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My OBOD materials are on their way, travelling by air mail from Lewes in Sussex. Huzzah!

Meanwhile, I have The Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year, by Michael J. Dangler of ADF, and I’m realizing I can telescope the first few weeks of the program. Tomorrow is the start of Week Two by my current count; by the end of this calendar week, I should have performed my first High Day ritual using the liturgy of the Solitary Druid Fellowship and made my First Oath, a commitment to the path of Neopagan Druidry, as a part of that ritual.

It’s an oath I have made before, the last time I took a stab at the Dedicant work. I think that while I have not upheld the oath, the Powers have held me to it: Here I am again, more certain than ever that Druidry is where I belong, and finally undertaking some structured training. I’m an INFJ, and I need a good deal of structure; AODA has a fine curriculum, but I think it proved a little too seat-of-your-pants for  my needs, or I proved a little too much in need of specific direction for the program. In any case, if I carry out my plans for the next few days, I’ll have covered the first three weeks of Dangler’s schedule and can then sit back and recap using the SDF liturgy and observing the Antinoan holidays of the season as well.

And then, of course, I’ll be celebrating Christmas with my family. It’s all good.

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I was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids in America for over five years. I attained the First Degree of three. I sweated and procrastinated and flailed a long time, wondering why I couldn’t get myself organized to study for Second Degree. I am no longer a member of the Order.

I have been a member of Ar nDraoicht Fein for a year three or four different times. I procrastinated and flailed some more, wondering why I never got my feet on the street and went to one of their High Day rituals, seeing as they had a permanent grove location not far off a convenient bus route. I’m not a member of ADF any more.

I’ve wanted for two decades to join the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, but joining means subscribing to their correspondence course, and I’ve always been put off by the cost.

I have books I treasure by members of AODA, ADF, and OBOD. My druid practice looks like the unlikely offspring of AODA and ADF as reared in the forest like Percival by OBOD. I am grateful for all that I have learned from these disparate organizations and their traditions. But I practice alone.

Maybe that was the idea all along. Maybe I should have known. Ever since I discovered Julian of Norwich in my late teens, I’ve dreamt of the solitary religious life. I have often thought that if I hadn’t met my husband at the right time, I might have become a nun, or that if he died suddenly, I might enter celibate religious life rather than looking for another spouse.

I’m not so sure about that any more, but I am finally sure of this: I am a druid, and I am a solitary. I do best practicing alone, following my own path through the forest. Perhaps others will come behind me and use the path that I have cleared; if not, I know that when I return from my grove to the town, the fruits of my practice will be the gifts I have to give the world.

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This weekend our water heater went on the fritz, and I did not have a proper hot shower between Friday evening and Monday evening (although I did have a hot bath and a few quick encounters with heated water and soap). No doubt that’s why the long hot shower-and-shampoo I took last night, after the heater had been fixed, was utterly blissful, and full of expressions of gratitude to the heater, the repair man, my husband who was home to receive him, etc., etc.

Perhaps it’s also why I began thinking about something that hadn’t really occurred to me before. I realized that I missed Neopaganism, and I started wondering what had happened to it.

What is Neopaganism? you might say. There are thousands of Neopagans out there. Isaac Bonewits said so. We’re not Paleopagan, we’re certainly not Mesopagan, we’re Neopagan!

I don’t actually even hang around the Pagan blogosphere a lot, compared to some–if I may estimate by the number of blogs I read and the number of comments I leave behind–but I keep seeing people say things like, “I’m not Pagan,” or, “I don’t even think of myself as Pagan any more.” The people who are saying those things do identify as Hellenismos, or Asatru, or polytheist, or Celtic Reconstructionist, or Northern Tradition, or any one of a number of traditions that I would have grouped together as Pagan traditions. “Paganism is just an umbrella term,” and obviously there’s not enough room under the umbrella for some people.

I think now that what the I’m-not-Pagan Pagans mean is one or both  of the following. First, they might mean that “pagan” as a designation for “non-Christian” seems to come out of a derogatory use of the word by mostly urban Christian converts in the Roman Empire, directed at a way of life they saw as mostly rural: An equivalent of calling someone a hick, a rube, a hayseed. Or possibly it was a derogatory term used by Roman soldiers to mean a civilian, adopted by the Church as Christians began to think of themselves as “soldiers of Christ”. Or maybe not. But they might just mean that “pagan” is a label for their way of belief and practice that they reject because it was invented by Christians, those other guys.

