Throwback Essay: Personal Religion

This was originally written nine years ago – nine!! – as part of my Dedicant Program in ADF. I am reposting it today because it serves as a surprisingly fresh reminder of lessons I currently need again, and thoughts about “priesthood” I still hold as true.

***

My daughter and I are watering the new trees in the yard, a chore we’ve been sharing several times a week as we do the deep initial watering to coax out the root systems.  She’s telling me about the conversations she has with our favorite, the live oak; it’s only the oak, she says, that has been so talkative with her.  I tell her it’s not surprising, because oak is one of the most sacred trees.

I have been wondering for months how I was going to explain my relationship with Druidry in this essay – specifically with why I came to Druidry at all.  I began as, and still also identify as, a spirit-working witch.  I’m interacting with the spirit worlds all the time, passing favors and messages among the different Kindreds and the mortal world.  I arguably have a level of interaction with Them that flies right past religion into crazy mysticism – and so, my husband would argue, shouldn’t have a need left for “religion” at all.

That may all be true.  And yet I’ve found a certain peace in Druidry that doesn’t come out of my Craft, a sense of my place in the Worlds as a regular person when I’m not on call as a shaman or seidh worker or witch or whatever the kids are calling it this week.  There is a peacefulness in the offerings and the hallows that never touched my Craft.  When I came to Witchcraft, it was as a spirit-bothered young woman who needed tools for managing power, for switching energy and communications on and off by will and not cosmic whim.  Those are purposes it has served well:  but as I’ve gotten older I have come to think of it more and more as incomplete.  Witches sometimes like to call themselves “the Pagan clergy,” but it isn’t true.  We minister only to each other, and in odd niche traditions like mine, to the Powers directly.  We don’t feed the poor or house the homeless; we don’t teach our children or bring them into our circles to speak with the Gods directly.  And I think we probably shouldn’t.  My particular Witchcraft turns out not to be a religion:  it’s a vocation that engages with nonhuman entities.  That’s not the same thing.  The spirit-workers who come to smooth out major issues between humans and the Kindreds are not always the same people as the priests, and what they are doing is not “religious.”

“Who is oak sacred to?” my daughter asks.

“Oh, lots of Gods, especially Gods of the sky and thunder.  Zeus, Thor….”

“I KNEW it!” she beams.  Thor is one of her favorites.

This, though.  The householder rites of offering, of knowing on the level of basic daily interaction that oak is friendly with Thor, that the West Wind’s name is Zephyrus, that this is the day to drink to the health of the trees or to bless the things that are to be used for school.  These are the sorts of things that our ancestors lived with day to day, the sorts of things that can be handed down among family and friends without any formal training or dogma applied.  Not every interaction with my fellow beings in this and other worlds is a formal shamanic chore requiring elaborate safeguards and rigamarole.  Sometimes it’s enough to remember Who They are and that They are present, with rites that can actually be shared with the whole community – adults and children, old hands and the uninitiated alike.  Sometimes it is as simple as watering the plants with my child, and watching the birds, and talking about the Gods and stories attached to each one, attaching our memories of Them back into the world.  That tells us where we stand when we are not “between the worlds,” when we are just normal people.  That is folk religion.  This is my Druidry.

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