Thinking About: Individual Self-Image in Contrast With Fictional Characters (Part Two of Two)

Remembering Episode One

So far, in trying to answer a question that was snarkily (my impression) posed to me in wondering if I thought I was Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings, I have discussed some of the fictional and re-imagined historical figures that I identify with in movies, tv shows and novels. In re-reading what I have written to this point, I feel like I am completely psychoanalyzing myself to a large degree. In this follow-up second part, I wanted to take some of what I have written and swing it back around to my Spirituality. I mean, this blog is about me, but the primary focus is on my own Spirituality. All of that is done in the hopes that maybe one person gets something out of all of this and has their own personal revelation as to how these fictional stories helps provide the necessary cement to hold these concepts together. This particular post is no exception.

Somewhat Circling Back to Science Fiction as a Gateway to Paganism

Back in 2016, I attended one of the three Pantheacon conventions I ever made. At this particular convention, I attended a panel entitled “Morphing the Myth” which was about Paganism in popular fiction. I wrote a handful of posts inspired by this particular panel (“Morphing the Myth – a Personal Look“, “Morphing the Myth – Gateway to Paganism“, and “Morphing the Myth: What Does Myth Mean to You?“). However, I wanted to take this time to circle back to the idea of Science Fiction and Fantasy as a gateway into Paganism. or at least part of the role that these science fiction characters play within my own life. When I go back and look at the characters that I named, there is a strong note of independence between all of them. That concept of being able to do what was necessary, even without the help of anyone else or whatever the odds might be. To use another Star Wars character that I strongly identify with, look at Jyn Erso in the movie Stars Wars: Rogue One. One perspective that I didn’t mention earlier was what others have described as my ability to be an inspirational leader. Jyn is also fiercely independent. She inspires a group of others to walk away from the Rebel Alliance party line and follow her in what was definitely a suicide mission just to obtain the plans of the Death Star so the Alliance could find its weakness and destroy it. Now, I don’t think that the character of Jyn Erso would have drawn me towards Paganism, if I were younger and not thirty-plus years on my own Path. However, I can see where someone younger might be inspired by the independent nature of Erso to look into other alternative areas of Life. Perhaps, in that search, they might come across Paganism. Who knows? Who can say? But the possibility is there. However, I can pull up a few dozen Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and series that could directly point a person into searching through Paganism as an alternative to their desired Spirituality. As Shadow has often reminded me:  “Words have meaning.” And as I have to often remind myself: “That meaning is derived from the individual reading those words.”

So did all of the characters I mentioned previously, as well as the ones I have not mentioned, turn me into a raging Pagan? No, not really. However, each of these characters, as they are written and portrayed, have provided thematic moments that have helped cement the character traits that I have. My sense of Honor. My buildup of Trust with others. My understanding of what is my own “tribe” of people. None of these characters fully describe me as a person. None of these characters are full amalgamations of what is my Druidry, what is my Paganism or the complex connections I have with the world around me. At best, they are good descriptors of a handful of all of that. These cinematic and novelized moments are; however, excellent visual descriptives to bring to those that are trying to understand aspects of who and what I am. These are absolutely not the greatest descriptives, but in each of these are handles that others can readily grasp and understand at the most minimal of levels. Deeper discussions can take place around a fire late at night, under the moon, with drinks of our desire of the moment in our hands.

Why I Believe Fictional Characters are So Important

These fictional characters are important in our lives. That’s right. I believe that these characters reinforce parts of who we are. When Billy refused to give up Chavez to the lynch mob outside, it shows that he values his friends in all matters – no matter the skin color of that friend.

Billy the Kid:  See, you get three or four good pals. Well, then you’ve got yourself a tribe. And there ain’t nothing stronger than that.