They might also mean, and this seems increasingly likely the more I think about it, that they are Not Neopagan. They are not part of that alternative religious movement that I remember from the 1980s and 1990s (remember them? the 20th century?), the movement that, however furtively and uncertainly and isolatedly, I myself was part of.

Once upon a time, I believed that all pagans were liberal, left-wing, feminist, environmentalist types. I thought they were tired of religion based on rigid structures that never changed until they crumbled beyond repair; they wanted no permanent temples, no paid clergy, no outside authorities. Everyone could put on a robe (or not) and lead a ritual; everyone could speak to the Powers That Be; a living room, a back yard, an open space in a park, properly cleansed and purified in ritual, were sufficient sacred space. Pagan religion was light and portable, a religion of immanence and improvisation, inspired by the ways of the ancients but not necessarily derived from them, interwoven with high magic and low magic and poetry and craft.

In other words, I thought everyone was part of Reclaiming.

Seillean at Crossroads Companion wrote recently about how everyone has That Book, the one that turns you on to The Path. For him it was Donald Michael Kraig’s Modern Magick. For me it was, as I have mentioned, The Spiral Dance. It is perhaps not insignificant that I was thirteen or fourteen, a teenager, an adolescent, a girl who had just passed menarche, when I first read a book that glorified women, goddesses, the body, natural cycles, inner power, and poetry. And it was new, brand new, delivered to me from the mentoring hands of the branch librarian who knew how much I liked to read about comparative religion. The inexpressible thrill that Starhawk’s words raised in me was the thrill of knowing that the gods I had read about as phantoms of the past, the gods of Greece and Egypt and the North, were not dead, not far away (like the many gods of Hinduism who looked so colorful in the big two-page illustrations), but being taken seriously by worshippers right now. And religion didn’t have to mean the same beautiful but increasingly hollow words recited week after week (by a man), the same few hymns sung on the same occasions every year (by the women in the choir, while the men gathered around the altar). The Goddess was alive, and magic was afoot!

I wrote a lot of bad pagan poetry in the next three or four years. But bad pagan poetry and books on Goddess spirituality will not keep you going when your grandmother dies, and the center cannot hold, and your mother has a string of heart attacks that look like an ongoing attempt to not outlive her own mother. I went back to church, where there was soon a new rector, some different ways of doing liturgy, men allowed in the choir, and women allowed at the lectern, at least.

Later, in my early twenties, I was back in Neopaganism again, this time with a spouse and interested friends. I discovered Druidry; OBOD was re-forming, and though I couldn’t afford the correspondence course, I could read Ross Nichols and Philip Carr-Gomm and John and Caitlin Matthews. I could take a workshop with R.J. Stewart, could write rituals and host them, could read more Starhawk and take a little weekend workshop on core shamanism and have a shrine and do meditations and….

And bounce back into the church again. And back into Neopaganism. And try this group, and that group, and go back to church and sing fantastic choral music and get the occasional solo and so on, ad infinitum, lather, rinse, repeat.

In the meantime, the World Wide Web was being woven, Internet access was becoming easier, cheaper, and more widespread, I discovered online journaling and blogging, and here I am today–wondering what happened to Neopaganism.

Well, the short version, I guess, is that reconstructionism happened.  Discoveries in archaeology, ancient literature, anthropology, and other fields trickled out of the specialist journals and into popular publications where they could be found by interested pagans who began tracing the articles back to the specialist journals and asking for more. No longer were people content to light a candle, cast a circle, call the quarters, and make a rather free-form offering to the gods; they wanted to find out exactly what the gods wanted and, if possible, give it to them, short of trying to butcher a live animal in an urban living room. (Those on farms and in other rural settings found animal sacrifice more manageable.)

I realize only now that I’ve been watching all of this with a good deal of bafflement and occasional dismay. From my perspective, Reconstructionists were clamoring to have all the things that I wanted to get away from: Buildings that need budgets and maintenance; official authority figures with official titles and official costumes; pre-determined right and wrong ways of doing things; rules! regulations! what, are you people crazy?

No, you all are not crazy. You are creating what you want: Organized, stable, complex religions based on ancient models. But I am here to say that I am not crazy, either, when I say I don’t want paid clergy, official seminaries, and permanent temples. (From my experience as a fairly active Christian for much of my life, I would say there’s no better way to ensure someone stops learning and growing than to send them to a seminary and then ordain them to ministry.) Nor am I “fluffy”; I don’t believe Gardnerian Wicca goes back to the Stone Age,  I don’t believe in a peaceful ancient matriarchy ruined by discontented men who refused to love the Great Mother, and I don’t think the ancient Celts were peaceful poetry-spouting tree-huggers. (Look at contemporary Celts: Poetry-spouting, always, but peaceful?)

