Dàir na Coille

Quietly, we stand outside and feel the darkness of the season around us. We have to use our imaginations a bit, because we’re in a townhouse complex in the middle of the city, but it is dark enough and what snow remains is an insulating blanket pushing us to draw within.

We hang the gifts for the tiny souls in the branches of the trees in our yard, all the more cognisant this year what that means as we think of our son, sleeping upstairs. The essence of new life, returning on the wind from the West, waiting in turn for their time.

From the West and from the Ancestors they bring blessings, filling the tree with them. Chirping like birds, they settle in, here and everywhere, flowing and floating with the wind. Anticipatory fullness. Hope in darkness.

When it is time, my husband cuts a small branch from the tree, a small branch imbued with blessings. Blessings from the Ancestors, carried on the wings of renewed souls, blown by the West wind, in the branches of the World Tree, to us.

We step over the threshold together.

“Growth, tradition, and abundance.”

The lunar year begins, and Solstice Tide also.

Dàir na Coille: New Souls Coming in the Darkness – Brian Walsh

[PoWR] A Religious Life

One of my Parliament goals was to get a selfie with a nun. I took a lot of selfies with a lot of cool people (Selena Fox, Oberon Zell, Don Lewis, Vandana Shiva…) but I did not acquire the holy of holies. In fact, I don’t know if I saw a (Catholic) nun at all. But, at the Hindu puja I did sit beside a woman from Kentucky who was a monk who only wore saffron-coloured clothes, so that has to count for something.

We did the “Parliament introduction” – name, city, religion – and went right into asking each other questions about our faiths. She was dressed in various shades of orange, and I asked her if she did so out of devotion, and she explained that she could wear any colour of the sunset. She told me that her pants were specially made for her when she took her vows, and she described some of the other articles of clothing that she had in her wardrobe. I joked with her that Druid priests don’t have to wear all grey, but I often do. (“You and everyone else in Toronto!” she said.)

In truth, I’ve been searching for an outward sign of inward devotion for a long time. Readers of this ten-year-old blog will know that I’ve struggled with this on and off. What to wear? How to act? What to eat? How to govern my every day? What kind of religious life do I want to live?

At Parliament, I saw a lot of people living their good religious lives, whether expressed in their clothing, or their prayers, or how they ate. These are all outward signs of inward devotion. They are marks of a communal worship. They tell you (a little bit) about a person.

I came home from Parliament with that feeling, and with the weight of climate change and capitalism, and with loneliness, and with thoughts of my ancestors, and of the Land. I grappled with all of these feelings for many days, knowing that my Parliament reflections would culminate in this post. It took longer than I had planned. I tried to sit with the feelings for as long as could, worried that they would fade.

(I can’t describe it to you, what it felt like, but I’ll try: it’s like a weight in my stomach I feel every Spring, a good anxiety of things to come, changes that will be, cautious potential. Standing on the edge, but in a good way. A choice, full of hope but of fear. Immersed in this can be overwhelming, but a slow rumble can push you forward. Does that help?)

The feelings faded. I waited too long. I stumbled through all the other blog posts before I could get to this one, because I had to process. But these feelings, which I’ve felt before, always fade. They recede into the background, the mundane everyday taking over. My husband wanted to watch Netflix, Bean and I had fitness class, chores needed doing. And I still didn’t have the words that I need to describe it.

Two affirming experiences framed my Parliament, both when I served in ritual and had professionals praise my work. I carried that inside me too. I know where I am meant to be, but I shy away from living how I’d like: a religious life, an outward expression of inward devotion.

I have yet to put into practice everything I believe, and everything I want to do. Now, it is time. It must be. I turned 33 at Parliament, the day I met the saffron-wearing monk and served in the puja as sacrificer. My thoughts and feelings rumbled, slowly, towards this end. I have spent too much time in my life worrying, led by anxiety, and I have missed out on possibilities. There is no sense in playing the ‘what if?’ game. The wheel turns forward.

This is my Parliament experience. Seven days of immersion into faith, into social justice, into whatever imperfect communities we have. Seven days of seeing what could possibly be. I must reconcile myself with the Land, with my Ancestors, with the Earth, with Time and Seasons, with the Holy Fire, with Hospitality.

Ten years ago, a woman wrote a blog in which she described her monastic experience as a godspouse. She detailed her clothing and food restrictions, her virtues, her devotions. It’s gone now, but it was an inspiration for me; I started this blog because of hers. One quote in particular stands out, even now: The monastic life is simply the ordinary pagan life, lived with extraordinary fidelity.

