by Rev James Vacca
What does it mean to be a pagan, in 2019? If someone asks you about your religion, what do you say? And if you attend a gathering of fellow pagans, what does it mean if you find their beliefs and practices are radically different than your own? What shapes this thing we call paganism?
These questions have at least one answer found while considering the strange duality and tension that sits at the foundation of modern paganism: the duality of religion and spirituality.
In the general usage, religion is used to describe a system of beliefs and practices that all work together. A religion is the tenets of faith, the structure of ritual, the theological grounding, the core values, and the basic practices of a set of beliefs in some form of divinity. In the best case scenario, this framework helps to support and encourage the experience of the faithful.
Spirituality, then, is that experience. It’s that unique understanding that you the believer have with your divinity. Spirituality is the meditative bliss, the message from your astral journey, the feeling of being with the undeniable presence of the divine.
In a broader, or perhaps more philosophical sense, this duality is between social structures on the one hand, and personal, unverifiable gnosis on the other. Paganism is a place where your own direct experiences with the divine are given serious weight and immense theological authority. The gnosis, or knowledge of spiritual mysteries, that you experience is direct from the source, so to speak. But it’s also personal and unverifiable. No one else will have the same experience as someone else, and oftentimes if they do it’s a worrying sign that a cult of personality is forming.
So what does this mean? On one side, we experience this direct and unique experience with the divine; on the other side, we have this structure of practices and beliefs that we use to build a community with other humans. Humans who also have their own direct and unique experience of the divine. This is the tension; how do we compare one person’s personal, unverifiable gnosis with any other person’s? We cannot, and to attempt to do so usually leads to hatred and bigotry.
And yet, we must in some ways make a judgement if we are to have any kind of shared experience. By coming together as co-religionists, we share our gnosis and try to hammer out some framework that allows us all to continue having these mystical experiences. The tension builds, and often leads to splinter groups and schisms.
As pagan religion continues to grow, it faces the challenge of synthesis or sanctuary. Does a group strive to bring together all of the gnosis if its members into one, new, glorious vision? This is the aim of synthesis, but too often this results in a washed out form of spirituality stripped of all identifying marks. To make the unified whole fit everything, many of the unique facets get scraped off.
What about sanctuary then? Does a group strive to let every gnosis stand, to give room for as many unique experiences as possible? Then comes the challenge of syncretism and tolerant intolerance. How does a group manage the competing interests of a shrine that demands total darkness that can only be placed next to one that must always have a candle burning?
What does this mean for you? For your own paganism? It means that when you go to a festival or gathering, you’re going to find groups that have a different understanding of the god or goddess you hold dear. And that’s ok.
It means that as you build your spiritual life, it’s not going to look like the spiritual life of anyone else. And that’s ok.
It means that if you want to stand up and tell someone that they’re doing something wrong or advocating an incorrect belief, you had better be prepared for a debate. Sometimes this will work; groups that focus on reconstruction are much more open to this sort of discussion. But less historically minded groups have less concern.
This also means that when you encounter groups who hold beliefs that you find questionable, you should engage with them and strive to explore their understanding. They are like you, bearers of personal gnosis, and they are striving to create a community of shared experience.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this also means that you should discover where your own boundaries lie. Where does the tension become too much for you? When must you be intolerant to be tolerant? What level of synthesis works for you? Discover these things, and then also discover that these are your boundaries, not anyone else’s. There are some points that most pagans agree on: things like human sacrifice, slavery, and other major illegal actions. But besides these areas, most other boundaries you will discover are just yours. You can find a group that aligns closely with your edges, but even then there will be points of contention.
How do we solve this tension? This duality? We don’t. This is the core of modern paganism. Tectonic plates are thrust apart by upwellings of lava, forcing the plates away from each other and creating massive stress. But this pressure creates new land. In the same way the duality of modern paganism is where we find the new land of the divine.
Rev. James Vacca
Since moving to Columbus in 2015, James Vacca has been increasingly active in the local pagan community. He is a member of the Green Faerie Grove, a gay male pagan brotherhood, and the Firekeeper for Between the Worlds, a spiritual retreat for men who love men.
