Shade-tree Pagan

“You’re quite the odd individual.”

“You certainly do look for solutions outside of the box.”

“The way you think is certainly at odds with the way most people around here think.”

I have heard all of these within my professional work career. I have also heard these, to some extent, applied to me within the wider Pagan community. When I was younger, I took these as a measure of offense since the underlying hint was that I wasn’t “normal” when compared to others. Now that I am far older, I took these statements as a measure of pride, knowing that I can see issues from a far different vantage point and understand a potential solution that very few could see. And while I carry that as a badge of pride, understanding that being able to see everything from odd vantage points allows one to see how things actually work – it can be problematic as well.

Troubleshooting is a lost art. Very few people care how something works. We live in a society that throws away that which does not work, in favor of something fresh off the assembly line. Material things only hold value for us as long as they work. Once that value is lost, we throw it away. This is in evidence in the throw-away aspect of the fast-food industry. We purchase our food and drink which come in one-use wrappers or one-use cups. When done, we throw these away, adding to the waste that we generate as a society. But that mentality goes so much deeper than just fast-food containers.

When our computer systems stop working, the tendency is not to get the machines repaired. Rather, as loyal consumers, we purchase new computers to replace the ones we have. We do this for our smart phones, our automobiles, and several other large-dollar packages that we own. If you watch enough of the car repair shows on television – I do – you will see many episodes where shade-tree mechanics find ways to repair or refurbish vehicles that others have given up on. These vehicles are then sold to interested buyers, and these continue on for many years to come with their new owners.

As I said, troubleshooting is a lost art. When the repair is easiest to throw something away and replace it with something new, those who fix things tend to not see nearly as much business. And the same can be true within our own areas of Spirituality. Many Pagans came to what they know now from the Christian faiths. For many of these Spirituality refugees, the aspect of the Christian faith that they came from just did not work for them, and the sought something new. I know because I am one of those individuals.

Now, I knew that Christianity was not a faith that I could troubleshoot for myself and fix it. I could have done that, but I would still have the clash between the aspects of Christian faith and my belief that all the Gods and Goddesses are real, unique Beings. So, the reality was that it was better for me to move over to the Pagan faiths, and see where I actually fit in. Which I didn’t.

The various Wiccan groups that I encountered were just as rigid in their pattern of belief as the Roman Catholic church I had left behind. They were also as fervent in their belief that theirs was the only correct manner in which to practice a Pagan faith as some of the Baptists groups I encountered in the Christian faith. When I started looking into the broader aspects of belief – earth-centered philosophies, and hard Polytheism, I discovered that there were plenty of shade-tree Pagans out there, just as there had been shade-tree Christians.

Now, I am borrowing from an aspect of automotive repair lore when I use the term “shade-tree”. Wikipedia defines a shade-tree mechanic as:

A shade-tree mechanic is a person who performs automotive repairs with minimal equipment and supplies in an irregular setting, often a residential garage or driveway… A shade-tree mechanic may identify as a retired or off-duty mechanic, a paraprofessional with limited or specialized skills, a self-employed individual, or a handy-person who enjoys working on automobiles in their spare time. Services performed by a shade-tree mechanic may include basic maintenance, Do-It-Yourself upgrades, and other repairs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadetree_mechanic

So, I would suppose a similar aspect can be utilized towards those Pagans who spend their time working on their beliefs with minimal or no supervision of a group. Essentially, what we tend to term as “solitaires” or “solo” Pagan (don’t tell me that this doesn’t fire off echoes of Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” in your mind – it certainly does for me). Its interesting that as I think of this mindset, I can see it as a Pagan who has parked their beliefs under a shady tree, lifted the hood, and has begun to tinker with things to make it run better, smoother for what they are wanting. In essence, they are troubleshooting to either add to or remove from a belief that they have grafted on to their own understanding of the world around them. I know that I did this with Animism after I had finished reading Emma restall Orr’s book “The Wakeful World.” And I continue to do that with videos I watch, lectures I attended, and other books that I read. Like a shade-tree mechanic, I am always fine-tuning the engine of my Spirituality.

I know there are folks who do not like seeing this type of work on Spirituality done. That personal Spiritual work, for them, is better done in a group where an individual with experience is always available. To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even in the realm of shade-tree mechanics, engine problems that are beyond the scope and capable of the lone mechanic can arise. That’s when auto dealerships may need to be consulted for specialized work.

Now, you might not like the metaphor I have chosen here. I completely grok that. Its one that works very well for my own mindset. Do I see myself as a shade-tree mechanic? Certainly. But only for my own Spirituality. In my professional career, troubleshooting is a hall-mark of what I do. The United States Air Force taught me techniques to try and resolve issues – one step at a time. I have tried my best to apply that to my own Spirituality, something that changes and grows with each passing day. So trying to keep it fine-tuned can truly be an art form. At least I think so.

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