This past weekend Tredara hosted the ninth annual retreat for ADF’s clergy. I’ve written some about these before (here, and here) and these weekends remain some of my favorite moments of our busy year. The growing cadre of ordained ADF Druids (whatever) is the most skilled and focused group of ritualists I get to work with any given year, and we’ve been involved in a long-term project that is coming to a fuller completion.
Many readers will know that our Druidic system addresses the spirits in three large categories (Kindreds, we say) – the Gods, the Dead and the Sidhe. This last category becomes de-ethnicized to the ‘nature spirits’, though that presents problems. In fact this Third Kindred remains a confused catch-all for a variety of animist and folkloric categories of spirit. Thereby hangs the tale of the work this past weekend.
Our Order of Ritual always involves calls to two specific deities – the Earth Mother, or All-Mother, and the Gatekeeper, or Lord of Wisdom. These two have become the patrons of our Clergy Council in the category of the gods. While we may address them at home in specific local and cultural names, when we work together we satisfy ourselves with broader category-titles. Nevertheless the offerings are made, and the work gets done.
Some years ago we began working with a category of the Dead that we call the Ancient Wise. In this we hope to make contact with those from old times who can teach us more directly than we can learn from books. Using a vision-locale that we have developed over many years, we regularly commune with allies that we have made among the Wise.
So we found ourselves looking for an angle on formal alliances with, and within, the Third Kindred. Of course each of us, working on our own, has personal alliances. There is no requirement that our priests have formal spirit-alliances, but the training offers lots of opportunities, and I think most do. Collectively we are multi-ethnic, though united in our work at the Fire of Sacrifice and our service, as we say, to the Gods, the Land and the Folk. The diversity of personal mythic model among us makes the matter more complicated.
Having made alliance with two categories, we have been discussing and experimenting with the third. The problem, in my mind at least, has been that I wanted to be able to narrow the focus of a working from the countless kinds of the wights. My studies into the spirit-tech of the grimoires led me to want to evoke and pact with a specific list of ‘herald’ spirits that could act as intermediaries between mortals and the Many Kins.
My problem was that I couldn’t generate any enthusiasm in the members for the idea. We attempted a version of it three years ago, in the Silver Court work described at the link above. I was fairly pleased with the results, but several in the group weren’t, even those who had strong visions. The results didn’t ‘stick’ very well or get taken into cult in the priesthood, as the Ancient Wise had done so smoothly. After a lively discussion both on-line and on our Friday discussions at the Retreat, we ditched the ‘specific heralds’ idea.
I can surely understand resistance to the concept of selecting any single being or small group of beings to represent the innumerable kinds of spirits in their nearly infinite places. Part of my goal was to choose from a category of ‘nature spirit’ that was easily available in whatever ecosystem one might work. The members of the Council brought a variety of familiars and allies to the work. Trying to decide on a single one – or even a single class, just wasn’t going to happen. The inclination was to do a general ‘convocation’ call, and see who showed up.
The Council has developed/discovered a specific Inner vision locale in which we meet the Ancient Wise. We have toyed for some while with the idea of using another section of that landscape for Landwights work. We began our Saturday working by journeying to that locale in our usual way, together at a lightly-consecrated fire. By speaking with our existing allies we got confirmation on our basic notion, and various other omens that shaped the later work. We also drew a runic omen (because we had runes with us…) that we felt gave us the OK to proceed.
We decided to work in the late afternoon, then retire to dinner and music. Weather conditions were chancy so we resorted to the fire-room in our barn, a mostly-closed room where we can still have open fire. Not the most romantic or evocative setting, but it’s good to have choices. We were comfortable for trance, which is a fair trade.
Framing the work in a full liturgy of sacrifice, we offered to the Mother and the Gatekeeper, the Ancient Wise, and then I made a call to the Many Clans, supported by others as their voices were inspired. Unlike the earlier rounds of work, which included fully-guided trances, I simply led the crew to the edge and sent them on, telling them to ‘arrive in our place by the ways you know’. This is the blessing of work with an experienced group.
We worked in silence for some while, then returned. We had also set ourselves to do a simple sending of healing to several members and kin who were in need, so we did that work and then retired. The evening that followed was a delight (for me) of making music and beery fellowship.
The next morning we discussed our visions. I’m going to keep the majority of the content of that private at this time. In the 18+ of us who reported significant vision (we had one person ill with an allergy attack who missed the rite) there were two or three obvious repeating motifs and commonalities. These reflect several mythic patterns associated with Druids, such as wind and winged messengers. While the whole business wasn’t the specific spirit-mining I had envisioned the company had strong visions, and seeds are planted that are likely to grow.
Nine years after beginning these Retreats the ADF priestly training program is in full operation. In that time the Clergy Council (as we clumsily call it) has also slowly developed an esoteric pattern that we share with new members as they arrive. In this we don’t intend to be secret as much as discrete, to keep the keys and operative symbols limited to those of us who share an oath.
The oath of our priesthood is neither secret nor complex. We say:
I swear to Honor the Gods, to love the Land and to serve the Folk, and to this honor, love and service I dedicate my hands, my heart and my head.
Even as we build the national Pagan religious organization that helps make those goals real in the common world, so we build the relationships with the Shining Ones, the Middle-World co-dwellers, and the Mighty Dead. May what we work on the Inner become true in the mortal world, and the old ways be renewed!