The Three Kindred, revisited.

For this essay, I was asked to elaborate on the Ancestors of hearth and heart which I only just touched on in the original essay, as well as explain why we honour the Kindred.

The Three Kindred are interwoven, together and with the Three Hallows, at the heart of Ár nDraíocht Féin’s Indo-European view of the cosmos as I understand it. The Ancestors dwell within the Underworld and are reached through the gate of the Sacred Well, the Gods and Goddesses dwell in the Upperworld and hear us through the gate of the Sacred Fire, and the Spirits of the Land live in our own world where the gate of the Sacred Tree sends our voices to them.

The ancestors have been, rather counter-intuitively perhaps, the most distant of the Kindred for me. I think that there are two explanations for this. The first is the general Western movement towards a more nuclear view of family. The second is more personal, which is that I never really knew any of my grandparents. My father’s parents died when I was very young such that I have only the fuzziest of memories of them, and my father had his own reasons to rarely talk about them. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was still young. This left only my maternal grandfather whom I saw infrequently and mostly only remember as a chain smoking, whiskey swilling old crank who had no use for his grandchildren and who in any case passed away when I was still a young man. It seems no wonder to me, then, that I have always felt disconnected from my ancestors.

These issues may not have been so difficult to manage if I could at least say that my ancestry is firmly rooted in my chosen hearth culture (Celtic). The disconnect could then simply be seen as a temporal interruption within a lineage. However this is not the case; my paternal ancestry is entirely Finnish and my ancestry on my mother’s mother’s side is entirely Germanic. It is only from that crank of a grandfather that I get my Celtic bloodline.

As a result of these difficulties, I have had to work pretty hard to form a personal relationship with the ancestors. For those of my blood, I have been doing so by keeping items that belonged to them on my hallows altar, by engaging in genealogical research, by asking my parents to speak of them, by reaching out to them in ritual, and to a lesser degree through meditation; I have a Phillip Shallcrass book which includes a lesson for an ‘ancestor tree’ meditation which I have found to be quite effective. Perhaps the best way I have found to connect to them has been through photographs; when my aunt passed away five years ago my mother, sister, and I found a trove of old photos in her house and spent a long evening looking through them and discussing who they were and what they were doing.

Beyond the Ancestors of my blood and bone, I do always try to honour those of my hearth and heart. The former refers to the Pagan Celtic Ancestors from whom I draw much of the wisdom of my chosen hearth culture; the Celtic peoples who lived in the pre-Christian period and who worshipped the Old Gods, crafted marvellous items, and told the old stories. The latter, the Ancestors of heart, refers to those who have passed on and whom I hold dear; these include the departed elders of the modern Pagan movement, inspirational heroes, and dear friends.

As far as the nature of the Ancestors, I see them as the Mighty Dead who have great wisdom which they are by and large willing to share with their descendants. And so in ritual I typically making offerings of ale to them and ask for their guidance. Occasionally during the offerings phase I will ask them to welcome in as ancestors any newly departed friends or loved ones in the community.

In comparison to the Ancestors, I have found the Spirits of the Land to be easier to contact and yet much harder to communicate with. Unlike our ancestors, these Kindred have entirely alien minds. It is generally not too difficult to appease them and thereby hope to gain their favour, but working with them is an entirely different matter. For instance the faery folk I will leave offerings to, generally of wine and honeyed bread and especially on Midsummer’s Eve, but I am far too wary of them to yet ask of them any boons.

There is one Nature Spirit that I have been working on forming a relationship with, which is the White Hart, of course. The Hart is the guide to the dark, secret, heart of the forest where the Mysteries of the Goddess are to be found. I have sought the Hart through magic and mysticism, and am slowly working on building him a wonderful outdoor shrine.

