“And the wheel turns”
For many, of 2020 has felt like an eternity, but here we are in the eight month of the year already. Here is your summer newsletter.
For many of us, we've now celebrated our first of the harvest festivals, and this year we have waited long for these first fruits. It has been a hard spring and summer for all of us in different ways. We've been apart, we've been longing, anxious to be physically together again.
Though Lughnassadh/Lammas sometimes feels like a forgotten holiday, take a moment to relish in what the summer harvest brings: the sensuous, ripe peaches, reminding us to be joyful in the sweet, messiness of life; the abundant, industrious squash assuring us there'll be more for tomorrow.
May whatever you are harvesting this summer, whether from the garden or from the heart, be filling, and may you preserve it well.
Also, don't miss our annual picnic and summer swim on August 15. Elizabeth Furnace provides a wide open space for us to celebrate safely together. (Please pay attention to the Meetup in case local restrictions change and prepare for extra precautions at the event as necessary.)
Black Lives Matter
Artwork by Sally
Trees, our Teachers
Animals, our Guides
Ancestors, our Path-makers
Descendants, our Hope
We thank you for the roles you play in our lives and the gifts you tirelessly bestow.
We call upon you - today and everyday - to be in our hearts and in our heads.
To help us do the work that honors you, that humbles us, that enriches all.
Druid Practices Study Group
What better time to start an online study group than as we continue to find our way through a pandemic? Right? Beginning August 12, look out for a new monthly online event. This study group is designed as a more structured reading and discussion group and grew out of our Dining with Druids calls.
Each month we'll focus on a theme, with a few short articles or other readings announced in advance, then we'll gather via Zoom or Google Meet for discussion. Some topics will focus on Druid spirituality, ritual, and practice and some topics will be about how we live into what I’m calling “Druid values” and integrate them into our more "mundane lives." More often than not, we'll hopefully incorporate both "theory" and "praxis" into our conversations.
Our August discussion will focus on The Druid's Prayer and common liturgical elements as a way of setting a foundation for our study of Druid values, practices, and beliefs.
While topics and readings will be subject to change, an outline for the rest of the year is below and information about the readings for each will be posted in the Meetup events. If you have an idea or request for a study group topic or reading, please send it to Mason or another one of the Stewards!
August: Common Druid Prayers & Liturgy
September: Offerings: Purpose and Practice
October: Recognizing Our Ancestors and Descendants
November: Rewilding as Social Justice (or The Druids and Their Friends During the Revolution)
December: Winter Solstice: Into Darkness and Into Light
The Cathedral of Nature
(photo by Michael)
Reading articles on COVID-19 infections spreading in places of worship such as churches, as well as mass religious events such as the Hajj, I came across a comment “Paganism Intensifies” as a response by a reader. The first thought that came to mind is how for many, if not most of us pagans, nature is where our spiritual beliefs are expressed.
I think it is fair to say that whether or not you are an animist, deist, polytheist, etc., an indoor structure is not only not needed, but in fact not desired. What better way to strengthen our connection with nature than a night under the stars, a day hiking amongst the trees, or a few hours paddling along a river?
We can find peace in so many places, not just in the mountains, but in the simple summer breeze ruffling the leaves of the trees around us. We can feel it in the majesty of a thunderstorm in its intense expression of light and sound, or in the soothing song of insects in the night.
This is not to say that we are unaffected by COVID, it has certainly put a damper on our ability to experience the above in groups, but we are lucky in that we can still go outside and stand barefoot in our cathedral of nature. We can still lay in the summer sun, or enjoy the fruit of the season.
Whether we are able to get together in person or not, don’t forget that our place of worship is literally right outside our doors and windows. If nothing else, let this be a time when our paganism intensifies.
Interview of Moine
I was so lucky to have the opportunity to interview one of my favorite people. A founder of san Fhàsach, Moine is an accomplished activist, poet, teacher, writer and pagan of more than 20 odd years. Moine took a few minutes from a dinner party that she and her partner were hosting, to step onto her balcony and answer some questions for a new feature, Steward Spotlight.
Was there something particular in your youth that inspired you?
Oh my gosh! Yes! There was . . . I often refer to this the night that I realized I was a pagan long before I became a pagan.
My family used to go on a long road trip every year across the country and we would frequently camp along the way. Especially in national parks. We were in Glacier National Park and we’d put our tent in a spot very close to a lake. Before bed, my dad and I walked to the lakeside . . . it was a full moon. The moon was full above the lake and you could see a huge mountain range just on the other side of the lake. It was just an amazing thing to see. An amazing view, with this giant full moon above shining down into the water, and you could see a perfect full moon on the surface of the water. . . and the lake itself was like glass that you could see through clear down to the bottom of the lake, far out from the shore.
