Category Archives: Druidry

Imbolc in Texas Hill Country

Summerlands1

My festival season is most of the year. I attend festivals representing ADF from February through November and it is a task I gladly undertake and enjoy. This year, I looked forward to attending, once again, Hearthstone Grove’s Texas Imbolc Retreat, held at the U-Bar-U Ranch in the Texas Hill Country near Kerrville.

I flew into San Antonio because it is the closest airport to Texas Imbolc and it is a smaller, cozier airport. I landed, picked up a rental car, and headed out on the road. I arrived at the turnoff a little over an hour later and the journey began.

The road to the U-Bar-U is very, very hilly and some parts must be taken with caution. Going down these roads too quickly would cause a person to bottom out and to most likely incur some damages along the way. I took my time, I watched the scenery, and I slowly started to relax into the serenity of the land.

This view outside of my window was dry and arid, with many rocks and goats and gnarled trees along the way. The spaces between places were wide and vast and almost empty. I followed the road until it ended and then took a left turn. I followed the slow, rocky path to the U-Bar-U ranch and my adventure began.

When I first attended this festival – five years ago, I believe – there was no bunkhouse. There were two large rooms with bunk beds in the lodge proper and everybody slept in one or the other. It was very “cozy”, but not very private.  Two years ago, a new bunkhouse opened that is just beautiful and that has modern facilities and fewer people per room than before. The design of the bunkhouses is such that it blends fairly well with the local scenery and is in no way an eyesore.

The first thing I always notice upon arrive is the stillness of the land. There is often a breeze that blows, but it is more like a whisper than a shout. There is a beautiful stone fire pit and there was already a fire burning when I arrived. I was greeted warmly upon arrival – as always and as everyone is.

I saw many familiar faces: the Hearthstone Grove, the Nine Waves Grove, and the Blackland Prairie Protogrove, even the faces of the U-Bar-U staff were familiar. I saw John Beckett, ADF members, mystic Old Testament Christians, Wiccans, heathens, and a wonderful cross-section of folks and friends. While this is distinctly an ADF festival, it really is a lot broader than just that. Or perhaps ADF is broader than just that.

The opening rite was a great way to start a festival. Nine Waves Grove gave us a ritual to remember: well executed, effective, and welcoming. I was very impressed. It was a good omen for the weekend to come.There was a really interesting and beautiful Slavic Ritual that wasn’t ADF Core Order, but it was it was nice to see something quite different from what I have experienced before. At one point in the ritual, an apple was passed from person-to-person, touched to the next person’s forehead, and then passed along. I thought that was a gentle way to share a sense of community.

This was the story of the weekend. An easy information flow from presenter to audience with a sincere desire to inform, to entertain, and to help. The food was good, the company was better, the weather was so pleasant, and people came together and shared. Isn’t this what festival is about? The original festival movement in the latter part of the previous century was centered around the exchange of information and the joyful discovery that there were other people out there that not only had the same interests as other people, but a similarity of practice as well. This weekend was no exception.

One of the other benefits of the weekend was for people to meet face-to-face to talk. While this is not always possible, this is an ideal way to exchange thoughts and ideas that reduces the chance of misunderstanding and increases the possibilities of really communicating. It makes a difference when a person can see the other person and I hope that such encounters can continue at the U-Bar-U for years to come and that these events, more and more, can either be videotaped or broadcast live to people who did not have the ability to attend.

The Core Order of Ritual was the structure used for the opening, main, and closing rituals. As I have noticed time and time again, the Core Order is broad enough to allow people from different traditions to worship together while allowing room for individual expression and tailoring, especially in the personal offering and workings section of the ritual. The Pre-Ritual Briefing remains a powerful tool in helping people to know what to expect and to understand any local variations that might occur.

I want to thank everyone who attended for their attentiveness in the workshops, rituals, and general times of sharing. The weekend passed by all too quickly with a minimal amount of drama and a great deal of understanding and patience.

I spent a lot of times outdoors at this festival, relishing the beautiful weather and the land that made me feel timeless. The liminal times of the day were so still and so powerful, with that slight breeze blowing, the sound of wind through branches, and a brilliant dawn and dusk. The Full Moon was a beautiful gift to a peaceful sky, out amidst the stones and the trees. Venus shone like a bright beacon and it slid slowly towards the horizon as the night overtook the remnants of the day.

