The Light of Brigando

Livestream cover image, with our altar from Imbolc 2017

This year marked our 14th Imbolc rite using essentially the same script as the first year we did it. It’s an interesting thing, running the same rite over and over, and we’ve been able to improve many of the technical points over time as we’ve had new members come in, offer new ideas, and build a process that works more efficiently through time.

One of the things we updated for this year has to do with the poem we speak as our main offering. In the past, we’ve set people in pairs: readers and candle-lighters. This year, we had people go up and read for the candle lighter who was going prior to them. We also instituted a lazy susan beneath the well so the process of moving around the ring of candles was easier, and this worked out really, really well.

The whole process ran far more smoothly and actually more beautifully than it has in the past. This particular working has suffered from some general logistical challenges in years past, and initially, it sounds like this might be our model going forward to improve that.

Also new this year, we decided to live cast the ritual, which we’ve done for Samhain and Yule before. This changed a lot about how we decided to have the ritual flow, and created some new challenges. It continues to be exciting to learn how to navigate the waters around live casting.

Our omens were interesting for this rite. Our seer saw Huath, Muin, and Saile: Hawthorn, Vine, and Willow. Summarized briefly, they are foreknowledge that arms us; inspiration that forms; and intuition that guides.

The omen from our Imbolc 2017 rite.
Our Omen, in summary: Taken together, these omens  might suggest: We are at the front edge of the storm, the world darkens. It is time to prepare our positions and to make ourselves ready for what is to come. Let us use the Beauty all around us to inspire us, and to show us what is important. In our gut, we “know” the right from the wrong; we “know” which path is life afirming, and which is not. Let us prepare to weather the storm inspired by beauty and with the inner resources of inspiration and intuition. These are good omens! ~Shawneen

It’s worth noting that the first omen is actually Beith, the birch (new beginnings). We’ll be discussing what the misidentification means at our next liturgy meeting, but for now, “the seer sees what the seer sees,” and the lessons are no less pertinent.

If you’re interested, you can watch the full ritual, including the pre-ritual briefing, on our Facebook page, as it was recorded live. We’ll update with a trimmed-down YouTube video later.

Thanks to everyone who joined us, in person or virtually!

Blessings of Brigando upon you & yours,
   ~Rev. Michael J Dangler

Kindling a Flame of Hope, and Tending It With Passion

The Flame of Hope at the community altar at The Magical Druid

Not everything we do as a Grove is directed by the Grove; some things happen spontaneously and sort of fall out of the blue. This is one of those things.

This past winter, there have been many people who feel that the light has gone out, that darkness has crept in, and that hope has been lost. We’ve noticed that feeling, as a community.

Our Grove serves marginal communities particularly: those who cannot find a place in “mainstream” society, who feel like outsiders and are often rejected for everything from who they love to who they are. There’s room for everyone in our work, and our circle of trees we call a Grove is stronger because of them.

In particular, those communities have been the ones who have felt most like the dark has settled in.

We want to support those communities, because they and the people who inhabit them are important.

I’ve been describing this idea as “something that fell out of my head and onto Facebook” for a bit, and that’s still the best way I can describe it. As it grows, it’ll get some definition, but here’s the thing:

Sometimes, the least of things you can do is the brightest: starting at noon on Friday, January 20, 2017, I lit a candle honoring hope at an altar, the first of four years’ worth of daily candles. 1,461 candles, in total. Here’s what that it looked like (with some explaining of the background) when I lit the first one:

The idea, of course, is to create the light that people need in their life: something to banish despair and bring in hope, no matter how small the light is.

The response has been amazing. People who felt marginalized by recent events feel like someone has noticed them. Members of our community who have felt scared have lit their own candles. Overnight, 250 people “liked” the Facebook page.

In addition, other Priests from other Groves have gotten in on the work, kindling a flame of Hope in their own ways. Rev. Melissa Hill, from Cedarsong Grove, ADF, published this post at the same time I was lighting my candle:

It’s been both surprising and gratifying to see the number of people who have stepped up and said, “Yes, I will light a candle with you.” It’s been amazing to see the number of people who feel that this work benefits them directly as well. I was not expecting the outpouring of support or meaning that I’ve experienced here, and I’m glad to be a part of that.

