May the hands of my thousands of ancestors
(who made blankets for warmth before me)
be on mine – and may our hands, joined together,
put into my making these things:
skill, protection, peace;
a fire in winter, and warmth in the belly.
May the hands of my thousands of ancestors
(who made blankets for warmth before me)
be on mine – and may our hands, joined together,
put into my making these things:
skill, protection, peace;
a fire in winter, and warmth in the belly.
My mental discipline practice spanned a period of just over 5 months – February 10th to July 10th. It was by far the most difficult piece of my Dedicant work. I’ve always thought of myself as a strong-willed person, but undertaking a meditation practice showed me that I still have a long way to go in terms of sharpening my will. During my official period of mental discipline practice, I set aside at least ten minutes for meditation at least twice a week using one of the methods I detail below. Often the time was longer or the sessions more frequent, but it was extremely variable. I used multiple methods of meditation as well: the Two Powers meditation, in various forms; moving meditation, both in terms of yoga and in terms of walking and other conscious mundane movement; sitting with the breath, sometimes with no-mind, sometimes focusing on an object; pulse control meditation; putting yet awareness in different parts of my body; and an energy center meditation method I picked up from Castaneda’s the Art of Dreaming. I think that using so many different kinds of meditation gave me a better grasp of what a state of focus or concentration feels like. The Two Powers meditation is familiar and comfortable to me. (“tried to do Two Powers meditation before bed, and I got things to separate on the inside but never quite got them to actually connect on the outside. I should not meditate in bed. Although I do wonder – if you get rooted strongly enough, and then sleep, do you expand, or contract? Do you travel in dreams? Could it create a sort of healing trance if you grounded enough?”) It’s easy to do when I’m calm and centered – natural – but getting to calm and centered is a totally different matter, so I decided to focus on other forms of meditation. Initially, I chose to use moving meditation, yoga, to fulfill my meditation requirement. I deal with severe anxiety, and my experience has been that if the body isn’t moving, the mind is running wild. Moving meditation seemed a natural place to begin. Results were variable – entries in my journal from this period are alternately irritated (“I took a coffee-break practice this morning, but my brain wouldn’t shut up and breathing didn’t work – it sucked.”) and satisfied (“Practiced for an hour and a half today, stayed right with my breath and nothing else. It was really good. Immense concentration of energy.”) A couple of times I decided to shake up my moving meditation practice and did things like walking the labyrinth at the local UU church, which was a turning point. Labyrinth-walking produced the most immediate snap into a trance space that I have ever experienced. (“It was mesmerizing in the most literal sense of the word. It was like being hypnotized, like falling. I don’t even know how to describe it; my mind went totally still, like walking a tightrope…”) At some point in the second month I decided that sitting with the breath meditation would be good forms moral fiber, so I started doing that at least once a week. That rapidly became the entirety of my meditation practice – a few minutes set aside every day to sit and breathe, or to sit and feel the trees, or the river flowing. This practice allowed me to make contact with land-wights in a totally new way – not much luck with the rivers, but with spirits of place and spirits of trees? Yes. (“..these pines are my friends. I can feel campus’ head land spirit in a way I never could before. It’s a feminine presence, unlike on the other side of the river, where the main spirit is overwhelmingly masculine. A staff with an owl just begging to be carved from the top appeared to be left for me after I’d spent a lot of time picking up litter on campus; I think it was a gift…”) Another thing I picked up in this period was a type of breathing my yoga teacher taught us for meditation – in four, hold four to eight, out four – which, when combined with pulse meditation, is hypnotically soothing and makes it really easy to slip into a meditative trance. This is still probably the method I use most often, if I’m sitting somewhere with nothing to do. Towards the end of my five months, a friend gave me a book called The Art of Dreaming, and in reading it I gained two more methods of meditation that I use regularly. The first was something I did as a kid, although I wouldn’t have called it meditation then: trying to ‘see’ out of different parts of my body. (My preferred method is to focus on seeing things as if my eyes were positioned in my neck, under my chin. It takes a surprising amount of concentration and mental flexibility to maintain this perspective.) The second is something I had never encountered before but have had huge and fascinating results with. The author of the book posits that the human’s energetic center and center of consciousness is contained in an energetic ball about six inches directly behind and in the center of their shoulder blades. Most recently I have been meditating by focusing on that ball; doing so produces a lot of crackling energetic noise that feels very similar to the quaking I sometimes experience when meditating in lotus position with certain mudras – almost as if you’re vibrating out of your body. This and pulse meditation are probably the two methods I use most often in my practice.
