[personal profile] asthefiretree
"Watch?? I'm gonna pray, man! Know any good religions?" - Zaphod Beeblebrox, Hitchikers Guide To The Galaxy

I never wanted to be religious. For so long, I was perfectly happy to believe in something and call myself "spiritual". I also never set out to be much of a part of Cedarlight Grove, and certainly not ADF. I never thought that I might ever consider calling myself "Druid". But that seems to be the story of my life- I end up in the oddest places, in the oddest ways.

I first came to the grove about a year and a half after I moved to Baltimore. Before living here, I had lived in Pennsylvania all my life with a couple of years' interruption in Texas. I'd spent the last year or so as vaguely part of a somewhat nebulous pagan community in Lancaster, PA, attending a study group in a friend's home, and very casual full moon rituals in a Unitarian church down towards Philly. I didn't really have a spiritual designation, I believed in various gods and goddesses- though I was somewhat monist. I frequently prayed, but that's about it. Oh, and I lit a lot of candles...but that was mostly because I liked candles. I was particularly interested in the elements. And I wasn't particularly fond of organized religion.

When I moved to Baltimore, I found myself missing what I'd had in PA...a loose group of people that I hung out with and discussed spiritual topics with. I tried to connect with just about every group that I found on Witchvox, but no one ever responded. Over time, I tried again once or twice, but only one group ever responded, and the phone call was creepy enough that I declined any meeting and soon gave up. Sometime later, I found myself looking again. I had a job, I had plenty of friends....but I was really missing being able to bat around the occasional metaphysical debate- most of my friends just usually weren't into that. I checked over Witchvox one more time and at the time found that I was living only a very short distance from the one group that I had decided out of hand not to try to contact at all- Cedarlight Grove. There were regular Sunday morning gatherings- Rites Of Caffeina. Thing was, I had no interest in Druidry or things Celtic. At the time, I was loosely worshipping a few Greek gods with the occasional nod to a Finnish god. I figured that this would be good enough for meeting other pagans to hang out with.

I remember my first time there, I was a little apprehensive. I'm good at meeting people, but pagans are a funny bunch, and as I've mentioned I'd already found a single phone call creepy enough to decline meeting an entire group.

It seems I had nothing to worry about. Within a few weeks, I was attending Rites Of Caffeina every week. It was made clear to me early on that it was okay that I am not of a Celtic flavor, and that there was no pressure to join or take part in anything that I wasn't comfortable with.

To my surprise, it turned out that I was okay with everything. Prior to Cedarlight Grove, I had attended only a few sabbat rituals put on with little structure and planning by a local group in Lancaster. Quite a few people attended, though only a few ever really "took part", and I had found them devoid of much feeling. I mostly went to be around the people. I actually took a part in my very first ritual, reading an invocation to Mananan. In retrospect, I might not have actually done that if I were to do it again, since I really didn't understand the ritual structure and purpose of the parts at that point, but over time, I took more parts in rituals, and helped with planning. I also attended Rites every week. To this day, I can count on my hands how many grove gatherings I've missed since I started attending.

After a very short time I realized this, and it dawned on me that I was "going to church" every week. I was going to sleep early enough on Saturday nights- and getting up early enough- to catch the bus there. And so it happened that I was taking part- willingly- in organized religion.

For some months this went on, and I was practicing my religion in public. Not so much in the privacy of my own home though. It wasn't so much that I didn't "walk the walk" or however you want to put it- human flaws aside, I live as I believe. I didn't feel a great need to have an altar in my home, and didn't feel that the gods were expecting it of me- at least, they had made no observable demands. I would offer prayers of thanks and praise, but nothing else (Mostly because at the time I don't really think I understood how something man-made and material could be important to the gods, but somewhat because I felt that the most true offering that I could make was my own praise and thanks.)

There came a point, a bit less than a year after I found the grove when I got a bit of a beating over the head. To make a long story short, ever since I had first learned about pagan religions and started to figure out what I believed (as opposed to merely knowing what I don't believe), I had felt the need to serve as a member of the clergy. I pushed this aside, ignored it, refused to even think about it for several years. How could I ever do such a thing? What did I know? Who would teach me? I had no answers therefore I had no reason to think about this question. It resurfaced from time to time and I always pushed it back, until a time came that I felt I had to make a choice once and for all- and there was only one right choice.

