Discussion virtues (ADF Dedicant Study)

And this is where I become unpopular, but hark what is this sound of silence?.... Oh that is the sound of me not caring :)

Before I begin with my discussion on the virtues essay for this portion of my submission, I would like to state a few opinions of the concept of virtue.  First and foremost I think that before one can consider weather or not a concept is a virtue, one must consider virtue itself.  What is virtue?  What does virtue mean to me?  How do people in modern society see and apply virtue?  How did the ancestors see virtue?  How can I develop a set of virtues that coincide with my own defined ethics and morality?  The preceding questions, I feel, are ones that need to be seriously contemplated before a determination can be made on if a concept is a virtue.  This being said, I do agree with some of the virtues in the Dedicant Program and others I do not, for reasons I will try to convey in my essay.
D.P. Definition:  Good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide on the correct response.
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: ( American English) ability to make good judgments based on what you have learned from your experience, or the knowledge and understanding that gives you this ability.
Although the D.P and the Dictionary definitions are basically saying the same thing I would not consider wisdom to be a virtue. I would define wisdom as the accumulated knowledge , depth of experiences and evolution of morality over a lifetime. Although I do not agree with wisdom as a virtue, it is most certainly the product of a virtuous life.  With wisdom there is a very important question to consider: when is wisdom achieved?  In modern society there is a slew of circumstances that our fellow man or woman come from.  For example, you have people who are born into poverty, riches, and somewhere in-between.  There are those who are born in poverty and achieve riches and those who had riches who have lost it all only to live in poverty.  The most beautiful thing about wisdom  is that one has the choice of weather or not it is achieved.  The treasure of wisdom is open to anyone that will have it on the condition of patience.  Wisdom is certainly a gift to be treasured and cherished, passed on to the next generation.  However, as the accumulated depth of character and the result of experiences over a lifetime, wisdom cannot be a virtue.  I would replace wisdom with Knowledge.  Knowledge, not so much as in scholastic or amount, but the quality and depth of the learned knowledge one has attainted so far.  I feel that knowledge would be a much better fit in a set of virtue.
D.P. Definition:  Correct Observance of ritual and social traditions; the maintenance of the agreements (both and societal) , we humans have with the Gods and Sprits.  Keeping in the Old Ways, through ceremony and duty.
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: ( American English) strong belief in God or a religion, shown by your worship and dutiful behavior 
The related adjective is pious.
Now, piety is a tricky one.  The argument can be made that piety can and cannot be considered a virtue.  I feel that piety is not a virtue but not only do most virtuous people have a form of piety, but the concept of piety can lead to a virtuous life.  I would define piety as duty in a religious aspect.  Going one step farther, one could also consider piety as service to a religion but not limited to religion.  As far as the dutifulness aspect of piety is concerned one could be pious is in exercise routine, daily devotionals, prayer, dieting, story telling, or even just making an appearance to the High Day Rites or holding their own.  Although some of what I mentioned are of a religious nature others are not, the reason for this is that I feel that piety is also subjective to the individual.  A further example would be to a Christian, piety is a firm and structured life lived “as Christ would” or in accordance with what the bible teaches but to a pagan, piety is as individual to the paths that we follow.  My own “piety” would be that no matter what I will not miss a high day, even if I have to throw a ritual together in a hotel room with a candle I found in the gift shop. Some other forms of “piety” I practice are writing guided meditations and poems to be included in ritual.  The guided meditation is especially powerful because I try to convey an aspect of the Being of the occasion in order to as a Grove, try to connect to them in a more intimate way other than just giving an offering. My most favorite form of “piety” would be the construction of ritual/ “druid” tools.  I cannot consider piety a virtue because someone who is not an honorable or virtuous person can still be dedicated to a religious path or still be helpful with family and the community.  On the other hand I can also consider piety a virtue because I feel that anyone who is virtuous will also be pious.  I have replaced Piety with Service.  Service to the Gods, Grove, community, family and friends, and to anyone who would seek the Druid.  I believe as a Druid I have a responsibility to others as guide, shoulder to cry on and defender of those who are too weak to stand up for themselves. While I may not have many life experiences to help everyone through everything but sometimes someone who can understand pain can be the difference in someone’s life.  I believe Service is a much better fit for a set of virtue.
