Thursday, September 19, 2013

Toxic Religions

by Russell Heiland
          A friend of mine posted a comment on his Facebook about a church sermon the preacher gave about Toxic Religions. This is something I think about a lot as I am so often perplexed by how any faith can become toxic in someone's life. Especially since the purpose of a religion is to help bring enlightenment and better the people, not poison it with hate and intolerance. I tried finding a definitive answer to 'how do you define toxic religions' but found that there is not one. From what I did find and messed with my own view I come up with this: toxic religion is a dogmatic, closed minded approach to faith that leaves little room or individual experiences and beliefs. Most of what I found of course was centered on Christianity, though it is by no means limited to that one faith.

          The way I see it is that if your religion teaches absolutes, teaches strict dogmatic practices, teaches prejudices, teaches inequality, or teaches self shame about self respect then you have yourself a toxic religion. Religion is meant to pick us up. It is meant to help us become better than we are today. When a religion teaches these absolutes, prejudices, inequality, and self shame all the religion is capable of bring is a degradation of humanity. It breeds superiority which leads to hatred and conflict.

          Each and everyone of us should stop to examine our religious beliefs. We need to take responsibility back from those leading so that we begin to choose for ourselves what is right and proper for ourselves. Not a single person on this planet it qualified to tell anyone how she or he should find their way to the divine. Clergy in whatever form it takes is there to guide us on a journey that is our own. They are there to help us to find our own understanding of the divine. If you remember nothing else remember this: Reality is what you perceive it to be. Each of us has our own perceptive on life. No one perceptive is right. So the ones teaching these toxic beliefs are just forcing their perceptive upon.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pagan!!! Do you worship the Devil?

          I have been a Pagan the majority of my life. During my high school days a friend of mine introduced me to the world of magic, witchcraft, and Paganism. I have never gave much thought about what it meant to be Pagan until I started 'coming out' of the closest, so to speak, about my spiritual path. Even then it was extremely hard to define really what Paganism was. Once I stepped out there were all kinds of questions thrown at me, things like: do you eat babies? do you sacrifice animals? do you worship naked? do you have orgies? Though my favorite has always been: do you worship the Devil?
          Before we go any further we might want to look at the term Pagan. The term comes from the Latin word paganus, which in Late Latin had the meaning of "region delimited by markers. However in the late 14th to early 15th centuries is came to mean "related to the country side", "country dweller", and even "unlearned". Here is what Peter Brown had to say in his book Late Antiquity: 

The adoption of paganus by Latin Christians as an all-embracing, pejorative term for polytheists represents an unforeseen and singularly long-lasting victory, within a religious group, of a word of Latin slang originally devoid of religious meaning. The evolution occurred only in the Latin west, and in connection with the Latin church. Elsewhere, "Hellene" or "gentile" (ethnikos) remained the word for "pagan"; and paganos continued as a purely secular term, with overtones of the inferior and the commonplace.

Sometime in the earlier parts of the 5th century paganus took on the religious connotations that a person was not of the Christian faith. Then in more modern times the term was adopted by groups who were trying to create religious and spiritual paths that hearkened back to the days of polytheistic practices, times before monotheism dominated most of Europe.

          To define what the modern Pagan is can be a near impossible task. Each person asked will have a different definition. So I figure I will give you my general broad definition and answer a few of the questions I have been asked over the years.

image by Shutter Stock
          For me Paganism is any religious or spiritual path that does not original from the Abrahamic religion (Judaism. Islamic, or Christianity faiths). Being Pagan for me is reconnecting to the Earth Mother, honoring the gods of old, our ancestors, and the nature spirits around us. It is being one with the web of life, no separate from it. Now... for some answers to those questions I keep getting asked. 

Do we eat babies? Well I can honestly say I have never ever once met a Pagan that would even consider eat or sacrificing a baby, not even an unbaptized one. That is seriously misinformation that is spread by those that fear losing their perceived dominance over other religions.

Do you sacrifice animals? Now this is a tricky one. Though most Pagans will tell you they do NOT and will NOT have anything to do with animal sacrifices there are a few traditions that still perform these. The most notifiable is Voodoo. Other than that you will not see or hear of this very often at all. Matter of fact, the majority of Pagans I have ever met are major animal lovers.