A few weeks ago I wondered about where I found myself, what to call myself, and whether to rename this blog. Thanks to my shower musings, I’ve come up with a new title: Retelling. It’s a conscious nod to Reclaiming, the tradition that grew out of The Spiral Dance and the people behind it, Starhawk and her compatriots. It’s also a nod to something I do a lot in private, often in the shower: I retell stories. I recount plot summaries of books I have read or video I have seen; I rehearse incidents that happened to me, sometimes recent ones, sometimes long ago. In doing so, I appropriate the meaning of those stories; I create what they mean for me; I allow them to change, and I allow them to change me.

That, my friends, is what I hope to do here: To tell and retell the stories that have made me Christian, Buddhist, and Neopagan.

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Hello, new subscribers! A number of people have subscribed to this blog while I wasn’t posting. I shall begin to rectify that now.

To whet your appetite, here’s a list of Revival Druid groups:

Druidic Dawn: “If you’re a practising Druid, interested in what Druidry or associated Pagan beliefs is all about, you’re more than welcome to browse our site, or become a member and join within the active forums, events, and discussions.  Not only does Druidic Dawn have the biggest online global resource about Druid beliefs, practices, organisation, locations, and historical information, our members have submitted their poetry, music, visual imagery and art, which illustrates the diversity of what Druidry encompasses.”

New Order of Druids: “Welcome to the New Order of Druids, where the Ancient Wisdom of the Druids meets the new world of today, for the age of Druids and magic are not our past, they can be our future…”

Druid Gorsedd of the First Circle: “The Druid Gorsedd of the First Circle is an independent group of eclectic, self-styled Druids. We are neither a reconstructionist, nor a revivalist order. We seek to learn all we can about the historical Celts and their Druids, while maintaining our connection to the present age. It is our goal to apply ancient wisdom to modern knowledge and modern understanding to ancient knowledge.”

Druid Order of the Three Realms: “We are a community of Druids walking personal paths. We have a vital relationship with the Earth, our mother. We celebrate the Sun and its sacred days. We hear the call to the inner life, and we are weaving a wisdom that is both personal and communal. We each have special work that we do, for ourselves, for others, for our community. We find our balance in the three: the sky, the earth and the sea.”

Ar nDraiocht Fein, a Druid Fellowship: The home page of ADF, a pan-Indo-European organization founded by the late Isaac Bonewits which practices a religious druidic path based on comparative religious study and offers public ritual and individual study and training.

Ancient Order of Druids in America: “Founded in 1912 as the American branch of the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids, AODA is a traditional Druid order rooted in the Druid Revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, offering an opportunity for modern people to experience the teachings and practices of Druidry in today’s world.  AODA understands Druidry as a path of nature spirituality and inner transformation founded on personal experience rather than dogmatic belief. It welcomes men and women of all national origins, cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and affiliations with other Druidic and spiritual traditions. Ecological awareness and commitment to an earth-honoring lifestyle, celebration of the cycles of nature through seasonal ritual, and personal development through meditation and other spiritual exercises form the core of its work, and involvement in the arts, healing practices, and traditional esoteric studies are among its applications and expressions.”

Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids: The eldest among revival druid groups with a spiritual focus, probably the first to hive off as a spiritual rather than fraternal or cultural organization, with a highly-regarded correspondence course.

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Praying for peace

Picassos Dove of Peace

Picasso's Dove of Peace

Deep within the still center of my being,

may I find peace.

Silently within the quiet of the Grove,

may I share peace.

Gently and powerfully,

within the greater circle of humankind,

may I radiate peace.

I am not a diplomat.  I am not an ambassador.  I am not an official representative of any nation, or any druid group, or any Buddhist group, or of any group.  I am a solitary druid seeking my own path through the forest.  What can I do in response to terrorism, to sectarian violence?  What can I do when a young man guns down fellow students at a university, when a man enters a church prepared to kill everyone there and then kill himself, when militants attack public places in Mumbai and take hostages and must be met with violence in order to stop them?

I applaud the people of the Unitarian church who used force but not violence to stop their attacker; they tackled, disarmed, and restrained him, at the cost of a man’s life.  I honor that man who gave his life willingly.

The Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids has given us the prayer that heads this entry, a druid prayer for peace.  If you feel there is nothing you can do in the face of sexist, racist, ethnic, and religious hatreds, pray for peace.  Pray for understanding and reconciliation between those who hate.  Pray for peace.

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