For me, this is an example of the meaning of the word “pals” as is stated at the end of the movie. These people that are part of your tribe are important. That moment in the movie only helped reinforce that idea. I am sure that there are many, many moments in movies and novels and tv series and nearly anything else you can comment on, which do the same for others. All of these pieces of entertainment that we watch are mirrors for parts of ourselves. Yes, even the evil, horrible, blood spraying horror movies that make an ‘R’ rating. All of this places a mirror in front of us, where we can see what we are made of. Now, I am not claiming that these things show us the psycho killer in all of us. Rather, these films show us ways that we stand up to such exciting villains in our own manners of thinking.

Curly Bill: You know what I’d do? I’d take that deal ‘n’ crawfish, then drill that ol’ Devil in the ass. What about you Johnny, what would you do?

Johnny Ringo: I already did it.

These two are speaking of a stage-play of Faust making a deal with the Devil. Haven’t you watched a scene where you had imagined what you might have done in that situation? How you would have responded? Have you ever diagnosed it a bit deeper and tried to figure out how your own personality traits would have made that scene different? Or how the character that is in the dilemma has responded exactly as you would have? Many of these stories allow us to place our own personalities into the mix for our imaginations to work through. In many instances in real life, we may find ourselves thinking back to how a favorite character might have responded to some of the situations we find ourselves in. And those quick summations in our minds may provide the inspiration for a better response than we had initially thought of. These fictional characters provide archetypes that we can form our own hypotheses around.

Should This Matter to You?

So, after writing all of these thoughts, there really is only one final question: should any of this really matter to you? Well, the only person that can really answer that is you. Much of drawing inspiration from popular media sources really lies within you. Not everyone is going to see themselves in characters of a movie, tv series, or novel. Some folks do watch and read all of this as an escape from reality. They are not trying to inject themselves into these characters – even if that injection is only a small part of who they are. They are wanting storylines that give them relief from a world around them, not solutions or inspirations for the very real pressures of Life. I completely grok that perspective and I respect it highly. Everyone has to make their own way through Life in the manner that works best for them. And honestly, there will be a lot of people that cannot agree with my perspective of self-identifying with characters and situations from a fictional world. But then, I am not suggesting that every single human needs to do things exactly as I do. I prefer people to think and do for themselves. I am only representing something that does help me and inspire me to find solutions of my own.

Bringing This Saga to an End/Final Thoughts

Wearing one of the masks that Shadow lovingly made for me

In my opinion, there is a lot to unpack for someone here. Furthermore, I know there will be folks who disagree with my assessment of some of the characters, as well as the self-assessment I have splattered all over these two posts. I am perfectly fine with those differences. Life is not always clean and easy. There is a lot of dirty to trying to live life as authentically as you can. When you start adding more and more factors into all of that – politics, dealing with other people, paying bills, working a job – the mud gets deeper and thicker. I do see a lot of these characters in myself. Not complete work-ups of me. Just smaller parts. And some of those parts are contradictory. And those contradictions are sometimes Gordian knots that you just cannot get untied easily. And some of them you don’t want to get untied because those contradictions make you who you are. In the end, we decide what fits our self-image and what doesn’t. Sometimes, we don’t know about all the aspects of our image. Others see us in a different way. And reconciling those different aspects can be even more tedious and difficult. This was just my way of trying to explain pieces of my own self-image drawn against the backdrop of particular fictional characters. Your mileage will definitely vary.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Individual Self-Image in Contrast With Fictional Characters (Part One of Two)

Much of what you are about to read came from a snarky question thrown in my face in a private Facebook message that I tried to turn into a single post answer.

So what gives with all the Ranger stuff? Do you believe you are Aragorn now?

Someone asked if I would take another picture of me wearing the mask correctly. So I obliged.

My initial reaction was to be a touch offended. Then I started laughing to myself, as I thought it was a touch funny to have myself compared to a character that I truly am not near in any psychological or emotional aspect. However, I started thinking about the characters that I do deeply associate myself with. Fictional characters (or in some cases interpretations of historical figures from the perspective of a writer, producer and actor) that I can see pieces of myself within. I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to answer the question without approaching this without taking a deeper dive than usual.

