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

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Merry Druid YULETIDE to All!

Here’s a trove of Yuletide goodies from days of yore…
With Yuletide blessings to you and yours… WASSAIL !

occured at 12:11 PM Eastern Standard Time
Saturday, Dec. 21st, 2013

"Bah- humbug?" - No way... 

The three faces of the Spirit of the Yule and
the Fractal Mystery of the Twelve Nights
between Solstice Eve and New Years Eve...

The oldest records of Yuletide may be 
from England of the Dark Ages, not Germany...

Don't overlook these basic themes when creating
ritual celebrations for the December Solstice...

 Yes, it's true, you can hear the year turn...

Looking for DRUID-ISH 
Check these out:
by Steeleye Span 
on their holiday album

Sunday, December 8, 2013


TIMING is an essential element
in things magical...

Just ask the average suburban seven year old two days before Christmas... 

Perhaps you still have that child inside you? Perhaps you can’t help but remember that child as the sun sets on Halloween night or as the last seconds of the Old Year are counted-off at a party on New Year’s Eve. Whether in the experience of a child or an adult, the power of an impending special-moment or calendar date is an aspect of magical or religious experience we cannot afford to overlook.

Power made -and- Power found 
To ‘raise magic’ toward a goal we often have to work quite hard at it to get anything but the mildest effect and are thus reminded that at least one universal principle governs the laws of magic as in the rest of life: what you get out of something is usually directly proportional to what you put in. The success of our work often hinges on whether any one specific factor or combination of a whole group of factors, is actually able 'raise the power' necessary to effect a change in the world. Power can be 'made-the-hard-way' (sometimes it's the only way-) yet, power also can be 'borrowed' from pre-existing flows of power or potential existing in the natural world and the sea of consciousness around us.

For example, it might be said that doubt kills magical effects, or rather: that the-suspension-of-doubt facilitates their achievement. Here we see a great source of magical effect that literally doesn't need to be created but instead presents itself through the suppression of a simple cognitive reflex. Doubt is usually dispelled by our knowledge of the world and the understanding of what is ordinarily possible; yet, when we approach a goal which requires magical power, we realize that it's the very nature of magic to challenge the structure of what is ordinarily possible. Our set of assumptions is our own obstacle to success. Any student of magical disciplines can tell you that wonders may be achieved by culturing the simple ability to stop assuming that they are 'not possible'.

Small actions can cause large effects in the world: the tiniest pin-point can burst the biggest balloon. Why kill yourself trying to shovel all the snow off the mountain-side when one well placed snowball can bring down a mighty avalanche?

I'd like to suggest that we modern magical practitioners don't utilize the power of sacred timing half as much as we could. 

This brings to mind an event a couple of years ago. I was attending a week-long national pagan festival and found myself in a crowd of five or six hundred people being entertained by a popular pagan rock band on the night of the Summer Solstice. As the show went on I became increasingly more uncomfortable with my recognition that no one had planned to even briefly stop the show to honor (what I consider to be) the passing of one of the most sacred moments of the year. The show continued, the moment of Solstice came and went, I did my own little observance sitting there on the grass amid the hundreds of other "pagans", and the band played on... and didn't miss a note. Somehow I don't think I'll ever forget that moment; I suppose it may be the very reason I'm writing this now.

The moment of a solstice or an equinox marks the 'happening' of a very real event; much more real than most pagans understand as such. These events are special moments in Nature; momentary transitions of the attitude and inclination of the Earth Herself relative to the Sun's light upon Her surface. They are the absolute cause and demarcation of the Seasons which eternally delight and sustain us. Sadly, few of us gather anything but the most vague and imprecise understanding of what a solstice or equinox really is in the first place, and, as a consequence this tends to limit our very ability 
to see or place personal value on their specific 'moments-in-time'.

Capturing the Moment:  
The Ritual Tech of the Broken Stick

One very effective way to "capture" the power of an impending moment is to record its passing in the creation or modification of an object at the very moment of the sacred event. Over the years I have used this technique in a number of ways. One of my favorite methods is to break a stick in two at the exact moment, working from a clock which has been calibrated to a very accurate source like the WWV shortwave signals broadcast from the National Bureau of Standards in Fort Collins Colorado. This sounds like tech that's out of reach for most people but actually these self correcting WWV clocks are becoming very common and several are available at Radio Shack from $15 through $40. Nowadays your cellphone's time is almost as accurate.