The work we do as individuals within the Grove can have wider ripples: our tradition of work is public, which means that part of our aim is to bring the work to others as we do it.

I feel blessed and honored that a some have found that the small light I have kindled has brightened their life, and I look forward to continuing to brighten the world in my own way, joined by so many others.

You can join the work, too, on Facebook: TendingTheFlameOfHope is the page.

Bright blessings,
-Rev. Michael J Dangler

Introducing the Grove through New Media & Accessibility

Featured Video Play Icon

One of the big things that our Grove has sought to do is improve how we reach out to people who might be interested. It’s no secret that we’ve been building our online presence with different sorts of media: as a public tradition of Neopaganism, letting people know when our rituals are, and who we are as the celebrants of that religion, is vitally important.

Social media has made the process of walking the fine line between “telling people we’re here” and “proselytizing” much easier to walk in many ways. It not only allows us to create content of use, but to distribute it easily as well.

There are a few reasons that we create content that’s varied, sharable, and targeted to our members and the people we think are interested. Primarily, it’s because we think that everyone deserves to feel like they own, belong to, and are valued by our Grove.

Varied Content Brings a Feeling of Ownership

The creation of content that is broad in type and varied in topic shows that you’re not a “one trick pony” in the digital world, and it helps you reach out broadly to people with a variety of interests. Not everyone likes videos, newsletters, email lists, or Twitter, but most people like one of those types of things. If you can provide content across a few different platforms, you’ll find that you create a varied community filled with people who want to see more of what you can do.

If your organization offers “just one thing,” whether that’s a podcast, a member newsletter, a YouTube page, or a blog, it doesn’t really offer “enough” for most people to come and “like” your Facebook page. For people to feel invested in your work, you’ll need to offer more.

If there’s one true thing about this Druidry thing, it’s that “we’re all in this together.” We want to create things that help people feel like they’re part of the group. Meeting them where they are and fitting their ecosystem is important to that. It lets people feel like they own a portion of Our Own Druidry.

Sharable Content Brings a Feeling of Belonging

Sharing a post isn’t just about finding something funny or insightful; often, it’s also about feeling like the content belongs to them and reflects their worldview.

Sharing is the easiest part of activism: you can share a status to show solidarity. A lot of folks look down on this level of activism because it is so simple. What they discount, though, is that sharing is a form of empathy and a way of understanding the world that helps form an initial connection with a cause, person, or group.

Don’t look down on people who “just share a post.” They’re working their way toward belonging in a community. There’s no rush. Make it easy for them, if you can, and you’ll find that in the long run, more people feel like they “belong” with you, and that you “belong” to them than you ever thought possible.

Targeted Content Brings a Feeling of Being Valued

Content that speaks directly to what people are talking about is very important. Listen to the conversations going on in public in your social media circles and create content that’s relevant to that.

Late last year, we created a graphic that reaffirmed that we are a safe space for anyone who needs one after seeing a number of people in our social circles express concern and fear as minorities.

A statement of diversity for our Grove. In essence:

Our Grove created this graphic to give voice to individuals who felt frightened by current events. It was so popular, we created branded versions for several other Groves who asked as well.

The one caveat to “listening to your social media circles” is the same rule I have for public prayer: if you’re talking to just one person, it’s not for public consumption.

Let’s talk a little bit about why we create graphical and other content, and what it means to be accessible in the digital arena.

Why Create Graphical Content?

A simple sigil of the cosmos, with two curved lines designed to suggest a tree, and a hole in the center. At the top, a fire, and on the bottom, water. A line divides the center with arrows that imply balance.
The Cosmos in balance: the Fire of Heaven and the Waters of the Earth. Content need not be complicated to be useful.

Simply put, graphical content is sharable content. This isn’t because it’s “easy,” but because it’s friendly and meaningful.

Humans seem to enjoy sharing things that move them. Text, such as poetry or a list of omens taken in a ritual, is useful, but not visually interesting.

It’s easy to create text and share it, but a lot of people scroll through their feeds and entirely skip over text posts (I know I’m guilty of it myself; you likely are, too). Photos and pictures provide a richness of information it takes us time to parse if we have to read it.

