Why the Dedicant Path Matters (Even if You’re Not New to Druidry)

I’ve seen a few folks lately complaining that the Dedicant Path (a requirement for many of ADF’s advanced study programs) isn’t relevant to them: they’re not new to Paganism or even Druidry, the essay requirements are cheesy and noob-ish, the recommended reading is too basic, and, in short, they’re just not interested.

I feel you, guys. I do. The advanced classes are more interesting and challenging. The specialized reading material is better sourced and better written. If you already know the basics of Neo-Paganism, you’ll end up learning a lot more once you get to the advanced courses—and the DP may feel repetitive to you if you’ve already been celebrating the eight High Days for a decade.

But that doesn’t make the Dedicant Path any less valuable for you. (And keep in mind—you’re not required to complete the DP coursework, or any coursework at all. But don’t let discomfort with the coursework hold you back.) By asking you to consider pagan practice in relationship to ADF Druidry, framing pagan practice in ancient and modern context, and requiring you to answer a specific set of exit standard essays, the Dedicant Path will give you common ground for discussion with other ADF members, and, further, it will help to shape a common experience for the organization’s diverse global membership.

Think about it this way, if you like: consider an institution like Indiana University, my alma mater. The school serves 40,000 students at its Bloomington campus alone, and the vast majority of those students come from places other than Bloomington, Indiana; most of them also enter as freshmen, but plenty (like myself) attend as transfer students and/or graduate students. There’s not always a lot of common ground.

And so IU offers a “core curriculum,” required of all incoming undergraduates, that is almost painful in its simplicity. Some of the courses, like, “Understanding Diversity” and “Mathematical Modeling” are, to an outsider, perhaps absurdly basic. “Understanding Diversity” would make an anthropologist cry in her sleep, and “Mathematical Modeling” might bore a mathematician to manic laughter. And a transfer student, entering IU as a junior or a senior will probably bitterly resent the course hours she must dedicate to to the classes. But will these courses help an 18-year-old from a struggling high school in rural Indiana find her place at a Big 10 University? Absolutely. And more importantly, hours dedicated to these courses will enable students to pass other courses with flying colors, and to engage in informed, equal discussion with their peers.

In the end, the basic courses provide the foundation that all students need to pursue their degree, even if some benefit more from it than others.

The Dedicant Path provides a less-specialized grounding in ancient paganism, modern paganism, and ADF Druidry itself, and it asks students to build a consistent practice rooted in ADF’s customs, or to consider their existing practice through the lens of ADF’s cosmology. Not only that, the Dedicant Path helps you to provide context for your own practice by exploring the traditions (ancient and recent) from which your own work is descended.

For the beginner, the Dedicant Path walks a student through the recent and ancient roots of Paganism, beginning with generalized Indo-European studies on a very basic levels, and branching into hearth studies with slightly more advanced texts. Moving from there, the DP looks at contemporary paganism and then more specifically at ADF Druidry. By the end of the work, the student is able to consider his or her own ritual work with a critical eye, and discuss that shared work (or collaborate on new work) with any other ADF Druid. More importantly, the student has learned what it means to be a modern druid, and has begun to define her understanding of that role.

For a more advanced student, the DP offers an opportunity to review and revise existing understandings of that role. Although the student may already be well-rooted in ancient pagan studies and modern pagan practices, a review will enable her to demonstrate that knowledge, revise and clarify her positions and practices, and share that experience with fellow Druids. Further, the work of the Dedicant Path will allow the more experienced student to deepen her practice by exploring it in a new light: by seeking to answer specific questions about her existing knowledge and practice, she may discover things about paganism (and even herself) that she may not have already known.

Finally, the DP asks students to create a standard basic practice (through understanding and celebration of the High Days) and worldview (through basic understanding of cosmology and virtue) that becomes a common experience for all ADF Druids. Dedicants not only share the experience of answering the same questions in the same way, keeping journals for the same reasons and with the same aims, and celebrating the same High Days in the same time frames, but also share an experience of questioning and learning, theoretical learning and practical paganism, regardless of experience level. Hellenic Druids will have explored the same issues as Celtic Druids, and diverse students will have an understanding of shared roots.

