Questions by Aigeann and caitlin.
A&C: Hi Beej! Congrats on your election as MA, and thanks so much for being willing to be interviewed for the NW Blog!
B-J: Thanks, Caitlin. And, you're quite welcome.
A&C: What led you to Paganism initially, and eventually to ADF?
B-J: [Laughs.] You are aware that I'm a storyteller, right? Well, let's see if I can make this brief, lest you be overwhelmed before we even get to the second question!
Much to my mother's dismay, having a severely handicapped sibling led me to reject the omni-/mono- religious paradigm before I reached high school – I couldn't abide the judgmental religious rhetoric leveled at an innocent child. However, I knew something was out there because I'd seen it, and the affects of it on the world. I was exposed to the Egyptian pantheon in 6th or 7th grade and was fascinated, and even more so to discover there were many pantheons out there with deities. As a voracious reader, I absorbed many ideas particularly from the science fiction and fantasy genres, and these fed my fascination of all things deity.
By my mid-twenties, after leaving the military, I found myself at a bit of a personal cross-roads. I recognized that I had long since rejected Christianity as my religion and saw no point in continuing to celebrate holidays related to that religion. Knowing a couple of tiny details about my heritage, I determined that I should use this newfangled Internet-thing to do research on what my ancestors did before Christianity and develop a polytheistic religion that suited me.
My, was I surprised to discover that others had had the same thought and were years ahead of me in the research department! Now, this was in the days of AOL, just after they went to the unlimited access model, and I spent hours upon hours looking things up. Unfortunately, the Internet wasn't nearly as robust then and much of the information that existed belonged to Wiccans, or wanted a hefty fee to access it. In chat rooms, I was given lists of recommended books to read and I bought many of them. It wasn't long before I determined that much of the published source information was as bad or worse than what I was finding on the Internet.
But, somewhere around late '97, I found this one website and they had a reading list with a caveat at the end that warned against many of the authors whose books I had already determined were, er... well, let's be polite and say “questionable.” And the website boasted that they were nearly finished with this awesome new training program, and that they even provided a nifty magazine subscription (in print!) with membership. I spent the next several years doing my own research – but not much in the way of a real practice – and checking back on the website from time to time to see if this awesome training program was available to students yet. Somewhere around the summer of 2000, I wandered back and saw that they had announced the program as ready and I determined to join just as soon as I was back home and could do so.
That website, of course, belonged to ADF. The training program was the Dedicant's Program (prior to its name change). I've been a member since October of that year.
Click on the Read More link to the right to continue reading! ->
B-J: Ah, another long story that I shall endeavor to keep as short as possible. I'm from New Jersey, and had, by the time I reached the ripe old age of 38 [Laughs], lived in several states besides the one I was born. Florida, Texas, Maryland, Illinois, three different parts of Pennsylvania, and upstate New York – not to mention spending two years in Japan with the military.
While living in NY, my partner and I were in a long-term polyamorous relationship with a woman who lived in California. After a couple of years of traveling back and forth, we determined to try to move in together and, as she had the higher paying job, decided to head west. 2008 was a bad year for jobs, and the original idea to just get a job out there wasn't practical, so I put in for a transfer through my company. Unfortunately, less than a week before we moved, and just four days before the moving truck arrived, I was informed that the project that I would have been transferring to got canceled due to the financial crisis, “But, how do you feel about Las Vegas?” It wasn't Las Angeles or San Diego, but a four hour drive away from our third was much better than 12 hours by plane, so I accepted and here I am.
A&C: What led you to form Larrea Tridentata Grove, ADF? Would you please explain the meaning of the Grove name?
B-J: When I arrived in Las Vegas, I was no closer to having completed my DP than I was when I had first joined ADF. Oh, I had learned a lot in my travels to other groves and festivals over the years, but the DP was a disjointed collection of half finished or finished and rejected essays. So, in discovering that the nearest grove to my new home would be over four hours away, I determined to reach out to the other ADF members here and perhaps form a study group. Instead, Claudine Moyer and I – the only other ADF member who showed interest – began the arduous but rewarding task of forming a grove.