James is also a dedicant priest of the Nemeton of the Cervidae, a seed of the Nemeton of the Ways. Dedicated to serving the Gods, Folk and Land through nurturing a reverence for the Earth and all of her children, the Nemeton of the Cervidae strives to provide sacred spaces that welcome all walks of faith.
The Rev. Zackery "Lynx" Coonrad
Originally from upstate New York, Lynx has been a practicing pagan since 2006. Rev Lynx’s “Path” is best described as Totemic Shamanic Druidry, preferring work with Nature and Animal guides and Totems.
He came to paganism while serving time inside the NYS Corrections system. For 2 years Lynx taught and facilitated Pagan & Wicca religious studies and Services at various correctional institutions in upstate New York. He continued his Prison Ministry service from 2009 up until 2015 when he moved to Columbus.
He has been involved the the Nemeton of the Ways since 2013.
As an ordained Keeper of the Nemeton, Lynx has been specifically charged to carry the Seed of the Grove into the world to nurture and develop sacred spaces throughout the Land.
Rev. Lynx is the Grove Priest for the Nemeton of the Cervidae and was ordained in the Mother Grove during Lughnassadh in 2015.
Lynx has a passion for the creation of Sacred Sites. He is the project lead for the Labyrinth of the Ways, a large living labyrinth installation located at the Wisteria event site in Pomeroy, Ohio.
He has also helped with the creation of a sacred site located at Stacked Stones Resort in the Hocking Hills of Ohio.
Fall Equinox at Stacked Stones
The folk of the Cervidae gathered at Stacked Stones Resort of the weekend to celebrate the Harvest Equinox with the community. It was a gorgeous day and there were many offerings made and blessings received.
Offerings of thanks and harvest were made to the Land spirits, the host of gods and to each other. We had an actual land spirit, a beautiful tom cat named Tut, we blessed us during the entire ritual. Weaving around us all and filling the air with adorable purrs of admiration and thanks for the snacks and love he was shown.
During the ritual I took a moment to acknowledge 2 of our community members who will be moving in the coming weeks and this was their last Nemeton function they could make. I thanked Michael & Michael for all their energy, work and dedication to the Nemeton of the Ways and Cervidae. I offered gifts and a blessing to both of them. They will be missed.
The main portion of the Rite ended with the Dedicant Clergy gathered around a stone of the Mother Grove placed upon a standing stone as they renewed their vows in front of the Community they are in service to. All vow’s were accepted and the dedicant’s are ready for another year of growth, service and experience in the priesthood of the Nemeton of the Ways. Over the past year these 4 amazing people stepped up to help with the growth of the Nemeton and supported each other during a very challenging year.
I am personally honored and humbled by the energy, effort and work the dedicants have put forth, but their path isn't over just yet. With the renewal of their vows they agreed to carry forth the message, work and service of the Nemeton to the community.
The Nemeton of the Cervidae will be gathering on Sunday September 30th to celebrate and honor the Autumnal Equinox. We will be holding the ritual in the new Sacred Site at Stacked Stones Retreat in the gorgeous Hocking Hills region of southern Ohio.
Gathering starts at 2pm and the ritual will begin at 3pm. After the ritual there will be mingling, crafting and enjoying the company of the community.
Rev Lynx will be leading the ritual with support from the Cervidae Voices & Clergy.
We look forward to seeing you all and celebrating a magical day.
Saturday October 6th, 2018
Saturday, October 6, 10 am to 6 pm (Rain or Shine!)
Fairborn Community Park
691 E Dayton Yellow Springs Rd, Fairborn, OH 45324
Admission: free with the donation of one or more non-perishable food item(s)
The Cervidae are honored and excited to participate in this years Dayton Pagan Pride Event. The Nemeton will be there with an information booth, answering questions and engaging with the local Pagan community.
From the Dayton Pagan Pride website:
"People of all ages and spiritual backgrounds are welcome! The event will feature a Pagan ceremony, information booths from local charities, vendors with crafts and a broad range of items, plus authors and speakers on various Pagan spiritual practices. The event is organized to include three distinct parts; entertainment, workshops & vendors, and public ritual. Throughout the day, workshops will be offered for interested parties to educate and highlight different aspects of pagan spirituality, crafts, and education. Participants will enjoy a one-day, family celebration of spiritual enhancement and an opportunity to give back to the community."
