Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oath Rite Review and Evaluation

Ah, the oath rite.  For many it is the last requirement to check off the list of DP necessities and I was no exception.  I had been thinking about my oath off and on for the better part of nine months, and very seriously for the last two months or so.  After lots of contemplation and a few focused meditation sessions I came up with my plan.  I was to take February 28th off work and perform the ritual outside at home once my kids had been dropped off at their respective schools (I wanted the solitude to make it easier to concentrate).  I had the full ritual written over two weeks prior to date of the rite.  I had worked with an artist on Etsy to get a small, silver crescent-shaped pendant for my significant symbol of the oath - not only was it visually appealing but harkened back to the lunula pendants commonly found in the graves of Slavic women from the 10th through 12th centuries.  It hung from my jewelry tree for a month as I put the pieces of the oath rite together.  I often looked at the necklace as a reminder of what was to come, and longed for the time when I could wear it.

Flowers for the Zorya and barley for Matka Ziemia
Early in the oath rite week it became clear that a change of plans may be needed; the weather forecast spoke of increasing cold and freezing rain/snow for the 28th.  I would either need to change my date for the ritual or consider having it indoors.  It had always been very important to me to perform the rite outside on the property my family owns and I wondered if the change in the weather was Marzanna's way of telling me to just get on with it.  I decided to complete the oath rite on the evening of the 26th - it was a beautiful winter day with highs near 40 and bright sun (the last nice day of the week).  I gathered my materials together and began laying out the make-shift altar as my husband graciously built the fire up. 

Not long into setting up the space I realized that the necklace - the specially requested, very symbolic, beautiful oath rite necklace - had slipped off my arm sometime in the trek from the house to the fire (about 80 yards).  Dismayed, I scoured the ground over and over again, looking for the necklace.  After a half hour of frantic searching (and with help from my husband) it became clear that I would have to let it go (at least for now) in order to get the rite completed.  I quickly grabbed a ring from my jewelry stash and determined that I would reword that portion of the ritual to make clear that the ring would be a temporary symbol until I could find/obtain a lunula.

Make-shift altar
 So, after all that I began the ritual a bit later than intended.  At the start of the ritual the wind chill was around 30 degrees, so I had layered up and put on extra pairs of socks, hoping that this would be enough to get me through.  The fire was big and bright and the sky was that glorious mix of blue and purple that announces the start of the sunset.

The ritual began smoothly as I purified myself and the area and recreated the cosmos.  I had forgotten to bring salt for the nature spirits, so I offered them a portion of mead originally set aside for Perun and noted its ingredient of honey.  I also forgot to do the Two Powers meditation at the beginning, so I did it just before the opening of the gates.  For the gate opening I called on the Zorya - goddesses that, in all honesty, I have not worked with that much.  Despite this I felt like they were very much present and active and found my sacrifice of flowers pleasing.

By the time of the key offerings the chill was definitely creeping into my bones and I was beginning to stumble on a few words because of this.  Due to the darkness it was also becoming increasingly difficult to read the script.  I managed my way through the oath sacrifice and onto the omens.  For the omens I used the Wildwood Tarot deck and asked/received the following:

What wisdom do you share with me?
      Answer:  Ace of Bows*Spark of Life
          "By shaping, directing and persevering with the tool that both hunts and nurtures fire, we kindle the spark that starts the process of creation and empowerment...Be prepared to learn new skills, adapt to a changing environment and focus and tune your instincts to the task at hand."

This omen serves as a reminder that, while many see the oath rite as a ending place (the final piece of the DP puzzle), this is not really a stopping point.  Learning, practice, patience and change are all required and to be expected as I continue on this path.

What blessing do you offer?
     Answer:  Ten of Arrows*Instruction
          "Instruction and communication are required between the generations to help use old skills in new ways...we must take a conscious effort to pass on traditional wisdom and skills and make the relationship with those disciplines as vital as ever."

I see this omen as two-fold; first as an invitation from the ancestors concerning their willingness to serve as teachers as I continue my path and begin exploring in more detail the role of seer.  Secondly, I also see it as a reminder that we must keep our faith a living and breathing tradition and include our children so that knowledge is not lost.


What do you request of me to further our work together?
     Answer:  Page of Stones*Lynx
          "Pay attention to the physical realm, and be aware of the effects generated by everything you do.  A strain of wildness and lack of forethought can sometimes hamper your forward passage, but careful consideration redresses the balance."

With this omen I see the kindred asking me to remain diligent and reflective about my work within the faith (rather than a relaxed, seat-of-my-pants, willy-nilly approach).  Whether it is comments on Facebook, working with our local grove or studying the Seers Guild study program I should remain mindful and aware of the consequences of my actions.

Overall, I felt that the omens were very positive and helpful.

