Personal Religion

6 03 2014

I started off the Dedicant Path convinced that a Celtic hearth culture was the way forward for me, and specifically the Gaelic Irish one. However, over the course of the past year I have moved away from that view and towards a focus on a mixture of hearth cultures – Gaelic, Norse and Anglo-Saxon. Part of the reason for this was that there is limited information about the Celtic deities and worldview compared to the Norse/ Anglo-Saxon one which made it harder to connect with a Celtic hearth culture. The second reason was because it has been very difficult to work out whether my ancestors are Celtic or Anglo Saxon e.t.c and so I think it is best to look at a mix. It really made an impact on me when I read that regardless of ancestry, the culture I have grown up in (english) is culturally Anglo-Saxon. I like the way Brian Bates talks of the “Middle Earth” culture and I feel that best describes me now – a combination of aspects of each of the three hearth cultures. While I don’t have a Patron deity, I primarily honour Thor/ Thunor. I also honour a range of other deities based on which one seems to fit best with the season.

Because I live a long way away from other ADF members, I have been solitary based and have regularly used the Solitary Druid Fellowships ritual structures. Since completing the Meditation requirement in December, I haven’t really maintained any kind of regular meditation but I have tried to do a weekly devotion to honour the three Kindreds and the Earth Mother as a way to continue and develop my mental discipline practice. I find this is much easier to be disciplined at. When it comes to the Virtues, I know I have a long way to go, but over the course of exploring them in the course, I have seen the sense of them all and have changed some of my ethical principles to fit these ideals. In particular, the importance of being remembered for our deeds, the concept of Wyrd and seeking to always be hospitable have been important to me this year.

When I first started this course, I wanted to develop more of a connection to nature, to feel more spiritually fulfilled and to develop a sense of purpose in my life. I have certainly achieved the first two of these and getting out into nature has been my favourite part of the Dedicant Path. I am optimistic that as I continue this path, I will develop purpose too. I also wanted to learn much more about how ancient people’s practiced their religions and this course has allowed me to learn so much about them through the books that I have read and to apply what I have learned to my own practices. I have made offerings my primary spiritual practice. I have celebrated all eight seasonal festivals. I use ADF’s core symbolism e.g the three realms and gates in my rituals and as representations on my altar. I honour the three kindreds. I also maintain an altar, honour my ancestors and use a homemade Ogham divination set.

I feel that I have kept my oath this year and I have grown spiritually in many ways. I have developed a more scholarly approach to my Paganism and respect the importance of historical research much more now. I have developed a closer connection to and understanding of nature and seek to live my life in a more environmentally friendly way. I have explored meditation, and while I didn’t find it as useful or productive as I had hoped, I did get to experience and explore many different techniques to see what worked best for me. Having a structured path has really helped me to explore my spirituality in a deeper and more systematic way, it has challenged me and made me work on areas of practice that I would probably never have done without it and for that I am grateful. In conclusion, I feel very strongly that Druidry is the religion for me and that ADF in particular is the place I will continue to develop my spiritual path.

The Gods

4 03 2014

In ADF the Gods are referred to as the Shining Ones. They are associated with the fire, the upperworld and the realm of the sky. They represent the order of the sky power. ADF, and paganism as a whole, is a polytheist religion which believes in and honours many different gods rather than the one god of the abrahamic monotheistic faiths. They are the most powerful spirits, the eldest and wisest beings in the universe, who are remembered for their love, help and power. They can be both male or female and in Celtic culture, they are often found in triple form. In Norse/ Anglo-Saxon mythology they are seen as the ancestors of humanity as Odin and his brothers created the first humans. Meanwhile in the Gaelic celtic culture the gods are called the Tuatha De Danaan, the tribe of Dana. They are the first children of the Earth Mother. Most of the myths of these cultures tell the stories of gods and heroes. They are not seen as the god of one particular aspect, but have many interests and areas of expertise just as humans do. They are seen as distinct personalities. They have their own desires and goals, and while they can sometimes help humans, they are not seen as “spiritual cash machines.” They are not perfect but are capable of both vice and virtue. They are not immortal but are often renewed through magical feasts such as eating the apples of Idun.