The Sanctity/Veneration feedback loop
The more obsessive about accuracy and timing you are, the more sacred the moment becomes to you, and all the more magical power is availed to you in its capture. The Sanctity/Veneration feedback loop is another of the basic principles at work in personal magic: the more you venerate a principle or object, the more sacred it becomes in turn. Yes, you are the primary arbiter of the sacred and thereby, the holiness of the world is a factor that's largely in your own hands, it's up to you.

The broken ends of the stick hold in them the imprint of the sacred moment which, in our calendrical rites, we present to the assembly for veneration. I often have used the ends to charge and bless the waters or other objects used in the receptory phase of the ritual in which the blessings or magical power is given to the people in return for their offerings. 

Pouring molten wax or lead into water can create an object of considerable power, having captured in its form much of the essential nature and magical power of the moment. Rendering an offering to the Fire or the Waters or burning an inscribed piece of paper; smashing an object-link representative of some woe or binding in your life; or simply "winding up" and launching the power of a spell at the sacred moment, may just send it out into the Cosmos riding the crest of that mighty tidal wave of natural power.

The Correct Dates of the Solstices and Equinoxes??
However can we get our fellows to approach the sacred potential of the moment if we can't even get them to understand the basics of the Sacred Year? It's really not that hard to find the correct calendrical information to work from but you'd never suspect it, given the variety of misinformation disseminated in the Neopagan and New Age literature.

Ok, ask any Neopagan: "What are the great Pagan holy-days??"...   

"TheˇWheel of the Year;" and you'll be told, "made up of the solstices and the equinoxes and the midpoints between them called cross-quarters... "

Then ask them: "What are the calendar dates of those feasts?" 

Well, if you happen to have your cheat sheet (see fig.1,) you are in for some big surprises... Yes, I don't know if I've found one 'pagan' reference book yetˇthat lists the correct general date for the Autumnal Equinox !!! Even if they include it in a range of possible dates, rarely does any source infer that the 23rd of September is the principal date for the Autumnal Equinox and the other is an occasional variant. It simply does NOT fall on the 20th, nor the 21st, or 25th - - those are just plain wrong:  it usually falls on the 23rd and occasionally on the 22nd.
The same nonsense prevails for the Vernal Equinox. March 20th is the principal date: not the 22nd, 23rd, 25th or whatever you commonly find printed. Its just usually on the 20th and occasionally the 21st. 

Regardless of what you may have read, the Summer Solstice usually falls on June 21st (otherwise it falls on the 20th) and the Yule Solstice falls on Dec. 21st; otherwise it's on the 22nd.

You know what? The fixing of the solstices and equinoxes to those particular dates was the very reason for the Calendar Reform of the 16th century,  - T H E - very reason we have the calendar we now use, known as the Gregorian Calendar. That calendar was created to keep the old table of days and months from drifting ever away from the seasons as they had done under the Julian Calendar current up until that time. The British Isles and American colonies didn't catch up until 1752 and by that time had to excise eleven days of error to get the calendar realigned to the seasons!

Why do they all still continue to get it wrong? Surely it's not that they don't care; more likely they simply don't know where to get reliable information and just turn to other, clueless 'authorities' instead of tracking down the simple facts of Nature from the disciplines which really understand them, here, Astronomy* 

(-not Astrology; and yes there is a significant difference in the reliability of the data).

This mistake is not limited to the undereducated, unedited, 'low-brow' press but is found just as strong among those who should know better; including beloved authors such as John and Caitlin Matthews. This buggering of our sacred calendar has been going on for decades, not only in pagan publications but even in the works of 'scholarly' folklore, anthropological and archaeological writers as well.

Wouldn't you at least like to feel that you're celebrating a 'holy-day' on the right day ? It reminds me too much of how, in our city, the mayor and city council decided to hold the public celebrations of the 4th of July on the 3rd or the 5th to save on the holiday overtime-pay for all of the police involved. Perhaps it would be more economical to move New Year's Eve to another night too... ( Grrrrrrr -! )


It's S A C R E D. 
( Got it? )

Earrach of Pittsburgh (c) 1997, 2013

1.) Best, most reliable and easiest to access source: the US Naval Observatory, official government source for calendar-info for equinoxes, solstices, Moon-phases, etc.