When we have this shared basic experience, we’re all building on the same foundation. Although we may specialize with more advanced classes and with expertise in our hearth cultures, we all have a basic awareness of our druidry that we share. It’s a reminder that we’re walking the same path, even if the scenery looks a little different, and that common ground should (hopefully) keep us moving in the same direction. We have similar values, even if we express them differently, and if we don’t have the same beliefs, we’re likely to look at the world in a similar way—and even if we don’t, our shared experience of learning and questioning has hopefully trained us to explore our different beliefs in a thoughtful, open-minded way.

So consider this: if you’ve been a practicing pagan for a decade, and you’re not feeling keen on writing about the meanings of the High Days, try to make it an interesting challenge for yourself. Yes, you must meet the basic requirements of the essay, but try to think about what the High Day means to you. What myths play into your understanding of this day’s ritual? What traditional practices have made it into your own at-home celebration?

While the DP does serve to give us this shared starting point (it’s our version of the Core Curriculum), it’s still meant to help you as an individual. Let the knowledge that you’re forging yourself a place in our tribe  inspire you, but then challenge yourself to learn. Make the Dedicant Path your own so that it may help us grow as a community.


Companions on the Journey

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those who walk alongside us during our spiritual journey. For some it’s partners and spouses, parents, and children. For others it’s grove-mates or brothers/sisters in faith. For still others, our ancestors, spirit guides, and deities are the only beings to share our journey. But for many of us, it’s our friends.

For me, it’s often been friends. I grew up in a semi-Catholic household, with a Catholic mother and an atheistic father. My dad never went to church with us, and my mom really only made us attend church when we were working toward milestones like First Communion and Confirmation. Religion did not shape my family. When I reached middle school, though, many of my friends attended the same very active Methodist church. They were in youth group together, they went on retreats together, they took mission trips, went to choir practice, attended lock-ins, and were confident in their church community.

I was a little envious.

I had one Catholic friend in middle school. In high school, I was dumped by my first boyfriend because I was Catholic.

These actions, this passion, the sense of community that drove the people around me to choose friends and mates from within their own congregation puzzled me. I never had that connection with my spiritual practice: I went to mass… sometimes. I read the Bible… sometimes. None of it stuck. I tried on others’ churches, and they never fit. I was always the outsider looking in during a service, and, to be honest, I was always the outsider looking in among those communities. I never belonged. Those friends and partners would never, ultimately, choose me, because I came from a different world.

Some of that sense of exclusion, of loneliness, probably drove me to attend a Catholic university. I loved it there for a variety of reasons, but I loved it in part because I was no longer Other.

…until I realized that I was now a different kind of outsider, the kind who questioned and who chose to go to brunch instead of Sunday morning mass. A friend told me in our third year that she’d always assumed I was Protestant, like her, because I never did all those Catholic things. Ash Wednesday was a sort of branding-by-absence, when you could tell those of us who were different because of our unsullied foreheads.

So I tried harder. I went to mass. I went to the chapel to pray, sometimes, alone with the silence and the candles. I went to a retreat. And, ultimately, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t believe, I had no sense of connection.

I let it go.

Although it’s much more complicated than I’m revealing here and now, I eventually realized that I didn’t believe. I didn’t belong. I was outside the community not just because those within it looked on me as different, but because I was different. But to me, that didn’t change my relationships with the people who remained within those silent and often loving walls. The difference meant little to me. I’ve had friends who are nothing like me, male, female, neither, gay, straight, Protestant, pagan, atheist, native English speakers, non-native, you name it, I’ll make friends with it. Friendship in difference meant the connection between us was strong and resilient enough to explore and revel in the spaces we could occupy together.  Space between meant there was more room for intellectual, political, and spiritual play.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares that view. Late in my college career, my best friend went, well, super-Catholic. The space between us became a wasteland instead of a playground. Questions and discussion became judgment and disapproval. Discussions became arguments. Laughter turned to silence.

Once again, I was a 13-year-old, dumped by someone she loved because of a religious difference she never chose.

When I discovered ADF and paganism, I reveled in the sense of community. Though I was a solitary, I had found my people. I wasn’t Other anymore; I belonged. People would choose me, as I had chosen them. (Consent in religion: there’s a topic for another day.) I made new friends and explored new grounds, and over the years, these friends have helped me on my journey. They’ve given me a hand up a rocky slope, shared in awed silence with vistas of the sacred, said to me, “You will get through this—I know, because I’ve been there, too!”

We’ve made the journey together. For the first time in my life, I had true companions and partners.

