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The following interview appeared in Oak Leaves, the quarterly publication of Ár nDraíocht Féin, issue 25.

A Druid Speaks

Interviewing ADF Members
Oak Leaves | Summer 2004 | Issue 25

Michael J Dangler is one of those ADF members that seems to be everywhere all at once. If he is not acting as the Senior Druid of Three Cranes Grove in Ohio, he is attending on of the many festivals hosted by ADF members. We pulled Michael aside to learn more about him and how he fits into the ADF picture.

Oak Leaves: Let us just jump right in. How did you come to polytheism?

Michael J Dangler: I tripped over it on my way out the door one morning when I was late for work, and after I finally got up, I rubbed the bump on my head and shouted, "Hey, that makes sense!"

Actually, it was a fairly slow process. It started around my freshman year in high school, when I became interested in Native American beliefs. Throughout the time I worked with those beliefs, though, I felt more and more like I was stealing the last vestiges of tradition and ownership from a community that didn't have much left.

Eventually, I realized that those beliefs were not very compatible with either my ancestry or my culture. To this day, I have issues with appropriating Native American beliefs into spiritual worship.

I went through a brief time of searching for one thing and then another. Eventually, I stumbled across a few (rather fluffy) books. I won't embarrass myself by mentioning their titles, but I'll bet you can all guess them in three tries or less. It says something when a publication by TSR [the company that makes Dungeons & Dragons] is more accurate than the "religious" books out there, though.

Eventually, after sifting through several different religions and umbrella terms, I settled on being a Druid. This meant a bunch of Gods and Goddesses, and I got to learn how to wrap my mind around a bunch of independent entities who control all sorts of phenomena and can have a personal relationship with me. I never practiced the other various Neo-Pagan traditions. I probably decided I was a Druid in the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. No later than January of 1996.

OL: When did you first discover ADF?

Recently, when digging through some old email I had printed out in 1996, I found a response that Isaac Bonewits had sent me regarding Groves in the Chicago area. I had some exposure through the alt.religion.druid newsgroup, which is where I probably picked up the first mention of it. It was not until Lughnassadh of 1999 that I finally contacted a local Grove for real [6th Night Grove in Dayton, OH], though. I attended ritual with them for a while, before striking out on the business of founding my own Grove.

OL: Do you recall your first ADF ritual?

Oh, yes. Very much. I took a friend and he wasn't so keen on the whole "weird Pagan thing", and sat on a picnic table about 50 yards away for the full hour and a half that the rite took. His eyebrow got quite the workout, what with all the arching it did that day.

OL: What was it like for you?

I loved it. When Amergin (the Senior Druid) started in on the Two Powers meditation, I felt "religious" for the first time in my life. I still can't describe it, but I sometimes attempt to by saying I felt "full." It was a beautiful thing. I often wonder whether the rituals I lead have the same effect on first-timers. The cynic in me says that they don't, but I hold out a little hope. 

OL: Many people may not know, but you follow two "paths"?

Yes. I'm a Druid and a Discordian. A Discordian is a follower of (or dancer with) Eris, a goddess of chaos, discord, and strife. She's really cool. It's a strange mix, but after a few years of worrying about it, I finally found a couple of other ADF members with the same affliction, so I no longer worry much about appearances. 

OL: How did you bump into these two belief systems?

Well, I stumbled across the word "Druid" the first time in a D&D manual. When I found out that the character class was based on a real social class in Western Europe, I got interested and did some real digging.

I bumped into Eris one night in a bar. She kept buying me drinks until I finally passed out, and when I woke up, we had matching tattoos. I'll only tell you what the tattoos look like if you're good. That happened in 1999, as I read my way through the Illuminatus! Trilogy. She just kept popping into and out of my life, and forcing my attention on little bits of chaos. Eventually I gave in, and She gave me a pat on the head. It was a strange religious experience.

OL: How do these paths work, or not work, with each other?

They work surprisingly well, actually. There's a bit of give and a bit of take, and my Discordian friends call me "uptight" and my Druid friends call me "not very serious" (you'd be surprised how insulting both statements are supposed to be).

When I work in my primary pantheon, that of a Gaulish or continental Celtic pantheon, I'm a fully polytheistic person. The deities are individuals and there are many possibilities with them. Esus, Cerrnunnos, and Taranis all exist. When I move into a Discordian pantheon, though, I'm fully monotheistic. "There is no Goddess but Goddess and She is your Goddess." Polytheism allows for monotheistic beliefs just as well as it allows for other polytheistic ones. It's just that the monotheistic beliefs don't really allow for the polytheistic beliefs. Shockingly, or perhaps not so, I don't have any issue reconciling these two belief systems.

