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The Weaving Follow-Up: Where Do We Go From Here?

So we completed our second annual Weaving ritual this past weekend. I have to say, I am totally amazed at the sense of community and connection that we were able to create. I don’t believe I have ever been in a circle with 30 people without detecting a single current of conflict. There was a real sense of peace in our circle. Everyone’s needs were met. And we all sat around the fire in perfect equality, sharing our impressions and insights from the rite. We talked about the community and the next generation and a vision began to come. And that is what this ritual was all about.

Next year we will change the format a bit. The second round will not be a free-for-all drum circle. It will focus on prayer, divination and maybe some priestess will be an oracle for us. It was too much to shift gears from deep quiet trance to active outward movement. We will take it more slowly next time around. Third time’s a charm as they say.

One criticism I have is this. We need to stop bashing the Christian faith. There were a lot of open negative comments about Christianity that were said around the fire. I know many of us are still reeling with the wounds we received from that religion. But do we want to have this negativity as part of our sacred community rituals? Let’s all try to keep the comments focused on our own works, our own faiths, and our own community. There are scary screwed up people in every religion. I still encounter Pagans who are focused on ritual magick and summoning demons to do their bidding. We hope they aren’t the face of Paganism. And I meet Christians who just shudder at the fundamentalists and the bigots in their own religious community. These Christians are people of deep religious experience. They are Christian because they experienced the spirit of Christ. So let’s not go down that road anymore. Let’s work on building our own traditions and let their beauty and deep communion with the divine in Nature echo out to the world.

To dive into that image, I have been carrying this vision around for a while. I have talked about it with many of you but I want to bring it forward to get the community talking about. My vision is one of building a strong Maine Pagan tradition to carry us through our lives and to pass onto the next generation. We have had to create everything from scratch – sometimes with beautiful inspired results, sometime with a complete flop. I hope we can leave a foundation of community rituals and strong priesthood-level training opportunities for the next generation, something more tangible than what we all started with. And to that end, we have already made great strides.

Beltane on the Beach just celebrated its 30th year! That is remarkable. I have no doubt the Weaving will continue. Someday there will be Pagans dancing the 300th year at Beltane, and we will be the ancestors they call to come dance with them. To keep that connection strong, I think it would serve the community well to have four seasonal rites to balance these two. We could use winter and summer rites to bring our community together. I already have thoughts around these. But I think it would be awesome for the community to dream up these rites together. It takes individuals to put out ideas and to try things out. So to that end, here are my thoughts.

Winter in Maine is dark, cold and long. What serves us well in these long months is family and community. What did our ancestors do during these months to sustain themselves? They had incredibly strong traditions for music and storytelling. So I am thinking a Gorsedd (a Gorsedd is the coming together of bards to share). We could wrap this rite in rich sacred space. We could make it very special. The passing of the mead horn would be a part of it. And for those of us who are not bards, we hold witness and simply take in the inspiration. Bardic craft is about reaching deep into relationship to find inspiration. And then in honor of that inspiration flowing from the muse, gift it back to the world. I think a winter rite of this nature would serve the community well.

The second rite I have brewing in my mind is for the Lughnasadh timeframe. We had a Stone Spiral rite this past weekend as well. It was a long intense night of working with fire, a vigil, and finally a sunrise rebirthing rite of walking into a stone spiral to dive into the cauldron at the center. It was exquisite and very powerful. I would like to build on this and make it a stand-alone weekend. There was other work I had intended but simply forgot or wasn’t organized enough to add. Dedicating time and energy to this rite is again something I think would serve the community well.

These are my thoughts about ways to hold our community close to us and to craft something of lasting value for those Maine Pagans yet to come. I am not wed to these being the community rites we put into place. They are just ideas being thrown into the cauldron. Let’s hear your thoughts!

Finally, I had the great pleasure of meeting a young man this past weekend raised in a Pagan tradition. It was deeply inspiring to see someone who wasn’t healing from being brought up in a religion that didn’t serve them well. He seems whole, connected to the Earth, and with a true understanding of sacred relationship. I have great hope for future generations of Pagans. I send a special thank you to all you Pagan parents who have shared your religious ideals with your children, acknowledging their experiences of the divine in Nature.

