12 SEVEN STEPS TO A NEW WAY OF LIVING

DEDICATION RITE

When making any long term change in your life it can help
to begin by formally dedicating yourself to the work. This is true for almost any
change: beginning a diet, giving up a bad habit, or learning a new language or
skill. It is true also for those who would develop an intentional Pagan lifestyle.
We have discussed how Hal Sidu demands action, so why not take action right
now? If you would like to make changes in your life to integrate Body, Mind and
Spirit, read over the following description of the Dedication Rite and then
perform the ritual yourself.

Of course this assumes that you are in or near some private place where you can
perform a rite without attracting undue attention. If you are reading this at the
public library or while riding a city bus, you should probably wait for a more
opportune time. Otherwise, if you have reasonable pri-vacy, what are you
waiting for? You may not know yet exactly how you want to practice Hal Sidu,
but you can take this initial action, dedicating yourself to the work, nevertheless.
Think of it as your first step towards a new way of living.
The rite is short and simple, and requires minimal equip-ment. All you need is a
candle and something to give as an offering, which can be incense, wine or mead
to pour as a libation, or almost anything else that seems appropriate to you. The
candle can be paraffin or beeswax, and can be any color you happen to have
readily available.

Of course you may tweak or expand the Dedication Rite to suit your spiritual
needs. If you have a personal relationship with a particular deity, you might
place a statue or symbol of that deity next to the candle. If you are Wiccan, you
might want to cast a circle as a part of the rite. Your choice of an offering will
likely be influenced by your spiritual orientation. As a Saxon Pagan, my first likely be influenced by your spiritual orientation. As a Saxon Pagan, my first choice would be to pour a libation of mead. A Roman Pagan might instead offer
a libation of olive oil, while a Greek Pagan might choose to burn sweet herbs on
a charcoal disk.

The wording of the rite may also be altered to reflect your needs and spiritual
orientation. What is given here should be taken as a suggestion; it is not a
magical formula.

Set your candle and anything else you might need on your myse, or working
surface. If you have been Pagan for very long this will very likely be your
household altar. If you do not have an altar or other consecrated working
surface, any clean, level surface will suffice. For now, at least. Later in this
chapter we will discuss why it is important to have sacred space—an altar, by
whatever name you call it—at some place in your home.

Take a few slow, deep breaths to relax and prepare yourself mentally. Then light
the candle as you say: “Spirits who live in this place, Ancestors who have
brought me to this place, Gods and Goddesses who bless this place, know that
you are remembered and bear witness to this rite.”

Again, take a few slow, deep breaths. Try to feel the pres-ence of the spirits
around you. It does not matter whether you feel, see or hear anything. Very often
the adage “no news is good news” holds true when interacting with the spirit
world. Our contemporary Pagan culture tends to overemphasize magic, and I
have known some people who felt there was something wrong because they
were not receiving vivid psychic impressions whenever they paused to listen for
their gods, their ancestors or local spirits. However this was more likely because
they were doing fine; there was no reason for spirits to advise or admonish them.
You may or may not receive any impressions, but give the spirits the opportunity
to respond before proceeding.

Now give your offering. You may use an offering bowl if you are holding the Now give your offering. You may use an offering bowl if you are holding the rite indoors and have a libation or a food offering. Such an offering should be
poured or placed on the earth at the earliest opportunity after the conclusion of
the rite. Offerings of incense should be burned. After making the offering, say:

“Accept this offering, freely given with my love and respect.
I come before you and declare my intention to live more fully as a Pagan, to take
action each day that will attune me to the universe.
I ask for your guidance in my choices, that through my words and deeds I might
bring honor to the old gods, bring pride to my ancestors and bring beauty and
well being into the world around me.
Let my actions keep me mindful of the earth, from which I was born and to which
I will someday return.
So shall I thank you with joy and gratitude.”

Since you have asked for their guidance, a few more moments of silence while
you listen to the spirits is appropriate. Then end the rite by extinguishing the
candle and saying “So Mote It Be”, or “Ic bedde éow nu” or whatever you would
ordinarily say when concluding a rite. If you are new to Pagan ways and have
not yet chosen a path, “So Mote It Be” will do fine.

