Thursday, August 24, 2023

Summerland Recap 2023: At the Sacred Center

I had the privilege to attend the Summerland Festival in Yellow Springs, Ohio again this year, and it did not disappoint! After the "gastrointestinal devastation" of last year, we were ready for another chance to invest in community and reconnect with long-distance friends. 

Thursday night's festivities were momentarily interrupted by rain, but the fire in the pavilion and the good friends were enough to keep us warm. Opening ritual went well, and it felt wonderful to be in in-person ritual space with so many like-minded folks. We shared a meal and attended an adult-only workshop retelling the Egyptian creation myth, Set & Heru, which we thoroughly enjoyed. 

Friday began with Rev. William's presentation on the Virtue Buffet. Once again, his teachings hold value and practical tools for living a good life. I've seen this one three times now, and I learn something new every time. I also attended a workshop/sacred space time for embroidery as a form of meditation. As a non-sewer, I delighted in Rev. Jan Avende offering me some markers and coloring pages. Next, Rev. Michael J Dangler led a respectful discussion on performing magic and other workings with what is available and how to obtain reputable tools and ingredients of the trade.

Friday evening was Bardic Night! So much fun! Getting to sing with my people and listen to all the wonderful new works they've created since last we were together brings such joy to my heart. We have to many talented folks in our community! We finished the evening with drumming around the fire and late-night conversation.

After a very cold night's sleep, I presented my workshop on the Axial Awakening. This was the first attempt to present the information in one hour, and I definitely ran long. Overall, the content was well-received, and I am going to work on putting together a formal class. This one seems to have credit hours, lol.  Next came a presentation on Appalachian Folk Traditions and how those magical practices travel through the generations, which ones are common, and how blended traditions add and enhance them over time. Definitely an intro to a much bigger subject--just like mine! After lunch, a group of us got together in one of the unoccupied cabins to record some ritual music. Oh, my heart, what a treat! I am really looking forward to listening. Some of the pieces haven't been formally recorded before now.

The Main Ritual was lovely. Rev. Jan Avende led us in a service full of elements from the practices of each of the various traditions and variations represented by the folk present. We honored all that the Summerland festival, that that place, offers us, and lifted our voices to manifest those beautiful gifts with offerings and love. 

Saturday evening, we had the pleasure to dance to the musical trappings of Discarded Mischief. They were down their bass player and still put on a terrific show. They even covered one of my songs, and I got to sing with them (because I am that level of extra). It was honestly a beautiful gift, and I am grateful for their efforts in learning one of my songs. It wasn't done how I would have performed it, which made it even more special to hear. Songs are living, breathing things, and once we let them go, we have to let them evolve and grow into something more. I feel like this was one of those moments for the song, Awen Rains Down. We ended the night with smores around the fire and more conversation. 

It was sad to leave on Sunday, but the memories are rich with fellowship and community, and they will sustain us all until we meet again. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Of Course It Is: Loki's New Statue

I have been performing the workings in the Pagan Portals book, Loki: Trickster and Transformer. After deepening my connection with Sigyn, I wanted to intentionally build relationship with Loki, and it seemed the best way forward was through the guidance of those who have already done this work. Dagulf Loptson's work is proving to be meaningful, and I was even inspired to purchase a Loki statue. I did some internet searching and found a piece in the style of my Odin statue, which seems apropos. After getting delayed and arriving a little beat up, I opened the package to reveal a piece a little different than what I was expecting. Is it resin instead of wood? Yes, must've missed that in the description. Is is painted just-tacky-enough gold? Of course it is. How very Loki.

With the statue placed next to Odin, the bowl and the candle, the stone to carry their energy with me, and the devotional beads I strung together for prayer mantras, I seem to have created a full-blown devotee space for them. I do not feel compelled to actually devote myself to him, but I am finding peace and strength in adding this type of quick-witted energy to my life as well as the humble admission of fault and subsequent reparations. 

