Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Winter Solstice Blessing

As the wheel turns round toward the darkest part of the year, 
As the Mother sleeps and all is cold,
We are reminded that it is the darkness framing the light that allows us to notice its brightness.
Waning light descending into night
Hear the words we offer to you
During this time of transformation.

Carry our worries and hardships of the past year with you into the darkness,
And free us from the past that we may move freely into the new year unburdened.
Waxing light ascending into the heavens once more, 
Having been grounded and freed from those burdens of the past, 
Be cleansed as you leave the bosom of the Earth,
Made whole and holy once more,
Renewing each of us as your healing rays rain down upon us
In streams of Awen for transformation, inspiration, and creativity.

Returning Light, may you be a beacon of hope, of promise, and of good luck in the year to come.
Solstice blessings!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Prayer to The Denizens of the Cosmos

I watched "Good Night Oppy" with Rev. William the other day, and I was utterly inspired. After spending hours combing through photos from the James Webb Telescope, this documentary opened my heart even more to the forces of Order and Chaos that swirl about in space. So many of the images seem to have hands, fingers, faces. I cannot help but feel in my heart that the Divine--a word we use to describe that which is far bigger, more eternal, and yet affecting us here in the middle realm--is tangibly real. During #PrayerADay, I wanted to say a prayer to those beings, far beyond our comprehension and millions of lightyears away, to let them know I see them and know they are there. 

Denizens of the Cosmos,
We seek for you still. 
We sought for you when we charted
the movement of the stars. 
We sought you when we configured watch glasses to allow us to see further into the night sky. 
We sought you with telescopes, satellites, and rockets launched into space,
And we seek you still. 
One thing is certain, 
We seek and will keep seeking,
Because we know in our heart-of-hearts that 
We are not alone. 

Photo Credit: NASA James Webb Telescope
Pillars of Creation (NIRCam and MIRI Composite Image)

Thursday, November 17, 2022

2022 Prayer a Day Challenge

 For 2022, I am participating the November #PrayerADay challenge. For the entire month of November, I have committed to write a prayer a day that aligns with my vocation as a priest and my path as a pagan. 

One of my prayers this month was to the Spirit of Inspiration (see text below). This prayer is meaningful to me as an example of my internal call to those powers that grant us inspired words for prayers, writing, speaking, and creating more formal works such as poetry and song in praise of the Kindreds. 

May these words bring inspiration to your works and your hearts!

Image of the rosy dawn on the front range rocky mountains:

We call to those who bring us inspiration. 
As we seek to create, to bring into life new works of art, of song, of speech, of kitchen craft, 
We make offerings to you.
Inspire our minds with plans for our works.
Plant the seeds of songs and poems in our hearts.
Grant us ideas for writing, for speaking, for building.
Guide our senses to new tastes and scents,
And open our hearts to share what we have created
That we may share this joy with those around us. 
Hail to thee, bringers of Inspiration!
Hail to thee, guiders of intellect!
Hail to thee, whose strength and dexterity blesses our hands.
Beings of Creativity, we honor you.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Praying to Hel

I recently had the privilege of attending a local Heathen Kindred's Helsblot. We gathered for feasting and fellowship beforehand, sharing recipes from those we have loved. The Gothi (Heathen Priest) reminded us of the importance of relationship with the Goddess of the Underworld, since despite her relevance to each of us who will not die in battle, she still remains a figure of contention among Heathen folk. I can understand the desire to want distance from her father, Loki, another hotly contentious member of the pantheon; however, as much as we strive not to be held accountable for the "sins" of our own fathers, I find it interesting that folks shun her for events in which she took no part. The Gothi reminded us that when Baldr was slain, Hela was already in Helheim. She played no part in his death. She was even willing to allow him to return if all living things would weep for him. Despite her best efforts, her father ruined it and refused to weep for Baldr in the guise of an old woman.

I have long had a relationship with Hela, and I find no ill feelings in that space save what I bring with me. Death and grief are difficult for human brains and heart attached to our loved ones with such ferocity and depth, and yet she remains still and unwavering in the face of our most unbridled outbursts of anguish. 

Today, I offer you this prayer to Hel that you may see her through eyes that have looked into her face and found nothing but acceptance and truth, even if cold. May she bring stillness to hearts in mourning during this time when the Ancestors are most near.

The Children of Askr and Embla call out to The Mother of Bones, 
To the Lady of Tears, the Goddess of Rot and Decay. 
Lady Hela, Goddess of the Underworld, we honor you. 

As our loved ones pass from this realm, we lay our burdens at your feet, 
Our grief, our sorrow, our pain, and our anger— 
All fitting offerings—for you know well the love from which they are borne. 

