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Ár nDraíocht Féin
Three Cranes
Chaos Matrix

May 17th, 2016

10:25 am - Growing Up, Learning the Path
Before the twins were born, I wrote a bit about my "Changling Bane" plan, and I wanted to give a bit of an update.

The Changeling Banes are still doing their job, standing guard. We've moved to a new house, and the little figures came right along with the kids. It's funny: I let the kids choose their spirit themselves, and my daughter chose the older, bearded, male spirit, while my son chose the female spirit.

There's been a nifty change, though, in the way that the kids interact with them, just in the past week or two: now, the kids understand that these figures are home to spirits that protect them.

My kids love the movie "Song of the Sea," but it turns out that the owls in the flim are a bit scary for them at their current, tender age of two-and-a-half. We were having some trouble putting them to sleep, so my wife showed them the spirits who were still in their window (and who have been with them since they were taken out of the delivery room), and told them about how the spirits were there to protect them.

Now, my daughter has to give her spirit a hug and a kiss each night, just like she gives to me, and then her spirit goes back up into the window to guard the room. My son asks for his spirit to sleep with him, and he clutches her all night, and occasionally converses with her in the dark, and I have to hug and kiss both him and the spirit before bed.

It's amazing, the kinds of little things that we don't really expect to have a lasting impression, but do.

I mostly made these Changeling Banes for my own piece of mind, to control the uncontrolable, to keep curious things out in the world full of spirits that I live in. My half-rational, half-religious mind is split down the middle on their function: I have a deep belief that the Spirits are there for me and my psychological well-being, and also a deep belief that they're protecting the kids from things that might go "bump" in the night ("Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Leggity Beasties," if you will). It's a strange place, but I'm in love with the fact that the kids have given these little spirit figures a real, deep life my rational mind resists giving them... and that makes their reality all that much more deep for me, too.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: goodgood
Current Music: "Off To See the Lizard", -JB

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November 9th, 2015

11:48 am - Answers are the easy part: Questions raise the doubt
TL;DR: The kinds of questions we field about Druidry can tell us a lot about how our values differ from the broader contexts of other, mainstream religions. Here's what I discovered.

Last week, I was privileged to speak to a number of high school students in an alternative humanities program here in Columbus, on the topic of Druidry. I gather that they get to write response papers to my presentation, but something struck me today as I was thinking about the experience: I sort of want to write a response to the experience of speaking to them.

One of the interesting things about this particular group of kids is that they always come with good, high quality questions. I've been coming to speak to them for about six years (since 2009, though one year my slot got snowed out), and it's always been fun.

This year was no different in the fun department, but I did lead a basic Two Powers meditation for the class this time, which I had not done before. Typically, this class hears from a number of speakers and has a number of experiences with non-mainstream religions as part of their world religions section. Very often, those presentations inform the sorts of questions I receive.

Thinking about the questions that they asked (on the afterlife, on what a ritual is like and why we do those things, on an example of "working" magic, and on how we strive for "perfection"), I began to look at them in the broader religious and spiritual context that these questions represented. What I realized is that Druidry is very different from a lot of other religions, in its basic premise: we are far more concerned with how we act in relation to others and the cosmos than other religions are.

Most religions are, on balance, interested in the self. The assumptions made about where they're coming from and where they're going are very different. Other religions place emphasis on things like:

  • These are the things I have to do or believe for me to get to X kind of afterlife, or to ensure that I'll see my loved ones when I get there.

  • There's an external sort of thing to strive for, a "perfection" we might wish to achieve, or an escape from the state that is this world.

  • Things are best divided, between spiritual and physical, between sacred and profane, between self and other.

These sorts of ideas aren't as important in Druidry. We don't start from these kinds of places, and we don't ask these sorts of questions, mostly.

Instead, we focus almost exclusively on our relationships in this life:

  • How do my actions affect the cosmos? How do we affect the world we live in?

  • What is the affect of my actions on others? Is this behavior ethical, given all that I know about how the world can and should work?

  • It's okay to make mistakes: the important thing is to take ownership of them.

  • The functional divide between that which is "spiritual" and that which is "physical" is hardly important: both the physical and the spiritual are equally important in our lives. Indeed, both of them have equal value in our lives.