I tend towards an atheistic or pantheistic view of the universe, and it is the universe or Mother Nature that is ultimately worthy of my respect and worship. However I do incorporate soft polytheism into my practice in that I believe that if there are gods, they would be manifestations of the one source – the cosmos. It is certainly easier to relate to nature by breaking it down into parts – the gods. It was this emphasis on honouring the earth that drew me to paganism in the first place, and I see the earth as sacred, which is why I love the fact that ADF honours the Earth Mother at the beginning and end of every ritual. Some of the best places to honour the gods with offerings are on hilltops, at rivers or in other unique natural features that command our respect. In ancient Celtic cultures, the main river of an area was associated with the land or sovereignty goddess and so it makes sense to honour and seek to connect with the Earth Mother at nearby water sources. In my personal practice, I seek to honour the gods by making offerings each time I do a ritual and by seeking to live my life according to the virtues.

Third Book Report – Indo European Studies

12 10 2013

Mallory, J.P. In Search of the IndoEuropeans. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1989.

This book considers the history and roots of the Indo-European languages. It is a search for the original homeland and peoples from which this family of languages, now spoken by over half the world, came. The central thesis of the book is that the first Indo-Europeans lived in the Ponti-Caspian region in south Ukraine between 4500 and 2500BCE. From there they spread out east into Iran and India and west into the Balkans and North-Central Europe. The author looks at the linguistic and archaeological evidence available to him in the late 1980’s to come to a fascinating conclusion that the world was completely changed by the actions of this pastoral nomadic community through their ingenuity in using the horse and wheel.

Chapter one begins by looking at the key figures and history of Indo European studies since the 18th century, explaining the linguistic similarities between many different languages and the theoretical models of development put forward by various scholars. The next two chapters look at the development of Indo-European cultures in Asia and Europe. He concludes that the evidence shows they were an intrusive people that mixed in with local populations. Chapter four was the most interesting chapter for me. The author looks at Proto-Indo-European culture, primarily from linguistic evidence as he believes there are major problems with just looking at archaeological evidence. The linguistic evidence suggests that they lived in a diverse environment, had an economy built primarily on stock-breeding and had invented the wheel, pottery, dairy products, ploughs, boats, weaponry and, most importantly, domesticated the horse. Their social organisation appears to have been male dominated and may have had a king or clan leader. In the next chapter, he looks at Indo European religion and focuses a lot on Dumezil’s theory of Tripartition ie that society was split into three functions – priest-kings, warriors and herder-cultivators. He especially considers how it relates to mythology. The author also considers the role animals, and particularly the horse, may have played in their religion.

The problem of where the Indo-European homeland might be is investigated in chapter six. Mallory points out the similarities with the Finno-Ugric languages and the important role this plays in helping to locate the homeland. He then looks at the internal linguistic evidence, linguistic palaeontology and archaeology to come to the conclusion that the homeland was in the Pontic-Caspian region – the Kurgan steppe and forest steppe of southern Ukraine. He also considers other theories about the location of the homeland e.g Renfrew’s theory of an origin in South east Europe but persuasively tears it apart. In Chapter seven, the author looks at the archaeology of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and finds a close match with the Eneolithic cultures of the Pontic area e.g the Yamnaya culture. Finally, he explores the Indo-European expansions in chapter eight. He starts with the expansion into Asia, followed by the Balkans and then South West Europe. He looks at the arguments for expansion into the Caucasus but concludes that there is not enough evidence. He argues persuasively for the Asian and Balkan migrations but, after reviewing the evidence for different expansions into central and northern Europe via the Corded Ware culture, he finds that there is no enough evidence to satisfactorily prove it at this time. He finishes by looking at how languages expand and suggests that it was primarily through the migration of small groups into different areas as well as changing social and environmental factors that proved most advantageous to the spread of the Indo-European language.

