The Turning of the Year

Happy New Year!

When did yours begin? When did the last end?

One of the things I have been reflecting on the last few weeks has been how following the Wheel of the Year, the eight seasonal festivals recognizing different shifts through the year, has changed my perspective on the seasons and time. Rarely do these festivals come on a specific day, and even then traditionally begin on sundown the day before, such as Samhain on October 31, and extend to the sundown of the next day. Yet, while we may recognize Samhain, or the solstices or equinoxes happening on one day, the energy and feeling of time of year extend for several days or weeks adjacent.

So it has been for me this year, perhaps more than any before. While the Gregorian calendar has us considering the end of the year on December 31, for me it began approaching the Winter Solstice, or Alban Arthan. I had been quarantined with COVID the week before. The days had already become incredibly short. The nights so very long. Our son was out of school for the year. Christmas and holiday presents were in and under the tree. Friends were celebrating Hanukah. We were already preparing for the events of celebration that would last from December 21st through January 1.

This shift in perspective allowed me to slow down, to the point of getting a true feeling of closing out the year.

Along with it, a couple of other things happened.

The Oakheart Seed Group held its first ritual event, an auspicious milestone given the season. We met and celebrated the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, the first spark of light returning to the land. It was a beautiful first group event, and I look forward to more.

I also got to share my story on OBOD Chosen Chief Eimear Burke’s Fireside Chats on the OBOD YouTube channel. Eimear had originally asked me to do it a couple of years ago, but I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t feel I was at a point where I could snap a line and tell something that felt whole. I still felt like I was under serious renovation. She invited me again a couple of months ago, and with the move and all that happened in 2022, I finally felt ready.

What happened was just over two hours of talking about my life, Druidry, then sharing poetry and a short writing I had published on this blog. Eimear was a wonderful and gracious host, and talking with her was natural. It’s one thing to be open and vulnerable with a couple of people, another to a group, and another still to be with anyone who may watch a video online. So far, I have received complete support from viewers, family, and friends. It has been a kind and gentle validation of my path. I may be back for another episode in about six months to talk about other topics!

This interview kind of snaps the line at the end of 2022, and even this period of transition after moving to Portland. My career break is over, I return to work Monday at a new company. It’s a new year by almost all calendars (I don’t really follow the Lunar calendar, but a significant population of the world does, so it’s on my radar), and slowly, we will be leaving the darkness back into another season of light. I have accomplished a lot this year, and a lot of growth came with it, another step taken.

With that, the new year this year means starting another step. Many things are lined up, and the path ahead as far as I can tell is clear. I know there are going to be challenges, but I believe I’m on the right track. I couldn’t ask for a better beginning for a new year.

If you’re reading this, I hope your new year is lined up well. If it isn’t, that’s ok. The seasons keep turning, and there is always ample opportunity to begin to set things in order. May you find your path, and may you find the right people to walk along with you.

Imbolc 2022 – Part Two

Imbolc is the time for observation on the winter in passing, and preparation for the coming spring. With this post, I am sowing the earliest of seeds for the coming season, and stepping into the sunlight with what I hope to grow. This is a message for family, friends, or any interested, to whom I have not yet shared this part of my journey:

Part One is here.

In 2018, a partner introduced me to the book, The Four Agreements. I read it end to end on a cross-country flight. I was skeptical. There are many parts of the book I took issue with or held in disbelief, and I still do. However, the essential philosophy of the book is sound:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

The central idea is a key to greater happiness is living a more honest and authentic life with yourself, then the people around you.

With time, I found I had already been resolving conflicts based on previous expectations of others around me in my life. I had left Christianity, and reset those expectations with my family. I had been through challenges with marriage, and had begun working through those with my wife, albeit not in the best way. I had missed the time in nature from my childhood, and spending more time in places where I felt more connected to the greater world expanded my connection with myself and others.

As I explored these concepts from a spiritual perspective, I began reading about Toltec shamanism and the history of shamanism as a whole. I expanded on meditation techniques I had learned as early as second grade, and explored journey states over the next year.

This culminated in processing a traumatic event from my teenage years related to how I dealt with anger and other emotions. Released from this trauma, I found I had developed tools to aid me in processing trauma and experiencing a broader range of the emotional spectrum.

I also no longer felt spiritually inert. I felt connected to a greater universe, to people, to nature, to the earth, in ways I hadn’t experienced before.

There was also more to do. There were ways I wanted to develop, more trauma to address, and new ways to discover of learning how to experience and live in the world. I’ve always been concerned about climate change, the environment, and our impact on nature. Since my grandmother’s death when I was 5, I’ve thought deeply about death, how we process it, and how people address (or don’t address) the impact of loss.

