Book Review: Drawing Down The Moon by Margot Adler

Drawing Down The Moon - Margot Adler.

Drawing Down The Moon – Margot Adler.

Since it’s first publication in the late 1970’s, Margot Adler’s Drawing Down The Moon has been viewed as one of the most comprehensive and honest books on the revival of Neo-Paganism. With painstakingly detailed research and practical experience, Adler pieces together a surprisingly unbiased look at not only the revival, but also the conception and (in some cases) the invention of reconstructionist religions and traditions.

Drawing Down The Moon opens with a preface discussion on it’s own evolution. I found this essential to my mindset, as, in a lot of cases, the conflicts being covered in the following pages were issues belonging to the generation before mine. There were annotations and addendums to the original text which were very helpful with making Drawing Down The Moon useful as both a historical account as well as an updated resource. Following the preface, Adler went with an overview of Paganism and a discussion on how an ancient, earth-based religion fits into a modern world. I found her approach to this admirable; her information compiled from hundreds of interviews to offer a well-rounded look at Neo-Paganism instead of based solely on her own thoughts.

Following the section entitled Background, Adler delved into the Witchcraft/Wicca revival. Much of this section rang unabashedly true. As a former Wiccan, much of what I was taught in my early 20’s (and have since come to view as a stepping stone and nothing more) was expectantly, albeit bluntly, rebuked. Many in the Wiccan community still view the work of Margaret Murray and Robert Graves to be historically accurate, and Gardner’s tradition be divinely delivered; Adler delved deep into the accuracy of claims of such authors and tried to set the record straight. However, the distinction made between accurate historical records and inspired fantasy writing was greatly appreciated. I’ve often felt that in the search for finding out “what the Druid’s really did” many have overlooked beautiful fiction/invented ritual because it wasn’t used 2,000 years ago. We need to encourage and preserve myth of any age.

Also in this section was a look at Magic and Ritual. I found this section short and inconclusive. While there were some interesting accounts of ritual work for specific groups, I found the conclusions drawn as to the purpose of rituals to be a little narrow. This section was included under the banner of “Witches,” which could account for the inconclusiveness, but a broader look at ritual and magic would have been very welcome.

Adler concluded the section on Witches with a look at feminism in the Craft. It was informative but lacking the juxtaposition of militant feminism with the often-overlooked soft aspect of the Goddess. The women she interviewed for this section were political and at times came across as aggressive or dogmatic in their views, which ended the section on Witchcraft on a negative note; not every feminist is angry, not every Goddess worshiper a lesbian. One can be a strong woman without the exclusion of men.

Other Neo-Pagan religions were covered next. Some were so obscure I hadn’t heard of them, while others, more well known organizations and ideas were barely touched on. I was quite disappointed that for a book claiming Druidry as one of the main topics, it didn’t receive a lot of attention. I found the section on Heathenism especially interesting, as not many Asatru/Norse groups are willing to discuss the perversion of their religion by the Nazi’s, of which Adler did and it filled in quite a few blanks for me.

Following the content of Drawing Down The Moon, Adler included an extensive appendix offering resources and contacts for any looking for groups, covens, camps, etc… within the Pagan community. This was a lovely touch, regardless of the geographical restrictions and the expiration date on such lists.

In conclusion, while I enjoyed aspects of Drawing Down The Moon, I’m not sure how applicable it was to my path or Druidry in general. Beyond the historical information given for the Neo-Paganism revival, this book dealt mostly with Wicca and offshoots of Wicca. While Adler included many quotes from Bonewits, they were mostly pertaining to his pre-ADF/Druidry days, and therefore directed more towards Neo-Paganism and Wicca, and not to his later views and development of ADF. However, I am glad this book was on the reading list, as I would not have read it otherwise.

Further Down The Path (Weeks 11 – 14)

For the weeks of June 17th to July 15th

Nature Awareness

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.

Dead leaves and cobwebs cause the forest to vibe with Samhain and not Lughnasadh.