I learned a lot about the book, including how well established the Indo-European theory is despite the fact that it still has big holes. I enjoyed finding out more about Dumezil’s theory of Tripartition in more detail as well as what the culture of the Proto-Indo-Europeans was like. I was disappointed to discover that there was no archaeological links between the Pontic-Caspian area and Central & Northern Europe as it calls into question the links between the Proto-Indo-Europeans and my own country – the United Kingdom. However, this does show that the author was being honest and not trying to twist the evidence to fit his own theories. Consequently he has sparked an interest in me to research more recent scholarship to see if any advances have been made in this area. I liked the fact that he always pointed out assumptions or where there was a lack of evidence or debate within the linguistic and archaeological communities. My biggest criticism has to be the lack of large scale maps and in different time periods so that I could orient myself and understand how the smaller maps related to the larger world.

Overall this was a much more interesting book than I thought it would be, even if I found it hard going at times. I learned a lot and am inspired to research the topic further. I would definitely recommend the book to anyone interested in ancient cultures or ancestry. However, I’m not sure that it will influence my own practice other than to emphasise the importance of the tripartite system to a Druidic worldview.

Dedicant Path ADF Virtues – Piety

6 10 2013

ADF defines Piety as “Correct observance of ritual and social traditions, the maintenance of the agreements (both personal and societal) we humans have with the Gods and Spirits. Keeping the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty.”

The dictionary defines it as –

1) The state or quality of being pious, especially:

    a) Religious devotion and reverence to God.

    b) Devotion and reverence to parents and family: filial piety.

2) A devout act, thought or statement.

In my opinion, Piety is about more than just correct action. It is wide ranging covering action, thought and words not only towards gods and spirits but also towards other human beings like family. When I think about Piety, the first word that comes to mind is Reverence (acknowledging that which is greater than oneself). Doing the correct thing is not enough, but neither do I think that belief is a necessary component. Instead Piety is about Reverence and its corresponding actions – devotion. An action can be pious without belief but I don’t think that it can be pious without reverence. In the end it is about respect and relationship – acknowledging our relationship with the cosmos and acting on that understanding. Piety is how we build relationship.

When I think of a Pious person, I picture a praying monk, someone devoted to his or her spiritual beliefs, who takes them seriously and acts on them. I picture someone who is humble, polite and reverent towards ultimate reality, whether it’s the gods, spirits, ancestors or simply the universe itself. Humility is the first step to Piety, Courteousness is the second, Reverence is the third and lastly comes Devotion – correct thoughts, words or deeds to maintain our agreements, traditions and duties. In ancient Indo-European cultures it was believed that one had duties towards the Kindred that one must keep in order to maintain order in the universe and stop chaos taking over and destroying society.

A virtue is both a quality and a behaviour and therefore I would agree that Piety is a virtue. It is a virtue we must show not only towards what we consider divine but also towards our families and by extension our ancestors. Familial piety e.g obeying parents and looking after them in old age is just as important in my view as piety towards gods or the universe and it is the root of ancestor veneration. By following the religious practices and ideals of our ancestors, we are showing piety towards them. ADF also values Piety towards the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits – which requires living in a sustainable way. Some say Piety is about public display but I think it is much more about our personal lives, maintaining our own daily spiritual practices, and while its important not to be ashamed of our Druidry, simply doing things for public show is hypocritical and wrong. What really counts is what is in the heart.

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An Introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000

Dedicant Path Week 23 – Second Book Report – Modern Paganism

18 08 2013

Adler, Margot. Drawing Down The Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and other Pagans in America. USA: Penguin Books, 2006.

Drawing Down The Moon is a book about the history of modern Paganism in America. It is a very long, detailed and well evidenced book providing a very interesting insight into how Paganism began and how it has developed over the past century in the USA. It had previously been published in 1979 and 1986, but I read the third edition from 2006. The book is a result of her travels around America in the 1970’s and interviews and questionnaires she had carried out with many leading pagans of the time. In this new edition she has brought the information up to date with developments since the 1980’s.