ADF rites also have a key advantage regarding the review of rituals: simply snapping a picture of the omens after the rite can give you a picture to help generate content. Take the picture, add your interpretation, and you have a pretty complete blog post and ritual review built in.

An illustration of an omen image from one of our Druid Moons, with runes in the foreground and an interpretation in the background
You can create images like this right on your phone with several free apps…including Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. This one was created in Adobe Spark Post.

Even if you don’t have the technical know-how to put words on a picture, adding a picture to your post will go a long way toward getting people to notice and share it. Find something copyright-free (or Creative Commons licensed) or take a picture with your phone and add it to your post.

It does not have to be complicated: see the sigil above for just how simple a graphic you can create. It’s reasonably clean, concise, and simple, but adding an image to a post goes a long way toward making it more visually appealing, as well as conveying your point better.

Media Ecosystems

It’s not just images that make a difference: video, eBooks, and websites are vital to creating an experience that helps people feel connected to you. Smartphones have been incredibly valuable in making this sort of technology accessible.

It has, in fact, gotten to the point that if you aren’t creating several kinds of media, you’re simply not using the available resources to the best of your ability. We highly recommend adding on to whatever you’re doing with some additional work.

Each piece helps you get your ideas out to more people, which will help you get the word out that you offer public ritual, and bring more people to your rites.

Set a plan in place to build additional kinds of content, and do what you can to talk to other Groves who have gone before on this. Almost everyone is happy to help in a lot of different ways.

If you choose to engage in this, I’ll recommend doing it like Three Cranes did: one step at a time. Create a YouTube page, a podcast, a Twitter account, or a Facebook page. Build it up for a while, and then use it as a springboard to advertise other services as they come online. Your audience will follow you if you show them you value them.

Creating Accessible Content

ADF’s founder, Isaac Bonewits, was on point when he wrote in our founding documents: “Neopagans are going to need publicly accessible worship, teaching, counseling, and healing.” (from “The Vision of ADF“).

One of the key things that we’ve been focusing on is the creation of media that isn’t just for people without disability: it’s for everyone who comes to Druidry, no matter how they arrive there.

What that really means, in the context of this post, is that no matter what you create, you have to take an extra step to make it accessible to as many people as possible. Images must have “alt” tags that describe what they are to a screen reader for blind individuals. Videos need closed captioning for hard of hearing or deaf individuals. Podcasts need transcripts uploaded to go with their audio content. Membership newsletters that are done in print need to be provided in accessible eBook or .pdf versions as well as the physical print.

There is, occasionally, an assumption that “someone else will take care of that,” that content will eventually be made by people “other than me.” This simply isn’t the case: we need to create accessible content from Day 1, in all of the things we make, and we need to continually go back and update stuff we made before we came around to understanding this.

Our Grove has started to add Closed Captioning to short videos as part of the process of posting them on the Internet, for example, and place longer videos into a queue to create CC files as we go (including our back catalog).

This has also extended itself into some of my personal work: at The Magical Druid, a store I also run here in Columbus, we put together a set of ogham using Braille for the names of the trees, and raising the symbols off the wood (as opposed to burning them into the wood).

Ogham tiles that have Braille names of trees written on them
Accessibility requires us to think outside our usual boxes. These Braille oghams came about when an ADF member asked about accessible divination. Check out the blog entry on this set.

I encourage everyone to seriously think about accessibility because, frankly, it’s a human rights issue, too: if you believe that everyone deserves equal access to all media and information, then you agree with me. You may just not have thought about it in this context before.

Other Reasons to Create Accessible Content

It’s entirely possible that “You should create accessible content because it’s the right thing to do” isn’t persuasive (I’ve met plenty of people who continue to argue “it’s too hard” or “it should be someone else’s responsibility”). For you, I have additional reasons.

Above, you’ll see a video we did with Closed Captioning added into the video. This has a hidden advantage: on nearly every social media service, video plays first without audio. Displaying Closed Captioning provides additional visual information about what’s going on, and makes people more likely to watch the entire video.

If you have an option to upload a CC sidecar file (and you can create them after uploading a video to YouTube pretty easily, actually, with just a little bit of training). You can then take the sidecar file you generated with YouTube and import it to Facebook… and now you have native content on two services with Closed Captioning.

