Aug. 8th, 2006

Haven't used this journal in ages. What I'm going to do is remove most of the entries and repost each piece of DP writing as it's being submitted for approval.

Once the DP is finished and I start on the clergy story program, I'll post my submissions here also. This will be my ADF study program submission journal.

Starting with the virtue eassays- due to text formatting headaches, I'm cutting the dictionary definitions off of my LJ posts....I've already sent them off to Caryn.
“Don’t panic.”- The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy

There was, a few years ago, an urban legend circulating amongst college students of a philosophy class at an unnamed college, with a particularly eccentric professor. For the final exam if this class, he handed to each student a single sheet upon which was printed a single question: What is courage?

Legend has it that one student answered this question with an equally brief answer, two words simply stating: "This is." Legend also says that this student received the only A.

Such a stunt would certainly require a good deal of courage, however this student did not define courage, he demonstrated an example. Courage is taking action despite one's fears, anxieties or inhibitions. Greek mythology is littered with heroes who performed great tasks...there is the story of Bellerophon, a young Corinthian prince who goes off in search of adventure. Proteus, a jealous companion wishes for the death of Bellerophon, request that the king of the land kill him but the king, thinking it not wise to kill the prince outright, arranges for him to be sent to kill the terrible Chimera thinking that Bellerophon could not possibly survive. Bellerophon did the unthinkable, slayed the Chimera and won the favor of the king, wedding his daughter and later inheriting his throne.

The ancients lauded acts of bravery and courage, and it is an admiration that is not diminished in contemporary society. One of the most popular fictional characters today, Harry Potter, faces all manner of challenges, from dealing with a nasty, ill-tempered Uncle Vernon to a war with Lord Voldemort, the most powerful, evil wizard that ever lived. On a more serious note, our country, referred in song to the "land of the free and the home of the brave", is dotted with monuments to soldiers who have served and died in wars and battles. In many towns and cities, parades and other festivities are held on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other occasions to recognize the service of those in the armed forces, an occupation which, by its very natures requires courage of its people. In 2001, after the tragedy of September 11th, memorials and tributes were offered around the country- and around the world- to the victims and survivors. Special attention was also paid to law enforcement officials, fire fighters, military personnel and those who died while trying to stop the hijackers.

On a smaller scale, courage is shown by people every day- elementary school children standing up to playground bullies, office workers risking their jobs to face a tyrannical boss, homosexual men and women coming out to their family and friends, a small child sleeping without a night light for the first time...these are all events which require one to move through and beyond their fears and anxieties, despite the risks getting beaten up, losing a job, being shunned by one's family, being eaten by the closet monster.

Often we find that when faced with a tough situation, we are able to act in a manner much more courageous than we previously thought possible, innumerable folks have found in everyday situations such as the schoolyard bully, as well as under much more dire and widespread circumstances.
“Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds”–Douglas Adams

At my first glance of the list of virtues, I was certain that I would have the most problems with fertility. Everyone knows that fertility is about having lots of kids, right? And I'm not particularly interested in having kids at this point in my life...even if I were, I am not in a position where it would be a realistic goal. However, this aspect of fertility is a vital one for humans, or any species to continue to exist. There is a stigma, even to an extent in the most advanced countries, on people who are unable or chose not to have children. In less advanced areas, or among the more superstitious, a woman who is unable to have children may be thought to have a curse. In some places, the very idea that one would grow up and actually make the choice to not have children is inconceivable. (No pun intended)

One other commonly considered aspect of fertility is that of the land: farms, fields, fruit-bearing trees...our lives depend on the fertility of vegetation and animals; it is how we obtain our food. We would die without it.

Even today, two of the very common things that people pray for are for fertility of the body- to have children, and (depending on the area and religion)- fertility of the land. Most if not all pre-Abrahamic religions are said to have been, or at least to have started out as- cults of fertility. All cultures that I have come across in research have at least one, and usually several if not many deities relating to grain, vegetation, animals, sexuality, birth, reproduction...all of which are connected to fertility.

But these are not the only aspects of fertility. Intellectually, I know this but I was still having some problems getting past the "fertility means making babies" aspect. If I had any mental hang-ups before, this Beltane has presented the opportunity for me to better understand and embrace fertility in another form.

After doing research on Belenus and Epona, and in the week leading up to Beltane, I suddenly had ideas popping out of nowhere. I was waking up in the middle of the night, writing a poem and falling back to sleep. My invocation to Belenus practically fell out of the pen and onto the paper. By the time Friday rolled around, from out of nowhere I had a grand plan to start a local group for studying Hellenic tradition, and for things that could be done within ADF to facilitate other people's study. I have a list of things that I want to accomplish, books to read and interests to pursue. How I will work this all into my life in a realistic way, I'm not sure...but that, I have no doubt will be at least a part of my lesson in moderation.

Creativity and ideas are often not thought of immediately when one hears the word, however they are vital aspects of fertility as well, without which we would not have any of the things which we do- no one would design and build our houses, offices, schools, modes of transportation. We would not have conversation or telephones or computers- communication, We would be without music, art, books, movies, television, plays, dancing- no entertainment or ways for learning...we simply would not be.