Dead leaves and cobwebs cause the forest to vibe with Samhain and not Lughnasadh. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

The green of spring is fading to golden yellow, and all too soon, everything will be brown. The leaves are still vibrant in the trees but the Earth is cracking like baked clay. These familiar paths where grass once grew are now barren, the stalks turned to hay now disintegrating underfoot. I still walk these paths, noting the changes, photographing the same trees as the Wheel of the Year turns. I try not to miss too many days between visits; one blink and everything has changed.

The salmon berries are done and now the forest is dotted with the deep red of thimble berries and inky dark blackberries. As I walk the trails I gorge myself on these forest gifts. But, remembering the birds and beasts of the land (as well as the plant’s need to spread it’s seeds), I leave some behind, both on the bushes as well as in easy-to-reach places for the squirrels and mice. Forest treats are best when shared, after all.

I’ve also found some naturalized St. John’s Wort bushes and a gully filled with broad leaf plantain which I plan to harvest this upcoming weekend. I will infuse the St. John’s Wort in oil to make a salve and use the plantain leaves for Lughnasadh talismans.

We haven’t had rain in weeks. This may not be a tragedy for many corners of this beautiful planet, but living in a temperate rainforest, no rain has an effect very quickly. But Mother Earth smells amazing these days, warm and comforting, like summer smelled as a child. And even as I write this, the wind has picked up carrying a summer storm. The air is electric and my skin is tingling with anticipation. Maybe Taranis has heard my call.

Dandelion gone to seed, another reminder that summer brings death.

Dandelion gone to seed, another reminder that summer brings death. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

High Day Preparation

August 1st is fast approaching, and with it the High Day of Lughnasadh, the first of the three Harvest Festivals. Many Pagan’s have a favourite holiday, but I often find that being so attuned with the seasons leaves me favouring the one I’m currently preparing for, and ultimately celebrating. The world is perfectly attuning for this High Day, with ripe fruit, bright flowers, golden grass, and warm summer evenings. I am also attuning for Lughnasadh, my skin turning darker from hours beneath the sun and freckles emerging across my nose and shoulders. I have always marked this day with a feast of summer produce, but I am looking into the traditions of my Hearth Culture to see if there other ways to honor the harvest.

Trance Work & Meditation

I haven’t been keeping a regular routine, but find that I am meditating most days and am drawing strength and insight from it. I’ve found that with the fleeting nature of my ability to concentrate, letting the mood strike me works better than forcing myself to sit quietly and still the mind when I’m captivated by some artistic whim. I’m having a lot of success with using a background mediation track and being outside. In fact, unless I use meditation to purposefully ease myself into a deep sleep, I always go outside to meditate. Beneath a tree is always preferable, but mostly I sit on my balcony, on my special meditation mat, with the gentle summer breezes swirling around me and the smell of my garden, which never fails to help transport me to wherever I wish to go.

ADF Studies

This is not the right time of year for me to be indoors writing of virtues and reading of the seasons. I keep a notebook with me at all times and write reflections down as I have them, but will not commit any of my insights to ADF essay form until the fall. Like nature, the summer is for experiencing and growing, and winter is for reflecting. I’m sure I’ve said that before, and I know I will say that again. It’s a point, that for me, is worth repeating. I used to feel guilty at how unreliable I am in the summer, and embarrassed at how predictable I am in the winter, but c’est la vie. This is why I bought a cell phone, after all.

Sunset through the trees. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

Sunset through the trees. (Photo taken with my iPhone).

 

Altar Of Reflection, Shrine Of Two Worlds

She Who Hides From The World

Today is my birthday, and despite the persistent rumbling of gratitude, I still feel a little uprooted. Maybe it’s my lactose intolerant belly protesting my midnight snack – a pint of disgusting red velvet ice cream. Or maybe it’s unavoidable realization that today I turn 29, which means I only have one year left until it’s no longer charming that I’m so damn self-indulgent. Either way, I skipped work today (easy when you’re your own boss) and have thus far spent the day reflecting on why I am the way I am, and what I need to change to get where I want to go.

