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I have always been a fairly avid reader, and I’ve completed my three “required” books for the Dedicant Path, so I’ve moved on to reading other Druidic things (among reading some not-so-Druidic things). ADF encourages study and scholarship, but not all of these books are scholarly – some of them are pagan brain candy, things to keep me interested and maybe make me think a bit, without having to wade through serious scholarly references.

Anyway, here are some things I’ve been reading recently, and some thoughts about them!

Recently Read:

Frey, God of the World (Ann Groa Sheffield) – an overview of all the attested sources referencing Ing/Ingvi/Frey/Freyr, organized by sphere of influence. This is a fairly scholarly work, but if you want a solid overview of the mythology and of Frey’s spheres of influence in the days of Northern Paganism, this is a good place to start. It does not contain any “translation” to modern worship, however. For me, this book was about knowledge building – getting a solid mythological basis for my devotions to Freyr, and in what associations he would have influence.

Freyja, Lady, Vanadis (Patricia M Lafayllve) – Similar to Frey, this book contains the attested sources referencing Freya/Freyja to build a picture of her as she would have been seen in the days of her original worship. This book also contains some modern interpretations for building a devotion to Freyja. Similar to Frey, this book was, for me, about building my scholarship base for working with Freyja. The poems and prayers in the back are also quite nice.

Elves, Wights and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry (Kvedulf Gundarsson) – A fairly dense, but still accessible overview of all the OTHER kinds of spirits that enhabited the Northern Pagan world, from different types of wights, to house spirits, to dwarves, to Jotuns and Ettins. Gundarsson puts these all into direct practice in the modern world, from simple instructions on what to do when you meet a Wight, to different rituals to help you find them where you live. The magic is somewhat advanced, especially in its use of runes, but this was a highly practical book. It also includes an essay on the “Earth mother” concept in Norse paganism that I found extremely interesting. Gundarsson sets out a “hierarchy” of spirits, saying that most people would deal with the land spirits and wights on a daily basis (much like neighbors), the Gods for larger and more important needs (like a Chieftain), and a spirit like Jord/The Earthmother only for things of enormous importance.

Sunna’s Journey (Nicholas Egelhoff) An ADF centric book with a Norse focus, Sunna’s Journey is a book primarily of rituals to take a Norse flavored Druid through the Wheel of the Year, with bonus devotionals to Sunna and Mani. It’s a highly practical sort of book, and one I’m reading piecemeal as I go through the year. The rituals are a little more involved than I usually do for my solitary practice, but they’re quite well done, and I find them inspiring as I put together my High Day celebrations.

Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner (Galina Krasskova) This book was recommended to me, but to be honest, I didn’t like it much. I liked the section of prayers a LOT, however, and have made use of several of them. In general, I just don’t think I’m ever going to be a recon, so recon-flavored books (even ones with a lot of UPG in them) aren’t as appealing to me. I will definitely make use of the section on prayers though. I’m not sure what I think about the tables of correspondences, but that’s not something I’ll use a lot either way.

Currently Reading:

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan (Alaric Albertsson) Recommended on the Dedicants list, this is a different take on Northern Paganism, focusing on the Anglo-Saxon/Saxon pagans and their beliefs. While there is some overlap to the more frequently studied Norse paganism, there are other bits that are distinctly Saxon. I’m about 1/3 of the way through this book, and enjoying it. It’s a quick read, and extremely practically minded. It’s a great “Hearth Culture” book for the Dedicant Path, as its generally introductory in nature. I’m looking forward to reading Albertsson’s other book – Wyrdworking – which is about Saxon magic working.

To Read Soon:

Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (Philip A Shaw) I’ve not started this one yet, but it looks to be an interesting book. I’ll let you know what I think. It isn’t very long, so hopefully it will be fairly quick read. From the blurb:

This book considers evidence for Germanic goddesses in England and on the Continent, and argues on the basis of linguistic and onomastic evidence that modern scholarship has tended to focus too heavily on the notion of divine functions or spheres of activity, such as fertility or warfare, rather than considering the extent to which goddesses are rooted in localities and social structures. Such local religious manifestations are, it is suggested, more important to Germanic paganisms than is often supposed, and should caution us against assumptions of pan-Germanic traditional beliefs. Linguistic and onomastic evidence is not always well integrated into discussions of historical developments in the early Middle Ages, and this book provides both an introduction to the models and methods employed throughout, and a model for further research into the linguistic evidence for traditional beliefs among the Germanic-speaking communities of early medieval Europe.