For many people who are new to Pagan ways, the variety of paths and practices
can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to know where you should even begin.
A few years ago I attended a presentation given by Ian Corrigan on developing a
personal Pagan practice. Corrigan is a former Arch-Druid of the international
Pagan organization Ár nDraíocht Féin.

Inspired by his ideas, I developed my own “seven step program” to help the new
Pagan get his or her bearings. The seven steps are not intended to lead you to
any particular Pagan path, but rather to help you find whatever path is right for any particular Pagan path, but rather to help you find whatever path is right for
you. Even if you were born into a Pagan family or chose a Pagan path years ago,
you may find something of value in these seven steps.

Step 1: Connecting with Spirit You have made at least one ephemeral connection
with Spirit already, assuming you have performed the Dedication Rite.
We connect with Spirit whenever we ask for guidance or bring gifts (offerings).
This first step is where people new to Pagan traditions can find themselves
bewildered by the seemingly endless possible paths to choose from. There are so
many gods and goddesses, from so many pantheons! Where does a person
begin? It may be that a deity has already connected with you.
People who have had this experience will often say, “She called me”, or, “He
tapped me on the shoulder”, but this is the exception rather than the rule. It is far
more likely that you will need to make the initial gesture. First you must decide which god or goddess you would like to make a connection with, and to
do this you should find a pantheon that feels comfortable to you.
A pantheon is a cultural “family” of gods and goddesses.

The Hellenic (Greek) pantheon includes the gods and goddesses of the
Dodekatheon: Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena and so on. The Saxon pantheon
includes Woden, Frige, Thunor and Eostre, among others. The Irish pantheon
includes deities such as Brigid and Manannán mac Lir. The gods and goddesses
within any given pantheon have well defined relationships with each other.
No one pantheon is better than another, so how do you decide? One thing to
consider is your own lineage. If you come from an Italian background, the
Roman pantheon might be a good choice. If your name is O’Reilly, the Irish
pantheon could be the right pantheon for you. Of course you are not constrained
by your background in any way, which is a good thing since very few of us in
America today are descended from a single cultural lineage.

 

If a particular pantheon just “feels right” to you, then by all means go with that
feeling. Maybe you were inspired by Greek mythology when you were in school.
Maybe the comic book version of Thor (who shares little other than his name with the real Thor) has kindled your interest in the Norse gods of Asgard. There
are infinite reasons why you might be drawn to a pantheon. Most of those
reasons may seem to be nothing more than random chance, but I have found that
random chance very often has some underlying purpose.

If neither your lineage nor your heart lead you to a path, go to your local library
and check out books on several mythologies. I dislike the word mythology
because of its secondary definition meaning something untrue. Myth is a Greek
word that simply means “story”, and mythologies are collections of ancient
stories explaining the order of the universe or a society’s ideals and customs.
With this in mind, look through the mythology books you have checked out and
familiarize yourself with them.

Then pick something.
When it comes to choosing a pantheon, as with all other things, take action. Do
not worry whether or not you have chosen the right pantheon, because there is
no right or wrong answer to this. Whichever pantheon appeals to you the most
right now is the best pantheon for you right now. Just as a tentative first date
could eventually lead to marriage, your initial choice of a pantheon may lead to a
lifetime commitment, but you can change pantheons later if you find that your
first choice was not the best choice for you.
After choosing a pantheon, your next action should be to decide on a god or
goddess to connect with. This choice usually depends on your own personal
interests, as you are more likely to establish a good connection with a deity who
shares those interests. A Kemetic (Egyptian) Pagan who has five cats and an
extensive collection of cat statuettes would do well to connect with the catheaded goddess Bast. A Saxon Pagan working in the field of law enforcement
might connect with Tiw, a god of order and justice. A Roman Pagan who
appreciates fine wines could establish an initial connection with Bacchus. But if
you find that a god or goddess in the pantheon just “feels right” to you, even if you are not sure why, go with the feeling.

