The Whole & Continuing Story of CedarLight Grove, ADF

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Greetings Druids and Dear Friends of CedarLight Grove

May the arms our beloved OldOnes embrace you, Their blessings engulf you, Their love uphold you. We greet you now with grace of all Their names, and in the fellowship of CedarLight Grove. I am Rev. Caryn MacLuan, Senior Druid Emeritus and Dedicant Priest of CedarLight and it is my privilege to tell the Story of our Grove.
CedarLight Grove is a Druid Fellowship serving both the pagan and the wider Baltimore community. CedarLight dedicates our worship to the OldOnes and our study to the teachings of the Old Religions.

CedarLight, the Baltimore area affiliate of Ar nDraiocht Fein, continues today as one of ADF’s most enduring groves. CedarLight traces one of our roots to July, 1988 when Will Pierson and a fellow pilgrim slid to a stop in six inches of mud, and set up camp in a pouring afternoon thunder squall. Guided by the lure of the elder Starwood, the ephemeral tides of Her mystery and drive towards finding high ground, shallower mud and sheltering trees They fetched up at the edge of destiny. A most agreeable fellow appeared through the downpour to offer the hapless pair a neighborly hand. Thus came Silverleaf, a druid of ADF.

The next, and much drier, day the adventurers found themselves situated in the suburbs of “Druid Camp”. They met Isaac, and ADF’s Vice Arch-Druid Silverleaf, Niszsa, Senior Druid of Waters of the Brandywine Grove, Brian of Greenman Grove and others. Being unintentional, but fortuitous neighbors, the ongoing going-ons of Druid camp did not go un-noticed. Nor unnoticed. Nor unattended. Nor unheeded. Will joined ADF and upon returning to Baltimore undertook discovering a grove in Baltimore.

ADF put Will in touch with another interested ADF member in the Baltimore area, Annora Koster-Danecourt. Will and Annora continued their conversations through the winter of 1988. With the burgeoning of Spring’s vitality, the two rode the blossoming tides and heralded the birth of a Druid Fellowship in Baltimore. With a public declaration at the Free Spirit Alliance’s Beltane picnic in Greenbelt Park, 1989, the roots of CLG pushed deeper into soils of the Earth Mother. During Beltane’s revels, Will ascended to the heights of the fated “picnic table of destiny” and in his customary all-too-loud and boisterous Hussah, announced the arrival of Druids to Baltimore with the sacred declaration “Hey everybody we’re starting a Druid Grove, anybody else want to play? Come over here.” Thus Susan Hill stepped up to the calling and became the third of the three founding members.

Soon after that first meeting in Green Belt Park in suburban Washington DC, they began regular meetings in downtown Baltimore. First they met on the front steps of the Baltimore Art Museum and moved into secluded glens in the adjoining statue gardens of The Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. The three celebrated the nascent grove’s first High Rite for the Summer Solstice Holiday. For this, they gathered at Will’s house on the banks of the Patapsco River in 1989.

Late on that longnight, after the first of what became many legendary revels, the fellowship gathered “as in more ancient times the Druids of old gathered together to imbue themselves with the mysteries of blessed quantities of the sacred waters of life” around a fire on the banks of the river. (Of course modern Druids, with the sensitivities and sensibilities of contemporary culture would never engage in such unseemliness these days, not!) Names for their infant Grove drifted into sight from out the druid’s mists, tossed about in wobbly consciousness for a time and soon drifted back into the depths of forgotten lore. Annora held to a kinship with the dragon’s race and offered candidates such as Dragon Claw Grove, and Tooth of the Dragon Grove. Susan dwelt much in the worlds of the sci-fi cons and Will taught Shamanic work at the time. In those days, some found it right to name a grove honoring the local water spirits. “Patapsco Grove or Patapsco River Grove” just didn’t ring right. Cedar Tree Grove came to mind as such stood a ward in Will’s front hedge. Anon the discussion turned to, “well what to druids do?”

Well, druids talk to trees. They hold sacred the trees and the in the sacred language of those fully imbued with the blessed waters, those infamous words leapt into being, “druids see da trees!” Thus inspired by the rising tide of the sacred waters of life and in the rising of the summer solstice sun, our own Will Pierson jumped up and yelled, “I see da light!”. In good and proper keeping with the most ancient traditions the dance began around the fire with singing, “I see da light, I see da light, no more darkness, no more night.” Now friends, there is one thing everyone who knows CedarLight knows and that is Will Pierson should, nay, must not ever be allowed to sing. But the force of the waters of life were stronger than the rules of civility. On he sang and danced and by the light of the dawning summer solstice sun, the magic was done. CedarLight Grove arose and shown in the East to grow through the years into the fullness of fellowship and service.