The Solitary Druid (Skip Ellison) This one is out of print, but a friend of mine is letting me borrow it. It’s Celtic centric, but I thought I should read it, with all the references to it in the Wheel of the Year book. If nothing else, it’ll get me more familiar with ADF and working as a solitary.

The Prose and Poetic Eddas are definitely on the “to read soon” list as well! I am not sure yet which translations I want to run with, or just borrow them from the library. As well, I’ve purchased e-books of Ian Corrigan’s Book of Nine Moons, Sacred Fire, Holy Well, and Beginning Practical Magic. I know several of those are also Celtic focused, but I’m not against using things that work, and I’m not so tied into the Norse hearth that I don’t want to learn things about other ways of Druiding.

What’s on your bookshelf this week?

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Since this weekend is Memorial Day, many of us in the USA will be inaugurating the summer cook out and grilling season.*

As such, especially with Memorial Day being a time to remember the men and women who died in the Armed Forces, it’s a good time to do a little covert Druidry at your cookout. Once the main meal is cooked, stop by the grill with a handful of loose herbs or incense (crumbled incense sticks work too), and offer them to the fire as an offering to the Ancestors of the land and the warrior Ancestors (or any Ancestors, if you are not celebrating Memorial Day). Say a prayer thanking them for their service to their community and to their upholding their virtues. (You don’t have to be all RAH RAH PATRIOTISM to appreciate these Ancestors, but if you’re more comfortable, you can make an offering this way to ancient warrior ancestors instead, or any familial ancestors, as Memorial Day was developed out of earlier Decoration Day customs where people picnicked and decorated familial graves. )

This works best if you’re cooking over charcoal, since there will be hot coals to use. I’m not sure how you’d do it over a propane grill, but maybe just place the incense/herbs on a piece of foil on the grill over the heat?

You can make an offering to the “fire” any time you’re grilling or cooking out, especially over charcoal. I make land spirit offerings this way, just to help me remember that I can build my religious practice into my everyday life.

*Note: grilling hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, and chicken is not a barbecue. It’s a cookout. Barbecue involves slow cooking and smoking meats, and is a specific food. This is an important distinction, regardless of whether you put a bottle if barbecue sauce on the table as a condiment.

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Beltane is the second cross-quarter day in the Neopagan calendar, and occurs on or around May 1st. This is sometimes considered the second most important holiday to Samhain, and is in a lot of ways it’s mirror holiday. While Samhain celebrates death, the ending of the year, and the beloved dead, Beltane is a fertility festival, steeped in the coming new life of the earth and the return of flowers, as well as the promise of a good harvest. I have heard it said that Samhain is when the Otherworld comes closest to joining our world, and that Beltane is when our world is closest to joining the Otherworld.

Ancient Gaelic traditions include building fires and driving the livestock between them to bless them. Many other traditions, like maypole dancing, come from the Germanic cultures, making this Neopagan holiday a good blend of Indo European traditions. The name Beltane is, itself, Gaelic – the Germanic culture celebrated Walpurgis Night. There is a possible connection as well to the Roman festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers, though the festival of flowers was centered less on bonfires and more on flowers and drinking. (Drinking, of course, is likely common to all of these celebrations, but modern Neopagans are warned to be careful about combining alcohol with bonfire jumping.)

In the Neopagan Wheel of the Year, Beltane is when the Goddess and the God are celebrating their fertility and consummating their marriage. Common traditions are creating flower garlands, dancing a may-pole, building bonfires, having sex (consenting adults only), and generally celebrating the fact that Summer is on its way in, and the Earth’s fertility has resumed, and it’s not cold and snowy anymore. Less common are flower baskets (May baskets) left anonymously as gifts on people’s porches (which makes a nice counterpart to trick-or-treating at Samhain). The May morning dew is said to be miraculously healing and rejuvenating, leading to myths about bathing your face in it, or gathering it in special cloths.