OL: Many people tend to fear the entire idea of Eris, to the point of being very negative about Her. How is it that you see Her?

Scared? Of Eris? Only on days ending in "Y". Chaos isn't something to be afraid of. Some people want order, order, order. They fight change tooth and nail. They fear what they aren't sure about. They become angry at sentences ending in prepositions. They only see destruction, death, and a world where things are different. It's like the children's book title that never made the cut: "You're Different, and That's Bad."

Chaos isn't all that, though. There is also the chaos of potential, the fertile ground that breeds new ideas and positive structures. It is the Ginnungagap from which all things are formed. Every religion has this state of chaos, and we are, directly or indirectly, related to it as created beings. We are, in effect, beings of chaos ourselves. To hold order as a higher standard is fine, but when we practice it to an extreme, rather than in moderation, we run the risk of becoming trapped in an order that is just as destructive (if not moreso) than the disorder that we fear.

Besides, we're not talking about the Eris from Hesiod's Theogany. We aren't discussing the mother of Pain and Distress. We're discussing a Neo-Pagan Goddess who doesn't much resemble the ancient Greco-Roman deity. To start with, She's sexier, but She's also more laid back and fun to hang out with. The Romans were afraid of chaos. The Greeks hated the strife associated with Eris. Americans aren't like that. We're different people, with different needs, and I think that's what those who fear Her miss. She showed up in a bowling alley, for Goddess' sake! Would any Greco-Roman deity be caught dead in those shoes?

OL: I know that you have had problems with bringing Eris into the ADF ritual structure. How do you balance this out with your worship?

I do daily chaos workings that satisfy the Discordian in me. During actual ritual, I deal with Eris during the Outdweller portion of the rite. I have a tendency to invite Her to come listen to rites, and very, very rarely invite Her participation. My first experience with Eris in a full ADF liturgical outline met with major disaster [see article: "Eris Is Coming To Tea"], and subsequent attempts have met similar fates. I admit to a sense of accomplishment when I invoked Eris at my Dedicant Oath rite and a collective gasp ran through the crowd. There were about a hundred people there, and I'd guess that about a third of them very nearly had a heart attack that day.

OL: Where does Esus fit in with all of this?

Actually, despite the high visibility that Eris gets, Esus is my primary patron. He's the one who moves me to do things (well, at least things that aren't silly and off the wall). Esus pushed me to form Three Cranes Grove, ADF, and the name of the Grove is tied directly to his myth. I turn to him as a father when I need advice, and I see myself as a (sometimes disobedient) child. If there's a real issue, I go to him over Eris. The problem is, the two have created a sort of accord, in which Esus gets to be the primary deity in my life, but Eris gets to be the more visible of the two, so a lot of people receive a slightly false impression of who I really am.

OL: What is it that you do in ADF?

My first and most important job in ADF is as the Senior Druid of Three Cranes Grove, ADF. I'm also the Deputy Preceptor and the scribe of the ADF Dance Guild, and I do some work as an ADF Office Elf and on the ADF Website. I've also been told that I serve the valuable purpose of "looking stupid so no one else has to."

OL: What do you do as a Deputy Preceptor?

Well, I was hoping that I would get a Colt .45, a silver star, and be allowed to form a posse and hunt down Dedicants who were behind on updating their meditation journals, but Jenni [the ADF Preceptor] told me I wasn't allowed to do that.

Instead, I spend a lot of time on the ADF-Dedicants email list; I read and comment on several Dedicants' LiveJounal entries, as well as reading the Dedicants community on the same website; I mentor a few Dedicants; I can approve Dedicant Programs (and just recently approved a new one); and I help with the revision of various study programs when asked.

The best thing is how much I learn from helping the Dedicants. I haven't ever read a journal entry or spoken to a Dedicant when I didn't learn something new and impressive. It's given me a unique insight into the competence and the sincerity that ADF members display in their religious and spiritual work.

OL: As the Deputy Preceptor, and the person farthest along in the Generalist Study Program, why do you think so few people are enrolled in the various educational programs that ADF has to offer?

Well, I'm not totally sure I'm the furthest along in the GSP, but I hope that there are still people out there making headway.

I think part of the reason people haven't enrolled is that we require the Dedicant Program to be finished first. At a full year of study, the DP isn't small potatoes when it comes to a study program. I would like to see the DP required for most leadership positions in ADF eventually, as at the moment there are very few positions in ADF that require it. I think that if our leaders had worked through it, they could not only help distribute the work of the ADF Preceptor (by passing their Grove members in the case of Senior Druids), but could also start working through the Clergy Training Program or the Bardic Guild Study Program or the Artisans Guild Study Program.