For a year and more, CedarLight’s bonds of fellowship and worship grew stronger. They celebrated the eight high days and at the Yuletide, 1990 they gathered a few days after the Grove’s own longnight High Rite, their thirteenth, to celebrate a Winter Solstice in the company of a “Cakes for the Queen of Heaven” Circle. There, in the sanctuary of the Columbia UU Fellowship, the three met, signed the request to charter a grove of ADF and it was notarized under the hand of a student of OTO’s ancient rites.

Over the first 10 years, our own Will Pierson has, in the support of ADF, initiated dozens of people into the first circle of ADF in all night vigil deep in a state park, taught hundreds of Druid classes at dozens of different pagan events, represented ADF on television, radio and in newspapers in the PA, MD, DC & VA areas. Also, he and Susan Brown were two fo the very few people who completed the original ADF second circle study program which was, very unfortunately, lost by the ADF preceptor and caused a long cycle of grief to both Will and Susan which never really healed and caused great loss to both ADF and CedarLight.

Since that first day, CedarLight has held faithful and regular worship services for the High Days and this became, as it endures to this day, the primary commitment of our Grove. Since our first High Rite of Summer in 1989, we’ve found many splendid sanctuaries for our worship. Over the years, our worship of the OldOnes took us from the suburban banks of the Patapsco to the forested shores of the Susquehanna, to the pine bogs of the Severn and the highland springs of the Codoros Creek headwaters. Free Spirit honored has CLG several times with an invitation to conduct our Summer and Winter Solstice High Rites for their community gathering. Occasionally we ventured out to worship a High Rite with a neighboring Grove, rather than celebrating our own services. In those early days, Waters of the Brandywine lay to our northeast. Mugwort Grove grew up to our southwest and Red Oak to our northeast. The past few years have seen the birth and demise of Crann Bethadh and Wild Honey Protogroves to our north and RavenHawk Protogrove to our south. Whether celebrating our own liturgy or on pilgrimage to join in the worship of one of our kindred Groves, we always hold fast to our dedication to regular, public worship of the OldOnes.

Now many people in ADF know CedarLight because of its permanent sanctuary and building but we have a colorful history prior to rising to that accomplishment which just can’t be forgotten by the passage of time.

One of the events CedarLight members got involved with in the early years was the Southern Maryland Celtic Festival. Now this festival is decidedly not pagan and so the first year, grove members were a little nervous as to how they would be received. We got the appropriate permit to have a table and collected the ADF and CedarLight tri-folds along with examples of books and lots of folks who were willing to talk. We got ourselves together and gathered at the appointed place for the processional into the grounds and the start of the festival. The Clans went first in order of names and they the various groups present and we were towards the end of the line. So away we went, walking in our druid best, and doing out best to project, “We are normal, we aren’t crazy, we are Druids and we have arrived.” Little did we know, however, that lurking just behind the next bend was a band of Celtic re-enactors who were scantily clad, painted blue, and were carrying spears with paper mache heads stuck onto the top. When the Druids passed, we were surrounded by the blue people brandishing their spears and there they marched all the way into the main ceremonial stand for the introduction of the Grove chanting all the way…”Druids, Druids, Druids, Druids.” So much for, “We are normal, we aren’t crazy”. Well there was only one thing that could be done. A bottle of single malt was opened and there was much rejoicing. We went to the Celtic Festival for several years and still go back occasionally.

On another occasion, the Grove decided to enter a float in the Baltimore St. Patrick’s Day parade. So one group of folks painted a scene of a dolman in an Irish countryside on a full size piece of plywood and others made two green with yellow letters felt banners that said Ar nDraiocht Fein. The banners were placed on either side of Will’s pickup truck and the scene of the dolman was attached at the very back. The Druids piled onto bales of hay in the back and stocked their cauldrons with chocolate, gold covered coins and lots of rubber snakes and away they went. Some were walking and some were riding and in the early 1990’s it was interesting to see the reactions and realizations on people’s faces as the Druids passed. So it was that the truck got to the point in the parade where a parade worker was studying the lists of floats to ensure they were in order to be announced at the reviewing stand. He looked at the float and then at his list and you could see him mouthing the words, “Ar nDraiocht Fein, A Druid Fellowship.” You could see the realization dawn over his face as the Druids passed and his desperate attempt to call the reviewing stand and warn them but he was too late. The Druids came abreast of the reviewing stand to be announced, “Ar nDraiocht Fein, A Druid Fellowship,” and all the Druids waved their snakes…to the guest of honor in the reviewing stand…the Archbishop of Baltimore.
In the fall of 1996 CedarLight undertook a pioneering effort in the service of the OldOnes by establishing a real and physical sanctuary in Their honor. This sanctuary we call CedarLight Center. CLC is a residential and teaching facility located in suburban Baltimore City. This center’s existence establishes CedarLight as a leader positioned well in the fore of those working to re-establish religious worship in the Old Ways as a viable and vital contribution to the faith-based community of religions, both locally and nationally.

