Archives For Druidry

[Today we welcome Liz Cruse, a poet , passionate environmentalist and Druid in the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids. Cruse has worked as a nurse, health educator and trainer and has a profound interest in plants for healing, magic and food. She has Degrees in History and English and a Masters in Art History. Cruse facilitates workshops in the areas of Druidry and protection of the land. Recently she participated in the Generation Hex: Paganism and Politics at Cambridge University Department of Anthropology.]

I am standing in a field holding the northern gateway in a ceremony. Due to recent relentless rain, the centre of the circle is marked by a pool of water. Wind blows into my face and low December sun blinds my eyes. It is December 20, 2015 at the OBOD ritual of Alban Arthan.  The Mabon has been reborn and progresses around a circle of some forty people bearing her lantern of hope. She allows every individual to light a candle from her flame. The small lights blow out quickly but nevertheless the sun has been reborn.

So far, it’s predictable. Variations of this would have been enacted throughout Britain and in all countries where Druidry is practiced, in groves and gardens, in stone circle, and even in sitting rooms.

Upton Winter Solstice ritual 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Upton Winter Solstice ritual 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

But this ritual was taking place near Chester, in the field where dedicated individuals have maintained a camp to prevent iGas from carrying out an exploratory drilling aimed at fracking the area for shale gas. The pool of the water at the centre of the ritual marked the point where the drill would penetrate the earth if the testing went forward.

Paul Beer, a member of Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and one of the founding members of the Frack Free Dee Coalition, is a untiring supporter of the camp. Beer organised this ritual to add to the magical protection surrounding the camp. But also, in line with a point that he makes in a recent Touchstone article, Beer wanted, as a Druid, to be visible and to be seen as active in expressing his spirituality in support of the struggle to prevent this technology from being used here.

To support the cause, some of us who are part of The Warriors’ Call had come from across Britain to stand and be counted in the fight against unconventional gas extraction. There were also many people present in that circle who were not members of OBOD and who did not identify as Pagan. They were there simply to express solidarity with the protection camp. And that particular opportunity would not have existed without the ritual.

As Druids we claim to love the land and many of us relate to deities we find in the landscape. We gain insight from the woods and ancient monuments of Albion, or our local environment. Surely then, we should make our presence visible when the integrity of our environment is threatened? Why is the Druid and Pagan voice so muffled? We say the Druid prayer, and ask for the knowledge and love of justice. Climate change and other environmental threats are creating and founded upon injustice. What are we doing about it? What are you doing?

This was the concern voiced by Jonathan Woolley recently in an account of his attendance as a researcher at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris. Describing the visibility of Christians, Muslims and other faith groups in the civil-society focused “Green Zone,” Woolley recounts how he tried to find other Pagan activists in the Green Zone but could not.

This was also my experience when I attended the Climate Change Lobby of Parliament at Westminster in August 2015. CAFOD and other Christian organisations were very evident, but there was no Pagan presence. Woolley summarises, “Our [Pagan] organisations have shown a puzzling lack of initiative; failing to capitalise upon the almost unique relevance of our philosophies to climate change.”

Returning to the Winter Solstice ritual at Upton, as the Mabon lit the lights and before the Oak and Mistletoe bearers spoke, I walked around the circle giving everyone a button badge bearing the Warrior’s Call protective sigil. I explained its function, asking people to meditate on it when they re-lit their candles at home. One individual is weak but together, acting in the world, we can be strong.

The Warriors Call sigil. Image courtesy of TWC.

The Warriors Call sigil.

In his article on the OBOD website titled “Done fracking,” Beer wrote, “Being Pagan or Druid should not be about what you do in retreat or hidden away from the world. It should be about what you do in the world.”  As one of the founders of The Warrior’s Call and one who took part in what Philip Carr-Gomm called “The Biggest Magical Operation on Earth” (the 2013 public ritual to protect Albion against fracking in Glastonbury), I need no convincing of this. While some might argue that it is our role to throw pure spiritual and magical intent secretly into the mix as Dion Fortune did in the Magical Battle of Britain, I would argue, as did Woolley, that this is not enough. As Druids we are in a unique position to show moral leadership in the struggle to protect the environment and slow down Global Warming.

When speaking of my resolution to stand up and be counted with a non-Pagan friend, he retorted,  “Who’s counting?” For one, the people of Upton are counting. The Solstice Ritual was reported in the local press. Secondly, iGas is counting. Though eviction has been imminent since Dec. 4 2015, the camp remained in its field surrounded by venerable oak trees through Jan. 8.

Upton J16 Rally [Courtesy Photo]

Upton J16 Rally [Courtesy Photo]

Then, on Jan. 12 the camp was evicted by bailiffs with some three hundred police from Cheshire, Manchester and Wales Constabularies in attendance. But four days later, on Jan. 16,  hundreds of people, including Druids following The Warrior’s Call,  attended the J16 Solidarity Day at Upton.  A rally was held outside the ruined camp to reassert community opposition to fracking at Upton and everywhere.

To paraphrase the words that we often use to close our rituals: The camp has gone from the apparent world, but our memories retain what our eyes and our ears have gained. The fight goes on; Pagan participation goes on. And, I, for one, feel that Druid and general Pagan involvement should become more visible in all areas where our lands are threatened.

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This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

This article is part two of a new series, in which we examine Pagan and Heathen ethical codes. While the Wiccan Rede is arguably the best known Pagan ethical code, it is not the only one followed. We’ll look at a particular code and then explore a specific example of striving to live by that code. Part one, the Ten Precepts of Solon, can be found here.

Modern Druids may not have a specific written ethical code, such as the Rede or the 10 Commandments, but they do have a ethics that guide their lives and their actions. The Wild Hunt spoke with two Druids, one from Canada and one from the UK, about what living an ethical Druidic life looks like.

Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers [Courtesy Photo]

Brendan Myers, has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is a professor at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. He’s also written three books on philosophy and Pagan ethics: The Other Side of Virtue, Loneliness and Revelation, and Circles of Meaning, Labyrinths of Fear.

When asked what ethical code Druids follow, Dr. Myers said, “I’d characterise Druidic ethics as a kind of virtue ethics, that is, a model of ethics where what matters most is the embodiment of a certain character; the lore certainly offers rules and laws to follow but this is much less important than becoming a certain kind of person. Druidic moral character prizes knowledge and philosophy, ecological awareness, as well as a warrior-hero model of honour.”

