I’ve led workshops and seminars at Pagan gatherings for several years: Pagan Pride Day, the OBOD East Coast Gathering, and even CMA Beltane, a large pan-Pagan festival here in Texas. But those were all events I was going to anyway and volunteered to present something. This year’s ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat was the first time I’ve been invited as a speaker. That was both an honor and a responsibility.
The first responsibility was showing up and late last week it looked like that might be a problem. We had snow in North Texas on Thursday and with the temperatures staying below freezing I was worried about getting out of town. But the highway crews did a good job clearing the main roads and I had no trouble with either roads or traffic the whole trip.
On the way down I stopped in Dripping Springs for a Pagan Tea Time lunch with Patheos Pagan Managing Editor Christine Kraemer. Christine was vacationing in the area and I was coming through for the retreat. Our lunch was either a convenient coincidence or a result of the currents of life and magic. Either way, it was a good lunch and a pleasant conversation.
The retreat was held at U Bar U, a Unitarian Universalist retreat facility near Kerrville, in the Texas Hill Country. The conference center and bunkhouse (as opposed to tent camping) came in handy with the variable weather: the rituals and one workshop were held outdoors while the other activities were inside.
While I’m a Druid in OBOD and not ADF, my first exposure to modern Druidry was through ADF, via Isaac Bonewits’ books and website. When I went looking for formal training I looked into both OBOD and ADF. I ended up going with OBOD because I liked their distance training program better. I think I made the right decision for me, but I also think if I had chosen ADF I’d be saying the same thing about them. I couldn’t have gone wrong in either order.
I’ve always had a fondness for ADF’s liturgy – it’s far more suitable for a devotional polytheist than OBOD’s mix of generic Neopaganism and Revival Druidry… though it’s also less flexible. I participated in three rituals at the retreat: a prosperity ritual to open the gathering, an inner wisdom ritual on Friday night, and a harmony ritual on Saturday night.
The ADF liturgy allows all participants the opportunity to make offerings to the gods, ancestors, and nature spirits of their choice. I offered to Cernunnos in the first ritual, then to Danu, then to Morrigan. Brighid was the patron of the festival – all the rituals included offerings to Her. It was good listening to other people’s choices: patron deities, deities who had answered prayers and requests, beloved ancestors, and the local spirits of land. ADF refers to these beings as “the Kindreds” and they were treated like the kin they are.
During the Saturday ritual, Hearthstone Grove celebrated their elevation from protogrove to chartered grove. This recognizes the consistent work of its members over several years. Also during this ritual, a young girl dedicated herself to this path – I was moved to tears by her words of commitment.
Chris Godwin of Hearthstone Grove filled in when a second senior ADF representative had travel complications and couldn’t make it. He put together a short talk on the historical and etymological origins of Brighid, then opened the floor for some very good discussion. The literary sources we have aren’t consistent and there are numerous theories as to Her origins. My contribution to the discussion was that the lore will only take us so far – at some point, we have to start meeting these deities on our own. While this begins as UPG (unverified personal gnosis), when deities are active multiple people tend to have similar results, creating SPG (shared personal gnosis).
This is how we’re restoring Pagan worship and practice.
I also had the opportunity to hear an outstanding Bard. David Thompson presented a workshop on Becoming a Bard, where he covered both the basics of storytelling and the need for stories. He opened the Bardic Circle on Saturday night with a powerful telling of The Death of Cuchulainn. Special thanks to David for helping me find a story for an upcoming Sunday service at Denton UU.
When I give my presentation on Spiritual Practice, I always mention retreats. For all the good that comes from consistent daily, weekly and seasonal practice (solo and in groups), there is still no substitute for occasional immersion in your tradition. Retreats and festivals allow us to speak freely and openly without fear of misunderstanding, to put aside the daily concerns that distract us, and to refocus our lives on what is most important. This in turn allows us to return to the ordinary world energized and recommitted to build the kind of world where Druid values are commonplace.
I had an enjoyable time at the ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat. I thank Chris and the other organizers for their gracious hospitality and for the opportunity to share my thoughts on Druidry. They’ve invited me back for next year – I’m going to do my best to make it again.