Blessings of the harvest,
Snowhawke /|\

Defining “Pagan”: Coming Together as a Community

Within Paganism we have a seemingly endless list of traditions – and within those traditions, endless variation of practices. Paganism is a living dynamic spiritual path and this can make it very challenging to craft a definition of Paganism people can agree on. Many pagans would even challenge the idea that we need a definition. But I think we can craft a definition and that there is value in doing so. So here goes…

Why bother?

In my work as a priest I have been deeply involved in Pagan prison ministry. Over the past decade, I have written hundreds of pagans in prisons across the country. While some states are much more supportive than others, there is a definite prejudice against pagans of all traditions in our prison system. I hear the same stories of blatant discrimination over and over again. While it is no easy thing to be a Christian, Jew or Muslim in prison, it is doubly difficult if you are Pagan.  Pagans are routinely refused a place of worship, the ability to gather as a group, allotted time slots for gathering, books, materials, visitors, and the right to wear a necklace or symbol from their tradition. There is an ongoing struggle for Paganism to find legitimacy in this country. This is especially apparent within the US prison system.

The purpose of this article however is not the issue of pagan prison ministry. I use it as an example of consequence. It is the consequence of our disconnection as a religious community.  Most institutions have little to no knowledge of paganism, especially given our many traditions and the solitary nature of the majority of pagans. We are an unknown. And the consequence of being unknown is very apparent when we try to exercise our religious traditions within established institutions: national, state and local.

What continually affects the few, eventually affects the many. I still see people in this country hiding their pagan beliefs out of fear. I hope that as a community, we can evolve past this. There is strength in numbers and it is important that Pagans of all traditions come together as a whole and help assure our religious freedoms are being respected.

As part of the Maine Pagan Clergy Association, I know from experience that getting people from our many traditions to agree on a definition of “paganism” is a real challenge. While I may have a completely different theological view of paganism than other pagans, I think we can find common bonds and core principles that we embrace in our spiritual life. I think we can all agree on the following:

1. All of Nature is sacred

2. We seek direct relationship and communion with the Divine

3. Self-responsibility and living with honor are at the core of our pagan values

In my definition of Pagan, the community expands greatly. I see Hinduism, Taoism, Shinto, Santeria, basically all nature-based indigenous religions around the globe sharing these common ideals. I see these as great pagan traditions. And I think it good to have an expansive rather than limiting view of Paganism. I think reaching for the common ground is much more effective than emphasizing the differences.

When I work within the prison system, I don’t feel any need to explain the principles of Druidry to people. I say I am a pagan and then if there is sufficient interest, I may go deeper. But I always go back to these three core ideals and it usually suffices. I think most people can identify with them. They aren’t hidden, occult, mysterious or dangerous. And while I could write an entire book on the nature of each ideal, they really don’t require much in the way of further explanation to give someone an idea of where I am coming from.

We all have aspects in our traditions and practices that are unique. And I think this very beautiful and powerful. But the differences are often used to draw divisions.

There is inherent disdain within the pagan community for institutions and organizations trying to define Paganism; to speak for the greater community; to make a judgment call on what defines a pagan or which tradition is legitimate. I love that this is the case. Nature isn’t filled with hierarchy and neither should religious traditions based on Nature be so. Our ideal of equality is one that makes paganism work for people. It is a key principle that attracted many us to paganism. My point in this essay isn’t to try to get all pagans involved with prison ministry or greater local, state or national organizations. It is only to get people to embrace the word “Pagan” and to reach for the common ground. If the word “Pagan” brought to the mind of the average American an image or understanding that encompassed the three principles I’ve mentioned, I think would see less discrimination towards pagans within our institutions and within our culture. It would dissipate a lot of the fear people have when they hear the word “pagan.”

Personally, I think one of the core strengths of paganism is the celebration of diversity. Finding a greater umbrella for the outside world is very helpful though, and I am hopeful we can all embrace the label of “Pagan.” Each tradition struggling individually simply isn’t working. I have encountered many prisons where “Wiccans” can have a group but “Druids” can’t. “Druid” groups can gather but “witches” can’t. These labels divide us. And division isn’t helpful. If we all claim the label of Pagan first and then state our tradition, I think this would make a significant difference.  It is my opinion that the common threads can bind us together as a community. If we can make progress here, its reverberations will hum with power and beauty throughout many aspects of our lives as Pagans here in the States.