He said a favorite example of this is a proverb called Oisin’s Answer, “When the Irish Pagan warrior-hero Oisin, son of Fionn MacCumhall, was asked by St. Patrick what sustained him and his people before the coming of Christianity, Oisin said ‘The truth that was in our hearts, and strength in our arms, and the fulfillment of our [oaths].’ ”

Myers said that he follows an idiosyncratic spiritual-humanist philosophy, inspired by Druidic thought but also by various 20th century philosophers, “The idea is that human life is always circumscribed by inevitable, unavoidable, and quasi-mythic events: birth and death, growing up and growing old, loneliness and solitude, our social relations, our embodied requirements for food and air, and so on. I call these events ‘the immensities.’ The encounter with the immensity often at first appears to be freedom-constraining, or life-obstructing. Yet the immensity also demands from each person a response. The excellent response involves humanity, integrity, and wonder: these clusters of virtue transform the encounter with the immensity from a situation of fear and frustration, into a situation of life-affirmation and meaning. The unexcellent response, the response lacking in those virtues, leads to more fear, more despair, more frustration, more social injustice.”

Myers added that his choice of career is part of how he lives out the ethical code of a modern Druid, “I suppose that as a writer and a college professor, I pursued a career that’s as close as one can come to the kind of career the ancient Druids had. Like them, I am a professional knowledge-worker, and an advocate for social justice. I’ve favoured causes that seemed to me both important and also summoned by the call of the immensity: environmental protection, feminism, labour and working class activism. Although it isn’t “Druidic,” in my private view I’m also a fan of the Charge of the Goddess and its prescription for a meaningful life: “dance, feast, sing, make music and love.” It’s hard to imagine how a life could be meaningful without them. But there’s no such thing as a cultural purist, and there never has been; I also learn from the Upansiads, and the Tao Te Ching, and the Stoics, and all the people I’ve met in every country I’ve ever visited.”

Joanna van der Hoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven [Courtesy Photo]

Joanna van der Hoeven is also from Canada, but she moved to the UK in 1998. She is the Co-Founder of Druid College United Kingdom, which prepares priests of Nature. Her formal education includes a B.A. with Honors in English Language and Literature degree. In her work as a Druid, she studied with Emma Restall Orr and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. He published works include The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s exploration of sanctuary and sacred space, and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life, With Full Awareness.

Ms. van der Hoeven said that within Druidry, there is no one ethical code that all Druids should follow. “Dogma is antithetical to Druidry, as it is a religion, spirituality or philosophy that follows nature. As nature is constantly changing, the Druid seeks to find an honourable relationship with the world around her in order work and live better in the world, in harmony with the environment, changing and adapting; always learning. In my work at Druid College UK, we teach a deep reverence for the natural world, and allow that reverence to let us live our lives to the fullest in harmony. We investigate deeply every aspect of our lives, looking at our consumerism, our local environment, what we can do to live in peace with the world and more. When we have a real understanding that we are a part of an ecosystem, we broaden our view from the singular to the plural, and our perspective encompasses the whole.”

In talking about how she tries to live a life in an honorable relationship with the world, van der Hoeven said, “Examples of living this ethic in my own life include buying organic and local food as much as possible, growing some of my own food, having a wildlife-friendly garden, taking daily walks to connect with and learn from the land, having solar panels on my roof, using as little electricity and petrol as possible, donating to charity, regular litter-picks, learning about permaculture; the list goes on.

“It is about understanding that there is no separation, that we are a part of a whole, connected to everything around us. We are dependent upon everything else, working together to create life as we know it. It is the relationships that we have with everything around us, whether it is the blackbird or the deer, a work colleague, politicians, honey bee or mountain.”

[Twitter/Druid College UK]

[Twitter/Druid College UK]

Like Myers, van der Hoeven also said that being a knowledge-worker was an important way to live one’s ethics, “As an author and a Druid I hope to inspire people with words to find out how they can live a life in-tune with the world around them, not taking too much and always giving back: the cycle of life, a true, honourable and sustainable relationship. For me personally, and what I teach is that service is at the heart of Druidry, based on strong relationship that allows us to find a deep integration with the world around us, immersing ourselves in the flow of nature.”

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Over the next year, Cara Schulz will continue to explore the many different ethical codes present in modern Pagan, Heathen and Polytheist practices. With help from others, she will highlight the codes themselves, their history and how they manifest in people’s daily lives.
Part Three Coming Soon …

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Donald Michael Kraig and Holly Allender Kraig. Photo: Elysia Gallo.

Yesterday, I shared the sad news that author and magician Donald Michael Kraig had passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. Today, I wanted to showcase a tribute to Kraig by his longtime employer and publisher Llewellyn Worldwide. Quote: “Don has been an important part of Llewellyn for over 40 years, and has been a tremendous colleague, teacher, mentor, and inspiration to many. Don first started his journey with Llewellyn as an author, when he submitted Modern Magick with encouragement from his then roommate Scott Cunningham. Shortly after he was hired as a writer and moved to St. Paul to work at Llewellyn headquarters.  He eventually became the editor of FATE magazine as well.  Later, he moved back to California but continued on as a writer and editor of New Worlds magazine and as an acquiring editor, where he continued using and sharing his extensive subject-matter knowledge. Don has touched so many lives and will be dearly missed. We are grateful to his life lived, and for his teachings and words that will continue to live on through his many books. Our thoughts go out to Holly and their friends and families.” Updates on a memorial service, and a place to leave donations to help with expenses, can be found here.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

OBOD founder Ross Nichols.