The art of divination is the art of discovering that which is hidden. Since the future is by definition hidden from us, divination is often used as a way to foresee events. But the techniques of divination can also be used to delve deeper into subjects and issues affecting us right now, or even elements of the past that we want more information on. Divination can also be used as a means of communion with the Divine. In Rome, the state religion often required a diviner of some sort be on hand for rituals so that the people would know if the gods approved of the offerings be given.
Human beings are pattern-seeking creatures. We have evolved to seek out the pattern of tiger stripes in the grass, of hunting birds among the clouds, and the ripples of fish in the stream. That also means that we are prone to creating patterns where none exists. We see a set of random events and ascribe meaning to it. This is also divination, finding the hidden meaning in the chaos. But the catch here is that the meaning doesn’t exist. We are adding our own interpretation to it.
It’s important to have a healthy dose of humility and rationality when divining. Realize that a scattering of stones or a random draw of cards doesn’t have any more revealed knowledge of the universe than you do. The cards have no idea what they are doing; they are just cards. Divination is a standardized or ritualistic process and thus helps our conscious mind get out of the way of our intuition. Whether you believe that gods and guides speak to you on this intuitive level or whether you just trust that your own subconscious is pretty good at figuring out what you should say, realize that the pattern of of stones you are reading is ultimately without intrinsic meaning.
In broad terms, divination techniques can be broken down into five categories:
Remember that divination the best way to approach divination, in my opinion, is a spiritual exercise. You are using your tools as a way to engage with the Divine, to receive guidance and wisdom. Part of that wisdom is undoubtedly that you shouldn’t entrust your future to a random distribution of cards or stones. But that doesn’t mean that divination is without purpose. Consider it as form of prayer, or a meditative exercise, or just a way see life in a new way.
If you are going to provide divination for someone else, you must approach the reading with the same mindset and level of skepticism that you would bring to a reading you do for yourself. As an ethical practitioner, it is your responsibility to inform your querent of the limitations of divination, of what it can and cannot do. If you are doing a reading for a friend, you are trying to help them with a difficult time in their life. Don’t handicap them with misinformation.
While you probably don’t need to consider this if you are just giving readings here and there, if you start charging money for your readings you should ask your querents to sign a liability waiver. This can be as simple or complex as you want, but in general you want something that ensures your querent is an adult and is aware that the reading is for entertainment or spiritual counseling purposes only. The liability waiver should indemnify you from any damages or blame if the querent does something stupid because of your reading. If you are serious about doing divination on a professional level, consult a lawyer for guidance on how to craft this document.
Questions and Topics for DivinationHaving chosen and learned your divination tool of choice, what’s the best thing to ask? This is going to depend mostly on the tool you are using. Sortilege, runes and Tarot and things like that, is easily scalable from simple questions to complex self-reflection. Other systems, like pendulum dowsing, are focused on yes/no and other binary questions; they don’t expand well to include shades of variation and meaning.
You can always ask general questions about your current situation or that of your querent. Questions like, “What does this month hold in store for me?” or “What should I focus on now?” are good places to start for a reading focused on introspection. These kind of questions should always should always use a large set of cards, runes, dice, whatever lots you are pulling. Don’t try to answer “What do the gods have in store for me this month?” with just 3 runes. You won’t get enough information to have a meaningful answer that isn’t unduly colored by your own subconscious desires and prejudices. Questions like “Should I take this job?” and “Should I go on this date?” are also good questions for a more complex reading.
A reading where you will only draw 1 to 3 lots is best suited for a question that is similarly small in scale. These are the best kind of readings to use for things like a daily devotional or as part of a ritual practice. You can ask “What does today have in store?” in the morning or “What should I try and learn from today?” in the evening. The small reading doesn’t give you the depth of insight that a complex one does, but its still valuable to use your divination practice to reflect on the small things in your life as well as the big ones.
