Interview with a Druid

kirk s thomas ar ndraiocht fein druid fellowship adf sacred gifts reciprocity and the gods book norse mythology blog interview 2017 imbolc fire ritual celebration

Kirk Thomas. Image from the original article.

Dr Karl Seigfried over at The Norse Mythology Blog has done an interview with former Archdruid of ADF, Kirk Thomas.

It’s a fascinating piece (part one of two), and gives a great look into Druidry from an ADF perspective, as well as touching on questions of reconstruction and reinvention, ADF’s Indo-European focus, orthodoxy vs orthopraxy and racism . So go read it!

The interview is available via The Norse Mythology Blog.

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Nameless gods

From an ancient trunk, new growth. Image by me.

From an ancient trunk, new growth. Image by me.

I’ve been thinking, since reading “The Forgotten Gods of Nature” by Lupa, and “Lost Gods of the Witches: a User’s Guide to Post-Ragnarok Paganism” by Steven Posch (originally published in Pentacle magazine: link unavailable), about naming the Sacred.

In ADF Druidry, you are encouraged to adopt a particular “Hearth Culture” to work with. This is usually one (or more) particular pagan pantheons of named deities, which are invoked in rituals. Within other forms of Druidry, the named gods and goddesses of the ancient Celts and other pre-Christian indigenous religions are frequently called upon and honoured.

Of course, such gods have their place in contemporary paganism. We are, after all, inspired by the ancient past and the deities of our ancestors and our lands before the coming of monolithic monotheism. To reaffirm our connection with this heritage, it is  fitting that we should turn to the myths and gods of the ancient past.

Yet, I have sometimes found these gods to be remote: historical remnants of the ancient world, mythic figures frozen in time and linked inexorably to a different world.

But what of the gods that are all around us, here and now? Steven Posch writes of “The Eldest Tribe of the Gods”, those who were before humans created their anthropomorphic deities and gave them names and stories. These are the Powers of Nature itself: Earth, Sun, Moon, Storm, Sea, Wind, Fire, and others. These powers have been given various names by various cultures, but they have no need of them. Nor do you need “belief” to worship them, they are objectively real. This, for Posch, is the “hardest polytheism”.

What if, instead of calling upon named gods in our own image, one were to simply call to the Sacred in this way? If instead of invoking Belenos or Lugh, one simply worshipped the Sun? Or called to the Earth rather than “The Goddess”? What would that paganism look like?

Perhaps it would be one where we can remember the “forgotten gods of nature” Lupa writes about: “the ones whose stories were never written down because their devoted ones never wrote a word in their lives”, the gods of Salmon, of Pine, of Dictyostelidal slime molds: “the unnamed gods, the forgotten gods, those who lay in the shadows of the many pantheons of humans”.

In such a practice, rather than attempting to re-construct cultures and practices of the distant past and shoe-horn them into the modern world, a task Posch describes as a “paradigm of pretense”, one may develop relationships with the great Powers of Place, those non-human beings and forces that shape and move this landscape. For me, these would be the East Wind, blowing chill and harsh over the flat fenland; the Sun that bakes the ground in the heat of summer; the Rain that falls seemingly endlessly throughout the year; the Rivers that bring life to the fields but also bring raging floods; the great trees, Oak and Ash and Pine.

Connecting with these Powers, entering into relationship with them, enacted through ritual, through meditation, through prayer and through direct ecological action, could, potentially, be an effective form of truly Nature-based paganism. You could argue that these forces of nature cannot hear our prayers, and care nothing for our rituals, but I feel that would be missing the point. I don’t do those actions because I believe they change the Sacred: I do them so that the Sacred can change me.

Posch writes: “Our mandate is to be the pagans for our own time, our own place, our own post-modern, science-driven western culture. This is the only kind of pagan we can honestly be; anything else is pretense”.

A sacred moment. Image by me.

A sacred moment. Image by me.

Beltane and ritual

Spring blossom. Image by me.

Spring blossom. Image by me.

This Beltane, I did my first OBOD Druid ritual for a long time, using the ritual booklet that came with the Bardic course materials, and to be honest, it felt…off.

