Tag Archives: dedication

In the absence of friendship rituals

The only formal dedications we normally make to each other in rituals, are dedications of marriage. We have contracts to shape our working relationships, but we don’t celebrate those, and they can prove fleeting. We do not have rituals of friendship. We may welcome someone into a group by initiating them, but that doesn’t happen in most contexts.

Dedication between people in a non-romantic context is a vital thing, I think. Friendship that is invested in for the long term has a very different impact on your life from transient, superficial acquaintance. We may pick people up at need, put them down when they no longer have what we want. We move on, change jobs, take up a different hobby, and the friendly thing we had going on with a person around that does not endure, because we were never that invested in them anyway.

When is it the right time to say to someone ‘I intend on being your friend for as long as we both shall live’? In the absence of any kind of social framework supporting such a declaration, it can seem pretty weird. It may even feel creepy or threatening to the person on the receiving end, simply because it’s not what normally happens.

If all our dedication goes into our romantic relationships, that can leave us really vulnerable. It is harder to spot toxic relationships when you don’t have any others for comparison. It is harder to function socially and emotionally when you don’t have multiple people who you can count on to be in your life. Friendship is an intensely rewarding thing, and people who are only looking for romance miss out on a lot, and can feel incredibly alone when not in a romantic relationship. At the same time, if we make the romantic relationship the main goal, we can put a lot of pressure on our partners. If we only dedicate to this relationship, we require our partners to be all things in all ways for us, and that’s demanding and difficult to live up to.

There’s so much good that can come out of investing in each other for the long term. We have so much power to support each other and enrich each other’s lives.

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Experimentation or dedication?

As we go through life, we need space to change our minds and explore new directions. This is true of jobs, romantic attachments, friendships, politics, spirituality, where we live, how we live – everything. There is no magic formula to tell us how much we should experiment, or when we should dig in.

Experimentation brings the excitement of new experience and possibility. It may take us towards what we most need and desire. On the other hand, we may be so hooked on novelty that we can’t commit to anything. We may use changes of direction as a way of avoiding ever finishing anything or doing it properly. We may flit and skim, never making much of anything and never finding anything truly satisfying.

Dedication brings depth of insight, continuity and a feeling of rootedness. It can take courage and emotional investment to stay with anything for the long term, and because that asks more of us, it can also give us more. On the downside, dedication can become the empty repetition of habit, it can mean stasis, lack of inspiration. It may not offer real depth at all if we no longer have any passion for it but can’t be bothered to change.

I think it’s as well to have some areas of life that are open to experimentation, and some areas of life that offer stability. These might get swapped round over time, but feeling either that everything is still, or everything is in motion isn’t good.

I experimented once with a change of landscape and it taught me that I need to be on the edge of the Cotswolds, in sighting distance of the Severn. I need that to be a constant in my life. I need creativity to be a constant, but I also need there to be plenty of room for experiment there. Something similar happens with Druidry – it is a constant, but within it I am always exploring. I think dedication works best when it isn’t stasis, when you are involved in something that holds you but also allows you to grow and change within it.

It can take time and a lot of experimenting to find the things you want to dedicate to. My default position is not to judge anyone else over this. A private journey is only my business if it directly impacts on me. But I do wonder sometimes, when I see people who are presenting as experts, and who are suddenly experts in a new thing that’s more fashionable, or who had stopped being centre stage with the old thing. Again, there are natural shifts and progressions in anyone’s life, but certain kinds of shifting about will always look like marketing strategies, to me.


Making dedications

Making dedications in a ritual context is a powerful process if you get it right. Even if you are solitary, ritual can give a sense of being witnessed, and of your dedication being held by something bigger than yourself. It can add weight and impetus to a project, and help you bring a sense of sacredness into your life.

The dedication itself is a good process for turning vague ideas into deliberate plans of action. In moving towards making a dedication, you are organising your thoughts, feelings, priorities and values. Figuring all this out is a good thing to do. What do you need to dedicate yourself to? What needs more of your time? What, in the immediate future, is going to be your sacred purpose?

