Mabon 2013 [Dedicant Path Requirement]

To celebrate Mabon this year I did a short, simple, non-ADF-style ritual. My sisters and I went to an apple orchard to get apples and cider. That evening, when night had fallen, I went outside and knelt by the maple tree that guards my front door. I offered cornmeal, an apple cut crosswise, and the first of the cider to the earth and the land spirits in thanks for the year’s harvest. I poured out cider for the gods and the ancestors, and I circled the tree three times each direction with cinnamon before pouring a libation and sharing a final drink with the Kindreds.

Hospitality [Dedicant Path Requirement]

For me, hospitality is a virtue of balance. ADF emphasizes hospitality in terms of ghosti, generous reciprocity; what I think we sometimes forget is that reciprocity does not mean we don’t have to help people if they haven’t helped us first. Khalil Gibran, talking about giving, offers a valuable perspective on hospitality: “You say, ‘I would give, but only to the deserving.’ …yet he who is worthy of his days and nights is worthy of all else from you.” In myth and fairy tales, divine or magical figures often ask for help from those who will later be in need of their aid, which is then freely given in return for their simple kindness. This form of aid stands in sharp contrast to the alternate motif, that of the deal with the devil, or an impossible price. This seems to me to imply that there are rules; things must go in before things come out, and if this rule is followed the balance is kept and all have what they need. They are not rules in the sense of tit-for-tat; I remember being sharply corrected by my mother when I said of a friend, “She owes me; I’ve helped her plenty of times-” with, “Oh, no no no. We do not keep score in this family.” They are rules in the sense of a mutual obligation to care for each other as best we are able. Hospitality is a social safety net; it may be used to rejuvenate loved ones just as much as it may be used to shelter someone with nowhere to go. It is meant to be extended to all in need. In the absence of a cultural tradition that emphasizes hospitality to the extent of housing total strangers, we must find other ways to express this virtue. Hospitality means buying lunch for a stranger down on their luck just as much as it means making breakfast for my sister when she comes to visit. Hospitality is an open-armed offer of succor, a recognition that ‘we’re all in this together.’ Penzey’s bumpersticker said it simplest: “Love people. Cook them tasty food.”

Perseverance [Dedicant Path Requirement]

Perseverance is a function of strength, wisdom, and courage. Fairy tales – particularly those which deal with coming of age – often speak to this virtue. In the fairy tale format  it is often the youngest, most unwise, least prepared individuals who are sent off to complete an impossible task. They are armed with nothing but determination and dogged faith, and they rarely succeed on the first attempt. If they do, it’s usually because they find out they’ve only completed the first of a thousand steps. what allows them to eventually save the kingdom or kill the monster is that they keep trying. They keep looking for the best answer, the best way. Perseverance is an exercise of the Will – the simplest distillation of magic. To win it is  not required that you be the strongest or the biggest or the richest or even the most clever. All you have to do is seek, with single pointed attention, the object of your heart’s desire – and maintain the belief that you will get it in the end, against all odds. Will is power, and perseverance is the way we direct it. To continue in the face of defeat requires the ability to see beyond: the end goal, the big picture; seeing things through, so to speak. Perseverance makes the hard choices. It is what allows us to stretch beyond and grow. Perseverance is saying, like The Little Engine That Could, “I think I can! I think I can!” until you do.

Book Review: Drawing Down the Moon, by Margot Adler [Dedicant Path Requirement]

Drawing Down the Moon is a pseudosociological survey of the history, development, and branches of paganism in America. It focuses heavily on Wicca and its many permutations, but it mentions almost every pagan group imaginable. Arranged by topic – politics, ecology, ritual, magic, initiation, festivals – and full of interviews, this unique work creates a sweeping narrative of a vibrant religious movement in the words of its diverse adherents.

This book was significant because it is an academic, factual investigation of something often regarded with deep fear and prejudice. It is an astonishingly comprehensive compendium of history, philosophy, and fact – thoroughly cited and comfortingly journalistic, it is wonderful for educating curious or concerned nonpagans.

Drawing Down the Moon gave me information and perspective on the pagan movement that I had not previously encountered as a disconnected solitary. Knowing that there are so many people out there that share my views, hopes, and dreams makes me so glad. One of the things I found most interesting in this book was its discussion of magic – both the definition, given by a variety of pagans, and how many compare it with science. Isaac Bonewits’ definition of magic was what drew me to ADF, and Grand High Poohbah pagans’ description of it was what kept me far away from organized paganism for years. To see so many people explain magic as an everyday exertion of the will, a natural focus used often for mundane purposes (as opposed to something more like Ceremonial Magic) – a religious tradition wound into everyday life – was a breath of fresh air. This book also caused me to examine my ideas about the relationship of energy and deity. As a queer individual, I thought that I had more ‘enlightened’ ideas about which kinds of energy were important – but I’ve always focused very much on the male/female creation polarity. That is not the whole of life. It can be powerful, but it can also be configured in ways that are not the Great Rite. That is not the Supreme Energy. Two things in this book made that stand out to me – the description of a skyclad all-woman ritual, bounded by a guard circle of men, and the description of a goddess as ‘She Who Is Whole Within Herself.’ The first was so powerful to me because it represented a polarity of energies passive and active, male and female, without being culturally prescribed. The protective/creative energies were irrespective of gender – the men and women could have changed places, and there would have been nothing out of place – but it was a polarity no less powerful than that of the Great Rite. And the idea of ‘She Who Is Whole Unto Herself’ is both fascinating and freeing; the reality of parthenogenesis adds another dimension to our ideas of creation and power. Nature is multiply fertile.

I would unequivocally recommend this book to others. While it was a little dense, I loved every page – I got so much useful information, and the scholarship in it was an absolute joy. Working through it is more than worth the effort.

Piety [Dedicant Path Requirement]

What is piety? According to Merriam-Webster, piety consists of “fidelity to natural obligations; dutifulness in religion.” Oxford Dictionary defines it as “the quality of being religious or reverent.” In ADF the conversation often turns to the dichotomy of ‘right belief’ and ‘right action,’ right action being generally considered more pertinent. In my mind, piety is doing your duty to keep balance and order in the world – keeping the cycle going. Piety does not, for me, mean any particular theology or belief. It means, quite simply, honoring the world and its ways – the ripples that resound from a vow, the thump of life and death. ‘Right belief’ is hardly a consideration. Right action is its own power; belief is not necessary for effectiveness, only willingness. Willingness to journey is piety in action. Gary Snyder expressed this best when he said, ‘The philosopher may despise mystification, but respects the mystery.’ When the gods call, you do not object about your lack of belief in them – you go. Piety takes different forms for each of us.  Its only true requirements are honor and respect – honoring your duty as a child of the earth, and respecting all you find thereon in the ways that touch them. For me, piety means maintaining the deep ecology of story and song, honoring those who made me and the world that nourishes me, gathering the stories of the people who will tell them to me. It means commemorating the cycle of the world, honoring it – living it. Piety means enstasy – standing-into.