Wellspring 2015

I was hoping to start this post with something like, “Pagan Church Lady, reporting on location at Brushwood Folklore Center for Wellspring 2015!”  Sadly, I could find no wifi and neither my lovely Fraulein (that’s my laptop) nor my Kindle (I don’t have a name for her yet) were up to the task of connecting to the Grand Interwebs.  It was probably for the best – I wasn’t allowed to hide behind a screen or avoid the notice of others.

Too much went on for me to record how I felt about all of it, so I’m going to give you the highlights of what I witnessed and participated in.  I know that I won’t be able to include everything worthy of note and I’m sorry for what I missed (most notably the Warrior games and Bardic stuff). I didn’t realize how insanely busy I’d be if I decided to participate in everything that I wanted to, but I slept solidly every night (except the night where it dropped below freezing) as a result.

Getting to meet everyone was wonderful.  I often had to tell people that I was “glad to put a voice to the words” since I know so many fellow ADFers through Facebook and their writing.  It was an honor and a privilege to be in good company like that.

So, highlights:

Opening Ritual:

We processed from the crossroads to the ADF Nemeton, and singing, filed in.  The rite was warm and welcoming.  It kind of felt like it was the “Initiating the Rite” “Purification”, “Establishing Group Mind”, and “Statement of Purpose” for the whole festival (for those of you familiar with the ADF Core Order of Ritual).  With the rite’s focus on the Earth Mother and the spirits of the land at Brushwood (which was a theme in many of the rites I attended, which made my happy) it also felt like the “Honoring the Earth Mother” – again, appropriate for an opening since it’s one of the things we do first in ritual.

I got to stand in a circle and sing the portal song with maybe thirty or forty other people while folks whose names and works I’d only read before honored the Sacred Center and helped to open the gates between the worlds.  Although I’ve attended three Groves’ rites now (and numerous large-scale public Pagan rites), there was a power in it that I’ve never experienced elsewhere, and it set a tone for the whole festival.

Stone Creed Grove’s tent

On the coldest night of the festival we were lead by the siren call of voices raised in song (yeah, Druids sing a lot apparently – fortunately there are usually enough of them that they can’t tell that I can’t sing when I join in).  On a frigid night it lead us across the campgrounds to the tent of Stone Creed Grove, where we were welcomed and waved in and joined in as a completely packed tent (I counted over twenty folks at one point) drummed, played guitar, messed with noisemakers, and sang Pagan campfire songs/ritual chants.  The faces were red with enthusiasm and joy and voices were raised in fellowship.

Some of the songs were familiar, and some were new (one of the ones that stood out in my mind out was a song about Isaac Bonewitz’ wake).  The tent was tightly packed – at one point I was sitting between a pair of swinging hips on one side and the violently jerking elbow of a drummer on the other and worried that my head might be pulped if ever the two met (there wasn’t much room to move without being even more awkward), but I came out of the tent later unscathed and refreshed.  The brief time I had in Stone Creed’s tent that night did as much to make me feel at home and part of the fellowship as much as any of the grand rites did.

Hecate Rite

We went to the crossroads, because that’s where we assumed that a rite for Hecate would begin processing.  We were wrong, but one of the clergy came and found us and lead us to where it was beginning.  We trailed through the assembled Druids, picking people up and waving them in for a spectacular twilight rite to Hecate Soteira.  It was interesting timing, as I had just completed a term of devotional service to her, and I felt far more comfortable at the rite than I would have before this past year.

I’ve never been to an Hellenic rite before, and while I don’t feel a pull in that direction it had a beauty and power that I appreciated.  I have a deep respect for Hecate and for the clergy who performed the rite and I’ll never forget the depths and clarity of the sky as we called to Ouranous nor the fading/lingering daylight as it slowly slipped away through the rite.

