Druid Work in the Dark

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a member of AODA recently, and one of the things that supposed to happen as a result is that I celebrate the Quarter Days and Cross-Quarter Days — Solstices, Equinoxes, and the four half-way points between them.

For their open list, I wrote the following accounts of the last few days in the dark, so they could read about the experiences.  It’s rather long, and went out to them in two parts — I’ve put it below the fold, so those of you who come for “teaching stuff” don’t feel you have to read:

THE FIRST E-MAIL:

Dear Friends,

It’s been interesting getting ready for tomorrow’s Samhain rite in the dark and cold. Last night it was about 40 degrees in the house, and 25 outside.

For those who don’t know, I live in the part of Connecticut slammed in the
weekend’s unseasonable snowstorm. The snow’s weight on the still-leafy branches took out trees and snapped power lines. Transformers and substations have blown out, but blocked roads prevent crews from reaching them. My hometown of Middletown, with its 31,000 people, has been in the dark since early Sunday morning.

Tonight, I and some neighbors ran buckets of candy from front porch to front porch, through the back yards, while parents trooped front door to front door along the sidewalks. We met children with cheery calls of “trick or treat” and lighted candes, and called out “beautiful costumes!” to kids we had already seen To be fair, the parents organized this. We just executed their plan from the shadows — an impromptu tech crew for a bit of street theater.

Tonight’s dinner was a couple of steaks and a few pork chops from the fridge hastily cooked over a backyard fire. It’s 52 degrees in the house, supposed to be 34 tonight outside.

There’s a generator running at the senior apartments across the street. My dad has a friend in another nursing home where the power and water is out. I see lights in the upper floors of an office tower in downtown, a block or two away. No other lights —  the university power station is offline at Wesleyan and classes are cancelled. Half the students have gone home. The others are buying junk food from rite aid to sustain them.

The power company crews say we’ll have power tonight when they drive by in their trucks. The robo-call from the same company says we won’t have power for a week or more.

The school where I teach is trying to make assignments available over the
Internet. We were closed today, will be closed tomorrow, maybe closed all week or more. I’ve sent my assignments by voicemail, text message, and email from my “smart phone”.

My dad has heat and light. So does my girlfriend. Both want me “safe” with them. Two people both a long way away in the dark.

The three closest grocery stores are mostly closed down. Day old bread sells for fresh prices. The soft produce and lettuce is gone. Beans, peas, carrots in cans can be had. Apples sure. Meat, veggies no. The gas stations can’t work their pumps. No electricity to pull the fuel from underground tanks.

The Druid in me invited close to thirty people to my house for potluck and
conversation and ritual. Two said yes formally. Five said yes informally. Six said maybe. Part of me wants to run away to the heat and light of ancient sunlight.

The Druid in me says, stay. Wait. Be here. Now. In the dark and the cold.
Welcome to winter. See what tomorrow brings.

THE SECOND E-MAIL:

November 1 was clear and cold, but I wasn’t at home. I finally did bug out and stayed with a friend. In the morning, I updated homework webpages for my school (gotta give the kiddies something to do, I guess, even in the “crisis” :-/ ).

I went to a grocery store that still had power, bought some hot food and one of those insulated bags to carry the food home. As I reached my hometown, Middletown, I saw that the traffic lights on Main Street were on, and the shops were open! Joy, electricity has returned.

Just two blocks off Main, though, where my house is, all was still dark. I set up dishes for the buffet supper I’d serve, and checked that I still had hot water (even if I had no heat or electricity). I put away what food I could, and ate a late lunch from my goods. At a nearby coffee house I checked the news. Of the 12 people or so I thought were coming, five had had the good graces to actually cancel.

Three showed up, all late. We wound up eating supper first, to take advantage of warm food in the candlelight. The other three were strangers to each other, and conversation was strained, a little. Candlelight makes it hard to read facial expressions, when it’s something you’re not used to. I’m thinking all future Druid events in my house will be candle-lit only, and leave the lights off, to get people used to this and more practiced.

We moved to the living room where I had the altar set up. We had a brief conversation about Druidry. I explained that in my mind, it wasn’t a religion, it was more like a set of intellectual, spiritual and physical practices designed to cultivate a certain mindset; the actual shape of the official religion mattered little. People were ok with that; one of my guests was… not derisive, but uncomfortable. Oh well.

We talked about 1712 and Primrose Hill, 1912 and AODA. The altar, instead of containing evergreens, had broken branches from three of my favorite trees in town — all dead now, due to the storm. I proclaimed peace to the quarters, and then we circled the elements. Two of my guests had never done this sort of ceremonial work before, and they were out of sorts about it. Oh well.

I named some ancestors of mine that mattered to me who’d died in the last year. We talked about some famous/important people in the dark who’ve died recently, like Steve Jobs. As a group of artists, designers and computer users, we talked about what he’d done to us, for us, and with us.

I then named the dead trees we had on the altar, and where in town they’d stood. The uncomfortable one piped up about her work on the Planning & Zoning board, and how our town (nicknamed “tree city”!) had no line item for tree planting or replacement. We discussed ways we could create a fund for private citizens to pay for the replacement of trees in town that have been destroyed, particularly on South Green and in other city parks and on our streets.

We moved on to the Hirlas Horn, which I described as the Cauldron of Cerridwen tonight — the cauldron that feeds the living, transforms the dead, and carries us through winter to be renewed. Three of us drank. One abstained.

We went for a walk afterward in the cold and dark. The sky was clear. We had a quarter-waxing moon, and Jupiter. We named the constellations we could see in the sky. Between the four of us, we were able to name most of the constellations visible, though most of the southern sky was obscured by the three towers in town with power.

We parted again outside my house — one back to her own house just down the street, the other two to a house 30 minutes away with power and heat, and me to my own bed in the dark. I bought extra blankets and quilts after the last winter power outage, and so I slept quite comfortably under eight layers and my own body heat.

I think my next tasks are going to be to figure out how to cook in these sorts of power outages, and how to replace the electric rheostat with a mechanical one that will keep the gas line running even in a power outage. They’re small changes, but clearly important ones in the short term.

This morning, it was about 50 in the bedroom, 39 degrees in the rest of the house, but still quite toasty under the blankets. Outside it’s supposed to be 50 degrees today, clear and relatively warm. There is still no power at work, no power at home. I’m writing this from a coffee house on Main Street where the lights and power are on. There’s a crowd of people drinking hot liquid, and talking about how to weather the next storm, and when this one’s aftermath will be over.

At other levels of awareness, part of me feels very weird about all this. I’m a Druid Candidate… I don’t feel like I’ve completed the work for my first year in Druidry. Should I be doing this, inviting people to my house, providing food and conversation and ritual, helping people find the third alternatives and welcome magic to their lives? It’s not even a study group, much less a grove! How dare I? Maybe this is why so many say “yes” and then back out at the last minute. Maybe it’s why weather events keep disrupting people’s plans to come. Maybe it’s the reason that we’re never able to perform the AODA rituals quite as written…

On other levels, though, it feels like this is important. The conversations before, during and after are bringing together strangers in town — architects and videographers, graphic designers and metal machinists, teachers like me, artists, university professors, journalists, small business owners, neighbors. It’s not the case that the rituals be perfect, nor that the ceremonies be rigorous, nor that the external machinery of the house work. What is important is the face-to-face communication, the presentation of symbol (oft without deep explanation), and the quiet change that occurs in silence and spoken word, candle light and the offering of the Cauldron of Cerridwen.

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