Finding ADF felt like coming home—and in many ways, it was a return to my true self, the self I had before years of trying to fit into different ‘selves’ led me away from that original person.
What on earth do I mean, you ask?
Well, I went through the fairly common youthful obsession with all things Celtic and Arthurian. I listened to Celtic music while reading The Mists of Avalon and wearing pewter Celtic knot jewelry: that’s a memory common to many Pagan women in their twenties and thirties, I’m sure. When I was 10, I saw, through a series of happy accidents involving a sold-out family film and a prematurely-purchased bag of popcorn, the movie Braveheart, and something about the Scottish national spirit and the beauty of the land captured my heart. I learned that I had a Scottish surname from my father, an Irish one from my mother, and I found myself irrevocably altered by touching a pair of nations I’d never even seen. My interest shifted gradually to the people and culture of Ireland, and I was introduced to the Tuatha Dé Danann through the fictional works of Morgan Llewellyn. For three years, I lived and breathed Celtic stories.
Then puberty and high school hit, and everything changed.
But when I found Paganism thirteen years later, I knew in my heart I would celebrate a Celtic hearth culture. As a solitary druid, I explored a few other hearth cultures (including Roman, Norse, and Gaulish), but I knew I was fighting the inevitable. Early on, I developed a keen interest in working with that fire of art and beauty, the Lady Brigid, and then the call of Manannán mac Lir as my male patron rooted me firmly in the Irish/Gaelic Celtic hearth culture. I began working my way through the Lebor Gabála Érenn in my solitary days, and eighteen months later I’m still working to familiarize myself with the Irish mythological cycles. (That said, though, I find that as more time passes, I want to learn more about the Gaulish culture, which called to me early on but never quite won me over.)
In practical terms, I found that proclaiming a hearth culture made me feel more at home in my spiritual practice. I remember vividly my very first ritual, sitting awkwardly in front of my candles, bowl of water, and stick, and saying, “Um, hello, deities. It’s nice to meet you.” The vast array of deities that populate the Indo-European pantheon easily overwhelms the newcomer who is just looking for a friendly face in the crowd. Furthermore, it’s impossible to feel a connection to Deity without developing specific relationships. For me, that friendly face was Brigid. She drew me in, warmed me, and made me feel welcome, and I’m proud to say I’m a keeper of Her flame for the ADF Brigid special interest group, and I take great joy in Her patronage. Knowing, by association with Brigid, that I would be working with an Irish hearth made it easier for me to identify my male patron when he called to me through visions and dreams.
While I’m intensely grateful that I began my path as a solitary, because working alone enabled me to develop strong personal connections with the Kindred and a solid home-based foundation for my practice, I was also thrilled to join Black Bear Grove in Bloomington, Indiana six months into my journey. The grove follows a pan-Celtic hearth culture on cross-quarter days and a variety of cultures on quarter days, so the transition into the grove’s practices was smoother than it might have been otherwise. Our celebration in a variety of hearth cultures on quarter days has allowed me to continue to research and learn about other pantheons and cultures.
Working with the grove has taught me things about ritual I might never have learned as a solitary. While sitting at my altar, I very rarely speak much louder than a murmur; I also rarely use any sort of costuming or props. I have, in short, learned the value of theatrics in ritual. While those things are perhaps extraneous trappings, they add a power and realism to rites that solitary practice sometimes lacks. I’ve also learned the benefits and draw-backs of working with a group of people with different backgrounds and beliefs. A group of people raises a different energy than a single person, and that’s not always a good thing. Our grove is still working to perfect our team performance, which I’m sure is a perpetual process. That said, it has been wonderful to have a spiritual home and to share my worship with like-minded folk on High Days.
I became very grove-centric midway through my Dedicant Path work. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I found that I let my personal practice slide because I was so engrossed in working with the group. I neglected a few High Days at my personal altar because I was preparing for the ‘big’ grove ritual. I’m not proud of that oversight, but I think I’ve rectified the slip. I’m not pulling away from the grove, but I am working to ensure that I never neglect the personal foundation on which all of my practice is built. I’ve realized that without my private work, I have much less to offer the grove and—more importantly—less to honor the Kindred themselves. At the heart of any practice or study I pursue is my relationship with the Kindred, and that needs to remain strong and uncorrupted.
To begin reinforcing my personal druidry, I’ve resumed weekly devotionals at my altar. I’d like to increase that to daily devotional work, but I’m still learning to better portion out my time. Right now, my devotionals typically consist of a truncated Core Order ritual, which includes praise offerings to the Earth Mother, the three Kindred, my patron deities, and any other deities I’m currently working with. Because I would like to improve my divination skills, I intend to start including an omen in weekly rituals at the least. I also wear a triskele necklace every day, which I don after my shower with the brief prayer, “May the Kindred bless me and protect me as I wear this in their honor.” It’s not exactly the most poetic blessing, but I do take comfort in this small daily ritual.
I also have a few specific goals for the near future, such as internalizing a few key evocative phrases that I can always draw on for extemporaneous ritual speech. Although I do not identify as a Reconstructionist, I would also like to research and incorporate a few historically authentic practices into my own worship, including more carefully tailored offerings and some specific methods of hearth-goddess worship. I also hope to develop relationships with a few other deities of the larger Celtic pantheon, including Epona and Rhiannon (as separate deities, of course).
I list these goals here because I feel that my personal druidry is not a fully developed religion: it is a state of perpetual evolution through study and worship. I have many hopes and dreams for my future practice, and I hope they will grow and develop as I do. None of my goals are ends in themselves: they are simply steps in a lifelong journey.