I stood outside and I listened. I closed my eyes and let the Sun dance on my face and the breeze tell me stories that it had told before, would tell again, and would re-tell, even if no one was there to hear. The Hill Country moved slowly through time, and I moved slowly through them both, as though my life was Tai Chi and my religion was that dance. I felt as though I could be a tree under that sky. I would open my soul and be like a rock or a goat or better yet, a tree. The wind from the West would tell tales. And I would listen.

 

 

 

Beltaine Blessings from Brazil, Part II

Summerlands1

We gathered together for our Brazilian Beltaine Celebration on a quiet morning during the first weekend of November. We drove to a city park in Curitiba and grabbed our gear and began our walk to the celebration area. I was told that this particular park was off the beaten path and that the area was fairly primitive. The walk through the park was very quiet and the striking beauty of the trees and the silence of the morning were a powerful counterbalance to the work that was to be done.

Upon arriving at the location, we were asked to gather whatever firewood we could find and to clean up any garbage that had been left by previous visitors. I thought this was an excellent idea to not only gather what was necessary, but to start our work by making the area better than it had been left to us.

The first thing that I noticed was the sound of a small, rushing stream. I walked over to the border of the area where we were setting up and there was this narrow but rapidly moving stream. It sounded so melodious and, with the absence of many urban sounds, it was the one thing that I heard at the edge of my consciousness. I walked over to it and watched in wonder as it made its way past us and onwards to a larger and perhaps wider purpose.

I was given a beautiful white tunic to wear and it really put me in the ritual mood. As we gathered brush and picked up stray things here and there, it felt as though I was quietly spiraling in towards the ritual mind set that we so often look for. We were joined by several more members of Fine na Dairbre until we had all of the members of the Protogrove, including Shaz Cairns, the Asia-Pacific Regional Druid, and myself. The surrounding natural are now cleaned, the efforts were now focused on clearing out the fire pit, which was the center of the ritual experience. Ample wood was gathered and stacked to last for the entire ritual and mention was made that everything that wasn’t used was to be returned to the Earth.

offerings-curitiba

At the very beginning of the rite, we were instructed to go out into the ritual field and find a place to center ourselves and to commune with our spirit guides and animals. I had never heard this expressed in quite this way and it was an great experience for me. Ever since I had arrived in Brazil, I kept coming across ants, formida, at just about every place I looked in nature. When I was just about to close my eyes to center myself, I looked down, and I saw an ant sitting on me. It then struck me that the reason they had seemed so ubiquitous was that they were trying to give me a message – they were now one of my Spirit Animals. Then, as I closed my eyes and let my conscious self sink into the sounds of the location, I once again heard a very familiar and insistent sound – that of the nearby stream. I questioned myself: could a spirit guide be something other than an animal of some sort or an insect? Could it be the movement of something like water? Upon reflection, the answer was given to me: yes. I discovered, along with my ants friends, that moving water, such as in a stream, was also a spirit guide. Here, on the other side of the equator, I discovered a new spirit guide and one that had been with me for a very long time. I felt very fortunate and gave thanks to my totems and the spirits of the place.

The ritual began with an acknowledgement of the Outsiders. Two of the ritual participants went to their designated location for Outsider offerings and the made acknowledgements and left offerings for the Outsiders. Next, everyone was welcomed and the purpose of the ritual was discussed. It was really interesting to listen to the Portuguese parts of the ritual because Portuguese is a very melodic and lyrical language and the sounds seemed so very much in harmony with the surrounding that we were in. Next came the purification, and this was a real treat.

Purification was done in two steps: with fire and with water. Purification by fire was done with a stick or branch that had a type of cloths wrapped around the end and for each person, the branch was lit and the fire was waved near the head, for purification of thought, near the chest, for purification of the heart, and near the solar plexus, for purification of the soul. Purification by water was done by the presentation of a bowl of water, and each person dipped their fingers into the water and then anointed their head, the heart, and the soul (as in solar plexus). The repetitive nature of the blessings in Portuguese was not only soothing but also had a compelling rhythm to the words.

One of the features of the Fine na Dairbre ritual was the use of an amphora to a) call the spirit of the Earth Mother into; and b) to use later on for the sake of the omen (using an open system of divination). The amphora was filled with herbs, if I remember correctly, and with red wine. The Spirit of the Earth Mother was honoured and welcomed into this vessel and the amphora was placed onto the altar.