There's also an aspect of leading by example. If our leaders start finishing the programs and encouraging their Grovemates or encouraging other Solitaries, we might start to see more life in the study programs, too.

OL: What do you think can be done to help people take the steps to join the various study programs?

Encourage the Dedicant Program as often as possible. It's a great program, and it's under-used in ADF. That's step one.

Step two is a bit more involved. There was a study done recently by the Dance Guild when we were trying to gain approval, and it showed that we have a very small number of people enrolled in our study programs. This tells me that it's possible that our study programs aren't meeting some of the needs our members have. 

To solve this, I'd like to ask that the members of ADF, those who have the most vested interest in our study programs, to tell the ADF Preceptor, the Guild preceptors, me, and anyone else who will listen what it is that you want to learn. Tell these people what would make you join a study program, and what support systems you would like. If we're doing something wrong, we don't know it unless you tell us. Of course, we can't take every idea and run with it, but with input from the students, we can make the programs useful and workable.

OL: Why did you decide to start an ADF Grove?

Mostly so I could spend more time with my girlfriend, as I was driving to Dayton two or three times a month, and it was taking the full day nearly every Sunday, which seriously cut into the time I could spend with her. As I became more and more involved in 6th Night Grove, I was spending less and less time with her. Finally, I realized that my religion was getting in the way of my own happiness, so I started a local Grove. There's more work involved with that, but at least I'm not adding two hours of drive time onto it.

Of course, one of my patrons was giving me the opportunity to help officiate ritual and was laying the groundwork for starting a Grove in Columbus, too. The push that Esus gave me was more of an opening door than it was a push onto the path, but I stepped through that door and started my work in the local community. It was mutually beneficial to Esus, ADF, and myself, and it was about time that Columbus had a new Grove.

OL: Any advice for those individuals who may wish to start a Protogrove or Grove?

First, start with self-examination. Why do you want to start a Grove? Is it for the right reasons? Do you know what you're doing, and if not, do you know where to get help?

Second, be prepared to fly by the seat of your pants sometimes. Not everything will work out every time, and more often than not, it won't work out at all.

Finally, ask for help if you need it. ADF-SD is a great email list for Senior Druids and Grove Organizers to read and ask questions on. Heck, I still ask questions on it every so often.

OL: How does ADF on a national level interact with Three Cranes Grove on a local level and vice versa?

Actually, a local Grove can usually get along just fine without dealing with the international leadership, so long as we submit the required quarterly reports. On the other hand, we are fortunate to have a few Guild officers and even a Mother Grove member in the Grove, and we're rather proud of the impact that Three Cranes has on the international level. It shows me that we have active, quality members who are willing to get their hands dirty.

Those members who are not involved as officers or with any elected position are becoming more active on the ADF lists, and their intelligent and thoughtful commentary is just as valuable to the organization as a whole as any position in leadership.

OL: When talk of ADF occurs, you seem to turn to the virtues listed within the Dedicant Program. Would you care to share with us those virtues and what they mean to you?

The 9 Virtues are: wisdom, piety, vision, perseverance, integrity, courage, hospitality, moderation, and fertility. I wouldn't say that I use them as a moral code, per se, but rather that I use them as a screen through which I can take a problem and analyze it. I used them to take a hard look at a decision of my own recently. 

I was considering applying for an exemption to the rules of applying for Dedicant Clergy, as I won't be eligible until next year. After a lot of thought and prayer, I sat down to work through it on my own. The process went a bit like this: Do I want to try to push this through and request an exception to the rule, or do I want to play by the rules and work with them? How do the virtues fit into this? If I'm going to act with integrity, should I be looking at ways to circumvent the rules? If I want to act with hospitality, should I ignore the rules set down? If I wish to act with wisdom, should I rush in just because I believe that ADF would grant the credentials? Finally, if I truly wish to be pious, should I even consider clergy credentials in order to "test the waters"?

Quite often, applying a few or all of the virtues to a problem can radically change your outlook on the issue. It did for me in this case, and helped me get at the root of my questions.

OL: Why do you think the members of ADF need to give more attention to these virtues?

I think that if we're teaching values and virtues, but never applying them, then we're doing ourselves a disservice. ADF doesn't require its members to follow the virtues, and even in the Dedicant Program we ask Dedicants to look at them critically and not to blindly accept them (in fact, if a Dedicant has a personal disagreement with any of the virtues, we encourage rejection of that virtue).

