Thoughts After Imbolc Retreat 2017 — So Much to Process, So Much to Cherish

This weekend was one I have really been excited to arrive at. The ADF Imbolc Retreat held at the UBarU Unitarian Retreat facility is a gathering of mostly ADF Druids to celebrate Imbolc together. Two years ago, I happened to make the event thanks to a gracious invitation from the group that puts this on each year – Hearthstone Grove. Last year, I had plans to go, but wound up being held back by work requirements. This year, I took no chances, and burned a day of vacation for Friday. And I am so thrilled that I did.

Many of the people that attend are friends of mine on Facebook…and while interacting with them on Facebook is great – there is nothing that replaces the lovely greetings and hugs I received from so many of them upon my arrival on Friday. Seemingly, I am the only individual who has not cross-pollinated between OBOD and ADF, but that didn’t matter one bit. I considered so many of these folks as my extended family, that it was just great to see them. It was even better to get chances to talk to all of them throughout the entire weekend. Whether at meal-time, sitting out by the fire, or up on the porch…conversations were excellent times to catch up, tell jokes, and strengthen the bonds we have had since I met most of these people two years ago.

And that does not take into account the large number of new people that I met. Same areas, new conversations, laughing and carrying – and even discussing differences in religious perspective as if we were grizzled scholars and philosophers waiting for our eventual turns to swim in the sacred spring. Absolutely amazing people. And a good reminder to this Solo Pagan that community is still a necessary part of life – even when I tend to do most of my religious ceremonies on my own.

Twice during the weekend, I found Crow nudging me and pushing me to do things I normally would not. I normally would not move to the fire and provide an offering. I did. I pulled up some of the grass near my feet, and approached the fire. By the time I took my fourth step to the fire – I had no idea what I was doing or what I was saying. By the time I found my focus, I heard the words “Water is Life!” being echoed back at me from others. I realized I had said something, and asked that my offering be accepted. I’m still a little unsure of what exactly I said…but I’m not totally sure that matters. The primary point was that I had been pushed to step out, and step up. When I returned to where I stood at the edges of the ring around the fire, I heard the soft whispers of Fliodhas in my ear: “That is what you do. Be that Priest. Without reservation, without shame.”

The second time was that very next morning (Sunday). Long before the sun came up, I got up, and took a shower. Unlike the previous night, there were a few people up and moving. I conversed with a few of them before I grabbed my staff and went to the top of the hill above the cabins. I stood on the small dirt road, looked down at the cabins below, and felt Crow on my shoulder.

Family matters. Down there is family. Give them honor. They are precise and necessary for you to grow further. Learn this lesson now. They are more than the lesson will provide.

I gripped my staff at the midway point with my right-hand, and held it parallel to the ground, high over my head and I gave thanks to Crow, Coyote and Fliodhas for being with me. I gave thanks to the Gods and Goddesses that the (mostly) slumbering group down the hill from me had been brought safely here. Family, extended or whatever adjective the world may add to that, is important to me.

There were so many awesome conversations that took place as well, which are turning into blog posts for the near and long-term future. There is no doubt that I will come away from Pantheacon with even more topics to push into my brain meats.

Conversations on the new, younger generation of Pagans that all seem to be younger than I ever remember myself being – and how I fit into all of that, even as a Solo Pagan (as a side note, I need to dress as a red-solo cup to one of these gatherings – because that’s what I think of when I call myself a Solo Pagan). Conversations on how programming syntax can be construed as spell-casting – and the ways that matrix can be applied to so many other aspects of life. Conversations on relationships with the Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestor…and even Spirits of Time can have reflections of our own relationships of others mirrored within that paradigm. And conversations on that intersection between time, relationships with the Gods, relationships with one another, and how we approach our lives outside of ritual and magick.

All of that percolates my mind into blog posts….and writings in my journal. And all of that came out of time spent with these wonderful folks in under seventy hours. And with me up near the Oklahoma/Texas border…and most of these folks in cities and town to the south of me, I actively wonder how different my life might be with more constant and consistent contact with them. I do wonder…but in Akiro’s infamous words (and slightly twisted by me), that is a blog for another time….


–T /|\

Somewhere Between Departure and Arrival – We All Changed

As I had posted previously, I went to an Imbolc Retreat that was hosted by Hearthstone Grove of the ADF. It took a bit of cajoling to get me to go — but the crows pushed and pushed until I finally could find no other reason to say no.  And thus I went.  And had a lot of fun.  And learned a lot about myself.

