Solitary Thoughts

Summerlands1

What to do about our Solitary Members?

When I first joined ADF in 1984, I was solitary for the better part of my first twenty years. I relied heavily, in the pre-internet days, on Druid’s Progress (the magazine) and News from the Mother Grove (the newsletter). In the rare instances that I would run into folks from ADF, I would try to glean as much information from them as I could: who, what, where, etc.

Once the internet became a major force, it was easier to find out things because of chat rooms or email lists. It was the next step in the process of getting information but one thing did not change: I was alone.

When I moved to Michigan, I hooked up with Shining Lakes Grove of which I am still a member. It was really a change of life for me. There are some solitary members who are solitary because they want to be, but, the great majority of solitary practitioners are solitary out of circumstance. Roughly 55% of the ADF population is solitary and I feel there is a need to find a way to make solitaries feel that they are part of the greater family of Druids. How does one do that?

I have often written to members when they joined to welcome them to ADF and let them know that we do not take their membership for granted. I am not sure that this practice was overly effective, but it was an attempt. Yet, that takes care of one day in the ADF life of a member and that is just not enough. So the question remains: what is to be done.

I have a couple of ideas.

I travel a great deal for ADF, mostly to see various groups or collections of people and I am often fortunate to see whatever solitary folks  are able to make it to festivals, gatherings, or Pagan Pride days along the way. I have an idea to do a little bit more. I would like to propose that once a month, myself and someone else from leadership or clergy venture to a different state and try to find a central location where solitary folks might be able to gather and  get to talk to some folks from a representative group from ADF. This might be something like a meet and greet followed by a ritual. Why a ritual some may ask? One of our ADF brands is our Core Order of Ritual which defines whether a ritual is an ADF ritual or not. It is one thing to read about it, it is another to see a ritual on You Tube, but it is entirely different to see it in person and to be a part of that experience. I guess this would be an ADF Road Show in a way. An activity like this would be fairly effective in smaller states, like Delaware and Rhode Island and probably a lot more challenging in larger states like Florida, Texas, New York, and California to name a few. I am sure the methodology would have to be developed and refined, but it would be a good way to meet the people who have either been members for a short amount of time or a long period of time and have rarely seen anyone from the organization.

I have also spoken to some folks in the gaming industry that have some definite ideas about creating an online experience that might be interactive, vital, and allow folks to share time and experiences together. This will take some time to develop and to recruit talent to help with the process, but the internet is the one place that we can come together and meet with relative ease. We have found success with chats, Google Hangouts, and other meet-up methodologies, especially when they are targeted to certain interest groups.

I would also like to invite and engage our clergy to get involved with offering ritual services online, so that if folks want to ask questions about ritual practice or actually try out some ritual practices with someone else, folks will be available to look, listen, and learn. Clergy is just a starting point – we have many Senior Druids or Grove Organizers who are talented with ritual and ritual construction. I would like to see online locales set up as test beds where people can try things out and get some gentle and guiding feedback from the folks mentioned above.

Finally, I would like to see our regional leadership, like Regional Druids and their deputies to contribute their experiences as well. Our regional folks are out there meeting people all the time and they may have found approaches that are vital as well.

There is nothing  like the immediacy of being with and interacting with people in person. I am hoping that by trying these ideas and also reaching out with monthly gatherings that we can not only let solitary practitioners know that they are not alone, but also help them feel more connected to the whole.

 

 

 

Small Spaces of Solace and Peace

In my old residence, I had altars in every room – a special place of blessings, set aside for the spirits and the Gods. I recently moved and many of the altars were packed up and set aside for redeployment in my new home. I had set up an altar for my Lares and this was the first altar I had set up in my new place.

 

It was interesting that while I still had a sense of my old Lares – my old household spirits – the whole Lares phenomenon felt keenly different. I spent a number of days trying to identify the difference and it finally struck me: the Lares that I was sensing in my new place were a combination of some of the old from my last place and some of the new, from the new home. This house has been in the same family for a hundred years so some of the spirits here are pretty well settled. I believe one or more of the Lares from my old place came along, but the sense I have is that the main spirit stayed behind, connected to the site and not necessarily linked to me. I guess this happens with such things. The new combination of Lares also feels protective, but in a more subtle way.