Now, Larrea Tridentata is the scientific name for the creosote bush, the plant that most defines the Mojave Desert. It is an amazingly resilient shrub which, when viewed across the undisturbed desert, almost looks as if it were planted with intent – so evenly are the shrubs distributed. This has to do with the way it absorbs every last bit of water in its vicinity, which is an important feat when the Mojave Desert only averages 4-6 inches of rain each year. One of the features we were drawn to about this shrub was its primary method of reproduction, namely cloning. In this case, cloning is where the body of the main plant dies but the root ball underground survives and sends up new shoots farther from its old body. This eventually creates a ring – a naturally circular grove – and, due to its efficiency with water collection, nothing grows inside the ring! That's a pretty cool feature of a plant for a grove that's being started by two folks who anticipated that they might not be around for the grove indefinitely, huh? Another feature we liked was that the creosote rates among the species that have some of the oldest living organisms in the world. The oldest currently known creosote clone ring, is estimated to be over 11 thousand years old and some forty-five feet in diameter on average (it's not a perfect circle)! That's a pretty awesome tree to adopt for a druid grove, eh?
[Grins] But, I know what you're thinking: Why use the scientific name that no one can pronounce? Well, frankly, I thought it sounded nicer than “creosote bush.” I mean, creosote is that black gunk that screws up your chimney, right? In the collective mind, why would I want to associate our grove with gunk? And its other common name, greasewood, isn't much better in the images department! So, by choosing the scientific name, it forces folks to take the tree on its own terms without any baggage.
But I admit: as many people struggle to pronounce it as do any other grove whose name is in a foreign language (which seems to be more common on the eastern half of the US than out west here). That's okay. By common agreement, we pronounce it “larry-ah tri-dent-tata,” in case you want to practice and be part of the “in club.” [Grins] And, by the way, Larrea is the last name of the Spanish bishop after whom the plant was named, so it's not scientific in the least.
A&C: Vegas can be oppressively hot at times; how have you had to adapt your public rituals to those conditions?
B-J: Hmm. Vegas actually experiences both extremes of temperature, with nighttime lows down to 25-30F in the winter, and daytime highs upwards of 115F or more in the summer. What we don't generally have is precipitation. Well, very, very rarely at any rate. In its place, we get wind storms with mild storms having gusts 25-35MPH and worse storms hitting 50-60MPH!
The primary adaptation we've made is dress. We wear what's comfortable according to the weather: shorts and tank tops are common in the summer months, and coats, hats and large patio heaters grace the sanctuary in the winter. The other adaptation is timing. Usually, though not always, wind storms tend to die down in the evening after sunset, and winters don't last too long, so our rituals are almost always in the evening after 7:30pm, and always outdoors. This is the first year we've held a ritual during the afternoon, and even in March, it was much too warm and sunny for some of our guests.
Windstorms remain our greatest challenge, but we've been working to replace our torches with lanterns that are wind resistant – we just hate to give up on fire entirely if we can help it. Holding rituals almost exclusively at night does pose challenges beyond atmospheric, though. It's hard for guests to read the song books we provide, and for grove members or guests to read invocations. More lanterns that are unaffected by the whims of the weather, we expect, will help this, along with the box of book lights we provide. We do have some solar lights, too, but these don't provide much light for reading.
A&C: How did LT (Larrea Tridentata Grove) come to be in the Northwest Region?
B-J: [Laughs] I'm not entirely sure. Certainly, it was like that before I arrived out west. I was actually surprised because I had originally joined the Southwest regional e-list and introduced myself there to warm welcomes and kind admonitions that Nevada was actually part of the Northwest. For a state with two vastly separated zones of population, I can understand, though, why it might have been added to the Northwest.
A&C: I have heard more than one ADF member comment on how LT opens the Gates; please describe for us how this is different from how other groups do it.
B-J: Well, now, as it happens I am polishing a paper I've written for Oak Leaves that discusses that very thing. I'll be submitting it in the next week or so, with the hope of the possibility that it'll be published later this year. Do you think our readers can wait to hear more? Perhaps they could put in a good word or two to the editors of Oak Leaves so that it actually gets published.
Of course, [grins mischievously] folks could take a trip down to Las Vegas and experience it for themselves. That, after all, is where the real magic is. Marv & I have a nice large guest room just waiting to host visitors (not to mention a couple of futons and other methods of putting folks up for a couple of days).
Caitlin asks: Beej, we were discussing the Triple Guild events recently; would you please share a brief bit about this here for those of us in the Region who were not around that far back? I would really like to get something like that going here in the NW.