Alt tags on images make them more searchable for your key terms, as well as improving their search results in Google. If you upload two pictures of your rituals onto the internet, and one has an alt tag that describes what’s going on, not only will it be ranked higher because accessible content is ranked higher, but it will be ranked higher because the “Google Robot” that reviews your website will know what it’s about.

An eBook is superior in accessibility to a .pdf in many ways (responsive text height and flow, screen reader accessibility, and ease in editing and creation are just some of the ways). If you create a newsletter or book, you should start designing for the eBook first. It’s far easier to design for accessibility than it is to create it later.

And both eBooks and .pdf files have a huge advantage over flat print: you can add in slide shows, do full color images, and even add videos. Today, any publication that designs itself as “print first” is missing out on audience. You should design for “print last,” if only because your print version is the least accessible, least dynamic option you have for getting your ideas out there.

That set of ogham I mentioned above? I still consider it the most beautiful, functional, and amazing set I ever created. The fact that it’s more accessible is cool, but by far not the only cool thing about it.

At the end of the day, the real joy of providing accessible content is that accessible content is richer, more vibrant content than a flat, single-use file could ever be. Seek greater possibilities, and help us live up to a world where modern Paganism and magic are accessible to all.

Broadcasting Live Rituals: Some Lessons Learned

Isaac Bonewits, founder of ADF, wrote in his “Vision of ADF:”

“We see globally televised Samhain rites at Stonehenge, and Beltane ceremonies attended by thousands in every major city.”

Times have changed since he wrote those words, and television is not the same “global force” it was in 1984, but today we have many more tools at our disposal, including live streaming on the Internet, and this article is about the joys and challenges of that experience as we dip our toes in.

At our last two rites, Samhain and Winter Solstice, Three Cranes Grove, ADF, has experimented a bit with live streaming of our rituals. This has been a fascinating experience, one very different than we expected.

On the one hand, the entire process was really quite successful: it brought our rituals to a very diverse and far-flung audience that usually would never get to experience a rite of the size and sort we put on here at 3CG.

On the other hand, it also added new concerns into the discussion of what it means to be “public” in our rituals, which we’re working to address.

A little history and context: We get about an average of 60 people to our rites, depending on the weather and the season, and our cameras have been pretty obvious for some time now (probably about 5 years with consistency, and on occasion before that). We mostly got into this game with an eye toward providing a view of what a really high-churchy Paganism could look like at our Dublin Irish Festival rituals (which get around 250-300 people on average: check out our most recent recording of a DIF rite on YouTube).

Of course, then we had the tech to record all our rites, and so we started setting up the camera more and more often (why use an investment of that size once per year when you can use it 8-15 times per year?). Over the last few years, we’ve put a lot of money into Grove-owned technology (plus some individually-owned tech), but we started with a $100 point-and-shoot camera that wasn’t even high def back in 2010. The Grove now owns five video cameras and a small mess of peripherals to go with them.

Our Grove has come at this from a perspective of, “We can extend our public ritual invitation to people in an immediate sense.” What we’ve so far aimed to do with our live streams and video is to let you have a window into our ritual space, to experience the joy of community and the blessings, no matter how far you are from us. To that end, it’s been very effective, and even though our interaction with viewers is small, we feel their presence in ritual in a way that’s hard to describe.

Do you want to do this with your Grove? Here are our (initial) tips on how to manage the process:

Equipment:

Here’s my short list of required equipment to stream live at this point:

  • Your smartphone/tablet
  • A tripod
  • A tripod mount for your phone/tablet; I use one of these two:

You must have a tripod or some way to steady the shot, honestly, to get a decent shot. If you don’t, you won’t be happy with the video, not really. So, with a $25-$50 investment for the cheapest tripod and mount you can find, your Grove can also start streaming.

Really, that’s all you need to get started. I’m serious.

Streaming Platforms

Platforms are the key to both reaching your audience and connecting. At this point, we’ve tried two distinct platforms that I want to give you the pro’s and con’s of: Periscope and Facebook Live.

Platform 1: Periscope

At Samhain, it was a very “spur of the moment” decision to go live. I hadn’t done any research into this, I just knew that Periscope was an app I could use to stream stuff (one of our Grove members had been using it and turned me onto it). Having never in my life run a live videostream before using this service, I just turned it on and away we went.