 

My new Lares altar has many of the components of the old one, yet differently arranged, and perhaps that made a difference. It is one of the funny things about moving – nothing ever seems to come back together in the same way.

 

I was speaking with a friend the other day and they said to me “Why don’t you set up some small places of solace and peace like you used to have?” I pondered it for several days and decided to set up some altars, not quite like my old ones, but similar enough. I set up an Ancestor Altar in the kitchen with the requisite offering vessel with offerings of alcohol and fire with a carving of the Earth Mother and a picture of my grandmother. It is in a quiet place in the kitchen and it radiates solace and peace.

 

In another room, I set up a small altar to Cernunnos. I have a wooden carved image of Cernunnos and I surrounded him with stones, a leaf, an image of a leaf, an ADF membership card signed by Fox, my ogham, an image of the Sun, and a globe which has the constellations on it. Land, sea, and sky are represented.

Cernunnos Altar

 

I decided to use some liminal spaces to create another small space of solace and peace. I found two images of the green man, a moss agate sphere on a small stand, and a small green obelisk. I put this in a corner of the stair case, right under the window shade, in a window that faces east. First light every day touches these green men and bless this liminal space that everyone walks by. To date, no one has noticed this altar, not even the cat, ever on patrol. I consider it a stealth altar.

Green Man Altar

I guess, at the end of the day, when one creates altars of solace and peace, the area surrounding them become places of solace and peace. I look forward to finding more places to honour the divinities in my home and in my world.

 

Two Oceans

 

I have been blessed.

In October, I was fortunate enough to visit the Southern Ocean, that vast expanse of water between Australia and Antarctica. I had wanted to visit that ocean ever since I heard of Adelaide and South Australia. While it was a dream of mine to see, that dream became a reality with my attendance at the Mount Franklin (Beltaine) Festival in October. The Mount Franklin Festival, nestled in an extinct volcano, was an opportunity to spend five days in the bosom of the Earth Mother. My journey to the Southern Ocean was an opportunity to experience the power and majesty of the Southern Ocean, as personified by Lir, the God of the Surrounding Sea.

Southern Ocean

As I stood by the ocean, I was amazed by the great sound and the powerful wind that came from that endless body of water. I carved a number of names and blessings in ogham on the beach, looking for the incoming tide to come and carry my blessings away, to activate them. The wind blew my hair back, thundered in my ears, and was an insistent and constant voice which shouted, sang, and defined that liminal world between water and shore. I walked up to what I considered a “safe zone” on the shore, where I was convinced I would not get my shoes wet. This “safe zone” was invaded immediately by an ocean with intent and with purpose. The ocean, the vast ocean, the ever-encircling ocean, is king here and it presence, both visually and audibly, was elemental and stunning. At one point, I took my shoes and socks off and stood in the waters, so that I could participate in the experience, directly, of that great ocean. It was cold; it was loud; it was forceful, all at once. My feet in the sand, the water touching my legs, and the sound of the surf anchored me in that moment. The water rushed in; the water rushed out, and the moment, THAT particular moment, was gone.

In November, I came to California and the Pacific Ocean to visit with friends and to attend a work conference. Once again, I was able to visit the ocean, this time, the Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz. This was a much different ocean experience. The Southern Ocean was just coastline and ocean and really nothing in the way. The Pacific Ocean, on the other hand, was a shoreline, but a beach with piers and somewhat inland. The waves kept rolling in, but it seemed much more serene, much more pacified. Perhaps, that is why it is called the Pacific. I took off my shoes and socks and went once again into the water. I closed my eyes and listened. It was that same feel; it was that same sound; it was that same vibration. Gone was the thundering surf, because at this place, it was more serene. Gone was the wind blowing through my hair like a gale. Gone was the wind the blows from the bottom of the world.

Yet, believe it or not, this is the same interconnected body of water that I stepped in a world away, a continent away. This is the body of Lir and, while the lore may not support it, I am a firm believer in the all encircling ocean, be it Lir or be it Oceanos or be it Varuna. The Grand Ocean is really a different kind of being. The Earth Mother is beneath our feet on whatever continent we may stand. The Great Ocean, on the other hand, is always that interconnected body of water that surrounds each of the continents. Heraclitus stated “Panta rhei”, or all is in flux, which is often interpreted as “you never step into the same river twice”. Yet, when we walk into the ocean, it IS the same ocean, anywhere and everywhere. While the contents or flow of the waters may change from moment to moment, we step into the fundamentally same body of water, that living corpus of water that is Lir.