By this time the cold was becoming unbearable as the windchill hovered near 20 degrees.  Despite multiple layers on my hands and feet my fingers and toes were changing from tingly-numb to tingly-painful.  This made the drinking of the blessing a bit challenging, but I purposefully made myself go slow so that I wasn't rushing through things and not really being present.  When it came time to dedicate the token I changed the wording some to make clear that the ring would stand in temporarily until a lunula was available.

After this I finished the ritual and quickly gathered up important items to take in, along with throwing any extra water from the well/cup onto the fire.  My fingers and toes were excruciatingly in pain and I headed to the shower to warm up and wash off the smell of the fire.

Later, I realized that I had thrown the water in the well onto the fire before removing my treasured ring that had silvered the well.  And my husband also reported that his cell phone went missing some time near the end of getting the fire ready.  The ring was eventually recovered in the ashes of the fire, but the lunula pendant and cell phone are still missing at the time of this writing (despite three days of treasure hunting sessions by both me and my husband).  I've prayed for the pendant's return, and also made an offering to the polevik to aid in the search.  Yesterday in a meditation session I asked the Kindred for assistance and, surprisingly, Baba Yaga showed up.  I have not had any previous workings with her, so it was a bit of a curveball.  The card I drew afterwards for clarification was the Page of Bows*Stoat card - one I have never previously drawn.  It speaks of dreams and vision and the appearance of a stranger.  All of this seems very fitting with Baba Yaga and suggests that I need to forge some relationship with her.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Text of Oath Rite

Initiating the Rite: 
      (3 chimes each for the Ancestors, the Spirits of the Land, and The Shining Ones)

     Two Powers Meditation
     Opening Prayer: 
Power of creativity that attends us
Voice of the Well of Wisdom
Voice of the Fire of Inspiration
I call you to place the clear heart in me
Come into my heart's shrine
Guide my rite in the way of truth
O power of inspiration in this holy place
O power of inspiration at this holy time
So Be It! 

     Purification: (use mugwort to smudge three times around ritual area and then self) 
Likewise I acknowledge in myself
Weakness and doubt
Hatred and spite
Cowardice and ignorance.
I contemplate these ills and enemies
And for this sacred time
I purify myself
And set them aside.

          By the might of the smoke of the fire, this ritual is made whole and holy.

Honoring the Earth MotherMatka Ziemia - I am your child, born of your womb and nourished by your abundance.  You are the foundation of each day, as I place my feet upon you and walk this world.  I pray that you bless and uphold my rite today, as you uphold the whole world.  Matka Ziemia - accept my sacrifice!  (sprinkle barley on the ground)

Statement of Purpose:  As the ancient wise ones did before me, so I seek to do now.  I, Michelle - known to you also as Marzena - approach the gods in pride and wonder, as a seeker of blessing, bringing offerings in honor of all of the kins of spirits. I come to the well and kindle fire to make an oath of dedication to the path of the old wisdom, the eternal way. I come to give my worship to the gods and goddesses, to the beloved and wise dead, and to all the Kindreds and spirits with whom I share the worlds. Especially I bring offerings to Perun, Mokosz, Dazhbog, Marzenna and Veles. I ask them to bear witness to my oath, and guide and ward my way.
Recreating the Cosmos:
Deep water of the well - your living water saturates down into the ground, nourishing tender roots and seeds even while they slumber. And you flow beyond, past soil and stone into a land of memory and shadow, the land of our ancestors. Without you our world would be barren and lonely. Please accept this gift of silver as receipt of my gratitude. (put ring in the well)

Fire burning brightly - you above all others, have the ability to transform offerings into that which is acceptable.  I thank you for the transformation of my sacrifices and offer you this oil in gratitude. (pour oil into the fire)

Mighty tree - you which weaves all worlds together.  Your branches stretch and reach towards Tthe shining Gods and Goddesses, your roots meander deep into the soft earth beckoning to the ancestors, and your trunk connects them all here, with us, in our world today among ourselves and the spirits of this land.  I offer you this incense in deep appreciation of your services both in the past and that which you will provide here today. (light incense and place in front of tree)

Opening the Gate: You who are opposed to this rite, I acknowledge you and offer to you this, to occupy you during my work here today. (pour whiskey on the ground)

Zorya - bright morning and evening stars, mighty sisters who guard the gates of the hellhound, come to my fire.  I ask that you keep the boundaries firm against those who wish ill fortune upon this work, and open the gates so the the Kindred Three may join me here and witness my oath.  I offer you these flowers in appreciation for your assistance. (put flowers in the fire)

Let the gates be open. The water, the fire and the tree flow and flame and grow within me. Feel roots burrow deep, draw up the water of life, and stretch branches towards the fire of the sky.

