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Posts Tagged ‘Neo-druidry’

I believe in the Hellenic gods.  I have personally experienced their presence and their effect on my life.  I think that worshipping an honoring them in a traditional way makes sense.  I pray to Zeus, to Hermes, to Ares, to Aphrodite, to Hera, Athena, Dionysus, Artemis, Hestia and the other Olympians.  And I believe that I should also be finding ways to honor Pan, the nymphs, and the other immediate, present land-spirits.  I think that Euripides’s The Bacchae is one of the most intense, meaningful, and wise pieces of literature ever composed.  I believe that classical ethics and the Golden Mean remain–as they always have been–the best and most reliable guide for human behavior.

I have a strong pull towards personal mysticism and inner work: I have a strong desire to explore the landscape of the unconscious.  I think there is immense truth to the work of Jung.  Somehow, rock and roll, Dionysus, the Holy Grail, Jim Morrison, and snakes are all tied up in this.  And probably tarot, too.  I believe that there is something to be accomplished, some Great Work, some journey.  A journey outward into the literal Wilderness that is also a journey inward into the Wilderness of the human psyche.  There’s something there that wants to be discovered.

I believe that the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads, taken together, are an unsurpassed work of spiritual genius.  Reading them is like drinking light and wisdom.  I think that the philosophy of Vedanta comes the closest of any human philosophy to explaining the universe as we are situated in it.  If there is such thing as enlightenment–and I have to believe that there is–then the path outlined in the Gita has to be the way to find it.

So what does that add up to?  I don’t cast spells, or do any magic(k), or even really believe that other people who claim to are actually doing anything.  I don’t celebrate the wheel of the year.  I’ve tried, and it just didn’t click like I thought it was going to–it always seems like it should be relevant and emaningful and important to me but I never am able to make it be anything other than awkward and ill-fitting, like an outfit that looked great on the mannequin but just fits me terribly.  I think.  Or maybe I was somehow doing it wrong.  I don’t believe in assembling a homemade pantheon of gods that I “work with.”  I don’t think “working with” gods is a very good term at all, if nothing else because it fundamentally  misunderstands our relationship to them and in a terrible act of hubris tries to convert them into tools for our use.  I do divinations with tarot–and have often had uncanny insights–but sometimes I think the randomness of drawing cards causes me to miss the power and symbolism that the tarot has as a whole and in all of its parts.  I believe in right and wrong, but I don’t believe that we need salvation from sin.  I’m not sure if I believe in literal reincarnation, or literal life after death (I don’t deny either one: I just don’t know).  I’m inclined to agree on a philosophical level with the revival Druids, but when it comes down to specifics, none of what they do really reaches out and grabs me.  I’m not an ecofeminist.  I’m not a pacifist.  I’m not politically very liberal. 

I don’t feel much in common with most people who get included in the boader umbrella of “paganism” or neo-paganism; I don’t even think that the broader umbrella is a meaningful category because it includes too many things that have nothing in common other than being-clumped-together-into-the-category.  I’m not a Christian, but I have no fundamental problem with or hostility against Christianity.

So what, then?  What am I?  How do these pieces fit together?  How do I move forward, given all of this?  What’s the next step for me, spiritually?  Who am I and what does this all mean?  What does it mean for me as a father, a husband, a lawyer, a brother, a human being?  How do I keep myself from getting pulled away into tangents and driven off-course and away from things I hold sacred by the countless diversions and slippery slopes and spectra of meaning and practice that all of these disparate threads seem to be tied to?

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Recently I put up a fairly extensive blog post about celebrating the Wheel of the Year, not in a ritual or religious sense, but in a festive, family, and traditional sense.  I think I came up with some really good stuff, but for it to really make a lot of sense, I need the religious and ritual aspect as well.  The traditions don’t hold weight unless they mean something, and the most enduring traditions are the ones that are steeped in layers of sacred meaning.

The thing is, I am a Hellenic polytheist, and the Wheel of the Year does not really come to us from Classical or Mediterranean culture at all.  Honestly, it is a synthesis of Northern European folk traditions and modern innovations.  I do want to celebrate it, though, even though there is not an obvious Hellenic connection, because although my gods are the gods of Ancient Greece, I feel a strong pull to the lore and practice of modern Druidry, which incorporates a lot of modern Neopagan practices, including the Wheel of the Year.

Though I find a lot to criticize about Wicca, I do find the Graves-Murray-Frazer-inspired theology of British Traditional Wicca absolutely fascinating.  While it may not actually be ancient, I think it has a lot of truth.  And, for what it matters, the modern practice of celebrating the Wheel of the Year is steeped fairly deeply in this stuff.  So the problem for me is to figure out how to think of the symbolism of the Neopagan Wheel of the Year in terms that are relevant and that make sense from a Hellenic polytheist perspective.