B-J: Triple Guild was an altogether different kind of festival from what folks are mostly used to these days. I'd probably sum it up as a “working festival.” As the name implies, that festival was focused almost exclusively on on a couple of guilds at a time. But the real difference was the way the fest was organized. Workshops were work: you learned something then you went and did it right there that weekend. A member of the Warriors Guild, for example, might put together a presentation on the history of wrestling, demonstrate it with volunteers on some portable mats brought for the purpose, and then give folks a chance to try it themselves. A member of the Bardic Guild might give a workshop on thematic construction and then hand out assignments to all present based on their bardic focus to be accomplished and presented the following morning. A member of the Naturalists Guild might give a presentation on orienteering and map reading, then take the class out into the field and send them off to find a location based on map information. A member of the Liturgists Guild might give a presentation on movement in ritual, and then get everyone up and moving according to ideas presented during the lecture. I mention these as examples of what could be done, but specifically because over the years I have attended every one of the ones I have described here and more in my early years in ADF.
As you can guess, such a festival, by its nature would need to pick just a couple of guilds to focus on at a time. An event that attempted to do such active workshops while catering to every guild in ADF, as you can imagine, would be chaotic and likely to have tiny classes. But a long weekend focused on two or three Guilds at a time would give all of the attendees lots of time to participate in a very active part of ADF.
A&C: Congrats on becoming ADF's new Members Advocate! What are your goals for your term in this position? Do you have anything you'd like to tell the members, as our MA? And what made you choose to run for what is arguably one of the most thankless jobs in ADF?
B-J: Thanks. Though, my understanding is that condolences are more proper to offer one who has been given this job. [Grin]
Well, my primary goals for the next year as MA are to retain my sanity and retain my sense of humor – such as it is. Dealing with complaints can be a trying job, and often thankless as you say. I like to think that I'm a fair person, though strong minded. Having spent much of my life on the outside, it's easy for me to see the points of view from both sides of an argument. I hope that Justice will watch over me and help to ensure that a fair outcome can be found in as many cases as possible.
My other goal is to smooth the road between ADF leadership and the general membership. I see this as the best route towards retention. I know a great number of people who are or were ADF members, and I have seen too many walk away from ADF not because our style of religion didn't work for them, but because they were disgusted with those few with whom they had interacted. Disillusionment, frustration, and anger will continue to drive poisonous wedges into our organization just as firmly as any iron nail embedded into the bark of a tree.
My prayer and fervent wish is that I am able to draw on the wisdom of those who have gone before to help our members resolve their issues, be well represented to the Mother Grove, and claim their ADF membership proudly.
A&C: You are very much into the Naturalist groove, even having gone so far as to become certified; would you tell us about that process, and how you use it to benefit your own practice, your Grove, and ADF?
B-J: Many states, in conjunction with a college Cooperative Extension, offer a training program for naturalists. The University of Nevada is one such college and I took two courses with them to receive my certification, which requires a minimum of 60 hours of classes in each session as well as a final 'project' for each course. The courses have two components: classroom lectures and field experience. Each classroom session is a crash course in one of the sciences, providing as much information as possible in a single 3 hour sitting. The sciences covered include ecology, botany, taxonomy, soils, water, endangered species, geology, native plants and animals, insects, invasive species, environmental laws and regulations, adult/child learning techniques, archeology, local cultural history, paleontology, conservation biology, habitat management, Eco-tourism, water harvesting, and biological diversity. Saturday classes in the field allowed us to put our new scientific knowledge to the test. The goal of such an intensive set of courses is to produce students who can provide services as Citizen Scientists, engage in community education programs, environmental restoration and enhancement projects, and other activities deemed necessary by the partners.
For me, learning about and understanding my local environment is as important as learning about and understanding myths and deities. The two intertwine in my approach to ADF druidry. The courses have made me well qualified to safely lead my fellows into the wilderness of Nevada, to teach about ways to connect our religion with the broader conservationist movements. They have also put me in touch with other volunteer organizations, and local and federal agencies who serve the environment, many with whom our grove now partners for our community service work.
Overall, then, this certification has made me more aware of the awesomeness of Mother Nature, and more dedicated to protecting the Earth which She has given to us for our home.
A&C: What does BJ stand for?
B-J: Beej, of course!