We offer you our honor and respect 
As the caregiver and provider of our beloved ancestors. 
The Legions of the Dead will always be free from hunger and thirst at your table. 

We bring our fears of the unknown and look into your eyes, 
Eyes of both life and of death, 
To find our courage and the strength to face what is yet to come. 

Goddess of Death and Keeper of Souls, 
We ask that our suffering be limited when our threads reach their end. 
If there must be pain, may your death-blow be swift. 
If a swift death is not possible, may we be surrounded by those we love to ease our passing. 
And if we must leave this realm alone, may our death be one worthy of memory. 

When we take our steps across the Gjallar Bridge to meet you, 
We shall bow our heads in reverence at your hospitable welcome after a life well-lived. 
Hail to thee, Lady Hel!

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Hanging Portraits of the Dead

When I first began the work of building an Ancestor practice back in 2008, the idea of connecting to some of my dead was...unappealing. There are folks in my life who caused me great pain when they were alive, and the veil between us brought me a sense of comfort, of safety. Part of the work of the ADF Dedicant Path is to connect to all three Kindreds, and without this important breakthrough, I knew I would be unable to complete it. 

Fast forward to today, I now have a strong Ancestor practice; in fact, it is probably the most consistent and deeply intimate part of my personal shrine work--and it is much easier to engage with because of our Ancestor Box practice. 

Developed by Three Cranes Grove, ADF, the Ancestors Box is a place where mementos, photos, obituaries, small items that they once owned, etc., are stored for eleven months of the year. The moon service prior to Ancestors Night, or Samhain, holds significance as the evening the box is opened. For the duration of a moon cycle, we take out our mementos, photos, obituaries and trinkets to commune with those who have gone before us, to tell their stories, and to remember their names that they may live on. Then, on the moon rite after Ancestors Night, the box is closed. 

Leapfrogging through time with the Ancestors this way provides opportunities to engage with their stories in a healthy way. There are boundaries to engaging in this work, a clear end point, and the knowledge that we are the ones in "control" of the interactions. While not all Ancestors will require this level of planning and coordination, when it is necessary, the work becomes manageable and even fruitful. There may be certain Ancestors we never work with because of what they broke when they were yet alive, and those are personal decisions we each have to make. We now follow this tradition here at Mountain Ancestors Grove, ADF.

Since I began my Ancestor work in 2008, I have muddled through my grief, my frustration, my anger, my resentment, my disappointment, and the death of the hope I carried that things between me and some of my relatives be made right: I had to accept that none of them were ever going to say, "I'm sorry." Just, oof.

I've had many more of my relatives pass away since then, as well, and I've continued to add them to the box and do the annual work of engaging in their memories, our relationships, and my healing through it all. At our home, we have the main Ancestor Shrine for our family's dead as well as an Ancestors Wall on the main shrine where we place the photos of members of the community who have passed. Up until today, the wall behind our family shrine has held only one photo of my dead: that of my father. Managing my grief process and reconciliation after his death was HARD. Much existed between us that was left unsaid, since he took his life through intentional overdose. Having his picture up was a mark of the work we did together after his passing, and I am grateful to him for many life lessons that have made me a better person. 

I have been resistant to hanging other photos, even though I have so many more relatives to place on our family tree of the dead. My husband already has everyone up, including folks with whom living relationships were difficult, and despite the slight pang of guilt I felt with additional photo (internal guilt, he's been great about it), I have never been motivated to add more photos to my side of the wall. 

A few weeks ago, my mother's biological mother, Ursula von Stephen, passed away at the age of 89. I found out through Facebook, and my mother and her family were left off the obituary. They've never been a part of my life, so I harbor no ill will toward them for the oversight. It is one more reflection of the vast chasm between us despite our shared blood. Interestingly, Ursula's passing sparked within me a desire to preserve our part her story. Reading the obituary shows that her connection to us will not live on without intentionality. My aunt posted some lovely photos, and I printed one for the wall. Her name, and her connection to those who come after me, will live on though us.

However, this presented me with a conundrum: I have other relatives that should already be on the wall! Their names began floating before me: Shirley Lou Caniff, my grandmother. Edward H Caniff, Sr, my grandfather. Deborah Ellen Burchfield, my mother-in-law. Paul Milton Burchfield, my father-in-law. These are my BELOVED dead, folks whose influence and love marked me in too many positive ways to count. Was I really entertaining putting up my estranged grandmother before I added them to the wall?

Well, yes, of course I was. We were estranged, which meant it was safe to put her up. My dad was up there, because I did the work to bring myself healing. My estranged grandmother doesn't require work, because I have long been at peace with our arrangement. My paternal grandparents and my in-laws--now that stings. Their loss still wells up within me, and keeping my grief locked away in the Ancestors Box for eleven months a year was enabling me to nurse my grief rather than allowing true healing to descend (read that again if that resonated with you). I have spent so much of my time focusing on how to work through the death of folks with whom I was not in right relationship that I took for granted how much work is still required when there are peace and love between us. 