Beltane, Walpurgis Night, May Day and other associated holidays are all celebrated widely, even into modern times in a lot of places, regardless of Christianization. In many places, May is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but the same celebrations (like giving baskets of flowers) are simply given new names and continued. In other places, people simply continue to build their bonfires and celebrate the coming of May, regardless of what tradition or religion they might be.

This is, in general, an extremely lighthearted and joyful celebration in modern times. It frequently gets connected with faeries and fey lore, and gives modern Neopagans a chance to dance, sing, drink, and make merry at the end of winter. This year, since the spring has been so cool and wet (and even, in some places, snowy) many US Neopagans are looking forward to Beltane and hoping that the weather will cooperate. Here on the Gulf Coast, the cooler weather has meant that things aren’t growing as fast as they usually do, so my celebration will include some extra oomph for my garden, so that it will be productive and fruitful before the heat of summer!

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I am reminded, having read several things this week, that there is no litmus test for Paganism. We are, by nature, an eclectic and assorted bunch, with various tastes, skills, and goals. But those various tastes, skills, and goals do not make us more or less valid Pagans than anyone else.

This comes up especially in response to something I read over at Druid’s Cosmos, where I left what was probably a comment that should just have been a response post. She was feeling discouraged because she felt left out, or “less than” because of all the people around her (online) who were talking about direct contact with, or visions of, the Gods.

There are lots of people on the internet – on blogs, forums, and mailing lists – who like to talk about their mystical experiences. This is pretty natural. For one thing, when you’re first encountering something new and exciting (much like when you’re in the first, budding, exciting stages of a relationship) you want to talk about it all the time! You want to share how wonderful it is! Also, mystical experiences of the Kindreds can be a little scary, and it’s just as natural to want some reassurance from others that they know where you are and can relate to what you’re going through.  It becomes self-perpetuating as well, as everyone struggles to talk about THEIR mystical experiences, and the impression given is that everyone has these deep and powerful religious experiences (and frequently!) and that somehow you’re not “in” the group if you’re not having them.

This creates something of a selection bias that I’ve found myself falling prey to. I too grow quiet in those conversations. I’ve only recently had what might be termed a mystical encounter, and it’s not something that’s happened regularly or even sporadically since then. I get vague creeping-on-the-back-of-my-neck feelings that it’s still there, but nothing worth being excited about. Before that, in all my working within different parts of Paganism, I’d never had a *direct* contact with the spirit world before. Sure I’d had experiences that were powerful, that told me I was doing what was the right thing – but nobody had ever talked in my ear before.

And if I’m honest? I felt a little left out by that, especially once I joined the ADF community.

ADF specifically trains people towards mystical experiences in the Dedicant Path, even going so far as to encourage (though no longer require) development of a patron relationship to complete the DP. This, combined with our natural proclivity to talk about things that are happening to us (especially things that we think are special) – and to keep silent in discussions where we don’t have anything to add – gives the impression that *everyone* in ADF has all these amazing mystical experiences all the time (since someone is regularly talking about it on the lists) and that part of being a Druid is having a deeply personal, deeply mystical relationship with the Kindreds.

I think that impression is wrong.

Not that many Druids and Pagans don’t have those relationships – they obviously do, and those relationships are obviously fulfilling and meaningful. But many OTHER Druids and Pagans (equally as many, I’d guess, if not more) are there because the act of devotion is what centers and grounds their practice. They are there to honor the Gods, to follow the Old Ways, to worship the Kindreds, and to find spiritual fulfillment through those acts.

The internet is a tiny microcosm of Paganism, if Margot Adler’s numbers of modern Pagans are to be believed. Most of those Pagans are not writing blogs or posting to email lists, they’re quietly going about their business, being Pagans in their daily life. Maybe they’re Secret Agent Druids who work in offices (like me), or teachers or doctors or engineers or scientists or fire fighters or whatever it is that anyone else might do.

Those people – the quiet, every day, ground-and-center, worship on their landbase, remember the High Day Pagans – they are just as much Pagan as the devoted spirit workers, the god-touched, and the deeply mystical. They are no more or less than what their actions speak of them as being. They’ve been called to different work.

Paganism, and especially Druidry, is a Religion of Doing (orthopraxy).