Do you worship naked? Well this is another tricky one. There are some traditions that work 'sky clad' which simply put is naked. Those that do tended to be rather closed circles for obvious reasons. The tradition I follow, ADF, does not allow nudity at its rites. We are a public tradition which does not lend itself to nudity. Besides do you really think the gods care if you are clothed or nor?

Do you have orgies? This is one of those questions that I always, ALWAYS, have a smart-ass answer to in my head. But that is where it stays because most people who ask this are doing so very seriously. The answer to this is: no group I have ever been a part of performed orgies of any kind. I have heard of groups that did, specifically related to Beltane (time of year associated with fertility rights). But again the tradition I belong to does not allow these kinds of activities.

Do you worship the Devil? No! No! No! No! And let me tell you why... The Devil, as people are 99.9% of the time referring too is part of the Christian faith. This means if someone is worshiping the Devil they are Christians, not Pagans. Though some Pagan traditions reflect a figure that can be cruel and sometimes extremely dark, over all we understand that the gods, much like humans, have a light and a dark side. This does not make them the Devil. 

          So yes, we modern Pagans can be a bit strange, even weird in some cases. We can be extremely eccentric but we are people who just want to connect to the divine in our own way. We try to live by the principles which govern our religion and spirits paths.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Vocational Essay for the ADF Clergy Training Program

Image of my home shrine
          Before one starts down the path of training to become ADF Clergy you have to take time to reflect upon the following questions. I wanted to share with you my Vocational Essay so that perhaps you will understand a bit more about me and my personal Druidry.

1. Why do you want to become a Priest, and what is your plan for making that goal happen?

          In my early teenage years I was lost in my spiritual path. Though I was raised Southern Baptist, I could not find a connection with their teachings, with the way the divine was viewed and worshiped, nor any connection with the idea of monotheism. Because of this lack of connection to any spiritual beliefs, I began searching for something that was more, something that would fill the emptiness in my heart and spirit.

          Years of searching brought me to Paganism, which I studied with great intent. I started with Wicca, where a lot of people do. I devoured anything I could get my hands on to read about Wiccan Paganism. I believed for a long time that I had found my path, but the more I learned, the deeper my understanding became, the more I realized that there wasn't much of a place for me even here. A dualistic faith was not what I was searching for, I needing something more.

          So I continued my studies of different types of Paganism and began to feel a desire to share what I was learning with others. Visions of being a Priest, being the helping hand to those in need, being a teacher of a path and gods I had yet to meet came to me during meditations and divinations. So I resumed searching for the place I belonged, to find the path I was being called to, the path that would lead me to become a priest for the gods and to the people.

          Why I want to become a priest is simple: it is a calling that finds its way into my dreams, my desires, and into my life at all times. It is a calling that I must answer. I have been studying as much as I can about priesthoods throughout time, as well as in the modern Pagan community. I plan to continue these studies with ADF and Hellenion. I also plan to take courses at one of the local colleges, at their continuing education program in counseling and psychology to help make myself a more rounded spiritual source for those around me. I also have been looking for ways to get more involved on a leadership level in the local grove that I am involved in currently. I have also been making myself a source within the ADF Hellenic group that provides devotions, prayers, and rituals to those seeking them.

2. Why do you want to be an ADF Priest in particular?

          Though I have had a compelling desire to become a priest since I was in my early twenties, I had not found a tradition or path that had everything I was looking for. For me, Wicca lacked the concept of true polytheism and seemed mostly focused on magical workings. With other traditions like Shamanism and Ceremonial Magic there wasn't much focus on a central structure of faith in general. They were mostly focused on either journeying into the Other Worlds for healing and knowledge or on honing skills in ritual magic. None of this really filled the void I was feeling in my spiritual life.

          Then came the day when I found ADF through one of my dearest friends and soon to be Senior Druid, James Lock. I spent some time just learning about ADF through the website, and realized from what I was reading along with my many conversations with James, that ADF was what I had been searching for. I loved the idea of working with the Kindreds to create a closer relationship with them. I was also great intrigued with the idea of the Three Hallows. At my first ADF ritual I was overwhelmed by the power of a ritual dedicated to worshiping and connecting with the Kindreds rather than on magic. I was hooked from that very moment.

          Very shortly after I attended my first ritual, I joined ADF and started working through the DP. I was drawn to the scholastic study of cultures, myths, and ancient religions as a part of the program. I had never seen such an approach to religion within the Pagan community. The combination of spirituality and scholastic work was refreshing and inspiring.