You can watch a recording of that rite on Periscope, and get a notion of the streaming experience  (Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t great).

Despite all of that, we had 167 people tune in during the broadcast. 167! Literally the only announcement that took place was that it popped up on Twitter when we started, got shared to my personal Facebook, and shared to the Grove FB. With zero warning, we had 167 people join the 55-or-so people in the room. Periscope can also notify its users when someone goes live in their area, so we had a few who had no idea what was going on tune in (you can see their comments on the stream; it’s kinda amusing).

Here’s what I learned from that:

  1. Only use a service that allows you to save your broadcast to your device if possible. Periscope offers that, but I didn’t save it (because I hadn’t done the research to start with). The video I have been able to save after-the-fact is one step up from unusable garbage… and I’m glad I didn’t have to use it. If I had been able to save it to my device, I think it might have looked pretty awesome.
  2. Bandwidth is king for quality. At your pre-ritual briefing, you gotta tell people to shut off their wifi on personal devices so your signal remains strong. I had issues connecting to the wifi at the site, particularly in the first position I set up for the camera, and so I had to move the camera nearer to the hotspot to get it to even turn on and go.
  3. All streaming products use their own proprietary apps. Periscope does as well. I figured you could just watch without an app, but on iOS and Android, it prompts you to watch on the Periscope app instead of in your browser. I found that terribly annoying as a content creator. When it’s something like FB or YouTube, which virtually everyone owns, it’s not a big deal, but asking people to download an app they don’t have is a bridge too far for many.
  4. There’s a serious thirst for content out there. If you build it, even without warning and requiring people to download an app to see it, they will come.

So, with Samhain behind me, I decided to get a bit more proactive on the research front, and started looking into options. Unfortunately, another opportunity to test wasn’t far behind: after Thanksgiving, The Ohio State University community was attacked by a guy who rammed some students and started slashing them with a knife. Jan and I got together at The Magical Druid to open up the community altar since we’re just a bit down the street. We decided on another impromptu livecast, but this time (unhappy with the experience with Periscope), we went with Facebook after realizing that YouTube wasn’t an option for livecasting from their app.

Platform 2a: Personal Facebook Live

You can watch that video from our impromptu Livecast on my personal Facebook page:

Now, I ran this one on my personal page on FB, which (in hindsight) was a mistake, but I left it public. We had about 52 people log in to view during the event, I think, and since then it’s been viewed about 500 times. That’s not bad for 3PM, on my personal page, also unannounced.

Things I learned from this:

  1. If you think you ever might want to livestream, get good at it before you need to. Seriously, practice with the thing you’re going to use. There are a lot of options when it comes to streaming, and each service is different.
  2. If you stream on FB, do it from a Page, not from your personal account. Heed this warning (more on it later). Right now, if you broadcast via a personal account, you get a 400×400 square video, and up until about a week ago, you couldn’t download the video in anything better than that. That’s virtually useless for saving, and it *only* looks okay on mobile. In addition, the framerate is awful. I tried to import it for editing and… well, let’s just say it’s nowhere near 30 fps. It was so bad I went back to edit in another camera angle, and I had to drop it to well under standard definition. You can see the result on YouTube. But the most damning thing about not doing it on your FB Page? NO ANALYTICS. Once you have analytics, you’ll wonder why you didn’t go after them sooner.
  3. Picking a good location, sound-wise, and good framing are really important. This was something I didn’t fully understand until I went back to look again. If you watch the YouTube video, you’ll see that the framing is just… well, it’s awful, from both camera angles. In addition, the street noise is an issue: the shop is on a very busy street, and a lot of times, you’ll hear automobile and truck noise over the dialog.
  4. Facebook actually does promote native content better than imported content. If you want your FB friends to see that you’re broadcasting, or if your community has a heavy FB presence, broadcasting via FB live is (I say this with grudging honesty) really the way to go. More on this when I talk about Yule, too.
  5. It’s okay if livestreamed ritual is “messy.” The background noise, the toddler nearly knocking over the camera and chattering during the rite, and not really knowing what to say has advantages over polish in something like this: people don’t log in looking for a perfect experience, just a real one. The comments on the video bear that out.