We don’t much care whether you think of the Earth Mother as the land on which you stand, some great Goddess of tradition (like Jord or Nerthus or Gaia), the Great Biosphere Herself (Gaia Hypothesis), or some shifting combination of all three. When you do an ADF style ritual, you honor the Earth Mother. If you are honoring the Earth Mother (however you think of Her, and whether or not you have a personal, first-name relationship with Her or not) you are on your way to practicing Druidry.

In short, are you doing the stuff? If yes, all the rest is just you figuring things out on your own.

All the mystical experiences in the world might mean things to you personally and give you great comfort, but they are not Doing the Stuff. Because I don’t think my experience is so far out of line with others. I think sometimes you have deep and powerful rituals, and sometimes you have mediocre ones, distracted by the lawn mower next door. Sometimes you have rushed rituals, and sometimes you don’t get to do your morning devotions until noon because your spouse had car trouble and your kid threw up on the bus, and life happened.

Sure, some of those reporting constant mystical connection probably have it, but for the rest of us, Paganism has to be part of our lives – alongside all the other parts of our lives.

You’re not less of a Pagan (or Druid) because you can’t directly hear the Gods. You’re not more of a Pagan (or Druid) because you can. We all have different gifts, different callings, and different skill sets. Some people take naturally to divination, others do not. Some take easily to high liturgies and poetry, others like to work off the cuff. Some people worship an entire pantheon, others work with one or two specific Gods exclusively. Some people can organize and run a ritual or a festival, others simply don’t have the mental tools to do that. Some people have the mental connection that allows them to “hear” and “see” the Kindreds, others do not. We’re all Pagans (and Druids) together.

Can you learn to have those skills? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Is it important to learn what skills you DO have, and to work on developing those? Probably.

But don’t mistake “having a certain skill set” or even “having a certain relationship with the Gods” with “being a better (or more legitimate) Pagan.” It can seem glamorous or special to have that kind of deep relationship that allows you to truly hear the Gods – and it IS something special, and something that I’m working on developing for myself. But it’s not required.

There is no litmus test for Paganism.

Do the Stuff.

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The spring equinox, commonly called Ostara, is the high holy day that occurs halfway between Imbolc and Beltaine, on the astrological day when day and night are equal – usually around March 21. It mirrors the autumnal equinox, but serves as the gateway into the “light” half of the year.

Commonly, Neo-Pagans celebrate this holiday as the first coming of fertility to the land, with symbols of pastel flowers, rabbits, and eggs (much like the symbols surrounding the secular and Christian celebrations of Easter, which gets its name from the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, for whom both the Christian and the Pagan holidays are named). The Anglo-Saxon celebration of Eostre in April, though slightly later than our modern celebrations, is the historical basis for this holy day. Eostre is the goddess of the dawn, and her celebration in modern paganism frequently emphasizes the strengthening of the sun. In the secular calendar, March 21 is counted as the first day of spring, which lines up well with the religious celebrations at this time.

This time of year is also the beginning of the rebirth of the agrarian gods, and in the myth of the Goddess and God commonly told in eclectic Wicca, this celebration is when the young God begins his courtship of the Goddess.

Egg decorating is a common custom during this time, for pretty much everyone, and is something I look forward to each year. I’ve decorated eggs since I was a child, and I find that I don’t feel “right” about this time of year until there is a collection of brightly colored eggs in my fridge. I also enjoy decorating my house with birds, nests full of eggs, bunnies, and flowers – symbols that I leave up through Beltaine usually, and the beginning of summer. I have a special connection to rabbits (and have since my childhood), so I enjoy surrounding myself with their imagery for this season.

Also common is the eating of chocolate (and other candy), especially in egg, bean, or bunny shapes, and I will always support holidays that encourage chocolate eating.

This is also one of the few holy days that has a myth that lines up with the agricultural calendar in my area. Though many people are just seeing the first renewed signs of life, it’s not hard to imagine this time of year as one of first plantings and the first fertility of the land (especially with eggs and rabbits as such potent fertility symbols). Since this is the time of year that I plant my spring garden, it’s nice to celebrate the holiday along side celebrating having my garden in the ground. This year the first seedlings will be coming up the week of the Equinox. Planting a garden is a deeply religious experience for me and is a crucial celebration of this season of the year (even if it doesn’t happen right on the actual equinox), and I make a point of channeling the fertility that abounds in Pagan religious celebrations into the ground itself, to increase the yields and fertility of my garden.