2.) Astronomical Tables of the Sun, Moon and Planets, Jean Meeus, Willman Bell 1989 www.willbell.com. Meeus' book is used as the single most reliable set of calculations available to astronomers and calendar-makers the world over. Among many other listings it charts the date and time of the solstices and equinoxes with a precision down to the actual second within the minute. The listing ranges over apx. 3000 years and is far more accurate than any commercially available astronomical or astrological software. The book was available for less than $30 from Willman-Bell but now may only be available through web searches.


A Related Photo Album...

A closeup of our home altar ( note the broken stick at center ) :

From this year's Autumnal Equinox atop our holy-hill ( WWV clock at center ):

Our Wheel of the Year Shrine with broken stick and mistletoe after last Yule:

An annotated overview of the whole altar: 

All photos by Earrach of Pittsburgh, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

The YEAR as a TORC

(( For my THANKSGIVING card to you and yours, click here... ))



"T H E  W A S T E L A N D"...

If you simply give up trying to make Samhain represent a "beginning" * and let the agrarian year end there, the grey twilight of November stands before us as the desolate Wasteland, the Wandering Place located between the cycles of life where eventually we will find our way from the exit of one year to the entrance of the next. We journey from November's dimming into the blackness of December and eventually, at the very pit of the year, we arrive at Yuletide, the great feasting-hall of our year's underworld, eventually then to emerge on its far side, blessed with the spark of hope for the Sun's triumphant return.

You see, for all of our good intentions as serious Celtophiles, I still believe it's just too difficult for most of us to recalibrate our internal calendars to make the Samhain-as-Celtic-New-Years truism actually "work" emotionally. In seeking to reconcile the overwhelmingly "authentic" feel which Yule and New-Years creates at the year's end with the similarly familiar "fit" of Samhain as the feast of the death of the agrarian year, some time ago I began to articulate a pattern of myth and image which I believe we don't need to 'enforce' upon ourselves artificially. Rather, we can easily begin to discover that its componentry is already built-into us: 

as Westerners, we've actually been celebrating it all along...


* Contrary to just about everything you’ve read, there actually is a significant dearth of evidence to support the notion that the Celtic feast of Samhain (traditionally Nov. 1), is the “beginning of the Celtic year”. Yes, it's long been the assertion of Celtic Studies publications both academic and popular, yet the actual antiquity of the concept cannot be adequately verified.

In 1992 I had written an article, Samhain - The beginning or the End? for the very first edition of our grove’s newsletter suggesting this idea. The article was later published in ADF’s journal The Druids Progress (vol.11, pp12).

More recently the British historian Ronald Hutton examined this “factoid” in his exhaustive study of the ritual calendar of the British isles, "Stations of the Sun" (Oxford, 1996). Hutton uses both the folk record and extensive researches into calendar references in the medieval literature to show that there is really no evidence that Samhain was considered the "Celtic New Year" any earlier than the late 1800's.


R E L A T E D  P O S T S 
at the Book of Sassafras:


SAMHAIN the Beginning or the End ?

by Earrach of Pittsburgh © 1992, 2001

It ain't necessarily so…
It ain't necessarily so…
the things dat you're liable
- to read in de Bible…
It ain't necessarily so !

-------------------------------------- from "Porgy and Bess"

One would think they had a time machine... all those academic "authorities" who glibly parrot the assertion that the Celts began their days at sunset and began their year on the Samhain* cross-quarter. There may be a subtle but important distinction to recognize here that is being lost as a result of the likes of the "Celtic New-Year" factoid; perhaps it just ain't necessarily so.

On what authority are these persistent assertions made? Let's return to one of the most ancient and familiar sources for a look at those "facts". . .

In The Conquest of Gaul (also known as the "Gallic Wars"), book VI, ch. xviii, Julius Caesar states :

"...they (the Gauls-) measure time not by days but by nights;
and in celebrating birthdays, the first of the month and the new year's day,
they go on the principle that the day begins at night…"

Note that Caesar says the beginnings are "at night", not necessarily "from sunset-on." It is this very statement which I believe is at the root of all of the notions of the Celtic day beginning at sunset as well as those claiming that the Celtic year began with Samhain. Yet, working within the latitude allowed by Caesar's phrasing, it would be no less reasonable to assume that the system was the same as our modern method of starting the day at midnight -- which also "begins at night" !

