Monday, May 27, 2013

The Firehose (Drinking From It)

As May winds down, I'm looking ahead to what is likely to be a very busy summer. I have begun the preliminary coursework for ADF's clergy program, and wedding planning is underway, but I also have two possible side projects that, if they both come to pass, will take up a tremendous amount of time.

I credit Hermes with bringing those about, and they are going to very good things (though I feel it right to keep the details to myself for now), but they may require me to back-burner the clergy training for a little while. The wedding and my day job have to take first priority, and one of the two side projects will have deadlines attached.

I've spent the past couple of weeks adjusting to being done with the DP (it was approved on May 15, just a few days after I submitted it) and reflecting on how my spiritual life within ADF in particular, and as a pagan in general, has progressed so far. It has been a long road to here, with a few setbacks along the way, and finishing the DP is in some ways just a matter of completing documentation, and yet at the same time it feels like a real milestone. Ending the work with the Dedicant Oath is what makes the difference, I think. It represents a real decision point -- that yes, this is my path and I am publicly committed to it, it's no longer just an idea I'm exploring.

OK, enough about me. What about those crazy kids who think that Superman and Odin are the same kind of thing and equally worthy of worship?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Reflections on the Dedicant Program

Completing the Dedicant Path study was a true milestone. I performed the Dedicant Oath ritual that I had written, taking nearly an hour, with Lynda helping out on the meditation and the omen. I had written a good part of the essay ahead of time, because it concerned the preparation I'd done and didn't need to wait. After I was done, I revised it and added the material about how the actual ritual had gone. Then I gave the whole document one more quick read-through and final tweaking, and submitted it.

(You can read the full submission here.)

Religion and I have always been uneasy companions. On the one hand, I am fascinated by it and strongly drawn to it; on the other hand, I have a sharp skeptical streak and a resistance to being expected to conform.

Like most Americans, my religious upbringing was Christian. I drifted out of it in my late teens and 20s – the time when my parents decided they had done all they could to instill it in me and that it was time for me to make my own choices – and into an agnostic humanism. I was still curious about religion though, just thinking I had not found the right one for me. At some point in my teens, the claims of Christianity to hold the exclusive truth started to be troubling – mainly because it seemed inexplicable that God would trust the one true faith to a single tribe of nomads and let it develop and evolve over more than 2,000 years within that tribe before going global. (And hell. Hell is hard to swallow.)

So I visited a group of Baha'i, took advantage of my job as a newspaper reporter intern to interview Reform Jews and Mennonites. I read about Buddhism and other Eastern traditions. All of it was interesting, none of it felt right for me.

In my late 20s, following my father's death by a year or so, I went back to the Methodist Church. I stayed back in for a few years, but for a variety of reasons, bounced out again. Then came years of having no particular religion again. Then I found ADF in 2008, then let my membership lapse while I tried the Episcopal Church and then … ADF again in 2011. But even then, working on the DP, I had moments of wondering whether I was on the right path.

During that time, after the Episcopals and before my return to ADF, I became involved with the Unitarian Universalists, becoming a member of a nearby congregation. UU provides a really supportive environment for practicing religious principles while remaining uncommitted to particular religious beliefs. It's good for seekers, in its own right as its own religious tradition, and also as a component of a larger search for truth and meaning. I am still in that as well.

I'm not sure I can explain all the fluctuation, except that the faith of my youth has had a surprisingly strong hold on me. It is surprising because I grew up in a fairly liberal United Methodist congregation, and had my doubts about it from an early point. The stereotype is that some strands of Christianity, the Roman Catholics in particular, indoctrinate their youth so fully and completely that they will never shake Catholicism as long as they live, no matter how hard they rebel or how far they run. The UMC does not do that – church for me was an hour a week, and for some of my youth another two hours at youth group on Wednesday nights, but the youth group was more social than religious.

Yet even with that comparatively minor amount of indoctrination, Christianity has always had a hold. So you can imagine that making an oath pledging loyalty to the gods and goddesses was no minor thing.

And that is where the Dedicant Program shows its strength. When I started it, more than a year and a half ago, I assumed it would be mostly rote. Read a book, write a report, check. Think about a virtue or a high day, write a couple hundred words on it, check.

It turned out to so not be like that.

Maybe it is for some people, I don't know. Certainly it would be possible to go through the motions, apart from the mental discipline requirement, and create a submission that will pass muster. But it was not like that for me. The DP, and my awareness that the endpoint would be either this oath or leaving it unfinished if I could not make that oath in good conscience, compelled me to put serious thought into what my religious path should be. I read well beyond the requirements, and tried to be diligent about seeking the gods to find whether they were there and beneficent.

I did not try to rush through to finish in a year, the minimum time possible. Instead, I worked on it a bit at a time, trying to really think through the issues being raised. I considered the virtues from various points of view. I tried to research the high days across multiple cultures. I wrote my essay on the kindred closer to the end of the process than the beginning so that I could speak from some experience.