Some forms and tools of divination, like astrology, numerology and palmistry, are best suited to self-reflection, contemplation, and abstract musings on personal goals. Knowing your sun sign isn’t going to give you a yes or no answer on taking a particular job, but it will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and from there you can see if they would fit the job you are considering.
Always ask your question or frame your topic of reflection first, before you draw a card or lay out a rune. That way avoid unconscious bias about what question to ask when you see what you’ve drawn. Especially when doing readings for another person, you want to avoid any kind of cold reading. Many divination systems come from ancient cultures, their meanings have been broadened over time to help us apply them in useful ways to modern life. But that also means that such broad meanings are an easy trap for finding the answer you want instead of the answer you need.
Remember that divination is always about seeing the pattern in chaos. It’s about looking at a random assortment of objects or data and creating a pattern that explains that assortment. That’s already a process fraught with issues of bias and wish fulfillment, so for divination to have value and meaning you should try to reduce the chance of any predetermined result as much as you can.
~Article written by: Dedican Priest James Vacca; Voice of Oak
The rock Garden @ Stacked Stones
Over the weekend the Clergy of the Cervidae gathered at Stacked Stones Retreat, in Laurelville, Ohio to break ground and raise the stones for the work of a new Nemeton of the Ways Sacred Site.
Rev Lynx arrived early and Friday and with the help of sunshine, and some heavy machinery, got a lot of prep work done in the area so that Saturday went as smooth as possible, and it definitely did.
We started work around 10:45 am, a group of us worked with Sunshine and the dozer to move the rest of the stones and ultimately erect 5 of the field stones on end. Another group of folk worked on finessing and reworking the area to the sides of the koi pond.
The weather cooperated wonderfully, it wasn't too hot and lots of cloud cover and the occasional refreshing breeze. All in all we work for about 6 hours on Saturday and got a huge amount done.
On Sunday we were joined by 2 more folk of the Nemeton as we marked out, covered and graveled the Spiral Garden area of the site.
This garden will be the centerpiece of the site. It's center stone is perfectly center of the entryway standing stones and the fireplace standing stones. It presents quite a sight.
The ground is a little roughed up atm, but once it grows back in we can see how it will grow from here.
After we finished up at Stacked Stones, we took a quick trip to the Labyrinth of the Ways to do some weed whacking, general maintenance and spread 400 sq feet of wild flower seed for a Wisterian's Honey bee stack, as well as all the butterflies in the area.
We still have a bit of work ahead of us, mainly fine tuning the area and finishing up the spiral garden. We look forward to the ongoing work.
We go back for a day trip on May 13th to do more work!
Walk well, be blessed!
Sacred Site Preparations
Rev Lynx here with a Sacred Site update!
We are a week away from our groundbreaking work weekend at Stacked Stones Retreat in Laurelville, Ohio.
We have been in the talking and planning phase of the project for almost 2 years know, and after many talks with Sunshine, the Land-owner, we are finally ready to break ground in her rock garden and start the process.
The folk and clergy of the Cervidae will be gathering on Friday and camping out until Sunday.
The big day is on Saturday, we will sart out the day with an opening Beltane Ritual before starting the work. There are a number of projects and work/energy levels of all types. Not everything will be relocating the field stones and erecting them, but that is the main goal of the weekend.
Be sure to check out the event page for all the details about the weekend. We hope to see some of you there!
(Link to Event Page)
Walk well, be blessed and be a blessing to others,
~ Rev Zackery "Lynx" Coonrad
Blessings Friends & Folk of the Nemeton! Rev. Lynx here with the 1st post of the 2018 season!
We have a busy season ahead and a number of projects in the works.
Starting early in March, the Folk of the Cervidae will start the 1st phase of "The Wandering Ways" earth project at Stack Stones Retreat.
At the end of March, we head to Wisteria to wake "The Labyrinth of the Ways," and ready Her for the season ahead.
Be sure to check our Facebook Page and keep an eye on our Calendar for all of our events through the year.
Until next time,
Rev. Zackery "Lynx" Coonrad
Grove Priest, Nemeton of the Cervidae