Modern Druid group The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids turns 50 this year, and a special golden anniversary grove is being planned to honor the occasion. Quote: “2014 is the 50th year of The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids. We have asked ‘Trees for Life’ in Scotland to plant a sacred grove to commemorate this anniversary, and have started the project with a donation of 98 trees. We’re calling it ‘Nuinn’s Grove’ after the Druid name of our founder, Ross Nichols. Have a look at the special web-page for this grove here. You’ll see that you can donate a tree for just £5 and ask for a dedication to be read out at its planting. The Order has 17,000 members, a mailing list of 10,000 newsletter susbscribers, and 16,000 listeners to our podcast every month – if every one donated a tree we could plant a whole forest with many sacred groves in it! Wouldn’t that be wonderful?!  Do help make this vision a reality, if you can, by gifting at least one tree now and spreading the news! Trees for Life have made the process incredibly simple!” 

logo-bsfGede Parma, author of “Ecstatic Witchcraft: Magick, Philosophy & Trance in the Shamanic Craft,” will be presenting this week at BaliSpirit Festival on the Indonesian archipelago of Bali. According to Parma, ze is the first Witch to present at this high-profile yoga/dance/music festival. You can see Parma’s listing on the official web site, here. Quote: “Gede spends his time actively promoting conscious engagement with Place and the Planet, teaching and writing about Witchcraft and Magic, and deepening connection with the Many Bright and Cunning Spirits that people this Cosmos. Ze is also a Reclaiming Witch, a modern tradition of the Craft co-founded by several individuals in California, most famously Starhawk, author of The Spiral Dance. Reclaiming does the work of (re)uniting politics with spirituality and is an activist and ecofeminist expression of Witchcraft and Paganism.” Parma recently relocated to Bali, and is half Balinese. The festival runs from March 19th through the 23rd.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • The always-interesting Norse Mythology Blog, run by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried, is once again up for a religion-category Bloggie in the fourteenth annual Weblog Awards. If the blog wins this year it will, according to Seigfried, “be the first religion blog (on any religion) to be installed in the Weblog Awards Hall of Fame.” Voting is open through Sunday.
  • The 2014 Ostara issue of ACTION, the official newsletter of AREN, is now available. As always, it is chock-full of interesting interviews (plain text version). Featured interviews this time out include Cairril Adaire, Laura Perry, Rufus Brock Maychild, and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus (who talks about Wiccanate privilege, and if it’s a problem). ACTION, as I’ve said many times before, is a quiet gem of a resource, don’t miss out on reading it.
  • Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC, which recently announced that it would be closing its community center space, has made announcements regarding plans for new initiatives moving forward, and the election of new officers to guide the foundation. Quote: “The Open Hearth Foundation Board of Governors has decided to focus the organization’s efforts on building community support and funding for its mission, with the goal of reopening a Pagan lending library within the next two years.”
  • The Temple of Witchcraft in Salem, New Hampshire will be holding a Spring Open House on April 6th. Quote: “On Sunday, April 6, 2014, The Temple of Witchcraft will be opening its doors to the public for our Spring Open House in Salem, New Hampshire. Join us in sharing the magick with coffee, tea, refreshments, and lively company. Curious? Have your questions answered by our knowledgable ministers and learn the facts and fantasy about modern Witches and Witchcraft. Come learn about our various ministries, including our work in Healing, Art, Women’s Spirituality, Grief Support, Prison Ministry, and Rites of Passage.”
  • A Pennsylvania coven fighting to perform legal handfastings, whom I’ve mention before here, has won their struggle to navigate the red tape. I’m glad this has been resolved for them.
  • Cosette writes about an unrepentant Australian Pagan predator in the community. Quote: “In my quest to discover the movers and shakers of the Pagan community in Australia, it was bound to happen that I would eventually stumble upon him. He is a man that everyone talks about through cautious whispers and shameful glances. Nobody says his name. I didn’t know his name until the internet magically revealed it. He’s the Voldemort of Victoria, but worse because he is real. His name is Robin Fletcher.”
  • Challenges for Pagan youth, in their own words. Quote: “I don’t think there is a catch-all solution for providing youth with more resources. Everyone has a different need, style of communication, and a learning pace that we just can’t issue a panacea for. I think the first step is acknowledging that young people are still coming to Paganism and polytheism in droves and that it’s up to us to help meet that demand in whatever ways we can.”
  • Panegyria, the newsletter of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, turns 30 this month. Quote: “For thirty years, Panegyria has aimed at connecting the Pagan communities and individuals in the greater Seattle area. During the early 80’s the scene was filled with a disjointed community consisting of small groups, and scantily published newsletters. Pete “Pathfinder” Davis saw a need for a more comprehensive publication to showcase and bring together the voice of the Seattle-area Pagan community.”

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Awen

It begins like this.

You arrive. You sit down in front of this stranger, and you smile. You ask them how their drive was, and whether traffic was bad. You’re likely to talk about which freeway is crammed, which route they took. This is the ice-break talk.

At some point you look at them and say,

“Ok. Shall we start?”

And you do. It’s a subtle shift. An internal shift. It’s as though your tool of outward listening is inverted; a phase button flipped on the board, and suddenly you’re listening to the wordless sound of your intuition, your heart.

“What do you want to write about?”

This is a simple question, but it’s often overlooked. People make a habit of singing their way into a song, especially those with exceptional voices. Great singers have the hardest time writing good songs, because everything they sing sounds like quality even if it isn’t.

You ask this person what she wants to write, and a small crisis occurs.

Who am I? her expression says.

With as many status updates posted informing the masses of our preferences you’d think we’d each have a better grasp of who we were. But ask this question — What do you want to write about? — during a songwriting session, and you’ll find that the stuff of self-knowing is a mystery to most of us. Even those (perhaps especially those) in search of fame.

Often it is only through your collaborator talking freely about the ordinary aspects of life that you are able to understand who she is, what she’s interested in, what kind of language she uses. She might say something like,

“I never thought much about God.”

Or,

“Heaven is a lie, but I believed it.”

Or,

“I didn’t think twice. I just told him it was over.”

During this first conversation, which might take you and your collaborator fifteen minutes or an hour depending on her openness, your patience, and the presence of Awen between you, you establish a base for your song. The first words form a kind of topographical map, and your work then becomes the walking of invisible trails and the describing of what you see.

“You never thought much about God. Why? Were you angry at God?”

“No. I just had better things to do.”

And just like that, the song explodes in a new direction.

It isn’t a planned demolition; it’s more a trip wire on the dance floor. The bomb goes off and the walls come down, and everything she’d built to protect herself from the truth disappears in an instant. In a vulnerable moment she became honest with you, and her honesty allowed you to get a glimpse of the Awen. The song, then, becomes the vehicle for communicating the truth as it presents itself in her life.