For me, and I suspect for all of us, we have a tendency to assume we only need to engage with intentionality when we have a wound that must be healed. When someone who has wronged us passes away, we are the sole party left in the relationship who is capable of bringing the peace that comes with true closure. After crossing the River of Forgetfulness, the Ancestors do not hurl insults or angry threats at us. All of that negative talk lies within us and lives on in the memories we carry of our time together when they were alive. When the memories of those who have hurt us are invited to the table, we are the ones who bring fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and the shadows of all we have been through with us. So, we do the work to guard our hearts and heal our spirits. And, those whom we loved dearly who depart with our blessings for safe passage to the Otherworld deserve our intentionality, too. 

Today, my husband helped me hang their portraits, and I wept. It was a brief spurt of tears as their faces staring back at me reminded me of what I have lost in them. Now, I begin to complete the work of filling in the cracks in my heart left behind by their passing with gold. May their memories always be a blessing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Summerland Gathering 2022 Festival Review

I am home after attending the Summerland Gathering 2022 held August 18-August 21 in Clifton Gorge near Yellow Springs, Ohio. Each day was filled with food, workshops, rituals, and thematic evening events bringing us together to share meals, to share knowledge, to pray together, and to play together. May this review provide a glimpse into the event in such a way that all who read these words who were unable to attend feel connected to the folk on site. 

Summerland 2022 was more of a homecoming for me than anything else. As a former Crane, attending a festival hosted by Three Cranes Grove provided space to reconnect with previous grovemates and longtime friends (who now live 1250 miles from my new home in Colorado among the Magpies) in service to the folk—just like old times.  This was also the first in-person event many of us have attended since the COVID lockdown in February of 2020. Needless to say, our emotions flowed like waves throughout the weekend, anxiety giving way to joy only to bubble up on occasion when proximity to others reminded us our faces were bare. Despite the spectacular amount of planning and preparation done by our hosts and chief organizer, we had some hiccups, and while it may not have unfolded as planned on paper, it turned out to be the festival that we all needed. 

The festival began on Thursday with a shared meal, and what a significant and meaningful beginning it was! After years of isolation and nothing but virtual contact, the breaking of bread among community broke open the seeds of healing in our hearts and minds. We shared an afternoon of workshops, greeting guests as they trickled in, and gathered for the opening ritual that evening. The power of shared voices, in person voices, echoed across the gorge as we sang out our praise and made offerings together. The unscripted nature of the service allowed us to hear the words of our fellow devoted without the polish of more a formal ritual setting, reminding us of the roots we share in Our Druidry. I will not soon forget the impact of this beautiful rite. Music and revelry went deep into the night as our reluctance to part from one another held us by the fire. 

Friday opened with a planning session for the evening’s Community Ritual. We ended with a loose outline for an extensive working whose goal was to facilitate the release of all we’ve held onto during these months of isolation and opening ourselves in healthy and wise ways to the unfolding of our new normal. We used all-natural yarn in the shape of a pentacle to hold that which we would release and placed the yarn on the fire to burn away our ties to that which would hold us back. We then connected everyone present to a circle, unbroken and woven through us, to fill the void with intentions of community, compassion, and connection.  

A note on the “new normal:” There are many among us who lived their lives in isolation due to personal circumstances be they illness, immune system function, or any of a host of disabilities hat require time and energy to manage and leave little “spoons” for anything else. These last two years gave us all the insight and real-life experience of what it feels like to walk in these folks’ shoes, the competing desire and inability to connect with people, the burn-out from virtual meetings, the weariness of text messages as our only outlet making it impossible to bring ourselves to reply. All of these have been “normal” for these members of our community. As we move toward connecting in person, it becomes paramount that we not forget to integrate those whose needs are equally as great but whose barriers often feel insurmountable. Remember in our bones how this pandemic time has affected us, Children of Earth, and allow those experiences to keep our work grounded in accessibility and understanding moving forward.

Friday night’s Gender-Affirming Prom brought laughter and joy as we danced and took pictures with the soundtrack of our collective youths playing in the background [as a personal note, I sometimes forget the differences in age among us, and the number of songs the, uh, ‘more mature’ crowd didn’t know made a point of reminding us]. Afterwards, we again stayed long into the night to enjoy one another’s company. 

Saturday morning held space for the remaining workshops. Over the course of the festival, I was only able to attend about half of what was offered. The ones I attended gave us hours of additional conversation, carrying on into meal times and arising for us in later hours after we’d had time to internalize the lessons. We had a full schedule, and there was too much great programming to do everything. I encourage those who presented to continue to share their work at additional events!