(Note to Self:  take a moment to recenter/ground if necessary)

Offerings to the Kindreds:
     Ancestors - A child of the Earth calls out to the mighty dead. Hear me, I pray, O ancestors, my kindred. To those whose blood is my blood, to those from far away lands that offered the first sacrifice and learned the proper ways to honor the Slavic gods and goddesses - you are welcome here at my fire!  I greet you with a joyous heart and kind words.  I ask you to hear my voice and witness my oath. I pray to you to guide my ways as I walk the path of the Old Ways.  Mighty dead, accept my offering (pour ale  and breadcrumbs into hole in the earth)

     Nature Spirits - A child of the Earth calls out to the tribes of spirits. Hear me, I pray, O companions, my allies.  Spirits of this land, you who live among the trees, in the tall grasses and deep withing the native waters, you have a place here at my fire.  To the Kindreds of stone and stream; to those of leaf and root and shoot, to those of fur and feather and scale. To all, I give welcome at my sacred fire.  I offer to you, lovely wild ones. I ask you to hear my voice and witness my oath. I pray that you will open my way as I walk the way of the earth in reverence. Nature Spirits, I give you honor and welcome you with sacrifice.  (sprinkle salt on the ground)

     Deities - A child of the Earth calls out to the Shining Ones. Hear me, I pray, gods and goddesses of old time.  You who are worthy of worship, you who make all things possible - your glory is brighter than all creation and inspires greatness in those who follow you.  The first children of the Mother, the wisest and mightiest; to all the deities of this land, known or unknown - you are welcome here at my fire.  Eldest and brightest, mighty ones who watch over me, I ask you to hear my voice and witness my oath. I pray you empower my ways as I walk the path of divine magic, the way of the elders. Accept this sacrifice and know that my heart calls for you. (place incense packet in the fire)

(Note to Self: pause to meditate for a while on the presence of the host of spirits called. Speak in your heart to whichever of them may present themselves and listen for their voice)

Key Offerings:

Mighty Perun - God of lightning, dispenser of justice.  With your mighty powers you conquer the serpent which threatens to destroy our world in confusion and drought.  You hold chaos at bay and bring order to this world. Come to my fire and witness my oath.  Accept this sacrifice in gratitude of your presence and assistance - in the past, here today and in the future.  Perun, accept my sacrifice. (pour the mead into the fire along with the Perun envelope that contains incense)

Mokosz - Goddess of grain, you who germinates and gestates the seeds, roots and shoots that brings life and beauty to our world. Your gifts are abundant and provide nourishment and enjoyment both for our bodies and our souls.  Come to my fire and witness my oath.  Accept this sacrifice for all that you give. Mokosz, accept my sacrifice! (place Mokosz envelope with vegetable seeds and embroidery thread in the fire)

Dazhbog - Mighty blacksmith, brilliant inventor - you who gave fire to mankind and continues to inspire our works.  Our world would be dark and lifeless without your daily pulling of the sun across the sky in your chariot.  Come to my fire and witness my oath.  I offer this sacrifice in gratitude for your generosity.  Dazhbog, accept my sacrifice! (place Dazhbog envelope with metal beads in the fire)

Marzanna - Goddess of winter and death, mistress of visions.  You who weave winter across this land and blanket the fields in frost and slumber.  Come to my fire and witness my oath.  I offer you this gift, in appreciation for the essential workings that you craft so well.  Marzanna, accept my sacrifice (place Marzanna envelope with bone and incense in the fire)

Veles -  God of cattle, magic, poetry and music.  Punisher of broken oaths, mighty god of liminality and master of the gates between the living and the dead.  Come to my fire and witness my oath.  From early in this journey of mine you have kept watch over me and provided me assistance.  Even when I was not aware, you patiently led me on to where I needed to be.  You have been my keeper, tending to a member of your herd like the good shepherd that you are.  Please accept this offering, in sincere gratitude for all that you have done, and will continue to do.  Veles, accept my sacrifice! (pour vodka into the file along with Veles envelope with oats)

The Oath Sacrifice: 
A child of the Earth comes here to make an oath to the powers of the worlds. I come by the road of seeking, through the door of new learning, to the fire of inspiration, to the well of wisdom, to the gates between the worlds.
Hear me, O powers, as I offer up this sacrifice.  I give you my oath as an offering in your honor. O mighty, noble and shining ones, hear me, I pray.  I am Michelle, sometimes known to you as Marzena, and it is my will to walk the Pagan way.  I swear by the gods and by the dead and by all the spirits. I swear to live by the virtues given by tradition, to strive to live well and do good. I swear to keep the Old Ways, to keep the feasts and observances and the wheel of the year. I swear to seek the truth of the elder ways, to learn the lore and meaning of our ancestors' wisdom. These things I swear by the well that flows in me, by the fire that shines in me, by the tree that roots and crowns my soul.
Before all the powers, and especially before my gods Perun, Mokosz, Dazhbog, Marzenna, and Veles,  I swear it. Before the blessed Mother Earth, Matka Ziemia, I swear it and whisper it to her. (Kneel and whisper oath to the earth)  Like the ancients of old I take a piece of her within me to seal this oath.  (with knife take a small piece of earth and eat it)  May the three worlds rise against me if I am forsworn, and may Veles punish me if my word be broken.  So be it!
Mighty, noble and shining ones, accept my sacrifice and my oath!