But how, some may ask, did this happen. Well it all started when Will Pierson had a vision from his patron Tailtue. In this vision, Tailtue said to Will, “Build a home for my people.” That was the start of CedarLight Center AKA Druid Hall and that is also how Tailtue became the patron of CedarLight Center. The next steps happened; one, because the Grove members committed to work towards this project and two, because Will Pierson at age 45 found himself with $50K in the bank and wondering what good he could do with it in order to make a difference in the world. These things came together to form CedarLight Center. Will and member Susan Brown, a librarian, did the research to zoning regulations to determine where we could have a church verses a community center. We went through a realtor but we did not get a loan from a bank because the owner offered to hold the loan and the amount of money put down was determined by the business plan the grove had come up with and how much they wanted the monthly payment to be. So Will put down half the mortgage and we make monthly payments on the other half. When that is paid off we then start to pay on the second mortgage to Will. All contracts were researched and notarized.
The first Highrite celebrated in the new building was Yule of 1996. In a bare apartment with just a few chairs and a table, the Grove gathered to celebrate this momentous occasion along with all those who came to honor this achievement. Among those was a young man who had just discovered Druidry and was interested in learning more. He had driven all the way from Philadelphia to join us at our celebration and from that first rite, he went on to become Bardd Dafydd, form Red Oak Grove, and serve as the Vice Archdruid of ADF.

CedarLight Grove struggled, endured and grew. Recognizing the strength of our faith, the OldOnes kept us strong. We have become widely known as a strong faith-based congregation through our commitment to the worship of the OldOnes. We are also known as the congregation that invites all to join in our worship. CLG attends particularly to the spiritual lives of our grove members, but also serves the whole of the Pagan community. Indeed, CLG serves the whole of the wider community and world without regard to faith. Many people have joined the Grove along the way, sharing in the adventures, joys and burdens of our religious community for a few months or a few years, as the course of their lives allowed. We’ve shared many fond moments, cherished many memories, found many beloved friends, and even fought a few battles.

The most important battle simply cannot be left out of this story. It is they story of how CedarLight fought for and won a tax exemption for one-half the property of CedarLight Center in 2003. CedarLight had been trying to gain our legally entitled exemption from MD state property tax for CedarLight Center for a number of years. Our progress had always depended on how much time we had to pursue it and time is something we’ve never had much of. In 2003 we took it all the way. Our initial request was denied and all help from the tax appeals office ceased after we were asked if our church professed a belief in the God of Abraham (clearly illegal). It looked like it was going to be a long uphill battle. We requested and received from ADF Leadership, affidavits stating that CedarLight Grove/Center was in fact a church and legal in the eyes of the federal government & the state. We appealed the denial of our initial request and expected to plead our case in Aug/Sept 2003. Well as the wheels of the government move slower than a speeding snail, our appeal date was set for Wed, December 17, 2003. We spent that time between, preparing and gathering every possible document, picture, or letter which could be used as evidence for our case. The day before we held a reiki share/healing class at which we took the opportunity to do a guided visualization into the appeals board the next day. We filled the scene with healing/ balancing energy for fairness, justice and most of all open minds.
Wednesday morning found thirteen Druids marching in most professional array through the pouring rain and the downtown Baltimore traffic to the appointed place and time. Like the ancient Celts in their best, most fearsome battle gear, we stormed the fort determined to emerge victorious. We filled every seat in the small appeals board room and when “the State vs. Cedarlight Grove” was announced we stood in unison. The board chairman looked surprised and said, “All of you?” Myself and founding member/senior druid emeritus, Will Pierson, were sworn in and I will defer now to the notes and comments of the other Grove Members in the audience as I was on the ‘hot seat’.