Norse Kin Meeting

It was wonderful to meet other members of the Norse Hearth Kin and discuss updates and future plans with them.  We discussed the dearth of information available on mainland Germanic mythology (as opposed to Norse, something that we’re still working to track down more sources for), increasing discussion of trance/seidh, magic, runework, and other esoteric practices, Rodney Cox’s Order of the Raven and Falcon (a magical order within ADF dedicated to Odhinn and Freyja) and other things that are slipping my mind (but I’m sure we’ll catch up on).

We also did a blot and trance right after the Unity rite.  It involved working with the places that ADF imagery and Norse imagery overlap particularly well (Flame, Well, and Tree, the Hallows).  I’m used to using Yggdrasil for journey work, but this was the first time for some folks.  It was a private journey for each of us that bore some surprising fruit for me (those who were there will understand).  It was also good to just be doing esoteric work with other Norsey people, Heathen or otherwise.

Seidh Lecture

I had mentioned that I was excited that Patricia Lafayllve was going to be there, and she surely didn’t dissapoint.  She did a presentation on the aspects of seidh that are rarely discussed nowadays (including all of the cursey and negative stuff) – a lot of it read like a list of things that witches and shamans the world over claim to be able to do, which I appreciated.

Another interesting aspect of the lecture was the connection between the Finns/Saami people and seidh.  She discussed places where the Saami were mentioned in Sagas and how their practices, appearance, and how the Northmen felt about them may have influenced both modern and old Northern Pagan faiths.  I can’t wait to read and hear more about it – my roomate Jim and I geeked out about references to the Finns in the Sagas once I returned to Buffalo and I’m sure that there will be more discussions and inquiry sparked by it.

Oracular Seidh

Patty also did an oracular seidh rite.  I always appreciate seeing different styles of trance and variations within traditions.  It was certainly different from the seidh/oracular work that I’ve witnessed, participated in, and trained in myself.  There was no bringing the entire group with her to where she went (she actually asked us very specifically not to follow her), nor were there lots of songs (other than when she called to Freyja at the beginning of the rite).

The answers that I received from my own questions were heavy and have left me pondering and “puzzling ’till my puzzler was sore”, and I’m grateful for them.  I appreciate being able to be there for what I consider an important form of “magical community service” and to witness a skilled seeress in action.

I did walk away with serious amber envy.  I thought I was all Freyja-blinged out with my amber earrings and ring and sunstone bracelet… nope.  Patty had enough amber strung on her apron dress (there we go again with the apron dresses!  One of these days…) to practically form armor, and every other woman with an association with the Lady came with ropes of the stuff (or so it seemed).  I felt very small when the observation was made that amber was a sign of a woman’s wealth in the old days – but then again, most of what I find of it goes to Freyja’s horde anyway (and given my current financial situation, it wasn’t entirely inappropriate).  Maybe I should let myself keep some occasionally, too.

Freyja’s Ve

It’s always threes, or at least it should be – Patricia also brought her travelling ve (basically a shrine) to Freyja.  While I’ve been aware of Freyja since my childhood the serious devotional relationship and dedication to her that I’ve developed lately started the first summer that I encountered that ve (which I believe was 2009(.  It was also involved in many other important wheels turning in my and others’ lives, so I have a history with it and it was good to see it and use it again.

Within the tent is a godpost for Freyja, bedecked with ropes of amber and other bright jewels.  Spread out on a cloth around the post are a wide variety of treasures that people have dedicated to her – jewelry, bottles of liquor, artwork, shiny things, and of course, amber everywhere. Soft rugs and shawls lined the corners of the tent.  I made some private offerings and had some time to commune with her in a place where she is closer than normal.  I also brought charcoal and a cauldron to light it in and offered her some small pieces of amber through the coals. That’s a scent I will never forget – the scent of a sap of a tree millions of years old, sweet and piney and pure, sacrificed to the Giver.  I could never bear to made burnt offering with it before, but like they say, if it hurts, it’s a good sacrifice.