A few days later, I came to the grove for a ritual, and feeling very nervous and self-conscious, I talked to Deirdre, she was the only person there when I arrived. She suggested that I talk to Caryn, which I did when she arrived. By this point, I had finally visited the ADF website. I understood that before I did anything, I had to join ADF and complete the Dedicant's program. I understood that this would take me at least a year, and that there was a lot to the clergy training. Caryn explained that each level was like doing a college degree. I was okay with this and felt like a huge weight had been lifted from me. A few weeks later when I had the money, by now nearly a year after I had first come to the grove, I joined Cedarlight Grove and ADF. I received the Dedicant's Program book and I looked over it. It was just as I had seen on the website, but somehow holding the hard copy in my hands was much more intimidating. In y mind, I looked at the requirements. On one hand, I was looking at no more work than I would have done in a single freshman college class- with no deadlines! Theoretically, I could sit down, do the writing and rank it out in a matter of a few days or weeks. But I also understood that it was not meant to work that way…and this was much more intimidating.

For some time, I made jabs at doing the work. I wasn't really sure where to start. I wrote a little of this and scribbled a little of that, but got nowhere. There is no deadline, but at this point, I was imposing a timeframe of a year on myself. I wasn't beating myself up too much because I was well within that time, so I let it go for a while.

In the meantime, other things happened. Around November or December of that year, it somehow happened that it was time to think about setting up an altar. It was around the time that I was writing a full moon ritual, and the goddess in question was Selene. I was somewhat giddy as I started with items that I already had to set it up. I filled a large abalone shell with blue, white and clear crystals and pieces of glass. I had an incense burner of iridescent white glass, a blue and lavender cloth, a blue candle, and a few other things that were appropriate to an altar for Selene. Setting up an altar for her was slightly odd, considering that I was not especially familiar with her, and was writing the ritual in part to learn more about her. But, the gods with which I was most familiar with and had been worshipping for a while did not seem to be particularly worried, and only indicated that they would make it clear when they desired such a thing.

So I had an altar. It was not the well/fire/tree altar of ADF familiarity, but it was an altar. In time, a well/fire/tree altar grew up on the shelf above Selene's, and in time, I dismantled Selene's altar. I started spending more time here, lighting candles, adding items which were appropriate, removing those that were extraneous. But I didn't do much writing.

Finally, right around Beltane, something clicked (There is much more about this in my Beltane account.), and a few days afterwards, on my commute home from work I started writing. And I kept writing. Within a week or so, I had finished about half of my Dedicant's Program. Around this same time, I was losing my job. The technical support contract that I worked for was cancelled and would be ending. Business became extremely slow, and I was sitting around the office with a T1 line at my disposal and only the occasional call to interrupt me. One day, shortly before the end of the contract, I was doing a little research on the Greek gods. I had been studying their mythology for a while and was reasonably acquainted, but these were the gods that I claimed to worship, and I didn't really know much about how they were worshipped historically. There were no Hellenic groups in my area. I briefly considered joining Hellenion; their study program looked compatible with ADF's Dedicant's program. That never happened though, since then I have taken a more reconstructionist approach to my private worship, and have been attempting to start a Hellenic reconstructionist group in Baltimore.

At that same time, I write my first high day ritual, for Midsummer. As a result of trying to accommodate as many people's suggestions as possible, the ritual performed was not the ritual I wrote, but it was an experience, not only leading my first high day ritual...but leading it straight through a summer storm where the rain was so hard it was impossible to hear what anyone was saying at times.

I have co-coordinated one other ritual and performed larger parts in the others since then. I have done healing work with the grove and am attempting to incorporate more dance and movement into our ritual. I have learned more about and grown closer to my gods

In the last six months or so, I've had to consider how it is that I reconcile the fact that I'm a Hellenic polytheist who is a member of a druidic organization. Certainly it does help that ADF's scope is pan-Indo-European, but there has to be something more to it. I first examined the Hellenic side of things; I found that there was nothing that I knew of in my understanding of Hellenic polytheism that was contradictory to being part of ADF. I found great relief in this as I do not know what I would do if I ever felt that I was forced to choose between the two. I then thought about ADF, thought past its wide-sweeping cultural inclusion, and thought about what ADF's take on Druidry is. And I found nothing that I knew of that was contradictory, and decided that the two were compatible.

A few months ago, one of my roommates, who is also a member of ADF and working on the Dedicant's program asked me if I was a Druid. My answer at the time was that I thought of myself as neo-Druidic within the context of the organization. Then a few weeks ago, a close friend- in fact, the friend from whom I had initially learned about Druidry, asked me how ADF is actually druidic if it's comprised of communities of Druids, when the druids in the days of the Celts were people holding a particular position in the community? I had to think about that, but it was pointed out to me that very often ADF groves consist of a few people that consider their selves to be druids, as well as a much larger group of other community members, with still others joining in from time to time. And it's also occurred to me in time that we do healing work, we teach people, we have bards, we perform rituals for the community at large...I haven't quite made up my mind at this point, but perhaps, despite the fact that I do not worship Celtic gods, I am a Druid after all.
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asthefiretree

March 2010

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