The book is divided into four sections. The first section looks at what Paganism is and what pagans believe. It explores why people become pagans, what their beliefs are and the pagan world view. In the second section, the author looks at the history of Wicca as that is the largest grouping within Paganism today. She looks at the myth of Wicca and what different historians say about it, and rightly points out that there is very little truth in it but that it doesn’t matter because its the lessons the myth teaches us that are important. The author goes on to look at the craft today, the different traditions, their similarities and differences and then interviews a modern witch. The seventh chapter is about magic and ritual and this was my favourite chapter. I learned a lot about how magic and ritual is interpreted in a more psychological way and one which I think I can fit more in with my naturalistic world view. She finishes the section on witchcraft with a chapter on Feminism. This was interesting to see how feminist ideology influenced the centrality of the goddess and earth mother in Paganism and I wholeheartedly concur with their statement that “All view the earth as the Great Mother who has been raped, pillaged and plundered, who must once again be exalted and celebrated if we are to survive.”

The third section of the book looks at other Neo-Pagan groups and there were many groups here that I had never heard of before so it was interesting to learn about them. The chapter called Pagan Reconstructionists looks at those groups who are inspired by the past e.g Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia, the Sabaean Religious Order, the Church of the Eternal Source and Heathenism. In contrast, she then explores the history and beliefs of the Church of All Worlds and its origins in the science fiction novel Stranger in the Strange Land. The next chapter is about more humorous religions such as the Reformed Druids of North America and the Erisian Movement. ADF is mentioned a lot in this chapter and especially Isaac Bonewits vision for Paganism. As someone who is gay, the following chapter about men’s spirituality and the Radical Faeries was fascinating and I especially liked the idea that, in some ancient cultures, LGBT people were seen as having an extra special spiritual aspect. The idea that there is both feminine and masculine united in one individual is something I felt was a profound insight.

The final section is called Living on the Earth. This chapter explored pagan attitudes to different issues and the author finds them very surprising. She explains how Pagans seem to be more friendly to science and technology than she expected and that they have very diverse political beliefs and lifestyles but are still primarily from white middle class backgrounds. She looks at how pagans have become more open about their faith – even to the point of political action on issues of concern, as well as other changes like the rise of Shamanic techniques, the use of the internet and how festivals have changed the face of Paganism. She finishes off with three appendices including rituals, resources and exploring the attitudes of modern scholars about why people get involved in the occult.

The book is important because it is written in a factual and historical way by someone who has taken a lot of time to be accurate. It is written using first hand accounts from people involved in the pagan movement and contains few biases or personal opinions. The author does not appear to have any agenda other than letting people speak for themselves. It is one of the only books on this topic and is certainly the most comprehensive. I would certainly recommend that every person interested in religion or spirituality reads this book, and especially those who are pagans so they can accurately understand their history and why their religion looks like it does, as well as to explain it to others.

The main thing I will take from this book is the understanding that magic is psychological and the insight that the various props of ritual are key to influencing our subconscious and changing us, which is why ritual and all its trappings is so important. I also better understand how the god and goddess are viewed in Wicca and their differences. As someone who is interested in current affairs, I was especially interested in the mention of the strategy of “re-sourcement” for changing society i.e the need to look for a source deeper than what society is now built on in order to change hearts and minds to live more in harmony with the Earth Mother. The only improvements to the book I would have like to have seen would be a lot more information about Neo-Druidism and the history and beliefs of various groups like OBOD, AODA, ADF and others. It would have also been good to see more information on other Reconstructionist movements e.g. Celtic Reconstructionism. Overall, it was an extremely informative and enlightening book and I really enjoyed reading it.