A song is little more than a conversation between the songwriter and the listener. The more honest the songwriter can be about her truth, the more deeply the words will connect with the listener. A song can be a testimonial, a sermon, a proclamation, a confession, or a plea, but a song is never a monologue. There is always the listener, and though the listener may not be able to communicate directly with the songwriter she is processing what she hears; translating it, transmuting it, absorbing it, becoming it or rejecting it. As the songwriter has undergone a personal transformation in the process of writing the song, so, too, will the listener undergo a similar process when she hears the final work. The more raw the former, the more impactful the latter.

The writing of a song may take hours or it may take no time at all. There is no formula (in spite of what Cerridwen’s myths may say). As mentioned above, Awen plays an essential role in the process, and it is best that at least one of the collaborators is attentive to its subtle movement should you wish to get at something true and lasting in your work.

500px-Awen_symbol_final.svgAwen — a Welsh word for “poetic inspiration” and a fundamental component of many forms of Druidry — is real. It is the creative force that moves through a writer, a bard, a singer, or a poet. It is ever-present, though often undetected. It is beyond the reach of the impatient, and unknown to those who are resistant to stillness and quiet. The work of the bard is to create the space within herself through which the Awen can move, and then, when it does, to move with it as gracefully as she can.

This process of writing is not calculated, or drafted, or hammered out in some laborious process. The words are received. One writes through the Awen. It flows and caresses its way into being, and in its becoming — through the magic of its unfolding — the writer experiences a sensation that is a little bit like love.

Love envelops. Love soothes. Love is relentless in its honesty.

The same can be said for the Awen.

The truth is not often pleasant, but it is always beautiful in its symmetry and form. The making of music, not unlike the fashioning of ritual (or its performance for that matter) is an open invitation into a relationship with that beauty. It is a movement toward mystery, but in the most humble of ways. There is no need for theater, for regalia, for posturing and pretending. All that is needed is honesty, and a willingness to sit with the discomfort that honesty can sometimes bring.

Your ritual with this stranger may have begun with discussion about the traffic on the 405 — a necessary introduction to the ordinary — but it turned into something altogether different. It became a kind of communion with the holy through a deep, inner connection to the Awen within.

You needn’t be a Druid to reach for the spirit of creativity, but doing so might bring you closer to the spirit of Druidry. Or Wicca. Or it may have nothing to do with a particular Pagan tradition. But reaching for the Awen, listening for the Awen, creating a space inside for the movement of the Creative Spirit, will add profound dimension to your life. You may come to understand the act of writing as a process which teaches you about the art of being human. Or you may write a hit song. Or you may do both.

But the point is not to create some specific thing. The outcome is always secondary to the process, for it is within the process of creation that you come to better understand yourself and your purpose. It is through the act of creation that you expand into greater fullness as a human being.

So you say goodbye to your writing partner, both of you changed in unexpected ways, and you head toward your rental car. You turn on the radio to check the traffic, and you leave behind the heavy work of creation.

At some point down the road it will begin again.

 

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To read more about my thoughts on songwriting, creativity, and Druidry, pre-order your copy of the upcoming Witches and Pagans magazine, in which I’m interviewed by T. Thorn Coyle.

A quote:

“Spirituality and religion can become dominated by all kinds of rules and restrictions, and so can music for that matter. But the breath and the voice can operate independently of those rules. To sing can be to abide by one’s own rules, to re-write them, or to abandon structure altogether.”

Get your copy here.

Photo by Simon Webster

With the landmark Supreme Court hearings this week on the issue of marriage equality, cases that could potentially make sweeping sweeping changes regarding the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, national Pagan organizations are stepping forward to reiterate their ongoing support. We’ve already seen the active involvement of Selena Fox, founder and co-executive director of Circle Sanctuary, and now two more organizations, Covenant of the Goddess and Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, have expressed their solidarity and wish for equal rights (and rites).

Covenant of the Goddess (COG), one of the oldest and largest Wiccan/Witchcraft advocacy organizations in the United States, posted a short media statement to their National Public Information Officer’s blog.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

“The Covenant of the Goddess, a 38-year old Witch and Wiccan advocacy organization, extends its support to the entire LGBT community in its struggle for marriage equality within our country. We respect the diversity of religious thought even when it’s divergent from our own. As such, we support the legalization of civil marriages with all the associated civil benefits. Religious ceremony and choice should remain a private matter. While this issue is debated in our country’s highest court, we will continue to hold space with our own LGBT members and their families.”

Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), the largest Pagan Druid organization in the United States, also released a statement yesterday noting their historical support for inclusiveness and equal rights.

Current and former ArchDruids of ADF at a Clergy Retreat.

Current and former ArchDruids of ADF at a Clergy Retreat.

“Since our founding, Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) has championed inclusiveness in our rituals and in our church. Our Constitution has long forbidden discrimination on the basis of race, ancestry, color, physical disability, age, gender, or affectional orientation. And we all stand together in affirming this basic principle.

As such we support not only our LGBTQ members, but all of our members, in knowing that they stand equally before the Gods and Spirits, in fellowship with each other and in equal reciprocity with us all.

We pray that the  Justices of the US Supreme Court will be granted the wisdom and understanding that they will need to perform their duties.  ADF also calls upon all its members to live by our virtues in opposing discrimination, and to do what is right to effect positive change in our lives.”

In addition to those organization’s official statements, prominent Pagans within our community have been stepping forward to make their own views heard. Church of All Worlds (CAW) co-founder Oberon Zell in a statement sent out to supporters via email said that, quote, “I am a member of a religion (Pagan) which strongly feels that people should be able to love and marry whomsoever they choose.” Zell went on to say that “it should be evident to all (as it is to opponents of marriage equality) that laws governing the structure of marriage are in fact, RELIGIOUS laws intended to establish the predominance of a particular faith, and “prohibit the free exercise” of other faiths. And therefore any such laws are ipso facto unconstitutional.”