I believe that it may be concluded that of the nine Pagan virtues, fertility in its many forms is the one that without, the human race simply would not exist. Without any of the others, we would live greatly diminished lives, but we could still survive and continue. Without fertility...we would have nothing.
"...and the universe,' continued the waiter, determined not to be deflected on his home stretch, `will explode later for your pleasure.'
Ford's head swiveled slowly towards him. He spoke with feeling.
`Wow,' he said, `what sort of drinks do you serve in this place?"
- The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe

In considering the virtue of "hospitality", I've thought about what it means to me, and what the dictionary gives as its meaning.... cordial and generous treatment of guests. It comes from the same root as hospital and hospice.

Different cultures have different rules regarding aspects of hospitality. One example which I was reading recently came from the inside of a box of Celestial Seasonings tea, which spoke of Vietnamese Culture, and how very often, tea would be offered to visitors- even before strangers are introduced, and that it is not possible to politely refuse the offer. The mythologies of the world are full of stories of gods or royalty, disguised as beggars or travelers who come to a village seeking aid, shelter or a hot meal...those who offer their hospitality, even if it means emptying their paltry stores of food are rewarded, those who turn the stranger away are punished. One such story from Greek mythology is that of Baucis and Philemon:

Zeus and Hermes decided to test the hospitality of the people of Phrygia, disguised as poor travelers they traveled begging a meal at each house. They were turned away until the came to the humbles, poorest house where the couple Baucis and Philemon immediately set to preparing a meal with what little food they had. Before they could kill their goose, which was more of a pet to them, the gods revealed their identities and rewarded their hosts richly, destroying the rest of the village.

My own greatest experience with hospitality has come from Alpha Phi Omega, an organization that I joined in college. After I left school, I did a good bit of traveling. One of the things that most members learn is that we are very quick to offer our hospitality to others who may be traveling through our area- most often in the form of "crash space". I have had the opportunity to allow those who were traveling to stay at my place, as well as stayed (sometimes on very short notice) with others.

These examples speak of hospitality. While certainly a noble virtue, I would argue that in our list of, we should consider the wider idea of generosity. To be sure, hospitality does require generosity- to those who would come into your home or other area of your own control as well as from the guest. If I am a dinner guest in someone's home, they are going to act in a hospitable fashion towards me, and with the ancient custom of the guest gifting the host, I might bring for my hosts a bottle of wine, flowers, candy or something else as appropriate to the occasion, or I may entertain by telling stories or with song, sharing conversation and news of mutual interest. Nowadays it is also very common for a guest to clean up, or at least to offer to help clean up after a meal. But generosity is a variable in any equation that involves giving.... money to charity, food and clothing to the needy, giving time to help someone out, and yes, hospitality- giving to your guests, sharing your home, your food and drink, your comforts. Hospitality is generosity within a specific context.
"My doctor say that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency of moral fibre and that I am therefore excused from savinguUniverses."
- Slartibartfast, Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Integrity is the quality of wanting to do the right thing- and doing it. Even when- especially when no one is looking and no one will find out. One who does the right thing only when the spotlight is on them cannot claim integrity. Without integrity, we could trust no one. We would have no families, no communities, no one to turn to in time of difficulty or crisis. Without integrity, we would never be able to leave our houses safely; life would be lived moment to moment worrying about defending ourselves from crime.

Integrity, however is not doing what’s right simply to avoid punishment, it’s doing what’s right because it’s right, even if it may result in punishment.
"Zaphod grinned two manic grins, sauntered over to the bar and bought most of it."
- The Restaurant At the End Of The Universe

Moderation is a difficult virtue for many people to practice, so it should come as no surprise that it's also difficult for many to write about. The Delphic maxim “nothing in excess” is an excellent example of a concise definition of this concept.

The virtue of moderation is what allows one to go shopping in the most tempting store and purchase a small treat instead of spending all that’s in your wallet. It allows you to take a bowl of ice cream from the carton, not the entire carton itself, or have a glass of wine without downing the entire bottle. This is not to say that indulgence is always a bad thing- who hasn’t heard the saying “everything in moderation- including moderation”? However, a lack of control over one’s impulses and desires can be troublesome- or far more dangerous. It’s nearly impossible to turn to the media anymore without seeing news of some celebrity going into drug rehab, or advertisements for various means of help for those with any number of addictions. For those with addictions, moderation is extremely difficult or downright impossible.

In our contemporary culture in the US, advertisers and the media frequently seem to scream “More! Bigger! Faster! Extreme!” and we push ourselves to the limit in many ways- credit card debt and bankruptcy filings are out of control. Workaholics barely know their families. Cars and trucks are bigger, faster, louder. Many celebrities lead very public lives of hedonism and extreme indulgence.

We may consider a classic tale of indulgence- the tale of King Midas and his golden touch. When King Midas was granted his wish that everything he touched turned to gold, he got it…and everything he touched did turn to solid gold- including his own daughter.

King Midas’s tale and others particular to today’s society, such as the drug overdose of actor River Phoenix and the suicide of singer Kurt Cobain clearly illustrate that just because you seem to be getting everything you want does not necessarily mean that that is what’s right or what’s good and if you’re not careful, you may lose everything. These stories may be a bit more extreme than what most people face, but it is somewhat appropriate that they are a bit “larger than life” and therefore may be a wake up call or a lesson to some people that it’s not a good thing to- as the bumper sticker goes- “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.”
The word "impossible" is not in my dictionary. In fact, everything between "herring" and "marmalade" appears to be missing.
-Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Perseverance is the virtue of not giving up. In the words of Tennyson, “To strive, to seek to find and not to yield.” Or as others may say in slightly less eloquent language, “keep on keepin’ on.”