What does this have to do with Druidic shrines, you’re wondering? Have patience, I’m getting there…

Every morning I do a little yoga then sit on my deck and meditate, no matter the weather. My deck is my place of work during the summer, an overflowing potted garden of herbs and flowers; during the winter it is a place for reflection. My deck is as close to nature as a 3rd story apartment gets. Also, there’s this spectacular view:

 

My Wild North.

My Wild North.

 

This morning, sitting in the lotus position, with the cool April breeze blowing in of the Pacific Ocean and the call of robins and chickadees drowning out the distant city noises, I decided it was time make my portable outdoor shrine a permanent fixture in my home. So this is what I did today, home alone on my birthday, and figured it was the perfect time to write my first official essay for my ADF Dedicant Program.

 

ADF ESSAY – THE HOME SHRINE

Two Shrines, Two Paths

I’ve been reading a lot about liminality in Druidry, and so the symbolism behind my love of the doorway wasn’t lost on me. It’s just a sliding glass door, but it’s my window to the Wild North – the endless, untouched wilderness that spans all the way to the Arctic. This is my land, the land that called to me and woke me up.

My first shrine (or altar, really) has been built around an antique dresser from 18th century England. It’s made of rosewood and walnut, and the only reason it came into my possession was because the monetary value was lost with some irreparable damage. The damage doesn’t matter to me; dents and scratches only add character.

 

Indoor altar. Forgive the bad quality, taken with my iphone.

Indoor altar. Forgive the bad quality, taken with my iPhone.

 

I don’t often do much work on this alter, it’s mostly a sacred resting spot for my tools and blessed objects. It has two drawers which store candles, incense, cloth, and excess ritual supplies. It sits next to my magickal bookshelf, which has more sacred items and pagan-related books. I do use this altar for prayers and blessings that don’t require a full ritual; lighting a candle for a friend or the daily burning of incense. I don’t have any plans to change how I use this altar, as I feel the flow of energy from it is perfectly in sync with my own; it has an important function in my home and the spirits and energies that surround it seem very content.

My second shrine is outside on my deck, and it’s brand new at the time of writing this essay. It’s undercover and, with the exception of some wind and late-day summer sun, it’s untouched by the elements.

 

My outdoor shrine, facing east, with the mountains to the north. I've surrounded my shrine with plants sacred to me so when meditating/performing a ritual, their energy can intermingle with my own.

My outdoor shrine, facing east, with the mountains to the north. I’ve surrounded my shrine with plants sacred to me so when meditating/performing a ritual their energy can intermingle with my own.

 

Last summer I bought a wood altar from DragonOak, and until today it has been sitting below my indoor altar waiting for the spring. Today I moved it outside. It sits on a handwoven carpet from Tibet, brought to Canada by a friend of my father’s in the 70’s. To the left is my holly tree. I have such a deep love of holly trees, and this little fellow has been living with me since he was a wee sapling. I have a small cast iron cauldron to use for incense and any other burning offerings. I have a green marble mortar and pestle (gifted to me by my husband) for ritual herbal work. I have a bowl of pine cones and chestnuts, given to me by nature spirits. I have a bundle of sage for smudging, candles, and incense. In the center of the shrine is a copper vase which I plan to build my tree in.

 

My outdoor shrine.

My outdoor shrine.

 

Cast iron cauldron - my fire pot. Pictured with smoldering cedar incense.

Cast iron cauldron – my fire pot. Pictured with smoldering cedar incense.

 

Green marble mortar and pestle for ritual herbalism.

Green marble mortar and pestle for ritual herbalism.

 

Pine cones and chestnuts; a collection of gifts from forest spirits.

Pine cones and chestnuts; a collection of gifts from forest spirits.

 

Copper vase. My plan is to collect branches from my favourite trees (with their permission of course) and build my own tree.

Copper vase. My plan is to collect branches from my favourite trees (with their permission of course) and build my own tree.