If for a moment we consider this subtle grammatical observation to be a valid one (and surely it may not be; my scholarship is that of the amateur,) we then must not discount the effect of many centuries of classical training on the western world and its attending folk-cultures. Essentially, it would not be outlandish to suggest that the folk references to Samhain being the "Celtic New-Year" found scattered across the post-classical era could more easily be traced to generations of schooling of the Christian clergy and laity in the "Classics," of which, The Gallic Wars has long been one of the primary texts, both for Roman History and the study of Latin. The latter of those uses, as a translator's primer, surely carried Caesars easily confused details of old Celtic life "back" to the now Christianized people of Western Europe still proud of their ancient heritage and their surviving folkways.

If there has been some motivating reason for these persistent, yet not fully qualified, assumptions being made on the modality of the Celtic day and year, it is to be found in the one factor that, to this very day, continues to distort and undermine the validity of Western Culture's view of its own history: Biblical Literalism. This Fundamentalist notion implies that all of the statements made in the Bible must be "literally" true, including its scale of history, limiting the whole of human anthropological descent as having derived from the Sons and Daughters of Noah -- the sole survivors of the Great Flood. Yes; both the ancient Church Fathers in the Dark Ages believed, and your "Fundamentalist" Christian next-door neighbors today still believe, that all the races of Humankind (Anglo & Asian, Aztec & African. . . ) can trace their lineages back to Noah and his wife! This has been responsible for much of the very bad middle period Celtic scholarship exemplified by James Parsons' The Remains of Japhet (1767) (nonetheless, Parsons actually stands as the originator of modern Indo-European Studies...), the Helio-Arkite British-Israelite theories of Morien O. Morgan, and the forgeries of Iolo Morganwg and others involved in the Druid-Revival of the late 18th century.

So; what do the sons and daughters of Noah have to do with Western Christianity's sense of the particulars of the Celtic day or year? It's as simple as the following flawed (but to them, highly probable) syllogism:
(a.) "Caesar tells us that the Gauls (ie. Celts),
our ancestors- 'started their days at night', etc."

(b.) "Hmm, let's see now… the ancient Celts were descendants of
the proto-hebraic lineage of Noah..." or of the "Lost Tribes of Israel"

(c.) "Oh yes; of course then! Just as the Hebrew peoples always have:
They started their holy days and secular days at sunset ! "

(a. + b. = c.)

"Therefore, the Celtic day began at sunset and ended at the next…
likewise, the Celtic year began at Samhain with the onset of the winter
weather, i.e. the year's nightfall."


This pattern of logic was probably repeated for generation after generation - for more than a dozen centuries - and the contemporary Celtic cultures were continually re-educated in these and other "principals" of their most ancient folkways, constantly informed by the one "ancient and authoritative source": Caesar's Gallic Wars.

"Inbred" Folklore?

Surely we must realize that this is the very pattern of quasi-historical data "regrafting" itself into the surviving folk tradition. It is most identifiable when it utilizes material derived from extracultural sources: as in the case of finding 18th century western conceptions of Hinduism and Buddhist thought in Iolo Morganwg's Barddas being passed off as authentic mystical poetry from Dark Ages Wales. This process of folkways being created or simply modified by folk awareness of classical sources (and possibly the erroneous interpretation thereof) might be best referred to by the instructive euphemism "inbreeding," thereby reminding us of the distortional tendencies of most self referential systems .

And what of the authority of Caesar's account itself? Caesar's ethnographic information has been shown to be borrowed largely from the 23rd volume of the long since lost Histories of Posidonius (a Syrian Greek from Apamea), written over half a century before Caesar's encounters with the Celts. It is interesting to note that Caesar prefaces his statement about the night-time fixing of the Gallic day by indicating that it was a consequence of their claim to be descended from Dis Pater (the father-god of the roman underworld, abductor of the Spring-Goddess, son of Saturn the lord of Time) and that such was "the tradition preserved by the Druids."

