This section of our website features a number of pieces that I've written related to Druidry, Bardism and other similar subjects, interspersed with a few songs and poems.
Good greetings, all who fill
With beauty, mirth, good will and grace!
The bard returns, with English pound,
So pri'thee, each be served a round
And as for me, pray draw me off
A brew to cut this winter's cough,
A well-bred mead or stout will do
And then I'll play a song or two
I'm in a mood for dance and
For words have dried my tongue to clay,
So join me, all, and drink a cheer
To mirth and madness, bring it near
I beg ye, rise and prep for
Come, drummers, bring thy skins and rig,
And pipers, too, bring on your pipes,
The night is young, the time is ripe
We'll celebrate in wondrous din
That paths do cross, journeys begin
And friends are found in strangers' clothes
Here at the bonny Stag and Rose.
-- Greybeard Dances
On Writing - Advice to Young Bards
If you want to write good poetry, you've got to write a lot of bad poetry first.
You have to love to write. As a rough rule of thumb, for every 10 bad poems you write, you'll write 1 good one; for every 100 good poems you write, you might have 1 great one. And write essays, journals, notes to yourself, grocery lists [try writing these in rhyme]. Write your poetry using strict meters, using only true rhymes, and use a variety of forms - songs, haiku, sonnets, limericks, etc. Then write free verse, stream of consciousness, letting it flow - worry about breaking up the lines later. Then break it up different ways, observing how the line breaks isolate words and thoughts. Then try listening to jazz, and writing each line so it corresponds to the drum, or bass, or lead horn, or piano chording. Then turn off the music, and recite. Read everything aloud.
Know the meaning of every word you use.
You have to love words. For each word you use, know its spelling, its meaning(s), its connotations, its power (the emotion it triggers), the ways it's normally used in speech, what effect using it differently might have on the hearer or reader. Know how it sounds in the ear, how it feels in the mouth when said. Experiment with speaking it in different dialects, at different speeds, at different volumes, with different inflections and innuendos. Do it until you can recognize on sight if a word is used and spelled correctly, and if it is used appropriately in the poetic context. Study the word choices of other poets. Study foreign expressions and consider how they don't directly translate to your language. Collect colloquialisms and slang sayings. Write down the ones that resonate with you. Always keep at least two different dictionaries and a thesaurus on-hand. Use them.
Read everything you can.
You have to love books, and love reading. Start with cereal boxes, and telephone bills, then progress to advertisements and billboards, then short stories and novels, then poetry. Read poetry anthologies, and magazines, read myths and legends, read rhyme, limerick, free verse, experimental cut-up works, song lyrics, children's stories. Read letters that poets send, read their quotes, read quotes from a variety of people from a wide range of life-paths. Read who your favorite writers read. Follow their leads, trace their bibliographies. And if you're writing in English, read Shakespeare. For a nice Druidic regression, read Whitman, then Yeats, then Blake, then Taliesin, then Amergin.
Who is a bard, who asks, who
Such title, such a sorrowed fame?
There are poets, minstrels, clowns
And more that covet bardic crowns,
They'll study years and not begin
To grasp that song that cries within.
A Bard, why who would want the
To spend too few a restful night
When chronicle the times he must,
And trace mankind from dust to dust?
The glory, what is that to thee,
When one imprisoned means none free?
The secret language of the
Oft covers pain and life lived hard,
For royal poets all are gone -
We've lost the schools, the tools, the songs;
As minstrel singers take the stage,
And style, not substance, is the rage.
Who is a bard, who wants to be?
'Tis not a role filled easily,
For few can stand to see in mirrors
Their faults beside their wasted years,
While wielding still the two-edged sword
Of pleasing crowd, and self, and lord.
A bard am I, are any here?
'Tis not a calling, or career,
But endless years of toil and sweat
To write in words, lest all forget;
And still they do, for words will fail,
When there's a life, who needs a tale?
A bard is more than line and
More than a song for coin in purse -
But more a sacred touching stone,
And oft, for this, he dreams alone,
For passing between death and life
May lose him friend, or work, or wife
Who is a bard? A slave to those
That seek to know why words be chose,
And those who want a glimpse of light,
While they themselves are still in night;
For these, the bard must ply his wares
And speak the truth, tho' no one cares.
