Archive for the ‘solitary path’ Category

Druiding without (an) Order — 2   1 comment

[Part 1 | Part 2]

path28In the previous post, I looked at thirteen facets of Doing Druidry that mostly revolve around inquiry and study. You can’t easily be a Druid without engaging in at least some form of one or more of them, because each of them connects you to the worlds where Druidry happens. (If that sounds restrictive or dogmatic or exclusive to you, just go back and look at the list! Got something to add that makes you a Druid? Tell us a little about your journey as you go for it!) The list doesn’t characterize only beginning Druidry, but serves as a rough outline for the kinds of studies that can occupy Druids their entire lives. However, that’s not the only thing happening in the life of a Druid.

In this second post on Doing Druidry without an Order, I want to look at five less tangible aspects of Druidry (and other traditions) that may have occurred to you as you read the previous post. These five are initiation, spiritual formation, community, proficiency and service. From the first glance it should be clear why they’re harder to talk about and describe in terms that people can identify. But that fact in itself makes it worthwhile to try. As you may come to see, these five aspects are closely linked things, almost versions of the same thing.

Initiation

Like other intensely personal experiences, initiation will always be a live issue for many of us. What it is, who can experience it, who can oversee, facilitate or “give” it, what happens when we undergo it, and what we become as a result,  can all provoke passionate discussion and disagreement. Most spiritual traditions have an equivalent of one or more initiations among their practices, and the most non-religious among us still experience “built-in” initiation in human events like birth, death, sex, grief and creative flow. Change characterizes each of them. You’re not the same afterwards. When and how you discover this, however, can range very widely.

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We could claim that one of the things that distinguishes modern Pagan practice from older traditions is the option of self and group initiation. As a comparison, Christians, for instance, can’t usually baptize themselves; to become a Muslim requires two witnesses to hear you recite the shahadah, and so forth.

Like other groups, OBOD succeeds tolerably well in having it both ways: the coursework for the grades of Bard, Ovate and Druid includes self-initiations that members can perform, and as a member of the Order you can request a group initiation with other members, and these two initiations aren’t “the same thing”. The rituals are different, the outcomes can be different, yet paradoxically they are in important ways “the same”.

You don’t need to do both a self and a  group initiation, but it makes little sense to continue unless you do one of them. (Doing both gives you a feel for their interconnections and value.) They’re part of doing Druidry. If you’re doing Druidry without an Order, you’ll come quite naturally to initiation in your own way. Your life will see to that. You can seek out initiation, of course, adapting published rituals to your purposes, or crafting something unique to your own experience. Or you can wait until an experience shapes itself into an initiation, which you may not recognize until after the fact.

For an earlier 3-part series on initiation, go here.

Spiritual Formation

This largely Christian term has no ready Pagan equivalent, though this aspect of practice certainly exists in all spiritual traditions. Christian spiritual formation means molding or conforming one’s life to Christ. In Pagan terms it means moving beyond, diving deeper, maturing in practice and wisdom. You begin to embody more of what your tradition values and holds up as an ideal, of what your deepest spiritual connection opens up to you, and open you up to. Pagans speak of Elders, those with earned authority and sacred connection, in ways similar to how Christians speak of saints, of holy individuals that spirit shines through.

One of the joys of a practicing group is the heightened chances of encountering and knowing such people, learning from their example and growing through associating with them. Being around them can constitute a form of initiation. As a number of the Wise have remarked, spirituality is “caught” rather than “taught”. We’re all in training.

Community

The most obvious difference between the experience of the Solitary and the Order member might seem to revolve around community. Christians acknowledge the priceless gift of others. In Hebrews 12:1, for instance, the sense of a supporting community, many without bodies, pervades the verse: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. The interior worship spaces of Orthodox churches often have icons on almost every available surface, emphasizing this spiritual presence of a larger community than only those “with skin on”.

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icons at Varlaam Monastery — image courtesy Andrea Kirkby

Pagans may talk of raising power, while Christians acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit. Isaac Bonewits notes:

If the people in a group have bonds of genuine friendship or love between them, their ability to perform ritual will be greatly enhanced. The psychic and psychological barriers that most people keep between themselves will be fewer and more easily breached. This is why Wiccans place so much emphasis on “perfect love and perfect trust” — love and trust, even when imperfect, tend to strengthen each other and increase a group’s psychological and psychic unity (Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach, pg. 105).