Bardic Inspiration was called and my recollection was of the silence of the area punctuated by the meanderings of the stream, as if the Nature Spirits had the last word in the matter. The Hallows were called to and offered to and the gates were opened with the help of Manannan mac Lir. We had done a previous rite to Manannan mac Lir earlier in the week, and with our numerous visits to the ocean, Manannan mac Lir seemed very close at hand. Offerings were then made to the Kindreds – the Ancestors, the Nature Spirits, and the Shining Ones – and I remembered observing with glee and reverence that when the Nature Spirits were called, two dogs came out of the forest and stood near us as the rite progressed. The Nature Spirits were called; the Nature Spirits arrived.

tree-curitiba

The deity of the occasion for Beltaine was An Dagda and his offering was a meat porridge which was deemed an appropriate gift for this deity. The pot of porridge was held aloft and the offering was made upon the ground. Once the Dagda was called into the rite, individual offerings were added by each person in attendance and  I have to admit that I enjoyed watching each and every individual make offerings and listening to their prayers in Portuguese. For me, it was if the individual words disappeared and the offerings that fell from each person’s lips were sweet songs that painted the rite in such resplendent colours that the area seemed to glow with music. During these offerings, I noticed that one of the Nature Spirits had come over and was enjoying the Dagda’s porridge that was set upon the ground and I looked at the other Nature Spirit and I noticed that she must have just had pups – they had previously made their own offerings to the Earth Mother and we were blessed, celebrants and Kindreds, communing together. After the Dagda’s feast was consumed, the two Nature Spirits lay on the grass and eventually went to sleep. In this way, these sacrifices had been accepted.

post-offerings

The Prayer of Sacrifice was offered and then it was time for the omen. This is where the amphora and an open system of reading was used. The amphora, filled with wine and the spirit of the Earth Mother, was put into the fire as an offering. There was perhaps 250ml of wine in the vessel and once the wine heated to sufficient temperature, the wine overflowed onto the outside of the white amphora. The omen was read by looking at what the wine did on the vessel itself. Someone commented that the on one side of the amphora, it looked like the head of a wolf, a large black wolf and, lo and behold, a large black dog came out of the forest and walked around the area in which the Outsider offering had been placed. The person reading the omen decided that this was indeed a good omen and that the offerings had been accepted. A little while later, someone called to my attention that there were two ogham on the inside of the amphora and indeed there were. These two ogham are Ohn and Ur. In any event, I found these ogham to be benevolent signs and also concurred, albeit later, that the offerings had been accepted and that direction had been given by the Kindreds and An Dagda. We then feasted, with our canine Nature Spirits sharing a part of the feast, and we unwound the ritual as usual. All offerings not used were either poured upon the ground or offered to the fire so that nothing would remain. We would leave the area as we had found it, less some wood that we had gathered for the fire.

 

As we packed up and left, we walked the distance back to the gate, accompanied by our canine friends. They walked with us to the metal gate which served as the way in and the way out, and stayed behind as we walked back into the mundane world of the parking lot. I looked back to take in the beauty of the park again, and to say goodbye to our canine companions. I would be leaving Brazil the next day, and I was sad to leave this behind.

I apologise for the long delay between Beltaine and this writing, but I have played the events of that trip, of that journey, of that day, over and over in my head and it remains a pivotal and important journey, not just because of the miles traveled or the people met and remembered and the beauty seen and experienced. It gave me a chance to see a different way of worshiping and the knowledge that I had found some other totem beings to help in my travels. I came away from Brazil with longing for rejoinder with that place and with those people, but I also felt that my understanding of the Earth Mother and especially the non-linear nature of Her way was to become much more important in how I looked at my Druidry and the world on both side of the Equator. More about that soon to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beltaine Blessings from Brazil, Part I

las-bruixas

The Blessings of the Earth Mother to one and all!

I was fortunate again this year to be able to celebrate both Samhain and Beltaine within the same week. It is so very interesting how different the world is just across a single divide. Having travelled between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres for two years now, I have come to believe and understand that there just isn’t Samhain and Beltaine, there is actually Samhain/Beltaine and the Earth Mother expresses herself as both seasons at the same time.

I still find myself looking out the window here, in North America, thinking about what I saw and experienced there, in South America. I surely will never forget the beauty of the incredible scenery, rich plant life, and beautiful ocean that was just within reach. The hospitality of my hosts, the members of Fine Na Dairbre Protogrove, was something I will cherish for a long, long time.

I vowed to visit members in Australia last year, which I did to coincide with the wonderful Mount Franklin Festival, and then this year to visit with our Brazilian members, at Fine Na Dairbre Protogrove. I wanted, first and foremost, to show people that ADF has many faces and that mine is one of them. I wanted people abroad to know that ADF is more than just the e-lists or the Facebook pages that bear the name “Ar nDraiocht Fein”. I wanted members to understand that we truly are an international organization, an international Druid Fellowship, and most of all, an international church.