There was a bit of language about “mothering” and “fathering” and “birth” that squicked me out a bit given my childfree life choices. This is something I’ve come across in OBOD a few times before, and while it is possible to interpret fertility metaphorically, or in terms of the fertility of the land (as I did in my ADF Virtues essay on the topic), when it’s presented in pretty blunt terms of male-female-child, it becomes harder to see it in this way.

So, I removed those references and re-worked the main rite a bit, but even so, something just didn’t quite work. The traditional format of the rite included circle casting, honouring the four cardinal directions etc which was a bit fiddly. Making sure that I was walking the right way around the central altar and facing the right way at different points took me out of the spirit of the ritual a bit and reminded me of the “sit, stand, kneel” motions of Catholic mass.

In the end, I went ahead and added an ADF-style toast and libation to the Three Kindreds, because the rite otherwise felt a bit empty, a bit too cerebral and didn’t have much in the way of practical action.

So, an underwhelming experience to be sure. Now, I’m not going to discount the entire OBOD course or tradition because of one bad ritual, and to be honest, Beltane has always been one of those festivals that’s a bit lost on me, with its usual associations with (heterosexual) sex and childbirth. But it was an interesting experience to find myself missing the ADF style of ritual, and way of “doing” Druidry.

Maybe there’s a way to combine the best of both worlds, and indeed the AODA rituals given in John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook seem to have elements of both OBOD and ADF style Druidry. I might try writing my own ritual for the next High Day at the Summer Solstice.

Other than that, I had a lovely Beltane! The weather was amazing and really felt like Summer is coming, and I had a great day out at a local food and drink fair, which was one of those community traditions that I always think of as “folk Pagan”.

Hope you had a great time this Beltane too!

Creating a plan for living your Druidry

The final piece of “homework” from The Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year is a set of questions for reflection and inspiration to create a plan for living your own Druid path going forward. While I am not continuing within ADF, I am continuing with Druidry, and I thought it would be useful to consider these questions in light of my future Druid plans. The Q&A are a bit long, so are behind the cut:

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(On not doing) the Dedicant Oath

Sign in woods near Bergen. Photo by me.

Sign in woods near Bergen. Photo by me.

The final requirement of the ADF Dedicant Path is to work a Dedicant Oath Rite and take the final Dedicant Oath as a sign of commitment to the Path. Our Own Druidry describes the Dedicant Oath as “the crown of the first stage of our Druidic work…It says that your work is recognised by fellow Pagans and that you have taken a significant step into a like-minded spiritual family”.

I have a complicated relationship with oaths. Being raised Catholic, I took an oath at my Confirmation to uphold the doctrines of the Catholic faith…guess how that turned out? When I started the Dedicant Path, I put off doing the First Oath for several months, and made sure to allow myself an “out” clause by swearing to follow a Pagan way “for as long as the Path leads me”. I take oath-making seriously, as did ancient Pagans of almost every hearth culture, especially the Norse, and so I feel it disrespectful and dishonorable to make an oath you are not fully committed to.

While Michael J. Dangler states that “We do not expect you to swear allegiance to ADF, to the Archdruid, to a Grove or anything like that”, the Dedicant Oath does mark a formal commitment to the path of “Neo-Pagan Druidry” as understood and practiced by ADF as your “primary path”.

I have come to feel that ADF’s explicitly religious approach to Druidry, its self-definition as a Church, and its emphasis on polytheism and worshipping the gods, simply does not fit with me and my own Druidry, which is more of a nature-centred philosophy than a deity-centred religion. With that in mind, I have decided not to take the Dedicant Oath to complete the Dedicant Path.

Dangler writes of those who have decided that ADF is not the right path, “That is fine. We do not expect the ADF Dedicant Path to be for everyone…The DP is not a set of goals to complete, but a journey that we take. You’ve seen all the wonderful things it has to offer, and the journey isn’t over, but has rather just begun. You may not finish the DP, but you have come to an understanding on the same level as one who has. There is nothing to be ashamed of in stopping here”.