Let us live, and live brightly.

[PoWR] You and Me and “Community”

My Parliament experience was interrupted by a conflict in my home Pagan community, and since I moderate the Facebook group for our area, the parties in question involved me. Without going into too much detail for the sake of all parties, the conflict was over a bad review left about a business, and accusations that the business in question didn’t support the pagan community. Both parties mentioned the community, and seem to have different expectations about what responsibilities pagan-owned businesses have towards it. But the pagan “community” isn’t really one at all. At best, it is a loose conglomeration of paganish people who come together for social events and share an online group. At least, that’s what it is here.

I’ve spent almost half my life trying to serve this pagan community in a variety of ways. I’ve not always been very good at it – at 33, I hope I’m a better, calmer, more educated person than I was at 18. I’ve not always been the best at social interactions, and I’m still not; sometimes those nuances are lost on me. I struggle with depression and anxiety, and whether these flaws of mine mean I should continue my attempts at service, I’m not certain.

What I am certain about, is that this idea of community exists, but it’s still an incredibly lonely place. As part of my Facebook group admin duties, I post discussion questions twice a week, and my most recent was “What is the hardest part about being a pagan?” Overwhelmingly, the answer was loneliness. We are seeking fellowship and community.

At Parliament, I felt this immensely. One morning, I felt the incredible absence of my friends. I say ‘friends’ in a big, wide way – people I know from ADF, from the US, who I may have only met once or twice in person, but who I interact with online. ADF members, Priests, who I wish were with me but weren’t.

I believe that ADF missed an incredible opportunity to sponsor a chosen delegation of Priests and other leaders to represent our church at this event. We had no official representatives, and unofficially there was just me and my smartphone doing my best to learn and report. There was far too much for one person to take in, and by not having more people there, we missed an opportunity for education to bring back to our organization, and to be a vocal presence among other Pagans and other faiths.

With other Pagans at Parliament, I gladly attended rites, sat with them in workshops and lectures, and there was some common ground. Some rites, like Circle Sanctuary’s Rite for the Earth, spoke to me much more than others, like the Correllian Lustration of the Living. That is not a criticism of the Correllian rite, it just wasn’t for me.

This is the reality of our pagan community. We are from many traditions, with many beliefs. Some of the lonely people who answered my discussion question hope to find open circles, rituals, fellowship, education, led by people with the same beliefs as them. This may not happen, ever. So, there are a few choices: be content as a solitary practitioner; step into leadership and start your own group that matches your beliefs; or find a community of convenience to celebrate with. (You’re always welcome at mine.)

Related, you may want to read Rethinking the Big Tent of Paganism by John Beckett.

[PoWR] Chickpeas, Climate, and Capitalism

Yesterday, I ate my last Cadbury chocolate bar. My husband had picked up a box of discount candy after Halloween (as is the tradition), and we slowly worked through those delicious fun-sized bars over the course of weeks.

Two weeks ago, I attended a panel at Parliament called “Faith for the Earth”, and I chose this panel primarily to see Vandana Shiva, since I had missed an earlier presentation of hers. This panel was disappointing, not only because five people were standing in front of me taking pictures, but because the responsibility for climate change was placed squarely on the individual, on us sitting in the audience. (Parliament attendees, I’d venture to say, are probably firmly middle-class or above. Not all, of course, but tickets ranged from $300-$600 USD, plus travel, hotel, etc. and not everyone can afford that luxury.)

We were told to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet, and this is how we can help save the Earth. “Every time I choose to eat meat, I am saying I deserve the food of 15 other people.” We were told we have “a global consciousness shortage”, and that “how we eat our daily bread is a determinant for our future.” Meat is a drug. Feeling the agony of the chicken already in the nugget. Veganism as the “next level of evolution.” Continued use of monotheistic and binary language. Add a little bit of classism, and pseudoscience about autism. This was my last day at Parliament, and I was exhausted.

The speakers said that it is our religious imperative to become vegetarian or vegan. (Three of the five speakers have vegetarianism as part of their religious tenets – the other two were a Christian and a Jew.) Not a word was mentioned about capitalism, corporate greed, industrial practices, water theft…

Climate change was being presented as an individual responsibility. Yes, we have responsibilities to our living and holy Mother Earth. Yes, we need to live lightly on the Earth, and I strive to do so. We need to make conscious choices in our purchases, in our food sources, with regards to the waste that we create.