The Main Rite was particularly meaningful for me, because I was elevated to Senior Priest. Rev. Jean Drum Pagano was able to make time to come down and perform the ceremony himself, and I am grateful for his assistance in this work. We ended up holding the rite in the pavilion due to the EPIC RAIN that blessed us during the service (well, I did hope for a good “Ohio Thunderstorm,” and I cannot complain when my wishes are granted—and it was pretty amazing!). Rev. Jan Avende led a beautiful service, and I feel blessed for having my elevation as a part of it. 

After potluck, we had a “karaoke style” bardic night where we listened to many spoken word pieces this year. I had the honor of helping with the raffle last minute, and I enjoyed riffing off this with Emerald, who needed constant reminding not to pick a rock out of the ticket bags (I mean, I thought it was funny…). We ended the evening once more refusing to go to our respective beds to prolong the fellowship and camaraderie. 

At the risk of oversharing and immortalizing this part of the festival, I find it important to share that we had folks dropping out of social spaces one by one due to a later-confirmed-as norovirus that swept through camp. This serves as a stark reminder that all the other viruses and bacteria in the world have waited patiently for us to return to social spaces where they flourish. As different folks with different jobs were taken out of commission, those of us who remained unaffected stepped in to help. By Sunday morning for festival closure, we were all-hands-on-deck, and in that moment, I couldn’t be more proud of our folk for showing up to get the work done and care for one another. While something like this has the potential to overshadow all the GOOD that this festival offered to us, seeing that even a “throw-up flu” couldn’t diminish our determination and commitment to service confirmed more than ever that I belong to ADF as an ADF Druid, for here I stand among those who purposes align with mine: to love the land, to serve the folk, and to honor the deities.

Overall, this was a terrific event, and I wish many blessings of health, well-being, fellowship, and connection to all who were in attendance and all who wish to attend in the future. May our eyes meet many times in the future across the fire.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Prayer to My Allies, Elevation Service

I have landed upon some language based on the words that live in my heart for each of the Beings I name in these prayers. These are the chief allies among the Kindreds, and it brings me honor to share these words I have written on their behalf:

I first call to the Lady of the Hall, to Freyja of the Vanir,
Mistress of the chosen, honored dead,
Brising-Magic Maiden of Seidhr and Foresight,
Strongest and Most Courageous of Women, Valkyrie, Mardoll, 
Falcon-cloaked weeper of gold, I honor you.
I thank you for teaching me to trust in my own abilities.
I thank you for teaching me the strength of empathy and tears.
I thank you for teaching me the importance 
of self-compassion and confidence,
And I offer my gratitude and continued awe for joining me in the work of serving the folk.
Lady Freyja, accept my offering!

I call out to the Goddess of the Crossroads, to Hekate, 
Brimo Trimorphos, Daughter of Astaria and Perses,
Enodia, Propylaia, Antaia,
Torch-Bearing Maiden of Land, Sea, and Sky, I honor you.
I thank you for opening the ways before me.
I thank you for guarding my back as you journey alongside me.
I thank you for guiding me along the paths of Our Druidry toward fellowship and magic,
And I offer my gratitude and continued awe for joining me in the work of serving the folk.
Hekate Phosphorus, Nata Thektis! Hekate, accept my offering!

I call out to Lady Brighid by many of her names:
Brighid of the Mantle, Brighid of the Cowless,
Brighid of the Healing Waters, Brighid of the Forgefire,
Birghid of the Harp and Quill, Brighid of Initiation and Prophecy,
Brighid, Sacred Midwife and Foster Mother, I honor you.
I thank you for granting inspiration and creativity, O Cauldron of Wonder.
I thank you for teaching me the magic of healing and vitality, O Well of Wisdom.
I thank you for the gifts of transformation and becoming, O Keeper of the Sacred Flame,
And I offer my gratitude and continued awe for joining me in the work of serving the folk.
Lady Brighid, accept my offering!

I call out to the Earth Mother, our foundation and strength, Great Nurturer and Sustainer,
She who upholds us and provides for all our needs;

I call out to the Ancient Wise, the Poets, Magicians, and Priests of Old,
Those who long ago forged the paths I now tread;

And I call out to the Gatekeepers, the Keepers of Keys, 
Openers of Ways, Guides and Guardians of the Ways Between,
Those who aid us in finding our place among the realms.

You are my chief allies among the Kindreds:
You have humbled and strengthened me.
You have guided and warded me.
You have burned and purified me.
You have remained by my side as I have striven to do the Work of the Wise.
For all your aid, I offer my full honor and thanks.
Allies, Kindreds All, accept my offerings!