Some of it writes itself: the Wheel is very wrapped up in ideas of birth-life-sex-death-rebirth, and in the successive cycle of kings and gods, which are concepts we find everywhere in Greek myth.  Artemis has obvious connections to Imbolc, and the entire spectrum of fall-winter-spring is clearly connected to Persephone, Demeter, and Hades.  Dionysus is a god-king who dies and is reborn.  We have sun-gods, we have Zeus and Cronos, we have gods of sex and motherhood.  I feel like the pieces are all sitting there, just waiting to be put together.

One concern I have is completeness: if I just stick one god or goddess onto each of the eight major holidays, I will not come anywhere close to a full landscape of what Greek myth and Hellenic polytheism have to offer.  And I have a sense that as a cycle, the Wheel should in some sense be reasonably full and complete.  That means that the different holidays and cycles need to be related to more than one god and to more than one myth.  I’m fine with that–I like the idea, even.  The trick is, however, how to actually go about planning and practicing it.

Probably the Hellenic Kin of the ADF have a lot of resources and ideas about this very topic, but unfortunately their section of the ADF website is protected, which means you have to be a paid-up ADF member to take a gander.  I think I will probably wind up joining the ADF eventually, but I’d like to visit some meetings first.  And I’d like to not be as strapped for cash as I am now.  So I plan on having access to that stuff down the road, but it doesn’t help me right now.  Fall Equinox is rapidly approaching, and I don’t really want to let another Pagan holiday roll by without celebrating it meaningfully.  I also am eager to start the AODA first-degree curriculum, but in order to do that, I need to figure out a little better how to integrate Druidry with my own polytheist direction.

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After I finished with final exams, I was able to take a day for myself and go tromping around the woods. It was a few days after any reasonable dating for the holiday (the full moon was on the 9th, but I wasn’t able to get out and about until the 15th), but it was close enough and my most practical option.

So I spent a day exploring undeveloped parkland in Montgomery County, which was a lot of fun. Most of these areas are parcels of land bought by the county and technically part of the park system, but with no access or anything–they’re just pieces of woods that you can go play in if you can find a way to get there. The day was tough on my allergies, and I wound up really exerting myself with a day full of exploration, but it was a lot of fun. I even found a cool snake under an old corroded piece of metal. Getting a chance to be outside in nature does me a lot of good and generally makes me feel a lot saner.

My other project for the day was to try out the Beltaine liturgy from Greer’s Druidry Handbook, as a way of kicking off my AODA candidate year. So one of my goals while exploring was finding a suitable place for a ritual. It took me a bit of time and expense to gather all of the needed materials (and I wound up not having a sprig of hawthorn, or any idea of how to find one). I used a katana instead of a medieval European-style sword because it’s what I have on hand, and I wound up just putting my white altar cloth on the ground for lack of anything more altar-like. I also made an on-the-spot substitution of gods, invoking Aphrodite in the ritual instead of Niwalen (I already have a close relationship with Aphrodite, and she seems like an entirely appropriate goddess for Beltaine).

Honestly, I could have come into it with better preparation, so it was a definite learning experience. Without a sprig of hawthorn, I just used a sprig from a sapling nearby, which was a little unsatisfying. And I had to carry the book around with me because I hadn’t learned the liturgy very well. No spiritual fireworks went off during the ritual, but when I was finished, I had a sudden and very interesting sense of spiritual wholeness and satisfaction, like I had accomplished something that was actually significant.

My location was kind of fantastic, with a few exceptions. It was pretty difficult to get access to (I had to park on the side of the highway and tromp in past some backyards), and there were an insane number of ticks, but that’s partly an issue of season and not going to get much better in any wooded area. But I was flicking the little buggers off of my arms and legs all day long. Those issues aside, it was a wooded hilltop with a bunch of clearings covered in this vibrant green ground cover, and the hill was almost entirely surrounded by two branches of a little creek. It was the kind of place where you could almost feel a spiritual presence. If I get the chance, I would like to go back.

I wasn’t wild about Greer’s seasonal liturgy before I gave it a spin, and now I’m rather excited about it. This is not to say that I am prepared to accept it as scripture or anything, but I would like to try it again. The holiday-specific stuff didn’t drive me wild–really it is just an offering, an invocation of deity, and a meditation session (it was hard fro me to concentrate when I was imagining ticks crawling all over me)–but the general opening and closing of the Druid’s circle was pretty awesome, and I will definitely keep using that, even if I wind up cherry-picking the rest.

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