While I know that some people dread the thought of a long airplane flight (14 hours LAX to Melbourne or 10 hours DFW to Sao Paolo), I have grown to view it as a rebirth in a way, from my old life in some airport in the United States to a new destination in a foreign land. Not only am I reborn into a new place, but I am reborn into a new season, a total 180 degree turn from where I was. It is probably the closest I will ever come to a Tardis.

I arrived in Sao Paolo (and eventually in Curitiba – pronounced Curichiba) rather unprepared. While I had spent time studying syntax and the history of the Portuguese language, I was totally unprepared for any conversation in this language. I am fluent in French and can understand and do fairly well in Spanish), but Portuguese not only is a very different language, it sounds very different. I loved listening to the lyrical and musical quality of this beautiful language, but when I first arrived, I couldn’t understand a word. I was lucky that my rather rusty Spanish was enough to get me to the right baggage area and then onto my next gate. This was all part of the rebirth-transition that was built into this trip. While I was never really able to hold a conversation in Portuguese, I did eventually arrive at the ability to understand parts of what people were saying.

After a long layover and a good amount of delicious coffee, I was on the flight to Curitiba and the welcome arms of my hosts, Marina, Alessio, and Erik. What better way to arrive any where than to find smiles, open arms, and warm hearts. I knew, upon arrival, that I was blessed. We drove back to Curitiba, rather speedily by my slower, North American standards, and I was feted with delicious food and intriguing conversations. Each of my hosts spoke English and I have vowed to learn Portuguese for my next trip back there. (Yes, I will go back; yes, I must go back).

Conversation quickly turn to ADF, not surprisingly, and I was asked what was next for ADF and I gave them a brief outline of my vision as an extension of Isaac’s Vision. A rather long discussion ensued and after a while I decided to return the favour and ask them what they thought about ADF – a totally opened ended question. I was about to learn a few things.

I was told that since we tell people that we are an international organization that we should act like one. Wow. While many of our members are from North America, we are experiencing growth in countries outside of North America. It is easy to forget that life goes on outside of our national boundaries, but it does. There are certain words and concepts that we use over and over again and we assume that everyone knows what they mean – this is not the case. Here,in some of our posts, we discuss political issues and often refer to liberals and conservatives, or left and right wings. These mean different things in different places and we need to learn to use these terms more wisely. In Australia, the Liberal Party is really the more conservative of a number of political parties and it is the Labour Party which is really more what we would call “liberal”. In Brazil, left-wing denotes communist or socialist and these terms may or may not be positive terms in the ears of the listeners. The concept of “Freedom of Speech” is not a universally observed. While we take it for granted and while people here often say whatever they may please because they feel they have the right to do so, this sometimes takes people abroad a little by surprise.

One suggestion that was made was to use ADF Discuss or the General Discussion ADF page to discuss general questions about ADF and not necessarily about politics or other issues that may not be of interest or germane to a foreign (or domestic) audience. While we may have pressing social issues here in America, those issues may be seen totally differently abroad or may be viewed in a broader manner such as poverty or environmental issues. I think it is important to remember context and immediacy. After all, 13% of our membership lives outside of the United States.

In speaking with one of the Protogrove members, I was surprised to discover that they had let their membership lapse.. When I questioned them about it, I was told that an ADF Priest had told them that if they didn’t believe in a particular way (and this was not about religion), that they shouldn’t renew their membership. To say that I was flabbergasted is an understatement. I explained to this newly-renewed member that just because this person is a priest, does not indicate that they speak for the membership or leadership of ADF. No one in leadership should ever tell another member not to renew because of a difference of opinion: we are orthopraxic and not orthodoxic – we won’t tell you what to believe. And, more importantly, we will never tell you not to renew. I would not consider that telling a person not to renew is a leadership statement from a priest. In fact, it is quite the opposite. As Archdruid and as a member of the Mother Grove, I apologized to them all for this particular incident.

Finally, I was told that the Dedicant Manual needs a definite revision and I tend to agree. I am going to run this proposal past the Mother Grove and the ADF Preceptor for comment. I have often told people that the Dedicant program is a series of 11 assignments packaged into one large submission. I think perhaps a review of the presentation and some of the verbiage might be in order.

Next in Part II: The Beltaine Rite

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Spaces of Solace and Peace

In my old residence, I had altars in every room – a special place of blessings, set aside for the spirits and the Gods. I recently moved and many of the altars were packed up and set aside for redeployment in my new home. I had set up an altar for my Lares and this was the first altar I had set up in my new place.

