In 2001, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” both made their way into theaters, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” finished its fifth season. It was a year filled with magic, and the year Michael J. Dangler — now a priest of the Columbus Neo-Druid fellowship Three Cranes Grove after a decade of practicing Druidry — graduated from Ohio State.
Dangler said he began practicing Druidry — a revival of pagan polytheism that emphasizes spiritual connection with nature — in high school after discovering it in a Latin class, and has been following ever since.
In his time at Ohio State, Dangler was a member of the now-gone Pagan Student Association, which he said was a space to share experiences and learn.
Hugh Urban, a professor in comparative studies and former professor of Dangler’s, said he remembers Dangler as serious about his studies, passionate, and open to other ways of thinking about religion.
This weekend, Dangler and others Neo-Druids will be participating in an open-to-the-public celebration of the Spring Equinox. Dangler described the Spring Equinox that the grove — a term for a druid congregation — celebrates as a time for acknowledging the fertility of the fields, planting and planning for the future.
“We’re going to honor the spirits of spring and the waters,” said Dangler, who said the waters refers to the snow melting, which has symbolic meaning Dangler likened to the mystic flowing of water from mountains in spring, from which life flows. Dangler said on Holy Days, Druids celebrate the spirits. During Spring Equinox the earth mother and kindreds, which are a multitude of different spirits, will be represented.
The Spring Equinox will be held in two places, the first at Dangler’s and his partner’s shop, The Magical Druid, on 3165 N. High St. at 5 p.m. Saturday and the second at Highbanks Metro Park in its Northern Shelter beginning 2:30 p.m. Sunday, of which he said anyone is welcome to attend.
Urban said he believes site visits and field observations, like the Spring Equinox celebration, are important for students. “There is a vast difference between reading about something in a book and seeing it practiced first-hand,” he said. “Most OSU students are not aware of the tremendous religious diversity all around us in central Ohio.”
“Becoming aware of (religious groups) and interacting with them as real people rather than distant ‘others’ is a basic part of a being a responsible citizen of Ohio, in my opinion,” Urban said.
Wiccans, Spiritualists, Hare Krishnas, New Age channelers, Nation of Islam, and Rastafari were some of the groups Urban mentioned, but he said there are countless others, the Druids among them.
Dangler said despite the symbolic meaning of renewal involved in the planting, the Spring Equinox is different from the Celtic New Year, which is in the end of October. “In this case … everything changes constantly,” he said. “So you’ve got to plant, you’ve got to harvest. And each of these is sort of a new phase of the year and you move into it in a new way, kind of an interesting and different way to look at it than the way that a lot of people look at things.”
Fire is very central to a lot of neo-paganism, particularly Druidry, Dangler said. For the Spring Equinox, expect lit candles. “The act of lighting a fire is an act of prayer, and so every time you light a fire and do it mindfully, whether it’s a small candle or a giant bonfire, you are honoring the spirits in some way,” he said. “The fire acts in many of these traditions, particularly in ours, as a gateway to the other world.”
The Spring Equinox will also involve the blessing of tools used for planting and offerings that are biodegradable because Druidry is very earth-friendly, Dangler said.
His “grove,” the Three Cranes Grove, is “reasonably sized” with members age 21 to 55 that regularly draws in 70 to 100 people depending on the rite.
Dangler said he and his partner opened their shop 2 years ago, where neo-pagans can find altars, items for spells and rituals, hand-carved runes, and paintings created by local ADF artists for sale among other things, a portion of which are handcrafted by Dangler himself.
Dangler said he wants people to know Druidry is one choice among many that is open and accepting.
“The most basic belief is ‘nature is good,'” he said. “A lot of that has to do with the notion that not necessarily is the earth a spirit, but that everything on earth either has a spirit or is a associated with a spirit … for Druidry, when I specifically look at it I say there are a multitude of spirits out there and we can form relationships with them; these relationships can be to our benefit and they can benefit everybody else as well.”