Other than the White Hart, the Spirits of the Land are great in number and diverse in type. Our Indo-European fore-fathers identified a vast array of them: the Sidhe, nymphs, satyrs, leprechauns, goblins, trolls, dragons, dryads, mermaids, the list goes on and on. These are the Old World spirits, although many of them have followed our ancestors across the waters. Then there are the Spirits of the *this* Land, those which were identified by the natives. Some we know of by an animal name; buffalo, coyote, fox, raven. Then there are some which are very far more alien such as the Wendigo and Thunderbird. Although they do not make up the stories of our Indo-European ancestors, we live and walk and practice on their lands and so we must give them due honour as well.

We give the Spirits of the Land this honour during ritual with invocations and offerings. My offerings are typically edible things that come naturally from the land; seeds, nuts, and fruit, although as mentioned earlier I also sometimes offer man-made stuffs such as bread and wine to the Fae.

As far as my own locality goes, I mentioned in my Nature Essay that I live on twelve acres of Carolinian forest ravine land . Although there are some paths though it, it is mostly wild and uninviting towards humans, with thick rose brambles, dense pine groves, frenetic webs of vines, creeping poison ivy, and a creek whose alternating flows has created steep banks. I have been trying to feel out the spirits in this place, and have discovered a couple of places where I can feel the energy of some great hidden spirit. I have yet to determine how to, or indeed if I even should, interact with these spirits however.

Finally we come to the subject of the third of the Three Kindred; the Shining Gods and Goddesses. On this topic I do not want to delve too deeply into my personal relationship with these beings since this will be the primary focus of my next essay, on my spiritual practice. I will, however, discuss my evolving understanding of the nature of the gods, however.

It is hard to articulate this evolution, although I suspect that it is common amongst Neo-Pagans. It may be easier for the younger generations, fortunately for them, who were not coerced into reciting The Lord’s Prayer every morning at school, but for my generation and those that came before me even if our families did not attend church every Sunday we were still inculcated with Christianity at every turn. Yes, we read the stories of the gods of the Norse and the Greeks, and they spoke to us on some deep level that the Bible never reached, but at the same time we were told by our teachers and parents that they were just myths — they weren’t real.

To make matters more difficult, when one is indoctrinated into a culture of monotheism it tends to limit the possibilities for belief even if one disavows the ultimate being of the predominate religion. For some, another type of monism may take the place of “God/YWH/Allah” but for most people atheism is the only alternative that seems to make sense. The road from monotheism back to polytheism is hard indeed. So, when I was introduced to modern Paganism via Wicca back in the 80′s at age 19, even though I felt the call of the gods I still felt more comfortable perceiving them as either archetypes or personifications rather than real beings unto themselves. It has taken me much of my adult life to peel away those artificial layers and return to the Gods and Goddesses of my ancient ancestors.

But I have finally arrived at the point where I see the Shining Ones as my ancestors once did, as individual entities limited in time and space but with great power and sublime personalities. I honour them both personally, as I shall discuss in more detail in my next essay, and in ritual. In ritual we generally call upon all of the gods who are willing to attend, and to which I usually offer wine, as well as the Deities of the Occasion, whose offerings tend to be richer and as appropriate as possible.

Why do we honour these three Kindred? Within my Grove, we have adopted a standard set of phrases which we use as part of our invocations which explain why we call upon them; we honour the Ancestors to show our respect for all that they have done for us in the past and so that they might grant us their wisdom and guidance; we honour the Spirits of the Land to acknowledge that we as humans have built our dwellings and fields upon their Land and so that they might grant us their aid and their magic; we honour the Gods and Goddesses to show that we are their humble children and so that they may bestow their blessings upon us. In other words, we give to the Kindred so that they may give.

I would like to conclude with a note that the lines between the Three Kindred can sometimes be blurred. As mentioned, great ancestors can be deified, and for certain great and individual Nature Spirits the differences that set them apart from the Gods can be subtle. The delineation is in some ways artificial, but well suited to the limited grasp of the spirit and spiritual world that humans have.

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Dedicant Oath

Welcome to my final Dedicant Path essay!