Unfortunately, not taking the Oath means that I cannot formally submit my Dedicant Path work to ADF, and get a nice certificate of completion, but I don’t feel that this was time wasted. I have learned so much on the Dedicant Path and as an introduction to Pagan thought and practice, I would recommend it to anyone. It’s been a great journey and a transformative experience.

So what does this mean for me? I have no intention of giving up Druidry, far from it. The Dedicant Path has shown me that, while ADF might not be my final destination, Druidry is definitely my path in one form or another. I think I will re-start my OBOD studies, and spend some time immersed in a different, but equally valid, form of Druidry.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.

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

Personal Religion essay

The requirement for the Personal Religion essay reads as follows:

A brief account of the efforts of the Dedicant to develop and explore a personal (or Grove-centred) spiritual practice, drawn from a specific culture or combination of cultures.

I came to Druidry initially via OBOD, and then discovered the ADF Dedicant Path. ADF’s emphasis on scholarship and essay-based approach to the Dedicant Path appealed to me due to my own academic background (MA Theology and Religious Studies).

With ADF based mostly in America, I knew that my Dedicant journey would be a solitary one, with books and the ADF website as my main guides. The solitary nature of my Dedicant Path meant that I used solitary versions of ADF ritual, mostly either those written by Michael J. Dangler, or those found in Sunna’s Journey: Norse Liturgy through the Wheel of the Year by Nicholas Egelhoff. While it would be nice to have a local Grove, I have also enjoyed being able to explore the Path myself at my own pace, and not have to “fit in” to a Grove’s ritual style or preferred hearth culture.

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Third book review: Hearth Culture

Image from goodreads.

Image from goodreads.

Ellis Davidson, H.R. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin, 1964.

The book I chose for the Hearth Culture requirement is Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson. Written in 1964, this book is still one of the most-read academic surveys of Northern European religion and mythology today.

Davidson, a 20th century antiquarian and lecturer at Cambridge, sets out to not only provide a concise and detailed survey of the Northern European Pagan gods and myths, but to draw together common themes, such as “the gods of battle”, “the gods of peace and plenty” and “the gods of the dead” in order to understand the cultural and religious context of the Northern myths.

Davidson writes: “The mythology of a people is far more than a collection of pretty or terrifying fables to be retold in carefully bowdlerized form to our schoolchildren. It is the comment of the men of one particular age or civilization on the mysteries of human existence and the human mind, their model for social behaviour and their attempt to define in stories of gods and demons their perception of the inner realities.”

Davidson sets out to bring together the various poems and sagas that make up the myths of Northern Europe, here defined as the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Anglo-Saxon Britain. Davidson’s thematic sections present a very comprehensive survey of each of the Norse gods and their main myths and associations as well as the religious observances by which people worshipped them.

A review from the Heathen journal Odroerir says: “The strength of this book and the main reason for its popularity is that Davidson has been able to create an overview of the gods as they appear in myth, and how they were worshiped. She manages to bring the two together to form a picture of heathen belief and religion from a serious approach, in a lively and easy to read manner.”

Davidson writes in an approachable yet academic style and presents a generally well-balanced historic view of the development of both mythos and cultus in Northern European religion from around the time of the fall of Rome to the conversion of the Northern countries to Christianity, as late as 1000 CE in Iceland.

Davidson’s work is of its time, and sometimes this shows through, especially in the final chapter where she discusses the “passing of the old gods” and the adoption of Christianity. At times, Davidson sounds uncomfortably triumphalisitic, glossing over forced conversions and conflict, and suggesting that people flocked to the new faith because “the old faith could no longer offer men what they needed” and “the Christian conception of the relationship between God and man was immeasurably richer and deeper”.

Despite this, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe is an excellent introduction to the world of the Norse myths and presents both the stories of the gods and the religious practices of the people in an accessible and engaging way, drawing parallels and suggesting lessons we can learn from these old tales for today, which make the book a useful addition to any modern Pagan’s collection.

References:

Ellis Davidson, H.R. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin, 1964.

Odroerir, “Book reviews: Gods and Myths of Northern Europe” [Online: retrieved from: http://odroerirjournal.com/gods-and-myths-of-northern-europe/ 27/03/2016].