Even though the main thrust of this article so far has been somewhat technical in nature; quibbling over the structure of Caesar's sentences and challenging the rigorousness of much of what passes as Celtic "Scholarship"; I must confess that my own motives are inspired to a large degree by the aesthetic "feel" of the Celtic day and year in the form in which they are presented to us; a "feel" which has, to me always felt wrong and incompatible with both the "natural logic" of the day and year - and out of step with the general tone of the Celtic world-view itself.

It is my contention that the Celtic year ended at Samhain (often translated as "Summer's-End"), not beginning at the end of the old year but rather, afterwards; deep in the darkness of the year's underworld, after a period of wandering and repose, bathed in the Great Cauldron of Rebirth as the golden ring of the Sun slips, for but awhile, out of sight below those silver waters. That C-ring torc-circle, that lunula (crescent,) holding its fourth and secret (unseen) phase, that womb/tomb passage door, that horseshoe-cove of trilithons, that entrance to the Caerdroia labyrinth; the seemingly incomplete cycle leaves a sacred doorway, a gap, a threshold; out through which passes the Old and in through which passes the New…

Saturday, October 26, 2013


( Rant mode: "on"... )

Halloween is a modern festivity that has its origins in the Christian Irish and British Isles folkways of the last several centuries. These Christian folkways arose around this date due to the annual observances in the Roman Catholic church calendar whereupon the Catholics made remembrance of the martyrs and other saints on the feast of All Hallows, and then the souls of all the departed on the feast of All Souls.

It is “Celtic” only insomuch as the peoples of Ireland have been referred to as “Celtic” for little more than two hundred years. In several forms the word was in use 2000 years ago but the first modern usage of the term was by the Welsh scholar Edward Lhuyd in 1701 and it remained only a scholarly term for a long time afterward. Yes, no one in Ireland in the 1200's, 1400’s, or 1600's referred to themselves, or anybody else, as “Celtic”. So in this sense, Halloween has no Celtic, a.k.a. Iron-Age pagan, roots, it's a Christian folk-observance from Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and parts of the Continent.

On the other hand, Samhain is an old Celtic name from the Gaelic associated with November 1st in Ireland and Scotland. Historically it is not known with certainty that the word Samhain predates Christianity, yet due to linguistic similarities with other Celtic languages found on pre-Christian Romano Celtic artifacts like the Coligny Calendar from Gaul, it's likely to have been in use in some form 2000 years ago.

2.) More "heretical" bitter pills (brace yourself)...


was not about the Dead,    and...


was not the "Celtic New Year"

There are virtually NO connections in ancient "Celtic" mythology that show that the feast of SAMHAIN (Nov. 1st or thereabouts) was thematically related or even similar to the death-themes of the Catholic “All Saints / All Souls” feasts. Nothing in the Lore even suggests a seasonal factor at work other than perhaps a readying for winter's arrival with the High Druids' commanding that all the fires in the land be extinguished so that they could all be re kindled from their single new holy Samhain fire.

Nor is there any historical evidence that Samhain was anciently considered the “Celtic New Year”, regardless of what you’ve been told virtually everywhere else. The ubiquitous "Celtic New year" trope only dates back to the 1890's when it was begun solely as a speculation by one Victorian scholar (*Hutton, 1996).

I suppose we should always reserve judgement, both positive and negative when a matter is confounded by a lack of evidence, remembering that the fact remains that "a lack of evidence does not constitute evidence to the contrary"... There's an awful lot we don't know with certainty about the ancient Celts; the Samhain theme and the Celtic New Year factoids may actually be true, but the fact is that, based on the available evidence, we just don't know. They may have had microwave ovens, we don't know that  they didn't...

All the Halloweeny thematic elements we associate with Samhain are just that,  from and about Halloween.  Halloween is a folk-reflex of the Roman Catholic observation of All Saints and All Souls Day and it doesn't seem to reach back to pagan times. Pope Gregory IV (827-844) moved their All Saints (“All Hallows”) observance to November 1st for the whole range of the Roman Church back in the 9th Century, and with time, like moths to a flame, it simply attracted to it all the Celtic and other spooky European folkways related to death and the departed.