When I started this requirement, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through five months of regimented meditation with my monkey mind. It’s funny how, even though I don’t have to meditate anymore, the instinct to do so surfaces often. It’s habit – if I’m bored or upset or sitting, instead of just screwing around on my phone or trying to think about other things, my response is almost automatically to stop, and sit, and breathe. Prior yoga practice had taught me the value and importance of sitting down at a table with my uncomfortable feelings, or even of leaning into them, but it hadn’t become habit. Meditation covers those times as well as the empty spaces that sneak into the day. I’m actually a little surprised by how much meditation has snuck into my life. I think I’m beginning to understand something I read in a Buddhist manual on meditation several years ago – meditation is a constant state of awareness, clarity, focus. Everything that disrupts you is simply a bell bringing you back to awareness. You wouldn’t think that we need so much help learning to breathe, to be quiet, to sit and think, but it really is a discipline – the hardest, I think. While this was a difficult requirement to fulfill, I think that, for me, it may have been the most valuable.
The focus of my midsummer ritual was honoring the sun as life-giver, light-bringer, and hope-bearer. I think it’s important to focus on that and retain a piece of it through the darker months….and here, at the crescendo of the sun’s power and beauty, is time to revel in that bounty. I followed the COoR, as usual…Secret Garden’s the Gates of Dawn was my musical signal, initiating the rite, and I smudged for purification. I gave honor to the Earth Mother, stated my purpose – to honor the sun – and sanctified my hallows (fire, well, and tree). I called on Firefly as my gatekeeper with an offering of sugar, asking for her liminal power of light in darkness to open the gates. I honored the Kindreds and made my offerings and songs to the sun. When I drew the omen asking if my gifts and words had been satisfactory, I received the Knight of Cups, which I saw as positive. I also drew a card asking for guidance in this liminal period of my life, wanting to know what I should focused my energy on, and received the Hierophant. The blessing – in the form of a glass of water – was shared between me, the cats, the house, and the yard. Then I thanked the beings, closed the gates, and ended the rite.
This was my last DP high day! I feel so much more comfortable with the COoR – it’s more flexible than I ever imagined it being at the beginning of this. Comfortable. I am also continuing to be amazed at the aptness of divination. Drawing the Hierophant at a time when I’m beginning to turn my attention towards the CTP is a nice piece of confirmation. Sort of a smack in the face with a wet fish, but funny all the same. At the beginning of the rite I worried I wouldn’t get to the rite headspace, but I’m starting to have a ritual switch. You can feel yourself sliding in. Everything is coming full circle.
I’ve had a strong connection with and love for the Earth Mother and the world that we live in since I was a child. I often blame this variously on the movie Pocahontas (which introduced to me the idea of animism, something that I took to immediately,) or my mother (who refused to let me ‘rescue’ a flat of under-watered snapdragons from the Lowe’s greenhouse at age three). My father’s family is famous for their green thumb, and so a lot of my childhood summers were spent helping my dad in the yard and garden. My dad took often took us camping or hiking. I spent the majority of my time until I was about fourteen outside, exploring and experiencing.
In my late teens I experienced a sudden and intense distancing from the realities of nature, as I went to a formal school for the first time, got a job, and went to college. I stopped listening. I had gotten most of the way through a degree in psychology when I did a project on food systems for a class on social change. I spent the next semester failing most of my classes as I read up on climate change and other environmental issues before I took the plunge and changed my major to sustainability. I think my awareness of the Earth Mother really hit a pivotal point at my first ADF-style ritual. This was my first experience of ADF’s habit of kneeling and touching the ground while speaking to the Earth. The woman who gave the invocation passed out cherry tomatoes from her garden, and spoke about the Earth Mother as the first and the last, the one who catches us at birth and holds us in death, the only thing we can always be certain of: fierce in her power, heartbreaking in beauty, mother of all. This was the first time I had ever understood the heart of communion.
Since then, my awareness of and relationship to the Earth Mother has been strengthened and deepened in many ways. I am more aware of the impact of my actions. I am more attuned to the wheel of the seasons. More and more, I find myself awed by the beauty and power of this world we live within. I feel the living field of the world around me, and sometimes it catches me breathless and brings me to my knees.
This honoring has created many changes in my behavior – some of them internal or emotional changes, some of them outward and physical. The internal changes are a matter of orientation – reverence for the earth and all the life she provides for, automatic libations made from a full and grateful heart, feeling the pain of pollution and abuse within my own body. All these internalities drive me to work for change, to teach people how to live in harmony with our world, to help us see the path towards such a future and the matrix behind the maze. I tend my garden and the shrine I built for the spirits of my land.
In the mundane world, I take practical and material actions because of my connection to the earth. I recycle and compost, and I try to minimize trash by using recyclable or reusable items and materials as much as I can. I have become more conscious of what foods I eat, and what materials I use or purchase. I pick up litter on the street when I see it. I garden using companion plants instead of pesticides. I work with the natural ways of the world instead of against them. I write poetry. Mostly, I do lots of small, everyday things.