The pagan community in the United States is currently living in the middle of a painful, very emotional lesson in perseverance- that of Roberta Stewart and her fight to have a pentacle placed on her husband’s memorial plaque in Arlington National Cemetery. Vowing to see its approval in her lifetime, she took up the mission- now in its ninth year-when Rosemary Kooiman passed away, unsuccessful in her attempts to have the symbol approved by the United States Veteran’s Administration. This has resulted in letters, phone calls, faxes, emails, meetings and rallies in support of the issue- even statements of support from such unlikely allies as the Rutherford Institute, one of the largest right-wing conservative Christian think tanks and lobbying organizations in the country.

Perseverance, a virtue that is also admired in our ancestors, is exemplified in such stories as the labors of Herakles.

Simply stated, perseverance is what pushes us to keep going when we’re past the point of giving up
“…this Electric Monk had developed a fault and had started to believe all kinds of things, more or less at random. It was even beginning to believe things they'd have difficulty believing in Salt Lake City.”
- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency


Piety seems to be an idea that a lot of individuals in the Pagan world struggle with. It is difficult for many to reconcile with a pagan belief system this idea that is more often than not pinned solely to Christians, and brings to mind the image of celibacy and self-deprivation, monks or nuns kneeling and praying.

When I think of "piety" or "the pious", being originally from Central Pennsylvania, I initially think of a house church full of Amish people praying quietly. My mother's family is Catholic, and the other image that comes to mind is of course, monks chanting and nuns in adoration in some remote monastery. Or of martyrs: those who have died for their religious causes. Which is all well and good, but those are not the only images of piety.

For a while, I wasn't really sure myself how to see piety in a non-Christian context, and then one day I was flipping through my Dedicant's Program book and found a statement that made sense to me: "The virtue of Piety is about keeping faith, about keeping commitment to specific practices and works over a long period of time." (pg. 90) Stated this way, piety can be applied to any religion.

Recently, I was talking via Live Journal with another dedicant who had issues with the idea of piety, because she saw it as adhering to duty out of obligation.

My answer to this objection is simply this:

Personally, I don't believe that adhering to duty solely out of obligation is true piety. When one keeps obligations for no other reason than obligation itself, it opens the door for a lot of resentment- the pious are not resentful of what duties they keep. In my eyes, piety is not about obligation, but about keeping a commitment because it's in your heart to do so, because you want to, because you need to, because that is what is within you.
“Let's think the unthinkable, let's do the undoable, let's prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
Dirk Gently, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Vision is literally the ability to perceive the world around you through sight. But more than that, vision is also the ability to look beyond mere physical sight and see something more, bigger, better. It is a virtue and a gift without which the world would be a dull, drab place.

It is through vision that an abandoned, overgrown and littered lot becomes a community park. And through vision, great works are created- art, literature, building, education, science, medicine…vision gives us commerce and technology. Once upon a time, a computer took up an entire building and performed little more than today’s four-function calculators. As a result of many people’s visions, there are calculators small enough to be incorporated into pens and wristwatches; computers are small enough to fit in the palm of our hands and powerful enough to create a full-length movie or replicate a symphony orchestra. Without vision none of this would be.

Vision allows someone to identify a need or a want and find a way to fulfill it. Vision has given us everything we have- from the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution to portable music players that sit on a fingertip to cures for diseases that only a few years ago spelled certain death for sufferers. Vision is what gives us new products and improves old ones
You know, it's at times like this when I'm trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I'd listened to what my mother told me when I was young! –Arthur Dent, Mostly Harmless

I had no idea how to write about wisdom, and the more I thought about it the more complicated it became. And then, looking over a couple of dictionary definitions it was suddenly very simple: wisdom is knowledge that cannot be gained through intellectual learning. Wisdom is the knowledge of experience. It is not a textbook that teaches us how to deal with difficult situations in life. Sure, some subjects may be helpful, such as psychology or logic, but in the end, they’re not going to tell you the best way to handle a difficult relationship or deal with a personal crisis.

Wisdom is not an inherent quality. It is something that we acquire with time and experience. When faced with a difficult choice, one might jump in blind and go with the first idea that comes to mind, or use the knowledge of previous experience to make a more sound choice. However not all wisdom must be learned firsthand- it is basic wisdom that teaches us not to put our hand on a hot stove burner however one need not have experienced a third degree burn to know the danger posed by the red-hot coils.
Mabon/Autumn Equinox

Like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, the Autumn Equinox is a myth. That is...as people often think of the Autumn Equinox- a 24 hour time period where the time of daylight and time of dark are exactly equal.

Thus started the CedarLight Grove Mabon rite with these words spoke by Will Pearson, one of our Grove's founders. Perhaps not the exact words, as I am writing this looking back 5 months, but very close, and definitely the exact idea.

It may have been 5 months ago that this ritual took place, but I remember it well, perhaps better than others. It was the first to take place after I joined the Grove, and joined ADF. I signed the Book Of CedarLight. It was the first ritual to take place after I had come forth with my decision to complete the Dedicant's Program and then move onto the Clergy Study Program. It was also hot on the heels of a very upsetting instance where someone tried to tell me that I was working on a completely incorrect path and that I should not be part of ADF, suggesting that I look at two paths that I had already examined and rejected.

