Nine Virtues: Moderation

"Finding Balance". Image by Woodleywonderworks on Flickr (CC 2.0)

“Finding Balance”. Image by Woodleywonderworks on Flickr (CC 2.0)

ADF defines Moderation as “cultivating ones appetites so that one is neither a slave to them nor driven to ill health (mental or physical), through excess or deficiency.” The Cambridge online dictionary defines it as “the quality of doing something within reasonable limits”.

Moderation is a concept familiar to me from Buddhism, as the Buddha taught a “middle way” between the extremes of either hedonism or asceticism. The Pagan Greek philosophers Aristotle and Epicurus both taught that moderation was the key to happiness and virtue. While Epicureanism has become popularly associated with fine dining and luxury, Epicurus himself taught that one should enjoy the pleasures of life including food, drink and sex, but that one should do so moderately as excess can cause mental anxiety and physical illness.

For Aristotle, all virtues are a mid-point between two extremes, and it is this balanced middle that we should strive for in our lives. Thus, in his Nicomachean Ethics, he wrote: “with respect to the enjoyment of pleasures,temperance (or moderation)is a mean between the excess of intemperance and the deficiency of insensibility“.

In the Norse hearth culture, the Havamal provides many examples of Odin encouraging the virtue of moderation, especially with alcohol. Odin’s advice comes from personal experience, as in Stanza 14, where he says:

I got drunk,Far too drunk,
when feasting with wise Fjalar.
The best kind of feast is the one
that you can still remember the next morning.

Alyxander Folmer writes that “Unlike some other religious traditions, the Lore never tries to BAN alcohol, or imply that it’s consumption is inherently bad. Rather, most Germanic/Norse cultures placed an emphasis of discipline and self control. You could “eat, drink, and be merry”, but you were expected to be able to hold you liquor and know when to stop”.

Throughout the Havamal, this apparently simple lesson about drinking in moderation teaches us about the importance of moderation in general, in all aspects of life. Paganism is a sensual way of life that encourages us to enjoy life and see it as sacred, we should not abstain from pleasures or see them as sinful. However, moderation reminds us not to live lives of hedonism and excess, and to be in balance in all things.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.

Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics. [Online: retrieved from http://www.constitution.org/ari/ethic_02.htm#2.6 07/02/2016]

Dangler, Michael J. The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.

Folmer, Alyxander. Hugin’s Heathen Hof. [Online: retrieved from http://www.heathenhof.com 07/02/2016]

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Three Kindred: Deities

"Gods of Asgard" by Erik A. Evensen. Image from godsofasgard.com

“Gods of Asgard” by Erik A. Evensen. Image from godsofasgard.com

So this is an assignment that I’ve been putting off for a while now, because it is the area where I feel the greatest disconnect to ADF as an organisation, and the Dedicant Path specifically.

ADF has as its central focus the deities of pre-Christian Pagan cultures. They are described in Our Own Druidry as “the objects of our highest worship”. Ian Corrigan states: “our Druidry tends to adopt a theology that views the million Powers described in tales and lore as independent, living entities. We reject, in general, theories that view the Powers as projections of our own minds, or as thought-forms created by human worship or as archetypes in the collective unconscious”. One of the stated purposes of ADF ritual is “to serve the gods and goddesses”.

Within ADF, these deities are referred to by many names, including “Shining Ones”, “First Children of the Mother”, “Eldest and Wisest”, “Great ones” and so on. ADF liturgy aims to “form bonds between ourselves and the gods that involve a system of reciprocity and blessings” (Dangler). The deities worshipped in ADF come from a wide range of Indo-European Pagan cultures from Celtic to Norse to Vedic and everything in between. They are deities of place, of ancestry and of heart.

In my personal path, I do not believe in the existence of literal gods that I should serve or worship. Dangler states: “There are many theories held by ADF members about the nature of the gods…our liturgies refer to the gods as real things, things that exist outside our heads, taking a stance often referred to as ‘hard polytheism’. In actual practice, some members agree with this, others do not. ADF does not require you to accept deity as ‘real’ beyond your mind. That’s just how we deal with them ritually”.