T. Thorn Coyle, author, teacher, and co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, at her personal blog, advocates for societal changes far more sweeping than same-sex marriage.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“I stand for love, yet haven’t joined in very active support of what some people call “gay marriage” or others call equal rights because the struggle feels much, much larger. Fighting for the rights of my gay and lesbian friends to marry is on one hand a wonderful thing. I am for people making commitments and sacred bonds to one another. I am for all citizens of a country actually having equal rights under the law. To give one set of citizens rights denied to another set is illegal and unjust. However, for me, allowing two men or two women to marry one another just isn’t enough. It isn’t the sort of equality I really want. I’m more queer than that, and more of an anarchist, of course.  I desire equity far more pluralistic than the simple replication of a state sanctioned nuclear family.

What right does government have to tell us what sorts of relationships are important to us, or what sorts of families we can build and grow together? We cannot build the society I want for us all – a society of comrades and friends, who care for one another’s children, who wipe away the tears of a friend we’ve had for 30 years, who share food and housing when times are tough or when times are very good – we cannot build this when we are intent upon saying that love is only important, and only has rights, when shared between two people.

Love is greater than that. We are greater than that. I firmly trust that we can work out how to love and whom to commit to on our own. If we want to write up contracts saying that the children of our best friend of 40 years can inherit our home when we die, we should have the right to do so. If we want our girlfriend at our bedside in ICU, that should also be allowed.”

This is, I anticipate, just the beginning of Pagan expressions on this issue as we await the rulings on DOMA and Prop. 8 in June. For my own views, and a wrap-up of coverage to date, see yesterday’s post. We here at The Wild Hunt will be highlighting special coverage and voices on this issue as we head towards the Summer.

I’d like to introduce you to Duncan Lawrence, a five-year old Georgia native and son of a well-respected local Druid elder. In 2007 Duncan was born 16 weeks premature at 1 lb. 7 oz. and 12.25 inches. The doctors told his parents, Tom and Amanda Lawrence, that Duncan would most likely be blind, tube-fed, wheel-chair bound and uncommunicative. Over the past five years, Duncan has proven them all wrong. Today he is walking with assistance, reading and attending kindergarten. Due to his enormous success and personal drive, Duncan has been chosen to be the North Georgia March of Dimes’ Regional Ambassador for 2013.

Duncan and Tom Lawrence, February 2013

Duncan and Tom Lawrence, February 2013

Over time Tom and Amanda have learned to adapt to a life with a special-needs child. According to the CDC “nearly half a million babies in the United States” each year are born prematurely or before 37 weeks of gestation. That number calculates to about 1 in every 9. The earlier the baby is born, the more severe the potential for permanent damage. Duncan is affected with severe visual impairment, hydrocephalus, and spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy.

Sometimes when we are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, we find a deeper understanding or develop a new connection to our spirituality. Since Duncan’s birth, Tom has done just this.  He is a Druid Elder of Old Stone Grove practicing the Keltoi Tradition and also the co-founder of Misty Mountain Grove. In order to strengthen himself and help his son achieve, Tom regularly draws from the wisdom found within these Druidic teachings. He said:

Druidism places a tremendous amount of emphasis on personal responsibility and carries the old Celtic belief that everyone is better than his or her birth. In other words, not only can you improve yourself, but you are obligated to; so some of the first lessons we are taught are “be, do not become” and “do, do not try.”  Our teaching methods are not methodical, but instead they are experiential. Rather than tell [students] “here is how you do this thing and here is what it means,” we will give [them] a tool or a concept, point them in a general direction, and tell them to see what they can do. Then we help [the students] process what they experience. In this way students teach themselves through a path of self-discovery. 

How does this particular world view apply to Duncan?  In short, he can do anything he wants if we give him the tools to do it, and therefore he should. Nothing is impossible if we keep providing him… opportunities to self-discover, learn, and grow. 

With his parents’ dedication, Duncan has grown into a bright and energetic child with a dynamic sense of humor. He loves dinosaurs, reading, the mountains, and the beach.  He is fond of world music, particularly the sounds of the didgeridoo. For fun and therapy, Duncan rides horses and hopes to become a cowboy when he grows up.

But for now he’ll have to be satisfied with leading the Walk for Babies on April 12th through the North Georgia Mountains as the March of Dimes’ Regional Ambassador. Tom said,

Since Duncan’s survival was due in large part to advances and research by the March of Dimes, [we have] participated in the annual March for Babies since Duncan’s first birthday. Each year Team Duncan gets a little bigger and does a little better…Team Duncan is doing its best to make as big a noise a possible

Over the past four years, Team Duncan has raised about $13,000 for the organization. To help with this year’s fundraising drive, Tom tried something new.  He created a Team Duncan training video for their March for Babies pledge page.  “I just figured [that my friends] would get a kick out of it and maybe a few would contribute,” he said.

Tom decided to post Duncan’s video to the forums on the North American Scottish Games Athletics (NASGA) website. He is an amateur competitor who frequents the site to engage with other athletes.  Completely unexpectedly, Tom’s video went viral.  Highland Athlete Duncan McCallum  has uploaded his own video call-to-action:

In addition, the North Texas Kick-Off Games professional and amateur athletes created and posted their own support video:

Tom remarked, “The Highland Athletics community is extraordinarily supportive and friendly.  We’re all family men and women and everyone wants everyone else to do well.  It’s a small enough niche sport that the sense of tribe outweighs the sense of competitive rivalry.”

Thus far little Duncan Lawrence has achieved so much; overcoming more obstacles in his five years than many do in fifty.  Although he may not understand the Druid notion that we are “better than our birth,” Duncan truly embodies it. He is very lucky to have parents who nurture his success in whatever form it might take. Tom said:

The Druid world view … teaches great patience. My peers joke that I move at “tree speed”, but it pays off. It took Duncan almost a year to lift his head, but he did it. He was four before he learned to walk with an apparatus, but he did it… He’s going through a natural process to get there. It just takes time and hard work. We believe that he has a right to live and to succeed and that all he needs are the opportunities and the tools. Strong trees don’t grow overnight.

The Team Duncan video is now making its way around the Pagan community warming hearts and lifting spirits as it goes. Watching a child succeed beyond expectation can engulf the spirit in pure and trans-formative joy.  It is the gift  he gives to us. That begs the question: who really is the lucky one?  Duncan or us?