As my husband, Rev. William Ashton, says, ruptures happen. We all make mistakes. It is what you do to repair that is the mark of your character. May I also be the type of person who admits when I am wrong and does the work to make right what I can as I learn to do better in the future. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Holding the Bowl

Many years ago, I had a close friend who worked with Sigyn, wife of Loki and goddess of loyalty, compassion, and steadfastness. This level of exposure softened me to her story, since she is mentioned sparingly in the Eddas and Sagas, usually only known to those who are familiar with the tale of Loki's comeuppance after flyting the gods.  

In the Lokasenna, Loki proceeds to sling barbed commentary at the Asgardians in turn for various character flaws they each posses, which wreaks of Christian influence and a way to impart Christian ethics on a pagan culture. Nevertheless, at the end of the tale, the gods have turned one of his sons with Sigyn, Vali, into a wolf who kills his brother, Narvi. The gods use Narvi's entrails to bind Loki to a rock in Helheim beneath a serpent dripping venom on him. It is here he will remain until Ragnarok, suffering the punishment for his scathing commentary. Sigyn, his beloved, holds a bowl over his face to prevent the venom from touching him. The only drops that fall upon his flesh are those that fall in the moments it takes for her to empty the bowl and begin her labor of love anew in an endless cycle. 

Sigyn has been showing up for me for months, first in my studies, then in my internet searches for devotional works published by devotees of the gods. I have purchased a couple of books, but it wasn't until I "randomly" downloaded an audio copy of Lea Svendsen's work, Loki and Sigyn, that I fell headlong into a new relationship with Sigyn and Loki (a relationship with Sigyn comes with a side order of Loki whether you want one or not!). About halfway through the book, I tried to describe what I was learning to my husband, and I found myself in tears, in awe and inspired by the character and presence of Sigyn. After that, I knew I needed to connect more deeply with her. In their work, Svendsen describes a ritual for connecting with Sigyn in which the celebrant enters ritual space and holds Sigyn's bowl for a spell to allow her a reprieve from her labor of love. Today, I performed this ritual, and it is nothing short of powerful. 

I began with a short working described by Dagulf Loptson in his work, Loki: Trickster and Transformer, where the celebrant carves a bindrune into a candle. After making offerings, I lit the candle and sat in meditation while chanting, "I light the flame of Loki, both without me and within me." From there, I segued into Svendsen's ritual in which the celebrant calls to Sigyn and asks her to relinquish her bowl that we may hold it while she rests. I lit a charcoal and made offerings of mistletoe, wormwood, mugwort, and amber resin. While these burned before me, I poured a draught of wine into the bowl and held it aloft. I imagined the drops of poison collecting there, weighing the bowl down with time as it became heavier and heavier. After a while, Sigyn returned to smooth Loki's hair and offer comfort to her beloved. Before long, she took up her place holding the bowl to capture the drops that threaten her heart and held her vigil beside him in strength and love.

Holding a bowl of liquid, no matter how small, is difficult over time. The muscles in my shoulders and arms began to ache with the effort, and I became aware of how strong Sigyn must be to hold the bowl with such care and attentiveness, day in and day out, to protect her partner from the pain and agony of the venom. She is unwavering, never complaining, full of compassion, and full of love for her beloved. I am humbled by her efforts. 

I pulled a rune after this work and received Jera, harvest and cycles, which said to me "keep doing the work." So I have dedicated myself to holding the bowl. We shall see what becomes of this practice in love, compassion, and loyalty with a bonus lesson in not giving one ounce of care to what others think about it--a fine omen to begin building a deeper relationship with deities that are often viewed as controversial. 

I fear I have planned these next few writings out of order, but I am grateful to you for joining me in this journey. There is so much spinning in my mind I haven't coalesced into words! I offer these tidbits to help provide a bit of context for why in all the realms I have seemingly dove head-first into a pool of chaos: She is a goddess of all I described above and more, and her role as the Sacrificer begs to be explored in more depth and breadth (bet that got your attention!). According to Loptson and Svendsen, there is evidence that Loki may have once been a fire deity, a shadow of what we may envision when we consider Agni in the Vedic pantheon, and Sigyn is reverently holding the offerings aloft in her bowl to be poured into the fire. It is the Christianization of the northern myths and the idea that there MUST be an evil figure in their dualistic worldview that has led to Loki being the cognate of their Satan and all that comes with it. I am definitely intrigued by this idea and will be researching. 