Despite this, there is a sense that ADF is an organisation of and for literalist polytheists, and article 5 of the ADF Constitution explicitly bars at least some atheists from membership. Taking a non-literal view of deities as poetic and mythological personifications of powers of nature and aspects of human experience sets me apart from much of the life of ADF and its ritual structure. The belief in literal gods existing out there somewhere and acting on the world through some supernatural force, often confidently asserted without any compelling evidence, seems to me to be quite naive and does not fit with a modern, scientific understanding of the world.

My view is similar to that of Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, the chief priest of Asatruarfelagid, who said: “I don’t believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet. We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology.”

When I connect with the gods in ADF ritual, I do so to honour and invoke the qualities they represent and reflect on how I can manifest those qualities in my life, such as Thor’s strength or Odin’s wisdom. For some Pagans, this is tantamount to blasphemy, but for me it is the best and most intellectually honest way that I can honour the gods of my ancestors while remaining true to my own beliefs.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.

ADF. ADF Constitution. [Online: retrieved from https://www.adf.org/about/org/constitution.html 06/02/2016].

Corrigan, Ian. The intentions of Druidic ritual. [Online: retrieved from https://www.adf.org/rituals/explanations/intentions.html 06/02/2016].

Dangler, Michael J. The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.

Hilmarsson, Hilmar Orn. Quoted in The Guardian, “Iceland to build first temple to Norse gods since Viking age”, 2015. [Online: retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/02/iceland-temple-norse-gods-1000-years 06/02/2016].

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Book review: Spirituality without Structure

Image from Goodreads.

Image from Goodreads.

Spirituality without Structure is another book in the “Pagan Portals” series published by Moon Books and is written by Nimue Brown, an OBOD-trained Druid who blogs over at Druid Life.

This little, but thoughtful, book discusses the personal quest of finding your own spiritual path rather than merely following the rules of a religion. While Nimue draws on her own experience of Druidry, the book is a guide for anyone seeking a more spiritual connection to life, whether they are Pagan, Christian, atheist or anything else.

I’ve always had issues with organised religion myself, and tend to think that any system that puts a hierarchy of clergy or middle men (and it often is men) between the individual and the sacred has potential to become more about power than about any real spiritual growth. “Religion”, writes Nimue, ” is the means by which countless lives have been harnessed”. Spirituality, by contrast, is a “felt thing” that “gives a person a feeling of profound connection with something beyond themselves” and so is deeply personal and can only really be discovered for yourself.

In this vision of lived, felt, spirituality, belief in the existence or absence of gods is not the central focus. It’s natural that people should come to different theological conclusions based on their own different spiritual experiences. But lack of belief does not mean a lack of meaning or spiritual wonder. As Nimue says, “There is no call for belief in the quest for wonder, nor do you need to ascribe supernatural meaning to what happens. The most rational and non-believing person can still feel awe”.

OBOD’s Philip Car-Gomm writes in his review of this book, that it is “an encouragement to feel not only comfortable, but excited about not following a religion. It provides the stimulus for us to start building our own philosophy, our own sense of ethics, our own spiritual way”.

For me, Druidry is much more of a philosophy or spirituality than it is a “religion”, which sets me apart from the stated aims of ADF for instance.

I would recommend Spirituality without Structure for anyone interested in seeing what a spiritual, but non-religious, way of life is actually all about.

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Nature Awareness Essay

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Michael J. Dangler writes that “Druidry in general, and ADF Druidry in particular, is not only about scholarship, ritual and magic; it is also about connecting with the land and with the Earth Mother that birthed and sustains us. Druidry cannot be divorced from nature, not should it be”.

The reason I chose Druidry rather than another Pagan path was specifically because of its focus on nature. The Nature Awareness part of the Dedicant Path has been my favourite part of the course, and has become very important for my Druid practice.

I have tried to make time to practice some Nature Awareness each day. Usually this means going for a walk by the river over my lunch break during the week, and a longer walk in the local woods at weekends, as well as spending time putting food out for the garden birds (and squirrels) and observing the wildlife I see around me.

Over the course of the Dedicant Path, I have spent time in nature in this way for a full year, and seen the changes of the seasons from the frosts of winter through the budding of spring, the heat of summer and the golden leaf-fall of autumn. As well as the obvious seasonal changes, I have noticed the change in wildlife as the year turns and migratory birds arrive and leave, hedgehogs go into their winter hibernation and new fluffy chicks hatch in the spring.