Generally I’m a big fan of improvising in ritual, but not where vows and dedications are concerned. It is really important to spend time with this in advance. Figure out what you need to say and what you are willing to bind yourself to. Figure out how bound you need to be, and how much flexibility you need. It tends to work better if you don’t tie yourself down too precisely, and it is important to be realistic. “I dedicate myself to becoming an amazing artist” may not be realistic. “I’m going to draw something from nature every day for the next month” is totally realistic and will make you a better artist.

Dedications do not have to be forever, and it can be better to put a time frame on them and check in with them and see how it’s going. Do it for a month and report back to your sacred space. Do it for a year even. Give yourself room to put the dedication down when the work is done. “I dedicate my life to the protection of this wood” might not be the right answer – you could lose that fight. “I will fight for this woodland for as long as it takes to protect it, for as long as these trees remain’ is a much more functional sort of dedication.

If you make a dedication and then can’t keep it, honour that. Come back to your ritual space and speak of what has happened and why. Reword your dedication and start again. Don’t leave something hanging and unfulfilled, that won’t do you any good.

If you dedicate to something with an end point, celebrate the end point.

Dedications can strengthen resolve and help us work out how best to serve. If you work in a group, then hearing and supporting each other’s dedications can be inspiring and creates practical ways in which you can support each other. This kind of process can help a person be bolder, push the edges of their comfort zone, and find out who and what they want to be.


Initiation or Dedication?

There are not enough teachers in any of the Pagan traditions to properly support in person all of those who wish to learn. The consequence is that most of us end up doing some, or all of our learning alone. For Druids, there are a number of Orders that provide distance learning and mentoring in a way the wider community recognises, which is very helpful. Still, to a large extent you have to manage your own path.

The issue of self-initiation most often comes up for Wiccans, where the idea of initiation is very much part of how one learns and progresses. Can a person initiate themselves? Many do, so arguably the answer has to be ‘yes’. I don’t feel it’s my place to invalidate anybody else’s choices. However, I do have my own doubts about how we can, from inside ourselves, take ourselves deliberately forward into new stages of awareness and being. Of course the lone learner is on a constant progression, can make huge and sudden breakthroughs and will experience life initiations too, but initiation within a tradition is a formal thing. To me, it’s all about a group of people recognising where you’re at, and offering you the keys to the door of the next bit.

I’ve run bardic initiations, as they are usually called, but in practice I didn’t feel like I was initiating anyone really. To be a bard takes a lot of individual work, and all I can do is lay out what it means and hold the door open a bit. People have to make their own way through. Increasingly the word that came to feature in the ritual was ‘dedication’.

A dedication is an offering of self, and an expression of intention. We can do that privately, before whatever powers we honour or we can do it in circle with our fellow Druids as witness. We can dedicate to each other in handfasting, in teacher/student bonds, in the fellowship of a grove and as parent to child. We might dedicate ourselves to living more greenly, to peace work, or sitting down and writing that book. The act of dedication focuses the mind on the chosen task, sanctifies it and, if done publically, gives you some people who will notice how you do. When it comes to getting people to study, and adopt greener ways of living, those dedications made in circle bind and empower in equal measure. Once you’ve said it, you’re honour bound to give it your best shot.

We all want recognition, and in spiritual terms being initiated to the next level is a bit like passing a test, or getting a reward. There’s kudos. Dedications can be more private, less dramatic affairs, but I think for Druidry they work well. We pick our own and make them when we are ready, holding responsibility for our own journey. Many people who step up to ‘initiate as a bard’ at big gatherings are not, as far as I have seen, in a place of completion that means they are initiated, they are at a place of starting out, needing the focus and recognition to commence the work. A dedication seems more appropriate at this stage. You don’t begin with initiation, you are initiated into the next stage when you are ready. You begin with dedication.

I don’t think this is just a semantic issue, it’s a pragmatic one too, having everything to do with how we see ourselves and how we see our traditions. Initiations have a lot to do with power and status. Dedications don’t have the same aura of formal structure to them, they are more personal, more flexible, and I think that makes them good Druidry.