Week 10 – Ancestors, The Mighty Dead

25 05 2013

Until a few years ago I wasn’t very interested in my ancestors. But since the death of a friend and my journey into paganism, they have become a very important part of my life and spiritual practice. With only one grandparent and my parents left, I have many direct ancestors to honour. In ADF the ancestors are associated with the Well because that is the gate to the underworld in which they dwell. They are also associated with the Sea. In Celtic mythology one of the dwelling places of the dead were islands over the western sea, while in Norse mythology, those who die at sea are thought to dwell under it in the halls of Aegir and Ran. The ancestors are also related to the concept of water because of the well of wisdom (mimir). The ancestors represent the accumulation of many generations of wisdom and memory which one accesses through the sacred well. In terms of the Two Powers conception of the universe, the ancestors would be related to the Earth current – the dark, cool, embryonic power of the earth which is full of knowledge and potential.

The ancestors, also called the Mighty Dead in ADF, can be viewed in three distinct groups. The first are the ancestors of blood. These are our ancestors who are directly related to us through our blood e.g. family members who have passed away. The second are ancestors of spirit. These are people who have influenced our lives, whether people we knew or those who have had an important affect on our culture and helped to create the world we live in today. These can also include the ancient ancestors of our chosen hearth culture. Finally there are ancestors of place. These are the people who lived in and shaped the land on which we currently live – their bones and atoms are now in the very ground we walk on. I also think it is important to remember that science teaches us through evolution that our ancestry can be traced right back to a common ancestor and that we are therefore kin with all living beings in the world.

There are many ways to honour our ancestors. For me, this takes three main forms. Firstly I have done research into my family tree to discover as much as I can about my ancestors. I have discovered that I have some Japanese ancestry and that one of my great great grandfathers was killed in the first world war. Secondly, I maintain an area of my altar devoted to my ancestors and place several objects and pictures on it that remind me of them. Finally, I also call on them in ritual (especially on Samhain) and give them offerings of cider in order to show that I honour them. In Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Norse cultures, the ancestors could often be contacted by visiting their graves or sitting on their grave mounds so this year I would like to try and visit some of my ancestors graves which are quite far away from me and pay my respects. I would also like to do even more more research into my family tree and find out as many of their birthdays and death days so I can honour them on those days (which is something I already do for one of my friends who died). It is very important to remember our ancestors and teach others to do the same because one day, we too will be an ancestor. Also, they are often seen as the Kindred which is most interested in us and easiest to relate to because they have experience human life and are interested in their family lines.

Dedicant Path Week 5 – Home Shrine

12 04 2013

Above is the picture of my altar. The centre of the altar is my tree (a small bonsai), well (a dish of water with a shell in) and fire (candle). In front of these is a wooden bowl for offerings. On either side of the altar are two vases with flowers in which I inherited from one of my grandmothers who died a few years ago. I have also added two glasses with daffodils in temporarily.

The left hand side of my altar is dedicated to my ancestors and includes a fan used by my grandmother, a picture of my parents wedding which include three of my grandparents who have died, a poppy because I found out recently that I had a great great grandfather who died in the first world war, a St Christopher necklace given to me by my grandmother when I was born and a fossil to remind me that my ancestors go right back through time and evolution to the first common life form. I also have a funeral programme for a friend who was killed three years ago in a car crash and who’s death precipitated my own crisis of faith that led to my rejection of Christianity and my search for a spirituality that is more connected to nature and to ancestors.

Across my altar there are objects from nature to remind me of the nature spirits in my area. These include shells from my local beach, feathers from some local sea gulls and pine cones and chestnuts from local trees. I often add fallen leaves in the autumn too. I also have a bell to begin and end rituals, a chalice for the waters of life and an incense holder with incense in. At the moment I am using a homemade Ogham set for my divination tool so that is also on my altar.

My altar is in my front room so it maintains a central place in my life and is the first thing I see when I walk into the room. It is in the West because it is not practical to put it in the North or East. I am able to maintain it as a permanent shrine.

In future I would like to improve it by having more candles and getting a cauldron for the well and a nicer offering bowl. As I am going for a more Norse/ Anglo-Saxon hearth culture now, I need to make some Runes for divination and I would also like to get some pictures or statues of Norse deities, especially Thor/ Thunor to put on there. I know I have some Japanese ancestry so I’d like to get something small to represent that too. I would also like to buy a drinking horn to replace the chalice.