 

It was interesting that while I still had a sense of my old Lares – my old household spirits – the whole Lares phenomenon felt keenly different. I spent a number of days trying to identify the difference and it finally struck me: the Lares that I was sensing in my new place were a combination of some of the old from my last place and some of the new, from the new home. This house has been in the same family for a hundred years so some of the spirits here are pretty well settled. I believe one or more of the Lares from my old place came along, but the sense I have is that the main spirit stayed behind, connected to the site and not necessarily linked to me. I guess this happens with such things. The new combination of Lares also feels protective, but in a more subtle way.

 

My new Lares altar has many of the components of the old one, yet differently arranged, and perhaps that made a difference. It is one of the funny things about moving – nothing ever seems to come back together in the same way.

 

I was speaking with a friend the other day and they said to me “Why don’t you set up some small places of solace and peace like you used to have?” I pondered it for several days and decided to set up some altars, not quite like my old ones, but similar enough. I set up an Ancestor Altar in the kitchen with the requisite offering vessel with offerings of alcohol and fire with a carving of the Earth Mother and a picture of my grandmother. It is in a quiet place in the kitchen and it radiates solace and peace.

 

In another room, I set up a small altar to Cernunnos. I have a wooden carved image of Cernunnos and I surrounded him with stones, a leaf, an image of a leaf, an ADF membership card signed by Fox, my ogham, an image of the Sun, and a globe which has the constellations on it. Land, sea, and sky are represented.

Cernunnos Altar

 

I decided to use some liminal spaces to create another small space of solace and peace. I found two images of the green man, a moss agate sphere on a small stand, and a small green obelisk. I put this in a corner of the stair case, right under the window shade, in a window that faces east. First light every day touches these green men and bless this liminal space that everyone walks by. To date, no one has noticed this altar, not even the cat, ever on patrol. I consider it a stealth altar.

Green Man Altar

I guess, at the end of the day, when one creates altars of solace and peace, the area surrounding them become places of solace and peace. I look forward to finding more places to honour the divinities in my home and in my world.

 

Two Oceans

 

I have been blessed.

In October, I was fortunate enough to visit the Southern Ocean, that vast expanse of water between Australia and Antarctica. I had wanted to visit that ocean ever since I heard of Adelaide and South Australia. While it was a dream of mine to see, that dream became a reality with my attendance at the Mount Franklin (Beltaine) Festival in October. The Mount Franklin Festival, nestled in an extinct volcano, was an opportunity to spend five days in the bosom of the Earth Mother. My journey to the Southern Ocean was an opportunity to experience the power and majesty of the Southern Ocean, as personified by Lir, the God of the Surrounding Sea.

Southern Ocean

As I stood by the ocean, I was amazed by the great sound and the powerful wind that came from that endless body of water. I carved a number of names and blessings in ogham on the beach, looking for the incoming tide to come and carry my blessings away, to activate them. The wind blew my hair back, thundered in my ears, and was an insistent and constant voice which shouted, sang, and defined that liminal world between water and shore. I walked up to what I considered a “safe zone” on the shore, where I was convinced I would not get my shoes wet. This “safe zone” was invaded immediately by an ocean with intent and with purpose. The ocean, the vast ocean, the ever-encircling ocean, is king here and it presence, both visually and audibly, was elemental and stunning. At one point, I took my shoes and socks off and stood in the waters, so that I could participate in the experience, directly, of that great ocean. It was cold; it was loud; it was forceful, all at once. My feet in the sand, the water touching my legs, and the sound of the surf anchored me in that moment. The water rushed in; the water rushed out, and the moment, THAT particular moment, was gone.

In November, I came to California and the Pacific Ocean to visit with friends and to attend a work conference. Once again, I was able to visit the ocean, this time, the Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz. This was a much different ocean experience. The Southern Ocean was just coastline and ocean and really nothing in the way. The Pacific Ocean, on the other hand, was a shoreline, but a beach with piers and somewhat inland. The waves kept rolling in, but it seemed much more serene, much more pacified. Perhaps, that is why it is called the Pacific. I took off my shoes and socks and went once again into the water. I closed my eyes and listened. It was that same feel; it was that same sound; it was that same vibration. Gone was the thundering surf, because at this place, it was more serene. Gone was the wind blowing through my hair like a gale. Gone was the wind the blows from the bottom of the world.