But placing this all back on us, individually, is placing a bandaid on the problem. Our actions can help, a little bit – but some people can’t make those changes in the way that wealthier people can. The blame shouldn’t fall on them. The speakers were clearly privileged – including the woman who has lived in the ashram for 27 years. Advocating for veganism for everyone doesn’t address systemic problems of poverty or underemployment, which means that people may not be able to improve their diets. It does not address food waste, which is both a travesty and is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions itself.

Rather than being inspired, I was annoyed, tired, hungry, and feeling guilty. I felt like I should have been inspired, that I should have wanted to become vegan. But I didn’t want that. I wanted more dialogue about real change, not vague promises of future green Parliaments with organic chickpeas for all.

That’s still the last Cadbury bar I’m going to eat, because palm oil harvesting destroys rainforest and kills orangutans. Our religious traditions do need to encourage conscious living, and conscious eating. But there’s more to changing the future of our planet than simply our individual lives. It’s a place to start, though.

How do you walk lightly on the Earth?
How do you reduce waste and limit your consumption?
How should we encourage corporations to act ethically?
What are you doing to dismantle capitalism?

[PoWR] The Promise of Inclusion

The tagline for this year’s Parliament was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change.” What does inclusion mean? How can a modern Pagan organization such as ADF ensure that we are doing our best to include and welcome all?

What does this mean, in 2018, with our (supposed) better understanding of race, gender, disability, neurodiversity, and other differences?

Like Heathens Against Hate, the ADF Constitution states that we do not discriminate against “race, ancestry, color, physical disability …, age, gender, or affectional orientation, but may be denied to individuals practicing creeds inimical to Neopagan Druidism” of which “racialism” is listed. Thus, we are also “open to all who are open to all.”

Despite this, some of our members, especially LGBTQ+ members, feel that our church is not doing enough to be inclusive, that we are acting passively instead of actively attempting to break down barriers, be anti-racist, and make strong statements against discriminatory actions around the world, but especially in the United States. I appreciate the members who are taking this stance and speaking out, because I do believe it is important. What form that should take, I am not sure.

ADF just released an inclusion statement, reaffirming our values of inclusion and hospitality. This statement also says that we will work proactively to foster that welcoming environment, and so we should. ADF has also just lost a Priest, whose clergy status was revoked for conduct unbecoming of one in his position. I appreciate the tough decision the Clergy Council Officers had to make, in order to uphold our virtues and that welcoming environment for our members.

What will these proactive work be? I am not sure. It is the responsibility of our Clergy and other Leadership to improve their service in this way.

Ensuring inclusion is an ongoing action. We have to practice inclusion with our attitudes and our behaviours. We have to consider inclusion when crafting our rites – what words we use, what spaces we book, what actions we include in the rituals can all contribute to a welcoming environment.

Here is a resource called Our Doors Are Open, created by OCAD University, made specifically for faith communities, to aid with inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities. They have a free workshop for faith communities in Ontario to teach inclusive thinking, talk about accessibility barriers, creating accessible media, etc.

What other resources would you recommend? How do you and your groups work towards inclusion at your rites and events?

[PoWR] Honour Your Ancestors

Ancestral and indigenous traditions was one of the focal points of my Parliament experience. I wrote in my last post about Turtle Island Indigenous traditions, so now let’s look at the Indigenous traditions of Europe.

I was excited to see Inija Trinkuniene speak as part of the Priestesses panel, to attend her Sutartines workshop, and to see her speak also with Vlassis Rassias at the panel “Reclaiming the Indigenous Ethnic Religions of Europe.” Both Inija and Vlassis, along with Andras Corban-Arthen are part of the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, whose goal is to assist ethnic religions with formal establishment in their countries. They define ethnic religion as “religion, spirituality, and cosmology that is firmly grounded in a particular people’s traditions.” It’s important to note that ECER is opposed to discrimination in all forms.

Their second declaration reads:

“Historically those of other ethnic backgrounds have been adopted into new ones if they took on the beliefs and mores that are a larger part of the identity of that people. Although we are convinced that every human being has the best possibilities within his/her own culture to re-establish the harmony with the divine aspect, it does not, however, exclude anyone from participation in their activities.”

This was brought up at the above-mentioned workshop, when Andras Corban-Arthen mentioned that an ECER member from Denmark said that someone could, in theory, join another ethnic religion, but it would be a lot of work.