Duncan and Tom Lawrence

Duncan and Tom Lawrence

As we reach the close of 2012, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. The John Friend Scandal: Since the beginning of 2012 I’ve been keeping a close eye on the fall of John Friend, founder of the Anusara yoga school, since allegations emerged of sexual, legal, and fiscal improprieties. Of those improprieties was the allegation that Friend ran a Wiccan coven, named the “Blazing Solar Flames,” as a pretext for sexual liaisons with Anusara students.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

John wanted us to do the ritual in sexy underwear and kiss each other on the mouth, tongue-y kissing,” said ‘Melissa,’ a former member of the coven who asked that her real name not be used. […]  Friend suggested to the other coven members that sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy, according to Melissa. “It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” Melissa told The Daily Beast, but she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice,” she said.

Friend would go on to assert that he takes Wicca “really seriously,” and that he has “taken Wiccan oaths over the years where death is actually the consequence of telling the truth.”  This scandal is important for our communities not only because Friend claims Anusara yoga is “a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level,” but because this scandal should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, an opportunity to engage with myths versus the reality of how our traditions work. As other, more noxious cases of abuse done in the name of Paganism emerge, the need for a more proactive approach to these incidents seems clear.

09. Transgender Inclusion In Modern Paganism: For two years running, the issue of gender, and transgender inclusion in designated women-only spaces, has sparked debate, protest, and remarkable shifts within the Pagan community. The events at this year’s PantheaCon, where debate, protest, and controversy emerged around a scheduled “genetic women only” ritual led by Dianic elder Z. Budapest in part led to one Dianic group removing themselves from Budapest’s lineage, and PantheaCon changing its policy regarding limited-access events. However, this issue was not isolated to events at PantheaCon in San Jose, California, as transgender inclusion became a hot topic at Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois as well. That instance led to a historic press conference where prominent Dianic High Priestess Ruth Barrett acknowledged the womanhood of  transgendered activist Melissa Murry.

barrett murray

“Both women said the transgender community is trying to find their voice, similar to the feminist movement in the 60′s and 70′s.   Like the feminist movement, they speak of suffering, pain, and violence.  Murry and Barrett also spoke of the value in claiming mysteries and rituals specific to their sacred journey as women.  “Within my Tradition, which is about the female body and the journey of being born female and the journey through the bloods and birth and menopause,” said Barrett.  “That is a different journey for transgendered women who come to womanhood through a different path.”

What we are witnessing, in real-time, is change happening. A realignment and reconsideration of gender both within and outside a Dianic context that seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago. No doubt there will be further debate and analysis related to this issue, but I think the shifts seen in 2012 are a predictor for future changes in how modern Paganism thinks about, and engages with, gender identity.

08. Cherry Hill Seminary and CHS Graduate Achieve Major Milestones: While there are many Pagan learning institutions Cherry Hill Seminary is reaching farther than most, working towards accreditation as a seminary for Pagan clergy. This year two important milestones in their journey were accomplished: the awarding of its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, and graduate, Sandra Lee Harris having her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This not only frees Harris to her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain but, in the words of David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, “the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.”

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

“The courses credited toward the first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling from Cherry Hill Seminary are shown to parallel those of degrees from two accredited seminaries, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Tyndale Seminary, when religion-specific requirements for Bible and Christian history studies are replaced by Pagan studies and personal spiritual formation is based on the stated mission values of Cherry Hill Seminary rather than the teachings of Jesus. Further analysis, given similar accommodation, suggests that the Cherry Hill Seminary curriculum in Pagan Pastoral Counseling could satisfy the accreditation requirements of the Association of Theological Schools.” – Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

As the Wild Hunt’s Heather Greene noted, “these advancements indicate a shift in society towards genuine respect for alternative religions within the professional world.” Meanwhile, 2013 is shaping up to be a notable year for CHS as well, with their upcoming partnership with The University of South Carolina  for the “Sacred Lands and and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium.

07. Druid liturgy in Paralympics Closing: One unexpected highlight of 2012 was the inclusion of Druid liturgy in the London 2012 Paralympic Games closing ceremony.  Alongside performances by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Coldplay artistic director Kim Gavin, Music Director David Arnold and Designer Misty Buckley showcased a seasonal theme which “took the audience on a journey through Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer.” Part of the seasonal-themed closing ceremony, spoken by Rory Mackenzie, a representative from Help For Heroes, was in fact written by Druids from the British Druid Order (BDO).

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

“We were sworn to secrecy beforehand, but Emma Restall Orr and I [Greywolf] were approached by the organisers of the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony with a surprising request. They wanted our permission to use parts of the gorsedd ritual we wrote in 1997. So, about 20 minutes into the ceremony, these words went out to 750 million people around the world,”

Philip Shallcrass (aka Greywolf), Chief of the British Druid Order, says that the original ritual was written to bring people from different backgrounds and faiths together, so “its use in the Paralympics closing ceremony seems perfectly in keeping with this original intention.” While the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony featured brief hints of Britain’s pre-Christian past, it featured no explicit contribution from the vital Pagan threads that exist in the United Kingdom, a nation that has played a huge role in the revival of Pagan religions. So it seems fitting that the last closing ceremony in London, for the Paralympic games, would explicitly reference modern Pagan contributions to British culture.

06. A Major Setback For The Maetreum of Cybele:  Earlier this yeear I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“We are now at risk of losing our property to back taxes under a corrupt local system that does not allow for payment plans, installment payments or anything other than immediate payment in full. We are a poor order and spent all our money fighting the Town of Catskill in court. Currently four women live at the Maetreum who would be homeless otherwise. We need to take the battle to Federal court at this point and we need help in doing so. We need to raise the back taxes just to hold on to our property and continue our work.” – The Maetreum of Cybele

The Maetreum is about to launch an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to save their building, and hopefully further pursue their legal case against the town of Catskill. We will keep you posted as this story continues to develop in 2013. I personally don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met.  We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate)  I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.”

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2012. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. The Religion Newswriters Association top 10 religion stories of 2012, HuffPo Religion’s top 10 religion stories of 2012, and 13 religion stories that went missing in 2012 from  Religion Dispatches.

Solitary Druid Fellowship Header

The Solitary Druid Fellowship (SDF), an extension of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), was launched last week at SolitaryDruid.org. The Fellowship released the first SDF shared liturgy on December 17th, just in time for the Winter Solstice.