  • Do what works for you, not what someone tells you will work; your quirks might form an interesting and powerful relationship.

Part of this is knowing that right action is vitally important to the way the cosmos maintains itself. Part of this is know that we don't know anything about the afterlife, and we can't (though we can make some educated guesses). Part of it, too, is a healthy dose of "I can make my own decisions."

But a lot of it is being aware that others are not a vehicle to our own benefit. We are, instead, in this together, and entering into relationships with one another. As humans, we're engaged in a broader web, one we may not always understand, but which we clearly feel that we gain from and give back to. We only gain when others gain. We don't have to improve our lives at the expense of others: we can best improve them when we bring others with us.

A lot of that has to do with offering help where we can, being kind to others, and being open to the possibility of a *Ghos-ti- relationship (indeed, it is important to take the first step in forming a relationship even when there is not one). This seems to be important on both a local scale, and on a broader cosmic scale. Doing so, we think, will improve and enrich our lives in ways that it is often hard to describe, but easy to relate to.

Other religions are often concerned with these things as well: kindness is not rare as a virtue among religions, for example. Yet it seems that the focus on creating relationships because they improve the cosmos instead of the self seems to be something strange and out of step, particularly with mainstream religions and the culture that they provide. . . and the questions about our religion that they seem to raise most often.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: goodgood
Current Music: "Off To See the Lizard", -JB

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October 14th, 2015

10:56 am - Druidry, as a "thing explained."
Today, I stumbled onto the XKCD Thing Explainer "Word Checker" and decided to try and write a description of Druidry using it. The Word Checker tells you when you're using a word that is not in the 1,000 most common words in English, and prompts you to figure out some other way to explain what you're talking about (check out the graphic that explains how a Saturn V rocket works done with this limitation).

With no real plan, I came up with this very simple description of Druidry. Hope you enjoy it:

I'd like to talk about the beliefs of the old "land across the sea" people. These are the people who were around before the now "land across the sea" people, and they did a lot of moving around, going from place to place until finally stopping at their now place, which is really more of a "then" place, since it was before now.

There were many groups of these people, each talking their own way and having their own ideas about who lives in the world beyond ours, just out of our reach. It is said that they went to fights without clothing, gave gifts to the people living in the world beyond ours, and gathered around fires and trees and things to be together.

Today, we do a lot of these things, sort of like they did them then. We gather on certain important days, do work with moon faces and part-faces, and remember the people living in the world beyond ours, and hope they hear us when we speak. We sing to the Earth Mother, Her children, the Spirits of Place, and our Mothers and Fathers.

We light a fire at the center of the world, and we give gifts to the spirits around it. We hope they will come to visit us there, as we speak to them, and hope that our work will help keep the world working, and ordered.

Even though we have moved across the sea to be where we are now, we remember where we came from, and bring it with us to this place we now live.

It was an interesting exercise. I'd do it again.

Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: "Lucky Stars", -JB

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June 27th, 2015

07:33 am - Equality and Joy: revising yesterday's prayer just a bit

I heard the news yesterday that the SCOTUS had, in a 5-4 decision, approved same-sex marriage nationwide.

And I heard it early enough that I got to tell a few people about it first. That was pretty awesome.

I was down at ComFest, which meant limited access to keyboards and internet, but I managed to get this prayer up onto Tumblr:

Kindreds, Spirits all:
We have persevered.
In joy, we sing out for love!
May all our voices be bright together
As we sing praises to Justice,
To Joy, and to Liberty!

I wanted to write more, and I thought my words completely failed when I wrote it, but looking back, it is not really half-bad as a prayer. Still, I wanted to give it another shot, today. So:

I sing praise first to Love,
You, who is greater than Heaven and Earth,
You have brightened our lives this day.
You, who is greater than all that lives,
And who was here before all else.
We are one people before your might,
Raised up, healed, and overflowing with you!

I sing praise next to Joy,
Whose voice has filled my heart,
Singing out from my lips!
The folk join together, hand in hand,
Brightened by the rising star of Love.
May we never forget you, Joy,
Especially as we share you with others!