Of course, one of the discoveries Druids make is that they are never alone. Solitary, but not alone. A whole world of Others surrounds them, and if that is where community lies for that particular Druid, that is the call to answer.

Proficiency

We can become refined in the presence of others. Lifted out of our own concerns by the group energy, we can begin to “see larger” than when we arrived, and to take something of that enlarged perspective home with us like a fragrance or flavor to our hours and days. Elastic beings that we are, the company of other people “facing the same direction” can stretch us more than we can easily stretch ourselves, making us more flexible, adaptable, compassionate and empathetic. Think of the privilege of finding a good listener, someone who can still their own concerns and focus their attention on you and your world. How many of us know the love another can express in hearing and seeing us, even if they say little or nothing else? Our lives have been witnessed, our struggles acknowledged, we can walk from there a little lighter of heart.

By their fruits you shall know them, says Jesus, and a good test of a group or Order in the simplest of terms is the kind of people they produce. Are they enjoyable to be around? Do they lift you up or drag you down? Are they kind to each other?

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Service

I desire to know in order to serve, runs the vow in more than one magical order of repute.

So I was struck when my teacher remarked one day that he serves in order to know. That’s how I grow and learn, he says. Offer yourself in “the unreserved dedication”, as some Orders call it, without qualification or expectation, and you will benefit. I get so tired of hearing about service, remarked one long-time member. Go apart for a while, counseled our teacher. You’ll be eager to return when you see how it’s a gift of love. You may just need to be on the receiving end for a time, for that to happen.

We may first begin to recognize the value of service when others serve us with love. If you’re like me, you may have a favorite restaurant (pre-virus, if necessary) where the food isn’t the main thing that draws you back. Yes, the meals are good. But it’s the ambience, the atmosphere, the attentiveness and welcome of the staff, the mood of other customers treated hospitably, that shapes your total experience. We go back for the service as much as anything, we say, when people ask.

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In every case, Solitaries find ways to fulfill these aspects. It may demand more flexibility and creativity, or it may take the Solitary in directions others do not understand. Service to the non-human world, for instance, can often pass unseen, unacknowledged for an entire lifetime, known only to the “bird and beast, bug and beech” the Solitary serves.

Orders, Hierarchies & Solitaries   2 comments

Maybe you are (or you know you prefer to be) an Order of one. It’s simplicity itself. Spontaneous rituals can be, well, spontaneous. Or you live far from any group you know of, your work nights and sleep days, you’ve been burned by groups in the past, your spirits or guides take you where no group goes … Whatever the reason, you feel allergic to Orders, groups, traditions, the whole degrees and status and rules and standard-ritual-format thing. You honor your own life and its direction by walking and practicing alone.

I hear you. And for 350 days out of each year, we could be twins. Or at least close cousins. As a mostly-solitary, most if not all of your reasons are also mine.

Except.

Even solitaries belong to a Tribe. We’re distant kin. If evolutionary biologists have read the genomes right, we can all trace our ancestry back to a few ultimate grandmothers, and possibly even just one. So cousins it is.

People need people. Even (or especially) if your ideal dosage is low.

I’ve written of my experiences with Gatherings on several occasions. I “belong” to OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, in the sense that I study with them through a postal course. No membership card, no annual dues beyond the cost of coursework mailings. I’ve completed the work of the Bard, the first of OBOD’s three grades, and I have a tutor in the U.K.. for my current Ovate study. Apart from any Gatherings I choose to attend once or twice a year, that’s the extent of my group involvement. It’s almost as solitary as it gets. And I certainly don’t restrict my reading or practice or ritual work to OBOD. Nor am I ever asked to.

I maintain a lively interest in several other orders — from a distance. I know several people who have studied with more than one Order. And compilers of the course materials of several of the larger Orders like OBOD and BDO, the British Druid Order, have consciously designed their coursework to be complementary. Study with more than one group and you’ll gain from different emphases. And any overlap, beyond serving as useful review, can deepen understanding because it issues from a different perspective and experience and set of practices.