The Omens:  
I ask that the Kindreds speak to me.  (go through questions with the cards)

     What wisdom do you share with me?
     What blessings do you offer?
     What do you request of me to further our work together?

Charm for Hallowing of the Water:  
As a child of the Earth I call for the blessings of the Kindreds to impregnate this water.  I fill the belly of my spirit with this drink - O Holy Ones, give as I have given to you!  Let this vessel receive your blessings! (drink some from the cup)

The Blessing:
(Note to Self: as you sip renew your center, and feel yourself drinking in the power of the gods and spirits)

Take up the dedication token and anoint it with the waters from the cup.

I dedicate this necklace as a symbol and reminder of my oath here today.  As in ancient days, this lunula I will wear as a child of the Earth and as a Slavic woman.  May it serve always to remind me of my oath.  Let the blessing of the powers shine and flow in it, turning aside ill and kindling wisdom, love and power in my spirit. (put necklace on)

(Note to Self: meditate for a time on the whole work: on the surroundings, and the spirits and the pagan path)

Affirmation of the Blessings:  
By this work I am blessed.  To all that have aided me here today, I give thanks. 

Thanking the Beings:
Perun, Mokosz, Dazhbog, Marzenna and Veles - may I always be right in my worship and the recipient of your blessings.

Ancestors and the Spirits of the Land - thank you for witnessing my oath and participating in this rite.

Closing the Gates
Zorya - sisters - I offer you gratitude for minding the gates so that I could honor the Kindred and make my oath today in peace.  Your work here today is done.

Thanking the Earth Mother: 
Matka Ziemia, thank you for upholding this rite and blessing me and mine daily with your generous gifts.

Statement of Ending
May the tree be just a tree, the well just water, and the fire a simple fire.  Let me leave here today with blessings upon me and peace within. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Mental Discpline Essay

Let me preface this essay be explaining that over the years I had had no luck with mainstream approaches to meditation - my very active mind could never quite overcome the surrounding stimuli to result in anything productive or meaningful.  I abandoned any attempts at productive meditation about 15 years ago.  On the other hand, dreaming had, from a very early age, been an important way for me to process information, try out new situations and on some occasions, become privy to information that would otherwise not have been available to me.  In hindsight, trance work would have been a better choice.

In 2012 a fellow grove-mate introduced me meditative trance work that utilized recorded drumming sessions; using this format was challenging as I adjusted to the audio stimulus, but after 8 minutes or so I realized that I was able to shut out my surroundings and "go with the flow" of the visions.  That session only last 10 minutes but was very promising.

My first attempt to work towards the mental discipline requirement of the DP was in the fall of 2012. My plans were to use a 20 minute drum trance session at least once a week.  Over the course of a few weeks I was able to complete a few sessions and through these experiences I confirmed a relationship with the Slavic hearth culture and ancestors.  Alas, after five weeks or so of this routine my schedule changed and I found it increasingly difficult to make the time (an ensure a quite atmosphere without the kids around) to continue this practice.

After falling off the wagon (so to speak), for several months I was determined to initiate and complete the required five months of mental discipline.  I began once more in late August of 2013 and again used the 20  minute drum trance recording, followed by a simple one card reading afterwards for clarification and contemplation (all of this to be recorded in a journal).  My goal was to do this at least once a week and on the high days.  What I found very interesting was that from the beginning the realm or environment (for lack of a better word) that I found myself in during these sessions was very different from what I had experienced the previous autumn.  I began to visit with what would become a recurring figure that resided in a cottage in a shallow valley.  Over the course of the first month I began to realize that this figure was Veles, Slavic god of cattle, commerce, magic, the underworld and music.  I was a bit surprised by this, as I hadn't spent as much devotional energies towards Veles as towards some of the other Slavic deities such as Perun and Mokosz.  But time after time he appeared and clearly wanted some commitment from me.  In one particularly memorable trance I finally made a tentative oath to Veles - immediately after I made the oath I was jolted out of the trance by an extremely loud thunder/lightening strike from nearby on our property.  In ancient Slavic cultures oaths were sworn before/in the name of two deities - Perun (god of war and thunder) and Veles.  It was as if Perun made his formal witnessing of the oath known.

During the second month there was a bit more variability in my trance visions.  Sometimes the ancestors were there, and in others I was once again in the realm visited in the sessions from the fall of 2012.  Sometimes I began the session with a specific question in mind, and sometimes I just went with the flow.  I began experimenting with using the Two Powers meditation at the beginning of my sessions.  During the trances I was still frequenting Veles and his cottage; often this served as the "launch pad" for the main activity of the session.  Once during this month my MP3 player died before the drumming was over.  Lesson learned.  I did a session every week this month, plus an additional one on the autumnal equinox.