I sing praise next to Liberty,
You, who have fought so hard to be heard.
We see you persevere through bigotry,
Your march steady, conquering,
And full of faith to the last.
May we never forget this day
Where your shining light touched us all!

I sing praise finally to Justice,
You have been well served today.
We have seen what your hand can do,
Righting the scales of those crushed
Beneath the heel of fundamentalism.
Know we heed your call this day,
And your triumph here brings new challenges.

That's about what the prayer would have looked like with a full keyboard and a decent internet connection. It's what I thought as I stood there in our tent, stunned with joy and love.

Love has won, but there is still work to do on this front. Let us not forget that discrimination is still allowed in this country based on sexual orientation.

This fight is not just about love; it is also about human dignity.

We keep fighting.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: ecstaticecstatic
Current Music: "If I Could Just Get It On Paper", -JB

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June 25th, 2015

12:02 pm - On Flags and "Distraction"
So, lemme get this straight: you believe we're being "distracted" from "real stories" about "the government" and "corporations" by "the media" with "things that don't matter". . .

If that's true, I have news for you:

  1. If the media, whose biggest scoop is whistleblowing on the government and corporations; and corporations, who hate to be controlled by the government and can't stand journalists; and government, who hates "gotcha journalism" and breaks monopolies, are all in bed together. . . does it really matter what they're covering up? Your Facebook posts aren't going to dent that armor.

  2. Black lives matter.

Now, I haven't arragned these in any particular order. It just so happens that Point 1 provides a nice springboard for Point 2.

Let's start with Point 1. This isn't the first time I've seen this: apparently, we're distracted by a lot of things, according to a few of my friendly conspiracy nuts (I mean that in the nicest possible way; think of it as an endearment): the media distracts us from
BigGovermentThingX and/or BigCorporateThingY with InsignificantThingZ all the time. News of the Pluto exploration mission (New Horizons, launched nearly a decade ago) is designed to distract us from fracking. News of the divorce of some big celebrity provides a smoke screen for government surveillance. News of the Sony hack distracts us from CIA torture camps in Afghanistan.

And news about a little orange flag on the SC capitol grounds distracts us from the TPP, pyramids on Ceres that were built by aliens, or ISIS going on the offensive now. This brings us to Point 2.

I have to be honest, a lot of my friends (a lot of my white, privileged friends) have a lot to say about how this controversy over the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is "just a distraction." It's not. The killing of black kids by police isn't a "distraction." The fact that this flag was brandished by a white kid before he killed nine black people in a church is not a "distraction."

It sounds like a distraction to you, because you feel it is unimportant. Let that sink in for a moment: you think that a person using the old "Stars and Bars" as a symbol of hate is isolated, "improper," and at the end of the day, unimportant. That's what you're saying when you call it a "distraction."

The worst form of this is the open-ended, "More about this silly flag. What else might they be distracting us from?" This line says to me: "I'm so uninformed, I cannot find a single thing that is worth caring about less than the way minorities feel about this flag."

I know, you didn't choose to see it as "unimportant." You think the issue is different, that there's something else going on than racism here. You might even think that it's "reverse racism" (note the quotes: that's because we're using a made-up phrase; sorry, but that's true). You might feel that the flag in question is "misrepresented," but your feelings are born of your ideas about the flag, and doesn't take into account anyone else's perceptions (which, of course, means you must be right).

Your "distractions," when your cute little conspiracy nut head gets ahold of them, are expressions of how you interact with institutional racism. And in your privilege, you say it doesn't matter.

But it does matter. To all of us. And you're in the wrong on this one.

Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: awake
Current Music: 'When the Coast Is Clear", -JB

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April 3rd, 2015

11:11 am - The Power of the Winds
So, we had a couple of people in the shop, and a lovely young lady comes in. I saw her walking around the corner and looking up at the shop, and she comes in. And we greet her in the usual way we do, "Hi, welcome, let us know if you're looking for anything in particular, we make most of our stuff, etc. etc."

And she says it's been a long, rough day. See, she's been going door to door telling people about the wonders of wind power.

Now, I've been in the store for a bit already, so I've been talking to people and having the kinds of conversations we often have, and we start engaging in small talk about wind power and how neat it is and all this stuff.