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From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

VISION
1

  • a : something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy; especially : a supernatural appearance that conveys a revelation
  • b : a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination
  • c : a manifestation to the senses of something immaterial <look, not at visions, but at realities — Edith Wharton>

2

  • a : the act or power of imagination
  • b (1) : mode of seeing or conceiving (2) : unusual discernment or foresight <a person of vision>
  • c : direct mystical awareness of the supernatural usually in visible form

3

  • a : the act or power of seeing : sight
  • b : the special sense by which the qualities of an object (as color, luminosity, shape, and size) constituting its appearance are perceived through a process in which light rays entering the eye are transformed by the retina into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve

4

  • a : something seen
  • b : a lovely or charming sight

From Our Own Druidry (82)

Vision: The ability to broaden one’s perspective to have a greater understanding of our place/role in the cosmos, relating to the past, present, and future.

Vision strikes me as a complicated concept as a virtue since it has so many potential meanings, from the ability to see physically to a more intangible ability to dream and plan for the future. I really like how the ADF definition of this virtue incorporates many of the dictionary definitions in a succinct way – it’s both the physical act of seeing and the spiritual act of foresight and discernment (there’s wisdom again), combined with placing ourselves in the greater path of the Kindreds and the cosmos. I especially like the idea of vision as a manifestation to the senses of something immaterial, since I see my work as a Druid being one of manifesting the immaterial in material ways. Rituals – both big and small – take the forms and ideas about the Kindreds and the Cosmos and make them present as material realities: Fire, Well, and Tree, offerings and blessings.

Vision is more than just divination (though that is definitely part of it). It is the integration of the past, present, and future into a path that can be traveled. There is also an element of challenge to vision, that it expects a lot from us, and does not shy away from the difficulties that create growth.

Part of me suspects, though, that this virtue gets a little bit of abuse in the form of “ADF’s greater vision” – I don’t think that individual Druids, while still displaying the virtue of Vision, will necessarily come up with things that are similar to the core “vision” of the ADF organization and it’s leaders/founders. I don’t know that I always display vision particularly well, and I think group vision is important, as we seek to find ourselves in relationships with each other as well as with the greater beings in the Cosmos, but I don’t think we all have place the same weight on each defined goal to work together in ways that are constructive. As well, I think this virtue means as much our own vision for ourselves as it does our visions as a group.

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Buy (or even better, make) a wreath for each season. Celebrate changing the wreath as you prepare for and celebrate the High Days and the changes that occur in nature. Wreaths of greenery are available right now and are a good way to bring evergreens into your home. For Imbolc you might have a wreath of red, orange, and white bows, and then for Ostara a wreath with early spring flowers and colored eggs.

This works in a dormitory or a shared apartment as well – you can get little hangers that go over the door and hang the wreath inside! (I used to do this in the dorms at school. It always made my door stand out and look festive!) I actually use one of those hangers for my front door, since it has a large glass panel. You could also put a nail in the wall above your altar and make a tiny wreath as a rotating wall decoration.

For the Druid on a budget, check craft stores right around or just after the major holidays. Small grapevine wreath blanks are inexpensive, and once the major holiday is past, you can often get nice flowers and wreath decor for heavily discounted prices. I store my wreaths in an old packing box standing up on end with pieces of cardboard between them. Stalk the ribbon clearances as well!

If you’re lucky, you might even get birds nesting in the wreath! I watched a pair of wrens raise a clutch just outside our front door last year, and it was really very special.

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I’ve been reading Drawing Down the Moon as the next book in my DP studies, and I recently finished with the section on Feminist Craft.

While I have never been part of that aspect of Paganism, that section of the book brought to mind how much I have valued the women mentors and friends I’ve made in Paganism, by extension the male mentors and friends I’ve had as well. Something about that section emphasized community and growth and mentorship in a way that made me really think back on and value the people I’d worked with. I’ve been lucky enough to have really good Pagan friends – never very many at one time, but a few that I could really open up to, and those people are really special to me.