It was this beautiful moment of moon, and lake and darkness with my father and it was breathtaking. It touched me in an incredibly deep way. I think I probably gasped when I saw it and my dad and I stood there probably for 20 minutes speechless. Just sitting in silence . . . looking and enjoying the beauty. It was the moment where I thought to myself “This is the thing that I'm always going to be looking for.” This moment of complete deep reverence and awe.
So yes, I think that was . . . that was the moment. I must have been eight when that happened.
Did you go right home and start lighting incense? how did that develop?
I was in my teenage years when I started to realize the catholic faith of my parents was not my faith. That, in fact, I felt more at peace and with what I would now call Spirit. I think I probably still called it God at that point in my life. I spent a lot of time in the woods when I was a kid, but as a teenager, I began to think there's something else. It wasn't really until I began to meet other pagans, that I thought “Oh. People actually do this as a spiritual thing.” I became an overt pagan probably right around the age of 18 or 19 when I moved out of my parent’s house and went to college and met other people who were out practicing pagans.
Were there any pagan groups in college?
There were a lot of different pagan groups at my college in the city. Through my college years I was in and out of pagan groups. I was a very devoted pagan through my young adult years and so it's been. . . that would have been 85, 1986, 1987. So, it's been then about 35 years, give or take.
Your previous experience in pagan groups must have informed your creative goals for forming san Fhásach. Is this the first group you've ever started?
It was the first pagan group that I’ve started, yes. I’ve been active in a number of different pagan groups, mostly eclectic, and groups that were transparent about their leadership and, lately, very environmentally focused even if we didn’t call ourselves druid.
I only began to call myself a druid in the last seven years. I was much more of a goddess worshipper or a pantheist in my twenties and thirties.
I imagine you transferring those experiences to your formation of san Fhásach. I know from my working with you that you are very collaborative. Can you speak to the ways you wanted to set san Fhásach apart?
Right, yeah. I wanted san Fhásach to be a collective. To be run by the will of the members and really to focus on the desires of the membership with the sort of shared mission of being in nature and the wild--or as much as we could make it. Even if it was a park. To engage in immersive spiritual moments. Right? So, when we talk now about what we do, one of the things I foreground is that we're always already in nature. We’re surrounded by it even if we are in a curated environment--even if we’re in the city. The idea that we’re separated from nature or spirit is an illusion. So, I'm always seeking that immersive or contemplative moment where stillness and awe are present--because that’s where the spiritual gold waits. A moment of recognition; of self in conversation with something that's higher or something that’s uniting all beings. And I would call that Spirit – and that often resonates I think with Druid tradition and the way that Druids work. But I know that a lot of other spiritual traditions believe in that notion that there’s a universal energy we can tap into, as well. We then work actively towards eco-consciousness and a sense of place within the wider web of being.
It sounds like you’re looking for that feeling you had when you were eight?
Yeah. If not recreating it, then finding new moments that resonate with a similar moment of stillness.
Do you have a favorite wild place?
Right now it would be my balcony garden. Which is lush and green and full of flowers and full of medicinal and spiritual herbs. But it's a small space. It’s barely 10’ by 4’. So it's not huge but it is the place that I like to go and sit and be with the plants that have chosen to thrive with me.
I think small places are nice. It's like your secret garden.
Is there a particular plant right now that's really drawing you to it?
I’m sitting right next to a beautiful Agrimony plant which has been with me, in some form, for about five years. I grew it from seed. It is a protective plant primarily. But also, Agrimony is an overall tonic. It does a lot of different things in healing traditions. But most pagan people use it as an herb for protection and for strength and for warrior energy. It’s lush and beautiful even this late into the summer with all the heat from the sun. So, yeah. I would say Agrimony is the plant that I'm speaking with most right now.
It was here that our interview ended. We spoke a bit more about some upcoming events before Moine returned to her guests. Reflecting on Moine’s story of her walk with her father out to the lake that moonlight night, I wonder how many other spiritual journeys have begun with a walk in the moonlight.
“Everyone just go inside for two months and it will be fine.”
This was the now-familiar refrain back in March, and everyone seemed to buy it. Everyone truly believed that being inside, isolated, away from friends, family, colleagues, the barista who serves your coffee but always spells your name wrong on the cup…Not only did everyone think they’d be “fine,” but many thought this sounded like a dream scenario.