To get a sense of what the Fellowship is, and how it fits into the broader world of Neopagan Druidry, we need to first take a closer look at how ADF functions.

ADF is in large part an organization built to encourage the practice of group worship. ADF members gather in Protogroves and Groves, celebrating the High Days together and building a religious practice in the company of other ADF members. Those who take part in group worship on a regular basis have experiences of congregation, and this experience can be tremendously valuable.

But ADF solitaries, or solitaries in general, rarely experience congregation in this way. Our religious work is done without the immediate feedback of a community. And while this independence can be empowering to some of us, it can also be quite challenging. Whether we are solitary by choice or by circumstance, our task is to keep our personal practice relevant, interesting, and sustainable throughout the year.

We are monks without monasteries.

ADF solitaries do have ways of connecting to the broader ADF membership body. ADF uses an e-mail listserv as the primary means of communication within the organization, but for many of us – myself included – the format feels antiquated and cumbersome. Social networking on Facebook and Twitter is available, but only slightly better.

However, none of these forms of online interaction provide solitaries with what I think is a more interesting, more esoteric form of connection.

The Development of A Shared Practice

Liturgy is an underutilized tool in the service to solitaries. Liturgy, when organized around and synchronized with the Wheel of the Year, provides a way for uniting solitaries in a shared practice that does not simply approximate the experience that one can have in a Protogrove or Grove; it does something altogether different.

By joining one another in a shared liturgical practice, we make possible a transcendental experience of congregation. The one becomes the many, and we experience congregation in solitude.

This is where SDF enters in.

SDF Logo

The Fellowship is organized to provide solitary Druids, as well as any solitary practitioner in the general public, with an opportunity to engage more deeply with their ritual practice by adopting a shared liturgical form. This form is unique to the Fellowship, just as the rituals designed within ADF Protogroves and Groves are unique to them.

The shared liturgical practice is also a work in progress, fashioned to be revised and reshaped, used and repurposed by anyone who downloads the ritual (which is free). It it protected under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License, and there is the expectation that participants will – should – customize the liturgy to suit their needs. In time, it will become clear which parts of the liturgy are most useful to solitaries, and how the language can be refined.

From High Day to High Day, SDF will seek to help transition ADF solitary members and non-member participants through the changing seasons (which, admittedly, gets tricky when considering both hemispheres). On the week of the High Day, SDF distributes the shared liturgy (as it did on Monday), and solitaries can celebrate the High Day in solitude. On the following week, participants will be called upon to reflect on their experiences of shared, solitary worship, and the cycle begins again as we move toward the next High Day.

By taking part in this communal, albeit private practice, participants join one another in a kind of long distance fellowship; in a shared celebration of the gods, the ancestors, and the spirits of the land on which we each live, using many of the same words, invocations, and prayers.

All of this through liturgy.

Why SDF is Not An “Online Community”

It should be made clear that what is happening with the Solitary Druid Fellowship is not some kind of virtual experience. That word characterized much of the “cyberspace” gathering that took place in the 90’s and early 00’s, and it lessens the magnitude of the work done in solitude by painting it as merely a digital imitation of a “real world” format.

The Solitary Druid Fellowship is offering something altogether different. It will provide a service which is meant to enrich, inform and provide structure for the work of solitary ADF members, and solitary Pagans who have never been exposed to ADF. In this way, the Fellowship is living out Isaac Bonewits’ vision for ADF to be a Pagan church that serves the greater Pagan public.

From the SDF blog:

 

The Solitary Druid Fellowship is not an “online community”, nor is it a “virtual grove”. These terms, and any which place an on-ground phenomenon firmly on the Internet, do not describe the work we’re embarking on here.

What we are doing is an exercise in hybridity.

The Fellowship utilizes the Internet as a means for organization, and as a method for distribution of ideas and liturgy. But aside from those things, the Fellowship is an on-ground organization; it’s simply on a number of different grounds, spread out far and wide across the land. The Fellowship is centered around the work of the individual solitary Pagan. This work, while connected in part to the resources provided on SolitaryDruid.org, is done away from a computer within the sacred space of one’s own ritual practice.

 

SDF also provides a resource to members of Groves and Protogroves who find themselves in a place of solitude. As written by ADF Reverend Michael J. Dangler:

 

I have been quoted more than once as saying, “The fire on our hearth is the fire in our hearts.” The notion that I’m always trying to convey with this idea is that though many of us have the option to find community and to worship in groups, each of us must also keep the fire of piety burning within us.

But the two fires are not exactly the same: the fire at the center of our community is a flame that is kindled when others are near. It’s our public fire, the flame that ignites fellowship and community. The fire at the center of our heart is the flame that ignites (diversity) and piety, pushing us to deepen our work for our own sake, and for the sake of the Spirits.

The true secret of these flames is that the fire in our heart is the source of the flame that kindles our communal fires. We must keep it well, or the communal fire will never seem as bright as they should.

What SDF Very Much Is

The Fellowship is an experiment in Pagan liturgy, a leap into an uncertain, but thoroughly exciting future, and a chance for solitaries to participate in something that is both completely new and also very traditional. It is taking the best parts of the liturgical approach and mashing them together with the best parts of modern Druidry. It is imperfect, and evolving, but it is sincere.

Perhaps the best way to understand what the Solitary Druid Fellowship offers is to visit SolitaryDruid.org, browse through the blog, and download the SDF Winter Solstice liturgy. If you feel so moved, join along in the shared practice on the Solstice.

You may just have the transcendental experience of congregation in solitude!

The London 2012 Paralympic Games closed on Sunday, featuring a performance by Jay-Z, Rihanna and Coldplay. Artistic director Kim Gavin, Music Director David Arnold and Designer Misty Buckley showcased a seasonal theme for the closing ceremony which “took the audience on a journey through Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer.”

Part of the seasonal-themed closing ceremony, spoken by Rory Mackenzie, a representative from Help For Heroes, was in fact written by Druids from the British Druid Order (BDO).