I struggled for a long time with trying to decide whether to do my Dedicant Oath as a solitary ritual or with my Grove, Daoine dhen Tamais.  I felt that a solitary ritual would probably be more powerful on a personal spiritual level.  At the same time I felt that making it part of a Grove ritual would be a more powerful group experience and would help form stronger bonds within the group. In the end I decided to go with the Grove ritual…. after all, if I really feel it necessary I can always repeat it alone later on.

So it was that I arranged to make the oath at our Summer Solstice ritual. Alas, the fates conspired to make things a bit difficult for me.  I had arranged to have the day off, as in fact I try to take all of the High Days off work as vacation days, to meditate and otherwise prepare myself for the ritual.  Unfortunately, it turned out that I had to be in a training workshop which made taking the day off impossible.  I’ll return to that later.

The ritual itself was quite interesting for a number of reasons which I won’t get in to here, although I would like to mention that for the first time I took the opportunity during the open offering part to make an offering to one of the gods of my Finnish ancestors for whom the Solstice was, in Pagan times, a celebration of the “Old Man”, Ukko.  Thus I made a sacrifice to him, even learning the Finnish:

Oi Ukko, ylijumala, ilman kaiken kannattaja!

Anyway, after the blessing phase of the ritual, we entered the Oath, which part I fill in below.  The oath was largely based on my First Oath.

Druid 4 addresses the group:

“We have given honour to the Sidhe and received their blessings.
Before we conclude this ritual, is there one here who would
make an oath on this solstice?”

Druid 1 (myself) steps forward, saying:

“I would.”

D4 responds:

“Very well, as the tribe is your witness,
make your oath.

But know, too, that the gates remain open
and your words shall be heard by your ancestors,
and by the spirits of this land, and by
the Gods themselves.  Speak well.”

D1 gives his Dedicant Oath:

As the new moon begins to wax
on this eve of the longest day of the year
a child of the earth enters the sacred grove
to make this oath before the gods
and amongst my tribe.

I, Kevin, swear that I shall follow the Old Ways
that I shall walk this world as a Pagan.

I swear that I shall keep the High Days sacred,
that I shall honour my Ancestors,
and I shall honour the Spirits of the Land,
and I shall honour the Old Gods.

I swear that I shall pursue wisdom, knowledge, creativity, and virtue in my life, and to do right by my kin, my friends, and my tribe.

I swear also that I shall honour our mother the Earth,
and shall seek peace and enlightenment in her wild places.

These things I name the path of a Druid,
and this path I swear here before you to follow.  

Now, along this path I have a guide, the ancient White Hart, and to him I say:

“White Hart!  Harbinger of Quests,
May you continue to lead me
into the tangled, wild, heart of the forest
where dwell the Mysteries of the Great Goddess.
White Hart, accept my sacrifice!”
(an offering of Glenfiddich is made)

Bíodh sé amhlaidh. So mote it be.  My oath is made.

I would now take omens.

Tell me, guidance do my ancestors give me?
Tell me, what would the Spirits of the Land have me know?
Tell me, what do the Gods require of me?
(an omen is taken and recorded for each question)

D4 concludes:

“It is done. The oath has been made, and
you are bound by it, as we here are the witnesses.
May the symbol around your neck remind you
always of the words you have spoken.”

At least, that was the words as written.. I read the oath from memory and had to improvise a bit along the way and although I had to pause from time to time to collect my thoughts overall my words conveyed the intended meaning.

So, the Dedicant Path program asks for a ‘self-evaluation’ of the dedicant’s performance of the rite.  To be honest, I’m really not sure what that means.  Quite frankly, speaking the words seemed very much to me like repeating the obvious; everything I said were are all things that I have long known in my heart to be true, and mostly things that I already swore to in my First Oath.  I may as well have taken an oath to continue breathing.

That said, it was still a powerful moment  In particular, making my affirmation sacrifice to the White Hart was the most stirring part for me. Again, I wish that I had the day off to fully prepare and open myself to the voice and presence of the Kindred, but that was not to be.  However, the workshop that I was in that day was the Franklin Covey “Great Leaders” workshop which I hope will actually help out with the whole Grove Organizer business, so am I not too put out by the way things worked out.