And about 3 minutes into the conversation, I realize that she's going door to door for a utility company, *not* describing the power of the North Wind as it relates to the power of the East Wind, or the directionality of wind in general.

And I feel really, really silly.

But here's the best part: she didn't really seem to notice that she was talking physics and renewable energy, and I was talking metaphysics and energy direction.

I very often love working at the Shop.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: "Woman Goin' Crazy on Caroline Street", -JB

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August 2nd, 2014

03:11 pm - Raising children via constructed mythic drama
Over the last several months, I've been doing what most people do when they have kids: obsessing a little bit over whether or not I'm "doing it right," realizing it doesn't matter, and then obsessing a bit again.

One thing that I have found, though, is that there is a standard by which I can judge my own work, and as a result, also a template I can copy. I have a story created by photos and anecdotes that provide me with information about how I can raise these kids appropriately, and get them to turn out "right." Or, I guess, at least like I did.

A sort of "mythic drama," if you will.

Engaging in mythic drama, to me, is the act of taking stories or actions and repeating them because either

  1. They have been memorized and you unconsciously follow the directions they provide, like understanding the world in relation to myths, ritualized actions, or even song lyrics.
  2. Finding maps and clues about ways to accomplish things you have no context for by creating a story out of thin air, and diving into it wholeheartedly.

What I realized is that I have many of the photos, and I learn more anecdotes all the time, that detail how I was raised, and the things we did. And in having access to them, I have access to a sort of myth about how I became the person I am today.

One of the first things I looked to was a particular photo of my dad feeding me. Fortunately, it was dated, so I know when it took place: two days short of my two month birthday.

Dad and Me

I set it up with my wife to match the photo. It was a sort of silly thing: posing with my kids just like that original photo. But creating and engaging in mythic drama is not about being serious or even necessarily having belief. It is, instead, about understanding (either consciously or unconsciously) what has been done before and respecting it as a useful and joyful experience.

And so, when my twins were two days shy of their two month birthday, I sat down and we took some photos.

Amelia Ann | Leo Colin 

It made me feel better, like I was doing the right thing, that I was a good dad. More than that, it actually made me into a good dad, because to me, this is a picture good dads take with their kids. The proof is irrefutable: my dad did it, right?

The process of "making myself into a good dad" is not an easy one. There aren't textbooks or qualified experts (contrary to the belief you might form if you look at all the parenting books in the bookstore). All you can do is what you know is right. (Of course, I also had some help and a bear hunt)

But I'm getting there, and every little thing that makes me feel like I've "made it" is huge to me.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
Current Music: "Little Miss Magic", -JB

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May 15th, 2014

10:25 am - An alphabet of uncommon (but fun to say) words
I'm tired of "A is for Apple" and similar things. So here's a better, less common alphabet that I'll be reciting to my kids.

A is for "Aglet," the tip of shoe's lace,
B is for "Bulbous," the nose on your face.
C is for "Clockwork," the gears that go 'round,
D is for "Differ," unlike those you've found.
E is for "Equal," the way we all are,
F is for "Fragment," a piece or a shard.
G is for "Gremlin," breaks planes in the sky,
H is for "Hoodwink," a trick of the eye.
I is for "Irksome," annoying as heck,
J is for "Junction," that helps us connect.
K is for "Kindle," the fire's brithright,
L is for "Levin," electrical light.
M is for "Mulish," stubborn and set,
N is for "Nexus," where all things have met.
O is for "Omen," the portents we seek,
P is for "Pippin," the apple we eat.
Q is for "Queuing," to stand in a line,
R is for "Rondel," was pairing the rhyme.
S is for "Scraggly," a raggedy guy,
T is for "Tittle," the dot on an "i."
U is for "Ullage," got lost on the sea,
V is for "Vatic," like much prophecy.
W is for "Wyvern," a dragon of sort,
X is for "Xiphoid," shaped up like a sword.
Y is for "Yonder," like some far away land,
Z is for "Zarf," protecting your hand!
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: "Blowin' In the Wind", -JB

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May 14th, 2014

12:09 pm - Eight sort-of-odd things having kids in 2013/2014 means that you probably haven't thought about
Having just had twins (a boy and a girl, as most of my readers know), I got to thinking about the ways the world is going to be different for them, and the sorts of things that will be radically different for them than they were for me. And this is what I came up with:

1) They will never understand the "white noise" signal on a TV thanks to High Definition TV. Also, dial tones and ring-backs are no longer real.