People of the Purple Feather Ritual

The People of the Purple Feather is the LGBT special interest group within ADF.  We had a meeting where we got to introduce ourselves and discuss plans and hopes for the future, and the idea of doing a ritual for our SIG came up.  While it was too late to do something official, a few of us wanted to do something anyway, so Chris from Wild Onion Grove and I spent the next couple of days discussing and planning it and spreading the word.

We were given the stone circle right by Druid Heights to perform the rite, a very public and open place.  As a result we had people join who had just wandered in, unsure of what was going on.  Each of them ended up having something important to contribute, however.

The rite was dedicated to the LGBT dead, and was done in Norse Hearth Culture (calling to and honoring Norse deities for certain parts of the rite, specifically Bragi for inspiration and Heimdall as our gatekeeper).  The rainbow-based invocation of Heimdall was especially beautiful, and we also called to Oscar Wilde as a queer ancestor for inspiration.  When it was time to call the Beings of the Occasion, we each named LGBT Ancestors of blood, of heart (chosen family) and of spirit (those who have inspired us) and called them to join this rite in their honor.  We called to people who have been outcast and confused and hurt, to those whose lives were publicized and to those whose names we’ve never heard, to those who died of violence, of suicide, or of other causes, to those who shouldn’t have had to be alone and might have spent their entire lives feeling that way.  We called to the homosexual people, the bi and pan people, the trans people, the agendered and asexual people, and every color of the rainbow that we could think of, and we each offered water into the great offering bowl for them as part of the Key Offering.  Afterwards we made individual toasts to those who had passed.

For the return flow (the blessings that we receive when we make offering) we stuck our fingers in the Well, the Gate to the Underworld, and asked for inspiration and blessings from the LGBT Dead and sat in meditation to listen and hear if any of them bore messages for us.  It was an especially powerful experience for me as an Ancestor that I’ve been working with for a little while came forward in a big way and made herself heard to me (I’ll talk more about her at another point).

Not an eye was dry, and for an impromptu rite I think we did some powerful mojo.  It felt good to get together with another tribe that I am a part of and celebrate and honor the Dead that we share.  I’ve often wanted for queer pagan space and rites.  I pray that their inspiration and blessings pour out through us into the rest of our communities.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize it now – especially for our folk, reach out to your Ancestors.  They are grateful to be known, to be celebrated, to be heard, to be honored to be acknowledged at all, and they have so much to give us.  They want to, and they will, and all we need to do is open the way and ask.  You don’t even need to know any of them by name.

Unity Rite

The main rite on the last night was a powerful experience.  Gifts were brought from the various regions that ADFers occupy to honor the land spirits in those places, and many varieties of Ancestors and Shining Ones were called to and honored.  I was excited to see Kirk Thomas (the Archdruid)’s Gate Opening and Closing – I’ve heard that they do it differently on the west coast and that he is the origin of that style, and it was wonderful and powerful to witness in person.  The ecstatic spinning with the robe and staff was very reminiscent of Sufi dances that I’ve seen.

Drawing that connection between earth and sky, Cosmos and Chaos, between us and each other, between all of our groves and solitaries (who were mentioned first in the roll call!) was immenseley powerful, and I felt the web that we worked to reinforce radiating outward from its burning center across the world.  I’ve participating in long-distance linking rites before during my time with the Fellowship of Isis and it’s one of my favorite types of large-scale workings – I like the feeling of drawing our disparate wyrds more tightly together.

I was happy to see the Nemeton in full use.  I’ve been going to Brushwood since ’99 and before this Wellspring only saw it used once before (by Whispering Lakes Grove for Beltaine of 2010).  It’s a beautiful space, but one that is made even more so by putting it to the use that it was intended.

Chenille Canopy

So, I didn’t go. (Long term readers will know that this is something that I’ve been agonizing over).