The divination aspect of the rite was new for me.  I simply recorded the results of the omens (I used my Dali tarot deck) rather than trying to interpret their meaning, which I believe may take some time.. I have not yet spent much time working on divination skills!

In all, I do feel that I made the right choice in making this Oath a public event with the Grove.  The act of sharing this moment with my tribe did indeed help bring us closer together; I could feel the a stronger bond being welded within the witnesses.

Now, onwards and upwards!

Full text of the ritual here

My Own Personal Druidry

As I think I have mentioned in previous essays, I have come from a typically North American hodgepodge of cultures; 50% Finnish, 25% Germanic, and the remainder a mishmash of British, Irish, and Scottish incubated in the New World over many generations.  Intellectually I have always been strongly drawn to Greek myth, and aesthetically I have always been drawn to Celtic culture.  As a result, my spirituality has long reflected this kaleidoscope, although when it came to invoking Gods or Goddesses it was usually the Hellenic ones that I called to by virtue of knowing them best from the ‘classics’.

Thus it was that when I first joined ADF that I found the notion of choosing a ‘hearth culture’ to be somewhat foreign.  I am not a carrot, I thought, with a single root that goes deep and thick in one single spot of dirt; I am like the barley with many roots extending hither and thither and yon.  Indeed, I thought the idea almost unnatural; did not the Romans adopt Greek ideas about the nature of divinity?  Did they not both borrow freely from their neighbours such as the Egyptians welcoming, as an example, the cult of Isis?  The religions of the ancients were not static or insulated but ever changing and intermingling; therefore wasn’t the very idea of a “hearth culture” just an artificial construct?

Well as it turns out I have found that the answer is yes, but mostly no.  Yes, the ancients borrowed freely from one another, but they made what they borrowed their own, and I have since discovered that each of the Indo-European cultures is a deep sea into which one can dive and submerge for a long, long time.  This can come as a surprise to those of us with an eclectic Wiccan-ish background who have never considered that maybe the Gods might want to be honoured according to the traditions and customs of their ancient cultures.  And, of course, deciphering those ancient customs is much more difficult than the average lay Pagan might imagine.  There are no single references.  Instead, the would-be adherent to a hearth culture needs to consider: primary sources, which are often at least partially inaccessible due to language issues; secondary sources, often written for purposes other than sincere attempts to recreate religious practices; archaeological sources, which require significant and subtle interpretation; and any surviving cultural traditions or recordings of old folk tales or songs. Additionally, these cultures are to a large extent linked intrinsically to the land and language of the people who lived them, requiring a geographic and linguistic approach as well. Cobbling together a spiritual practice from all of these sources can easily be an entire life’s work.   When I came to realize this after deciding to try pursuing a hearth culture, the question quickly changed from “Why limit myself when I can pick and choose from the entire fertile field of Indo-European cultures?” to “With so much to learn about just one single culture, why would I want to go and bite off more than I can chew by tackling multiple cultures at once?

Nonetheless, I still maintain that much of what we know about any of the ancient Indo-European pagan cultures represents so many fossils, frozen in time, of traditions that were in continual flux, and further that these fossils represent only the tiniest fraction of what these ancient cultures actually believed and practiced in daily life.  For instance, we know that Lugh was worshipped amongst all the Celts so why should we assume that other deities weren’t just because they don’t appear in the smattering of fossils that we have?  Hence I decided that I would adopt a pan-Celtic approach to a hearth culture rather than limiting myself to Gaulish, Irish, Welsh, or another specific offshoot.  My patrons are the Welsh Cerridwen and the Gaulish Cernunnos.  That said, when it comes to public ritual I do endeavour to centre the rite in a specific tradition, the exception being the gatekeeper for which role I now always look to Cernunnos (I used to try calling Manannán but I have never yet really formed a good relationship with him).