For now, I leave you with a short prayer:

Lady Sigyn, she of the staying power, lady of loyalty and compassion,
We call to you this day.
Teach us the way of love, so deep it moves us to action.
Teach us the way of loyalty, so strong it bolsters our resolve.
Teach us the way of compassion,
So powerful that our labors do not become tainted with bitterness.
Lady Sigyn, Incantation-fetter, North Star and Loki's Joy, we honor you.


Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Untamed Earth Mother

Long ago, our histories, our stories were passed on through oral tradition. The people would gather around and listen intently to the great tales of myth and lore, especially when the weather was uninviting or threatening. Our peoples connected with what was and learned how to move into what will be with vision and wisdom through the examples of the Ancestors and the Deities of the tribes—through stories. Storytelling was the modality for learning. The primary listeners were children and the storytellers were most often the grandmothers. The children’s jobs were to learn and grow, taking in as much knowledge and gaining as much experience as possible. When they became parents, they made sure the children had safe places to learn and to grow and taught them to sit at the feet of the grandmothers and listen. As their children grew and became parents, they became the grandparents, and their job was to tell the grandchildren about all they had learned and experienced in a never-ending breath of life across the generations. 

 We grew up hearing the creation myth of our time: the story of Adam and Eve. Eve, who ate of the fruit of the land after listening to the council of a land serpent—a being who existed long before her new species evolved—and she was thrown out to make her living through toil and taking. This is a very different story than the narrative that lived in these mountains and plains before our ancestors came here and colonized them. The native peoples have their own creation myths, several of which have been lost or “Christianized” into variations of the Adam and Eve story. Today, I want to tell you about the Oneida tale of Sky Woman as I heard it from Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass

In the beginning, the Skyworld existed above the dark waters. One day, a hole appeared above the waters. It is through this hole at Skywoman fell, bringing the light with her, shining in her wake. Hurtling downward, she saw only dark water below, endless and roiling. But in that emptiness, there were many eyes gazing up at the sudden shaft of light created by her passing. From far beneath, these eyes saw a small object, a mere dust mote falling in the beam. As it grew closer, they could see that it was a woman, arms outstretched, long black hair billowing behind as she spiraled toward them. The geese nodded at one another and rose together from the water in a wave of goose music. She felt the beat of their wings as they flew beneath to break her fall. Far from the only home she’d ever known, she caught her breath at the warm embrace of soft feathers as they gently carried her downward. 

The geese could not hold the woman above the water for much longer, so they called a council to decide what to do. Resting on their wings, she saw them all gather: loons, otters, swans, beavers, fish of all kinds. A great turtle floated in their midst and offered his back for her to rest upon. Gratefully, she stepped from the goose wings onto the dome of his shell. The others understood that she needed land for her home and discussed how they might serve her need. The deep divers among them had heard of mud at the bottom of the water and agreed to go find some. Loon dove first, but the distance was too far and after a long while he surfaced with nothing to show for his efforts. One by one, the other animals offered to help—Otter, Beaver, Sturgeon—but the depth, the darkness, and the pressures were too great for even the strongest of swimmers. They returned gasping for air with their heads ringing. Some did not return at all. 

Soon only little Muskrat was left, the weakest diver of all. He volunteered to go while the others looked on doubtfully. His small legs flailed as he worked his way downward and he was gone a very long time. They waited and waited for him to return, fearing the worst for their relative, and, before long, a stream of bubbles rose with the small, limp body of the muskrat. He had given his life to aid this helpless human. But then the others noticed that his paw was tightly clenched and, when they opened it, there was a small handful of mud. Turtle said, “Here, put it on my back and I will hold it.” Skywoman bent and spread the mud with her hands across the shell of the turtle. Moved by the extraordinary gifts of the animals, she sang in thanksgiving and then began to dance, her feet caressing the earth. The land grew and grew as she danced her thanks, from the dab of mud on Turtle’s back until the whole earth was made. Not by Skywoman alone, but from the alchemy of all the animals’ gifts coupled with her deep gratitude. Together they formed what we know today as Turtle Island, our home. 