D.P. Definition: The ability to broaden one's perspective to have a greater understanding of our place/role in the cosmos, relating to the past, present and future 
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: (Advanced Learner’s) idea or mental image of something; an experience in which you see things which do not exist physically, when your mind is affected powerfully by something such as deep religious thought or drugs or mental illness
Through much consideration and refection I cannot believe that vision is not a virtue.  My definition for vision would be: seeing with the mind wide open to perceive the world around us. Everyone from the most noble to the most wicked can use vision as a powerful tool for manifestation. Weather it was George Washington or Adolph Hitler, it can be said that all great men and women in history have had vision.  Of course, the byproduct of said visions can have glorious benefits or end with glorious tragedy.  With that being said vision cannot be considered a virtue for if everyone can have, or did have vision, vision itself would not be a virtue.  The virtuous, decent people alive in the past and present will of course have good vision, which will because of their own virtuousness will have great benefits to those around them.  So the question I pose is this: Is the vision the virtue or the effects / results of what ever the vision is virtuous?  I certainly believe that vision is a good quality to have for if Issac Bonewits did not have vision it is quite possible that ADF wouldn’t exist today.  I also believe that vision is a result of being virtuous although not a requirement.  I would like to propose that Truth is a better fit in a set of virtue rather than vision.  Truth in all things.  As a Druid, a seeker of knowledge, I feel  should also be a seeker of truth.  I believe that a Druid has the moral and ethical obligation to seek the truth in all matters to range from inter-personal arguments to our role and place in the cosmos.  Truth is something that I personally hold dear to my own morality and also one can relate truth with honor and knowledge.  From the time we are infants we take the word of tribe as truth until we grow old enough to seek the truth and then we may make mistakes along the way but as a wise one once said, “the Truth shall set you free”.
D.P. Definition: The ability to act appropriately in the face of danger.
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: ( American English )  the ability to control fear or to deal with something that is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant
Courage in my belief,  is irrevocably a virtue.  My own definition of courage is the ability to stand in spite of opposition.  In all aspects of life I see that courage will manifest itself in one form or another.  Speaking from my own experiences, there are several times in the past where I have had to stand up for what I believe is right even though it was an extremely unpopular choice and will always do so in the future.  I am extremely passionate about courage and feel that it is one of the most beautiful virtues.  Courage can be embodied by everyone, from the lonely High School girl standing up for what she thinks is right to the solider who volunteers his life in order to make a stand and defend those who cannot defend themselves.  Or even the friend to stand by your side when they don’t have to.  Courage is most definitely one of my favorite aspects of the human condition.
D.P. Definition:  
Honor; being trustworthy to oneself and to others, involving oath-keeping, honesty, fairness, respect, self-confidence 
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: ( American English; Honesty variation) the quality of being honest and having strong moral principals.
Integrity is something that I feel is important for everyone to have not to be limited to the virtuous. My definition of virtue is simply to act in accordance with one’s word.  Even though the dictionary and Dedicant definitions are worded differently they both boil down to is honesty.  Integrity is something that is very important to me.  I am a man of my word and I expect that from others, which I know is unrealistic.  However, I feel that integrity is a very easy thing to achieve as well as maintain but with societal conditioning it makes it very difficult for some individuals.  For a broad example, the media is rife with examples of people who lie and get away with it weither it be in television shows, cartoons, or radio.  With that being said, I do not feel that Integrity is a virtue.  Within the definitions of Integrity, I see a potential flaw: subjectivity.  Weather it is oath-keeping, adherence to a moral code or convictions, trustworthiness, or even honor this concept is as diverse as the people who walk this world with us.  To site the obvious example, the Sidhe. They are quite well known for their ability to manipulate their word and promises to get exactly what they want.  I think that instead of integrity for a set of virtue, I would replace it with responsibility.  As a Druid I feel that I have a responsibility to not only be an honest and trustworthy person.  To, relating to courage of course, have the ability to stand for what is honest and true.  Also, not limited to a responsibility to be honest but a responsibility to be loyal to friends and grove.  Finally, A responsibility to oneself, for if one lies to themselves there is no hope for virtue.
D.P. Definition: 
Drive; the motivation to pursue goals even when that pursuit be-comes difficult 
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: ( American English ) to try to do or to continue doing something in a determined way despite difficulties.