Yet, believe it or not, this is the same interconnected body of water that I stepped in a world away, a continent away. This is the body of Lir and, while the lore may not support it, I am a firm believer in the all encircling ocean, be it Lir or be it Oceanos or be it Varuna. The Grand Ocean is really a different kind of being. The Earth Mother is beneath our feet on whatever continent we may stand. The Great Ocean, on the other hand, is always that interconnected body of water that surrounds each of the continents. Heraclitus stated “Panta rhei”, or all is in flux, which is often interpreted as “you never step into the same river twice”. Yet, when we walk into the ocean, it IS the same ocean, anywhere and everywhere. While the contents or flow of the waters may change from moment to moment, we step into the fundamentally same body of water, that living corpus of water that is Lir.

When we pollute the ocean, we pollute ALL of the ocean, because it is all one. When we allow plastics and trash to form huge proto-islands in the middle of the Pacific, we pollute ALL of the ocean, because it is all one. When we dump toxic waste into the ocean or when we overfish the ocean, we pollute or damage ALL of the ocean. Without the waters, we cannot survive, so while the Great Ocean, or Lir, may take a lot to seriously damage, it can be done. It is being done. There is a lot of water on this planet, nurturing the Earth Mother and nurturing ourselves. Yet, there is a limited amount of water and we know of the power of the ocean. If we take a telescope to Mars and see where a Great Ocean used to be, we know the damage that may be inflicted on a system as large as a planet by the evapouration of the ocean.

 

By stepping into that grand stream, into that living God, I became aware of one great truth and that is something I will never forget. Two oceans, three oceans, four oceans, more, regardless of the case, it is one living, expanding, extending, entity that I call Lir. He is old, he is all-surrounding, and he is still as vital as ever. Let us make sure to do our part to protect him by giving thanks, praise, and offerings, and by removing all the impurities that we can, whenever we can.

 

Hands Across the Water

I have been blessed.

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to experience Beltaine with the Druids and other neo-pagans of Australia at the Mount Franklin Festival, Australia’s longest running neo-pagan gathering, now in its 34th year. I was hosted by an amazing group of ADF members and welcomed by witches, Wiccans, Druids, neo-pagans, and nature spirits alike (Hello, Rosie!).

I left the US as preparations for Samhain were under way. It was feeling like Samhain: a change in the air, a change in the trees, a change in the colour of the Sun. The end of one spin around was calling, beckoning, insisting that its time had come. Then, as if some miracle of the collision of worlds, I stepped onto an airplane and into another world, another green world.

I have been wanting to visit Australia for sometime. ADF has members in Australia and I thought it would be nice to visit them AND see Australia at the same time. Through the intersection of desire, days off from work, and most especially an offer of hospitality from one of our members in Melbourne, I was able to put together a trip that not included fellowship, outreach, and rest and relaxation, but also provided me the opportunity to attend one of the premier (if not THE premier) pagan gatherings of the Southern Hemisphere, the Mount Franklin festival, now in its 34th consecutive year.

Coming into Melbourne was such a marked contrast to the Midwest that I had just left. Where trees were losing leaves, the trees here were newly in bloom; where the days were getting shorter back home, the days were getting longer here; where the last harvest was growing close with the approach of Samhain, here, the season of growth was coming up fast.

The Mount Franklin Beltaine festival is held in the bosom of the Earth Mother, in the crater of a dormant volcano about an hour from Melbourne. Upon approach, the non-native pine trees reached high into the sky, setting this sacred space apart from the rest of the rather flat landscape.

I spent five days nestled in this protected space. This land was sacred to the aboriginal people, and after listening to the winds whisper and watching the sun climb over the tree line, I can understand why. I feel that the sacred, often like forgotten Gods, lay dormant until it or they are reawakened by a thought, a prayer, or an offering. And offerings were made: spirits, grains, and prayers were given and given in a delightful plenitude that was proper to the place. The kookaburras, the parrots, the trees, the people, all gathered together to make it a Beltane to remember, especially for myself.

Silver Birch Grove offered a fantastic main rite and it was truly beautiful to see 100+ people gather together to honour the Kindreds and their own spirits. I was blessed to offer the omen and the omen was good: look within to heal, use the old knowledge to help in that healing process, and look at what has been accomplished. Quite a bit has been accomplished, really, whether it be Samhain or Betaine or anything at all. Neopaganism, like the Beltaine season, is on the rise, not only in the Southern Hemisphere, but everywhere. The Reformed Druids of Australia were formed. Magic happened!