Like any good guest, Skywoman had not come empty-handed. A bundle was clutched in her hand. When she toppled from the hole in the Skyworld, she had reached out to grab onto the Tree of Life that grew there. In her grasp were branches—fruits and seeds of all kinds of plants. These she scattered onto the new ground and carefully tended each one until the world turned from brown to green. Sunlight streamed through the hole above the Skyworld, allowing the seeds to flourish. Wild grasses, flowers, trees, and medicines spread everywhere. And now the animals, too, had plenty to eat, and the bounty drew others to her, living together on Turtle Island. 

Sky Woman built a land for us with love and in harmony with those around her, a place for us to learn and live and grow and experience together. It was untamed and wild. Our modern tales tell us this wild “wilderness” is dangerous because it is untamed, but they do not know the grasses and streams. They do not know the trees and birds and rabbits and elk. They think all things untamed are unsafe. They think all things uncontrolled by human hands and human order are feral. When they hear untamed, they mean ungovernable, because taming is about power-over others. Sky Woman brought with her a handful of life-seeds from the Great World Tree itself to ensure those who came after her would live in abundance and receive the blessings of her work and love. 

I asked a group of people,  "How many of you are native Coloradans?" “Native” status is something those born here take very seriously, so much so that those born here have bumper stickers and t0shirts declaring their status as Colorado born-and-raised. How long have the rest of us been here? A year, a decade, a lifetime? As pagans, we do our best to be environmentally conscious. We strive to recycle and buy the greenest products and live outside capitalist ideals as much as we can in this day and age. But, we still consider ourselves guests in this land, as set apart, as outside of the land we inhabit.

Decolonizing ourselves has become a buzzword as a priority we hold dear, and I think we have lost our way. We treat ourselves as guests in this land, because it was stolen from the Indigenous Peoples who lived here before us (because it was). We tread lightly and speak words of apology and do the work of giving back to the precious few remaining indigenous tribal nations (which is important). AND, I am here to tell you that until we recognize that we, too, are part of this landscape; that we, too, are part of this habitat; that we, too, are members of this community of beings that make up the front range, we will continue to be throwing solutions into the wind to land like seeds upon asphalt and nothing will grow between us. 

We want to preserve the untamed and wild places by deeming them unsafe and feral while we stay within our walls of structure and order. The wild is “out there,” and we are civilized “in here.” I leave you with this: If we want to do the work to repair what was long ago broken, we must un-tame ourselves, not just decolonize our minds. We must un-tame our bodies and dance in the rain. We must un-tame our hearts and free our spirits to connect with the rest of native Colorado—because we are here, too. The only way out is through, and the only way forward is together.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Full Moon Blessings

 For years now, we have been hosting monthly full moon services, more than half of which have been done virtually. The keeping of sacred time is not one to be taken lightly, and even when we don't mark the passage of time, time passes nonetheless. 

The gift of the cadence of monthly services has helped me to find markers between high days to keep my heart open and ready. It has given me needed guidance from that which is hidden that I may serve the folk more fully in the celebration of that which is clear. 

In honor of the sacred timekeeper, I offer this prayer:

On this Full Moon night, we call out to you,
Sacred and Shining Moon,
Bright face of the starry night sky
Illuminating our paths through the unknown, and
Guiding us on our journeys.
Bring to fullness within us the cadence of cycles,
Even those small and unwavering.
Remind us of the passing, of the coming and going, 
Ebbing and flowing,
As reflected in the ebb and flow of Ocean upon the Land.
Heavenly Timekeeper, Sacred Moon,
Show us the way forward through the darkness
Toward what we need for the month ahead.
Sacred Moon, we honor you!