A&C: LT (Larrea Tridentata Grove) does ritual on your property; what is it like having that in your backyard?
Very stressful! Really, rituals in a park would be much easier, I think. All you'd have to do then is load up your portable supplies and spread them out at the chosen location. Holding rites at my home means that, despite a household of three men and a parrot, our home never gets a chance to become a complete disaster. A big part of getting ready for every ritual is cleaning the house itself so that it's presentable to guests. We have a second refrigerator right now that pretty much just holds soda for grove events. We also have a storage room/closet that's dedicated to storing all of our grove paraphernalia.
On the other hand, besides getting home from work on time, there's no worry about having a place ready for rituals. The site can usually be prepped the night before (wind-weather permitting), so there's generally less set up time the night of the rite.
I love that we have a semi permanent ritual space with a 2 foot high fire pit, dais for the BotO's chair/throne, and fountain for the well. I say semi-permanent because everything purchased by the grove, no matter how little it has moved in the last three years, could be packed up and moved if we ever managed to acquire a permanent piece of land for the grove's use. In addition to the semi-permanent stuff, there's a stone shrine to Hermes in the ritual space that belongs to the house and will remain there no matter what. And I do have long term plans to add a small permanent temple to the space at some point in the future.
The greatest advantage to this arrangement, though, is that the donations the grove manages to collect do not get eaten by rental fees. Who knows? Perhaps someday we will manage to purchase a piece of land through our fund raising.
A&C: You recently created a Herm for your ritual area; here's where you can show it off and describe the process, if you'd like. :)
B-J: Umm... the abbreviated version:
In the first two years that our grove performed public rituals, we found that we were developing quite a relationship with Hermes, particularly in the form of a guardian but also as a trickster that enjoyed our offerings. In particular, there was one ritual where a neighbor decided to cause a ruckus and complain about what we were doing (there were all of two of us singing and drumming together - oh-m'gosh!). Despite the fact that I had completely missed the step in our ritual asking Hermes to protect the space, He took pity on us and the complaining neighbor was moving out quite unexpectedly less than a week after the rite.
In 2010, my landlord informed us, quite out of the blue, that we had to leave the home we'd been in for the previous 2 years and had thought we were leasing to own. In short order, I went from vaguely thinking that it was finally time to buy a home to knowing that I never wanted to lose my home due to someone else's mistakes again. Shortly thereafter, I fell in love with a piece of property here in Las Vegas that had a water feature built (small fish pond/fountain) into the ½ acre yard along with several vary large trees around the border of the property, like what one might expect from a house back east, or perhaps up in the the north western states. The house itself needed work, but the property was awesome.
At some point, I made a promise to Hermes that, when we got a new home, I would build a Herm in his honor. I had visions of putting a Hermes bust on the top of one of the pillars that were part of the wall around this property I was in love with. However, it would seem He had other plans. It turned out that the property needed so much major work that it would not pass for a VA loan, so we kept looking. On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, we came upon a home that had a huge yard and so much potential. It was just about perfect, especially compared to the long list of duds we'd seen thus far. The deciding factor, though, was the dirt just beyond the stoop to the master bathroom door. In that dirt, for no reason we could identify, there were coins – lots of them – , mostly pennies, but some dimes and quarters, too.
On the way back from looking at this house, I remembered that Hermes was not only a guardian of boundaries and trickster, but also the bringer of unexpected wealth. Now, a stack of pennies hardly qualifies as “wealth” in the normal sense, but the more I thought and meditated on that home, the more I became convinced that this was the home He wanted for us, one with plenty of space to build him the promised Herm. Well, on 11/1/11, I became the proud owner of a home and in June of 2013, I enlivened His Herma. To this day, we continue to find money in the yard after each wind storm. Just this past weekend, a grove-mate found a five dollar bill in our yard! In my estimation, Hermes has truly blessed this home.
You can see photos of this shrine on my Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/1fspC3s . It is the only folder on my page that's opened to the public, so everyone can take a look if they like. In the next couple of weeks, I intend to put the finishing touches on the build, but it's already an active shrine with it's own collection of offerings.
A&C: Thanks again, Beej!
B-J: You're quite welcome. I hope I have been coherent in my responses. My sense of humor isn't always appreciated by others – I hope that it wasn't too off-putting. I'd be happy to answer any other questions folks might have!