I also remember it well because this was a rather unusual ritual. It was completely unplanned. Up until the last minute, various people were talking about going to an Indian puja instead of holding a ritual at the Grove. A few days before, Will suggested on the forum in a most roundabout way that we not pre-write the ritual, we knew the structure well enough. We would be focusing on balance, change and how we reacted and moved with it.

So it was unscripted. It was unplanned. 20 minutes before we started, we had no idea who we were calling to. A small group of us huddled together and hashed it out in less than 5 minutes. We were praying for balance in our lives, our ritual patrons would be Apollo and Artemis; Hecate would be our gatekeeper. As a follower of Artemis and Apollo, I would invite them in.

We gathered the natives and assembled in our sanctuary...Will started out with his speech of myth...the myth of Santa Claus was then refuted by a guest in attendance: she had with her a business card from Santa Claus. It was passed around the circle and decided that if Santa Claus had a business card, he must be real. We left the silliness and continued with a comfortable conversation about seeking balance in our lives, many of us agreed that balance is not a static thing to attain and hold onto, but a continuous act or a target to pursue. A few members started drumming softy and we slipped into the rite, a blend of ritual and spontaneity, a sort of balance in and of itself. Apollo and Artemis graced us with their presence, and the Gatekeeper smoothed the ways. Darkness fell and we continued on in candle and firelight. It was unplanned and unrehearsed...it was honest and heartfelt.

From gathering in the circle to dismissal to Revels, we ran two hours, almost to the minute. Some argue that we took too long, that there was too much speech or inappropriate offerings. Everyone has his or her own thoughts. Myself, I would not have changed a moment of the evening. Since finding the Grove, I have been sure that I've been moving in the right direction, and I have had some profound experiences. I have been certain from within- though not without my sources of contention to overcome- but it is a completely different thing to have that inner certainty affirmed from without.

Mabon is commonly thought of as a festival of harvest...for this year, we cast aside the tradition of harvest celebration for a meditation on the concept and seeking of balance in our lives. I found myself right where I needed to be at the time, in a safe place between worlds where I could see the long road that stretched out ahead of me, mental compass pointing straight ahead, the winds blowing lightly with me..
Samhain

It’s been more difficult writing about Samhain than it has been about other High Days. How do you write about a fest to honor the ancestors when you feel no connection to the ancestors, and are not even close to your existing family?

Samhain has been a bit difficult for me. I am not very close to my family, and I know very little about my ancestry other than names and where they came from. My family preserves no traditions and little information about the past...in fact, there is a part of my mother’s family where all information was cut off prior to one great-great-great grandmother due to a family scandal.

This particular Samhain was an especially difficult letdown, having followed such a powerful Mabon. I spent a great deal of the ritual feeling very empty and disconnected, and while I desperately wanted nothing more than to leave, I would not allow myself to do so.

Part of the ritual included a guided journey to the underworld to meet the ancestors and before we went, we were to call out the names of those we wished to meet on the other side. Since i have an interest in attempting to break the mystery of the family scandal and learn about those that came before this person, it seemed appropriate to call her name...Maria Caracappa. I did so, we began our descent...and I felt nothing. There was no leaving this place for me. Many others spoke so certainly of feeling the presence of their ancestors...i felt alone and abandoned.

For me, the strongest part of the evening, what stood out clearer than anything was the part where Will read the omen. One of the runes pulled was the blank rune. Will's interpretation of this was simply "The ancestors were never here." He did not mean this literally of course, but that's how it felt to me. Our purpose for the ritual was to seek guidance in whether we should be looking to old traditions for our learning, creating our own traditions, or finding some blend of the two. Further interpretation of this rune was that it was not for the ancestors to say, but for us to discover.

Feeling cut off from the past presents a challenge when taking part in a religion that places such importance on ancestors. Even in knowing that we are talking about more than our literal direct ancestors, it is difficult to listen to people who can tell stories of great grandparents and generations-old family traditions. On one hand I am not bound to any such obligation. On the other, I have no connection. How this will continue to color my work within ADF remains to be seen.
Yule...the celebration of the Winter Solstice…I have mixed feelings about this day.

On one hand, it is the shortest day of the year. I cannot say that I am affected enough by lack of daylight to claim seasonal depression, but I do feel a marked difference in myself in the shorter days. On the other hand...once the solstice is past, the days become longer. At the same time, I am a night person...and the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year.

Events such as a joyous Grove ritual do much to take my mind off of the dichotomy.

Our Grove Yule ritual was a first for me in that it is the first ritual that I have attended with Norse deities. I am by now familiar with ritual involving Irish-Celtic, and Greek deities, but Norse was a new one to me thought I didn't think it would be much different. i was mostly curious to see what would happen since two of the deities in question- Freya and Heimdall had recently begun to make minor appearances on my radar.