I’ve also always had the luxury of having someone who acted as a mentor to me in the Paganism, and right now I’m feeling a little like that’s missing. ADF is more self directed than my previous forays into Paganism, especially given my reticence to approach my local grove. I’m still waiting on my assignment of a mentor for the DP. (I emailed the preceptor a month ago, and emailed to get an update this week, but I’ve not heard anything back at all.) While I know that an automatically assigned mentor isn’t necessarily going to be someone I can turn to immediately, I’m hoping I can build a relationship that will help guide me through this process.

I think best in conversation, and I’m very lucky to have a very good friend who has been involved in Paganism (of some flavor or another) for a long time. He’s currently closest to being Asatru, but is familiar with and has worked with ADF in the past, and he’s been a sort of sounding board for a lot of my thoughts. He puts up with my random text messages about Druidry, for which I’m very grateful. There’s really a lot of power and comfort in sitting down with someone you trust and just seeing what comes out of your brain.

I’m also building a relationship with my Regional Druid, who has been extremely helpful in letting me bounce ideas off her and giving me much-desired feedback on my Druidic musings and first steps.

The structure of ADF has been very welcoming in general, and I’ve had several people email me in welcome over the last month. Now I just need to build on those relationships and hopefully build some spiritual friendships with the various members of ADF. I find those kinds of friendships to be good for my connection to the Kindreds – having, as it were, a kindred spirit to talk with and share experiences with.

Obviously I’m not in a position right now to be a mentor or teacher for ADF – I’m still way too new. But maybe I’ll be good enough to mentor other Druids someday.

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I do a lot of work to bring my Druidry into my life in a way that I can be happy with how it’s incorporated but also keep a very low profile. This runs me into trouble occasionally, but most prominently around the holidays.

My family is extremely Christian (they think being non-Christian is grounds for divorce, among other things), and so I have to smile and nod a lot, and let them continue to think what they want about me and what I believe. I need their support due to physical and mental health reasons, and I really value having a close relationship with them, so that arrangement doesn’t bother me most of the time. The good outweighs the discomfort, and it’s usually easy to dodge religious conversations or to talk generically about hope and blessings.

But around the holidays, it gets troublesome. I can sit through a Christmas Eve service without too much fuss (just like I sit through an Easter service every year as well), but it always feels a little hollow. I haven’t been struck down yet, but I am still not really comfortable in church, even if I love the Christmas carols.

I want to celebrate the Winter Solstice, to bring evergreens into my home as a reminder that the world will become green again. To decorate with the symbols of winter and nature. I can put up with Santa and the secular western Christmas holiday, but my family always gives me nativity sets and asks why I don’t have the advent wreath up.

I know that a lot of the symbols of this holiday are cross-cultural or have become secular. Many of the “traditional” Christian symbols, like Christmas trees, are borrowed from earlier Pagan ones and have become acceptable as part of the secular celebration of Christmas. Even if the actual Christmas Tree is a relatively young tradition, bringing evergreens into the house is quite old. Even the celebration of Christmas in December is a bid to appropriate an existing holiday and Christianize it.

Knowing all that, unfortunately, doesn’t help much with the practical applications. I’m expected to send Christmas cards. I use the excuse of not wanting to have to send out two different cards to send a very nature oriented, non-Christian-specific card, but it’s still seen as buying into their religious tradition. In return, I get a mailbox full of Jesus cards that I don’t want to put up on my mantle.

On some level, I appreciate being a closeted Pagan. It stretches my imagination, and I enjoy using symbols and items from Paganism to make the celebration of holidays my own in a way that other people will enjoy without knowing that they’re being Pagan.

I also truly love the decorations and celebrations this time of year. They give me the warm fuzzies, and I love participating in those traditions with my family. I love putting up holly and evergreens, pinecones and red ribbon, cranberries, oranges, and candles. I love having a tree decorated with white lights, red ribbon, birds, animals, and little nature scenes. My family has even bought into it, buying me new “Winter Woodland” ornaments for my tree every year (just as they buy snowmen for my aunt and Santas for my mom and snowflakes for my cousin). I even love a lot of Christmas music, though not the tinned, Christmas-Pop stuff they play in stores on eternal repeat. And cookies are pan-religious, right?

It’s easy to decorate for fall or spring, but for some reason decorating for Yule/Christmas is the one time that I feel conflicted, no matter how much I love and cherish having those decorations up in my house.