“We were sworn to secrecy beforehand, but Emma Restall Orr and I [Greywolf] were approached by the organisers of the 2012 Paralympics closing ceremony with a surprising request. They wanted our permission to use parts of the gorsedd ritual we wrote in 1997. So, about 20 minutes into the ceremony, these words went out to 750 million people around the world,”

Philip Shallcrass (aka Greywolf), Chief of the British Druid Order, says that the original ritual was written to bring people from different backgrounds and faiths together, so “its use in the Paralympics closing ceremony seems perfectly in keeping with this original intention.” While the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony featured brief hints of Britain’s pre-Christian past, it featured no explicit contribution from the vital Pagan threads that exist in the United Kingdom, a nation that has played a huge role in the revival of Pagan religions. So it seems fitting that the last closing ceremony in London, for the Paralympic games, would explicitly reference modern Pagan contributions to British culture. Here’s a brief excerpt of the Druid liturgy used during the closing ceremony.

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie at the Paralympics closing ceremony.

The circle is unbroken,
The ancestors awoken.
May the songs of the Earth
and of her people ring true.
Hail to the Festival of the flame
of root and branch, tooth and claw,
fur and feather, of earth and sea and sky.

You can read all of the words used in the ceremony at the British Druid Order’s website.

Emma Restall Orr, author of “Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics”, in addition to co-authoring the ritual used by the Paralympics also founded The Druid Network which recently won religious charity status in the UK, the first Druid group to do so. So it seems fitting that she would also have a hand in this groundbreaking moment for British Druids as well. With this celebration, if you take the Olympics opening and the Paralympics closing ceremonies as one long thematic sweep, it tells the tale of Britain from its earliest days through its progress and challenges, and back to the basics of acknowledging that land’s spirit and the contributions of its reborn Pagans.  A fitting tribute to the amazing athletes at the Paralympics, the pagan origins of the Olympic games, and a pluralistic future where we all have a hand in shaping what is to come.

My thanks to Thorn for tipping me off to this story.

[The following is a guest post from Mark Carter. Mark Carter lives, works, and writes in his home town of Bloomington, IL. His works have appeared in The Druid Missal-Any, The Pagan Writer’s Press Yule anthology, and Examiner.com. “Stalking The Goddess” is his first book.]

A few weeks ago I mailed Jason Pitzl-Waters a review copy of my newly released book, “Stalking The Goddess”. I wasn’t sure if it was the sort of thing he’d cover at The Wild Hunt. After all, my book is a study of Robert Graves’s “The White Goddess”, a book which is now 64 years old. This isn’t exactly the sort of current events TWH usually addresses, and I wondered if “Stalking The Goddess” would find an audience with tech-savy Pagans accustomed to gleaning their paganism online rather than from dusty books of their parents’ generation. Could the ghosts of Robert Graves, Gerald Gardner, Margaret Murray, and Sir James Frazer be summoned up one more time, and if they could, did they have anything left to say?

However, TWH was one of the few pagan blogs I visited regularly and, from his occasional references to Graves’s work, I suspected my book would interest him. Jason had once called The White Goddess “Robert Graves’ most controversial book”, reported on suspicions that Graves had stole the book’s thesis from his longtime lover and collaborator, Laura Riding, and even caught Tori Amos’s references to “The White Goddess” on her Night of the Hunters album. The White Goddess still appears in recommended reading lists on various Pagan websites (including Patheos columnist Carl McColman’s 2009 article) and its contributions to Paganism still inspire heated debate. The book has never gone out of print since its initial publication in 1948 and the newest edition, edited by poet and Times Literary Supplement critic Grevel Lindop, is highly recommended. I’ve subscribed to Google Alerts for the search terms “white goddess”, “Robert Graves poet”, and “ogham” and I receive notifications of newly posted material daily.

So, perhaps I had worried for nothing. Perhaps a study of The White Goddess from a pagan perspective isn’t just mildly interesting, but long overdue. As spiritual traditions go, modern paganism is a new phenomenon, but it’s already undergone several phases before developing a self-awareness of its history. The usual reductive formula is Margaret Murray, Robert Graves, and Gerald Gardner; followed by all of those who were directly or indirectly inspired by Gardner. (Doreen Valiente, Ray Buckland, and Alex Sanders are the big players here.) Up to this point, two assumptions were almost always taken for granted: that “paganism” means primarily witchcraft or Wicca, and that Wicca derives from Celtic sources. The 70s brought an explosion of both good and bad books which challenged the assumptions but also muddied the waters of history. It’s not until Adler’s “Drawing Down The Moon” that paganism asks “where did we come from” and “where are we going”? Over the last three decades the above assumptions have been refuted, disproved, and frequently ignored by the glut of Wicca 101 books of the 80s and 90s. The question of how this formula and its assumptions developed is seldom asked. The answers are often found in Graves’s works, and Stalking The Goddess is my attempt to uncover them.

Graves had two passions, literature and history, and he merged them in The White Goddess. The White Goddess speculates upon how druid beliefs might have survived long enough to influence literature and asked how we might recover them. Because of this, most of Graves’s contributions to paganism derive from literature rather than authentic folklore. By scouring old Celtic histories Graves revived a century old debate between Celtic mystics and mainstream historians over the possibility of Druidism’s survival. The White Goddess was the last of the “druidic revival” literature to flaunt conjectures without evidence.

Robert Graves was the inheritor of a long line of forgotten (and dubious) Celtic revivalists like Iolo Morganwg, Edward Davies, and Lewis Spence. He blew the dust off of obscure texts like the Four Ancient Books of Wales and the Myvyrian Archaiology. I suspect the transformation of Ogham from an obscure Irish alphabet to a full blown Celtic tree zodiac is entirely Graves’s doing. If any of these things sound familiar, it’s because Graves rescued them from obscurity and linked them to the coming Pagan movement. Like magic itself, The White Goddess transcends time. It allows readers to apply ancient pagan spirituality to their own future. By merging pagan poetry with pagan history Graves reveals the lost glamor of druidism and medieval mysticism and inspires others to reclaim them for the modern world.

The down side to all this is that paganism received these things almost exclusively through Graves’s personal interpretations rather than as objective history. The Pagan community has been reacting (often times unconsciously) to his claims ever since, and it seems the difference between modern Witches and Druids is whether or not they embrace or reject The White Goddess. “Stalking The Goddess” explores how Graves did all this, who inspired him, who he later inspired, and alternative interpretations of the sources he used. Rather than offering “Stalking The Goddess” as the last word on the subject, I hope it inspires a fresh debate.