I celebrated Beltaine and left that secluded crater and went back into the world. My days continued and I visited the Southern Ocean at the end of the world, where I made offerings to the Earth Mother, to ADF, and important private offerings as well. The wind told stories the old as time and the waves insisted that everything ebbs and flows, like the seasons. Like Beltaine and Samhain.

I returned to these shores and gave thanks in my own Samhain rite to the Earth Mother and to all those that made my journeys possible. I remembered back on seeing the Full Moon, that wondrous orb, looking upside down, but, in reality, it was still the Moon, and it was I who saw things differently. I stretch my hands across the waters to my new friends, my new continent, my new recollections, and to a new season dawning, bright, just over the tree line.

I Was Wrong

I was wrong.

ADF has a prison ministry and I really believed that there wasn’t much value in investing time and effort in providing services to people behind bars. They didn’t really attend services, although they held their own. They really didn’t do some of the work like the training programs, although some had. They really didn’t contribute much, although some had contributed to causes during crises. They were barely seen, yet they were those liminal beings that one could see out of the corner of one’s eye, every now and then.

I had occasion to review several prisoners’ materials and I was struck by how well done it was. I had to send items back, via the postal service, and it was slow and it worked. Once a few of these prisoners wrote to me and I to them, I thought “Hmmm…they aren’t that much different than regular folks”. But they were prisoners.

Our Arch Druid, Kirk Thomas, has been working with a prison group in Washington State called the Frog Stone Circle Prison Worship Group. He visits with them for High Days and has been their mentor and spiritual advisor, for lack of better terms. He has always spoken highly of the men there and I figured that this was a special project much like we all have special projects.

ADF has a program called the Traveling Clergy Program and it is used to send ADF Priests to Groves, Protogroves, Worship Groups, and even solitaries upon request. Several months ago, one of the prisoners wrote and asked if I would consider visiting. I mulled over the thought: while I was critical of our outreach work in prisons, I had actually never been inside a prison before. Having nothing to fear and really having no frame of reference, I said “Yes”.

Fast forward until this month, and I was standing in security at the airport last Friday night, flying out to the prison to visit with the prisoners at an all-day prison get-together the next day. I wondered to myself what I was getting myself into.

I was met at the airport by Kirk and one other ADF Priest, Rev. Missy Burchfield, and we were resolved to be at the prison at 7:30 the next morning. By the Gods, this was real. We arrived at the prison, emptied our valuables into a locker, and went through a metal scanner and all of our items were searched. We were advised beforehand what we could take in and what had to stay behind. We could wear only certain colours, bring in only certain items, and we were told to be mindful of our environment. We were given badges and the journey inwards began.

Crossing from one set of doors to another, I was struck by the barbed wire and rolls and rolls of concertina wire at fence tops. Doors were metal, strong, and they did “clang” behind us as we went through. One more door, and I was all the way in.

I wasn’t really prepared for the almost lunar landscape that greeted me: few if any plants; architecture that was almost Soviet (I described it as neo-Chernobyl); and no one about other than a prisoner with a dog, and a number of security personal scattered from place to place. It was a very sterile environment, to say the least. This prison was a combination medium security/ minimum security prison.

We went to the building where we were to meet with the men and there was a guard who waited with us. Looking around, there was a prisoner’s bathroom with no door and a large glass window. Privacy was a rare commodity in this place.

The men, all nine of them, along with a media/camera man, filed into the room. I didn’t know what to expect, but each man was wearing grey pants, a t-shirt, and a name badge. I looked at each of the men and they looked just like: men.

As they filed in, they shook my hand and introduced themselves and the first part of the day was introductions and brief conversations. The first workshop was mine, a combination of hospitality as the greatest virtue and a look a purification of the waters, both odd topics for a group of people in a situation of limited or strained hospitality and not much leeway for purification.

As I spoke, I looked around at each of the men. I was amazed at the level of ease and comfort between them and the discipline that they exhibited. I figured that discipline was a dish that was served often here. What I came to understand was that it was a dish they prepared themselves. This group of men worked together like a fine, oiled machine, each in seeming lockstep with the other. These men, these members of my group, were well-acquainted and well disciplined. I was slowly beginning to be impressed. I saw some of the art that these men had created, using the limited items that were available and I was amazed, truly. I saw beautiful artwork that was done with bedsheets, delicate flower creations made from Jolly Rancher candies, and devotional items which were so finely crafted. All these things, dedicated to Kindred, made by men of talent and made with the simplest of materials.

