A Reflection on experiences & lessons
By Rev Lynx
Take a deep breath, find your center, listen. That right there is the most important aspect of manifesting a Labyrinth. Listening to the land, the trees and flow of Nature in the area.
The first step to manifestation is to just sit with the space and listen to what IT wants manifested upon it, this part takes months and months. Discussions with the land owners, researching materials and options, the 1st half year or more of a build is active communication and active listening, very little manual labor.
There are so many aspects to a build that come up it’s important to think about each step. To think ahead without locking yourself into absolutes, nature and the land will present a lot of hurdles and challenges along the way so it's important to have alternative plans and options.
In order to create a sacred site there is always a loss to nature, there has to be some act of destruction and those aspects are integral to starting a new build. Thinking about how your plan affects the wildlife, big and small in that area. With the Labyrinth of the Ways and Stacked stones we made regular offerings, blessings and set aside time to honor the land months before we broke ground, especially with Wisteria which was home to so much destruction and loss (strip mined in the 50s and 60s). We have to approach each build with respect and right relationship with the host of spirits and life of the space. It’s a give and take.
Every time we went to work on a site the work became a ritual. We declared sanctuary and established our center. We called to Land spirits and announced our intent and asked for their blessings. We declared our intent and plan for the day to the host of Gods and Spirits and asked them to guide our work. We made offerings, gave thanks and acknowledged the process of destruction for the purpose of growth. A Labyrinth should be an extension of the land and gods, a tool for personal gnosis, spiritual exploration,divine communion and as one Labyrinth walker put it: “A Labyrinth is a personal sermon with your own higher self”. So every step of the process is sacred. Every aspect of a labyrinth is in balance with everything around it and those who work it and walk it.
Planning to make the maintenance easy was a blessing. Wide walkways for easy movement and navigation of lawn mowers. If there's going to be living aspects to it, do so with intent. To help make maintenance easier, when in the design phase constantly ask “How?” How will this maintain shape? How will this erode? How will we keep this maintained. How does this impact the land? All those How questions will help guide your design choices. Don’t cut corners & do what's within your means. It’s not the size of the Labyrinth that matters, it's your intent and the land's blessing.
In closing, a Labyrinth build is a very unique and personal experience for those involved. On a solitary level and for the group as whole. You will learn about yourselves and each other and all I can say is be open. Be open to the lessons. Be open to the land. Be open to each other. Be open to yourself and your guides. There is no other experience like it and it is truly a labor of love and a truly humbling endeavor.
Be well, do good and be a blessing unto each other.
By Rev Acolyte Mike Smith
It is the nature of clergy that we often discuss theology. As the folk of The Ways, that means we will disagree often. That’s ok, especially when it creates respectful dialogue between people of different paths, or when we can take the time to learn about our different traditions and ask hard questions to help each other grow. As the body responsible for the sacramental and spiritual life of The Nemeton of The Ways and her community however, we have to ask what theology unites us. I propose two core theological tenets, gnosis and covenantal religion, are hidden theological underpinning of our shared path.
It is a common notion in pagan circles, especially the druids of A Druid Fellowship (ADF), that paganism is orthopraxic. Orthopraxy is “right practice/ action” and is contracted with Orthodoxy, or “right belief.” In paganism what you personally believe is not what matters, it’s what you do. As long as you give offerings piously and act in a neighborly manner, you're doing religion right. Our beliefs about the divine are like personal hypotheses or perceptions of reality. We are all likely partially wrong and partially right about the nature of the divine and while the subject is important for discussion, it isn’t necessary for us to agree on even a vague answer.
How can it be that belief isn’t the cornerstone of a religion. We are a religion of many ways, we accept all those who would enter into the bonds of friendship and community with us. Each of us relies on direct experience of the divine realm, Gnosis, to tell us what and why we believe. We do not rely solely on the teaching of a prophet or a guru. we may find wisdom in the words of such persons, but they are tempered with our own judgement and gnosis. You can not be a pagan with theory or even faith alone, practice is required. You must do the work and experience the divine before you truly know what paganism is and why we do it.
Religious groups gather because we seek communities that will accept us and help us grow. Faith communities fill needs within the human soul so deep we always seem to create such groups. We share our fire and our tables in the most human of sacred rights, the shared meal. We invite divine persons to join us and form relationships with them as protectors, guides, patrons, and members of your community. We are a community bound by covenant. By oath, bond, and promise. We hold each other accountable because we rely on each other.
Unitarian Universalist, a faith I have recently begun to identify with, refer to their faith as covenantal, not creedal. Even though the word covenant has been drenched with the weight of thousands of years of christianity, it simply means an agreement. We are a community bound not by some ancient creed made by old white guys in pointy hats 600 years ago, but by the agreements we forge in the loving embrace of community. What are our agreements? What principles do we use to hold each other accountable? These are difficult questions, and I hope we can have a dialogue about the answers.
- Buehrens, John A, and Forrest Church. A CHOSEN FAITH; An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism. 2nd ed., Beacon Press, 1998.
- Corrigan , Ian. “What Do Neopagan Druids Believe?” ADF, 2013, www.adf.org/about/basics/beliefs.html.
