The Three Kindreds Essay

The “Three Kindreds” are the main focus of honour and worship in ADF Druidry. They are the ancestors, the nature spirits and the deities, sometimes referred to as the “mighty”, “noble” and “shining” ones respectively. Each Kindred is honoured in every ADF rite with offerings and praise.

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Nine Virtues: Fertility

Farm workers in the fertile Palo Verde valley of the Lower Colorado river. Image from Wikimedia commons.

Farm workers in the fertile Palo Verde valley of the Lower Colorado river. Image from WIkimedia commons.

The ADF Dedicant Handbook defines Fertility as: “Bounty of mind, body and spirit, involving creativity, production of objects, food, works of art etc., an appreciation of the physical, sensual, nurturing”. The online dictionary defines it as “the quality of being able to produce young or fruit”.

As a child-free individual the idea of Fertility as a virtue at first didn’t sit right with me. As an environmentalist, I see overpopulation as one of the largest causes of pollution, deforestation, and resource and habitat destruction on the planet. The last thing we need is another religion which, like Catholicism or the “Quiverfull” movement, encourages its followers to “be fruitful and multiply” by having too many children for our Mother Earth to support.

However, in ADF terms, the virtue of Fertility is not linked simply, or even necessarily, to biology. We can also speak of a fertile land, or a fertile mind, growing crops and ideas and creativity. Fertility is the act of creation, bringing something from germination to full growth, whether that something is offspring, a plant, or an idea of project (like the Dedicant Path itself).

It is interesting to note that in one of the alternative lists of virtues in the Dedicant Handbook,  by ADF Druid Ian Corrigan, the place of Fertility is taken instead by Sensuality, which Corrigan describes by saying: “We affirm that feasting, music and sensual delight are virtues”. If we look to Sensuality as a virtue as well as/instead of Fertility, we see that Paganism is a way of life that delights in this world and its joys, rather than encouraging asceticism, penitence or escape from reality.

Whether understood as Fertility or Sensuality, this final virtue reminds us to appreciate our connection to the bountiful, creative Earth and the inspiration it brings to our Druidry.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.

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

The frozen North

I’m back from a fantastic trip with my lovely other half to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Northern Sweden, some 200km (125 miles) North of the Arctic Circle.

Cabins at the Ice Hotel.

Cabins at the Ice Hotel.

The whole trip was amazing, and a real chance to get back to nature by going husky-dog sledding through forests and frozen rivers, hiking around in the snow and taking a wilderness survival course for an afternoon.

As well as all that, we slept on reindeer hides in an ice room (literally a room carved out of ice) and saw the Northern Lights flickering in the sky.

Ice room.

Ice room.

My normal vegetarianism took a break, too, as I wanted to try some local delicacies including free-range local reindeer and moose. Nom!

I also learned a bit about the indigenous Sami culture at a local small museum, and read about how traditional animist Sami beliefs were persecuted with the coming of Christianity, but are being revived through museums, music, art and culture.

It was an utterly wonderful experience, and one I recommend to anyone. While I didn’t do anything particularly “Pagan” on my travels, spending time outdoors in one of Europe’s last great wildernesses felt very much like a Druidic retreat.

(All photos taken by me and/or my other half)

Sweden.

Sweden.

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]

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].

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 the usual 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”.

I would recommend Spirituality without Structure for anyone who maybe feels like there is something “more” to life, but doesn’t feel the need to fix that “something” to a particular religious label or set of beliefs. It’s a great pointer along the way for spiritual seekers who want to find and develop their own relationship with the Sacred, whatever that may be for you.