Ruby wrote: I sat down about a half hour early, and so heard the 2 cases before ours. This was helpful because the Associate Director of the Department of Assessments (DoA) cited two cases that I think are relevant to us although not favorably. Both had individuals living on property which would otherwise be tax exempt but due to the rent collected and Baltimore City Law, they were not. They are pertinent to the CLC case due to our two upstairs apartments being rented out to provide funding for the center. The DoA Director cited “recent litigation” they had won in court where the argument was that while a “house of public worship” is not taxable, property owned by the church but used for “marginal purposes” is taxable. The other case, from 982, was Bosley Methodist Church Cemetery vs.. Board. In this case, the Cemetery was appealing the tax on the caretaker’s house. The ruling was that while the cemetery was not taxable, the caretaker’s house was because it was a private residence.

Our hearing started with a description of the property. CedarLight Center is a detached house that is divided into 4 apartments. Originally, the Grove used only 1 of the 4 apartments as an area of public worship. However, the entire downstairs of the house has been used as Grove space since 07/01/03, the date relevant to this hearing. The two upstairs apartments are rented by the Grove to help pay the mortgage. The Grove went into the hearing prepared to accept a 50% tax exemption, though we consider the upstairs apartments to be our parsonage. If the Senior Druid wanted to live there, it would be hers. As it is, she doesn’t need it so she’s agreed to rent it out for the Grove. However, it is income and the apartments are not open to the public. The examiners and the assessors were shown photographs of both the inside and outside of the property, including the sanctuary in the backyard and the altars inside. The lawyer from the State asked Caryn to point out how the 4 apartments were accessed. In discussing the upstairs apartments, the parsonage argument was made.

Phobos wrote: I was absolutely delighted with how well the meeting progressed today with the Baltimore City Tax Appeals Board. Will was incredibly well-prepared for the event, and it was quickly evident to the appeals board that CLG was competent, organized, and unshakably resolute in its conviction to obtain the same tax relief benefits afforded to mainstream religious groups by our beloved Constitution. The appeals board and the representing attorney searched for evidence of uncertainty, insecurity, and intimidation in both Will and Caryn’s testimonies, and came up piteously short.

Caryn was orally grilled for about a half hour by the tax attorney representing Baltimore City (including questions regarding her competence/credentials to serve as CLG leader), and Will rapid-fired documents, photographs, and affidavits like a tribal Celtic warrior peeling off arrows at approaching Roman soldiers. There was doublespeak aplenty, where the attorney would ask one question under the guise of another for the sake of political correctness or lightly veiled intrusiveness. On this point, both Will and Caryn were so polished at fending off the questions that the appeals board was peacefully disarmed in a ballet of verbal swordsmanship. Bravo!

Ruby wrote: This led to a discussion of Caryn’s ordination. Caryn completed her Dedicant’s Program (DP) and served as Senior Druid/President of CedarLight for the past 3 years. She showed her ordination certificate as a Dedicant Priest through ADF, explaining that it was contingent on her continued studies. She was asked what was entailed in obtaining this certification. She briefly explained the DP, the requirement of leadership within her Grove and the ADF Clergy Program, etc. She explained that through her ordination she is able to perform weddings, child blessings, etc. The DoA rep asked if the DP and/or study program amounted to some sort of degree, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Will responded that no, ADF did not have educational accreditation.

Caryn writes: The long and short of the above is that the ADF Dedicant Priest Ordination certificate and an accompanying explanation of the ordination requirements survived the scrutiny of the lawyers for the State of MD and the State Tax Appeals Board.

Copies of both CLG’s articles of incorporation, and both CLG’s and ADF’s bylaws were presented when we were asked to explain our belief system. The passage highlighted for the purposes of the hearing was ” Since one of the primary duties of the ancient Druids was to lead their tribes in magical and religious activities, A.D.F. advocates and practices, as an integral part of our faith, open, inclusionary, and public ceremonies to worship the Earth Mother and the Old Gods and Goddesses, rites of passage to mark the cycles of our lives, and magical rituals to accomplish our other goals in an honest and ethical manner.”

Caryn writes: Yes the term ‘magical’ really seemed to be a sticking point for the lawyer for the State. He was very intent on me explaining how the word ‘magical’ was relevant to a church. I explained that its all in the definitions of the words. A church group gets together to pray for something or someone for example, someone in the hospital. If the healing occurs they believe their prayers were answered, they may even say it was a miracle. We would call that magic. Same thing yet different words. The board seemed OK with that but the lawyer did not want to let it go. He asked about details of our ‘secret’ rituals.

Ruby wrote: As requested, we were also asked to detail a ritual “if that wasn’t confidential.” The SD explained how we began by processing to the sanctuary, calling the Deity chosen for the ceremony, and so forth. She did use words like sacrament & blessing instead of ‘waters of life’ or return. We were then asked to give examples of what we would consider a deity. Caryn and Will explained the various pantheons. CLG does not have an established pantheon as some Groves may. We call most often on the Irish Celtic gods, but not always.

