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].

 

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.

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].