The sacred silence we all find
In doubtful moments, kills the mind
And makes us wonder of the use
For shaping language into noose;
But still we write, because we must
Until we, like our words, are dust.
-- Greybeard Dances, "The Bard Blues"
On "Pagan" Inspiration
According to Robert Graves (in his Book The White Goddess), all true poetry is pagan, that is, it is dedicated to or about the Goddess.
We are not lost here in these woods,
nor are they lost in us;
if you listen, still, for just a moment
the sensation of roots, searching
for moisture in this often parched land,
pushing away the organic substance
that keeps us from being grounded,
sensing which way is the center,
will slowly come upon us,
like dawn, stretching its lazy arms
to embrace the freshness
of the world.
Listen: you can hear the Earth
breathing softly with you,
laughing when you start to smile
and weeping when you walk away.
If we are to be lost, She says,
we will be lost together.
-- Greybeard Dances
In my opinion, the problem is not that there is a shortage of pagan poetry, but there is a serious lack of true poets. Sure, "poetry" abounds on the web - everyone has a page on their website that contains their poetry...but it is usually on the web, and not otherwise published, because it lacks form, polish, focus, power (or some combination of these elements). There are, of course, exceptions. Some choose to publish to the internet (which is no less "publishing" than putting into print, in fact, it yields a much larger potential audience) because the arts industry, including poetry, painting, music, etc., tends to praise the mediocre. We, in our effort to encourage, laud the good, the bad and the ugly equally. So many don't even know what makes good poetry good. And many more don't care, they just look for things that offer nostalgia or sentiment, that strike an emotional chord. As pagans, we are particularly guilty. There is too often the assumption that to be "spiritual," one has to turn the brain off and just FEEL. So there is not a lot of discerning reading of pagan writing, whether it be poetry, books, or whatever. This, of course, makes true talent hard to sell, promote or reward. Writing "poetry" and being a "poet" is more than just putting words to paper in some kind of romantic notion. There's a saying (and off the top of my head I can't think of who said it, but it was a poet of some great renown), that goes, "A poet at 18 is 18. A poet at 50 is a poet." Poetry is an art form that takes years of work to develop. There's a reason why the Bardic schools of old had a training program of 12 years - because bringing true poetic focus to bear required diligence, an encyclopedic knowledge of form, events, concepts and vocabulary. Most bards were historians, rather than poets. It was the rare one who actually composed verse of greatness. That is still the case, and whenever it occurs (in pagans or non-pagans) the subject is still the Goddess.
I have been a fly on the wall
of a corporate meeting
I have been a lost child in the snow
I have been a bird with a broken wing
I have been a prisoner in a gothic dungeon
I have been a supporter of lost
I have been a wandering, aimless fool
I have been a prodigal son
I have been a homeless man
I have been a harsh word in the
I have been a carp rejected for the frying pan
I have been a singer for spare change
I have been a voice crying in the wilderness
I have been a student of
I have been a trust fund baby
I have been a reed in a gale force wind
I have been a stoner, drunk and fallen
I have been a teacher of useful
I have been a janitor in the halls of justice
I have been a cross-maker, Sanhedrin and disciple
I have been a warrior forgotten in battle
I have been a fire made from
I have been a perceptor without portfolio
I have been a tiller of the earth
I have been a victim of victimless crime
I have been a speck of snow in
I have been a big fish in a small pond
I have been a force for creativity and light
I have been a cloud on the face of the sun
I have been a changeling spirit
of the night
I have been a watcher of winds
I have been a friend of the trees
I have been loved.
I have been found.
I have been blessed.
-- Greybeard Dances, after "The Song of Amergin"
On the 20-Year Installment Plan for Enlightenment
It seems to me that historically, in the absence of public education, the fosterling program of the ancient Welsh and Irish (where the child was sent to live with a tutor at age seven or so) is VERY similar to the education of young children today. Myself like most other Americans, I started "formal" education at age 5 (kindergarten), over the next 12 years in the public arena I learned reading, writing, mathematics, sciences (physics, biology & anatomy), foreign languages (German and Spanish), economics, political science, literature, history (local, US and world), geography, logic, philosophy, commercial art, thanatology, debate, drama, choral music, instrumental music and athletics. If you add in the personal instruction and higher education (college) that I've had, you can add music and art history, business law, accounting, computer programming, systems analysis, music theory and music composition, history of religion, comparative religion, Wicca, Sufism, Druidry, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Voudon to that list.