There is no way to prove what pagan gods my distant ancestors honoured. I can only trace my family back a few generations. I honour the Tuatha Dé Danann, but did my ancestors? I do not know for sure; I could be descended from Vikings. I’m also half Ukrainian, but I’ve never been there and don’t speak the language. Where does that leave me? For people who encourage others to follow the traditions of their Ancestors, what do I do?

Other speakers at the Parliament shared different views. Ajisebo Abimbola, who was representing the Yoruban religion at the Parliament, said that while it would be unusual, “Who am I, in my small humanity, to question who the gods have called?” And of course, Heathens Against Hate eloquently says, “We are open to all who are open to all.”

Lora O’Brien recently shared two videos where she talks about cultural appropriation and what it means to be Irish. She briefly discusses whether it’s okay to make money from teaching a spiritual tradition without any connection or without giving back to that culture.

So what responsibilities do we, as modern practitioners, have to the living cultures descended from our pagan faiths? In our modern North American paganism, how important is it that we “[take] on the beliefs and mores” of the cultures whose deities we honour? How important is it that we learn the language, participate in the living culture, amplify native voices, and promote native sources? And how important is it that we connect with our “own” ancestors?

———

Related: Read the Rev. Melissa Hill’s 2016 posts on Indigenous European Paganism
Why We All Need Indigenous European Paganism
How Do We Become Indigenous?

[PoWR] Our Home on Native Land

This year at Parliament, we gave a great welcome to Indigenous ceremony – a sacred fire was lit and kept burning for the duration, the opening ceremonies gave primacy to Indigenous attendees and dance, and a great structure called the Lodge of Nations was erected with its own track of programming and an accreditation program. Indigenous peoples from the Amazon came to talk about ayahuasca, and Yoruban leaders from Nigeria shared the beauty of their tradition. Hopefully this is the first in a long line of Parliaments that welcome and include these traditions at the level that we saw this year. It would be a disservice not to do so, and may the programming expand beyond introductory sessions in the future.

In Tkaronto (Toronto), where this year’s Parliament was held, an effort has been made to educate its residents about the Indigenous history of Turtle Island. Initiatives such as Toronto For All, and the practice of land acknowledgements being included with morning announcements in every Toronto school, attempt to bring this forward. Indeed, at the Parliament, many speakers included land acknowledgements at the start of their presentations – not all, but many pagans did, and even those who are not from this place.

A land acknowledgement is the beginning, not a culmination of a relationship with Indigenous peoples. Land acknowledgements mean little if we do not live our lives as treaty peoples, engaging in right and respectful relationships with these communities. It may be that our ancestors did not directly contribute to the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, but more often than not we benefit from the systems that were put in place to do so. One of our highly respected virtues is hospitality, so we should embody that virtue in our relationships with the first peoples of this land also.

The land on which we live provides our sustenance, our shelter, and is the base for our economy. We recognize her beautiful places, what she gives to us, and how her seasons underscore our lives. Is it not right, then, to acknowledge those people who lived here before we came, and shared it with us by treaty?

I propose that we, as the folk of ADF, include land acknowledgements at our rites.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation and the Anishinaabeg people. We also recognize the enduring presence of Indigenous peoples on this land.

Look to your universities and colleges for a land acknowledgement statement you can begin with. In Ontario, all have one. Even better, ask your local indigenous community for assistance with crafting one – and pay them for their help. Remember that this is the beginning of a conversation, and we may need to do some learning to do it correctly.

CALLS TO ACTION

In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was organized as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, to give a voice to all who suffered there. In 2015, along with the Executive Summary, they released 94 Calls to Action towards reconciliation. Many of these Calls to Action were directed at the government, but some were for faith groups (48, 49, 60).

These calls to action are concerned with the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the right to self-determination in spiritual matters, and education for clergy.

As monotheism and “universal” religions are often the focus of interfaith or multifaith discussions, I have no doubt that is what was considered here when using the term “all other faiths”. We, as Pagans, do not seek to convert others to our ways, or believe that our way is the way for all. However, for as long as Neopaganism has existed there has been eclecticism, and with it the concern of cultural appropriation.

To meet the call to action for education, I propose that we encourage and allow our Priests to complete an Indigenous history course for their region as part of Continuing Education. This may not be an area that we wish to develop curriculum for ourselves, but we can maintain a list of resources to help Priests find courses.

HOUSEKEEPING

In the ADF Subgroup Charter Manual (members only link), there exists a curious line whose content I have not seen elsewhere. It reads:

Groves 4.1. “Non-Indo-European local aboriginal traditions may also be integrated into activities according to Clergy Council policies.”