This focused Nature Awareness has definitely strengthened my connection to the Earth and the landscape around me with all its other-than-human life. Taking part in activities such as the RSPB’s “Big Wild Sleepout” and “Big Garden Birdwatch” has helped me become much more aware of the diversity of species in my own back garden, and by recording what I spotted, has also contributed to citizen science and conservation efforts.

In practical terms, I recycle around 75-80% of my household waste (including composting all kitchen waste) and have recently switched to Ecotricity, a green energy supplier that uses renewable power for electricity. I cycle everywhere, or get public transport, and I keep a wildlife-friendly garden with overgrown “wilderness” areas, log piles and a meadow lawn to encourage local wildlife.

I am also a member of the Woodland Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Marine Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

I have also tried to learn more about nature, and my local area, during this year. I discovered that my rubbish goes to a Mechanical Biological Treatment plant housed around 6 miles away, which mechanically removes some items from the waste and then treats the rest in a huge composting hall.  I learned that my region’s water comes from boreholes drilled into the chalk strata underground, before being treated and sent to taps. Once it is used, waste water goes into the sewers and is pumped to one of over 1,000 water recycling plants throughout the wider region. There it is cleaned, filtered and treated to an Environmental Services Agency standard that makes it safe to drink and re-use. I also found out that I live in one of the major arable agricultural areas of the UK. About half the local farmland is used for growing cereal crops such as wheat and barley, for both human and animal consumption. The rest of the land is divided between sugar beet, potatoes and pulses, all of which are climate-hardy crops that can grow well in the well-drained and often dry soil of the region.

There are other things I would like to do to increase my Nature Awareness and walk more lightly upon the Earth, including buying more local and seasonal food and growing some of my own vegetables and fruit. I would also love to keep chickens and bees in the future too.

References:

Dangler, Michael J. The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.

RIverside. Image by me.

RIverside. Image by me.

 

 

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Nine Virtues: Hospitality

The Dedicant Handbook, Our Own Druidry, defines hospitality as “Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humour and the honouring of a gift for a gift”. The Oxford Dictionary online defines it as “the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors and strangers”.

Michael J. Dangler points out that the word “hospitality” comes from the same root as both “guest” and “host”: the proto-Indo European word *ghos-ti. The * denotes that the word is reconstructed by linguists and not attested to in literature or archaeology. The word *ghos-ti has been adopted in ADF for the central concept of a reciprocal guest-host relationship. This relationship is central to the format of ADF ritual and ethics.

Hospitality was universally recognised as a virtue in pre-Christian Pagan cultures around the world. In many cases, hospitality was essential for survival, especially for the poor, hungry or those travelling afar. Hospitality, the sharing of food, shelter and comfort, was reciprocal, either directly or via reputation. It was expected that a gift be repaid with a future gift, and people known to be generous and hospitable were much more likely to also receive hospitality when they were in need.

Alyxander Folmer writes that “The ancient Norse and Germanic tribes had a strong ethic of Hospitality, which eventually permeated almost all aspects of those cultures. The idea of Hospitality came to influence their politics and religion just as much as it shaped their day-to-day lives. The concept encompassed personal generosity, reciprocity, and even what we today might term “social justice”. By the end of the Viking Era, this had become a highly ritualized practice and a core part of the their worldview”.

Hospitality depends on being both a generous host and a good guest, knowing not to take too much or over-stay your welcome. The Havamal has several stanzas relating to the virtue of hospitality, including:

Image from Hugin's Heathen Hof.

Image from Hugin’s Heathen Hof.

Hospitality today seems devalued in modern society, especially when it comes to people on the margins such as the homeless and refugees. While I don’t believe we need to open our homes to people we don’t know, the virtue of hospitality should make us think about donating money and food to shelters and food banks, and, on a political level, should make us consider how we treat immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Hospitality also should extend to our relationships with the other-than-human community and with the land itself. Are we being good guests on the Earth, taking only what we need and sharing resources fairly? Are we hospitable to the wildlife with whom we share our space, by feeding the birds and leaving wild areas in our gardens for hedgehogs, snakes and other creatures?