So what is the difference between that 20 some years of education and what is consider the "classic" Druidic education? The Celtic/Druidic model was the basis for much of our public education system currently in use (although the inclusion of the arts is sadly in decline).
Until just now, I never thought of it in that way. But it makes sense. Of course, the level at which you applied yourself during your K-12 education is dependent upon your inspiration to do so, your environment and natural abilities. But that was the case with the Druids as well, I'm sure.
I think anyone who has completed high school, if transported back to the days when the Druids were at their peak, would be considered HIGHLY educated. Most people started apprenticeships and hard labor at 12 or 13, if they were not studying with the Druids.
Compared to the common folk of 1100 A.D., most of us on the planet are Druids, if accumulation of knowledge is the standard. The primary difference between the educated Druid and the average educated American is in retention of information. How many of us, for example, still remember all the state capitals, or the complete table of the elements, and also retain memory of the important dates, individuals, court cases and conflicts/wars/police actions/riots that made up our history lessons?
As I have often stated about music, like medical practice, we have become a nation of specialists, where no one is a true "general practitioner." I think this may be a direct result of Plato's "The Republic," where it was deemed necessary for each person to be required to perform only their primary task so they could learn it as masterfully as possible.
Probably the closest thing we have currently to an advanced program of Druidic study would be the "Great Books" curriculum. But there is more than just our standard mandatory education involved here. Of course, public education rarely touches on any spiritual or homeopathic training. Where it does mirror the Druidic "colleges" more accurately is with respect to the sciences, history, mathematics, law, etc. Our separation of church and state has led to specialization in education, as well. We leave the religious aspects to the divinity schools, seminaries, Sunday lessons, or to covens, groves and other private teaching enclaves.
But surely those who have completed a certain level of education are capable of instructing (or tutoring, if you will) younger students? Besides, one of the best ways to retain what you have learned is to try to teach it (I, for example, find more and more of the hated algebra I practically failed through in school coming back all too clearly as I try to assist my 12-year old step-daughter with her homework. I think of the young entry-level Druids (as compared to the Ovates and Bards) as those interesting student teachers getting their classroom experience by sitting in and leading a few lessons in the presence of older, more experienced instructors.
With respect to the vast amounts of repertoire involved, I will tell you that over the course of my musical instruction (private and public school lessons, etc.) I have had to memorize and/or perform 1000's of pieces of music, drama and other writings. Memorization and recitation of poetry in public school used to be a requirement (my father, for example, who graduated high school in 1946, told me many times of his experiences with Longfellow and public oratory thereof). As a matter of fact, when I was at Berklee, two elements of the curricula seemed to directly apply here. First, the training of the ear to recognize and commit to memory the chord/melodic structure of any song so as to be able to perform it from memory in any key. Second, the practice of learning "standards," a stock set of two to three hundred songs that could then be played by any group of musicians, regardless of their previous experience together.
I'll briefly set my fiddle down
And come and beg of ye, one round
This minstrel work is drying stuff
And once begun, 'tis ne'er enough
I've sung for free, you've
danced the tune
While words I wove of stars and moon
And brought ye thoughts of love and loss
But now, I'm parched and have no dross
So, if you'd be so kind, dear
To offer mead for what's been played;
'Tis worth at least a good, long drink --
If not, I'll jump in yon well's brink
Thanks to your gracious hearth
Just give me sup, I'll play again
'Tis hardly too high price to pay
For songs to dance the night away.
So if ye would, my glass
And I'll then toast to your goodwill;
Your health and wealth, no fears or woes --
A blessing on the Stag and Rose.
-- Greybeard Dances
On What a Bard Actually DOES
From everything that I've read, the bottom line is that nobody really knows anything. There's a lot of talk within some Druidic organizations about the depth and quality of their scholarship, but REALLY the sources that are available to work with are minimal. Of course, that's a difficult pill to swallow when you're trying to prove "an unbroken chain of instruction" and calling yourself a bunch of Druids. We don't even really know if Druids hung out in bunches except on special occasions. In my opinion, modern "Druidry" was created as such because a group of men in England decided that they needed some mysterious, esoteric names to give to their membership.