During the third month I determined that the weekly trance sessions were more effective if I did the Two Powers meditation at the beginning; I also felt like going into the session with a specific question in mind was better than not having a focus.  Some Scythian elements began to creep in to the imagery I experienced, and the amount of underground elements increased.  Once I remained the tree from the Two Powers meditation for the entire time, and it was quite serene.  I also experimented with a shorter 12 minute drum session when I was short on time (figuring a short session was better than no session at all).

At the start of the fourth month I began smudging mugwort 20 minutes or so before I began the session - this definitely seemed to enhance the trance.  I also began to feel that sometimes the 20 minute drum session wasn't long enough - sometimes I was just getting to the crux of things when the drum pattern changed to call me back.  Due to time constraints I had to miss a weekly session and definitely felt the loss - this had clearly become a habit.  I did do an "extra" session on the winter solstice.  Near the end of the month I acquired a longer drum trance recording (up to 60 minutes) and was very pleased to have the flexibility.  My relationship with Veles continued to strengthen.

During the fifth month of regular trance sessions I focused on my individual relationships with the nature spirits, the ancestors, and with the Shining Ones.  I had stopped using the mugwort smudge prior to sessions but started it back up because of what seemed a noticeable beneficial difference.  I did an extra session for the new year and I spoke with the kindred about my future practice as a Druid and what to include in my upcoming oath rite.

Going forward, I can see myself continuing this practice - although with a bit more flexibility as far as schedule.  I will definitely use this process as a resource when I need guidance or advice, or to note special holidays.  I am also interested in the possibility of exploring the role of seer, and how these practices work within that construct.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three Kindreds Essay

The Nature Spirits

Nature spirits are unique in that they share this middle realm with us.  They fall into many categories - those tied to a specific place (genius loci), those with a broader territory (so to speak) and those that represent a sort of collective soul of an element of nature. 

Genius loci are spirits of a particular place, whether it be a specific building, river or a mountain.  On the property my family owns I view the dry creek and trees on the property as having their own unique spirits.  I talk with them and leave offerings.  The land itself has its own spirit as well, one forged in glacial till, bison paths and farming long before we came.

Then there are the creatures with spirit that roam the lands.  Deer, coyote and wild turkeys regularly cross our property.  We've found snakes in the garden, a westbound baby snapping turtle in the field, and too many types of birds to name.  We let them go about their business, maybe offering a word of advice or a morsel here and there.  Bluebird houses dot the fields and each summer night we can spot our resident bat is a good night indeed.  These spirits may just be passing through, or take up residence in our area, but they have just as much right to be there as we do.

There is another type of nature spirit that functions as a sort of collective energy.  We may call on the spirit of the wolf or oak, without referring to a particular canine or tree.  In a way this spirit is a sort of cosmic essence of the element of nature we wish to summon or address.

Sometimes nature spirits can communicate with you, by the leaving of a feather, or mark upon a tree of even by the simple gift of their presence.

I try to take time to regularly stop and appreciate the nature spirits around me.  During the warmer months I often take my morning coffee outside and watch the birds flitter about (sometimes during these moments I also have the delight of seeing deer or turkeys as well).  This activity helps me to remember to keep the bird feeders full.  During the winter I try to take a perimeter walk of our property every month just to "check in" with the spirits.  Sometimes I leave salt out, and when we slaughter our meat chickens we leave the entrails out on the edge of the property for the coyotes.

There are many types of nature spirits identified in Slavic traditions.  Some are specific to a location, such as the bannik (mischievous spirit of the bathhouse), while some are more generalized like leszy (woodland spirits) and polevik (dwarf-like spirits of open fields). 

The Ancestors

The ancestors are the ones who have gone before, that have made today possible.  They dwell in the dark, cool of the deep, beyond the waters.  Ancestors can be of the blood, or of the heart and mind.

Ancestors of the blood are those with which one has a genetic relationship.  They are the grandparents, parents, cousins and siblings who have passed from this living realm into the dark realm.  In my own personal practice I try to honor my blood ancestors both by honoring them collectively in rituals, as well as individually (Grandpa appreciates pipe tobacco, Grandma  likes black licorice, etc.).  Every year since my beloved Great-Grandmother passed away in 2004 I have, on her birthday, served for dinner her favorite meal and sung her happy birthday.  Honoring her in this way seems the least I can do in gratitude for all the love and encouragement she provided me and my family.