 

Finally, for my well, I’ve purchased an earthenware cauldron from a pagan artist. It’s glazed in two-tone blues. Once this arrives it will sit over the sign of the triple moon and serve dually as my well and cup. I know the triple moons aren’t often used in Druidry, but as my practices are a culmination of witchcraft and Druidry, it has important meaning to me.

 

When meditating, I often repeat this saying to myself with my breath to enter a trance. It resonates in me like nothing else.

When meditating, I often repeat this saying to myself with my breath to enter a trance. It resonates in me like nothing else.

 

I also have two offering bowls that aren’t pictured, as they were in use when I was taking the photos and otherwise indisposed. One is black, one is white, and they are made of marble.

As far as plans for the future go, I’d like to remove the text on the back of my altar (in theban) as it doesn’t feel right to me; I’d much rather have this saying in Ogham. It means “The creation of a thousand forests lie in a single acorn.” I would, of course, have to meditate on this change before I proceed as I don’t want to anger any spirits that may prefer it in theban.

So there you have it, two altars reflecting two paths. My hope is that over time the symbolism and my practices become less fractured, that I don’t feel like I’m making choices between two different worlds but rather find a way to straddle the middle.

 

 

Why This Blog Came To Be

How I came to paganism isn’t really what this blog is about; it’s about what happens after a pagan has asked many questions and has dug a little deeper. But there is always a beginning, and every great love, great passion has many milestones.

The milestones that lead me to Druidry

My mother was a bit of a post-hippie-era wild child, according to her side of the family. In the 70’s she moved away from her bland Christian roots to study midwifery on the West Coast. She healed with crystals and herbs and cared deeply for the ancient traditions associated with womanhood. She died when I was a child and that naturally left me with a lot of questions, not so much about her death, but about her life; questions about spirituality and nature worship. I think of her life and her early death as a door that was left wide open.

When I was seventeen I was given a copy of The Witches Bible by Janet and Stewart Farrar. I hardly remember any of what it said, and I highly doubt I read more than a few excerpts. What I do remember is thinking that the mere possession of it made me a little mysterious, that it set me apart. So I wore black and read gothic literature. I wrote poetry and created art hat had me sent to the principal’s office. “They” said it was a phase, and for the most part “they” were right.

Despite my awkward teenage years, and however dry I found the Farrar’s work, it introduced me to something more tangible than childhood memories. For that I will be eternally grateful.

It wasn’t until years later that I’d return to Wicca. I started, where many do, with Silver RavenWolf. I look at her as the Kraft dinner of neo-paganism; she’ll feed you and keep you going if you’ve never eaten real food. What she lacks in (what I feel is) genuine spirituality, she makes up for in easy access; she’s the gateway drug into paganism.

I spent three years as a solitary, devouring book after book. I set fire to my first Yule log. I sliced my hand open with my first boline. I knocked candles over and ruined carpets with melted wax. My ego grew and I became arrogant and judgemental. I meditated on the beauty in humanity and became humbled and compassionate.

It was an important journey of self-discovery, reflection, and spiritual awakening. I know that sounds awfully trite, despite it being heartfelt and genuine.

Eventually, I joined an online college to study Wicca in a more formal setting. I craved community and, for the first time, spoke of religion with like-minded people. I quickly learned, however, that they weren’t like-minded, and I was very much the odd one out. Many of the people I met were indistinguishable from one another; quoted the same few authors, liked the same few books, followed the rules, questioned nothing. Contrary opinions weren’t welcome. Religion wasn’t discussed deeply or honestly. It was very surface-deep.

So I metaphorically packed my bags and went on what can only be considered a Westerner’s Walkabout. I dug deeper in my personal studies. I meditated in forests. I attuned myself with nature and asked for guidance.

The conclusion I came to is the mission behind this blog; a Witch’s journey through Druidry.

I am a practicing HedgeWitch and a herbalist. I believe in the spirits of the land and the divinity of our existence. I am deeply connected to the Celtic pantheon, with some ties to Norse traditions and hearth magick. But there will be more on this later.

I have only just begun my studies with ADF, but already feel that I’m finally on the right path.