Despite this, I think that they form a valuable criteria for looking at problems and solving them in a way that you can be proud of your decision. I'd like to see ADF members make more use of them in their writings, and I would love to see more thoughts and discussion on them. Who knows? Maybe we'll come up with a better set of virtues to use?

OL: Many people experience ADF mostly through the various mailing lists and Oak Leaves. Do you think that ADF's Internet presence gives a clear picture of what the ADF community is?

In some cases. I think that the website paints a rather accurate picture of who we are and what we do. I think that most of our communications with members and potential members show that we stick to our principles. I also think that we're well represented on most of the major online Druid communities, as well as several reconstructionist communities.

There is a darker side to the internet presence, though, as well. Occasionally, ADF comes under attack in various forums online, and quite often the person who shouts the loudest wins the day on message boards, journals, and over email. I haven't seen many attacks that had real merit, but those of us who have a strong online presence need to remember to talk about the things we like about ADF, too. I don't mean that we should be all light and love about ADF, but it doesn't do us any good to moan about where ADF is lacking if we fail to mention the good things about it. Besides, if you can't find anything good to say about ADF, why are you still here?

Another thing that has come up recently is the issue of the level of scholarship being too high on some of the ADF lists. I would hate to discourage good scholarship, so instead I'll ask that the ADF members who are daunted by the big fish in the small ponds to start asking those big fish questions. Don't let them get away with extemporizing on a subject until it's devoid of feeling. Attack them with good questions and make them think, too. In my experience, there is nothing most of these people like better than a good debate. I know I do.

Also, don't let the focus on scholarship cause you to think that personal spiritual experience isn't valued. It is, honest! Just remember, it's one thing to claim that Odin showed up with two eyes and wearing a pair of tights in a dream and a whole other thing to claim that he was depicted that way in the Eddas.

Recently, a mantra was posted by Rob Henderson to the ADF-Dedicants list in response to some frustrations. It was simple, plain, and effective:

"ADF is *not* the mailing lists."

Repeat as often as necessary.

ADF is a church, not a bunch of email lists. Don't let the lists take over your spiritual life, especially if they're smothering you.

OL: What would you advise people to do in order to see the ADF community in action?

Get active! ADF can do a lot, but without the (wo)manpower of the members behind it, ADF is a lame duck. We have a lot of potential in the membership, so much that I think we're under-using the members that we do have. There are many Guilds with open positions that they can't fill, and even some of our international leadership positions run unopposed. If you think you have the skills, run for an office! Let your vision contribute to ADF's vision!

OL: I like to think that ADF is young with a promising here and now and a very bright future. Where do you see ADF in 5 years? 20? 50?

That's my same feeling. ADF's future is very bright, and I have an undying sense of optimism in the members. As far as where ADF will be in the future, I see the organization growing and providing services it can't at the moment. More than that, I see many more Groves owning land and buildings, and more permanent worship locations showing up.

One of the most important things to me is the festival scene, where I expect our leaders and those going through the various study programs to be presenting workshops that detail information required to complete courses in ADF's study programs. We have a lot of workshops at ADF festivals now, but it's rare that you can take the knowledge provided and apply it directly to any of the study programs. I would love to see that change.

I have to admit, though, that I'm not great with visionary planning. I prefer to take things one step at a time, and to work them out fully without having a set of major goals that may or may not still be feasible when you get halfway there. Honestly, I see ADF as being around in 50 years, but I have no idea what it looks like. Hopefully there will be a place for 75 year-old children such as I will be then.

OL: The topic of clergy is always an important one in communities such as ADF's. What are your feelings on clergy within ADF and the community at large?

Over the past month or so I've given this a remarkable amount of thought. Personally, I feel that the role of clergy is to serve both the gods and the community. The ADF community comes first, of course, for any ADF Priest, but the rest of the Pagan community should also have access to that Priest. I also think that they need to be involved in several aspects of their community, and prepared to perform the rites that the community requires.

As I struggle to decide whether I will apply for clergy credentials myself, I find more things that I feel clergy should be prepared to do, and I wonder if I can do those things.

OL: What traits do you think a clergy member should have?

The willingness to do things not for themselves should top the list. I don't mean a life of denial of the flesh, or even necessarily that being clergy is their primary job or goal. What I mean is that an ADF Priest should not be holding ritual because she feels that it is good for her, but rather that it is good for the gods. An ADF Priest should hold himself to a higher standard of conduct, not only with his deeds, but his thoughts as well.