Perseverance is most definitely a virtue.  I would define perseverance as the refusal to give up.  This concept is closely related to almost each and every concept of virtue.  In the examples I have previously mentioned as well as the ones listed in the supplemental virtue articles as well as the ones required for essay.  Weather it is truth, courage, knowledge, integrity, or piety; perseverance  will help achieve and maintain these concepts of virtue.  The commonality of my own, the D.P., and dictionary also help to affirm that the definition of perseverance is also pretty well understood and agreed upon.  I also believe that the presence of this concept can and will give someone that little extra to keep going and achieve a virtuous life.  Perseverance is also what sets apart failure and success.  Success could be in business, an aspect of a religion or even the pursuit of a spiritual path as a whole.  Perseverance is also closely related with the human condition.  From all aspects of life and backgrounds the inexplicable drive for success is a powerful motivator.  This aspect of perseverance is also not so inexplicable in certain cases for some things that would require perseverance will also have strong personal convictions to go along with the drive.  There is a primal and encoded ability in the human psyche with perseverance and I for one I think this is a great quality to have.
D.P. definition: 
Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humor, and the honoring of 'a gift for a gift' 
Cambridge Dictionary definition: (American English) kindness and friendly behavior, especially to guests.
Hospitality, without contest, is definitely a virtue.  I also feel that to be a Druid, one must understand hospitality and put forth the conscious effort to make it apart of a Drudic lifestyle.  Without hospitality we could not have ritual as we have them today.  I have been to several Celtic Reconstructionst and ADF rituals and as far as I can deduce from being an active participant in both, each ritual style is built upon the concept for hospitality.  The easiest way to show hospitality in a ritual is by taking a look at the way offerings are given.  When whom ever chooses the Being of the occasion, not only are offering specifically given to honor them, when offering are given to the others who are invited hospitality has been expertly achieved because they our the guests, so we must of course give them gifts.  Also when the omen is asked, a gift donates a gift so in receiving the gifts of the kindreds and the Being of the occasion, hospitality is demonstrated.  I can’t talk about hospitality with out mentioning the story of Bran,  He accepted the gift of his guests even though he knew it was poisoned.  In spite of the knowledge of what the Fomor intended to do, he accepted the gift in order to maintain hospitality.  Which I might also add, is an impeccable example of courage as well.
D.P. definition: 
Cultivating one's appetites so that one is neither a slave to them nor driven to ill health, (mental or physical), through excess or deficiency 
Cambridge Dictionary: ( American English) being within a middle range in size, amount, or degree; neither great or little (the previous definition is for moderate, moderations being the noun form of the word.)
I am having conflicted emotions of moderation as a virtue but have come to the realization that it is not.  I am very much a fan of Aristotle’s “Nicomachean Ethics”.  The entire basis on what was considered a virtue in Aristotle’s view was a balance between excess and deficiency.  Trying to find the perfect median between the two points would create “arete” or excellence.  To me this is exactly what moderation is.  I would define moderation as the balance between two points.  My definition would also have subjective meaning so the balance between excess and deficiency, if you will, is completely up to the individual.  Personally, I feel there is absolutely nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence and it is a wonderful thing to achieve.  As relating to all the virtues listed in the D.P. moderation is important to find the perfect balance within each virtue to find that perfect point for which one can succeed.  With my conclusions about moderation, I cannot agree with moderation as a virtue for it is the framework that virtue is built upon.
D.P. definition:   
Bounty of mind, body and spirit, involving creativity, production of objects, food, works of art, etc., an appreciation of the physical, sensual, nurturing 
Cambridge Dictionary Definition: ( Advanced Learner‘s): (of animals and plants) the quality of being able to produce young or fruit
Out of all of the virtues on the list, fertility is the one that I disagree with the most.  As many times as I re-read the D.P. definition or as much as I think about it I cannot grasp fertility as a virtue.  Now with that being said I will give fertility its proper due.  Fertility is an essential human function,  we grow our food, feed ourselves and our children, procreate and also in nature’s cyclical nature fertility is one of the building blocks to keep the eco-system running.  However I always come back to this commonality: potential.  No matter which way I break it down it is potential.  Potential as in the field are not always fertile and people and animals do not always procreate.  In speaking into the creativity aspect of the D.P. definition, this is also not only a separate concept but also a potential as well.  Creativity is not facilitated by a fertile mind, but it is the potential for beauty.  Beauty in writing, song, artwork, blacksmithing or even in sensuality.  Therefore in dealing with fertility as a potential, it cannot be a virtue in my eyes for a potential is not the balance between excess and deficiency.