Ritual took place in two parts, with Revels in between. We incorporated a somewhat improvised sumbel into the ADF structure which involved passing a drinking horn around the circle three times. On the first pass, we made toasts to the Gods. I toasted to those called for the ritual, as well as my patrons. The second toast was to the ancestors. As I mentioned in my Samhain essay, I feel a strong sense of disconnect to my own ancestors. At Samhain, I tried to connect to my ancestors with no result. Still feeling somewhat rejected I found myself feeling that it was more appropriate for me to speak in acknowledgement of those who have been forgotten, whose names have been erased from history, and who have no one left to remember them. This I feel was much better received. The third round was oaths and boasts. Oaths that we are to keep for the upcoming year, boasts of accomplishments for the past year. My great boast was that I had passed the two-year mark at my job, longer than I had ever worked at a single job. I also made here what I consider to be my first oath. My statement of "Hey, I'm here and I dedicate myself to this path." a member of our Grove had made a Ring Of Troth for the evening which was passed around to further solemnize oaths as the speaker felt appropriate. It was emphasized that an oath on the Ring Of Troth was held to a much higher degree of gravity, and to choose one's words and promised actions carefully. Understanding this, and understanding also that I will not know fully what I am getting into until I actually begin it, I felt compelled to take hold of the ring and make an oath to continue my work on the Dedicant's Program and afterwards to proceed to the clergy study program (though, I was mindful to not specify a period of time or a deadline for myself and simply promised that I would do my best to work towards this ends)

After this third round, we adjourned to Revels, returning later to read the oracle, partake of the Waters Of Life and thank the deities for their blessings. Most people left after this, but some stayed the night, sitting outside around the fire, or staying inside the house, talking watching movies and generally spending time together as community. With the celebration of Yule, I felt like I had regained something I was missing at Samhain. Though I still didn't feel an ancestral connection, I was no longer feeling cut off.
Despite their unique differences, each ritual so far has had two important things in common: first, an outdoor setting in the Grove sanctuary and second, calling on a completely different and separate deity for each part in the ritual. This year’s Imbolc ritual departed from both of these customs- one by design and one by necessity.

Imbolc was held inside the Grove- it was not by choice, but by extreme necessity given the weather that day...that is to say, we were in a state of torrential downpour. It started in the morning and just kept going. The Sanctuary was under at least an inch, probably more of water. We were forced inside. I wasn't sure how this would happen, but I was not surprised to walk into the Grove and find most of the chairs arranged in rows in the front section of the room with the sofa under the front window and the central area cleared except for a few chairs around the perimeter wall. People arrived; chairs were shifted, cushions thrown down. More came and we packed them in. To say it was cozy would be to put it lightly.

When we were all settled in and seated, we began. The second major difference for this High Day was that we were calling solely on aspects of Brigid, instead of different deities for the ritual patrons, Earth Mother, Gatekeeper etc. The triple aspects of Brigid of the Cauldron, Forge and of Inspiration were our primary deities; the Gaulish-Celtic Brigantia was our Earth Mother, Brigid the Bard our Gatekeeper. We were praying for growth through Brigid's Fire and Water. Water was truly present in abundance, and someone remarked that it was like a birth and the water had broken, No one argued that.

The ritual proceeded and I was a bit distracted- I had planned to spin fire during the offering time. I hadn't spun for ritual since Midsummer, and I hadn’t spun at all since New Year's Eve. Not the proper mental focus during ritual, but there I was, at least to begin with. But during the gate opening, I was to make offerings to the fire, the well and the tree as Caryn, Crystal and Stephanie sang the Portal Song.

Since I couldn't spin, during offerings, I lit a candle and put it on the altar to the Shining Ones, and the mood was lightened a bit by someone suggesting that I twirl around with it...this would have put out the flame, and the room was in no state to have someone spinning around with a candle, but I did wave my hand holding the candle around a bit- slowly so it would stay lit.

Later, Caryn, Jackie and I would read the oracle...again, this was different from other rituals. Usually one person reads from one oracle: a tarot deck, runes, whatever they prefer. Caryn, Jackie and I each chose a different oracle...Jackie the Rider-Waite tarot, Caryn the Celtic Animal Oracle and I...well, I had intended to use my Haindl tarot which is the deck that I know best, I have been using it for several years. It was a fortunate thing that I had recently turned more attention to my runes because I discovered too late that I had left the deck at home. There is a copy of the Haindl deck at the Grove, but my runes were in my backpack, so I elected to use them instead. I don't remember what Caryn and Jackie pulled, but I do remember puling the rune mannaz, a rune signifying humankind, community, support...all of the things that we would hope for in a period of great change which our Grove has been experiencing...two members expecting babies, three of us (including me) working for the same company and losing our jobs, teenagers moving out of a house, an engagement, at least seven of us working on the Dedicant's program...

Before the ritual ended, a bannock bread was passed around. Instead of throwing the last bite over our shoulders as is traditional, a bowl was passed around and everyone put the last bite into that bowl to scatter outside in offering later.

During the ritual, the air warmed and the rain became a thunderstorm. I spent some time out on the front porch talking to another Grove member and taking a breather from the crowd inside as the night wound down. (Community building is a good thing, but sometimes a break is in order!)
For Ostara, we had clear weather and were again able to return to the circle of Cedarlight’s outside sanctuary. Our celebratory ventures took yet another twist, this time somewhat outside of the bounds of Indo-European tradition as we told the story of the Descent of Inanna (Though a few in our Grove did some research and believed that they found some degree of justification to include it under the IE umbrella, I won’t try to argue that here.)