Peace, beauty and inspiration,

Snowhawke /|\

Ethical Consuming

I have been meditating on the ethics of consuming. We as living beings have to consume to live. It is in our nature to use tools, to feed, to create art, to procreate, to preserve and pass on knowledge to the next generation. We are part of the cycle of life. We consume. It is natural.

That said, as a species, our consuming is creating massive environmental disaster. Currently, the rate of species extinction is 100 – 1000 times higher than what we see in the fossil records. There is no place on Earth where the effect of humans isn’t felt. The human population just keeps growing. In my short life of almost 46 years, the population has doubled! Three and a half billion is now seven billion! And everyone keeps consuming. As I said, it is in our nature to live – and living requires consuming.

So where do we draw the line, ethically speaking, when it comes to consuming? Obviously we can’t continue as we have. Within a few decades we will reach the limits of Mother Earth, and then will come the inevitable collapse (and it will be ugly). So how to live now? What is okay and what is not okay? What is the ethical question we need to ask when we consume? My mentor posed this question: “Would it be okay if everyone was did what I am about to do?”

Think on this in all aspects of your life. What if everyone bought what I am about to buy? What if everyone took out of the environment what I am about to take? One quickly realizes that almost everything we consume is unethical.

So how do we live? That I can’t answer for you. Sometimes I wonder if we should live at all. Obviously Nature cannot support the current population; much less the geometric growth we are achieving. But to me, while I have something to offer, while I can make a difference, living is the ethical choice. When I don’t have these things anymore, it is time to stop living and give my body back to the Earth.

We as a species need to fight our own nature when it comes to consuming and procreation. We can do this. We do this all the time. The sex drive is huge. Do we sleep with anyone who says yes? No, we don’t. We negotiate relationship. Most everyone is monogamous. We control the instinct. So I know we can control the urge to consume. We need to separate need from desire. And the most important place we need to do this is in the desire to have children. There is no need to breed. Giving the current state of our beloved Earth, we have to stop procreating. We can do this consciously or we can let Nature do this cataclysmically. Either way, we will have to lower the population. All ethics aside, we have no choice.

These are heavy truths that most people just do not want to think about. We do everything in this country to avoid talking about it. We still have fertility clinics for people to whom Nature has said, “don’t breed.” And we interfere. We add more people when all over the globe there are millions and millions of children who need a home. We have a cult of life in this country. People spend endless resources to prolong life. This time is paid for by the environment. We fear death so much, we sell off our children’s future to avoid it. It is time for this culture to stop making death the enemy. Death is a friend that allows the cycle of life to continue. I forget who said this but it is so wise: “Life shouldn’t be measured by the length but rather by the breadth.”

Why I am writing this depressing stuff? What does this have to do with Druidry? For me it has everything to do with my spiritual life. Learning to live in sacred relationship to the Earth is what this is all about. And the Earth is telling me something. I think we as Pagans can lead the culture in establishing a new paradigm where we walk within the bounds of Nature; considering our actions; considering the future generations; working to restore the ecosystems; ending consumerism; and honoring all aspects of Nature as sacred (especially the importance of death which is currently the enemy of the cult of life). We can do this. We as people whose entire religion is based in Nature, should lead the way forward. If we don’t, who will?

Blessings of peace and simplicity,
Snowhawke /|\

Freedom in the Darkness

In many pagan traditions, Samhain is the New Year. In my own tradition of Druidry, this is not the case. As Druidry is a religion of Nature, all our holidays are but a time to gather to honor its tides, and the flow of the seasons. And our holidays reflect what is happening in the landscape. They are designed to bring us into a more conscious awareness of the cycles of change that are happening all around us in Nature.

For the druid, the new cycle of growth begins at Yule with the return sun at the Winter Solstice. The days begin to lengthen and we are infused with hope for a new cycle of growth. The long darkness begins to abate. Yes a long Winter is still ahead but after the tides appear to stand still, a tiny shift happens and we can begin to see a new current flowing in the landscape, each day bringing a little more light.