IMO, as Neopagans we should actually be thankful for the Catholic Church having moved their All Saints / All Souls to the threshold of November. Why? Because it's so darn seasonally appropriate! It's no wonder we want our own Feast of the Dead to be there. If it was originally intentional it was downright brilliant on their part, just like how they fixed their Feast of the Nativity to occur nine months after their March-Equinox fixed Easter. And likewise, it's "OK" for us to arrange our Neopagan calendar mythos to fit the seasons this way as well; we just don't have to lie about it by continually parroting the bad scholarship and bogus references of ill-informed Victorian gentlemen-scholars, renegade Edwardian poets and the last few generations of sloppy Neopagan "authorities".

Halloween today? Although originating in the Irish and British Isles' All Saints, All-Souls church customs, our contemporary Halloween itself is an outcome of the self perpetuating American cultural imperialism that, like our brutish re-imagining of Christmas, has come roaring out of the States, steamrolling its way back around the world like a devastating tsunami. So, as I've said several times elsewhere...

Through the self-referential dynamics of the media and marketing, our Halloween imagery is becoming severely culturally “inbred”. These days, the result is frequently so brutal that it’s virtually obscene in its violent, heartless and vulgar content. What began as a time for the honoring of the Spirits of the Departed and an opportunity for children to shuffle through the Autumn leaves in fantastic garb begging for treats at the doors of their neighbors has become a theatre of blood, butchery and inhumanity. Halloween may once have been meant to be atmospheric and “spooky” but never was its true spirit upheld by the horrific and brutal.

Just like everything else about Halloween these days, even the pronunciation of the word has become severely inbred and distorted. At least before the 1960’s and "It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!" nobody (nobody,) anywhere pronounced it “holloween” and greatest part of the huge shift to the “hollow” pronunciation has happened only over the last 20 years or so as the acceleration of Halloween's commercialization has grown exponentially. As a result there are now generations of Americans who have grown up thinking that the "hol" pronunciation is "normal". Regardless, I don't know about the rest of you over the age of 40 but it really makes me cringe when I hear professional announcers on network television and even on NPR flattening the sound of their "hal" to straddle the two pronunciations.  Aaaarrgh!! - - It's HAL-oh, not hollow!

This is a classic urban myth (*Santino, 1994) with very few if any actual cases ever having occurred that involved malicious intent. On the other hand, there are numerous cases wherein the children (or adults) themselves had modified their own treats for the drama and attention it would incite around them.









* See Ronald Hutton's "Stations of the Sun" (Oxford, 1996) pp. 363. 
* Santino, Jack. Halloween and Other Festivals of Death and Life.
Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1994 ISBN 0-87049-813-4.

See Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/mayhem/needles.asp

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In Gratitude for a Blessed Summer

We humans are great at a lot of things; building cities; burning them down, etc., but there’s one thing we really are great at and that is… whining.

“ Whaaaaah, there’s a lousy corn crop this year !!" (2012)  
    ( -now that’s understandable, right?)

“ Whaaaaah, there’s too much corn this year !!" (2013; 2014)     
    ( -Really? Look it up. Omg!)

A blessed break after several "brutal" summers... 

Well… I’ll admit that, around here, the last four or five summers previous to this one (2013,) have been, in a word, “brutal.” We’re talking Pittsburgh here, not Galveston or Biloxi… When we go for several weeks at a time in the 90’s every single day, even 80’s at night; with high humidity as well, we’re just not geared for that kind of climate; and suffer we did for several years in succession. At our house we were ill-prepared for summers like those, with no all-house AC (just one in the bedroom window) and no functional AC in the car...

Am I whining? No. I've not come here to whine, I've come here to give thanks. Yes, those summers were absolutely brutal, but this year? Ah, this year's was definitely not. 

Looking back now, from October's Door

I can't recall a better balanced summertime, with warm days and cool nights and rain every couple days with a nice balance of sunny days between. Just ask the gardens around here, they'll tell you the truth. Other than that nasty Tomato Blight that got most of us, everything well tended grew and flourished fabulously this year. And the local farms? Have you ever seen cornfields like this year's? This fills me to overflowing with a sense of gratitude. Years to come may not be like this one again for - who knows how long? Yes, give thanks this Autumn, celebrate and share with all the story of one year's good and gentle fortune... farewell sweet Summertime, 2013.

Thanks to you, Great Mother of abundance, 
Thanks to you, Wind and Rain and Almighty Sun.
Continued remembrance and 
Deepest gratitude to the All Above, and Those Below...
As I once again declare to thee and thine,


- Earrach, Oct. 1st, 2013

photo: "The vista at Thomas" by earrach (c)2011

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Square Pegs vs. Round Holes.