I was unable to find what Clergy Council policies this refers to (if anything), but nevertheless I believe that we should remove this line from our Subgroup Charter Manual.

Without postulating what led to the inclusion of this line, or what exactly it means by “activities,” Indigenous traditions are part of a larger cultural matrix, and to remove them piecemeal for inclusion into our modern Pagan rites is appropriative at best. Some of us may have received teachings and employ those teachings in our personal spiritualities, but that is outside the scope of this document. Indigenous traditions are living traditions, traditions that have been outlawed and demonized by our governments, and are being lifted up again by their keepers to reinstatement. Let us remove this line in the spirit of hospitality.

Post-Parliament Reflections

“What do you think is the biggest misconception about Paganism today?”

This is the question that began my Parliament, asked by a woman I didn’t know who was borrowing my program book, just minutes after I had checked in.

I stumbled through an answer, something about multiple paths, and I felt woefully underprepared for the week ahead. She didn’t seem to believe whatever I had said. Maybe it wasn’t salacious enough.

I felt a heaviness in that moment too, being the only ADF Priest in attendance. I carried inside me the weight of current conflicts within our organization, ones I hadn’t been able to devote my attention and prayers to while I prepared for this conference.

Perhaps that was for the best. With those thoughts in my heart, I was bringing them to every panel, every assembly that I attended, seeking solutions – and seeking a solace for myself from this turbulence, attempting to find my place.

But enough poetics, because I’m not really saying anything, am I? If I told you that interfaith dialogue felt bright and open, but tasted like nothing, would you understand? Could you also feel that under the wide brightness was a discomfort that was known but not discussed? I entered the Parliament with this feeling.

Over the next few posts, I will attempt to bring the spirit of the Parliament forward, with its lessons and feelings, for anyone who wants to listen but especially for the folk of ADF. I submit these thoughts to you that we may find a firmer footing within our church, growing where appropriate, even though it may involve challenging introspection. Please, in the spirit of the Parliament, keep an open mind, ask questions, but also recognize that these are one person’s words.

  1. Our Home on Native Land
  2. Honour Your Ancestors
  3. The Promise of Inclusion
  4. Chickpeas, Climate, Capitalism
  5. You and Me and “Community”
  6. A Religious Life

A Samhain Prayer

mightydead

Amid the falling drops of rain,
Under the greying sky,
I pause in the presence of the spirits.
It is your season, Mighty Dead,
We feel you stirring in the Earth.
Let us hear your whispers in the leaves,
Emerge from this timeless autumn.
Come to us now, on the breeze,
And we will carry forth your memories.

Samhain in Our Home

High Days are like tides; they ebb and flow and exist for much longer than just a day. The mood for Samhain begins with the first leaf fall; a melancholy can be felt in the gentle rains and the whispers of the benevolent dead become more audible. It is a long and slow season, filled with beauty and comfort found in blankets and warm drinks. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that there is a much greater power in the Earth that rises at this time: the power of the Ancestors.

We can find comfort in the presence of those who have passed, of course, as our Ancestors care for our families and the continuation of our lines. But this year I am making a conscious effort to truly see the power of the Dead, and the danger that can come along with it. Since I have a child now, I wish to be far more cautious.

In our home, Samhain proper will take place from October 29 through November 1, with prohibitions and practices surrounding. I will keep the house as clean as possible, and pour offerings at the Ancestor shrine each day. I will cover my hair when I leave the home in honour of my female ancestors, that I may be conscious of their presence with me. I will treat these three days as holy, and conduct myself accordingly in dress and action. I’m hosting family, after all 😉

Tonight, we will begin our celebrations by having our Ancestor Feast. We will set a place for our Ancestors at our table, but not as a dumb supper (with a nine month old, that wouldn’t be possible even if we wished to keep that custom). We will be speaking the prayers from the Samhain chapbook within the structure of our usual household rite. These small prayers begin our season, a season of carefulness and honour as we recognize the power that the Dead hold. The Dead can bring bane or blessings, and it is blessing that we seek.

I do feel that the Samhain season is longer than these three days, but I can commit to deeper practice for this time only this year. On October 31, I will be attending the closing ritual for WITCHfest North in Toronto. Then, from November 1-7, I will be attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Some generous friends have kindly donated towards my trip — thank you 🙂 I will be posting some updates about the Parliament both here and on Facebook.