But then again, most spiritual practice is founded in romantic notion. The science is secondary to that. In order for the concepts of magick to work in the first place, you've got to IMAGINE that these things CAN happen, and DO happen. As with any belief system, there is always a "leap of faith" that is necessary before things start to happen. And, as someone once said, "Give us this day our daily faith, but God save us from our beliefs." There may be a "science" to certain things (for example, certain herbs cause certain predictable reactions when administered or used in specific ways and amounts, it IS possible to have out-of-body-experiences, it IS possible focus your energy and manage to do a great number of things) but if there is a "tradition" of Druidic magick, those who truly know and/or have carried that tradition down generation to generation are certainly not the people writing books on the subject.
And there are those that vacillate on whether Druidism is (pick one): a religion, a code for living, a method for magickal working, a system of Celtic government and education, all of the above, or none of the above. There are even some who claim that the Druids were a non-human species that has interacted with the human race since the beginning of time, educating and guiding them as necessary to ensure their survival.
Finally, as much as I admire Isaac Bonewits' intelligence and attitude, there is something wrong with ADF's burning desire to create a "respectable priesthood" with certified training programs to re-create a tradition that truly doesn't exist. That, of course, is just an example of the many things going on in modern "Druidry." The best thing that I've seen ANY Druid group work on (with the exception of King Arthur of the Loyal Arthurian Warband's public struggle in England for free and open access to Stonehenge and other monolithic structures) is the OBOD's Sacred Grove Planting Programme. That makes sense to me. Of course, the trees are the final arbiters. Some have been here longer than democracy in America, and those trees planted today have a good chance of talking to our descendants hundreds of years from now - when they are creating "Their Own Druidry" based their attempted reconstruction of our muddled efforts. I think the situation is the same - we may have a lot more documentation on what we're doing, but the outsider is probably better off with the absence of documentation from Celtic and pre-Celtic Druidic "magickal" practices than with trying to make sense of our jumbled semantics.
Of course, "serious" academics avoid these issues. Most modern Druidic organizations claim that the scholars they use as references are the "serious" ones. But I doubt that anyone outside of Druidry in those fields would agree. Most of the Goddess traditions, for example, are a direct result of Marija Gimbutas' postulations.
Like Mark Twain said, there are two kinds of lies - damn lies and statistical lies. We tend to look at scholarly research and pick the cases that best fit how we want to see the world work.
I grew up with German folk lore (like Grimm), which also references a lot of magick, witchcraft and strange enchantments of all kinds. The question that I have is this: how much of fairy tale is to be taken literally, and how much is a metaphor for everyday human dilemmas, conflicts, perceptions? How much is lessons to be learned versus historical fact? Add to that the factor that EVERY major writer on occult subjects has modified their information so that the non-serious, non-initiated reader will meet with less than promised results. Where does that fit it? If we know that any documents that have made it through time are deliberately skewed, then what good are they when formulating a theory of what they really mean and the implications they indicate?
A Druid walks the world and
And finding truth, he stops and speaks
Of nature's ways, Her grand design,
The circle's long unbroken line
The seasons' songs he learns to sing,
And tries, in all, to balance bring -
With word and touch and thought and act,
Combining dream, and myth, and fact
To know himself, the final goal,
To find in peace, his Divine soul,
His place apart and part with all -
Responding to the Goddess' call
Along the way, he helps those lost,
Through spring and fall, through drought and frost
And serves to guide when that is sought
For wisdom's worthless, if shared not.
To honor self, and land, and kin,
A Druid strives to grow, within
While loving tree, and bird and beast,
Respecting all, from great to least
And seeking knowledge, ever learns
To watch the wheel of life that turns
To guide us all through joy and pain,
Enlightenment for all to gain
Through wind and rain and sun and snow
He never stops the quest to know
But sees that knowledge is but means
To manifest this world of dreams.
-- Greybeard Dances, "A Druid Walks"
On What Makes Pagan Music Pagan
Although this thought originated in a discussion about pagan music, I think it applies to all the arts. What makes a piece of work a PAGAN work? Just being by a pagan, or touching on pagan themes, or is it more than that?