Sometime shortly after Imbolc, Caryn got the brilliant idea that it would be great to learn the story of Inanna’s descent into the underworld, and to do a ritual based on the story. She wrote the ritual and used invocations that had been written by another Grove member some time back that was familiar with Sumerian mythology. Some liberties were taken in associating each of the items that Inanna gives up during her descent with each of the seven charkas. Doing that, we created a “gate” in the form of a colored flag and used these flags as the gates instead of the fire the well and the tree and the opening of the gates occurred as Caryn walked around the circle, miming giving up each of the seven items that the goddess left behind: jewels, clothing and all until Inanna arrives in the underworld, stripped bare of all that she has to confront her sister, Eriskigal, Queen of the Underworld.

Instead of making offerings to the outsiders, those of us that had held the “gates” walked around the circle with bells and chimes. In Sumerian mythology, the spirits that we would equate to outsiders take no food not drink nor any other sort of bribe. Instead they might be kept at bay for a time by the ringing of bells.

Aside from the treating of the gates and the outsiders, the ritual kept to the ADF format. The night before the ritual, a small group of us gathered at the Grove to watch a video of a performance of the poem The Descent Of Inanna so that we might get a better idea of the original story.

This particular ritual held some novelty in its deviations from normal ADF style and IE tradition. Because, I think, of the unfamiliar gods, I did not find a lot of spiritual significance for myself in it, however I was happy to again be gathering with my Grove, and to have learned something new in a story that was previously unknown to me.
It seems that for every High Day accounted for so far I have reason to say that it's been different from each previous one, and legitimately so each time. It is no different for this Beltane, for a couple of reasons.

To begin with, it started out differently. For prior high Day rituals, the Grove has begun planning often three to four weeks in advance, sometimes less. In a way, it began even before Ostara. A few weeks after Imbolc, one of our members came in on a Sunday and said that Epona had "kicked him in the head", and made clear to him that after all the focus that we'd placed on Brigid for Imbolc, She wanted some of our time. He suggested that we consider honoring Her for Ostara, however we were already well into planning our telling of the Descent Of Inanna, so that was out.

Ostara came and went, and the day after during Rites Of Caffeina, we were sitting out in the Sanctuary when another member of the Grove announced that he thought that we should start planning for Beltane immediately because it was almost the end of March, and Beltane is the first of May...and April was going to be a busy and Chaotic month for many Grove members. So it ended up that a small group of us stayed there for three hours batting ideas around...who to honor, what our purpose would be. As we did this, I recalled Rorik's suggestion of Epona. None of us had any idea why she had shown up (Further speaking to Rorik only revealed that he felt that she had indicated that she wanted some of our time and had not given any particular purpose or desire). Well, we decided to honor Epona...but was that going to be Epona the Gaulish-Celtic horse goddess? Or Epona Regina the goddess revered by Roman military and cavalrymen? (It is interesting to note that of the Celtic deities that the Romans assimilated, only the name of Epona remained unchanged saved for appending of the title Regina- "Queen" After another Sunday or two of discussing and hammering it out, we settled on the Gaulish Epona and along with Her, we would honor Belenus- also known as Bel, for whom the day Beltane is named, when cattle was driven between two balefires for purification and fertility. We could not find a Gaulish gatekeeper or crossroads deity, so Elen of the Ways, a Welsh goddess was added. Our next objective was to find a connection between Epona and Belenus: a myth, a legend, a fragment of something but after several weeks, none who tried were successful.

A few weeks before the High Day, the ritual team was set. One of our members, who is rarely able to come to the Grove, was asked to was asked to make the trip down from Pennsylvania to call in Epona- Devon and her husband Drey have a small horse farm and Epona is naturally a patron of theirs. Caryn would call for Elyn and for my affinity to fire, I was asked to invite Belenus. It's not the first- and won't be the last time I've said it: I am not a Celtic pagan. Feet planted firmly in the Hellenic camp, I am not the ideal choice to invoke an Irish-Celtic god...and I knew even less about the Gaulish deities. However, I had read in a few places that Belenus was likened to the Roman Apollo (even called Belenus Apollo sometimes), and the Hellenic Apollo is a patron of mine...and Belenus is a fire god so I could work something out. As this was a decided, someone asked if I would spin my firestaff in praise offering? Of course I would. Then someone else...either Caryn or Will I think asked if I could do the invocation while spinning...I can spin and talk at the same time, I would just need to make sure that I spoke loud enough. And could I do it *inside the circle*? That I couldn't say for sure...I had only spun in the empty area outside the circle in the past. I thought I could but would not say for sure without trying in an empty sanctuary.

In the weeks before Beltane, I was very close to losing my job- the contract for the company I was doing tech support had been cancelled and business was dwindling to nothing as the last days were coming. I had the internet at my disposal and plenty of time to do research, learn about Belenus and try to find a common thread to Epona. One day abut a week and a half before, Beltane, I had taken my copy of the Encyclopedia of Gods to work with me and was lounging my my desk, reading its (very short) articles on Epona and Belenus. I noticed that both articles mentioned worship as healing deities at a sanctuary of Saint Sabine in what is now the Cote d'Or...so I started Googling. Several search strings later, I had found a few websites with citations of small horse statues being consecrated and buried in honor of both Epona and Belenus Apollo. I had found the elusive connection that we were looking for! After that, writing my invocation was a breeze- the words seemed to fall from my pen to the paper.

The Saturday before Beltane, Jack Will and I ventured up to Devon and Drey's farm to meet their horses and learn more about Epona from their experience. We helped to feed the horses and groom them a bit, and Devon told us about her working with Epona, some of her experiences and what she'd learned. She suggested that we think of Epona as the Lead Mare for our herd. She also taught us a bit about horses in general- breeds, care, riding. We left armed with more information and a bit more ready to honor Epona in our ritual.