Looking at Characters from Various Mediums

So, yes, I do see aspects of myself in various characters from fictional works. I tend to look at these characters to be archetypes of smaller pieces of who I am. None of these characters, or the ones to come later in my life, are complete parts of me. Most characters from these stories are barely on the threshold of being three-dimensional, complex characters. Sometimes, the creator of these stories will provide some complexity to the characters, thus providing a touch deeper aspect of realism and reality to them and the stories that they are encompassed within, but even then, the full manner of approaching the complexity of a real human is still a much further reach. Certainly, there will be those that would disagree with me, which I am perfectly fine with. Essentially this little blog post (or essay if you will), is just my own personal perspective.

Billy the Kid
One of the characters that I completely identify with is that of Billy the Kid from the two Young Guns movies. I have often said that I likely was born in the wrong time frame of the world. I am drawn to that genre of the West very strongly. Now, given that, my pull is more towards the difficult times that encompassed that part of the world. A time when we were invaders into the First Nations. We had more difficulty in trying to work with the original inhabitants of that new environment because of our blindness for a new experience, a chance to live free from the rules of the Old World and the far more “civilized” eastern parts of the United States. The discovery of gold – and its terminal sickness of greed – paired with a lust of land ownership, only made things worse. Young Guns was not truly set in a world where that took place. Young Guns tends to lean more towards the romanticized thoughts of the old West. Billy the Kid is a leader of a loose band of friends that are caught up in the cattle wars and vendettas of the unincorporated New Mexico area during the Lincoln County War. Billy (real name Henry McCarty) spends much of the movie wise-cracking his way through various encounters with rival ranch hands, bounty hunters and eventually law enforcement. However, it is Billy’s unswerving loyalty to his ranch boss, even after he is killed by rival ranch hands, that rings true. This is also mirrored in a moment at a whorehouse, where Billy’s gang is surrounded by townspeople and the local law enforcement (Young Guns II). When the local Sherriff offers up the half-Mexican, half Native American Chavez y Chavez as an atonement to the crowd that is lusting for a lynching, Billy refuses, citing that the Sheriff doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘pals.” This is an example of Billy’s commitment to his companions. When he finds people he cares deeply about, he has a sense of loyalty to them, even when they turn sides on him as Pat Garret does in the second movie.

Doc Scurlock:  You son of a bitch! You’re starting to believe what they’re writing about you, aren’t you? Let me tell you what you really are! You rode a 15 year old boy straight to his grave, and the rest of us straight to hell… straight to hell! William H. Bonney! You are NOT a god! (Cocking his rifle and pointing it at Bill)

Billy the Kid:  Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out.

Billy’s loose grasp of leadership, treating all of his friends as equals, is a quality I have seen in myself. This came in very handy when I was a Sergeant in the Air Force. The Airmen that I was charged with supervising never felt that I had to lord my authority over them. I treated them as equals in the job, relying as much on their knowledge as I did on my own. Billy’s loyalty to his friends is a quality I have always prized within myself. Even when Doc turns on Billy, as noted in the above quote, Billy’s response is a quiet determination for Doc to go ahead and pull the trigger. Billy is loyal enough to not doubt Doc, even when staring the barrel of Doc’s rifle.

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s character gets to be a little specific. I absolutely loved Alec Guinness’ portrayal of the character, but I never really identified much with the character in Episode IV. However, Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi in Episodes II and III were far easier to find myself within. Kenobi at this point is trying his utmost best to be several things all at once. A mentor to Anakin, a sitting member of the Jedi Council and a friend to both Anakin and Padme during a time where he is seemingly aware of the extreme close relationship the two have developed with one another – contradicting a personal code of conduct that Jedi are implied to follow. It wasn’t until I started watching the animated Clone Wars that I realized that Kenobi had found himself in the exact same situation as Anakin. I stumbled across this bit of information about Kenobi and Duchess Satine from a YouTube video that took parts of Kenobi from all aspects of Star Wars to create a fanfic tribute to the character. This only cemented my identification with the character, as Kenobi was shown to make good decisions, but also suffer from mental blindness in others because of his emotions for others. To this end, I could see a lot of the character traits of Kenobi within myself. Kenobi also has an ability to zero in on the completion of his assigned mission over everything else, a definite trait that I can see in myself – and often times, a personal failing of my own. Kenobi’s sense of honor and duty are very easily mapped on to my own sensibilities. But there is another very important quote of Kenobi’s that I find resonates deeply within me.


