Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Archdruid and The Clergy Curl

The ADF Clergy Training Program is comprised of three "circles" of study. After the completion of each circle, our Priests undergo a rite of passage that involves offering a lock of hair to the fire as a symbol of our deep connection and dedication to our clergy oath: to love the land, honor the gods, and serve the folk. Typically, we choose a small lock of hair behind an ear at the back of the hair line where it won't be noticeable as it grows out.

The first time I did this was during my initial Ordination in 2012. I braided a small lock so it would be easier to manage this part of the ceremony. As it grew back in, I began referring to it as my "clergy curl," because that short section of hair--which also turned out to be bigger than I intended!--curled up like a spring. I wouldn't exactly call my hair "curly." With hair half-way down my back, the weight of my hair pulls the curl out, typically. The clergy curl was fun and charming and served as a reminder of my oath. I found it comforting when things were hard in that first year, because the connection it represented is one we must tap into and allow to flow through us. The reminder was a source of strength and renewed purpose.

In preparation for my Consecration in 2018, I was looking forward to having that purposeful curl again. Each rite of passage leaves you with a new perspective on your work, and having this tangible and visible symbol of this work once again served me well. In Colorado, my hair tends to be more curly than it was in Ohio, so it wasn't as obvious to others. It was my own private reminder that I serve something far greater than myself. 

This year, I ran for Archdruid of ADF. The Archdruid is essentially our highest officer akin to a CEO. They also serve as the liaison between the folk and the board and as the chief officer of the Clergy Council. I completed my Masters Degree in Nonprofit Management specifically to serve ADF in an administrative role, so when I was nominated, it felt like my life path was on track. I had never considered running for Archdruid, honestly, but as soon as I was nominated, my sense of purpose buzzed with anticipation of doing the work I committed my life and thousands of dollars to do.

After I lost, I was dazed at first. During the election, I had so many great conversations, including a few meaningful discussions with previous ADF members who wanted to rejoin if I won. As the election was drawing to a close, I thought I might actually win, and I began planning to start doing the work I promised the folk I would do in my platform. I don't know if there were just too many of my supporters who weren't ADF members (and therefore couldn't vote) or if I had a skewed perspective of how I was doing based on the strong statements of support I was receiving, but I was a little surprised that I lost. Then, I was a lot more surprised. Then, I spiraled. The self-doubt and feelings of rejection came crushing down, and I felt lost. What the hell am I doing? Why did I think I would win?

A week after the election results were finalized, we held our Rites of the Dawn here at Mountain Ancestors Grove. This is a service I put together for a Summerland Unity Festival in 2009 and holding annually on Easter at dawn every year since then. I told myself this would be the last one, expecting no one to show up or even care that we were doing this. 

At 6:45am MDT, I had eleven people at my house. They brought several plates of food they had baked and prepared for the breakfast potluck to follow. They offered me greetings full of love and joy as they arrived, and even helped get more benches set up outside to accommodate them. I was the ritual leader for this service, as usual, and after the first few sentences left my lips, the familiar current of connection streamed through me. When I was preparing to do the final offering, I knelt before the fire pit. Just then, a pop in the fire sent a spark right onto my neck and shoulder. Rev. William noted my hair was on fire, and tapped it out for me. I had a bit of hair on my shawl that was no longer attached to my heard, so I offered it to the fire. 

After the rite, I went to assess the damage, put burn ointment on the one spot on my neck that was red, and see what I would need to do with my hair. Surprisingly little was out of place. The spark from the fire landed on a strand of hair behind my ear at the base of my hairline, leaving behind a curl of about two inches in length: the fire gave me a new clergy curl. 

I am a Priest of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, Inc. and Mountain Ancestors Grove. I am a member of the board for Fort Collins Pagan Pride. I hold a Masters Degree that has already helped many groups in the polytheist community to improve or legitimize their work. I am a voice for our faith, a servant of the people, and a beloved child of the Earth Mother and the Deities, who are many. Who I am and What I do are valuable. And if I doubt that, I have a curl to remind me. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: Ascendant: Modern Essays on Polytheism and Theology

Ascendant: Modern Essays on Polytheism and Theology
Edited by Michael Hardy
With Contributions by Edward P. Butler, Patrick Dunn, John Michael Greer, Brandon Hensley, Wayne Keysor, and Gwendolyn Reece

In my clergy training, I have recently been studying the notion of pagan theology, or Polytheology, as Michael Hardy prefers to call it. My readings have taken me from pre-axial paganism to post-axial philosophy, to monotheism, and beyond. I must say, this is one of the better resources I have happened upon in my meandering research.

This work unpacks a lot of the ideas that have been running around in my head since I first began questioning the idea that the cosmos was ruled by one all-knowing, all-seeing creator God. When I came to the understanding that deity, the divine, was not a singularity, my mind filled with questions like: how did our world and subsequently humanity come to be here? why does the world work the way it does (especially after that second college physics course!)? where do we go when we leave his world? --This book answered none of those questions. And yet, I found it to be comforting in the similarity of the authors' wondering.