Was i uncomfortable?  A little bit.  I only knew one person at this event in a face-to-face context. Beyond that, I only knew two others via an online context. The rest were completely unknowns to me. Which forced me way out of my normal comfort zone. I mean, way way out of my comfort zone. Yet, everyone was not only kind and open – but there were a lot of folks that were a ton of fun to talk with.  Good thing for me:  I’m good at remembering faces.  Bad thing for me:  I am terrible at remembering names.  Nonetheless, it took me about a full day to be a little more at ease with folks, probably one of the worst side effects of being a Solo Practitioner.

There were a few rituals around the fire, and each had its own fascination for me. And one moment of anxiety as well – providing an offering, which including drinking from a horn. Each and every time, I abstained – typically holding the horn up and towards the fire in a silent gesture before handing it on to the next person. I also never approached the fire with an offering either. Each time, it didn’t feel like the “right” way for me to do so. So instead of providing an empty offering or taking a pull from a drinking horn with nothing more to say than “thanks for having me here” — I decided that it was better to not do so.

My Backyard Stone CircleHowever, each morning I rose just before the sunrise and managed to stand out while the sun rose up over the horizon. So as not to make too much noise up in the main house, I didn’t get my first cup of coffee until somewhere close to an hour later. It was here that I made my offerings – quietly, and just at the edge of the buildings. The first morning (Saturday), I had a bit of a biscuit in my pocket – leftovers from breakfast on the road on Friday. As the Sun peeked through the morning cloud cover, I crushed the biscuit in my hand and scattered the crumbs in the area directly behind the bunk house, offering my silent thanks to the Gods and my Crows for pushing me to be there. The second morning (Sunday), I managed to get a cup of coffee shortly after sunrise (more people were up early at this point) – and poured the last of the cup into the grass near the same area – again providing my silent thanks to the Gods for the start of a new day. It seemed a little more appropriate for me – but I have to remind myself, I am a Solo Practitioner.  Quiet little rites and moments like this are a daily part of my practice.

Aside from being able to participate in a ritual that I had never seen before — I was part of the awesome energy that was raised during each one. I also managed to understand a few of the personalities that had driven from their homes to come out into the Texas hill country to give homage to Brigid. And driving home that early Sunday just before noon, I realized that this was the one thing that made this very special – and it was mentioned during the opening ritual. We came here – some of us as strangers – to give homage to the Gods, particularly Brigid. And when everything was over, we left as individuals that had bonded together during that time. Even now, a week later, I still feel a lot of that bonded energy each morning that I wake up and step out into my backyard to greet the morning Sun with a cup of coffee in one hand, and a handful of birdseed in the other for the Crows and the Spirits of the Land.

I sit here in my office, typing on a keyboard, looking at the screen of my iMac — and I remember the feelings of each evening and night. Talking with people that were new to me on a Friday – and when I left on that Sunday – it was like leaving old friends. Yes, there was magick in that weekend – some of it was even raised in the circles in ritual. Much more of it was raised in our hearts and souls.  And its that magick that I will be seeking – as I step out of the shadows of my Solo world…  ::Raising coffee cup::  Slainte!  I arrived as myself, and left as myself – and somewhere between arrival and departure – the fellowship of this group of people has changed me, and dare I say — it has changed all of us, for the better.

–Tommy /|\


ADF Hearthstone Imbolc Retreat – and Just Doing It….

There’s been an over-arching theme in my daily life for the past four months.  Yes, there’s the crows that are EVERYWHERE.  My dreams, my meditations (even where they do not belong), real life…just everywhere. At first I thought it was cute – all these crows constantly cawing at me, dropping buttons and yarn in my lap in my meditations – just cute adorable stuff. After a while, I realized there was a message behind all of this – that Crow was trying to make me understand something. I just couldn’t puzzle it out.

Now, I’m not one to be out in public very often – at least not the Pagan Community aspect of being public. I’m always afraid that someone will recognize me (beyond the people who know me face-to-face already), and just squee all over the fact that I am a podcaster. Yes, I fear the notion of “fame” – and its taken quite some time to get over that notion, much less realize it.  More on that in a bit.  So, when I saw the invite in my Facebook messages section from Chris Godwin about an Imbolc Retreat in the hill country here in Texas….I balked and attempted to put it out of my mind. The idea of getting out into the public is an issue of being gun-shy for me.  So I just let the invite sit in my inbox.  I didn’t decline it (like I normally do when get things like that) – and I couldn’t really relate to why I did that. But then the dream came up…where the Crow shouted “Do It!  Register and go!”…and I sat up in the bed, went to my computer, made sure I had the funds to sign up, and left myself a sticky note to ask for time off with work. And after getting the a-ok for that, I registered and paid my reservation in full. And right after I hit the button, I knew there was no going back.