Two months of not having any plans on my calendar?! “I’ll get so much reading done/projects finished/things written! Maybe I’ll finally learn Italian…!”
I sat back and just kinda watched everyone yammer on, all the while wearing one of those smug, “yeah, sure” half smiles on my face. “Call me in two months,” was all I’d say.
I watched the online magazine coverage morph from “50 Projects To Do During Quarantine” to “50 Warning Signs You’re Depressed” - all the while my smug smile got smugger.
You see I’d been back in the US for less than a year when quarantine happened. For the two previous years I was living overseas with my now ex while he taught at a University and I stayed home. And when I say stayed home I mean stayed home. By the end of my two years in Korea, there was literally no reason for me to leave my apartment - and when I did bother put on button pants and venture forth it was to encounter a hostile world where the grocery store was overwhelming, people distrusted me by default and crossed the street to avoid me, and everything was just a little bit harder than it needed to be.
And before you ask “why didn’t I visit the museums/sightsee/go for walks?” - I did do those things, but one can only take a hot, nausea-inducing bus-ride into the City to go to a museum ALONE and with no one to discuss what you’re seeing so many times before it becomes pretty fucking depressing. And walking around one’s neighborhood gets pretty boring too - even when you try to make a game of it, notice the little things, do it meditatively.
“Well why didn’t you read/study/learn the language?” - Well I did that too. But one can only see/learn/do so many cool things without talking about them with other people and exploring them in a community setting before it all seems pretty pointless and useless.
“Didn’t you have friends you could video call with?” - Of course, and I did that often. But looking at your loved ones from hundreds & thousands away with several time zones between you starts to become quite bittersweet. And when you’ve nothing new to talk about, the conversations - even with those you love the most - can start to turn tedious and perfunctory. Not to mention seeing people through a video screen, with WiFi that seems to come in and out the whole time, during a specifically scheduled time to talk just isn’t the same.
So, blah blah blah.
This has been a really, REALLY long preamble to my real topic sentence of letting ourselves off the hook right now. I just wanted to hammer home that I’d already visited - and overstayed my welcome in - Isolationville, so I had some idea how to navigate its squirrelly streets of mental health potholes and guilty-for-not-doing-more roadblocks.
Two things struck me near the beginning of the quarantine written by people who clearly foresaw the toll this would take on our collective mental health, and knew, like me, this wasn’t going to be a vacation for anyone.
The first was an article entitled, “That Feeling You’re Feeling: It’s Called Grief.” I remember seeing that headline and the proverbial lightbulb went on above my head. “YESSSSSSSSS!!!! That’s EXACTLY what it is!!!!! We are GRIEVING.” Well, it wasn’t “we” yet - most people I was talking to were still in the throes of excited to have time off mode. I could see this was actually a collective, societal-wide Denial stage.
And sure as shit, the conversations started changing about two weeks later - everyone I talked to was PIIIIIISSSSSSSED. Everything was setting them off - their boss, their kids, their husband, their friends, their WiFi - every encounter had a hair-trigger for red, hot RAGE.
Then a few weeks later the Depression kicked in. “I try to read, but I can’t absorb anything, so I just sit on my couch and watch New Girl for the 87th time…” “Everything sucks/is pointless/is terrible.” “Why should I even bother to shower…?”
Then came the Bargaining. Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - couldn’t STFU about their personal story and experience with quarantine and how it’s been SO HARD you guys. And we all wanted to find a meaning for it all so this “wouldn’t be for nothing.” (I’m most guilty of this last one).
I’m honestly not sure if we’ve reached acceptance - or if we ever really will, or should for that matter. This shit is pretty messed up, and as we attempt to enter Phase 367 of reopening and new cases continue to skyrocket because our government sucks butt and squandered this down time (tangent alert, pulling back on the reigns) I do think we are in a more accepting place - most of us wear face masks when we go into public, and try to socially distance, and continue to stay home most of the time - but I don’t know if we are quite ready for this to be our new normal - which it will be for the foreseeable future. And actually I worry that we are accepting of the wrong things - that we are so resigned - and depressed - that we are just kinda accepting the astronomic death toll in our country, accepting that there is no government safety-net and we are all left to our own devices, accepting that this new normal of fearing one another and seeing everyone as a potential enemy is, well, acceptable.
Gah! That got dark for a second. Okay, bringing it back.
The second thing I saw was from a psychologist reminding us of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This has honestly been the most helpful thing I’ve seen and I’m constantly reminding myself - and others - of this fabulous little gem. Right now we are hovering somewhere between Basic Needs (food, water, shelter, rest) and Safety Needs (obviously nothing feels any kind of safe right now).