A few of my favorite ponderings:

In his essay, "Approaching Theology Through the Divine Individual," author Brandon Hensley discusses the notions of hard and soft polytheism, a few generally accepted beliefs (yes, beliefs) held by polytheists, and the manner of our relationships to the divine entities. He states, "By not treating our own gods as more than just a sum of our personal experiences with them, we rid ourselves of the responsibility in treating other gods in their own context" (Hardy, 2019, p. 29). His overarching point is that it is impossible to know the gods out of context not only of their myths but also of their peers. Meeting our deities in a vacuum and diminishing them to our limited experience of them serves only to keep them small and us from growing. How can we truly understand anyone without understanding the context of them in other relationships and scenarios? I find this a valid point worth pondering in my own life.

John Michael Greer, as usual, blew my mind in his work on Neoplatonism in its original context prior to the Christian overtones, and I am seriously contemplating a deeper dive into this work.

Patrick Dunn writes that "every god's blessing can turn to a curse if we turn it that way through our hubris" (Hardy, 2019, p. 85). His notion that, in an orthopraxic religious path, we make offerings to turn ourselves toward the gods and avoid evil because it turns us away from the gods provides an excellent reference for a virtue-based practice. When we behave poorly, do we not turn away from any light that would shine upon our misdeeds? Our own actions ARE truly the center of our practice.

The highlight of the book, however, is the series of essays by Wayne Keysor, a fellow ADF-member with a masters degree in philosophy and religious studies, in which he systematically calls out the habits of we neopagans whose practices center primarily on our relationships to specific deities, our occasional inability to retain our own power in those relationships, and the ultimate quest we are already on: to continually seek the mystery in the divine. I came to some conclusions, but more importantly, I found some better questions through reading this work. I won't spoil it for you.

I highly recommend this book, whether you have dabbled in the exploration of a pagan theology or not. The introspection and contemplation of the way the world works is well worth the read!

Hardy, M. Ed. (2019). Ascendant: Modern essays on polytheism and theology. Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Leadership Lesson 3: Listening to Understand

Associated Leadership Expectation: Communicate Effectively

Managers are often chosen, particularly as we move up the ladder, for attributes that include things like “strong opinions, decisive action, and take-no-prisoners attitudes” (Stibitz, 2015). All of these are great traits to have as we lead our teams, particularly through times of change, but these are some of the same traits that make us poorer listeners.

There is a lag between our hearing words and our understanding their meaning, the length of which varies from person to person. It is during this time that we lose concentration and our understanding suffers. We can get lost in our own thoughts, preparing to respond rather than paying attention. We make assumptions and try to guess what they are getting at, causing us to Make Stuff Up (TM) and problem-solve before they have even finished speaking!

Here are a few tips to help us be more attentive and effective communicators:
  1. Put down your technology and make eye contact. It is too easy to become distracted by our phones and computers. When we are given an opportunity to engage face-to-face, we must discipline ourselves to take advantage of that time.
  2. Rephrase and check for your understanding. A common practice to help us ensure we are understanding is to simply ask. When a natural pause arises, we can say something like, “What I hear you saying is…” and then provide them with a short synopsis of our understanding. This way, they can feel confident that they have been heard.
  3. Look for nonverbal cues. Especially when a topic is difficult, or the individual is separated from you by several layers of rank, it is important to try to understand what they are not saying. Does the person have their arms crossed in front of them? Are they sitting on the edge of the seat? Do they keep looking at the door? All of these can help us understand their position more fully.
  4. Know yourself. When someone relates a story, our brains search our memory archives for any relevant or similar experiences in our own lives. Depending on the topic and our emotional connection to it, we may become so engrossed in remembering the details of our story that we stop listening altogether—and even interrupt them. Often, we engage in this behavior, because we think it helps to give them an example. Instead, we only serve to set up a dynamic where we are in charge of the narrative, even though this was not supposed to be about us.
Sometimes, we fail and miss the opportunity to make a real connection with someone, but we must reengage and try again to move toward more effective and authentic communication.

Tip #3: What does it look like to listen to someone without telling your story?

Stibitz, S. (2015). How to really listen to your employees. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from 

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Presenting at Pagan Fire Seminar: An Excerpt on Music and the Brain

I had the privilege of presenting two sessions at this year's Pagan Fire Seminar with Three Cranes Grove, ADF, in Columbus, Ohio. What a beautiful event! Good food, good topics, engaged attendees, what more could a presenter want? To give you an idea of the content from these presentations, I present you with the following excerpt:

The Brain’s Interpretation of Sound:
Physical, Chemical, and Psychological Elements of Listening and Participating in Music

The brain has fascinated scientists and researchers for hundreds of years of documented time relevant to our discussion. In 2019, we have a tremendous volume of research to help us understand why our brains and bodies respond the way they do to the world around us. I am oversimplifying and including only the relevant sections of this complicated body of research to help us understand those pieces that are most useful for our purposes.

Our work today will focus on the pathways for processing sound as it moves through the brain. I will include additional diagrams for your reference as we progress through this work, and you  may flip between them to promote understanding at your leisure.

How the Brain Hears a Sound

In order to hear a sound, sound waves must enter our ear and be translated from WAVE energy into an ELECTRONIC impulse in order for our brain to be able to interpret the sound.

The breakdown of sound processing in the ear:

  • Sound waves in the air enter the ear canal.
  • When they hit the ear drum, it vibrates according to the waves hitting it.
  • The tiny bones in the inner ear move in time with the ear drum like little levers.
  • The inner ear bones transfer the wave energy to the fluid inside the cochlea, which causes the hairs inside to move. 
  • The motion of these hairs is picked up by the auditory nerve, which translates the information electronically to the brain.