We no longer get static or snow: now, your signal is either there or it isn't. It really hit me when I was thinking about all the classic horror movies that will be the only experience they get to have with this phenomenon.

Sure, you can still get a dial tone on some phones that are hard-wired in, but how long that tone will be available is hard to tell. Already, it's nearly completely disappeared from most of our daily lives (I no longer own or use a phone, even at work, that has a dial tone). Ring-backs are also almost entirely fake: when you hear a ring when you call someone, that doesn't mean that their phone is actually ringing. It's entirely possible that the false-ringbacks will start to fade entirely from phones as well as we grow more comfortable with the notion that we don't actually need that signal.

2) The act of being "good with computers" is more complicated because technology is so darn easy.

Now, it's really easy to get technology to do what you want it to: it takes so little skill to engage in electronic media that literally everyone can do it. . . but most people can't do it well. People can get jobs as system administrators without ever administering a system these days, and it's easier than ever to cover up a lack of technical skill. I fear that the "easy way" in technology will be so tempting my kids won't even bother with the more complicated aspects that can so deeply enrich (and improve) their experiences.

3) Thor and Loki will forever be at least as much superheros as gods to them.

I don't mind this one that much, really, but when you think about the ways people interact with mythology, and add to this that there are two more Avengers movies and another Thor movie due out, it's going to be hard to teach these kids about Norse myth and have them separate out their impressions. I'm really interested to see how this affects the way they view the myth and stories I tell them as they grow up.

4) Spoken and written communication are no longer the best way to get your point across. And methods for written communication have changed dramatically.

We love to think back on the old 5-paragraph essay. Ah, yes: intro, points 1-3, and conclusion. Simple, efficient, and elegant. But people no longer communicate in that manner.

A large block of text (for example, a paragraph) gets a TL;DR moniker ("Too Long; Didn't Read). Note the paragraphs here: they're short, maybe three sentences long at their peak for the most part, and they're probably too long already. Complex thoughts have to be delivered in shorter bites, and one-sentence paragraphs are pretty normal: just read an NPR story sometime.

More important is this: an article on a topic is nowhere near as useful as a graphic, video, or even a gif. If you want to get your message out, it's got to be concise, and it has to catch your eye when you scroll past it. If you can't consume it and grasp it in 3 seconds, you've designed it poorly and it won't go anywhere; if you're really good, you can get the consumer of your message to get to your secondary content: the article you actually want them to read.

5) Teaching kids about sex is going to be very different.

There are two categories here that I'm thinking of, in particular:

A) Teaching kids "not to rape" is a big thing, and rightfully so, and our kids are of that pinnacle generation where this will be taught. I hope it makes a difference. Teaching this to both a boy and a girl who are the same age is going to be an interesting exercise, for me, as it will involve teaching them about this in different ways based on our society.

B) Teaching kids how to properly handle another person's sexually explicit selfies is another thing we're not talking about nearly as much, but is also important. Right now my cardinal rules are, "Don't ever share them or keep them in an accessible place, and as soon as you no longer want them, delete them!" I suspect I'll also have to teach them about responsible sharing of their own sexually explicit selfies, too.

6) Music is a fundamentally different experience.

The way we consumed music as kids, dating back to "just about everyone," was pretty straightforward: you could purchase an album, you could make a mixed tape, and you could listen to the radio play things without your input. Today, while albums are still created and radios still play pre-determined mixes, there's much less of a need to consume songs you don't like, or are not familiar with: you can buy just one song if you want.

I hope this doesn't lead to a reduced "musical diversity" or narrower tastes, but I suspect that most kids just "get that song I like" rather than buying/consuming a multitude of songs they aren't sure of. You can define your tastes in music now and never hear any music outside that genre.

7) Critical thinking and source-vetting are more important than ever.

Related to point 4 above, where I mentioned that "consume it in 3 seconds or it's not effective," consider just how easy it is to create terrible information and give it "authenticity" in that short period of time.