The subject of public ritual brings us to the question of “personal” vs “grove-centered” spirituality.  I must admit that I am not entirely sure of why the requirement makes this distinction. I assume that it is because one might have a personal hearth culture that differs from the community hearth culture embraced by one’s local grove, although an equally valid reading would suggest that it refers to the possibility that one might only practice one’s spirituality as a member of a group.  In my case I am in the happy situation where my current hearth culture and my grove’s community culture are both pan-Celtic.  Additionally, I also have what I shall call a “family-centered” spirituality which is when my wife and I conduct private rituals together, alternately expressed in either my Druidism or her Wicca.

So how have I worked to develop my spiritual practice?  Partially through my daily devotionals, solitary rites, and meditations, but I would say mostly through writing High Day rituals, either for my family rites or as chief liturgist for my grove.  These have required that I delve deeply into Celtic myths and traditions around the High Days, and I am proud to say that I feel that I have brought my own unique perspective to these myths and traditions and as a result have created some fine rituals.  I look forward to deepening my understanding of the High Days and my relationship to the Kindred through further cycles of the wheel of the year.

I do expect one day to explore further the gods of my Finnish and Germanic ancestors.  And when I do, I will be able to bring to the exploration all of the lessons that I have learned on the Celtic path.  And I don’t think that Cerridwen and Cernunnos will mind; after all, accepting new deities and even new concepts of divinity was a habit of the Indo-Europeans.

The Three Kindred

The Three Kindred are interwoven, together and with the Three Hallows, at the heart of Ár nDraíocht Féin’s Indo-European view of the cosmos as I understand it.  The Ancestors dwell within the Underworld and are reached through the gate of the Sacred Well, the Gods and Goddesses dwell in the Upperworld and hear us through the gate of the Sacred Fire, and the Spirits of the Land live in our own world where the gate of the Sacred Tree sends our voices to them.

The ancestors have been, rather counter-intuitively perhaps, the most distant of the Kindred for me.  I think that there are two explanations for this.  The first is the general Western movement towards a more nuclear view of family.  The second is more personal, which is that I never really knew any of my grandparents.   My father’s parents died when I was very young such that I have only the fuzziest of memories of them, and my father had his own reasons to rarely talk about them.  My maternal grandmother died when my mother was still young.  This left only my maternal grandfather whom I saw infrequently and mostly only remember as a chain smoking, whiskey swilling old crank who had no use for his grandchildren and who in any case passed away when I was still a young man.  It seems no wonder to me, then, that I have always felt disconnected from my ancestors.

These issues may not have been so difficult to manage if I could at least say that my ancestry is firmly rooted in my chosen hearth culture (Celtic).  The disconnect could then simply be seen as a temporal interruption within a lineage.  However this is not the case; my paternal ancestry is entirely Finnish and my ancestry on my mother’s mother’s side is entirely Germanic.  It is only from that crank of a grandfather that I get my Celtic bloodline.

As a result of these difficulties, I have had to work pretty hard to form a personal relationship with the ancestors, both those of blood and those of hearth.

Old photograph

My maternal grandparents Reginald and Olga Rochon, found in a trove of old photographs.

I have been doing so by keeping items that belonged to them on my hallows altar, by engaging in genealogical research, by asking my parents to speak of them, by reaching out to them in ritual, and to a lesser degree through meditation; I have a Phillip Shallcrass book which includes a lesson for an ‘ancestor tree’ meditation which I have found to be quite effective. Perhaps the best way I have found to connect to them has been through photographs; when my aunt passed away five years ago my mother, sister, and I found a trove of old photos in her house and spent a long evening looking through them and discussing who they were and what they were doing.

As far as the nature of the Ancestors, I see them as the Mighty Dead who have great wisdom which they are by and large willing to share with their descendants.  And so in ritual I typically making offerings of ale to them and ask for their guidance.  Occasionally during the offerings phase I will ask them to welcome in as ancestors any newly departed friends or loved ones in the community.

In comparison to the Ancestors, I have found the Spirits of the Land to be easier to contact and yet much harder to communicate with.  Unlike our ancestors, these Kindred have entirely alien minds.  It is generally not too difficult to appease them and thereby hope to gain their favour, but working with them is an entirely different matter.  For instance the faery folk I will leave offerings to, generally of wine and honeyed bread and especially on Midsummer’s Eve, but I am far too wary of them to yet ask of them any boons.

