Special Guests

John Michael Greer of AODA, Stacy of RDNA, and Isaac Bonewits of ADF. Not the best photo – the iPhone doesn’t do well in low light.

The only real disappointment of the weekend was the absence of Philip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (of which I’m a member). He has an illness in his family and didn’t feel like he could travel from England to California. I went through a similar situation when my father was near death in 2000 so while I was disappointed, I certainly understand and support his decision.

This was my second time to meet Isaac Bonewits, the first time being at the CUUPS Convocation in 2004. Isaac is a self-described curmudgeon and has been a pioneer in the NeoPagan explosion of the past twenty years or so – he’s been one of the consistent voices for the truth about the origins of modern Pagan religions such as Druidry and Wicca (namely, that none of them have any links to the ancient pagans of the pre-Christian era). Isaac has written numerous books; Rites of Worship (now retitled Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work) is the best “how to” book for developing Pagan rituals I’ve ever read.
Isaac led a workshop on creating rites of passage, which focused largely on initiations. His material was excellent. Unfortunately, it was the same material he’s had posted on his website since at least 2003, when I used it as my primary reference in creating (along with Monique and Summer) the Ritual of Dedication and Covenant for Denton CUUPS. The material is still valid, but I was hoping for some explanations and insights I didn’t get by reading it. [the link to the material is still on Isaac’s website, but the page is blank – don’t know if he took it down or if there are technical difficulties]

John Michael Greer was a pleasure and an inspiration. I didn’t know much about him, other than his book A World Full of Gods (which is one of the few available books on polytheism from a theological perspective) and an essay on the storyteller as magician, which I blogged about last December. He is very knowledgeable about the history of Druidry (as is Isaac – they had a few arguments over details that I think were good-natured…) but clearly sees that building a good future is more important than agonizing over the past.
Most “special guests” I’ve met have expected to be treated like special guests. Even those who weren’t full of themselves were guarded with their time and carefully controlled what conversation they allowed. John Michael Greer was the most humble, genuine, and friendly “special guest” I’ve ever encountered. He was in the dining hall at every meal and was usually one of the last to leave, and talked – pleasantly, genuinely, and extensively – to everyone. Before dinner on Sunday, he was hanging out in the Grove Pavilion and I noticed him talking with someone who had some very basic questions – the kind I get occasionally and generally answer in a couple of minutes, ending in a reading list. When I got to dinner, he was still talking to this person, and when I finished dinner, he was still continuing the discussion. Now, perhaps the conversation changed subjects several times, but I think it’s more likely he simply has the patience, kindness, and grace to be a good listener.

I’ve criticized his politics elsewhere, but what little politics he discussed at the Gorsedd were more libertarian than anything, with a strong dose of realism – which almost started an argument with someone who thought California could do no wrong. I may have read more negativity into his rather bleak outlook for modern society than is there.

The most important thing I learned from John Michael Greer this past weekend is the importance of regular spiritual practice. Not that I didn’t know that already – I’ve been preaching it here and at DUUF for years. But he made it very clear that to get to where I want to be spiritually will require practice, practice, and more practice. There are no occult secrets, no special books – and no shortcuts. If you want to be an adept, a wizard, an elder, a senior druid, you have to do the work.
Which I knew already. But hearing my own suspicions confirmed by an Archdruid makes me that much more convinced it’s what I need to do.
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