When people say pagan bands or artists that have recorded popular music, do they mean like the Beatles (who turned the West onto the Marharishi), Jethro Tull, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Fairport Convention, Incredible String Band, King Crimson, Grateful Dead and other similar bands who if not outright pagan then were vocal espousers of pagan sensibilities? Or do you mean card-carrying Neo-Pagans who happen to use music as their method of proselytizing non-proselytizing? Or people that put rituals in their videos because that's what sells?
What exactly are pagan topics, as far as songwriting goes, anyway? I've been writing songs for 30 years and I've always used what I consider pagan themes - I've even written what probably would be considered pagan COUNTRY songs LOL - finding balance, seeking inner truth, revering nature, examining relationships between human beings, looking for new tangents of perspective, evaluating the responsibilities assumed for actions taken or not taken, laughing at myself and our notions of control and power as a species...identifying the universal in the personal and visa versa, that's always a good pagan theme, isn't it? As above, so below (and over, under, sideways and down as well). After all, the Tao that can be spoken is not the Tao...you don't need to have a song called "Blessed Be" to share the blessing.
So what puts the PAGAN in pagan art? Is "Jack-of-the-Green" by Jethro Tull a pagan song? Is Boticelli's "Venus" a Pagan painting? Does Robert Frost's poem about Pan make him a Pagan?
Are we humans, with universal human themes in our work that apply regardless of our religious convictions, or do you gotta toe the party line to "get it"?
Where have the dancing ladies
Those fair and merry maids,
That once so sweetly filled the air?
Too soon, their laughter fades
(It must be spring that bades
And seek for other haunts,
Once winter's grip has loosened on them
They have other wants)
And so, the tavern echoes now
With silent, mirthless men
Who sit and sip their bitter brews
And think of shady glens
(It must be spring, but if it
This place should feel it, too,
Instead of fading with the night
Like stars are wont to do)
The bard is set to sing anew
But needs attentive ears
For when the place is bright and gay,
Then inspiration nears
(It must be spring, the waking
That brings on such a need,
For dancing, song and tender smiles -
Pan plays upon this reed)
Oh, ladies, come ye back again
And share your warmth and grace
And I'll endeavour by and by
To liven up this place.
-- Greybeard Dances
On Radical Druidry
According to Roman observers, the Druidic
"orders" were divided into three segments: Bards, Ovates and Druids.
The order in which these segments are tackled by Druidic students varies
depending on whether you look at Irish, Scottish or Welsh "schools." I
think to separate the areas of knowledge in such a manner is useless in the
beginning, and should be applied only after a basic groundwork is lain. If we go
by the somewhat "standard" definition of the three segments of Druidic
knowledge, here is a breakdown of the curricula appropriate for each.
BARD - THE COMMUNICATOR
(the historian, storyteller, musician, newscaster, poet, liturgist, public speaker)
Familiarity with local, regional, national and international current news events of interest, and history of these events as appropriate
History of their particular spiritual path
Maintenance of a list of recommended resources for further information and study (i.e., books, web resources, organizations, etc.)
Colloquial expression and their own cultural/ethnic idiom
Dramatic arts (including acting, writing, stagecraft, etc.)
Familiarity with or proficiency in languages spoken in the area of their geographic circulation
Knowledge of current musical genres, and artists/songs in each
Knowledge of music history leading to current musical genres (with probably a specialization, say, jazz or hip/hop, country, etc.)
Proficiency, if a musician, on at least one instrument appropriate for accompaniment (i.e., harp, guitar, piano, etc.)
Knowledge and proficiency with drumming for ritual and non-ritual accompaniment
Familiarity with concepts of forensics (i.e., debate, public speaking, moderation of group discussions, etc.)
Knowledge of and familiarity with poetic forms, meters, styles, etc.
Working knowledge of world mythology, fable and religious texts
A library of poetic works suitable for ritual and/or non-ritual use
Improvisational training (to be able to improvise and/or create spontaneously in a performance medium)
Memory enhancement training
Oral and written communication skills
OVATE - THE HEALER
(the healer, seer, physician, herbalist)
Minimum of basic anatomy, biology, chemistry and astronomy
Knowledge of health symptoms and the possible causes
Knowledge of nutrition, herbal and other dietary supplements
Knowledge of herbal properties for making of incense and other magickal concoctions
Knowledge of at least one method of divination (i.e., tarot, runes, I Ching, etc.)