The virtue of hospitality reminds us that we are not isolated individuals, but are constantly in relationship with other people, with nature and with the planet itself. Living this virtue means striving to make those relationships generous, friendly and beneficial.

References:

ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.

Dangler, Michael J. The Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.

Folmer, Alyxander. Wyrd Words: Pagan Ethics and Odin’s Rites of Hospitality. 2014 [Online: retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/07/wyrd-words-pagan-ethics-and-odins-rites-of-hospitality/, 17/01/2016]

 

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Third book started: Hearth Culture

Image from goodreads.

Image from goodreads.

As well as reading about Indo-European studies and Modern Paganism, the DP requires you to study one particular “hearth culture”. I decided a while back on exploring the Norse hearth culture for my DP, and so the book I have chosen for this requirement is Gods and Myths of Northen Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson.

Davidson was an antiquarian and academic writing in the mid-20th century and is noted as having contributed greatly to modern studies of Norse mythology. The book is a survey of the pre-Christian beliefs of Germanic and Scandinavian Pagans, and also provides a detailed account of each of the Norse gods, both the big names and those lesser-known.

While my personal Paganism may be starting to shift from a Norse focus at the moment, I am still fascinated by the myths of the Norse gods and very much looking forward to exploring the historic and social background that led to the development of these old tales.

A full review will appear shortly, I hope!

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Home Shrine revisited

Our Own Druidry states that “one of the most traditional ways to begin your relationship with the inner world is to create a personal shrine of worship in your own home. Pagan religion cannot be contained in groves and temples. It is not owned by priestesses and Druids. The reality of Pagan Druidry is found in the hearts of every Pagan who keeps the ways.”

As such, forming a home shrine is an important part of developing a Pagan practice. It gives you a focal point, a daily reminder of your path. It also serves as a fixed location for use in ritual and meditation, a central sacred space, the heart and hearth of the home.

The shrine doesn’t have to be complicated, however. Dangler suggests you can begin, as he did, with “three bowls and a stick”. The central focus of ADF ritual, and of the home shrine is the Triple Hallows: fire, well and tree. The fire can be represented by a candle, the well by a bowl of water and the tree by a houseplant, model tree or even just a twig.

My shrine. Also pictured: my Dedicant Path textbooks. Photo by me

My shrine. Also pictured: my Dedicant Path textbooks. Photo by me

When I first set up my home shrine, it looked like this (see left):

I had three candles for the fire, a small ceramic bowl filled with water and sea-glass for the well, and indeed a stick from the garden as a tree. The pottery mouse is a trinket I’ve had for a very long time, and he represents the nature-kin. Buddha was there because I read about Buddhism and it influenced my thought and practice, particularly with meditation and my ethics. While not a Druid, he fitted my personal practice.

After a while, the shrine was moved to an upstairs room briefly, but was swiftly restored to the living room because it felt like I was shutting it away or compartmentalising my Paganism from my daily life.

Home shrine. Photo by me

Home shrine. Photo by me

The current iteration of my home shrine looks like this (see right):

The three candles and ceramic bowl for the well remain, but the tree has been replaced by a living tree, an ash from the garden that I’m trying to train as a houseplant. I find it much easier to connect with a living tree than merely a representation of one. Buddha has been retired to live on a bookshelf elsewhere, and the shrine now features a small clay statue of Thor that I bought in a village in Norway. He reminds me of that trip, and represents the Norse hearth culture.

On the left I also have a skull carved with Celtic knotwork to represent the ancestors, so now all three Kindreds have a presence on the shrine. Other items include pine cones, feathers, small stones etc. that I gather and change around as the seasons change.

The shrine gets decorated in different ways for different High Days. Here it is for the Summer Solstice, and for the Winter Solstice:

Home shrine set up for the Summer Solstice with mead offering. Photo by me.

Home shrine set up for the Summer Solstice with mead offering. Photo by me.

Home shrine set up for Yule. Image by me

Home shrine set up for Yule. Image by me

It’s still a very simple shrine, but I find the simplicity effective. In future, I would like to add to it with more greenery and perhaps a Cernunnos statue to go alongside Thor, to represent my interest in both Celtic and Norse Paganism.

References:

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

Dangler, M.J. The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010

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