The next question was if we had a book such as The Bible or Koran we followed. A ‘divine book’ they called it. It was explained that ADF primarily follows the traditions of pre-Christian Europe. Since most pre-Christian Indo-European civilizations did not have a formal written language (Caryn said that), there were no specific books to follow for worship. She explained that because of this, we must look at primarily academic texts. The function of the ADF Scholars’ Guild in researching the most academically correct works was mentioned as a part of this.

“Is it tribal?” “Is it like a historical tribal faith?” Believe it or not, that was the assessor’s next question. The answer was no (and yes). As everyone seemed a little confused by our openness it was explained that one of our central beliefs is inclusivity, that one of the few things we require of our members is tolerance of other beliefs. Will invited the assessors and examiners to our Yule ritual, btw 🙂
Fortunately, the conversation moved on from there. We explained that we hold study meetings every Thursday evening (Lore Meeting), and that on Sundays we hold a potluck brunch (Rites of Caffeina) and 11am worship service (Walk with the OldOnes). There is time set aside for those of us currently going through the DP, and we have healing classes on Tuesdays.

It started wrapping up from there, with only one more (irrelevant?) question, this time from both the assessor and one of the examiners. Is there one day of the week that we consider more important than other, like Saturday or Sunday? The simple answer was no.

Summed up, it was restated that the entire 1st floor of the house is absolutely used only for public worship, entitling us to at least a 50% exemption. Whispers in Will’s ear reminded him of the sanctuary in the backyard. He mentioned it, and received a load of crap from the assessor about curtilage, a practice in this country that comes from English common law. It has to do with the land around a building and how it’s taxed, etc.

You never know for sure, but it is my feeling that the examiners were leaning for the 50% exemption despite a lot of confusion about our beliefs. We will be notified in writing of the decision within 30 days. If, in the future, our SD or other clergy lives on the premises, we can reapply for exemption of the upstairs. Our tax bill for this year is paid. Therefore, if we receive the 50% exemption, Baltimore City is to issue a refund check within 30 days of the decision.

Phobos wrote: There was much attendant support by about a dozen ADF/CLG members, and the group probably appeared disturbingly cohesive and determined to the appeals board. The reviewing board chairman, remarked how all the CLG members present uniformly nodded “yes” or “no” when a question was asked. It’s tough to confront and undermine such resolve and shoulder-to-shoulder grit in any group. In short, CLG was fabulously represented and supported at all corners. Sati’s (our scribe) performance was also remarkable. Sitting with the CLG enclave at the back, Sati was able to recall upon command and with clarity an array of facts, specific dates, and financial amounts when needed.

You know, sometimes it’s downright great to be Druid. Well, today was one of those times, when everything spiritual and emotional inside you focuses and clears a giant unobstructed path in front of you. Today was truly among CedarLight’s finest hours. Today the Grove truly walked with the OldOnes, and They smiled down upon us…

Caryn writes: Interestingly, after our meeting with the Appeals Board, we found that the pouring rain had turned to a beautiful snow and we all felt this was a wonderfully positive omen towards a new chapter in the Book of CedarLight. We received the 50% exemption and with the exception of getting all the paperwork and records with the city straight, we have had no more troubles on that front.

So began CedarLight’s history that now stretches back more than eighteen years and embraces hundreds of friends. Our regular meetings soon became a weekly gathering for fellowship known then, as they are today, as the Rites of Caffeina. We explored diverse venues, including both public and private; and diverse protocols and structures for those early gatherings. Our meetings moved from the Homewood area of Baltimore to suburban Columbia, then into Fells Point. We moved for a time to a café in South Baltimore before settling into our own facility at CedarLight Center.
CedarLight stands now as the second oldest grove of ADF. We are proud of our enduring legacy of service to the larger pagan fellowship, and of our faithful dedication to the worship of the OldOnes.

Without forgetting the past or losing its lessons, CedarLight steps forward into a new era stronger than ever. Strengthened by our tested and proven faith in the OldOnes, and buoyed by Their grace, we greet with enthusiasm the many new and unexplored wonders awaiting us, even as we cherish all that remains. Now, as it ever has been, the visions and inspirations that fire CedarLight well up in the hearts of our members. The wisdom of the OldOnes speaks to our community through our members. The sustenance that nourishes CedarLight and empowers our continued service to the OldOnes, indeed to the whole of our community, flows through the support and hard work of the people find sanctuary here.