Ancestors of the heart and mind are those that we may not be related to but have made a serious impact on our lives.  We may have known these ancestors personally - for example, my best friend from childhood died when we were 16.  She is one of the ancestors I honor in ritual and at my altar and by speaking of her to my children.  Some ancestors of the heart and mind we have not known while they were living, due the limitations of time and space.  For some members of ADF, Rev. Bonewits falls into this category; I did not have the honor of meeting him while he was still living, but the effects of the work he put into this faith and organization have made a tremendous impact upon me.  Likewise, the Slavic ancestors may be separated from me by hundreds (if not thousands) of years, but I honor them in gratitude for the faith they practiced and our common worship of the same deities and nature spirits.  For these ancestors I offer gratitude by speaking of my faith, by keeping the old ways and by making certain choices in the way I live and the crafts I make.

Communication with the ancestors can come in many form; in dreams, smells and meditative visions.

The ancestors are a critical component of native Slavic faiths.  In many traditions the soul of the ancestor was seen to split in two at death - one part contributing to the nature spirits while the other remained with the identity of the loved one.  Plates are often left out for the ancestors at ritual meals and some ancestors take on the task of protecting a household.  These spirits, known as domovoi, are in a sense part genius loci (guardian of the house) and part traditional ancestor (in some traditions the domovoi are viewed as paternal ancestors).  Many families treat the domovoi as an unseen family member, speaking with him and giving him gifts of bread, salt, and old shoes.  In our household the domovoi has his own offering bowl on our altar where we leave gifts of bread and salt for him.

The Shining Ones

The Shinning Ones, the deities, are the mighty gods and goddesses, those who from the beginning shaped and forged our world.  For some, the deities are the original ancestors.  They are referred to as dwelling in the heavens, although their presence can transcend the three realms (indeed, some are known to inhabit the Underworld).  Each IndoEuropean culture has their own unique gods and goddesses and pantheons; while there are historical examples of syncretism, in general each pantheon is composed of specific, individual deities - they are not simply archetypes or personified forces of nature.

The Shining Ones can participate in all three realms and influence human activity, but they are not necessarily omnipotent.  Each of the gods and goddesses have certain elements of nature and/or human activity that they hold sway over.  For example, Perun is the Slavic god of thunder and warfare - these are his realms and he should not be petitioned to act upon the areas of the dead or weaving because he has little authority there (and these are the domains of other gods and goddesses).

We know of the deities through myth and legend and the prayers that have survived through the years.  We can honor and petition them through prayers, offerings, and sacrifice.  Most in ADF form especially strong connections with specific cultural pantheons; by working with the same gods and goddesses over time we can learn their preferences and strengths (and sometimes their limitations and fickleness).   For the past 14 months I have worked exclusively with the Slavic pantheon, in ritual and in meditation.  I have gained a better understanding of each deity and their strengths and preferences.  This means that during ritual the words I speak are rooted in knowledge and experience and the dialogue between the realms feels balanced.  By repeatedly working with the same deities I know that Perun prefers offerings of alcohol, Dazhbog accepts anything that will feed the flame and gifts of bones are suitable to Marzenna.  Overtime I have forged particularly strong relationships with Veles and Mokosz.  I offer alcohol and oats to Veles, and during the harvest months Mokosz receives a portion of the garden produce.

Before Christian influence the native Slavic faiths were largely aniconic.  Depictions of the gods and goddesses are extremely rare - in contrast to Celtic and Germanic cultures.  As such Slavic prayers typically do not describe the Shining Ones in physical appearance so much but instead focus on the abilities and deeds of the god or goddess, as well as the devotion and intent of the petitioner. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: The Early Slavs: Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe

I chose to read/review P.M. Barford's 2001 The Early Slavs:  Culture and Society in Early Medieval Eastern Europe for the hearth culture reading requirement.  As someone dedicated to a Slavic hearth (and with a minor in Slavic Languages and Literature) it seemed a natural choice, as its focus is pan-Slavic and covers some of the earliest periods of known Slavic culture.

The scope of The Early Slavs covers the 5th through 11th centuries - specifically that time period when mention of the Slavs first appear in contemporary written accounts through the formation of Slavic states and nations.  The structure of the book consists of 13 chapters reviewing the material culture, daily practices and political activities of the South, West and East Slavs during the medieval period.

Many limitations exists for those studying the lives of early Slavs.  Because they were illiterate until well after their Christianization, the earliest references and descriptions of pagan Slavs come in the writings of contemporary politicians, ambassadors and missionaries.  Relatively few of these sources remain today and what there is leaves much to be desired.  Barford concisely reviews these sources both in the introduction and first chapters of The Early Slavs, while also noting their limitations.  He wisely cautions the use of these materials for making overarching conclusions about pre-Christian Slavs, reminding the reader that they most likely represent the interests and motives of the writer and their intended (and often elite) audience.

Barford's discussion of ethnogenesis and ethnicity is clear and concise.  He makes use of helpful analogies while avoiding semantic pitfalls and confusions that might deter the average reader.  In this way Barford's writing on the topic is much more accessible than Florin Curta's parallel coverage in The Making of the Slavs:  History and Archaeology of the Lower Danube Region c. 500-700.  Before delving into the archaeology of the Slavs Barford cautions, "We cannot talk of Slav ethnicity, just because we are dealing with Slav-speakers:  there have to be other elements linking the group together before we can refer to it as a ethnic group," (p. 30).

