I've been stuck on this essay for a while, so I'm drafting some thoughts here, based on questions from Michael Dangler's 'Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year' book. I haven't been following this book slavishly, but I find some of the exercises helpful for drafting. So here we go: personal religion, ADF, and me...
The ADF Dedicant Path rubric requests an essay that should contain "A brief account of the efforts of the Dedicant to develop and explore a personal (or Grove-centred) spiritual practice, drawn from a specific culture or combination of cultures."
First, I should note that, until recently when I moved away, my grove-based practice was centred around an OBOD grove. This meant that, in practice, I was doing very different things with my grove from my solitary practice. OBOD groves are not usually focused on one pantheon, although in Britain they tend to work mainly with Brythonic, Welsh and Irish deities, as gods of the local land. My grove celebrated various deities at different times of the year - the Cailleach at Samhain and Brighid at Imbolc, for example. However, most of my grove's practice was not deity-focused, but instead was very land-focused, working with the seasons and their manifestation in the local landscape. Essentially, our focus as a grove was on the land spirits. As a result, I was able to work quite separately with my grove vs my hearth culture, as there was no real contradiction between pantheons, and the spiritual focus of each was different. In contrast, my personal practice is polytheistic, focused on a Gaelic hearth culture.
Some pictures of my hearth shrine, as it has developed over the past year during my Dedicant Path studies:
Currently I have a primary hearth shrine, where the ADF symbols of Fire, Well and Tree are represented, and where several deities are also represented. I also have some individual shrines to some deities, including a shrine to Brighid in the kitchen, as the modern equivalent of the central hearth. Each morning I light a candle at the shrine and say a prayer, modified, from the Carmina Gadelica, along with the Genealogy of Brighid and other prayers to Brighid as hearth goddess. The original prayer reads:
I will kindle my fire this morning
In presence of the holy angels of heaven,
In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form,
In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.
God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbour,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,
O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
I have modified the prayer for Pagan use, based on material by the Gaelic reconstructionist group Gaol Naofa. I will not reproduce their version of the prayer in this essay, for copyright reasons, but it replaces the references to the angels and Mary with references to the land spirits and the gods, and it modernises many of the other references. I have developed my own version of this prayer, also referencing my ancestors and the specific gods that I honour. On days when I am short on time, this 'kindling of the hearth' and prayer may be my only devotional act, but I try to ensure that I always at least do that. I also say 'smooring' prayers to various deities in the evening at this hearth shrine. On mornings where I have more time, at least three times a week, I also spend about half an hour at the main shrine, located in my office, giving offerings using an ADF-based framework which includes acknowledging the Fire, Well and Tree, asking a Gatekeeper to open the Gates, and - most importantly - making offerings to the gods and spirits.
During these nearly-daily rituals, prayers said at my shrine will include modified prayers from the Carmina Gadelica and prayers that I have written myself. I have a prayer shawl, made for me by a friend who belongs to the UK's Druid Network, which I only wear at my main shrine and which I often use to cover my head, to acknowledge the power and worthiness of the gods of my household. I am not particularly good at meditation, but these short rituals are often followed by visualizations and seership work involving the gods to whom I have made offerings. The five months of 'mental training' that is required as part of the Dedicant Path have proved very helpful here - this seership work has become a much more regular part of my shrine rituals, and has led to closer interactions with many of my household deities.
I use ADF's core symbols in different ways. I find the Fire/Well/Tree symbols very powerful, and they are represented on my main shrine. I think of them in relation to the Three Realms, land, sea and sky, which is the key triad around which my spirituality is based. I am less comfortable with the ADF concept of the Three Worlds, which feels more Norse than Celtic, and I am not able to relate to the 'world tree' as part of this. Neither do I visualise Three Gates - instead, when calling on a Gatekeeper, I use a Gaelic image of 'raising the mists', rather than using a specific gate metaphor. It is important to me that my symbology, while rooted in ADF, is also coherent in relation to Gaelic mythology and Gaelic reconstructionist practice. I have considered all of ADF's core symbolism and tried it out, attempting to relate it to my Gaelic hearth culture, and I have kept the symbols and metaphors that are a good fit with that hearth culture.