But when the road divides and things change—beliefs mature, questions go unanswered, needs evolve—I find myself both inside and outside the wall of Other once again. I am not the same to my former grove-mates. I am not the same to other solitaries. And I’m not, I am afraid, the same friend to my companions. In the face of change, my sense of betrayal goes outside and in: I feel hurt to lose a treasured co-explorer, and I feel disgusted with myself at perpetuating the exclusion that has repeatedly wounded me.

I am only human. I am not always rational. But when the support-net changes, we’re bound to feel vulnerable. The people around us shape our journeys, just as we shape theirs—and they, too, are vulnerable, fallible. Sometimes we all lose the path, even when we have the steadiest hands beside us.

The hard part is realizing the hands reaching out to us are trembling. And sometimes we have to shake hands at the crossroads on the promise of exchanging different views. Occasionally, we must wave a distant hand and shine a shaky light of hope toward our faraway companions, with the faith that it will be enough to guide us both down our separate paths.

A mature friendship, just like a mature faith, is resilient. I still believe that. It finds detours. It explores the unknown. It looks into the shadows. Friends are more than companions. They are, at times, our faith in humanity.

And I can hold on to that.

Different Strokes — And Different Dates

Happy Halloween!

It seems I’m one of the few pagans who celebrates Samhain on November 1, not October 31. I can see the appeal of just dubbing Halloween Samhain (and why one might do it), but I like to spread out my fun, you see? My favorite day of the year is still Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, because I love the anticipation. Even as a little kid, I preferred the night before. I like the magic and mystery of waiting. Halloween is my Samhain Eve.

Nowadays, I think the better Catholic-calendar metaphor is Mardi Gras before Ash Wednesday: Halloween is the party before Samhain’s solemn day of remembrance. Halloween night, we revel in the delicious fear and wonder of a thin veil, and on Samhain we honor those on the other side.

What do you think? Any other Samhain oddballs out there?

PCTP Work and a Fall Update

I never intended to only update this blog once per season. *headdesk*

Still, I’ve given the place a facelift—it was due, after nearly three years of blogging with the same template. If you’re reading via email or RSS, please come check out the new appearance! It’s quite pretty, if I do say so myself.

Yesterday I received approval on my final PCTP course! I’m all approved to submit my letter of intent, and I’m extremely excited to do so. The last year has been quite a journey: I finished my DP a year ago, began the PCTP work, and now I’ve become a DP mentor, Organizer of SDF, and Coordinator of the Brighid’s Hearth SIG. That’s a lot of stuff, even without the everyday highs and lows that come with coursework and responsibilities.

While I wait for a verdict on my letter of intent, I plan to put up my coursework in a new section on this blog. It’s always been helpful to me to look at examples of others’ work, and I like to think that my work my help future students. Check back in the coming days, and I’ll post another update when I’ve gotten everything online.

In the meantime, wish me luck! The next stage of the journey is about to begin, whether that includes priesthood or another path.

Summer Solstice, SDF, and Me

Some of you reading this are old friends. Some of you are new friends. Some of you are probably here wondering who the heck I am after yesterday’s announcement.

So I’m going to do what I do best, and tell you a little story.

In late November of 2010, I joined ADF. (How I got there is another story!) Back then I lived in northern New Mexico, in the mountains east of the Rio Grande Valley. Though it was a beautiful and magical place, it was cold, it was isolated, and it was very lonely. My husband and I were living in a 200-year-old fortified plaza, “modernized” by our land-lady, who ran a bed-and-breakfast out of the plaza and worked the attached farm and orchard. I’ve never lived so close to the land, but just then the land was frozen and settling in for the long hibernation of the mountains in winter. The Earth Mother in all her beauty was surrounded me, but she was hunkered down for a nap, and I was more or less left alone to find my path.

It seemed I wasn’t the only person to join around that time and feel the ache of solitude. A number of us—some of you who still read this blog!—shared our blogs and formed our own community. I pretty quickly struck up a friend with Teo Bishop, whose blog Bishop in the Grove quickly became much more than an ADF Dedicant journal.

On he went to blog for Patheos and Huffington Post and interviews and all sorts of amazing things. It was a pleasure to watch, and I continued to take a little bit of pride in our early correspondence about the nature of sacrifice, meditation, deities, and all the ‘ologies and ‘isms of Druidry.