The middle section of the book covering the archaeology and material culture of the early Slavs is vast and is clearly Barford's forte.  Through these chapters he summarizes the cultural assemblages of each region over time, noting logical links of succession and breaks in continuity and technique.  While the weight of this entire work rests on archaeological findings and interpretation, Barford points out the limitations of archaeology and the importance of resisting assigning specific ethnicities to Bronze Age materials.  These chapters can be a bit overwhelming for the lay reader, as the author often uses technical language to describe materials (particularly pottery) that may be unfamiliar.  However, he does occasionally develop historical "scenes" to put all the pieces together into a cohesive whole.

The chapters that would most likely be of use to ADF members are those entitled "Daily Life" and "Pagan Ideologies."  Both of these chapters provide a brief overview but unfortunately lack the depth and exposition of the previous chapters (despite the availability of published, academic-quality material).  "Daily Life" provides a nice snapshot of a Slavic household in the early medieval period but is light on some important cultural practices, such as the evidence for fiber work, animal husbandry and cooking. Additionally, in future editions the section on the physical appearance of early Slavs could benefit from a refocus on the copious amount of research conducted in the past decade on the genetic composition of early Slavs and any isotopic analyses of human remains from the same time period.   "Pagan Ideologies" is at best a skimming of traditional views on the religion of the early Slavs.  It is disappointing that Barford does not make use of some of the cross-cultural comparisons in the academic literature for illumination.  Additionally, this chapter is considerably light on references which is concerning with some of the broad-sweeping conclusions Barford puts forth (i.e. Svarog was not just the god of celestial fire but also "probably the domestic hearth," p. 195).  In future editions, both of these chapters could greatly benefit from academic collaboration.

The last few chapters of The Early Slavs focus on the rise of state-nations and the emergence of Slavs onto the political map of late medieval Europe.  The pedantic nature of the text makes reading difficult and confusing at times, especially if the reader is not already familiar with the names and players of those in power during the time period. 

 Despite any shortcomings, The Early Slavs is a rare gem - a compendium written for the Western reader in a field where most research is published in scholarly, non-English journals. It serves as a thorough survey of early Slavs, from which the interested reader can take advantage of the citations and more recent academic publications to further their own personal research.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Personal Practice Essay

Like many members, I came to ADF with an eclectic religious background.  I grew up in a relatively non-religious household but knew all the common Sunday school stories. When I was in fourth grade I stumbled upon the Greek mythology books in our school library and became absolutely obsessed with the topic for the next several years. During that time I concluded that the gods and goddesses still existed and even prayed to them on occasion.  In my teen years my interest in religion plummeted and  for many years I professed myself as agnostic. My favorite way to spend time was hiking around area farms, learning about the local wildlife and flora.  In my college days I was an anthropology student (with a minor in Slavic Languages and Literature), so my exposure to world cultures and religions expanded many fold.  In my early 20's I became interested in Judaism and even considered conversion, though the rabbi I worked with was very discouraging. In my study of Judaism I realized that what I was drawn to was more of the ritual and traditions, rather than the theology itself.  Blending of any faiths wasn't necessary once I was married, as my husband had long before grown disillusioned with his Lutheran upbringing.

After our daughters were born our family began attending the local Unitarian Universalist (UU) fellowship, where I bumped elbows with many different faiths. At one point I co-led a women's group exploration of the diving feminine.  As a result of this experience I began to feel more comfortable working with the concept of deities (in a very generic sense) and event set up a small altar at home.  In April of 2006 my husband was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lymphoma and the world came crashing down. Over the next year my faith in the divine grew as blessings that should not have fallen in to place on their own did so. This was a time that I can point to now as the period when my faith in something larger was cemented.  Finding a need to be grateful to a higher power, I became disenchanted with my heavily-humanistic/anti-spiritual UU community. Once my husband's health stabilized after a stem cell transplant in May of 2007 I felt like I had not only a desire, but an obligation to explicitly honor the divine. Sadly, our UU community did not provide a place where I could do so.  Eventually, upon an invitation from my in-laws, I attended an Episcopal cathedral for a while, where the deistic language and worship service helped fill a void within me. But after a full year cycle in the Episcopal church I could no longer ignore the nagging in the back of my mind which longed for social justice and environmental awareness in my religious work.  I returned to the UU fellowship in 2009.  