When we pollute the ocean, we pollute ALL of the ocean, because it is all one. When we allow plastics and trash to form huge proto-islands in the middle of the Pacific, we pollute ALL of the ocean, because it is all one. When we dump toxic waste into the ocean or when we overfish the ocean, we pollute or damage ALL of the ocean. Without the waters, we cannot survive, so while the Great Ocean, or Lir, may take a lot to seriously damage, it can be done. It is being done. There is a lot of water on this planet, nurturing the Earth Mother and nurturing ourselves. Yet, there is a limited amount of water and we know of the power of the ocean. If we take a telescope to Mars and see where a Great Ocean used to be, we know the damage that may be inflicted on a system as large as a planet by the evapouration of the ocean.

 

By stepping into that grand stream, into that living God, I became aware of one great truth and that is something I will never forget. Two oceans, three oceans, four oceans, more, regardless of the case, it is one living, expanding, extending, entity that I call Lir. He is old, he is all-surrounding, and he is still as vital as ever. Let us make sure to do our part to protect him by giving thanks, praise, and offerings, and by removing all the impurities that we can, whenever we can.

 

Hands Across the Water

I have been blessed.

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to experience Beltaine with the Druids and other neo-pagans of Australia at the Mount Franklin Festival, Australia’s longest running neo-pagan gathering, now in its 34th year. I was hosted by an amazing group of ADF members and welcomed by witches, Wiccans, Druids, neo-pagans, and nature spirits alike (Hello, Rosie!).

I left the US as preparations for Samhain were under way. It was feeling like Samhain: a change in the air, a change in the trees, a change in the colour of the Sun. The end of one spin around was calling, beckoning, insisting that its time had come. Then, as if some miracle of the collision of worlds, I stepped onto an airplane and into another world, another green world.

I have been wanting to visit Australia for sometime. ADF has members in Australia and I thought it would be nice to visit them AND see Australia at the same time. Through the intersection of desire, days off from work, and most especially an offer of hospitality from one of our members in Melbourne, I was able to put together a trip that not included fellowship, outreach, and rest and relaxation, but also provided me the opportunity to attend one of the premier (if not THE premier) pagan gatherings of the Southern Hemisphere, the Mount Franklin festival, now in its 34th consecutive year.

Coming into Melbourne was such a marked contrast to the Midwest that I had just left. Where trees were losing leaves, the trees here were newly in bloom; where the days were getting shorter back home, the days were getting longer here; where the last harvest was growing close with the approach of Samhain, here, the season of growth was coming up fast.

The Mount Franklin Beltaine festival is held in the bosom of the Earth Mother, in the crater of a dormant volcano about an hour from Melbourne. Upon approach, the non-native pine trees reached high into the sky, setting this sacred space apart from the rest of the rather flat landscape.

I spent five days nestled in this protected space. This land was sacred to the aboriginal people, and after listening to the winds whisper and watching the sun climb over the tree line, I can understand why. I feel that the sacred, often like forgotten Gods, lay dormant until it or they are reawakened by a thought, a prayer, or an offering. And offerings were made: spirits, grains, and prayers were given and given in a delightful plenitude that was proper to the place. The kookaburras, the parrots, the trees, the people, all gathered together to make it a Beltane to remember, especially for myself.

Silver Birch Grove offered a fantastic main rite and it was truly beautiful to see 100+ people gather together to honour the Kindreds and their own spirits. I was blessed to offer the omen and the omen was good: look within to heal, use the old knowledge to help in that healing process, and look at what has been accomplished. Quite a bit has been accomplished, really, whether it be Samhain or Betaine or anything at all. Neopaganism, like the Beltaine season, is on the rise, not only in the Southern Hemisphere, but everywhere. The Reformed Druids of Australia were formed. Magic happened!

I celebrated Beltaine and left that secluded crater and went back into the world. My days continued and I visited the Southern Ocean at the end of the world, where I made offerings to the Earth Mother, to ADF, and important private offerings as well. The wind told stories the old as time and the waves insisted that everything ebbs and flows, like the seasons. Like Beltaine and Samhain.