          After about six months of working the DP I started reading about the Clergy Program for ADF. I talked with James about the program, which he was working through himself. From what he told me, I decided that this was the course I was meant to serve not only the gods but all the Kindreds.

          Through the ADF Priesthood I will be able to achieve my goal and dream of becoming a priest through honest work and scholarly study. I know it is a path that will take time and effort, but I believe that is part of what makes it such a powerful Clergy Program.

3. What does being a Priest mean to you in the cultural context of your Hearth Culture?

          My Hearth Culture is that of the Greeks. From my research into of the Greek culture, priests were there to serve the people as well as the gods. The Greek priests were the Seers for the people, bringing the visions that the gods wished seekers to have.

          The priests were also the spiritual leaders of all the religious rites and festivals that were on the official public festival calendar, very much the same as the Druids of the ancient world were. They guarded the secrets of the Mystery Cults as well as passing their teachings on to the initiated. The priests also oversaw the upkeep of all the temples throughout Greece.

          Knowing this about the ancient Greek priests, I see a path that is very similar to my own. I have been a practicing Seer for many years, helping out those around me with my visions as well as through the use of divination tools. I feel that being a priest for Hellenic culture means teaching those around me, whether in my grove or just in the Pagan community in general, about the Greek gods and the way They seek to be worshiped in the modern day. I also think it means designing rituals that are Greek based, centered on the mythos to share with the grove at High Days.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Justification... sorry human excuses for genocide!

          A friend of mine on Facebook made a request for several of us to report a Facebook page as inappropriate. When I click on the site I was not prepared for how sickened I would be. It is a Facebook page that is dedicated to the eradication of the Canada wolf. The images on the site are graphic and gory to the point I was sick at my stomach. Many of the images where not of single wolf killings but the culling of FULL packs and the slaughter of pups that looked to young to even be weened. The site name? KILL ALL THE WOLVES AGAIN. (WARNING!!! DO NOT VISIT THE LINK UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE SERIOUSLY PISSED OFF!!!)

          I am not against hunting, especially for food or culling a population that has become to large so that it is causing ecological damage. I think that helps keep a healthy balance in the wild. But this? This is glutenous whole sale slaughter presented in a fashion of joy and pleasure. There are even two videos of a snared wolf which is shot in the side (not a clean shot to the head which would have been a clean death) then allowed to just lay there and die slowly. That is not sportsmanship. That is not hunting for food. That is torture. That is cruel. There is no sense in such activities.

          Wolves play a very important role in the wild ecological system. They help thin the herds of deer and elk. They help remove those that are aging or diseased. Without wolves these herd animals over populate and begin to migrate from the wild into our backyards. We then complain and destroy these animals because they are damaging crops, gardens, and the like. Not to mention that the disease which will quickly spread their illness to the rest of their population.

          I have yet to see a practical, or any for that matter, justification for their destruction. What can you possibly say to justify this:


or this

It is time we as a people keep out about this kind of behavior! It is time we stop this kind of action and prevent the destruction of a species for reason. It is time to stop the justification of genocide!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Religious Mysteries within ADF Druidry

         Sometime a while back the topic of religious Mysteries (Yes mysteries with a capital M. Not a lower case m.) was explored on the ADF Facebook Discussion page. It was a rather thought provoking discussion as most religions have various Mysteries to their path. It made me wonder 'does ADF Druidry have Mysteries? Does is need them?' So I started trying to understand what a religious Mystery really was? I mean how can I understand if it does or does not have Mysteries if I do not even know what one really is. Well Merriam-Webster dictionary on-line it is:

          "1. a: a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.
               c (1): a secret religious rite believed (as in the Eleusinian and Mithric cults) to impart enduring
                  bliss to the initiate (2): a cult devoted to such rites" (Merriam-Webster, mystery)

But the text book understanding just did not do it for me. There was just to much left unanswered. Then I realized something, it is only something that you, and you along can experience. the founding principles of a Mystery can be revealed by someone who have learned the Mystery themselves but each persons encounter with the Mystery will be different. The spiritual or intellectual enlightenment will vary from person to person. Sure they may be very similar but in the end how it effects each of us will always be our own.

          So with that understanding the question then becomes does ADF Druidry have any Mysteries? I think so, though maybe not in an official sense like some religious paths do. So what are some of the Mysteries I see in ADF? Well if you take a look you might see them too.