Home Shrine ( ADF Dedicant Study)

Home Shrine
By Cathal
My home shrine is a very simple and effective one.  I purchased a simple Altar cloth at the local new age shop with is a black and gold style with a triquerta in the cent with a nice Celtic border.  Upon the Altar I have several things.  I have a white candle for the Shining Ones, a green candle for the Nature Sprits and a skull I found at the swap meet carved with Celtic knot work, the skull is of course fake, for the Ancestors.  I also have a small offering bowl and directly next to that is a bowl that serves as the well. I also have a small red candle behind the well and behind the candle I have a pine cone.  In setting up my Alter/ home shrine in this manner, not only do I have representative aspects of the Kindred, but I also have a mini cosmos consisting of tree, fire, and well and a small place to make occasional offerings.  
My dream is to make a permanent home Altar either in my bedroom or my entry way.  It will be a nine tier system vertically oriented, the bottom level dedicated to the Ancestors. The eighth level dedicated to the Nature Sprits.  The seventh level will be a tribute to the Shining Ones.  The sixth level will contain a scared space to store my runes and scrying implements.  The fifth level will be the re-created cosmos with fire, well and tree.  The Fourth level will be completely be dedicated to offering of food and whiskey.  The third level will be dedicated to my ritual tools such as my sickle, robes, and wand.  The second level will be representative of my own spiritual journey with objects and photos taken to remind me of the path I follow. Lastly, the first level will be dedicated to my Patrons, complete with statues and small offering bowls.

Connecting with Nature (ADF Dedicant study)

Connecting with Nature
By Cathal
It can be somewhat difficult for people like to me to connect with nature.  Meaning, I live in the city and am currently without reliable transportation so it can be quite difficult to get out to appreciate the Earth Mother in all her glory but I do on rare occasions.  What I like to do is at least once a month try to go for a hike.  Near us in Las Vegas we have Red Rock Canyon and Mt. Charleston.  There is also a very nice trail near Red Rock dubbed “Oak Creek” which is one of my favorite trails because it has a natural grove which I find quite peaceful.  The purpose of my hikes vary.  Most often than not it is to hike out where there are no people and sit in contemplation.  I assume the lotus position and clear my mind, breathing in the clean air and letting go of all material emotions to re connect the currents of the Earth Mother.  The other hikes I like to do are clean-up hikes.  Especially at Red Rock Canyon, there is a lot of littering of the trails out here, particularly, I suspect, because the general mentality of most of the people in Vegas.  Sometimes the clean-up hike are also Grove events which is fantastic  Nothing better to me says Druid’s care for nature more than a group clean-up hike. 
Now let me say a few words about energy conservation.  In order to cut my energy use back, not only did I swap all of my light bulbs out for high efficiency ones, I also turn off the air conditioner off when I leave the house.  I believe the Earth itself is not a God or Goddess but our home.  As our home we must to what we can to find cleaner means of functioning at our current level of productions.  Now when I said I do not believe the Earth itself to be a God or Goddess is that even though I do believe in the Mother Goddesses.  There are too many distinctive personalities between the cultural Earth Mother figures for be to believe that the Earth itself is the only deific being.  I conserve and connect with nature because it is the right thing to as a Druid, Pagan, and as one who walks on this Earth and breathe it’s air.  In addition to the previously mentioned conservation methods, I also do many things by candlelight.  By doing most of my reading and random tasks by candle-light, I minimize as much as possible my electricity usage.  I also am saving up to purchase a motorcycle.  I chose to go with a 2011 Honda CBR250R.  In getting the smaller cc engine, it will greatly save on gas monetarily as well as on emissions.   I am currently driving, sparingly, an 1980’s Ford pick up truck and was already working on selling or donating it in order to reduce my emissions before I decided working on the Dedicant path and I feel that the motorcycle is the only practical, affordable way to gain reliable transportation, reduce carbon emissions, and allow me the freedom to journey out to commune with nature whenever I feel the need to rather than when I can get it scheduled.  In conclusion, I believe that given my circumstances, I am doing a fantastic job of reducing my “carbon footprint” as a way to connect with nature until I can hike out and commune with all of the Nature Sprits and currents of the Earth in person.

My thoughts on the "kindred" (ADF Dedicant study)

What the Kindreds Mean to Me
By Cathal
The Kindreds to me are representative of the three elements of Celtic cosmology as well as a way to connect the three realms.  In relation to the elements, the Shining Ones relate to the Sky, the Ancestors relate to Water, and the Nature Sprits relate to Earth.  In keeping with the concept of the Kindreds, we allow ourselves to subconsciously make a connection to the realms by imposing the idea that each Kindred is distinct and related to a particular realm.  The Shining ones to the Otherworld, The Ancestors to the Underworld, and The Nature Sprits to the Midrealm.  Also by invocating the Kindreds in ritual, the Presiding Druid and their assistants are creating a bridge, in addition to opening the gates, to the other realms in order to connect on a personal level along with the attendees of the ritual.
