- a collection of essays on Neodruidic Studies
- a journal of Post-Reconstructionist Neopaganism

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In Service to What?

Is ADF turning into a priest-factory?…

Yes, these “priests” will be by-far and away the brightest and best trained priests Neopaganism has ever seen; our Clergy Training Program is certainly a thing of beauty - - but these earnest candidates, once they achieve their final ordinations, what will there be for them to do? (Other than training and qualifying the next wave of priests?) I don't think the answers are as simple here as it may seem - -
Is anybody doing the math?

In my estimation, in only the next decade ADF will have produced several dozen new priests. Some of those priests will be solitaries and without a congregation, some will be the heads of a grove of their own (or at least the liturgical heads thereof), and the most interesting outcome of all: quite a few groves will end up with two, three, or even more ADF priests in the same congregation.

So, what is an ADF priest supposed to be? Why become one? Isn’t everyone in Neopaganism basically a priest/ess (if not “Pope”) of their own religion? Sometimes I seriously wonder how much is there for an ADF priest to do other than the occasional handfasting or funeral. Do you really think a grove can run solely under the liturgical direction of a priest?  Remember, these Neopagans we’re working with are more like herds of cats than flocks of sheep, right? An experienced grove organizer knows that its rare for a grove to remain successful without allowing other members to participate in the production and leading of the high-day rituals. This is particularly true for the obviously committed, longer-term members. They deserve the chance; should we run the risk of discouraging them? It seems to me that some groves do.

What are the models for for maintaining an appropriate degree of participation by qualified members in a grove’s liturgical productions without precluding the role of a priest altogether? Is there a happy medium? Well?  (Um, yeah. Go figure...)


My own history…
My calling to the Neopagan priesthood was based on a heartfelt need to serve a community. In the late 1980’s I came out of my pagan solitude and discovered that there was a community out there to serve and, in coming to that understanding, I discovered it was not a manifest community but in truth it is a “potential” community. What it was, and “if” it was – would be up to me, or up to any other person who chose to do what was necessary to make it happen.

At length I found out that what it takes 
is a strong desire, a realistic approach, 
and a huge amount of persistence...

I had read Isaac Bonewits’ book Real Magic back when it was first published in the early 70’s and then had read, in Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon, about his work in the growth of the Neopagan movement in America. I met Isaac in 1986 at a local festival and got his sales-pitch for this new thing he was promoting called “ADF”. By 1988 I had become a member. So it was that I set-to, with only three or four years of previous experience in creating pagan community under my belt, and established an ADF Proto-Grove in Pittsburgh; by September of 1992 it became a Provisionally Chartered Grove, called Sassafras Grove ADF.

Remember, this was 1992… It’s hard to imagine at this point but there was no Facebook. No Yahoo-Groups, not even an ADF Website! Nobody yet knew anyone who was even using email. Here and there in the next few years the first of us would get our computers connected to the Internet. By the mid nineties that all started to change more rapidly.

Attendance at our rites in 1992 and 1993 would vary from four, to six people, to occasionally even twelve. To supplement our numbers I was roping-in and encourging the overlap between grove events and local goddess-worshiper New Age groups ( a phenomenon which was common then but oddly virtually gone nowadays).

Occasional events like the now Grove-sponsored Community Beltane Picnic and rite drew several dozen people. More challenging venues like our earliest Summer Solstice sunrise rites could draw even as few as three (yes, a high-day rite with only three people; not three dozen). On the other hand came the pleasant surprise of the deep-winter Brigantia (Imbolc) rite starting to draw-out twenty or more in the snows of February; by the end of that decade there would be twice that number showing up. Eventually we started subcontracting rites for a local CUUPS chapter, run by a woman who worked hard to promote paganism in our community but was a member of a closed Wiccan group which didn’t allow her to produce public rituals herself.

By the mid-90’s I had gathered, Diana among them, a couple of regular contributors who were finding room for working their own forms of spiritual expression within the framework of ADF Druidry. Still for them it was a local phenomenon; it was ADF as I interpreted it to them - - it still seemed largely Earrach’s “ball and bat”. It would be only through my enticing them to come to Brushwood for the annual Wellspring Gathering in May, that they would begin to embrace ADF on their own terms and not solely through my constant sales-pitch.