In the Druid tradition, Samhain is viewed as a tide. I often refer to this as the Samhain tide instead of just Samhain, as it denotes a period of time instead of just a moment. Nature isn’t beholden to our human calendar. While we may celebrate Samhain on October 31st, that isn’t usually the case for the druid. The Samhain tide begins when Natural death comes to the landscape. It begins when the first killing frost hits. While at Alban Elfed (Welsh/Brythonic pronounced elved, it is the autumn equinox, meaning “light of autumn,” the celebration of the harvest), we consciously kill as we harvest the food we have planted, slaughter the animals we have raised for food, or gather wild mushrooms in the forest. This killing is a choice. At Samhain, Nature does the killing. The growth cycle has ended for the year – no matter if we would have it be otherwise. It is done.

Yet as Nature brings death to the year of growth, a new cycle has decidedly not started. Nature doesn’t work that way where one moment it is one way, then the next it is another. Nature moves in tides. The returning of the sun isn’t for another few months. Yet the days are still growing darker. The power of darkness so prevalent in these Northern climates becomes palpable. It is the strongest force of Nature moving through the landscape – ignore it at your own risk. And it continues to gather strength until we begin to doubt the days will ever grow longer. We feed the fire and ride out this time of unknowing. The time of growth ended, yet no new cycle has started. In Druidry, the Samhain tide is viewed as a time of chaos.

Chaos is powerful energy. At the edge of chaos is where we find the most complexity in Nature. This is a scientific observation. And I also see this within my own soul – at the edges of it are all the complexities of relationship. Diving into the processes of my own psyche and into the processes of my own soul during the Samhain tide is so freeing. As I dream in the darkness, not needing to worry about beginning anything, simply mirroring Nature and what is going on in the landscape, I frequently discover much that was hidden. I don’t dream small. I dare to dream without limits. I can completely let go of preconceptions of what is possible in life. This is the gift of the Samhain tide. This is the gift of chaos.

We dive headlong into Cerridwen’s cauldron of transformation and we are transformed. We let go of the past. Like a serpent sheds its skin, we shed our outdated images of who we are. We let go of the preconceptions we have in our relationships as well, letting others be free from the boxes we try to hold them in. The Samhain tide is an opportunity to go back to source and come out the other side freed from chains of our own creation. Samhain is death. And death is the source of all that is. Metaphorically speaking, the Samhain tide is our chance to walk willing into death and free ourselves of the constraints of all the fixed patterns of our life. Samhain, more than any other of our holidays, is about freedom.

We are often like leaves shaking in the wind, holding on to all that is known. During this Samhain tide, I invite you all to let go. Nature will force us to anyway, but there is power in choice. So my pagan brothers and sisters, let’s flow with Nature, let’s stop fighting the currents, let’s dive headlong into the darkness and embrace this time of change. Let’s swim in the liquid Awen held within her cauldron. Let’s dream without limits and let go of the need to ‘know.’ Now is a time of chaos and unknowing. Let’s dance with forces of death. Let’s be free.

Blessings of transformation,
Snowhawke /|\

The Power of Community

I recently completed a week-long course in timber framing at the Fox Maple School of Traditional Building in Brownfield, Maine. It was a very demanding and intense six days of learning and hard work. Although it was exhausting, I am so pleased I took it. The inspiration I have from participating in such an event is remarkable.

The idea of natural building methods and traditional timber framing construction has always appealed to me as it expresses a sense of ethics that fits perfectly into my spiritual practices and ideals. Our lives must become more local. Our work, our home materials, and our food need to come from where we live. Extracting resources from far-away places, shipping them around the globe and buying them from people who don’t live in our community presents a real ethical dilemma. If our existence is based on our engagement with our local environment, then we will find a balance where we live with concern for our ecosystem, and from that concern we won’t cause unnecessary harm. When we extract resources from an abstraction (that place far away where things come from and we don’t see the damage), we will use resources without having to deal with the immediate consequences. This allows excess. This way of being has to end. Local living is the only viable path. How do I know this? All of Nature lives locally. Yes, some animals migrate. But their passing is part of a known pattern of Nature that is life-enhancing rather than life-negating. We have to mimic Nature in order to live a sustainable, viable life. Any problem we have, Nature has already solved.

