The Ancestors

"Walhalla" (1896) by Max Brückner.

Image via Wikipedia

In ADF practice, there are three Kindreds— The Shining Ones, The Mighty Ones and the Noble Ones.  The Mighty Ones correspond to what many of us call Ancestors.  Indo-European cultures tend to have traditions of strong ancestor reverence, as do many other cultures around the world. Neopagans often like to follow these practices of honoring our Ancestors, and remembering our beloved dead. ADF encourages this, and ADF bills itself as a religion of orthopraxy (consistency in practice) rather than one of orthodoxy (consistency of thought). Sometimes, however, these strains of orthopraxy and orthodoxy are hard to sort out, as was illustrated by a fascinating conversation going on At the Sign of the White Hart.

We weren’t talking Ancestors there, nor yet cosmology, but even so a conversation about the nature of hospitality led us down that path. When we do ritual, are we the hosts or the guests? How do the rules of hospitality apply in ritual situations? In ADF ritual, we are opening doors and inviting Shining Ones, Ancestors, and/or Noble Ones in. This clashes a bit with my personal cosmology. I view the cosmos as layers, and the natural world is as divine as any of the other layers.  The Shining Ones and the Noble Ones especially I see as permeating the natural world. Perhaps there are other layers that they live in, perhaps there is a Valhalla and an Astral Plane and other shades of reality besides. But I view the divine as imminent and immanent as well as transcendent. While the Gods may exist elsewhere and the nature spirits may exist at a slightly difference frequency or intersection of quantum reality or such, they’re still here, all the time too, for whatever values of “here” we’re discussing. The spirit of the Mississippi isn’t in my living room and isn’t going to be, but other beings might be. And if it’s territory that would traditionally be theirs, then who is the inviting one and who is the invitee?

This becomes more complex with Ancestors, as many traditions have a fairly concrete tradition of the land of the dead. ADF people discuss this quite a bit, as it’s somewhat at odds with neopagan notions of reincarnation.  Some traditions seem to believe simultaneously in Ancestor worship and reincarnation, which seems a bit whacked. How can you invite the Ancestors to join you if they’re now living in Peoria, carrying on with a completely new and different life?

For me, I think we carry the spiritual energy of the Ancestors in our genes and in our memory and so they are also in a sense, always with us.  But beyond that, I think of the Ancestors in a way that I suspect lies slightly outside of IE practice. Many cultures, especially in South America but also elsewhere, have a notion of the soul or spirit of a person being a multi-part entity. For example one South American indigenous belief says that after the death of your physical body, one part of your soul will go live with the Ancestor spirits in the high mountains to guard over the people, one part of your soul goes off to some other place, and one part is bonded to an animal companion (whom you may never meet in life).

I believe in reincarnation because I don’t really have a choice in the matter. I have past life memories that are very clear with details that are easy to corroborate.  So unless I buy into some multipart soul theory, I’m going to have a hard time inviting the spirits of the Beloved Dead in for tea. The thing I’ve come to understand for myself is that while some part of me is present in those persons I recall being in past lives, those past people are not me and I am not them in very real ways.  I think of it as a combination of soul or spirit essences making each “me” unique.  If I were your three times great grandma, you could still commune in some way with her without directly affecting the present me.

Coming back round to the orthodoxy/orthopraxy problem, this whole eccentric view of cosmology I have could indeed seriously affect my practice of ADF rites. I prefer to think of it as my simply having a slightly different understanding of the universe, but maybe my understanding of the universe is incompatible with ADF orthopraxy and the little orthodoxy that orthopraxy creates. I hope not. We’ll see as I continue my studies.



Rubens take on Ops

Rubens: Abundance

Last night we did our Lughnassadh, only we did it as a Roman festival to Ops Mater. For years we’ve celebrated Lughnasa as the death and rebirth of the Corn King– John Barleycorn must die and all that. But since we’ve learned that this is totally wrong, I’ve felt even more disconnected from my Celtic heritage than ever.  I am hoping that my last remaining Celtic holiday, Samhain, isn’t going to be more of the same as in– everything I know is wrong, I’ve been celebrating wrongly all these years with messed up ideas based on bad research by spotty authors who led us all astray en masse. Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa– they’re all dead to me in the face of superior research. So what to do but look for Roman equivalents? If I can’t be a proper neo-Celtic pagan, and it seems pretty conclusive that I can’t, I can at least embrace my Western European Classic heritage.

So, Ops. We did our very best to construct an ADF style ritual, following the Core Order of Ritual, to this Sabine goddess of abundance, fertility and wealth. A Chthonic deity, she was at one time the leading goddess of the Sabines. There were two festivals for her in August, one on August 10th and another on the 25th, as well as a third in December. The Consus in OpiConsivia is a god who protects grain storehouses, especially underground ones.

The ritual itself was cobbled together from extant Roman ADF rituals on the website and prayers to Ops found there and elsewhere. We got the nine of pentacles/disks as our omen, an excellent omen for this ritual and one that greatly cheered up everyone present. I wish we would have had more music, but skipping the whole John Barleycorn/lord of the harvest theme made modern pagan music very difficult to find. Even the folksongs that we know, such as “Band o’ Shearers”, aren’t really the right flavor. Maybe by next year I’ll have found something different.