The next day, I took my firestaff and some lamp oil to the Grove for a test run in the sanctuary. The space was more than enough for what I needed, even so I erred on the side of caution and asked that during my invocation, everyone present stand just outside the outer circle of stones until my wicks were out. (The sanctuary has two concentric circles of flagstones to mark it.) Given the situation and purpose, I felt that it would be extremely inappropriate to extinguish them and would continue until they went out on their own. Once I finished speaking, because my wicks would burn longer than my invocation would last, Stephanie would then lead the Grove in a chant.

The next Saturday rolled around, Stephanie and Jesse picked me up on their way to the Grove to get ready. We got there before anyone else, and none of us had eaten, so we went out for lunch. When we got back, more people had arrived and we all worked on preparing the space. A fire was built- we had been afraid that a burn ban might keep us from having the fire, but it rained a lot the week or so before, so the ban was lifted.

People gathered and we processed into the circle, called on the Earth Mother and Kindreds, and sang the Portal Song as a small group of us circled the Well. the Fire and the Tree during its respective verse. Caryn called Elyn to open the Gates, Devon delivered a beautiful invocation to Epona, inviting her into our Grove sanctuary, which for the occasion had been decorated with dozens of horse statues in every crevice and corner we could get them. I was wrapped in a fire-printed skirt, bedecked with bells around my ankles, got up and called on Belenus Apollo- I chose that incarnation of the god because He was most familiar to me, and because He was most connected to Epona. I actually forgot the last two lines of the invocation that I had written, but I think the only one who realized this was Stephanie because I had read it to her beforehand so she would know when I was finished speaking to start the chant. When she realized, after only a short moment that I was not going to continue, she picked up and the Grove chanted to the god while I continued to spin- the wicks burned for about twice as long as they should have lasted and the second wick just would not burn out, so when it was down to a barely visible flame, I took staff in both hands, held the flame outwards and turned it in a circle around me, projecting the fire outwards to all present. Instead of a beverage as a welcoming offering, I poured what remained of the oil in the cup that I had used for soaking my wicks. Until now, we had kept the fire smaller than normal due to my spinning and the group circling the gates. The entire ritual went smoothly, perhaps a bit quicker than most. I spun once again during the praise offering segment- as I said at the time, I could not entice a fire god into our celebration and not offer Him a bit of performance for his pains, now could I?

After the ritual closed, and the last guest went home from revels, a few of us stayed for the night to keep the fire going- we would let it burn out in the morning, We sat up talking about the evening and various non-related things and somewhere in the middle of all that, it occurred to me that I had gained a good bit in the past few weeks- of more knowledge and understanding of the feast of Beltane, a new interest in the Gaulish-Celtic mythology, and a more thorough understanding of the virtue of fertility- an idea which I had previously mostly tried to avoid (but I've covered that in my virtue essay, so I'll avoid redundancy here), and as some other things came up which I have not discussed and are not related to the topic of Beltane, a much clearer idea of where I am going spiritually.

As I said at the beginning, I've said that every ritual has been different from the others. I have put more time and effort into Beltane than previous High Days, but with the possible exception of Mabon, I have gotten more in return than any of the others.


Invocation to Belenus:

I call to the bright and shining God Of Fire,
Brilliant Ruler of the Sun that shines warm on our faces
Belenus Apollo, Lord of Healing at St Sabine's sanctuary
Who is also called Bel
This evening we celebrate your feast
We ask you to be present among us
That we may praise you
That you may light our days
That we may exhalt you
That you may impart wisdom
And incite the flames of our spirits
As we bask in your rays
Midsummer started out just after Beltane with Deirdre and a few others gathering to write a Fool’s Rite. Last year, we performed the Chocolate Ritual. This year they were going to write the Cheese Ritual, honoring Roman deities. (Somehow it was concluded that pagans have a particular fondness for cheese.) This plan went on for a few weeks until one lore meeting where Will questioned the arrangement, citing sources that indicate that cheese was considered to be a welfare food during Roman times, and was that really an appropriate way to honor their deities? Alternatives were suggested- for instance changing the pantheon to Greek. After two lore meetings of discussing this, everything was up in the air, and the Cheese Ritual was abandoned.

During the discussions, the Greek pantheon came up most often as to whom we should honor, and particularly Dionysus. Other names were tossed around, but an idea started to form in my head and by the end, I had an idea. Went home and started writing, and within a few hours, I had a pretty well defined ritual. I let the Grove know that I was writing something, that I was by no means insisting that it be used, and whether it was or not, I was writing it. Somewhere in the discussions, the idea of Lunacy had come up and the goddess Selene had popped into my head (I have a small altar to Her, and have honored Her previously in Full Moon rites). As I mentioned before, Dionysus had come up in discussions and something about the pairing just…clicked. Being Hellenic, the obvious Gatekeeper would have been Hermes or Hecate, but for the purposes discussed I thought a less conventional choice would be more appropriate: Thaleia, the Muse of Comedy. I had thought of asking all nine muses to join us, but that would be a bit cluttered and it wouldn’t be appropriate to invoke, for instance Melpomene. Later the idea did evolve a bit further to ask a trio of muses, Thaleia, Terpsichore and Euterpe, muses of comedy, dance and lyrical song. At one point, resurfacing the cheese idea, Will suggested incorporating Aristaios, the son of Apollo who introduced the art of making cheese to the Greeks, but the idea died out, especially after the exact purpose of our ritual was defined…

After some more writing and planning, Caryn asked me if I planned to lead the ritual as well as write it. This surprised me a bit, but I guess it shouldn’t have since I was writing. The thought was a little daunting…I’ve led ritual before, but only much smaller full moon rituals, but I decided to go ahead with it. Talk of a “Grove reunion” floated around- the Grove was founded 17 years ago, with the first ritual at Midsummer.