Experiences and Lessons from manifesting and stewarding Sacred Sites
By Rev Lynx
It's that time of year again when the Cervidae start prepping for waking up the Sacred Sites and seeing what our goals and plans are for the year, and what a year ahead we have! Weather pending, our plan is to wake up the sites ( Labyrinth of the Ways & The Wandering Ways) on Saturday March 21st. With this taking place in the coming weeks I wanted to take a few moments and share some of the lessons, experiences and trials that went into their manifestation.
It all started with a feeling during Between the Worlds 2014 when towards the end of the week Jeremiah and I were wondering through the land reminiscing on the weeks experiences. We both enjoyed walking the candlelight Labyrinth post komos, but also felt that Wisteria called out for a permanent one for all to wander through the years. This spark started the longest phase of her manifestation: Communicating with Wisteria and finding any possible way to make this manifest. It involved having to move to Columbus, joining Green Faerie Grove and creating a relationship with the Wisterians. Finally during May of 2016 we “broke ground”....kind of, moreso the ground broke us (and our rental tiller) and thus our 1st lesson of the Labyrinth was given: Be Patient, have a lot of back up plans.
Fun Fact: Wisteria is a reclaimed strip mine and just below an inch or 2 of topsoil is about 3 feet of solid, gorgeous & hard as Hel red clay and there was now way our little tiller and shovels were going to clear about 3,848 Sq ft that we needed.
Another Fun Fact: The “bush” we used as our center point, and thus our future sacred fire pit, was not a bush. It was a pear tree that was planted many moons ago that dwarfed itself to survive in the clay. And the field had at least 4 other pear or apple trees that were planted for the Ancestors. So we had a few predicaments on our hands.
We had to stop. Step back and rethink our whole process. We couldn’t intentionally pull these tree’s up. They may be wild when we found them, they may not bear fruit, but they had intent and purpose. We had to wait. We talked with a few tree specialists, talked with the Wisterians about options and hired some Amish folks with their steeds and disk tillers to do the job our machines could not. We carefully marked the Ancestors Trees and came back a month later and wow, what a difference. The Circle was laid and we had our new plans. The following 6 months was more about managing our energy and pushing ourselves til we just about broke. We slept under the stars and listened to the frogs call til the sun came up and sometimes sat in silence communing and connecting with the land figuring out what the next few steps were.
Then tragedy struck on June 12, 2016, Rev Cooke and I woke up at the site to the tragic news about the Orlando shootings at Pulse Nightclub. We grabbed what supplies we had on hand and held vigil and read their names out loud at the site of the Queer Spirit Mound. We sat in silence, isolated in the woods and thought of the kindred we just lost and the fires we would burn in their honor. We worked in silence that day, just reflecting on the work. The losses. The blood and tears. There were screams. There were tears. There was honor and humbleness. And we worked, but we worked for them.
We continued forward. Tons of stone. Tons of sand. Tons of sweat. Sometimes we laughed and sang. Sometimes we sat and just surrounded ourselves in the land and the work. The flow of effort and work spanning just 6 months was magical to say the least. To show up after a festival left to see a mountain of rocks with words of love and thanks written upon them. Old friends from NY leaving us love and blessings in the form of rocks from the Adirondack Mountains. Rocks we got blessed with from around the country and the world. All them coming to this pile of rocks that would soon be a Sermon of the Self written in stone and bones. A path for folks to wander in hopes of losing a piece of them Self or sometimes looking for a new Way. A place where all Ways can come and a place where all Ways can go. And thus Her name was given to us, we didn’t choose it. It was a gif to us from Her and to all the Selfs we’d never meet. For 6 months we became an extension of Wisteria, working so closely with Her that her red clay is still embedded in some clothes and my Bone pendant. Finding and embracing that connection as we worked was some of the deepest work I have done. She pushed us. She challenged our sight and our perspective. She tested our fortitude and dedication to manifest the Ways for this was something that goes beyond the self. It was something beyond a mundane scope and all we knew is that we Felt it.
I am looking forward to waking the Ways this Spring and to all the new lessons that will come along the Way. Its amazing what you can learn if you just listen to the beat, just trust in the Ways and let it be.
Change, Growth & the nemeton
By Rev. Lynx
Over the past few months the Nemeton of the the Ways, like a reflection of nature, has gone through a number of changes and growth spurts. As a budding collective of different faiths, practices and Self we often need to take a step back and reevaluate how the Nemeton is functioning and filling the needs of each of Her communities across the country.
The biggest reflection of this is the newly merged website. Combining information, events and resources into a single site for all 3, and future, Nemeta.
We've streamlined content and the Nemeton blog to better reflect the Ways that make up our Clergy, Community and Educators.
Speaking of education, here soon we will be back on schedule for regular blog posts to share with everyone. We have a few new educators that joined up and we're hard at work creating curricula and classes to appease everyone's taste and level.
Besides classes to educate about the Nemeta and our core tenets, beliefs & Ways we have a number of folk working on classes from Runes to Ancestor veneration and much much more and we look forward to sharing these lessons and experiences with the community soon.
Some will be done here on the blog, some will be in person classes and we're currently working out the details about holding some Webinar classes for remote participation. A lot of things in the works and we are all eager for the growth.
Changes come, and we just keep rolling with them and making the most.
Be sure to check your local Nemeta's calendar for all their events, rituals and more.
Be well, walk well, be blessed and be a blessing to each other.
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."