I view the Shining Ones as the Gods and Goddess that make up that part of the cosmos.  I believe they are an integral part of our existence as we know it today for if they had been quelled  from our history and hearts I shudder imagining the world we would have known today.  The Shining Ones along with the other Kindred help to balance and maintain the world.  Them being related to the Sky element and coming from the Otherworld give them a deeper understanding of the order of things.  The Shining Ones are definitely ones to be respected and adored, and also listened to.
Now, I do not limit myself to the scope of a single being, hearth or pantheon.  I define a Shining One as any deific being whom is an ally, regardless of pantheon or cultural origin.  In my own path I not only have had the opportunity to be exposed only to the Gaelic Pantheon but to others as well. I have met beings from Norse, Gaulish and Greek Pantheons as well.  Each has been an interesting and unique experience but also gave me the realization that I do not have to limit myself to be in the favor of one specific Pantheon.  If other Gods and Goddesses like me as well then that is perfectly fine by me.  
The other side of that viewpoint is of those whom I do not consider Shining Ones.  Put simply as any deific being whom is against the progress of  humanity.  Although they are a God or Goddess in their own right,  if they work to hinder or stop the progress of any one individual or group they are not a Shining One in my perspective.  In conclusion,  The Shining Ones are the Gods and Goddess who are friendly and voluntarily assist us in our workings while maintaining their position in the cosmos.
The second part of the Kindreds are the Nature Sprits.  I know many people who consider the Nature Spirits to be everything involving nature for example, grass, trees, rocks, air, water and what not.  I do not believe the Nature Sprits to be as such.  With my extensive training in Chinese Internal Martial Arts I have come to realize that everything in existence has Chi or “life energy”.  So in the aspect of existing in nature , just being a part of nature does not make you a Nature Sprit.  To me a Nature Spirit is a being who exists in a close relationship with nature but is a separate and complete sovereign entity.  There are many examples of this through out the various Indo-European cultures such as: the sidhe, dryads, sprites, and leprechauns.  All of the ones previously mentioned exist or are closely associated with nature but not only are they all quite different but they each have a consciousness of their own.
The Nature Sprits also have the ability to be emissaries for the Earth Mother, I theorize.  Although  the Earth Mother is everywhere and is the Earth herself, I do not consider her a Nature Sprit.  I would consider the Earth Mother as a Shining One.  The Nature Spirits would not only be individual and functional beings of their own, emissaries for the Earth Mother and other Shining Ones, but also assistants in keeping the delicate balance of nature and local eco-systems.  Even though they are unique and separate beings, they are intricately tied into the fabric of nature and in being in that relationship, they must strive to keep the order of things intact for their own existence depends on it.  In conclusion, the Nature Sprits are separate and distinct entities with their own personalities and unique world perspective all the while being interwoven with the interconnectedness of all things.
The Ancestors are the final piece of the puzzle that make up the Kindreds.
Ancestors, of course, are the predecessors in a persons blood line all the way back to the origin of the family line.  This is not always very easy to trace back.  I have done extensive research of my own family bloodline and it got very confusing after I got to Ellis Island but I was able to find my way.  However I do not limit my concept of Ancestors to my own blood line.  I consider the Founding Fathers of our country to be ancestors as well.  If it wasn’t for them, America would not have been born and my family would have never come here.  Therefore I consider them my ancestors from a cultural standpoint.  From what I can gather in my research into my own family ancestors, I had discovered that this was a common practice in the old days.  However my concept of Ancestors are only expanded to family and cultural at the time of this essay, that does not mean in the future my concept will not involve to include more.
The Ancestors are related to the element of the Sea in the Celtic view of the cosmos.  They are of course also related to the underworld or the summer lands.  Ancestor worship was also an integral part of the PIE cultures.  The evidence of this is scattered through out Europe as burial mounds and other monuments.  In relation to the other Kindred, they are related and interwoven to the Nature Spirits and the Shining Ones.  The existence of the burial mounds help that assumption.  They were completely constructed from earthen materials and the entrances were aligned with the Sun’s rising trajectory on the Solstices and Equinoxes relating them to both the Heavens and the Earth below.  I might also mention the stories of the messenger Gods, ferrymen and psychopomps who help the recently passed find their way to the Otherworld.