So, bit by bit, our little grove began to grow and then, by 2000-2002, eventually we reached a tipping-point, a critical mass wherein the membership suddenly blossomed, becoming a significant, self perpetuating beacon in the Neopagan population of our area, attracting-in an influx of a some the brightest and most talented characters that population had to offer.

Even though along the way (2002) I had stumbled into a somewhat honorary title of “Ordained ADF Priest”, by the middle of the decade it was becoming clear there was now too much initiative, too many visions to be realized, and not enough room in the Grove for me to execute as central a role as I once had held. I was becoming expendable! Soon they each clamored to guide the plow and cast the seed and again and again they crowded-in to reap the harvest of each returning year. My dedicated work early-on had set the stage and gotten them hooked – yet at length, through their undeniable sense of individual “ownership” in the Work, I actually found myself becoming “crowded-out” of the process itself.

Now it’s something I had never anticipated. At the dawn of another decade I find myself completely on the outside of every aspect of the grove’s operations, both administrative and liturgical. I attend no business or liturgical planning meetings. I am simply an “attendee” at each of the grove’s eight annual Rites of the Wheel. At best I am a patriarch, a walking piece of history, but I am no longer an active contributor. It seems that I have “retired” from the team. My legacy runs deep and, happily, the grove shows little sign of wishing to erase it – and for that I am relieved and continually grateful.               
-  Earrach

What is, functionally, ADF’s current mission?
(Not what they say; rather, what is actually driving its current manifestation these days?)

What was Isaac’s vision for ADF’s mission and how does it compare?
How does ADF’s current mission differ from Isaac’s Original Vision?

What is the role of the priesthood in ADF’s mission?
What good is one priest to an established grove, let alone two or three in the same grove? Is a priest automatically "owed" any special role by their local grove? What is their functional relevance in a grove? Since, per Dumezil,  the top tier of the Indo-European societal structure, "Sacred Sovereignty", was a dual function, comprised of the King and the High Priest working as virtual equals (think Arthur and Merlin), does that serve as a pattern for our exploration?

Why is ADF not growing significantly? (That’s a concern of mine… Is it even true?) Our growth leveled-off some time ago yet I can't see why we couldn't have several thousand more members nationally by now, as well as increasing our overseas numbers.

1 comment:

  1. This is my first ever blog comment,
    I am a little uneasy with it.
    I wanted to thank you for being brave enough to share your real life druid experience with the world. You have been and continue to be an inspiration to me.
    I have always been uncomfortable with the effort to bind our spiritual identity too much with the various roles we may take on in ritual,or as grove organizers,guild administrators, etc.
    In ADF practice there is a recognition of the power of taking part in open group ritual

    There should also be a warning for those who find themselves overseeing the sacrifice of others ,your judgement may be unpopular,and at times should be.spiritual referees are not respected by the crowd,yet no one is able to report honestly about their experience in a mutual appreciation group, if it is not enthusiastic support for the effort then you are a dissenter,and do not belong.
    I think there are times when our priestly connection to the kindreds are at odds with a clergy conformity or creation of community and culture.
    We must remain true to our selves and not fall victim to what may be a collective yearning to be heard, respected.
    I think groves are not the people themselves but a special spirit and style of expression that moves in,as much as a trampled path to the ways between full of ruts along the way.It is by its social nature a compromise of understanding and appeal. Groves,you've gotta love em. so human, so here and now,so hungry.hard to stay on top of,so easy to get stepped on.
    I feel better about hosting spirits and reaffirming my bonds with them on a regular basis than I do about gathering people,recruiting membership,soliciting donations, supporting a study program etc.
    I think our personal spiritual work is something the Kindred bring out of us in group worship in ways that we often don't anticipate.Hosting and facilitating a group activity is not the center of my practice.I feel it's off strategy to confuse the titles or rank and with it expectations and associations of councils or colleges with a diploma and vocation. I think this is an intern driven volunteer training to learn to teach as personal mission spiritual recognition nightmare.I respect the work and sacrifice people have put into it, but it is as you have wonderfully compared a magical march.