Even knowing that Yule/Winter Solstice and Christmas are pretty well intertwined, I still feel a bit like a bad Pagan. There are so many good, non-religious things to celebrate during the “Holidays” (which is one reason I love Thanksgiving so much), so I question why it bothers me so much. I can celebrate rebirth, family, warmth, hope, joy, blessings, and the new year without ascribing to any religion at all. I’m not sure why I still feel isolated by my beliefs in the midst of all the secular good vibes.

Even with a beautifully decorated tree in my living room and a hand-made wreath on my door, it puts a damper on my celebration to feel separated like I do. My Pagan beliefs are sustaining and meaningful, but I’m missing out on the community aspect of celebration. I think I’m just missing feeling unified with my family this time of year. Perhaps I should look into doing Grove work (though I’ll be out of town for the local Grove’s Yule celebration). I like being a solitary, but I also like working in a community, and this time of year I crave that community aspect more than others. (Odd for it also being a very introspective time of year in the Wheel.)

I don’t know that there’s an easy solution to all this. I’m obviously still going to decorate, and still going to celebrate on my own time. I’m still going to make cookies (in the shape of holly leaves and spirals), eat oranges to celebrate the sunshine, hang stockings, light candles, and give gifts.

Maybe I just need to work on accepting where I am, and just let myself love the holidays for what they are.

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Thanksgiving is one of the biggest meals I prepare every year, and this year is no exception. Members of my family and my husband’s family will be joining us during the week and over the weekend, and we’ll all be pitching in to create a holiday meal. Since this takes place in my kitchen, I do a lot of the work, and most of the prep, for feeding that many people.

At this point I should mention that both my family and my husband’s family are very devoutly Christian. I’m the only truly non-Christian in the bunch, though my husband is mostly non-religious at this point. I’m not open about my Paganism to my family, and I don’t intend to change that.

I also usually don’t get asked to say grace, both because I’ve been resistant to publicly praying aloud since I was about 8 and because I am usually the one who cooked, so it’s weird to thank myself for my hard work.

This usually means standing by and listening to a very explicitly Christian prayer before the meal, delivered usually by one of the dads, while I say my own prayer in my head. This arrangement isn’t too bad, as I’m not hostile to my family, and I know how much their faith means to them. Still, I sometimes wonder if I couldn’t put together a grace that made both them AND me happy.

I did some digging around on the internet and found a number of resources, but most of the non-Christian prayers were pretty explicitly non-Christian, which isn’t going to work in this case. I did, however, find a few things that I think could work.

First, there are a whole list of possible, short prayers in this post by the Offbeat Mama. For an everyday blessing before a meal in a family of blended religions, there are a lot of good options here (especially check out the comments!)

Second, and my favorite for a formal Thanksgiving prayer, are these from Secular Seasons. I think I’d make a few changes, but this is what I have so far, based on the humanist grace from Secular Seasons:

For this meal we are about to eat, let us be truly thankful
for the blessings of sun and wind and rain, that grow the fruits of the Earth

Let us be truly thankful
for those who planted the crops
for those who cultivated the fields
for those who gathered the harvest

Let us be truly thankful
for those who prepared this food and those who served it.

In this time of plenty let us remember too
those who have no festivity
those who cannot share this plenty
those whose lives are more troubled than our own
and all those who are hungry, sick or cold

As we share in this meal, let us be truly thankful
for all the good things we have
for warm hospitality, loving family, and good company.

Our thoughts go out to family and friends who are not here with us;
We hope that they are safe and well.

May this bountiful meal strengthen our bodies, our minds, and our ties to each other. Amen.

It’s far from perfect, but I think it could work in a pinch. I added in some things to make it fit the kinds of things that usually get said around our Thanksgiving table, as well as adding in a bit about thanking the Earth. If I could say any grace I wanted, I’d say a much more polytheistic grace, but I’d rather avoid having a confrontation with my family at Thanksgiving. I could still get questions about not including Jesus in my prayer, but I think this will be poetic and pretty enough to not prompt too many comments.

I’m going to keep tinkering with it and print off a copy for me to keep in my pocket, in case I get asked to say grace. Always better to be prepared!

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