Perhaps these small, everyday things are why my connection with the Earth Mother is the richest relationship I have with any of the Kindred. There’s a depth there, an umbilical cord, a web of life that vibrates between in a strand of continual echoes,. There’s an innate understanding, a soul-chord struck by wind and sun: we belong to this place. Deepening my relationship with the Earth Mother has given me a sense of livingness, continuity, belonging, wildness within the world. I like how Gary Snyder explained this connection in his book of essays, The Practice of the Wild: “The wild requires that we learn the terrain, nod to all the plants and animals and birds, ford the streams and cross the ridges, and tell a good story when we get back home. …So that’s the final meaning of “wild” — the esoteric meaning, the deepest and most scary. Those who are ready for it will come to it. Please do not repeat this to the uninitiated.”
My family is pretty evenly split in descent between Scottish (my mother’s side) and German (my father’s side). And so, like many in ADF, I feel drawn to both the Celtic and the Norse hearths – called to by both sets of gods. This has been a source of frustration for me: to whom should I give my allegiance? How do I split my time, my celebrations, my customs? Because of this split, the mechanics of my spiritual practice vary greatly.
It seems natural to begin with the part of my spiritual practice that centers on honoring the Kindreds. I do not claim a formal matron or patron. This is, in part, because I feel torn between the two pantheons. I am fascinated and beguiled by many of the Norse gods, but have no active devotional relationship with any of them. In the beginning of my path as a serious pagan, I heard what I thought was a call from Freyja and began making offerings and doing divination to try and communicate with Her. This was my first honest attempt at a devotional practice centered on a deity. I offered to Her for several months and saw no result or response, so I did a more formal ritual using divination to ask what I might do to please Her, and was summarily dismissed with what was essentially “try again when you’re older and more experienced.” This was not at all what I expected. I was pretty discouraged and a little shaken that I had gotten such an abrupt, alive response from a thing I wasn’t sure I believed in. Shortly before the following Yule, there were a series of vicious snowstorms that cut power to most of my city. Our power went out, and sort of on a whim I made an offering to Brighid and asked for safety and warmth for myself and my loved ones. Our power came on and stayed on, so I thought it was only right to make an offering of thanksgiving, and then I just sort of kept on making offerings to Her. I felt a pull, a magnetism, a desire to offer to Her – I liked it; it seemed good and right. I continue to offer to her on a semi-daily basis. This devotional relationship effected a massive change in both my spiritual practice and my theological perceptions. Having a reciprocal relationship of this sort has made me much more aware of ghosti (or the lack thereof) when I approach other beings and really brought the difference between having a relationship with the Kindreds and not having one front and center. Since then, semi-regular offerings to the Kindreds at large (sometimes more formal ones to all three Kindreds, performed at my altar; sometimes as simple as libations whenever the opportunity presents itself). I am working on establishing more regular spiritual and devotional practices aimed at nature spirits and ancestors, but this is still a work in progress. I’m currently trying to build a relationship with the White River, which I live by, but that is slow going so far. One thing that I’m learning in terms of the difference between nature spirits and deities is that nature spirits (in my experience) tend to be much more transactional and literal; they’re very focused on the exchange of gifts. I get much better response from the White River when I come bearing substantial gifts than if I go sit with it empty handed or with only a libation.
Besides building reciprocal relationships with the Kindreds, other elements of my spiritual practice include celebrating the High Days (both solo, in ADF-style, and with my community in a much more freeform fashion), regular fasting, and other meditative practices.
Although my community is not ADF-focused, we usually celebrate Samhain and Yule together (other holidays are spottier but sometimes happen). Since beginning the DP, I’ve become much more proactive in organizing community activities. Other area ADF-members and I are planning about an ADF-style Samhain in 2014, and I am organizing a blood drive for my local Pagan Pride Day.
Fasting became a part of my spiritual practice at Imbolc; I fasted for four days prior to celebrating the rite, and was amazed by the clarifying, focusing effect it produced. Since then, I have begun regularly fasting on the day of the new moon so that I have a dedicated time of spiritual reflection and seeking. This custom is well-attested in both Norse and Celtic cultures – fasting and withdrawal have often been a means for seeking guidance and inspiration.
In addition to fasting, I do a sitting meditation at least once (often more) per week, and have recently begun writing adorations to Brighid. This practice was one I came across on a pagan blog – a form of prayer that uses the titles, names, qualities, and achievements of a deity as a focus for our devotion and concentration, very much akin to a rosary. I keep a running list of adorations and often recite them as part of my offering to Brighid.
The Dedicant Path has been transformative for me in terms of helping me create a vibrant, active spiritual practice. Having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, I had very little context for creating a spiritual practice from scratch. The requirements of the program have really pushed me to find material ways of expressing my values and beliefs, as well as made me question my theological assumptions.