Some of my adjustment to ADF has been very rugged. The worst of it has been realizing my lack in things Celtic. But we move on, learn and grow. Ah, what the heck. Have a Band o’ Shearers on me! 😉


“Fruit Basket”, oil on wood

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This is the time of year in my part of the world where we see the fruits of fertility. Almost everyone I know associates Beltane with fertility, and that is perhaps as it should be with Beltane being the “planting” time of year for many folks in the northern hemisphere.  Midsummer has passed and everything is growing and growing– or if you’re down south here, being harvested and enjoyed.

Fertility isn’t really about things that are growing, although that is its results– fruits, babies, projects completed. Fertility is a state of receptivity. From bearing or being capable of bearing offspring.  It’s easy to get confused about this as a pagan virtue. Does it mean we should try to have lots of children? Does it mean we should try to produce many awesome projects? I think it’s more about the quality of being receptive, of being open to the possibility of producing, be it children or art or some other work that the Gods set us upon.

If we’re not receptive, we aren’t listening or paying attention and we can miss our opportunities.  Fertility is not, however, a passive state. You can’t be fertile ground for new things to grow in without working on being healthy. This is doubly important with spiritual and mental projects. If we’re not doing the work we need to do to prepare ourselves for the job ahead of us then we won’t be fertile ground. Our work will wither and die, if it sprouts at all. So part of being fertile is taking care of ourselves. Like preparing a garden with compost and weeding, we need tending if we’re going to bring forth our best work.

Fertility can be ranked by quality, not quantity as well. One small fertile field will give a better harvest than several acres of sub-standard land. One nutritious dinner is better than three low quality meals. In being fertile, we are being called to be rich sources for whatever we are producing.  I think fertility is important as a virtue because it’s the soil from which other things grow. We can be rich, loamy earth or we can be pallid deserts, and much of that is up to us. We do the work to improve and ensure our own fertility and through that, enrich each other’s lives with our gifts.

Patron Deities

Brigid, Patron of Poets, Smiths and CowsLast night at the online ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year, led by Reverend Jesse,  we talked about personal religion and patron deities. The patron deity notion has been an issue for me of late. Last August when I joined ADF, I thought I belonged to Brigid. I had been praying and studying and wearing a Brigid necklace for over a year. I felt like I was in a comfortable and happy relationship there– a connection to my heritage and the Gaelic/Celtic culture that I love.  I felt simultaneously comforted and challenged to live outside my usual boundaries.

Then, on the ADF discussion lists, a lot of people began discussing Brigid, and the Goddess they described didn’t really resonate with the Brigid I thought I knew. One of the most vocal people, who claims immense relationship and authority, worships a Brigid so far removed from my understanding that my only way to rationalize it was to consider that perhaps there are many Brigids. That idea got shot down pretty firmly by people who know much more about it all than I do, and know more than I will ever know or could ever know. I realized that my relationship was shallow and weak and basically meaningless. I am not a daughter of Brigid after all. I probably never will be.

This was immensely sad for me, and for a while I stopped doing any serious work on my DP and stuck to my Lararium prayers and not much else.  I thought seriously about leaving ADF– everyone else seems to not only have a patron deity or three but also a much more direct and personal relationship with their patrons. I don’t know if my personality really allows for that. I’m slow and cautious and careful for the most part with relationships. It’s rare for me to have those blinding, transcendent experiences that seem to be the heart of ADF members’ relationship with their Gods. I’m smaller and quieter than that. Repressed, some call it, but that’s not a fair diagnosis. Not all of us are large and extroverted in our emotions. That doesn’t always mean “repressed”.

Reverend Jesse’s class last night made me feel immensely better about these issues. She pointed out that not everybody has a Patron Deity, not always immediately, sometimes not ever, and sometimes those relationships don’t last forever.  So perhaps there is hope for me yet.


Over on my Roman blog, I did an essay on Pietas today. Pietas is a slightly different concept than piety, but as I said over there, both involve duty. When people describe someone as pious, following the dictionary definition of:

Reverence for god or devout fulfillment of religious obligations

they often speak of church attendance, holy book reading,  special garment wearing (Yarmulke, scapular, Mormon underwear), dietary requirements fulfilled (kosher, halal, lenten obligations). These are, for the most part, public acts. Piety is something we do for other people (or our gods) to see.  If we’re speaking of how religious a person is, versus how they are religious, religiosity is a better term.

Piety is more about right living and the public theater of that than it is about religious sentiment. One could, in fact, behave in a perfectly pious manner with no actual belief at all. I’d wonder why anyone would bother, but I suppose it’s that matter of appearances.  It’s important for certain people, such as politicians, to put on the public show of pious behavior no matter what goes on in their minds or private lives. It’s important both to support the status quo and to garner support from people who are motivated to be pious out of their religiosity.

This is a little messy and I have some work to do with it before it’s incorporated into my final essay on the 9 Virtues for my Dedicant Path work, but it’s good to get some of my thoughts in writing.