Finally, an ADF priest should be willing to make sacrifices when they're required. At the same time, an ADF Priest should not give up those things that make her who she is, and should not give up what is important to her. Again, as I struggle over the decision to apply myself, I wonder if my life, as I wish to live it, would allow me to do those things. It's a hard thing to think about.

OL: What do you see as your greatest accomplishment, thus far, as a member of ADF?

I have my Dedicant Program certificate, which was big, and I have my Grove's provisional charter. Those two things are measurable. The thing I've gotten most fulfillment out of, though, is being told by Dedicants that my help is useful. Being told that I've helped someone is the best feeling in the world, and to know that I've helped them make a bit of sense about things is a wonderful experience. It reminds me why I spend all the time I do reading the lists and checking journals.

OL: Who do you admire within ADF and why?

My scribe and my pursewarden, Judi Nielsen and Jenni Hunt, respectively. They really do most of the work in the Grove, and I'd be lost without them. I'm quite serious when I say I have the best Executive Committee in ADF.

OL: Outside of ADF?

More than anyone else, my own father. I don't know if I could explain it all that well, but he's influenced me in so many ways I can't even begin to do it justice. I might try, but none of them have been terribly religious (or even necessarily exciting to the general readership), so I'll leave it at that for now.

OL: How do you balance your religion with the rest of the pieces of your life?

I fit a lot of my religion into the times that I'm alone, as I see it as an intensely personal thing. There are portions of it that I am very public about though, but I fight to keep from wearing my religion as a badge. I don't mention it in my office, nor do I make an issue out of it when there is no reason. 

I'm open about who I am, but you have to ask me before I will discuss my religion with you, and it has to be a fairly pointed question. I've been studying religion too long to talk about it, I sometimes think.

OL: I know that you perform some form of worship every day. Why do you feel that this is important?

It keeps my mind on the gods, and on the virtues. I remain conscious of right action, and decision making is much clearer when the consequences of your actions can be seen more clearly. It opens my mind to the possibility of the sacred, and that feeling lasts all day. It's kind of like training your eyes to see things that are hidden, and your ears to hear the whisper of a certain immature goddess on the wind.

I'm a big fan of doing daily rites, yes. I know that it's hard to find the time to do them, but sometimes the effort of doing the rite is all the sacrifice required, and sometimes it's the only way to stay sane. Besides, when you've done them as long as I have, they become so important that you have to either do them or you start to wonder whether your luck is tied to them or not, and you feel naked if you leave the house without doing one.

OL: How do you communicate with the gods?

There are five ways that I do this, really.

The first is through a shared symbol set. I tend to use the runes for this, and studied them extensively for a while so that I could finally get the symbols down well enough to only occasionally be confused by their meaning.

The second is through opening to them during daily ritual. I call out to the gods and I see if they will answer.

The third is through the occasional sign. One morning I drove to work and encountered a crane flying low over my car, and the same morning I received a raise. Of course, it wasn't a very good raise, but even the gods can't make the state of Ohio give its employees a good raise.

The fourth is through full ritual, in which offerings and praises are exchanged for blessings.

The fifth is through simple conversation. Very often, these conversations go on for an hour or more, and they're usually spontaneous. I simply start talking, or the gods do, and we end up talking until either something interrupts or we conclude. I sometimes write them down, but not often.

OL: Sometimes the gods can leave us confusing messages. What are your suggestions for figuring things out?

I have a tendency not to rush into things. I don't want to interpret every little thing as a message from the gods, but similarly I don't want to miss anything they may leave. To that end, I generally consider everything from two directions: the sacred and the profane. I tend to err on the side of the sacred, but I don't let it make me superstitious or overly cautious. Not everything is a sign, and the gods sometimes have better things to do than mess with us, contrary to popular belief. If it's something we're meant to know, we'll know it soon enough. 

It may seem like my suggestion is, in short, "Don't try to figure this out." That's not the case at all. I just think that, when it's all confusing, we need to step back and consider things, not assume that we've figured it out and go running off into the darkness. And we need to admit to ourselves that sometimes, things just happen, and there's no good reason for it.

OL: I want to thank you for your time, it has been most appreciated. I wish to end this with one final question: what is your fondest memory of an ADF

At Summerland in 2001, I was standing in the opening rite during the opening prayers. I opened my eyes during the Earth Mother invocation and I was shocked to see the ground moving in response to the invocation. It was as if the earth was coming up to greet the prayer, and I was amazed at the feeling that this gave me. As the prayer ended, the earth settled back into its place, but I knew what I had seen, and that was enough for me.

Michael may be reached at:


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