I returned to these shores and gave thanks in my own Samhain rite to the Earth Mother and to all those that made my journeys possible. I remembered back on seeing the Full Moon, that wondrous orb, looking upside down, but, in reality, it was still the Moon, and it was I who saw things differently. I stretch my hands across the waters to my new friends, my new continent, my new recollections, and to a new season dawning, bright, just over the tree line.

Please Plant This Dream

Please Plant This Dream

Richard Brautigan, one of my favourite authors from the 60s, once wrote the passage in his book “Please Plant This Book”:

“The only hope we have is our

“children and the seeds we give them

“and the gardens we plan together”

(http://pleaseplantthisbook.com – Lettuce packet)

Let me begin by saying that I am not a parent. I was never blessed with children and I celebrate each and every one of you who is thus blessed. Lately, as though the Gods wanted me to see another lotus petal unfolding, I have been around more and more younger children. I am amazed, of course, at what I see in their faces. I was at a park when a young man of about 7 months was first introduced to a tree. It was really amazing to watch him run his hands of the bark of the tree and to sense this vibrant, living creature interacting with another vibrant living creature. What I saw was a distinct sense of wonder.

Feeling a tree or feeling the earth or a plant or grass is a distinctly different sensation than feeling a plastic toy or a sewn doll or anything manufactured. If we expose our children to nature and the Earth Mother, they will feel comfortable with nature and the Earth Mother. Recently, I was with a toddler when he was sitting in a pool and he did something very natural for a young child: he slapped his hands into the water. In doing so, the water splashed up and totally soaked his face. I held my breath in anticipation of his sudden wetness and, to my sudden and ultimate surprise; he giggled and kept right on splashing. He celebrated the water and his getting wet. He marveled at the feel of the tree. He was mesmerized by the feel of the blades of grass. He sat and listened to the sound of the wind invigorating the leaves in the trees.

Nature is an active playground and the Earth Mother welcomes everyone to her verdant fields, hills, and forests; she welcomes everyone to the shores of waterways, brimming with sound; she welcomes everyone to watch out the ever-changing story that is told in the skies. Perhaps if children, or better yet, if people, are raised around nature, they will not feel so separated from nature. I, as a child of a gathering of years, still marvel and wonder at the clouds, stars, and other celestial wonders that flow by my window or over my head.

I have a friend who has a young daughter who prays with her for morning devotionals. Let me clarify this – she doesn’t accompany her mother for prayers, she participates with her mother in prayers. At two years old, how is this possible? Someone once told me that children learn by example. This is a situation where, on a daily basis, the mother gets up to honour Ushas, Vedic Goddess of the Dawn, and her daughter would accompany her. After a while, her daughter would pray with her and, should the mother tarry in getting to the altar, her daughter would reminder her by stating “Momma, pray?” Recently, this has expanded to “Momma, Ushas? Pray Ushas?”

I am awestruck by the power of these words. The recognition of prayer by a child is a powerful thing. The recognition of the deity to whom the prayer is focused is already another. Often I hear neo-pagans commenting on ways in which to introduce their children. Do they send them to Bible school to get that “other” religion and then let the child, saturated with years of alternate ethos, choose if a different system serves them better? Do they let the child find its own way, applying little or no moral training and hoping for the best, lest they become orphans of the storm? Do they try to teach them the myths of a culture that once served as a background to a people who had neither Internet nor iPhone and employ images that may not apply at that well in the current day?

An old friend of mine, Cecil, once said “kids may not listen to you, but they sure watch what you do.” In this spirit, perhaps the best thing to do is to include one’s children in one’s devotional practice. Let them SEE what you do; let them HEAR what you do, let them FEEL what they feel and see if it resonates with them. If you are a person of good moral character, which I assume is true, then your children will watch your approach to things and will subscribe to that same moral code, by osmosis that you do. Tell them, from time to time, why you are doing what you are doing.

While there is value in telling the old stories, perhaps there is better worth is showing our children our own practice, built upon the works of the past, tempered by time and practice, and made new and shiny and vital in our 2015 way.