Then, last August, he contacted me about an idea he had, a way to help solitaries. In an odd bit of synchronicity, I had just returned from the Summerland gathering, my first ADF festival, where I discovered just how difficult it can be to be the newcomer in a long-standing community. I wanted, after seeing how it felt to know no one, to help solitaries feel like a part of the community I found myself looking at from the outside. When I embarked on the pre-clergy training program, I knew I wanted to serve solitaries. I went into last fall with a new vision for my path.

Over the next months, Teo worked with ADF to establish the Solitary Druid Fellowship. I like to think I did my bit, advocating for the project with the few ADF leaders I know, but mostly it was Teo’s baby and Teo’s determination that carried it forward. SDF took off, and has been successfully offering liturgy and community to solitary druids since last winter’s solstice.

And now, here we are at the summer solstice.

In another odd bit of synchronicity, not a month ago I chose to leave my grove and return to solitary practice—and then Teo approached me to take over leadership of SDF.

I said yes, of course, and we’ve all arrived at this blog, wondering who the heck Kristin McFarland is and what she has to offer solitaries.

I don’t have a resume to offer. I don’t have a long list of credentials or a thick black-book of contacts. I’m just me, offering my hopes and dreams for ADF and for solitary druids on all paths.

Like I always do, I slept through this morning’s sunrise. Every Solstice I think, “Hey, I’ll get up and do a sunrise ritual! It’ll be amazing!” And then it never happens. (Last year, I was in Mexico on my honeymoon, and I planned to do a beach devotional at sunrise on the Solstice. That would have been amazing. At least I have the dream of it, if not the memory.)

I slept late, and when I got up I had to putter through drinking the two cups of tea that make me functional enough to act like a civilized human being. Then I exchanged some texts with my husband. I brushed my hair. I read my RSS feeds. Then my cat barfed everywhere and I had to clean it up.  And then the maintenance crew started running the weed-whacker outside my apartment, and then the garbage truck came and started honking at them, and then, and then, and then.

By the time I got to collecting my ritual implements, I was already feeling a little frazzled. I forgot a cup for the waters of life and had (not for the first time) to consecrate the water bottle I keep on my nightstand. My offerings of incense went out repeatedly. The barfy cat tried to jump on my lap. I dropped my binder. I forgot what I wanted to say.

But all the noise from outside dropped away. It was just me, sharing liturgy with every druid in the Fellowship. There was silence and sacred space, because I created it.

That is the magic of solitary practice. We don’t need a coven or a circle or Stonehenge to create meaningful ritual. We just need our intent.

I tell you all this not to demean myself or lower the bar of expectations. I’m telling you this because we are all together in the effort it takes to create the sacred in the midst of the mundane. We may be walking different paths, but they lead to the same place, out of time and out of space: in the end, we are all in that sacred space, sharing silence, sharing intent, and sharing our worship.

For me, Druid ritual will always be practicing my worship alone at my altar in the frozen pink foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, and knowing that Druids everywhere were sharing in my work. Even apart, we’re together when we step into the sacred.

If you’re reading this, thank you. Thank you for putting faith—or at least curiosity—in me. And thank you for sharing ritual with me, wherever and whenever you do it.


In case you needed another reason to cultivate mindfulness in your practice, learn from my example:

Tonight, as I sat down to my nightly devotional, I realized the well on my altar needed topping off. Thinking of a big decision I still need to make, I absentmindedly picked up the bottle I keep on the floor next to the altar, and poured a hearty measure of water… into the pillar candle that serves as my fire.


All was well, and I was able to light my fire with no more than a few warning sputters and crackles, but believe me—I kept my mind on the present as I performed the rest of my ritual.

Gender Politics in Worship?

As part of my efforts to shake up my home practice, my husband is creating a random deity “generator” for me, a program that will email to me a specific deity or entity to honor during my nightly ritual. The list of deities comes from me, of course, and tonight I sat down to make it.

I listed all the deities I’ve worked with and felt connected to, as well as all those I’d like to get to know better. I put a lot of thought and care into those Beings I’d like to draw closer to my hearth. But as I began to glance back over my list, I realized that it’s pretty lady-heavy.

Am I, as a woman, inclined to worship goddesses rather than goddesses? Have I connected with them because of our shared femininity? Do I feel more comfortable praying to a Being who has, on some oddly-perceived level, more in common with me? Am I (I say this in a whisper) sexist?

What an interesting and alarming thought. I’ll be exploring this a bit more in the coming weeks.

How about you? Are you more inclined to worship a deity that shares your gender identity?