I am a genuinely (as in diagnosed) bipolar person and those dizzying (and sometimes dangerous) heights are often accompanied with soul-crushing lows, and I was experiencing one of the latter while the Chenile Canopy meeting (ADF’s unofficial womens’ group) was happening.  I was fighting my inner demons of dypshoria and low self-esteem, coping with bad brain chemicals, and couldn’t make myself go to a space where I was afraid that I would have to justify my presence – it happens a lot for trans women in womens’ space.  When we’re not specifically made welcome we assume that we are not welcome at all, because it’s often easier than having to fight for it and be turned away because someone uses an aspect of our anatomy to define our identities.

I do, however, regret not going.

I know that others who I’ve met online have told me that it would be accepting, but it was different to hear it in person.  When I expressed my concerns later I was taken aside by one of the organizers and vigorously encouraged to attend whenever I had the chance.  She explained to me that it is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, and that trans women are never a problem there.  Having someone talk to me about it and convey it in person made all of the difference for me.

I miss womens’ space, and I especially miss Pagan/spiritual womens’ space.  It’s a wonderful and powerful thing and I’ve had far too little of it over my life.   If I ever get a chance again to go to a Chenille event I’ll be there in a heartbeat.  If you’re a trans woman and a member of ADF and have the inclination, please do so also – not only are we very specifically welcome, but our voices are needed there too.  All women, regardless of anatomy, are welcome to be a part of it.

Other notes:

Doing multiple big trance rites in a day means you should be grounding hardcore and all the time.  I thought, “It’s okay, I can take it.  I’ll be fine and it’ll be cool and trippy.”  It was indeed cool and trippy, but I had to be physically guided back to the tent when my limbs stopped listening well and just kind of wobbled in place; I could barely walk.  It was embarrassing and uncomfortable and hope to prepare better next time.

I made a small offering at Isaac Bonewitz’ memorial and felt deeply frustrated that we had been at the same camp at the same time numerous times and I never met or spoke to him.  I’m grateful to him for getting the ball rolling on this, and for a lot of his other work as well.

Sometimes doing loads of spiritual stuff makes me crave the touch of the mundane just a bit.  I found myself thinking at one point, “I need to do something left-brained.  I need to do math or something.”  It probably would have been helpful.

I don’t know if it was just the space and people used to dealing with trans people but I didn’t get misgendered once the entire weekend and I didn’t need to tell anyone what pronouns to use for me; they figured it out on their own.  I had long stretches of time where I was relaxed enough that I didn’t need to think about gender stuff at all.  May it someday be that way for everyone who wishes it so, all the time.  It certainly made me feel comfortable, at home, and not awkward in a way that I’m rarely not awkward outside of queer space (I had ninety-nine other social awkwardness factors but gender wasn’t one!)

Wellspring had so many powerful events and moments that no matter how much I write I’m going to feel like I’ve left things out.  The brewers’ competition, Emerald’s fantastic class on ritual crafting, Kirk’s impressive class on sacrifice and offerings, the fire at Druid heights, the late night, drunken, nerdy conversations, the piquancy of the closing rite and wrapup all deserve honorable mention but even so I feel like I’m not doing it justice.  I’m in love with the land at Brushwood and have been for a long time, and I feel at home with the other members of Ár nDraíocht Féin (even when we don’t agree, and even when we don’t agree very loudly and in each others’ faces) and that’s a new but welcome feeling.  It felt like an unexpected homecoming, a Wellspring of frith and community love and stories (oh so many new stories!) and new friends and family.

I also would like to give a special thanks to the readers who came up to me to chat.  Being recognized like that gave me the warm and fuzzies in a huge way, and I hope that someday soon someone does something that nice for you.

Ghosti!

Back from the Plaguelands. Also, Meditation.

My but it’s been a while since I’ve posted!  This is largely due to the prevalence of the flu (I’ve been through two strains of it), wrenching my back (which I’m still recovering from), and the loss of our car (there was an accident – Maur is okay but the car is gone.  Soon to be replaced, we’re working on it).  So this has been a disappointing and rough holidays.  I’ll take a moment to express gratitude that we’re alive, mostly whole, and recovering.