Knowledge of basic psychology
Knowledge of western occult tradition of magick (i.e., familiarity with Agrippa or at least one other comprehensive system)
Maintenance of a list of recommended resources for further information and study (i.e., books, web resources, organizations, etc.)
Knowledge of flora and fauna native to their area of geographic circulation
Knowledge of available health practitioner of various methods in their geographic area
A store of herbal and other medicinal supplies applicable to their areas of expertise or needs
Memory enhancement training
Oral and written communication skills
DRUID - THE PHILOSOPHER
(the philosopher, advisor, community leader, priest)
Knowledge of political science, government, economics
Knowledge of mathematics
Familiarity with the history and use of symbols and symbolism
Knowledge of common, civil and criminal law (local, regional, national and international, as appropriate, probably with a focus on one or more)
Knowledge of and familiarity with philosophic history, concepts and primary exponents
Knowledge of psychology (both individual and group)
Knowledge of principles of logic, group dynamics, instruction and group leadership
Familiarity with local, regional, national and international current events and their history as appropriate
Knowledge of current trends in physics research and history of scientific thought
Knowledge of both inductive and deductive reasoning methods
Knowledge of current religious movements, inter-relations, trends and attitudes in their area of geographic circulation
Knowledge of educational systems in their area of geographic circulation
I've probably left something crucial out of this list. But, as you can see, there must be quite a bit of overlap within these three segments. In addition, it is not possible to focus in one area and exclude the entirety of the other two areas. That's the bad news. The good news is that most people in this day and age already have these basics - thanks to twelve plus years of public education. The Druid differs only in their day to day application of this learning, and a subsequent higher retention of that learning due to actual use. You may also notice that one important area is missing from each segment - the spiritual (or religious) aspects of day to day practice. That is an area, I feel, that is common to all three segments, and in truth deserves an entirely separate curricula (to be studied in addition to these other areas). More to come on that, later.
It's not so much the trip, he
but the fact that you are traveling together,
down dark and musty paths that lead
to places only memory maps can ponder.
The time, she says, the time is passing by
like blades of grass --
we see the green in toto,
but each separate tine we step upon
like grains of sand on a beach.
He speaks of love and power and control.
It's like this:
isn't it defined
as someone who is freaked out
by the fact that they might be
under the control of another?
And isn't it so:
that when you ask someone
to admit they are controlling you
that you're looking for a reason
not to have control?
Love, she said, is not about control -
it's not a question, at least,
of how much you control
and mold and shape another,
but how much control you have
I cannot, she said,
take responsibility for the fact
that your life is unfulfilling,
that you are unhappy.
That is not my business,
and by asking me why I must control,
asking if I do want control,
you are making it my problem
without giving me
the responsibility to change it.
Furthermore, I cannot change it,
even if you or I wanted me to.
Because, she added,
it is not in my power to change anything
So, he asked, is it like that?
Then who is it that must suffer,
if you do not allow me
to pick the lice from your head,
and yet do nothing yourself about them,
and so if I am to be close to you
I must then be infected?
You choose, she replied, to suffer,
rather than to ask me, to command --
the lice or me --
or accept infestation as the price you pay
for what you want.
For that, that is your choice,
the only thing you can control.
If you ask me to make the choice
between cleanliness and you,
or dirtiness and solitude,
you are hoping to influence my decision
by controlling me, which IS control.
Hope, she said, is control,
if it is by hope that you want to change me.
Your desire for change in anyone but yourself
for you have externalized upon me
your need to control yourself,
your desire to have the world conform
to a pattern you perceive yourself by,
rather than changing your perception
to admit yourself into the world
as it exists.
You and I, then, he answered,
cannot strike a compromise?
The only compromise you make,
that you have the power to make,
break or negotiate,
is with yourself,
between what you truly want and desire
(which, when considered and balanced with the desires of the flow of the universe, is Truth)
and what you are afraid to face
in yourself and for yourself,
alone and tired,
destitute and cold,
FOR and BY YOURSELF
are willing to accept
as your reality.
We need each other, you see,
not as pillars or beams
to support us in our weakness,
but rather as parts of the same soul and being
that share, because of their own fullness,
the journey we all make together.
-- Greybeard Dances, "Zen and the Art of Arc Welding"
Brightest Blessings, Ya'll ...
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