So anyway, this timber framing course has sparked an idea and a passion in me. I recall being in England where I saw a sign on an old stone and timber frame building. It said something to the effect of “England’s oldest continuous inn. Established 981.″ So this building has been an inn for over 1100 years. The original frame, foundation and walls are still standing. And I thought, why don’t we build everything to last? Why isn’t our work a gift to the next generation? A house I build will be passed on to someone who won’t have to spend time or use resources to build a house – or be a slave to a job to pay for it. It will be free. If I build something that will last, build it with materials that are local, crafted with a sense of permanence and beauty, it will be respected. And if it is respected, it will endure. Our ancestors did it with crude tools and no electricity. And these buildings are still in use today, hundreds of generations later. We can do the same. It is a matter of choice.

The other part of this course perfectly illustrated something I have been, for lack of a better word, preaching about for a long while now, the power of community. Twenty-two of us showed up for this course. No one had timber framing experience. Most of us were not builders or carpenters (I was in this category). And yet, in a few days we went from a stack of timbers and pile of ignorance to framing and erecting a two-bent saltbox with a great room with a beautiful hammerbeam bent. This frame will eventually stand on someone’s property for many hundreds of years.

Now imagine if we as a community were already skilled and that we joined together to help each other build lasting, efficient and beautiful homes all built from local natural materials. What a difference we would make in each other’s lives – a small or zero mortgage, living in environmentally friendly houses that will last, to be passed onto the next generation. Imagine if we had inherited such a thing, growing up knowing that we have a home and the only cost is that we respect, care and maintain it. Imagine if we had shared skills for all aspects of our lives: food, shelter, creativity, learning and religious practices. What if we as a community dedicated eight weekends a year to helping others build homes or put in gardens or create community events to support our local artisans? Can you imagine such a way of life? I can and I do and I am dedicating my life to building it.

As a side note, the word mortgage comes from Latin and is built from roots that mean, “death obligation.” In other words, it is an obligation that you carry until you die. When it comes to our homes we need to shift the meaning from “working a job for thirty years to pay a bank twice the value of a home” to “while we live in this home we are obligated to care for and maintain this remarkable gift of our ancestors who built this beautiful lasting structure with craftsmanship, vision and love. And for as long as we do, we have a home.”

I am skilling myself and I am ready to pitch in and rebuild my local community, one lasting green building, one edible forest garden, one annual celebration at a time. Any volunteers to join in?

Blessings of honor and beauty,
Snowhawke /|\

The Weaving: A Pagan Rite of Vision – October 2012

Song lines entwine. Ancient stories, ever new on misty breath.
Air feeds sacred Fire,
Warming our hearts and giving honor to our elders.
Ancestors called to witness. Dancers whirl.
Soul touching Soul touching Soul, we weave a Pagan place.
Our tribe prays for Vision.

I wrote the poem above as I sat dreaming of a ritual where we come together as a tribe, as a community and reweave our connections to each other as we head into the long darkness of winter. I dreamed of everyone dancing together as equals, praying for a vision to share as a gift to the community, a dream that gives us insight on how to live well, how to move within this sacred landscape of Maine as Pagans that honor the Earth. I dreamed of those of us who are spritely enough dancing around a large central fire while our elders look on from their place of honor next to the warming fire. I dreamed of us finding our soul deep connection to Nature, communing with the Spirits of Place and the forces of Nature which are our gods. And from out of this sacred relationship we find a source of inspiration, we drink from the chalice that holds the mystery of Nature. I dreamed of this dance continuing into the future where one day, each of us will heed of the call of our progeny when they gather and sing songs, inviting their ancestors to join them in ritual, to dance with them as they seek connection to the gods and the wisdom to live well and walk gently on Mother Earth.

I dreamed this dream, and I connected with others who dreamed it as well. And we shared this with one another. And from the sharing, we have crafted such a ritual, a ritual of vision as we dance together in the forest, honoring the land, the people and the gods, dancing with our ancestors as we consider the next generation.