"I saw a graphic about X on Facebook, it must be true!" It really isn't enough tell kids what is right, to fill their heads with facts and figures. The problem is that it's so darn easy to deceive, and we're getting better at it all the time. I need to show my kids how to determine if there's a source for something, and if there isn't, how to determine if the information is real.

I've picked this skill up over years of being introduced to internet hoax after internet hoax, slowly, but my Facebook feed (and holy cow, my Tumblr dash) is covered in crackpot ideas about fluoridation, vaccines causing autism, bad history, and a variety of other oddities. Just yesterday, I saw a graphic about how we somehow paid for everything until the Income Tax was established in the Constitution (1913) without any issues and implying that there were no taxes at all. . . conveniently ignoring the fact that we levied income taxes to pay for the Civil War and have had sales/excise taxes since the beginning of the country. Teaching someone how to determine something is fishy, and then how to find information on it (which may not exist) and then be polite about pointing out its flaws. . . I have no idea how to do that yet.

8) Ben Afleck will be their Batman.

Sure, there could be another one that comes along, just like Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale replaced Adam West for our generation. Then again, looking at that list in hindsight, maybe time and change won't result in a better Batman for a long while.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: optimisticoptimistic
Current Music: "One Particular Harbor", -JB

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January 31st, 2014

04:24 pm - Building Resources for the Solitary Pagan
One of the things I've learned by exploring the Pagan tag on Tumblr is that it's still remarkably hard for a young Pagan to figure out what he or she should be doing: rites seem complicated, finding good teachers is really difficult, and there's a veritable crapload of crap out there for you to get mixed up in.

Part of what I've been doing as a result of this very interesting revelation (let me be honest: I just thought it was so much easier today to figure this stuff out, what with all the interets and things floating about. . . turns out it's not) is creating content that fills that need. There's so much terrible content out there, and no one with any sense seems to have a web presence to speak of, so someone has to fill that gap.

I don't know how I'm doing, but I do know I am doing. It doesn't hurt that I can do these things when I'm taking care of babies so they don't require any actual "spare" time.

The biggest thing that I see is people not being sure "how" to celebrate a feast. There's a lot of call for ritual scripts, but as I mentioned above, they can be daunting. The aim I have is to make honoring the seasons so darn easy that there are no excuses to miss a High Day. So I've come up with this "5 Things" bit, and tailored it to solitary Pagans (in general, not just Druids).

My first one was for Samhain, and it was one of those "off the cuff" sort of things that started snowballing this process. (Click the graphics for larger.)

With Yule, I decided to get the graphic out the door a bit earlier, which turned out to be a great idea. I had some difficulty fitting everything I wanted to get onto the graphic and still make it readable, but it worked out in the end:

I have learned that you have to get these sorts of things out well in advance of the High Day. I almost missed that with Imbolc, but I did get the picture out the door:

One of the most interesting things about running a Pagan store is that you have to cater to absolutely everyone: not doing so will send you under pretty quickly. This means that sometimes, stuff I might want to make really Druid-specific gets sort of. . . spread thin on the Druidry and heaped with broader acceptance.

In other words, saying (true) things like, "If a holiday has '-mas' at the end, you're probably celebrating a Christian holiday," is less helpful than saying "sometimes, people call Imbolc Candlemas." In a lot of ways, it's an exercise in getting over yourself to do stuff like this.

In the end, this all works out: it provides information to a much wider audience, and gets more people doing what I'd call "Druid-like stuff." I love that fact.

These sorts of things have been really popular on social media. The prayers I mentioned a few posts ago have also done quite well, based on the same principles.

I started with this High Day making these sorts of graphics for my Grove, as well, which starts to border on doing ADF-branded versions of these, which I've been told I don't have approval to do, but I wish I could do some broader, ADF-specific ones that ADF could then share on their many social media sites. It's not too much work to just create one more, and I'd love to do it. Ah, well: them's the breaks, I guess.

In the end, I do hope to turn the prayers and ritual items (and maybe some of the spell cards. . . though that's a different post) into a full-color book. I think it would be a load of fun.
Current Location: Southeast of Disorder
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: "Perfect Partner", -JB

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