Without those two foundational pieces in place, there is really no way anyone has any kind of mental/physical/emotional space or energy for relationships/friends or work-related esteem goals, much less for higher self-fulfillment exercises like embarking on creative endeavors, learning something new, or being one’s “best self.”
When I try to read the stack of books I genuinely want to have read (if only someone could invent that Vulcan mind-meld thing for books!), or watch a documentary instead of mindless fluff, or learn to cook the five basic French sauces, my eyes just go cross-eyed and no information gets into my dumb brain.
But now instead of going into self-berating mode (which I did while I was in Korea) - I remember I’m in a fucking crisis situation and evolutionarily speaking my body is telling me there’s a fucking lion around every corner and sitting still to read about whether or not Taliesin was a Druid or putting just the right amount of acid into my béchamel isn’t exactly going to save me from being eaten.
And grief is very real and also ain’t exactly a great time for self-actualization.
So we really need to let ourselves off the hook when we aren’t doing as much yoga as we’d like, or getting as much work done, or really doing much more than snacking out of boredom on our sofa. If there was something we could actually be DOING right now - and by “we,” and I mean those of us reading this newsletter because we are the cool people in the world - would be doing it. But unfortunately this is just a weird situation where the most helpful thing we can “do” is nothing.
Which is something I try to remind myself when the “should monster” strikes.
How do we get through?
Some things I learned during my first bought of forced isolation that have proven helpful this time around involve my Druidic practices and rituals.
First of all, my Sacred Grove is always available, always helpful, and weirdly always interesting.
As a student of OBOD (which is just what I personally chose and is in no way a requirement for sF members!!), one of the first exercises they have you perform is to create what they call your Sacred Grove in your imagination (for more information on creating our own, visit https://druidry.org/resources/finding-my-sacred-grove) - which becomes a place of peace, exploration, and meditation that you can “visit” whenever you need.
Having a specific “place” where I can always return in my mind - a place of peace, nature, joy, and love - is immeasurably helpful and have brought my meditations and imaginations to another level of wisdom and unfolding.
Whenever I visit I “enter” from one place and exit from the opposite. Every time I enter I let it be what it is rather than forcing it to be what I think it “should" be. Sometimes there is a fountain in the middle from which I am meant to bathe or drink. Sometimes what I’ve come to call my “Parent Tree” is there waiting to hold and embrace me. Whatever is there is exactly what I need right now to calm my anxiety and ease my soul.
Another thing that helped me get in Korea by was creating little rituals that helped me do the day-to-day tasks that when one is depressed or mentally overwhelmed can all too easily fall to the wayside (ie: washing dishes, making food, cleaning the toilet).
These tasks are usually known as chores - they are things we HAVE to do to get through to the things we WANT to do. But when those want things are either unavailable or we’ve had too much of a good thing (if I never watch Netflix again it’ll be too soon!), it was helpful for me to reframe the “have to” things into “get to” things. Sounds dumb, but every little mental win is still a win.
So, for example, instead of just dumping dish soap out of the plastic bottle, I got a cute, cheap little dispenser at the Homeplus (Korea’s answer to Walmart) that made getting dish soap just a scoosh more pleasant. And I made sure I got the good sponges. And I tried to remember that dirty dishes meant there was food in my belly - which is something not everyone has easy access to.
It didn’t work every time, but when it worked, it helped. And when it didn’t I tried to remember to forgive myself instead of beat myself up.
I also learned to crochet. It was a new skill that was fun to practice, it required creativity and it was something I could do while also sitting around watching TV that made me feel like at least I’d accomplished SOMETHING.
Both of these things have somewhat translated to the present, but COVID is tricky. Too many of us (myself included) have had our hours cut, have been furloughed, or are losing our livelihoods altogether; and many of these mental health tricks can really only work to their fullest potential when the foundations of the pyramid are solid and our basic survival needs are being met. So if you’re like me and are now income insecure and watching your savings flow out of your bank account like water through your fingers, please know my little tricks will only be so effective. So back to the main point of this little ramble, you really need to let yourself off the hook when they don’t seem to work as much or as often as you’d like. Just trying to quiet the anxiety, be present and mindful, and attempt a new craft might have to be enough right now. And that’s okay.
Honestly lately I’m finding that leaning into the suck and owning this isn’t normal so normal self-soothing methods may not apply have been the most helpful things to remember when the Should Monster comes a’calling.