We have built the framework for this ritual, crafting a full day of learning, sharing, experiencing and communing soul to soul to soul. We hope to strengthen our community ties and begin to build a tradition of sacred rites to pass onto the next generation. And that, my brothers and sisters, is something I think worth our efforts.

Let’s consider the next generation of Pagan people here in Maine.

Today, Paganism isn’t the mainstream. Where once all human saw Nature as the highest authority, many now think we are above having to consider Her (and we see the obvious consequences of that point of view). The ancestors of all the races of the peoples of the Earth, were once pagan. The source and inspiration of their deepest spiritual ideals emanated from their experience of the divine in Nature. Things changed. But this core principle has been like a spring running underground, flowing through the landscape of time, purifying the water as it goes, and eventually coming to the surface once again to give us nourishment.

So here we are now, pagan people looking to Nature as the source of our religious ideals, finding our inspiration from the day to day, moment to moment experience of the sanctity of the web of life. Paganism has found root again in the open. And we embrace it because it offers us a way to live ethically, expressing our humanity, yet living within the web of life, taking the paths of least harm, considering the effects of all our actions, walking with integrity and honor in perfect equality with all the souls around us, human and non-human. These are our ideals.

We see Paganism as a way to live without destroying the Earth. Yet, we are part of a system that does just so. And I think it is our role as Pagan people to begin to work towards a different paradigm. We need to craft a better way of life, preserving what is of value and passing that onto the next generation. And this consideration of the next generation is something I see as vital and distinctly Pagan in nature.

Within Native communities all over the globe, there are rites where the whole tribe gathers to pray and reach for vision, to heal their communities, to hold them together as a people and to consider the future and what it will contain for their children and grandchildren and all their future generations. Here in America I think of the Sundance, the Long House, and the Naraya. These are community rituals of vision. What do we have in our pagan community that is clearly focused on reaching for a vision for the benefit of the tribe? I don’t see their counterparts in Paganism.

So, some of us have gathered to craft it.

We call this rite, “The Weaving – a Pagan Rite of Vision.” It is a ritual of trance and prayer, of song and creativity, of weaving our shared love for this Earth into a beautiful tapestry of connection. It is a rite crafted in our own language, honoring our Pagan heritage. It is designed to be the counterpart to our amazing Beltane on the Beach. Only this rite will be the inward look to balance the outward celebration of spring at Beltane. It will be a rite where we openly share what is gifted to us during trance. And out of this, perhaps a shared vision will come – or perhaps not, that isn’t important. It is the gathering and intention that matters. We will wrap the entire day and the entire ritual in our crafting conscious, soul deep connection to Nature, to the land where we gather and to all the souls present. Out of this place, only good things can come. If I have one belief it is this, if we open ourselves to Nature, we will find sanctity and it will fill us with inspiration.

To offer a metaphor in hopes of giving some clarity to the point of this rite, think of this: this is a ritual where each person is a Tarot card of their own design, and the reading is for the tribe. We express our individual image, yet together we can begin to get a glimmer as to where we are at as a community, where we are going and what the future may hold. Or perhaps try this image: we are all tributaries, small streams flowing down from the mountains. We gather together to form a River (our community). And together we flow through the landscape, naturally taking the path of least resistance, causing the least harm as we carry our collective story, our collective nutrients downstream to the Ocean (our future generations yet to be born, to be carried on the wind and born of the rain falling on the mountains).

We hope such a ritual interests you and that it will be supported by the greater community. We already have great support and we are just getting this off the ground. In the future I see us gathering in large numbers for days of shared ritual, dance, trance, vision, and weaving our connections as a people of the Earth. But this Weaving is the first one, and we hope many of you join in and lay a strong foundation for the future.

Let’s gather together as a community for a ritual of sharing vision. Let’s consider the next generation of
Pagans, and craft communal traditions that bring our tribe into sacred relationship with Nature. Let’s begin the work of dreaming a beautiful world for our progeny and let’s begin the work of making it. We hope to see you in Casco on October 6th.

Blessings of Mystery,
Blessings of beauty and inspiration,
Blessings of soul touching soul touching soul,
Snowhawke /|\

For more information regarding the day’s activities or to register for the Weaving, please visit druidcollege.org.