There is one Nature Spirit that I have been working on forming a relationship with, which is the White Hart, of course.  The Hart is the guide to the dark, secret, heart of the forest where the Mysteries of the Goddess are to be found. I have sought the Hart through magic and mysticism, and am slowly working on building him a wonderful outdoor shrine.

Other than the White Hart, the Spirits of the Land are great in number and diverse in type.  Our Indo-European fore-fathers identified a vast array of them: the Sidhe, nymphs, satyrs, leprechauns, goblins, trolls, dragons, dryads, mermaids, the list goes on and on.  These are the Old World spirits, although many of them have followed our ancestors across the waters.  Then there are the Spirits of the *this* Land, those which were identified by the natives.  Some we know of by an animal name; buffalo, coyote, fox, raven.  Then there are some which are very far more alien such as the Wendigo and Thunderbird.  Although they do not make up the stories of our Indo-European ancestors, we live and walk and practice on their lands and so we must give them due honour as well.

We give the Spirits of the Land this honour during ritual with invocations and offerings.  My offerings are typically edible things that come naturally from the land; seeds, nuts, and fruit, although as mentioned earlier I also sometimes offer man-made stuffs such as bread and wine to the Fae.

As far as my own locality goes, I mentioned in my Nature Essay that I live on twelve acres of Carolinian forest ravine land .  Although there are some paths though it, it is mostly wild and uninviting towards humans, with thick rose brambles,  dense pine groves, frenetic webs of vines, creeping poison ivy, and a creek whose alternating flows has created steep banks.  I have been trying to feel out the spirits in this place, and have discovered a couple of places where I can feel the energy of some great hidden spirit.  I have yet to determine how to, or indeed if I even should, interact with these spirits however.

Finally we come to the subject of the third of the Three Kindred; the Shining Gods and Goddesses.  On this topic I do not want to delve too deeply into my personal relationship with these beings since this will be the primary focus of my next essay, on my spiritual practice.  I will, however, discuss my evolving understanding of the nature of the gods, however.

It is hard to articulate this evolution, although I suspect that it is common amongst Neo-Pagans.   It may be easier for the younger generations, fortunately for them, who were not coerced into reciting The Lord’s Prayer every morning at school, but for my generation and those that came before me even if our families did not attend church every Sunday we were still inculcated with Christianity at every turn.   Yes, we read the stories of the gods of the Norse and the Greeks, and they spoke to us on some deep level that the Bible never reached, but at the same time we were told by our teachers and parents that they were just myths — they weren’t real.

To make matters more difficult, when one is indoctrinated into a culture of monotheism it tends to limit the possibilities for belief even if one disavows the ultimate being of the predominate religion.  For some, another type of monism may take the place of  “God/YWH/Allah” but for most people atheism is the only alternative that seems to make sense.   The road from monotheism back to polytheism is hard indeed.  So, when I was introduced to modern Paganism via Wicca back in the 80’s at age 19, even though I felt the call of the gods I still felt more comfortable perceiving them as either archetypes or personifications rather than real beings unto themselves.  It has taken me much of my adult life to peel away those artificial layers and return to the Gods and Goddesses of my ancient ancestors.

But I have finally arrived at the point where I see the Shining Ones as my ancestors once did, as individual entities limited in time and space but with great power and sublime personalities.  I honour them both personally, as I shall discuss in more detail in my next essay, and in ritual.  In ritual we generally call upon all of the gods who are willing to attend, and to which I usually offer wine, as well as the Deities of the Occasion, whose offerings tend to be richer and as appropriate as possible.

I would like to conclude with a note that the lines between the Three Kindred can sometimes be blurred.  As mentioned, great ancestors can be deified, and for certain great and individual Nature Spirits the differences that set them apart from the Gods can be subtle.  The delineation is in some ways artificial, but well suited to the limited grasp of the spirit and spiritual world that humans have.