“The only hope we have is our

“children and the seeds we give them

“and the gardens we plan together”

The seeds that we give them are our practice and our gardens are the works we do together. Plant a seed in the garden of the Earth Mother, add love and water, and she will return a bounty. And what a bounty that will come to be.

#adruidsprogress

 

Yes, the River Knows

There is a stream very close to where I live. On the map, it is known as Silver Creek. To me, it is known as Ara. I did a long series of workings to get to know my stream and the name I discovered was Ara. Ara, like the constellation, the Altar. In some ways, I treat my stream as an altar, but as a unique and constantly moving altar that is not stagnant and that varies in flow, intensity, and intent. Oh the stories it could tell to the trees!

From a purely physical standpoint, it is a stream, a flowing body of water that stretches a number of miles and is part of the Huron River watershed. It is a small, quiet stream near where I live. I have watched it over the months from low stream in summer, to flowing stream in autumn, to frozen stream in winter, and so on. I have seen it grow way past its banks so that it extended past its boundaries, only to return to its embankments.

There is a tree near the bank and I can always get a gauge on the stream from that tree. Several times since spring, the tree, which normally sits contentedly near the bank, was totally encircled in water. This was typically after a series of strong storms or days of torrential rains. Most recently, because of the very hot and dry weather here, the stream was reduced to a very small flow.

I had noticed a while ago that there were no fish in my stream and I was a little surprised. I expected something to be living in my loving waters, but much as I looked, no fish could be found. I am surely not a biologist nor an environmentalist, but I figured that perhaps there was something in the stream that was not quite right. I felt that something had been introduced into the current which had tainted the waters to the point that fish, one of the local nature spirits, were not welcome or comfortable.

Over the last two weeks, a rather unsettling smell permeated the neighbourhood. I just couldn’t place it, but, it was always around. It was especially noticeable when the wind blew from the west, blowing from the area of the stream.

I went to visit my waters and I noticed that they were so very low, not quite a trickle, but a slow and not very healthy looking situation. The exposed stream bed had kind of a unhealthy look and I grew concerned. I thought of my stream daily when I did my invocations to the nature spirits, a part of my daily devotionals.

Over the last few days, the rains came once again; welcome to return now that August no longer held the rain clouds at bay. It rained and it rained hard and long. My tomatoes, parsley, and basil was ecstatic at the flow of true waters, purified waters from the sky, not the faucet. I noticed that that weird smell had dissipated as well and I decided to pay a visit to my stream.

The stream was moving, slowly, deliberately, but in a healthier manner than lately. Several families of ducks were swimming in the waters and they seemed almost joyous, at least to my biased eyes. I looked once again for fish, but didn’t see any, not yet at least, but the return of the flow, of the current, of good clean, purified waters from the skies seems to make all the difference.

This entire exercise reminded me of the other streams in my life and the ebbs and flows that I deal with on a daily basis. There is another stream, a stream of belief and practice, that flows through my life and perhaps through the life of those who practice as I do. The streams that are our altars and our practices sometimes get dusty or low in water. We can assuredly keep on top of the care and maintenance of our own altars, but what of the commonly shared altars and practices that we share with others?

Sometimes, we shake our heads that the flow of our collective practices, the flow of our collective streams, seems diverted, seems stunted, and seems to flow in an opposite direction. What can we do when we are faced with such deviations?

I think back to something Alan Watts said long ago about the Watercourse Way, and, of course, he was repeating things that he had heard and that had been passed along. The discussion of the Watercourse Way, the path of least resistance, is old, as old as storytelling perhaps. We can paddle upriver, against the flow, and we will assuredly not achieve the progress we desire. We can paddle quickly downriver to a new place, to a new river bank, but we may find that is it too different, or, conversely too similar to the place we once were. I think, upon reflection, that it is best to stick to the flow, to stick to the waters of our own stream for the time being and continue our practice, regardless of the height of the water, of the smell that emanates therefrom, and the flows, friendly or harmful, that may enter that stream. In time, the rains will come and purify the waters of our practice. If we open our arms, and minds, and hearts to the possibility of renewal of the stream, we may find our own family of ducks, swimming where they had not been seen before. The Gods work in mysterious ways and the ducks brought me their message today: the waters of renewal have come. I make an offering and I am thankful for the opportunity to wait, like the stream, to wait, like the river, to wait, like the ocean, for the waters to turn.