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

A Prayer to the Beings of Creativity

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.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Town Hall Questions: Rev. Melissa Ashton, NOD Candidate 2023

Hello, readers! I am running for Non-Officer Director for the ADF Mother Grove, and I thought you would be interested in my candidate questions. Feel free to reach out, if you'd like to discuss any of these! Blessings of the season be with you and yours.

1.    What vision do you see for the future of ADF, and what efforts do you plan to do to make that happen?

My vision for ADF is tied heavily to the work I am already doing. We need to update many of our documents and source materials to modernize. Improving our “boring parts” makes the interactive parts more engaging. I plan to continue my work with the organizational review committee, and being elected as NOD will allow me to further promote the improvements and innovations we are proposing in a wider scope. We are currently working on the training programs as they are migrated to the learning management system, and this new technology provides a myriad of opportunities for updating to educational best practices for adult learners including multimedia formats and resource materials beyond books and reading lists. Infusing Our Druidry with innovation, technology, and flexibility for ease of growth and building relevance in our modern society must be a priority.

Beyond this work, I have a passion for building relationships not only among ADF members and with the Kindreds, but also in our communities: local, national, and international. Not only with other pagans, but with other religions, and like-minded folks, and I would love to see more of this work done at an organizational level.

2.    If you are elected to your position, what is the first change you want to work toward on behalf of our members?

I don’t have a specific change in mind to be “first.” As mentioned above, the organizational review committee has identified a series of areas that need attention, and I would be happy to work toward implementing any of them. If I were to make a guess as to what would be the most impactful to the membership at large, I would advocate for the document control system. This would afford us a central repository for all policies, official documents, flyers, templates, letterhead, trifold informational pamphlets, etc. These could be accessed readily by all ADF members with version control, tracked changes, and approval records. This might seem like another “boring part” to most people, but it is the boring parts that keep an organization of our size operating smoothly. When the boring parts are out of order, the more engaging parts will often suffer.

3.    Serving on the Mother Grove is a huge commitment of time and energy. How will you fit your potential Mother Grove role into your life? (Note: if your position is not associated with the Mother Grove, you can skip this question.)

I have plenty of time for this. I work dayshift, Mon-Fri, and have quite a bit of career privilege that enables me to take time off and flex my work hours, if necessary. My work-life balance is well-protected, and I have the bandwidth for the commitment. My youngest son is also graduating high school, and the first thing that comes to mind regarding what to do with my time is to give it to ADF.

4.    If elected, do you have a willingness to serve your entire term, or if you are not elected, do you intend to remain as a member?

Haha, this wouldn’t be the first election I’ve lost! I am an ADF member and have no intention of changing that. If elected, I plan to serve my entire term, and if not elected, I plan to continue with the work I do for the org.

5.    Given the position you are running for, what efforts are you planning to do to promote transparency in your work?

I do hope we continue frequent town halls or other avenues for member facetime with the Mother Grove. Maybe periodic update articles submitted to Oak Leaves or the MG Blog when the new website goes live. I think the membership would appreciate more narrative updates regarding what we are doing and how that’s going.

6.    How quickly do you believe it reasonable to answer emails or some other form of messaging (not accounting for family emergencies, ritual prep, scheduled time away, or something else unexpected) on behalf of our membership?

Important or pressing matters should be answered within 12-24 hours. Non-pressing issues should expect a response within 24-72 hours. If we were to consider implementing even more professional habits, I would advocate for all incoming messages to be confirmed as received with an expected turnaround time for a full response to the content.

7.    Given the amount of qualified possible volunteers within our community, what thoughts do you have to more actively engage them?

Community engagement is an important part of growth and stability. I would love to see us revamp the appointment process and allow folks the opportunity to explore options of giving back to the org through their talents and time.

8.    What are your thoughts on promoting outreach within the Pagan community?

I am 100% an advocate for community outreach to the greater community. We should have members on the boards for as many Pagan Pride Days as possible. We should be involved in planning and hosting non-ADF festivals and events, attending other group’s high days and special events like Witches Ball, and even send a delegate to the Parliament of World Religions. Why not excellence?