At the end, I found that I was completely comfortable taking the oath and meaning it. I am hopeful that my submission will pass, but if it does get kicked back with a request to take another try at one or more of the requirements, I will do that without complaint. My one piece of advice to anyone else on the dedicant path is: take it seriously.

I think it is one of those things where what you get out of it depends on what you put into it. If you respect it and approach it as a growth opportunity rather than a chore, you will be rewarded.  


I'll probably have something more reflective to say later, but for now: My material is submitted.

You can read it, as submitted, here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Past and Present

As I near the completion of the ADF Dedicant Program, at age 49, I sometimes look around at my grove-mates in their 20s and 30s -- a time of my life when I was either apathetic or back in the Methodist church -- and envy them that they found this path so much earlier in life than I did and will have that much more time to explore and grow within it..
This post by Teo Bishop reminds me not to devalue my own experiences. Leaving the Methodists in my late teens, returning in my early 30s, leaving again after a marital breakup, finding ADF, putting it aside for a brief try-out of the Episcopal Church, then finally, less than two years ago, starting the path that's led me here. It's all a frantic and fantastic story of confusion and indecision, but for better or worse it has shaped me.

At the same time, though, there are moments when I really wish I had been able to settle into a spiritual path early on and grow within it. I would have some very deep roots by now, and a degree of experience and maturity in the faith commensurate with my age, rather than being, as this blog's subtitle says, a middle-aged beginner. 

I've been musing lately on past lives and whether we reincarnate to learn lessons. Maybe in a past incarnation I was one of those lifelong settled religious folk and I need to learn in this one what it's like to be a dabbler driven by doubt and indecision. 

In any event ... I'm here now. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Nearing the End of the Beginning

I think  I am almost done with the writing on my Dedicant work. I've been back over the 14,000+ words I've written several times now, smoothing them out. I've also added some research and references in a couple of sections -- not required for the DP but helpful to move on to more advanced study.

All that remains is performing the Dedicant Oath. I've written it, and plan to do it this coming weekend. Then I'll write the essay pertaining to that, and off it goes to a reviewer. I will post it all here, too, on its own page.

It's going to feel a little strange not working on the DP,  but I expect it won't be long before I have other things to work on.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tarot Traditions

The Tarot Blog Hop, which posts a subject each High Day for participants to write about is focusing on traditions in Tarot.  The question is, "What traditions are important to you in how you read Tarot?"

At first, I wasn't sure how to answer - I don't have a lot of strong traditions that I think about that much, but I suppose there are a few habits I have:

I shuffle at least seven times, cut the deck into thirds, then shuffle again until if feels right, cut into thirds again and read.  Why?  I don't know - Tradition! (shouted in a triumphant Tevye voice)

I read reversals if  the back of the card is designed in a way that doesn't let me see that it's reversed.  If the design has a clear upright position, I do not use reversals for that deck.

When I do use reversals, I tend to either treat them as 'don't' or 'not' whatever the card is about, or as an indicator that the card's meaning pertains more to internal attitudes or reactions than to external actions or events.

I handle the negative aspects of  the cards in context to the reading and through intuition, rather than treating a reversal as a negative.

I do not think any card is strictly positive or strictly negative.

I believe it is impossible for me to own too many decks. (hah - we went to a friend's house for dinner this weekend, and I somehow left with $60 worth of decks I had no idea she was trying to sell)

I like working with spreads - a well conceived spread is like a musical composition, and they delight me.  But most of the time, when I read, it is simply a conversation, where I will ask my first question, lay a card or two, which will lead to my next question, a couple more cards, and so on until I feel the discussion is finished.

And that leads to what I am seeing as a budding tradition for me.  Because it begs the question of just who am I speaking with?  And I've always been fine with answering that either by regarding the cards as a window into my own subconscious - the place without words that is able to express itself using symbols as a bridge to my conscious self.  And often, I do think that's exactly what's happening, and that is a good and useful thing when reading for myself.

But when I'm reading for others, there is often a strong sense that what I am seeing is not coming from me - and I don't identify as psychic, so I haven't known what that is all about exactly.  Many readers have answered that question for themselves, but I haven't.

Except that in working within ADF Druidry, I am learning about the role of Seer in ritual, and at least then - when we are approaching the Kindred - be they Shining Ones (gods and goddesses), or Ancestors, or Nature Spirits, we take Omens through any of a number of divinatory methods, and Tarot can be one of them.

When I read as a part of a ritual at home - and I do each Friday, and am going to start doing so every day, specifically to address the Kindred - there is an entirely different feel to my readings from those I do that are self-conversation, or reading for someone else without trying to figure out how or why it works.

They are both very clear, and also often very foreign to the way I'd think about something otherwise.  And it truly has a much more sense of sacred communication for me.  I am hoping that when I complete my Dedicant's work (and that is a long way off), I will be able to work deeper with ADF's Seer training program - this has opened up something really deep within me and put my old love (Tarot) into a new-to-me context, and I am awed and excited by that.  I have so much yet to learn.