Yet, various forms of indigenous shamanism weren’t suitable for this, and were in multiple ways problematic for me. This isn’t to reject the notion of it as a valid path for many others, but it didn’t connect with me wholly in the way I needed to develop more useful experiences. There’s also the aspect I am in no way indigenous or connected to most of the traditions I was reading about.

The search for a further framework of spiritual exploration began in the fall of 2019, and didn’t take very long. Decades before, I met a student of Druidry and we discussed his practice. He was introspective, intelligent, and seemed very peaceful on his own path. I respected him and what he was doing, although my own spirituality was vastly different at the time.

I began reading about Druidry, its history and philosophies. I learned about reconstruction and revival Druidry, and explored the different groups practicing today locally and internationally. I researched all I could about it before even talking with anyone, because if there was anything I didn’t like, I wanted to know about it early before I started exploring it further. I found some things I didn’t like. While I found some groups, and uniquely some people, who I didn’t agree with their ideas, I found many aspects of Druidry something I could connect with.

Further, Druidry worked with my own personal heritage. While not a requirement aside from a few more dogmatic groups and individuals, Druidry would allow me to learn more about the history of Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Britain.

I attended a local Druid ritual in late 2019. I met people practicing Druidry, discussed some current issues and differences among various groups, and learned more about my potential path. In December 2019, I joined the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, commonly called OBOD, a revival Druidry order based in the United Kingdom.

OBOD is a popular introduction to Druidry for many because of its remote correspondence course, created by prior Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm, on prompting from the order’s founder, Ross Nichols. This course is mailed to students over the course of the initiate’s first year, and guides students through the Bardic Grade, studying, among other things, Druidry history and philosophy, lore, cosmology, poetry, and inspiration.

None of this is like the pop culture version of Druids we have in America, influenced in part by games like Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft. Druidry is a nature-based spiritual path, but depending on your type of practice, it can range from a philosophy focusing on art and creativity with practitioners from many religions including Christianity, to a complete polytheistic religion focused on various pantheons of gods and goddesses. If you wish to read more about it, please check out OBOD’s page on Druid Beliefs.

I began the course in January 2020, initially keeping pace with the weekly structure of the lessons. 2020, however, was a notably difficult year. When the pandemic struck, and later the forest fires here in California, I was both stuck inside and away from the places in nature I had connected to. Like many others, I experienced depression, weight gain, and other symptoms of the trauma we were collectively experiencing. I paused working with the lessons in July 2020, but kept what I had learned with me in meditation and recognizing the Wheel of the Year.

Druidry was not my only means of self-exploration and care through this time. I also sought professional counseling for what I experienced, and was diagnosed with ADHD. This became a process of reviewing my life and unexplained behaviors since childhood, along with the tools I had found on my own to mitigate them. I also helped build an online community of local polyamorous people who supported each other through the pandemic, which still exists and is growing. In person, I was in a bubble with my wife, son, and partner, and it went a long way in strengthening our own connections.

Social justice issues came to the forefront in 2020, and OBOD took a firm supportive stance. I wrote a post for OBOD’s Druids for Justice section titled An American Person of Color in a British Druidic Order.

In April 2021 I was ready to begin again. I reviewed all the lessons I had covered in 2020, and the journal entries I had written. I picked back up, yet took my time, and the lessons unfolded naturally with the progression of the year. I found new places in nature to connect, including small, unexpected ones in urban areas. I don’t think I would have learned how if the places I had access to before had been available.

I finished the Bardic Grade in January 2022, taking two years to complete. It has been a moving, transformative experience, and I feel I have walked further down the path I set out on with this journey.

However, I have done this silently. Aside from my wife, partner, and a few friends, no one outside of Druidry has known about it. I have challenged myself to live openly and transparently, which has come at great cost, but to greater benefit. The next stages of this path mean walking more openly.

Along with writing a book, which is based on some of the Welsh mythology and lore I have studied in Druidry, I have enrolled in a course on End of Life celebrancy. My vision is to help Druid and pagan families to process loss and grief from death, and to serve them and the deceased by hosting funeral services. This comes from my own experiences with death and grief, and I believe I can effectively serve the community in this way.

I am also helping smaller Druid environmental action groups with organizing and communications, like The Order of the Oak. We hope to make a larger impact on creating action to properly address climate change.

The other next step in this path is moving forward to the Ovate Grade, which will begin in the coming months. Along with the other changes I’ve initiated in life, I look forward to the next stages in the journey.

For some, I know this may be a shock. I have lived as a Christian, and lived as an atheist. I will talk about in the future where I stand in beliefs now, but the important thing to know is the essence of who I am, a person wanting to learn, to help others, and to live a good life, has not changed.

With Peace, Harmony, and Balance,