Also in this time, I was reading the Homeric Hymns, and remembered reading suggestions in various places to try using original sources of prayer, literature etc in ritual. The next time we gathered, I informed everyone that for the lore of the season, I’d like to read some of the (shorter) Homeric Hymns to the deities present. This idea was well received. During this particular gathering, Caryn and Will were not around, it was up to me to run our actual ritual planning meeting- the one where everything is nailed down, we usually do it a week or two before the ritual. I learned that it’s easier to herd cats than to keep a bunch of headstrong Druids focused on a plan. Every few minutes, someone had some new silly idea (myself included) and we were laughing at this or that…but I did a decent job of keeping us from straying TOO far off topic- and the moments of humor helped to keep things from getting monotonous.

We decided on a prayer/purpose, the celebration of community and something of a birthday party for the Grove, which was a very popular idea and with that, the appropriate Lore of the Season became the Lore of CedarLight.Grove. I still wanted to incorporate the Homeric Hymns, but how?

Over the next few days, ideas continued to drift around and rearrange themselves in my head, and when reading over the Hymns yet again I realized that the Hymns were perfect invocations, with farewells written in! The lore of the Season would then start with Caryn telling of the beginnings of CedarLight up to the naming, and then we would ask a few people to share a short story or memory of the Grove, and bookend it with Will’s account of how CedarLight Center came to be. Because of the existing Hymns available, the pantheon would be rearranged a bit…we would call Hermes as the gatekeeper after all, and instead of Persephone as the Earth Mother (She was the mother of Dionysus in one of the myths), we would simply address “Earth, the Mother Of All”. Caryn suggested that we keep the Muses in the mix by invoking them as a Trine of Magic…part of the ADF ritual structure that I am not very familiar with, as we generally do not use it at CedarLight.. I learned quickly- at this point, the ritual was a week away.

It was cloudy Saturday with occasional moments of sun. And then Caryn decided to try making offerings and singing to the spirits of air to see if they might not be implored to hold off for a few hours. And more sun came out...and then it got cloudy again, and cloudier with occasional thunder...and the spirits did indeed hold off for a few hours- about half an hour before we were to begin was when it started raining, you know those big, huge raindrops that only mean one thing...so we did the pre-ritual briefing and decided that when we were to begin, we'd see how the weather was and make a decision to move forward or wait a bit longer...and it was pouring. So we waited a bit (weather maps showed a very narrow, fast-moving strip of storms...figured it would be over quickly. About half an hour later, it stopped. So we started...and about two minutes later, the rain started again. Hard. And got harder. It didn't stop.

I'm happy to say, CedarLight Grove (quite enthusiastically) stuck through torrents of rain for our Midsummer ritual. There were some umbrellas set up, but they didn't do much good, and some people carried umbrellas...which didn't do much good, it was raining that hard. I finally said "screw it" and ditched the umbrella I was holding (which also meant ditching my book with the ritual written down...I had someone put it in the pavillion so it wouldnt get wet as I stood there with nothing over me. But I didn't do badly without it.)

And I got thoroughly soaked. I found out how heavy the skirt that I was wearing (which is normally fairly light) gets when it's soaked. Within minutes, I felt liked I just took another shower...and was still standing under the faucet. So much water got in my eyes that they were burning and I couldn't see clearly. Thankfully someone had a double-layered blanket that was dry inside and I could wipe my eyes.

But I managed not to mess anything up too badly (I forgot about the shining ones til Caryn reminded me), And about the lore of the season (til Caryn reminded me). We ran a bit shorter than we normally would...about an hour. No one complained when people continued to step in to make offerings (most of them thought up on the spot in lieu of anything that could be put into the fire). For the lore of the season, since it was a celebration of the birthday of the Grove, I asked Caryn to tell of the naming of Cedarlight, and a few people shared some memories and stories of the Grove, bookended by Will telling of how CedarLight Center came about. Half of what was said couldn't be heard because of the loudness of the rain. The reading of the omen was a bit complicated, considering that they were runes drawn on cupcakes with icing but it was done. And the waters of life got a bit, eh, watered down. And as soon as we were finished, everyone ran inside to dry off/change clothing/whatever they could do

Word on the street is that I did a good job, and Caryn says that after getting through a high rite in that, nothing can be intimidating anymore. I slept at the Grove that night...I was ready to fall over shortly after the ritual ended. But I stayed awake til everyone left. And slept...rather soundly.

Word on the street also says that the Gods were VERY amused. The virtue of moderation was thrown to the wind in our celebration. Some say that Dionysus wanted to see how far we would take it, others said that this was what we got for calling on a trickster god like Hermes. The idea of rebirth was brought up again as it had been at Imbolc. Either way we all got more than a little wet and everyone had a grand time celebrating our community.
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