During my absence a new family had joined the fellowship, one in which the wife was visibly growing in her belief and practices as a pagan.  Watching her reminded me of what I had learned and felt years before - walking on the farms, praying to the Greek gods, and singing to the goddess.   Moved by this (and always the anthropologist) I indulged my curiosity by once again researching the ancient religions I studied in college.  Eventually, I came across the works of Ceisiwr Serith and felt an instant connection with his description of PIE deities and rituals.  During this same time period the above mentioned woman started up a local ADF proto-grove and invited me to attend the rituals.  Initially, I was hesitant as I was not familiar with ADF and what the rituals entailed.   Eventually, I was sweet talked into hosting the proto-grove's 2012 PIE Beltane ritual once it was discovered that I was a fan of Serith's work.  That ritual served as my introduction to ADF, and I liked what I saw - the ritual structure, the reverence and the camaraderie.  Over the course of the next several rituals (which continued to be held on our property) and months searching online I learned more about ADF and came to also appreciate the scholarship and thoughtfulness inherit in the organization.  One again our family had an altar in the living room and my daughters participated in both household and ADF rituals.  I realized that I truly was a polytheist.  It was a natural outgrowth of this participation when I joined ADF in October of 2012.

During this time most of my spiritual work (mostly prayers) where with the PIE pantheon, but I had also been very interested in Slavic folklore for many years.  As I researched more I began blending the two a bit, especially when I had time to do simple devotionals.  I knew that I would have to choose one specific pantheon to focus on for the Dedicant Path program and wasn't sure how to proceed - both personally and with the Dedicant Path requirements.  I briefly explored the Norse and Celtic pantheons, but there was not the connection I felt with the PIE and Slavic pantheons.  I knew I would eventually need to find a home hearth for the Dedicant Path, and was feeling a bit ungrounded and unfocused in my worship.  As a result I made the quest to find a home hearth the core of my first mental discipline/meditation sessions in the winter of 2012/2013.  Over the course of several sessions I received what I perceived to be an invitation of guidance from the Slavic ancestors. I began to research the Slavic pantheon in length and found that my background with Slavic languages and cultures helped me forge a connection. Eventually I made the commitment to focus solely on the Slavic pantheon.

When I first joined ADF I did not have a desire to work on the Dedicant Path program right away.  However, I attended the Ad Astra Grove retreat in March of 2013 and had the pleasure of meeting Michael J. Dangler and Jon Drum.  Their workshops energized me to start working on the Dedicant Path and I made a commitment to myself to complete it during the next year.  I had been experiencing a break in meditation work so instead I wrote up my ritual attendance essays and really dove in to studying the early Slavic religion.  Working with the Slavic pantheon can make one feel like a bit of an outsider on ADF discussion boards and social media pages, since most ADF ritual, philosophy and terminology (and member base) is very Celtic/Germanic oriented.  Additionally, sources on Slavic history can be hard to come by and are often academic in nature.  Luckily my experience in academia and strong research skills aided in this work.  Another struggle I encountered is that many Slavic neo-pagans (some in ADF) include in their worship and rituals tributes to deities for which there is no reputable historical source.  This is an unfortunate consequence of The Book of Veles, an apocryphal text describing ancient Slavic religious life that has near universally been deemed a forgery by researchers and specialists.  I feel like it is a bit of an "elephant in the room" situation that I have not seen any discussion about in ADF channels (either formally or informally).  

I have worked exclusively with the Slavic pantheon during the past year when not required to do otherwise when participating in grove rituals.  During this time I restarted my meditation work, the workings of which greatly increased my connection to Veles.  I also began embroidering an altar cloth and committed to extra gardening work out of devotion to Mokosz.  I completed personal rituals with the Slavic pantheon on the spring equinox, autumn equinox, fourth cross-quarter and winter solstice (the latter two focused heavily on the ancestors).  I also led a Slavic-oriented public ritual for the grove on the third cross-quarter.

During the next year I plan to erect an altar to the nature spirits on our land and to make a small altar to Mokosz and Matka Ziemia (Mother Earth) in the vegetable garden.  I also plan to dedicate a spot in our living room to honor the ancestors.

Monday, January 13, 2014

High Day Essay: Third Cross-Quarter

The neo-pagan third cross-quarter holiday, commonly known as Lughnasadh or Lammas, is based upon historical Gaelic festivities of similar name.  In the past, the holiday of Lughnasadh marked the beginning of the harvest season and included several activities that strengthened community identity, such as ritual meals which followed sacrifices.  Athletic competitions and mock battles were also common at this time of year.

For modern pagans the observance of the third cross-quarter can vary greatly depending upon background and location.  Many choose to honor the harvest aspect of the holiday by baking bread and other treats, while some organizations host games in the spirit of the historical Lughnasadh activities.

In the Slavic tradition, Perun's Day typically falls between July 20th and August 2 (depending on the calendar tradition) and is the holiday closest in date to the third cross-quarter.  This holiday was morphed into festivities for St. Elijah.  Based on what few descriptions of activities survive, modern Slavic neo-pagans (especially men) typically observe this day by making special sacrifices to Perun, engaging in athletic competitions and renewing their oaths to the community.