9.    There have been concerns raised related to sexist/misogynistic language, inappropriate behaviors, and challenges to inclusivity within ADF. What actions have you done within ADF or within other organizations to address these issues?

This is a hard question to answer, because this will look different based on the individual asked. As a cis-gender woman, my intersection with these important areas of concern relies on the social power allotted to me in this role. I am an active member, as best I can be, of the Chenille Canopy—a group for female-identifying ADF members. I do my best to speak up and speak out when I observe behaviors to model that in others. Inclusivity issues are also dependent upon the specific social identifier causing an individual to experience discrimination. As an able-bodied person, for example, I have attended Rev. Chelly Couvrette’s workshops designed to educate and promote accessibility for differently-abled members and guests at our fires. As someone who does not possess an ability concern, it is my role to listen and not to teach. AND, when those who are differently abled provide feedback on their needs, my responsibility is to implement changes to improve their experience and be welcome and included in Our Druidry. There is a LOT to unpack here, and this is a question that needs a panel discussion more than anything.

10. How do you envision ensuring that that ADF members--whether those in a grove or solitary, within the United States or globally--are truly represented and their concerns addressed?

Short answer? I’d love to have a representative of the Solitaries of ADF on the Mother Grove. We have a Council of Senior Druids, and the Chief of the Council has a seat at the table. Why not create a seat for a “Chief” of the Solitaries?

11. What thoughts do you have to promote Mother Grove transparency for ADF members?

Comment periods. No, seriously. I honestly don’t think transparency is the biggest issue. Transparency and communication are essential to organizational effectiveness, and most folks who are unhappy are not unhappy about a lack of transparency. They are unhappy because they feel a decision was made that affected them and they didn’t have a voice in it. If we start sharing more information about items before the Mother Grove and allow for comments prior to take votes and implementing decisions, we would see an increase in member satisfaction with Mother Grove performance. People want to be asked about things that are important to them, and they want their opinions to be heard and considered.

That being said, the easiest way to alleviate concerns of the MG hiding or withholding information is to have open meetings. These would be similar to other governmental or board meetings for churches and large organizations like ours where they allow the folk to attend the meeting and comment/ask questions during the meeting proper. The biggest change to the process other than an open venue would be an assigned time keeper and a “parking lot” for items brought forward that are not already on the agenda. Once we begin working through the parking lot, and the folk see the MG is hearing and addressing their concerns, there will be a perception of “right relationship” that currently does not exist.

12. How have you already served ADF, and how do you envision those experiences will be helpful for the entire organization?

I have been a member since 2008, serving on a variety of subgroups, committees, and on the Mother Grove itself as Members Advocate for three terms. I am a Senior Priest and an Initiate. I am a study program reviewer and mentor. I am a Master Bard and the Clergy Advisor for the Order of Demeter and the Eleusinian Mysteries. I am the Secretary of the Clergy Council and a member of the Organizational Review Committee. I serve Mountain Ancestors Grove in Colorado and sit on the board of Fort Collins Pagan Pride. I have previously served on the board for PFLAG Boulder County, as well. I earned my Masters in Non-Profit Management with service to ADF as my focus, and I am looking forward to using this knowledge to aid in development and organizational leadership at the board level.

I have been involved with a wide variety of diverse groups and programs, and each one has helped me to grow toward the Druid I am becoming. I know how to write technical documents and manage spreadsheets. I know how to lead rituals and workings for experienced and novice participants alike. I know how to officiate weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. I understand the differences between belonging to the Heartland of ADF where there are dense populations of pagans and belonging to the land where your grove is made of trees and no humans sharing your beliefs are anywhere to be found. I know the struggles of single mothers who want to observe the high day with a group but know their special needs child will be disruptive in a meditative od trance session so will only attend services that are family friendly and how it feels to miss out on some of those meaningful experiences. Above all, I know what it feels like to need to be heard and to have someone truly listen to you. That is what I want to bring to ADF.