So, on to only slightly related topics – Meditation.  I started studying it intensely when I was working on a writing project and chose it somewhat randomly as the subject I would use.

The benefits of meditation are so well-documented that it hard for even the most staunch skeptic to discount them at this point.  There are many, many meditative practices, but the one that I keep finding myself drawn back to is Zen Meditation, also called “mindfullness” or “sitting”.  It is the one that has repeatedly shown the most widespread benefits, is one of the easiest forms of meditation to do, and has helped me through some of the more difficult periods of my life recently.

As I said, it’s simple.  You sit in a comfortable position, spine erect (if possible) with your tailbone elevated above your feet (this helps to keep them from falling asleep).  Relax your eyes and let them have a lazy focus on the tip of your nose, and pick a portion of your body and focus on it as you breathe (I use my solar plexus/diaphragm).  You will be distracted – that’s part of the process, because when you become aware that you are distracted, you draw your attention back to the point of your focus and keep going.

You can’t fail at it, although you can certainly have more and less intense sessions.  I’ve known a lot of people who claim that they can’t meditate, and I honestly think that that’s because expectations that have been built up by media and people’s assumptions.  When they sit and try to meditate and their mind doesn’t stay purely blank or they aren’t whisked away to the Seventh Heaven they think that they’re doing it wrong.  That’s not the case, though.  All it takes is leaving aside the distraction and going back to breathing.

There are a few different kinds of distractions that occur.  Physical ones can be the toughest to deal with.  I’ve always had an itchy nose, and when my nose starts twitching I have to scratch it.  When I do, I scratch, put my hand back down and go back to my point of focus.  Sometimes I’ve been able to ignore the itch and breathe through it – that always feels like a small victory for me.

The thoughts that rise unbidden in your mind are by and large going to be the biggest distraction that you encounter.  Sometimes your session will consist of little but your inner babble and occasional attempts to steer back towards your focus point.  If that’s the case, as long as you notice it and draw your attention back to your focus, you’re doing the work and you’re doing fine.

The most interesting distractions are what I like to call “dreamlets”.  I’ve heard that Zen practitioners call them makia.  Instead of your mind just chattering at you, you’re thrown into a dreamscape where you are taken far from where you are, just as though you were in REM sleep.  No matter what you see, hear, or feel in them the important part is to follow the refrain – disengage and go back to your focal point and breathe.  These are mind-conjured illusions, and doing the work consists of rejected them, backing off, and going back to the quiet place.

I try to engage this practice for twenty minutes a day.  I’ve tried other meditative practices, including mantra meditation (repeating words of significance and power and focusing on them) and metta meditation (opening the love in your heart and sending it to people) with varying degrees of success, and I still do sometimes, but my regular practice always goes back to mindfulness.  It feels like I’m doing housecleaning for my consciousness, and all the little toxic bubbles rise up and are washed away in the stream of my mind.

Why am I bringing this up now?  Because while I was sick and laid up with the flu and back injury, it was about the only practice I could engage in.  Mindfulness has shown to help with inflammation, and my poor, wrenched back always felt more limber and less painful afterwards.  I credit it to some degree for my quick recovery from a stomach flu that had my lovey and his son laid out for several days (I went through the cycle of it in about twenty four hours) and to my back recovery.

I don’t know any serious practitioner that doesn’t recommend regular meditation practice.  I don’t know what it is about meditation, but it helps you be more of yourself and clean out the confusion and dross.  It improves your senses, and your ability to distinguish internal dialogue from external communication, which is invaluable to someone who works with deities and spirits regularly.

I take a shower almost every day.  I brush my teeth daily.  Meditation is part of that routine of basic human maintenance, too and I live the positive results.  It doesn’t make me a superwoman (that comes naturally) but it does help me through.

Here is a link to an excellent article by Ram Dass on meditation, one that helped me to pick my practice back up back when I wasn’t sure what I was doing.  Try it out – you won’t be disappointed once you put some time and effort into it.