And Still the Crows Came

Every dream, every meditation, everywhere I turned – there were crows.  Still.  I thought I had satisfied the necessary requirement that Crow had been bugging me about. I still didn’t understand.  And when the day came to head down, I got to talk with a friend through half of the trip about the dreams, the meditations, the crows…

“Messengers,” she said quietly after listening to me for close to fifty miles. “Crows are messengers. They bring information to Odin. Odin understood, but the Crows had to bring him the information to work with.” I shared a nervous laugh with her, as I wondered what the messages might be. On the third day of the conference, I was talking with one of the attendees, and she mentioned much the same thing. ::holding finger in the air:: First point to Crow.

During the retreat, there were two evening rituals – both of which featured the opportunity to step forward and offer a blessing or a sacrifice in whatever fashion you wanted to. I passed on both opportunities. Each morning after, I found myself wide awake at 6am – even earlier than I normally am. The first time was because of someone else having left their phone alarm on. The second time, I awoke suddenly. When I checked my own phone this morning, it was 0600 on the dot. The first morning (yesterday), I found myself watching a cloudy sky – waiting for the sun to rise.  But the second morning, I didn’t wait for the sun, I walked out into the foggy mist and off into the wooded area behind the retreat bunk houses.

About a mile away, I sat down at the side of the dirt road – butt on the ground, my arms around my knees – and I listened. I could hear the cars on the nearby interstate, their tires noisily gripping the road’s surface as they were compelled onward by their occupants. I could hear the caw of a crow, somewhere nearby. Damnit.  Even here I can’t be alone. So I centered and grounded…and asked what I wasn’t getting. I got four words in response:  “Not you. Do it.” All I could think was:  thanks a lot. Cryptanalysis was never my strong. I could fix the machines and operate them, but I couldn’t break cypher codes by hand. I slowly got up (I’m not as spry as I used to be), and my movement apparently startled a nearby deer having her breakfast. As she dashed into the underbrush, I murmured an apology after her white-brown rump. And headed back to the retreat center for breakfast.

Just prior to breakfast, I’m talking with John Beckett about the prospect of an interview I had been wanting to line up for the podcast.  After a few moments, he stops and quietly notes that he has an editorial comment:  “Stop talking about things and just do them.”  I’m not sure John noticed the look of shock on my face, but here was the Rosetta Stone I was needing for my meditation moment just a scant half hour before.  Trickster Gods…  I spent most of my drive home contemplating that entire few moments of synchronicity…  Damn Trickster Gods…

And Then There Was That One Moment….

Remember I was noting how much I fear the entire concept of “fame”?  During dinner on the second night (last night), John and I are eating and one of the attendees sits down noting that she is about to have a “fan-girl” moment. Now, John is fairly well known – so I was prepared to sit and listen to someone talk with John about his excellent writings on his blog. However, after she notes how long she’s been reading John, she continued with “…and I have been listening to you for quite some time too.” And I have my first moments with a fan of my shows that isn’t someone I already know in real life. It didn’t turn out like I had always feared it would…she had wonderful conversation, along with her non-podcast-listening friend who turned out to have a lot in common with me (databases), with both John and myself (John and me, John and I — whatever the correct vernacular is).  And her demeanor really put me at ease. Once again, I had blown up the idea of what it would be like to run into one of the twenty-some odd people that listen to my two podcasts would be like.  When all was said and done…I could hear Crow and Coyote snickering about how foolish I felt after that (and still do).

There Was a Lot More Too…

U BAR U Retreat Center - in the fogBeing out by the fire with a group of dedicated Pagans looking to raise some energy for a cheerful purpose was absolutely amazing stuff!  To put it into perspective for me, DFW Pagan Pride Day in 2013 was simply amazing stuff. It paled in comparison to what happened during this Imbolc Retreat. There were several good roundtable discussions (one of which was an excellent presentation on looking forward into the near future of Paganism given by John), and lots of good feedback from folks in the audience. An overwhelming thematic throughout proved to be that of hospitality, and of community. And I do have to say that our hosts were most hospitable people throughout, and are really amazing people. Chris and Amanda Godwin, I have known only online for the past two years, but it was super incredible to meet them and get some really nice warm hugs from them!!

Looking Backwards and Forwards…

Yeah, it took more than little coaxing to get me to go. And after all the apprehension on my part – I found that I had no reason to be apprehensive whatsoever. I have met so many people at this Retreat that I likely would never have connected with otherwise. And I feel completely enriched from having spent the time with them – and I hope the same can be said for them spending time with me.  LOL  If they hold this again next year…I am already making plans to be there…  I hope that doesn’t drive attendance down…  ;)~  But I did come away with one big takeaway that was specifically there for me…we’ve talked about making this podcast go.  Its past due the time to make it go.  And starting yesterday, this little boat of a podcast is moving forward, and I will not be the focus.  That will be the people who come aboard for an interview….  Its time to just do it.