Michael Dangler's book asks how Dedicants have chosen their hearth culture. For me, this did not really feel like a choice - it was fairly inevitable. I have considered my practice Gaelic reconstructionist-influenced since well before I joined ADF. My family is from Cork, in the west of Ireland, and I grew up familiar with that area's landscape, myths and, later, its gods. About three years ago, I began honouring several gods with whom I had previously had interactions, and that number has grown to about seven deities that I honour on a daily basis, as well as others who are honoured on appropriate seasonal occasions. Currently, my household gods are Brighid (as primary hearth goddess), Manannan mac Lir, Macha, the Morrigan, and Cailleach Bhearra (who is not the same as the 'Cailleach archetype' that is often referred to as 'the Cailleach'). I also have a student-patron* relationship with Ogma, as a god of words and scholarship. I also honour Lugh, who has a small separate shrine. I am not sure how permanent some of these relationships will be. For example, the Morrigan is primarily 'active' for me during the times around Samhain and Beltane, but not very present on other occasions. It may become the case that I honour her seasonally, rather than daily. Manannan mac Lir was the first deity with whom I had any interaction, and my relationship with him is a kind of 'mentoring' one. In contrast, I have a closer and more constant relationship with Bhearra, as a goddess of my ancestors.
Since joining ADF, I have also made a particular effort to work with local deities of the land. When I live in Nottingham, I worked with Trisantona, goddess of the River Trent, as the local land goddess (possibly equivalent to ADF's concept of the Earth Mother in this area). Discovering her name involved doing some historical research and developing some UPG based on seership work. I gave her offerings at the river on several occasions, and regularly honoured her from my shrine to the spirits of land, sea and sky. I have now moved to London, and I am working on developing relationships with the deities of my local rivers and streams - Dollis Brook, the Silk Stream, and the larger river, the Brent. There is some evidence that the Brent may be named for Brigantia. I intend to do some ongoing work at the Brent to find out whether this is the case (in my UPG), and how I can best honour her and the spirits of the other local rivers.
My personal religion also involves honouring the ancestors and working with local land spirits and aes sidhe, but I discuss these practices in other essays. I have an ancestor shrine, and a small separate shrine to the spirits of land, sea and sky.
I never undertook a First Oath during my Dedicant Path, as it did not seem right for me to do. However, I have taken other oaths this year, solemnizing my relationships with several deities. At the end of the Dedicant Path, my Dedicant Oath will involve me solemnizing my membership of ADF and my commitment to this path, with my household deities invited to observe and (hopefully) approve the oath.
The essay rubric hints at the need to discuss the way that my religion has developed since joining ADF and beginning the Dedicant Path. Primarily, it has become more of a constant in my life. My offerings are more regular and I am more committed to my Pagan path than I was before. I observe every High Day with a full ADF ritual, which has allowed me to develop a stronger relationship with my local landscape, its seasonal changes, and deities of the land. I have recently been working with High Day rituals that have been written by another Gaelic reconstructionist member of ADF, who has been kind enough to share them with the rest of the membership - these have slightly modified the ADF ritual framework so that it fits better with Gaelic reconstructionist approaches. I hope to be able to write my own, similarly Gaelic-influenced rituals when I have worked with those of more experienced members for a while. I have also found that the Dedicant Path has supported me in my worship of my gods, since a Gaelic hearth culture fits very well with the ADF structure. Again, the structure needs slight modification to fit with the reconstructionist approach. However, when it comes to Gaelic reconstructionism, the modifications can be small, because of the strong Indo-European scholarship and symbolism behind ADF's rituals, which have also informed Gaelic reconstructionism.
*I do not use the term 'patron' in the same way as ADF. I do not relate well to the modern Pagan concept of patron deities. I use the term instead to describe the relationship between a deity of an occupation, and someone who follows that occupation. I see it as student-mentor type of deity relationship. Instead of talking about patrons in the neopagan way, I talk about 'household gods'. This seems to fit better with a Gaelic, hearth-focused personal religion.