          Over is the idea of reciprocal relationship to me is part of the Mysteries of ADF. People can talk about the idea of this reciprocal or ghosti relationship until they are blue in the face and you are sick of hearing them. But until you experience it, truly experience it for yourself it is near meaningless. There is something sacred and life changing when you finally feel and 'know' for the first time that your offerings where accepted and a bond of friendship has been created.

design by David Crawford
          Then there is the calling of the Hallows and Opening of the Gates. Let us take a look at each one. The call of the Hallows have so much Mystery and meaning behind them, perhaps more than most people realize. I know when I first began working rituals on my own it was just me walking through the mechanics of rituals. I wanted to make sure that I have the form as perfect as I could. Then suddenly one day when I was calling the Hallows it finally struck me. I was not just calling on spirits of the Fire, Tree, and Well. I was calling to the Fire of all the universe, to the axis and World Tree of all the universe, and to all the waters and Wells of the universe... that included each one that resided within myself. I found my whole being respond to the call! That is something no one can teach you to feel. It is something that must come as its own revelation deep within you. That day I learned not only was I the Hallows but what it meant to open them with this knowledge. When I opened the Gates I felt a spiritual ecstasy I had never in my life experienced.
The Titan's Gobleby Thomas Cole

          One of the most powerful Mysteries to me is that of the Waters of Life. Again this is one of those things that you hear about in ADF rituals but until you truly experience it for yourself you will never know. The Mystery is the changing of the liquid from just plain liquid into the pure blessings of the Kindred. It is the powering of all that gratitude in the vessel and the liquid it contains so that they are passed on to you.

          As for their importance? I believe it is through the Mysteries of a faith that true spiritual comes. It is through the individual experience that we expand as beings. When we come together as a group these experiences help create and environment rich with magic for others to have the Mysteries revealed to them.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Fast as a speeding Oak"

          I saw a posting today on Teo Bishop's blog (BTW if you have not subscribed and read him regularly you should) about "To Be Pagan Without Community." An amazingly thought provoking article. There was something in the blog that shocked me. Someone I really respected for his efforts within our tradition had left ADF. He brought ideas that challenged some of the more 'conventional' thinking. He even brought a few ideas that really caused some debate among the leadership and our ideas about how our religious community is structure and could be structured. I know I have been a bit out of the loop, my life is a bit insane right now but still it was a shocker. But it was a shocker when I had heard of others who stepped down and away from ADF for their differences with how things go, do not go, or that the Mother Grove (our ruling body) moves slow.

          In ADF you will hear many people saying "Fast as a speeding Oak." It is a saying that really underlies how our Druid path operates. We are scholars, we are artists, we are leaders and we are both a community of many and a community of solitaries. This makes it difficult to try to introduce rapid change. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. Most of the time I see it as a virtue. I have seen both Christian and Pagan groups torn apart because of rapid change. The change was so dramatic and so sudden that old members were divided, new members shunning the old because they were still thinking in their traditional way. And in everyday life that is usually how change occurs, but in religion we expect something stable, something that doesn't chance on us without a very good darn reason and even then with resistance.

          I do not for one minute believe that ADF or OBOD or Wicca or any other Pagan or Christian tradition is completely correct. Nor do I believe they have any right to make full claim on a members beliefs. I am an artist by nature and I see my life is a work of art. ADF for me is like a piece of canvas, it is the base on which I paint my own master piece. I pull from all my skills and knowledge of the past, I pull from all that I am learning, and what I find is that just like the saying goes 'Fast as a speeding oak' is about the right speed so that something wonderful comes from what I create, because even in a community of Pagans your spirituality is always solo for no one but you shares your temple. We join a religion for its founding cosmology and principles, its belief structure not for the people... if you do that then it is not spirituality, it's a social organization with some sort of agenda.

          And as an artist I firmly believe that you never paint over a piece you have started. You do not walk away from it just because it started out great and then you realize it was not turning exactly the way you had expected. Instead you step back, examine what is happening and find the best way to work your essence into the piece the best way you can but never letting go of your own personal vision of it.

          Always remember, if you vote with your feet or abstinence all you are doing is adding to the problem. Just because someone says no does not mean never. Try creating history for your case. Try a different approach. Go back to the drawing board with comments made to see where you can improve so that when you try again you will succeed.