I’ve been trying to work with the White River that flows through my city, so for Beltane, I chose to make the river the being of the occasion for my solitary ADF-style rite. I performed the ceremony on the riverbank at dusk.
I began with a centering chant, anointing myself with lavender oil for purification. After honoring the Earth Mother with a libation of cider, I announced my intention to celebrate the bloom of life and the fertility of the land. To represent the cosmos, I had a tea light for the fire, a shell for my well, and some rosemary wood for my tree. I honored Duck as my gatekeeper, because the river is home to many ducks, and ducks are between worlds -water and earth, solid and liminal. I made an offering of bread to Duck as my gatekeeper and declared the gates opened. Then, I invited the Kindreds and made offerings to them in the well.
When it was time to honor the being of the occasion, I spoke to the White River, calling it by old names. To it, I offered melissa leaves – purifying, healing, and sacred – and silvered water, with wishes for the river’s strength and clarity. Since the White River is heavily polluted, this seemed like the best gift at my disposal. I made the prayer of sacrifice and then drew the omen with my tarot deck; I asked three questions. The first was, “has my offering been noted?” because I’ve never really gotten a response from the river before; the card I drew was the nine of swords reversed, which I interpreted as faith in spite of difficulties. I asked, “does my offering meet with approval?” and drew the ten of pentacles, a card of abundance and prosperity, which I interpreted as contentment. For my third and final question, “what must I do to further a relationship with this river?” I drew the king of pentacles, which I interpreted as persistence, mundane effort (just sitting there!) and material offerings.
Then, I asked that the blessings flow into my cup – asking specifically that I might see blessings on my attempts to make friends with the river. Then I drank. I shared the blessings in the form of libations as I thanked the rivers and the Kindreds, offered some to Duck in closing the gates, and offered to the Earth Mother at the closing of the rite. Then I broke my tree, declared the well mere water, the fire mere flame, and the rite ended.
In designing this ritual I read through the COoR tutorial; it was extremely helpful to me and it was actually there that I got the idea of calling on Duck as the gatekeeper. At my first ADF rite I was pretty skeptical of the omen, but the more I use it the more I get out of it. I think this ritual went well, and I really felt like I connected with the spirit of the White River – something which had previously eluded me. I feel like I’m really getting a grasp on the COoR.
Mabon, the autumnal equinox, is the second of the harvest festivals – often associated with apples. It falls very near Thanksgiving and is the feast of the final harvest. It is named after Mabon ap Modron, a Welsh hero. This is the time of year when the light begins to grow weaker – a time of reflection and balance. OBOD refers to it as a time of reckoning and counting, of drawing inward. Just as the spring equinox was a time of renewal, fertility, and rebirth, at the other side of the year the autumn equinox is a time of the rich rot, the fruit of one’s labors, and the long slow sleep. It is the time of death and the time of apples, renewal and rebirth from another perspective: returning to the ground.
Lughnasadh is another of the Celtic High Days, a festival which (according to the lore) was instigated by Lugh in memory of his mother Tailtiu after she died because of her great labor in clearing the fields of Ireland so her people could grow food. He also hosted games of strength and skill in her honor, and many continue that tradition today. Lughnasadh is the first of the harvest festivals – the festival associated with grain and therefore with brewing as well. It is a festival of gratitude for the fruits of the earth and the labor and skill that goes into their production. In fact, the holiday is often associated with skill – of skill, of cunning, or of strength – perhaps because of its origins with Lugh the Manyskilled.
Litha (also known as Midsummer or the Summer Solstice) is a celebration of high summer, the height of power and maturity. It is commonly considered the most magically potent time of year: spells should be worked and herbs gathered on Litha. Crops are beginning to ripen. It’s a time of rejoicing, feasting, fruition and celebration; a faery day. One magical tradition associated with midsummer involves hunting for fern seeds. Supposedly, exactly at midnight, their seeds appear, and if you snatch one you will gain the power of invisibility. Lore says that plants (medicinal and magical) gathered at midnight on midsummer’s day are the most potent and powerful. Midsummer is the turning point of the year – light into darkness, the longest day and the shortest night.
Beltane (also known as May Day) is a celebration of fertility and blossoming on the first of May. There are many, many traditions associated with this holiday – washing one’s face in dew to maintain youthful beauty, the Maypole dance, Maying (staying out all night in the greenwood to “gather flowers”), weaving flower wreaths and gifting others flowers and sweets. Some traditions call for choosing a May Queen and King to lead the revels; this festival celebrates the bloom of youth and sexuality. In some traditions the May Queen and the May King fulfill the Great Rite to ensure the fertility of the land and the folk, or there is a sort of wild hunt which ends with the May Queen consorting with a Green Man or Horned God.