Platform 2b: Stream Live From a Facebook Page

At Yule, we decided to go another step and let people know that we were going to stream in advance. This put some pressure on to get it right, so we did some preliminary testing. I put up an empty Facebook page I could do livestream tests on, and then I started trying to figure out how it was going to go. I’d record a video live on my phone, watch it on my computer, and see what worked, then delete the video.

At the rite, I got there early enough to check the wifi (and decide it wasn’t strong enough to broadcast, so I switched to cellular data on my phone), set up a decent frame for the video, and this time I paid attention to the camera somewhat carefully. Once I started the livestream (during the pre-ritual briefing), I made it a point to welcome people “attending remotely,” I kept the work in the frame during the ritual, and I acknowledged people watching at home in the rite. It was, really, an excellent presentation of the work we do in our normal rites.

When I ended the transmission, FB notified me that over 500 people had seen the live video feed during the rite. Analytics showed we could claim about 350 people “virtually attended” the rite because they’d interacted with the video in some way (FB measures how many people turn on the sound, go full screen, or even click the “more info” button on the description). Since then, as of this morning, we’ve had nearly 1,000 people watch the video on FB and YouTube (we edited a second version with multiple camera angles and better sound).

You can view our Yule event on FB (as originally streamed) or on YouTube (edited after the fact).

Things we learned at Yule:

  1. Streaming from a Facebook Page (the Pages App allows this) is way better than doing it from your personal page. You get a 16:9 ratio frame, the people who you want to see it will see it (not just the people friends with you), and FB will automatically promote the content (you’re not even allowed to pay to “boost” the stream while it’s live) based on the number of interactions it receives. You can also download a HD version of your stream in case you forget to save the video (N.B.: always save your video to your device at the end of the stream, which is an option on FB streaming: quality is always going to be better if you do that… 720p vs. 400 pixels wide, last time I tried).
  2. I streamed for a bit over an hour, and the final file was just under 1 GB when I saved it to my phone. I assume that it uploaded all that content on my wireless data plan (I’ll find out for sure later this month, when my bill arrives), so… make sure your data plan can handle it if wifi doesn’t work out. But if it really was 1 GB, that’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared, size-wise.
  3. You need some way to check that you’re not having technical difficulties. I popped my computer up in the back and checked to make sure the darn thing was still going once or twice. We haven’t had it happen yet, but I can imagine that it would be very annoying to have your stream drop halfway through and not notice until the end of the stream. We did all we could to mitigate potential issues, including plugging my phone into the wall before we started, checking on it a couple of times during the ritual, and having a person (me) assigned to figure out what to do if it broke down.
  4. It’s clear we’ll need to improve the audio. Of all the comments I got back, no one complained about the picture, but the audio got comments. I don’t think it’s a long-term solution to rely on a built-in microphone in your smartphone or tablet, though you can totally do it to start. I have a new mic to try next time we live stream, so we’ll see how it goes. Having the camera across from the bards and not next to them was very helpful, though: a drum right next to the camera can kill your audio.
  5. A bit of stage lighting goes a long way. I put a little diffused light on the bards at Yule and it really helped them not get lost in the shadows, or washed out by the sunlight that came in the window at one point when the rest of the space was dark.

In relation to point 1 of these things we learned at Yule, I will ask: if you see a 3CG live video come across your FB feed, do us a solid: like it, unmute it (if even for a moment), click for more info, and maybe even share it out. You’ll be promoting ADF content, and if you interact with it, FB will spread that promotion out while it’s live. I’ll happily return the favor.

Conclusions

Livestreaming isn’t for everyone, or every Grove, but man, it’s gotten easier and better really fast. You, too, can provide a lot of this content and work. It’s pretty amazing, actually.

Anyway, I hope this post is helpful. I’m seriously thinking about doing a video of our process for folks to get a better handle on how to do this.

And, of course, I’ll ask that if you want to see how this develops, subscribe on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/3cgvideos and follow us on FB at https://www.facebook.com/threecranes/ and yadayadayada. But seriously, I’m excited, and no matter what, we’ll be producing more stuff.

Keep an eye out for it, friends.

Brightest Blessings,
-Rev. Michael J Dangler