This morning has me sitting in front of my keyboard, headphones, REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity album playing, and a fresh cup of coffee next to my mouse. This particular album has a magickal capacity to take me back to my early high school days so easily. My sophomore year of high school, Montgomery, Alabama. I started to get adventurous with my bike, riding the side of highway 80 between home and Montgomery Catholic High School, a one-way trip of a paltry 4.4 miles. Back then, that was a lot of pedaling.
That year, 1981, was an interesting time for me. I already knew I wasn’t a Catholic. I knew all the super-secret handshakes and genuflecting that had to be done when in church. My grades were already suffering due to my lack of attention to my classes. I played American football on the Junior Varsity team (I was extremely lousy), and I found absolutely joy in the TRS-80 computers that had been setup for use after-school hours. There was even an Apple ][ system there, providing my first love affair with Apple. But there were also theological studies that were part of a good Catholic education.
Freshman Theology provided my first failing grade. The year-long assignment was reading, discussion and testing over C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, a set of books I still cannot get into to this day. For me, the story line was dull and the symbology was just useless. I would rather have spent my time smacking the keys of the TRS-80 and Apple ][ computers, or reading Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Because I had failed the class, I needed to take a summer class to make up the grade. Public school did not teach this class, so I had to become a “special student” in my Theology teacher’s spare time over the Summer.
Once a week, on a Tuesday, I pedaled my bike along highway 80 to the school, and was provided comparative theology assignments. One was to compare and contrast Buddhism and the Christian faith. I had to research and write a four-page paper on the topic, and have it back to the Theology teacher (I still remember his name, but won’t use it here). I hated the assignments because there was no class involved. I would show up, we would talk for fifteen minutes about whatever assignment I had been given the previous week, be assigned a new topic, and sent home. All my work was done there, under the supervision of my parents.
My parents were not super into theology of any sort. Not at any point in their lives. We never went to church, except when it was mandated by the school for me as a student. Even then, they would drop me off at the church, and would be there waiting when the service was over. So, when writing these papers, they were not a lot of help. They would look through what I had written, screw up their noses when coming across comparative passages that they didn’t understand, correct some spelling and grammar, and then provide their “blessings”.
Those papers in comparative theology helped me quite a bit when I transferred to a new school in Shreveport, Louisiana for my Junior and Senior years. I learned to argue my point, how to do proper comparison and contrast lists, and how to utilize abstract thinking in what I had to say. My Theology teacher for my Junior year enjoyed some of the points that I made. He even went so far as to correct some of the salient discussions that I tried to bring up in free-form discussions on my tests, while providing my points for trying to make a different point of view.
I was challenged in that class. My arguments were refuted with thoughtful, well-returned responses. Several times, I had to visit with him after class to get his responses brought back to me at a level I could understand. My lexiconic understanding of Catholic etymology grew quite quickly. I think, during all of our various discussions, he knew I was not a Christian. In my senior year, he was my History teacher, while my Theology studies were taught under a perspective of doing for the community with a different instructor. I am fairly sure that a lot of my love for History came from the manner in which the subject matter was presented in that class in my senior year. I know that he heavily influenced the manner in which I taught in the classroom at the collegiate level. I always tried to strive to make the topic of computers fun, while being instructive. I wanted the students to be inspired by what technology could potentially provide, not just regurgitate information from a badly written (and very boring) book.
My approach to Druidry is very colored by what I learned in these Theology classes. I tend not to spend a lot of time working in the paths that have been trod upon so many times by others. I see those paths very clearly, thanks to the many that have traveled in those footfalls. There is a lot to learn from where those folks have been, and the manner in which they have studied. But I also look out beyond those paths, and see countryside that has seen so few footfalls. I know the dangers. You get lost along those not so well defined trails, and you had better have food and water with you. Much like Theseus’ ball of twine that he received from Ariadne, I see the OBOD course materials as the saving thread to bring me back if I make the wrong choices and find a dead-end facing me.
I am constantly accused of being unstructured in what I do in my approach, and it is quite true. Much of what I do in my solo rituals is extremely impromptu. Not only do I find such an approach as appealing for me, it also provides a point of deep discussion between myself and Crow. “Going off into the wilderness” may seem like an extremely unstructured perspective, working in experimentation with ritual form may seem incorrect, but most people either don’t see the underlying structure of where I go or choose not to see it. Before doing anything to change, I have to feel a lot more firmly rooted in the basics of what I am trying to do. Those basics are that same thread that Theseus needed to navigate his way back out of the labyrinth.
I go back to what I have written over the years in my journals. I read my self-arguments over small items of ritual and theological understanding. I don’t know the terminology that so many others use in the constant bickering that takes on the internet. They toss around terms like they are seminary students defending their thesis to a set of instructors. Many of the terms I have heard before, and I just don’t care enough to dig deeper and find out the meaning. My beliefs don’t need heavy language descriptives for me to understand where I am and what I know. My experiences take care of that for me.
In my writings, I can see and hear the freshman, soon to be a sophomore, high school student railing against the studies he was given. The student wanting to explore on his own, find his own understanding of meaning, symbology, and perspective. I ache for that student, wanting to nudge here, point there, hoping to add a small spark of revolution in his thoughts – to watch desire turn into understanding, where that moment breeds inspiration. And as I read those journal entries – all so sporadic in length, depth, and frequency – I can see the rebellion in his words and thoughts. How much he knew that there were always more than a single God, that there were more than a single perspective to observation around the fire…and how that barely walked trail led to where I am today.
Unstructured or not, the key to my becoming the Pagan I am today – thirty-seven years later – has always been in feeding my curiosity. I hope to never lose that innate thirst to know and understand. When that happens, I know that I will have lost that spark, and that Life on this plane has reached its final apex. But there is so much more of the mountain to climb….