to stop the thoughts.

Eventually I ended the practice. The total time was about 10 minutes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

I'm going to start here with what sounds like a series of complaints or excuses - not because I think they 'excuse' anything, but because they are illustrative of the sort of resistance I found myself dealing with when it came to beginning the practice of consciously spending time outdoors in a natural setting.

Following Rev. Michael J. Dangler's suggested year long course of study (The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year), this should be week three of this... and instead, things just stalled while I thought, "I need to do this... I really should go do this..."

But you see... there was rain. A lot of it.  And sitting in the rain is just never going to be something that sounds appealing enough to do on purpose.

And then there was the Rheumatoid Arthritis issues.  They tend to come right along with the rain, because I am one of those legendary human barometers - I can tell you how much it's raining by how much I feel like the Tin Woodsman of Oz, pre-oil can.  So sitting in the rain while creaking sounded really unappealing.  I didn't want to much commune with anything other than a warm cup of something, a blanket and book.

But finally - and it took me an embarrassingly long time to really sort this one out, it was the way Dangler's homework assignment is worded.  His suggestion is to spend an hour outside, simply communing with nature, noticing what is going on... nice, eh?  Yes, it sounds very nice - except that I am not coming from a place of being practiced at sitting for an hour doing anything at all without a lot of multi-tasking happening.

And I know, I know, trust me - if you can't sit an hour and be quiet, that's a good sign that you need to develop a habit of sitting quietly for an hour without self-distraction.  But like any good practice, you build up to an hour, not try to start there.

So Michael and I went back to the actual Dedicant's material and while regular time in nature is an important part of this, there is no actual requirement to start out by sitting still for an hour.

That took all the pressure off and unblocked me.

Today - still creaky, but willing, I took advantage of a beautiful sunny Autumn day to go along with Michael and Sadie the Beagle to one of their regular walking places, Ft. Foote, a couple miles from the house.  This was a Civil War area fort, one of several put up to protect Washington DC, and most of the man-made structures are gone now, leaving a lovely wooded area with a foot trail that is mostly easy for me to walk on, before it dips down into a somewhat challenging hike around some exposed roots, past a watery bog and coming out at the shore of the Potomac River.  The whole stretch is maybe  mile, and it was enough to be a good physical challenge for me without being too much for me to handle.

Near the shore, I found a fallen log the right height to offer a seat, and settled down to rest before we did the walk back, while Michael and Sadie walked along the shoreline for a bit.  Where I sat, the early afternoon sun was able to reach through the trees and keep me warm, and for awhile, I sat, eyes closed, just listening - bird song, various insect drones, frequent crackling sounds as seeds fell out of the trees.  Punctuating these quiet sounds was the all too frequent roar of airplane traffic heading to or from National Airport across the river, but other than that, the sounds were small and subtle. 

A good breeze blew through once, and suddenly it was raining leaves, which fell in loops and whorls and skittering across the path.  I did not see any animals though I tried - we have abundant deer and squirrels in our yard, but here in the woods, they were more shy about being seen.

When Michael and Sadie came back from their extended walk, we made our way back toward where we'd park.  There is a section we passed through where the trail runs along the tree line on one side, and on the other side there is a shallow open meadow that leads to a high outcropping that overlooks the Potomac.  Here it was sunny and golden, and standing still it was possible to see dozens of dragonflies skittering along on top of the tall grass.  As we paused to watch, a deer with a huge uplifted white tail pranced across the meadow and into the trees.

I very much liked the whole area - it made me sad, though, that nearly every sign of human presence was a negative one... the loud roar of airplanes, the trash - while there were plenty of trashcans available, they were filled to the brim, so funds are not allowing trash pick up as frequently as needed, and that doesn't seem to stop people from piling it up around the cans, rather than taking it with them for disposal.  Looking out at the Potomac, there were lots of sailboats (getting in a last good sail before the weather turns completely), and yachts, and the Wilson Bridge linking Maryland and Virginia, and we were almost directly across from Alexandria.

I hope to be able to take this walk a few more times before icy weather makes it too unsafe for me.  And now that we've broken the ice on this whole 'commune with nature' thing (I even made it for over an hour!), I will be able to spend more time outside in our own back yard.  I'm just not going to worry so much about how long I do it each time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In the Presence of the Arch Druid (ooooo)

This weekend we hosted John Michael Greer in our home. I had arranged for him to give a presentation at my UU church, and a local metaphysical book store had piggybacked a book signing event onto it. So we picked him up at the Amtrak station on Saturday, had a full day of events, then a late dinner and conversation at home before retiring, then more talk and a visit to the George Washington Masonic Memorial before I took him back to catch the train home.

John Michael is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, which represents a very different kind of Druidry than ADF. He's also a consummate polymath, the author of books on the occult, on Druidry, on energy and economics, and on a variety of paranormal topics such as Atlantis and UFOs. His latest is Apocalypse Not: Everything You Know About 2012, Nostradamus and the Rapture Is Wrong
, which takes a lighthearted look at failed end-of-the-world predictions.

We found him to be warm, friendly and -- as his writing suggests -- fiercely intelligent and opinionated. He was once a member of ADF, but left a year or two after he took over the leadership of AODA, largely because he lacked the time to do right by both organizations. But I also sense he doesn't care much for some things about ADF, which is too bad. I am a member of ADF and probably will join AODA at some point, because I see some value in both approaches. I hope there's not true bad blood between the leaders.

In any case, we parted on warmly good terms with mutual invitations for future visits, and I am quite sure we'll see him again. I look forward to that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

By The Light of the Moon

We conducted a solitary lunar rite on the night of the Druid Moon, which fell on Tuesday. According to the Crane Breviary by Michael Dangler, October is the month to honor Ogimos (or Ogma), the creator of the Ogham alphabet and the god known for eloquence. "Silver-tongued," he is called.

We created a makeshift altar in the back yard, next to cherry tree that I planted some years ago. We used the rite in Dangler's book largely unchanged, alternating reading the sections. Our offerings were grain (brown rice) for the Earth Mother, beer for Ogimos and milk mixed with honey for the other kindreds.

By and large the ritual went well. We were a little self-conscious, being in full view of several neighbors' houses, but it was relatively late and no one seemed to be out. Eventually we'd like to create a more permanent altar space out there, with rocks piled up to make a platform, and possibly a dug-out pond to serve as a well. For now, though, a card table serves the purpose adequately.

Overall, I believe we're making good progress considering we're still early into the study. I've begun reading one of the required books, and we have a few weeks to work on nature awareness and the beginning of mental traing before the next trip to CedarLight, for Samhain.