( UPDATE Nov 22, 2013: The post below, and others relating to Teo, seem to have become fairly irrelevant due to recent developments (see article HERE). The folk of ADF wish him well... )

Recently, Teo Bishop,  a very well known pagan blogger and enthusiastic promoter of ADF reconsidered his earlier confidence in ADF as an appropriate path for his spiritual work and then subsequently declared to what may have been one of the largest pagan audiences on the net today (his blog followers,) that he was leaving ADF(and Paganism). In so doing, he was very fair to ADF and albeit as much as his parting was quite public, it was true that he had tried to do so as amicably as possible. Regardless, although we felt sad for losing him, I fear many of us felt sadder for its effect on ADF’s reputation. We had all been excited to have the web-wide praise of a real celebrity (Teo Bishop, a.k.a. Matt Morris, a pop-rock performer and songwriter for many top recording stars including Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Cher. Uh, yes, you heard that right...). Independent of the factor of his fame, Teo’s blog-writing is popular in itself, being consistently inspiring yet intensely personal.  Having such an eloquent voice and speaking so glowingly of our organization, Teo ended up exposing throngs of folks to our stuff who may have never considered it otherwise.

During his time with us but unable to participate consistently in a local grove (to a degree this is my unverified assumption,) Teo had found much solace in the Dedicants’ Program as an individual practitioner and, at length, the mode in which he came to see himself best working within ADF was as a guide and organizer for ADF’s population of solitaries.

“An organizer of solitaries”… ? At the risk of sounding like a jerk, I can't help but suggest that “an organization of ADF's solitaries” to me always sounded a little too much like an apple-orchard made up of orange trees. An organization to serve the solitaries, maybe. But an organization "of" solitaries begs the question... As much as I hoped it would work out, well, I suppose it was just a matter of time...


Yes, we do have a significant number of solitaries in our organization and some of those have stayed with us for a long time. If, for personal reasons, you’re not going to become involved in the work of a local grove or simply cannot do so because of your work schedule or great distances, ADF still hopes to have your support and will work to see that you feel welcome. Nonetheless this does not change the fact that ADF is essentially about public paganism. Consequently, in the long run, you may find yourself continually perplexed and challenged about how you fit into the overall scheme of things.

I say this now as a ten year ADF Senior Priest on the far side of having been a grove-founder, organizer and 17 year-stint Senior Druid of one of ADF’s most vibrant and talented groves; and alas, I am now a solitary myself. 

Don’t worry, I still love my grove and attend all their high-days, but functionally now, no longer as an insider.

Again, I must stress that ADF is an organization, and it is meant to be a service-group. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the largest and oldest pagan organizations in Neopaganism, right up there with COG, CUUPs, Asatru, and CAW. Actually most of those outfits are “federations”, linking largely autonomously practicing groups together, most of which are not nearly as liturgically unified and regulated by the degree of shared praxis that ADF groves operate within.

ADF is about public Paganism. It was originally supposed to be about serving one’s local pagan community, “openly”. With all the attention these days given to grove “hearth cultures”, study programs and clergy training this may seem a little less obvious than it once was. ADF groves were meant to be fundamentally EPC’s: Event Planning Committees; “teams”, not “clubs”. It was definitely not supposed to be about creating local cliques of liturgists creating works largely for the use of themselves and their grovemates because their larger pagan community considers them so inwardly-focused, both socially and spiritually, that they no longer seem approachable.

Yet, if this is (or “should-be”) such an important issue to ADF groves; this fundamental identity predicated on their success as a public event production team, what relevance can it have to ADF’s solitaries? Can the inadequacies of a single grove actually be responsible for it being the nexus of an extended geographic “cloud” of unaffiliated members functioning as ADF solitaries rather than participating? This cannot be blamed exclusively on a grove, certainly; often the groves involved are far better off without the active presence of many of those individuals, but it still serves as a litmus for the organizational strengths of the group.

Funny. Twenty five years ago when I first began applying my energy to creating some kind of sense of pagan community in our area, one of my founding principles was a motto I had coined with the hope of cajoling folks out of the woodwork to assuage their sense of loneliness yet still respect their severe need for a sense of uniqueness, it went like this... 

“We are ALL solitaries”.