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Renu Aldritch, OBOD Druid and founder and editor of Druid Magazine*, interviewing OBOD Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm at East Coast Gathering ’17. Photo courtesy Gerfalc Hun.

The current leader of OBOD, Philip Carr-Gomm, has wisely observed that OBOD is a “flat hierarchy”. What matters are individual Druids and their love of the earth. Beyond them, any Groves they may opt to form or associate with. Philip is respected — and teased — and held in generally solid affection by most OBODies I know. But I could complete all three grades of OBOD coursework, never meet him, and never need to meet him or know anything about him. I could self-initiate, and practice on my own, with the useful focus that the study materials of an Order can offer, and never encounter hierarchy at all. Unless you count correspondence with the home office about mailings, or subscribing to the Order’s journal Touchstone, or exchanging letters or emails with a tutor.

I know four other Vermont OBODies, as members informally call themselves. Two of them live three hours away to the north. Another two live 10 minutes to the south. The “Northerners” attended the recent East Coast Gathering. I hadn’t seen them for a year or more. One member 10 minutes to the south joined me and we celebrated Lunasa about two months ago. But we three local OBODies have never managed to get together for coffee, in two years of trying. Solitary, often, right in the middle of being “members of an Order”. As they say, organizing Druids is like herding cats.

In the end, whether you’re an Order-member or a Solitary isn’t an either-or thing. Seeing it as such presents us with a false choice. On the strength of my limited experience as one person, I’d assert that everyone needs both in some form.

Because if I don’t spend time alone with trees and beasts, and energies of human and planetary existence that I can acknowledge and learn from and participate in, I won’t be more than half a Druid at best. And if I don’t learn from others — whether in the quiet company of books, the conversations we all have with “teachers of the moment” that we meet wherever we go, or in the noisier online worlds we’ve made, or the physical Gatherings that can provide so much recharging and good energy and fellowship and new friends — then I miss out on half that the Druid path can offer.

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*Druid Magazine is published online free, three time annually. You can find the current issue, as well as more information, here.

Help Along Our Ways   Leave a comment

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[This lovely image comes courtesy of mistressotdark. And in case you’re wondering: yes, the path sometimes IS this clear, lovely and straight. But we earn these glorious stretches during intervals when everything isn’t sweetness and light.]

Today’s post features an excerpt from Tommy Elf’s moving account of his Bardic journey, framed by his experiences at the first Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana this past weekend. His words dovetail with the previous post here about initiation — always a challenge, whether you’re journeying down a solitary path with its own obstacles and opportunities unique to your nature and history, or along a more public walk with Orders like OBOD.

Here are Tommy’s reflections:

Folks, I have been in my Bardic Grade studies for the last seven years. For those seven years, I believed that I could struggle through the material on my own. I rarely asked for help from my tutor/mentor, and stepped back and forth constantly as life had set into time requirements. At this gathering, I opted to have a Bardic Grade initiation – and I am glad that I did so. It has changed my perspective so much. I had the chance to talk with other Bardic Grade folks, as well as my fellow initiates, about their experiences. And I found out that I was not alone in those moments. Furthermore, one of the guests was Susan Jones, the Tutor Coordinator for OBOD. She held a session with all the Bardic Grade members to discuss pitfalls, and various other aspects concerning the course. Listening to other people discuss their experiences helped me to realize that our journeys may be unique to one another, but there are some aspects that are similar. For anyone currently in their Bardic Grade studies, I cannot stress how much help is actually available to you. You just have to reach out and grab it! There is your mentor/tutor, the discussion board, your own grove or study group (if one is near enough to you), as well as other folks within OBOD who are taking their Bardic grade or have already been through it.

Tommy’s openness here contrasts helpfully, I hope, with my own sometimes opaque references to my journey. There’s also a delightful symbolic resonance to his seven years in Druidry — at a crisis moment, the turn comes, and ways open before him. Seven it is. And now the challenge: what next? How do I incorporate this new thing into my life? How do I step into possibility, and not snuff it out by dragging along with me everything I DON’T need? What am I called to do? What CAN I do?

If time truly is what keeps everything from happening at once, and space is what keeps everything from happening here, we have ample reason to be grateful to both, pains though they both often are. Or more elegantly, as I’m fond of quoting Thoreau: “Time is the stream [we] go fishing in …”

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