After my workshop, we went outside for our ritual workings. We were to stay outside for several hours (almost three) and I was impressed with the ritual area that the prison had set aside for the men. There were four areas: one for Native American practice, one for Wiccans, one for the Asatru, and one for the Druids.

This ritual area was a circular area, clean and grassy. The was a tree/pole, brought in by Kirk, a fire pit, cast in concrete and decorated with spirals, and a truly beautiful well, made within the prison, decorated as well. Due to the lack of materials with which to do work, when the grass was first planted (by hand) and watered (by a five-gallon bucket and a cup), the grass was kept at a suitable length by cutting it with sharp stones that could be found at hand. I was touched at this devotional approach that once again used what was at hand for the glory of the Gods.

The men gave us all parts and we had a Dedicant Oath performed by one man and another man had a number of parts to do as the newest member. This particular person recited, from memory, or Mission Statement and our Vision Statements. I was impressed. I couldn’t do that. I am not sure that many could. We conducted a beautiful ritual, with offerings galore, under the sun and sky and watchful eye of the guards in the tower. When it came time for me to give the Earth Mother offering, I asked which vessel to use and I was pointed to a bowl with oats and used all of the oats for an offering. As others did the offering, I noticed that people used offerings sparingly, because supply and demand is a much different beast within this enclosure. I was learning: further offerings would be less generous.

I watched a series of men do a ritual that was so very well-practiced and delivered; it could have been done by any of our Groves and Protogroves. I will venture to say that the men did as well or better than some Groves and Protogroves that I have seen. After a long time in the Sun, we took off our robes, and we went back into our building. Missy did a really nice workshop on Bardic offerings and then we had lunch with the men. I was informed that at three o’clock that the men would talk to us, basically about their perception of some of our policy decisions that dealt with prisoners and it occurred to me that perhaps my presence here wasn’t strictly by chance and perhaps it was by some design.

In putting together policy and discussing prisoner relations, I was definitely against the effort, as mentioned earlier, and took a very hardline approach of dealing with prisoners after they get out of prison. My goal, at the time of discussions, was to assure the safety and protection of our members, to which I am dedicated. After spending some time with these men, it occurred to me rather quickly, that these were members too.

When three o’clock came around, the leader of the group stated that they were concerned about what would happen to their spirituality as individuals, when they would leave prison and try to hook up with a local group. They didn’t want to have to find more doors in their way than they were already going to experience. Then it hit me: these weren’t just scattered prisoners from prisons here and there, this was a tight knit group – probably tighter than a lot of groups on the outside – and they were afraid of the cohesiveness of their group here and their own spiritual togetherness once they stepped foot outside. They weren’t just concerned: they were scared.

I asked if I could speak, and this is what I said: “I was wrong.” I told them that I was one of the people who were most against prisoner programs and that I was one of the people who drafted a strict prisoner policy once they came out, because I – and the people who elected me – are concerned about prisoners in our midst. Regardless of how well I was received by these men, I still cannot forget that there are victims somewhere and that they too have things to work through. Yet, I had never taken into account the humanity of the people who were sitting in front of me. Never before had I seen a group of people in less than ideal circumstances rise to the occasion and make a better life for themselves, for their fellow Druids, and for the prison community in general. These men had earned the things that they had brought into being. These men, here, now, and today, exemplified the virtues that we hold dear. These were our members.

I told them that I would carry their message forward. I told them that I would tell others about the good work that they had done as Frog Stone Circle. I told them that I would work with each of them individually as they reentered the outside world to make sure that they have a spiritual place to fit into. That particular promise may not be the easiest to keep, but I will give it my best. The one thing I didn’t tell them is that I would be back again sometime. I was impressed and I would like to visit them in this prison again.

Later that evening, at the end of the night, ADF Master Bard Missy Burchfield played a slow, bluesy rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues”. In some ways, it was a nice way to end our visit. I know our members in Frog Stone Circle all look forward to the time when they can be “farther down the line”. We went our way and they went theirs. They went back to their regimented and structured lives and we were swallowed up by the American night. The next evening, I heard someone else play “Folsom Prison Blues”, and I turned to the person next to me and said “I heard that song played in prison last night.” I did get a strange look.

We left that evening, and I think I left a little bit of myself behind those walls. That which was left behind was best left behind: it wasn’t needed anymore. Perhaps that chrysalis was my real offering to the Earth Mother. That and the words “I was wrong”.

Jean (Drum) Pagano is a Senior Priest and the Vice Arch Druid of Ar nDraoicht Fein, a Druid Fellowship. He fancies himself a Bard and a Journeyman Priest. This is his first blog entry.