Yes, the river knows.

I Was Wrong

I was wrong.

ADF has a prison ministry and I really believed that there wasn’t much value in investing time and effort in providing services to people behind bars. They didn’t really attend services, although they held their own. They really didn’t do some of the work like the training programs, although some had. They really didn’t contribute much, although some had contributed to causes during crises. They were barely seen, yet they were those liminal beings that one could see out of the corner of one’s eye, every now and then.

I had occasion to review several prisoners’ materials and I was struck by how well done it was. I had to send items back, via the postal service, and it was slow and it worked. Once a few of these prisoners wrote to me and I to them, I thought “Hmmm…they aren’t that much different than regular folks”. But they were prisoners.

Our Arch Druid, Kirk Thomas, has been working with a prison group in Washington State called the Frog Stone Circle Prison Worship Group. He visits with them for High Days and has been their mentor and spiritual advisor, for lack of better terms. He has always spoken highly of the men there and I figured that this was a special project much like we all have special projects.

ADF has a program called the Traveling Clergy Program and it is used to send ADF Priests to Groves, Protogroves, Worship Groups, and even solitaries upon request. Several months ago, one of the prisoners wrote and asked if I would consider visiting. I mulled over the thought: while I was critical of our outreach work in prisons, I had actually never been inside a prison before. Having nothing to fear and really having no frame of reference, I said “Yes”.

Fast forward until this month, and I was standing in security at the airport last Friday night, flying out to the prison to visit with the prisoners at an all-day prison get-together the next day. I wondered to myself what I was getting myself into.

I was met at the airport by Kirk and one other ADF Priest, Rev. Missy Burchfield, and we were resolved to be at the prison at 7:30 the next morning. By the Gods, this was real. We arrived at the prison, emptied our valuables into a locker, and went through a metal scanner and all of our items were searched. We were advised beforehand what we could take in and what had to stay behind. We could wear only certain colours, bring in only certain items, and we were told to be mindful of our environment. We were given badges and the journey inwards began.

Crossing from one set of doors to another, I was struck by the barbed wire and rolls and rolls of concertina wire at fence tops. Doors were metal, strong, and they did “clang” behind us as we went through. One more door, and I was all the way in.

I wasn’t really prepared for the almost lunar landscape that greeted me: few if any plants; architecture that was almost Soviet (I described it as neo-Chernobyl); and no one about other than a prisoner with a dog, and a number of security personal scattered from place to place. It was a very sterile environment, to say the least. This prison was a combination medium security/ minimum security prison.

We went to the building where we were to meet with the men and there was a guard who waited with us. Looking around, there was a prisoner’s bathroom with no door and a large glass window. Privacy was a rare commodity in this place.

The men, all nine of them, along with a media/camera man, filed into the room. I didn’t know what to expect, but each man was wearing grey pants, a t-shirt, and a name badge. I looked at each of the men and they looked just like: men.

As they filed in, they shook my hand and introduced themselves and the first part of the day was introductions and brief conversations. The first workshop was mine, a combination of hospitality as the greatest virtue and a look a purification of the waters, both odd topics for a group of people in a situation of limited or strained hospitality and not much leeway for purification.

As I spoke, I looked around at each of the men. I was amazed at the level of ease and comfort between them and the discipline that they exhibited. I figured that discipline was a dish that was served often here. What I came to understand was that it was a dish they prepared themselves. This group of men worked together like a fine, oiled machine, each in seeming lockstep with the other. These men, these members of my group, were well-acquainted and well disciplined. I was slowly beginning to be impressed. I saw some of the art that these men had created, using the limited items that were available and I was amazed, truly. I saw beautiful artwork that was done with bedsheets, delicate flower creations made from Jolly Rancher candies, and devotional items which were so finely crafted. All these things, dedicated to Kindred, made by men of talent and made with the simplest of materials.

After my workshop, we went outside for our ritual workings. We were to stay outside for several hours (almost three) and I was impressed with the ritual area that the prison had set aside for the men. There were four areas: one for Native American practice, one for Wiccans, one for the Asatru, and one for the Druids.