Find a private, safe place where you can connect with the deity. This will
probably be at your household altar, if you have one, but the important thing is
that you find a location where you will be undisturbed. Bring a gift, an offering,
with you to establish a cycle of reciprocity with the deity. The choice of an
offering will depend on the pantheon and the deity. If you are unsure of what to
offer, mead (honey wine) is usually appreciated by most northern European
deities, while olive oil is usually appreciated by the gods and goddesses of
southern Europe. Other cultures have their own prefer-ences, but be sure to bring
something. Any gift is better than no gift at all!
If you are indoors, you will need an offering bowl. Pour a libation (liquid
offering) into the bowl as you address the deity. Afterwards, when it is
convenient, take the bowl out-side and pour the libation out directly onto the
earth. Solid offerings, especially food, may also be symbolically placed in the
offering bowl and then later set out on or buried in the earth.
Somebody once asked me why I should bother with an offering, since a god can
presumably obtain almost anything he desires. This is like belittling a handcrafted present that a child makes for a parent. Of course the parent could have
made or purchased something much nicer, but he or she will be delighted with
the gift nevertheless. It is the act of giving that is appreciated, and the worth of
the gift is directly proportionate to the effort put into it.

When you are ready to approach the deity and give your offering, the words
should be your own, coming from your heart rather than from the pages of a
book. First, greet the deity by name, give your offering and ask that it be
accepted. If you are indoors, pour or place the offering into your offering bowl.
If you are outdoors, place the offering directly onto the earth. The exception to
this is the offering that is burned; usually a pleasant incense. You can use
incense cones or sticks, but I think a personal blend of aromatic herbs is more
meaningful. These are burned in a censer over charcoal disks that can be
purchased at almost any new age or religious supply shop.

After giving your offering, introduce yourself and ask for the deity’s guidance and blessing. This is not the time to make any specific requests. Later on you
may ask for favors, after you have established a mutual relationship, but at this
point you are simply acknowledging a willingness to accept whatever blessings
the deity may offer.
Next comes the most important part—listening. Quiet yourself as much as
possible and be mindful of any impressions you may have. The response of the
god or goddess rarely manifests as an audible voice, although that can occasionally happen. You may have a fleeting vision, or smell an odor that evokes a
long forgotten memory. Or you may experience a “knowing”, a sudden
awareness of the deity’s pres-ence and message to you.
Or you may experience nothing at all.
Do not be discouraged if this is the case. You are not going to have a supernal
experience every time you reach out to the gods and spirits. In giving an offering
to the deity, you have taken an action and made a connection. If you still feel no reciprocal
connections after two or three more “visits”
with the deity, politely move on to another god or goddess.
There are many Pagans today who take a more scattered, eclectic approach to
connecting with Spirit, leaping from one pantheon to another, collecting
“patron” deities as if they were Hummel figurines. Imagine yourself walking
down a sidewalk in Manhattan, greeting everyone who you pass.
How deep is your relationship with these passersby? You are not investing a
significant amount of time with any individual person. You do not really know
any of them. In the same way, it can be difficult to develop truly meaningful
relationships with a dozen gods and goddesses gathered from unrelated
pantheons. I do not recommend this approach at all. If you want to become good
friends with somebody, you spend a lot of time with that person. You meet his or
her family and friends. Likewise, if you want a good relationship with a god or
goddess, you should devote a lot of time to that deity

Of course the gods are not the only manifestations of Spirit. You may also wish
to connect with your ancestral spirits, following a similar process of giving an to connect with your ancestral spirits, following a similar process of giving an
offering and then opening yourself to the blessings of your ancestors. By
ancestors I mean not only blood ancestors, but also those who have inspired you
in some way. In Saxon tradition, as with all Germanic paths, reverence for one’s
ancestors is very important. Indeed, ancestor reverence is an important aspect of
most Pagan traditions. Ancestral spirits have a vest-ed interest in you—you are
their heritage—and so they are more disposed to offer aid and counsel. Another connection to make is with the local spirits.
Depending on your spiritual focus, you may know these as faeries, elves,
nymphs, or by some other name. These spirits are your neighbors and, like
mortal neighbors, they can aid or hinder you. Thus it is to your benefit to foster
good relationships with them. If you practice Hal Sidu, you will almost certainly
find yourself interacting with your spirit neighbors.
When you engage in activities that touch the earth in some way—planting a
seed, trimming back an unruly bush, weed-ing the garden—remember to offer a
bit of cornmeal or wine to the local spirits. And then pause for a moment and
listen.
They might have something to share with you.
Whatever your approach—whether you are more comfortable approaching a
deity, or your ancestors or local entities—the first and most essential step
towards living as a Pagan is to connect in some way with Spirit.