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.

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