This ritual area was a circular area, clean and grassy. The was a tree/pole, brought in by Kirk, a fire pit, cast in concrete and decorated with spirals, and a truly beautiful well, made within the prison, decorated as well. Due to the lack of materials with which to do work, when the grass was first planted (by hand) and watered (by a five-gallon bucket and a cup), the grass was kept at a suitable length by cutting it with sharp stones that could be found at hand. I was touched at this devotional approach that once again used what was at hand for the glory of the Gods.

The men gave us all parts and we had a Dedicant Oath performed by one man and another man had a number of parts to do as the newest member. This particular person recited, from memory, or Mission Statement and our Vision Statements. I was impressed. I couldn’t do that. I am not sure that many could. We conducted a beautiful ritual, with offerings galore, under the sun and sky and watchful eye of the guards in the tower. When it came time for me to give the Earth Mother offering, I asked which vessel to use and I was pointed to a bowl with oats and used all of the oats for an offering. As others did the offering, I noticed that people used offerings sparingly, because supply and demand is a much different beast within this enclosure. I was learning: further offerings would be less generous.

I watched a series of men do a ritual that was so very well-practiced and delivered; it could have been done by any of our Groves and Protogroves. I will venture to say that the men did as well or better than some Groves and Protogroves that I have seen. After a long time in the Sun, we took off our robes, and we went back into our building. Missy did a really nice workshop on Bardic offerings and then we had lunch with the men. I was informed that at three o’clock that the men would talk to us, basically about their perception of some of our policy decisions that dealt with prisoners and it occurred to me that perhaps my presence here wasn’t strictly by chance and perhaps it was by some design.

In putting together policy and discussing prisoner relations, I was definitely against the effort, as mentioned earlier, and took a very hardline approach of dealing with prisoners after they get out of prison. My goal, at the time of discussions, was to assure the safety and protection of our members, to which I am dedicated. After spending some time with these men, it occurred to me rather quickly, that these were members too.

When three o’clock came around, the leader of the group stated that they were concerned about what would happen to their spirituality as individuals, when they would leave prison and try to hook up with a local group. They didn’t want to have to find more doors in their way than they were already going to experience. Then it hit me: these weren’t just scattered prisoners from prisons here and there, this was a tight knit group – probably tighter than a lot of groups on the outside – and they were afraid of the cohesiveness of their group here and their own spiritual togetherness once they stepped foot outside. They weren’t just concerned: they were scared.

I asked if I could speak, and this is what I said: “I was wrong.” I told them that I was one of the people who were most against prisoner programs and that I was one of the people who drafted a strict prisoner policy once they came out, because I – and the people who elected me – are concerned about prisoners in our midst. Regardless of how well I was received by these men, I still cannot forget that there are victims somewhere and that they too have things to work through. Yet, I had never taken into account the humanity of the people who were sitting in front of me. Never before had I seen a group of people in less than ideal circumstances rise to the occasion and make a better life for themselves, for their fellow Druids, and for the prison community in general. These men had earned the things that they had brought into being. These men, here, now, and today, exemplified the virtues that we hold dear. These were our members.

I told them that I would carry their message forward. I told them that I would tell others about the good work that they had done as Frog Stone Circle. I told them that I would work with each of them individually as they reentered the outside world to make sure that they have a spiritual place to fit into. That particular promise may not be the easiest to keep, but I will give it my best. The one thing I didn’t tell them is that I would be back again sometime. I was impressed and I would like to visit them in this prison again.

Later that evening, at the end of the night, ADF Master Bard Missy Burchfield played a slow, bluesy rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues”. In some ways, it was a nice way to end our visit. I know our members in Frog Stone Circle all look forward to the time when they can be “farther down the line”. We went our way and they went theirs. They went back to their regimented and structured lives and we were swallowed up by the American night. The next evening, I heard someone else play “Folsom Prison Blues”, and I turned to the person next to me and said “I heard that song played in prison last night.” I did get a strange look.

We left that evening, and I think I left a little bit of myself behind those walls. That which was left behind was best left behind: it wasn’t needed anymore. Perhaps that chrysalis was my real offering to the Earth Mother. That and the words “I was wrong”.

Jean (Drum) Pagano is a Senior Priest and the Vice Arch Druid of Ar nDraoicht Fein, a Druid Fellowship. He fancies himself a Bard and a Journeyman Priest. This is his first blog entry.