Obi-Wan Kenobi:  If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.

This particular quote defines a difference between myself and some of my supervisors that I have worked for. I have no desire to dominate. I have no reason to try and make myself look or seem greater than anyone else. I do not see a single way or path to accomplish what I am asked to do. Some ways or methods are longer in a time frame, but the results – in my way of thinking – might be better defined, explained and sourced. Honestly, this is a part of me that has started to come out more often than not. I do not seek to make myself right. I seek to follow where my footfalls may take me. I am not seeking a position of dominance or power. Neither of those fit into the goals of where I seek to go. To someone seeking drive, power, glory, name recognition and the such – I can readily see where our perspectives would clash.

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian is a bit more of a difficult character to work through for me. The perspective is a little easier to understand though. The Mandalorian is only trying to make his way through Life, trying to provide for his clan in a manner befitting the honor he is trying to keep. As a bounty hunter, he wants to make sure that Justice is served towards those who broke their oaths and agreements to others. He is trying to do the “right thing”. When his bounty is to bring The Child to an individual that seemingly does not have its best interests at heart, the Mandalorian steps back into action saving The Child’s life. Not only is the Mandalorian driven by a sense of Justice, but he is also driven by a sense of Honor. Both aspects are larger parts of what drives me on in life, so there is a strong correlation there. A few friends have admitted that the sense and style of the Mandalorian character are very similar to who I am, at least in their eyes. For me, I am not completely sure that the similarities are as tight as others may perceive, but I also have to remember that I am looking into a mirror, where as they are looking directly at me. However, much like Kenobi’s direction towards accomplishing the mission, the Mandalorian does have a single-minded move towards accomplishing what the bounty requests. However, he does not sacrifice his friends to accomplish those ends, a trait in common with the Billy the Kid character from the Young Guns movies.


Hawkeye
This is not the character from the tv series M*A*S*H though I do I adore the zaniness of that character. This is actually the lead character in the book and movie, The Last of the Mohicans. This is perhaps the easiest character for me to self identify with. Hawkeye has a strong individualistic trait that is combined with a super-strong sense of tribalism with those he cares deeply about. For me, both of these are core traits as to who I am and what I believe.

Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.

Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.

That perspective of being what is not expected of you is a big part of my past, as well as my present.  I suspect it will be the same going into my future as well. This actually figures into a lot of what I am. When I was in the military, I sought out repair methods that were not traditional – not to be different – but to get the job done. The military’s stance, at least at that time, was not to improvise. Follow the repair instructions to the letter. I never consulted the instructions unless I ran into a dead-end and needed some inspiration on a different direction to try. My Druidry is much the same. I see the direction I am pointed, I walk it for a while and then try to find some parallel Path that allows me to explore in my own manner. I guess, it could be said that I am strictly unconventional. Not sure how that would sit with those that prefer a more conventional approach to Life, but then that’s their approach. I would never say their approach was bad for them. I would say, its likely not to work out as neatly for me.

The Ranger class of Dungeons and Dragons
Ok. Don’t laugh. In fact, try and have a little bit of an open mind. I have played dozens upon dozens of games of Dungeons and Dragons. Nearly every single character that I have played is the Ranger. When taking those inane Question/Answer personality quizzes that you see floating around Facebook, every single one of the Dungeons and Dragons themed quizzes have brought me the result of the Ranger.

Though a ranger might make a living as a hunter, a guide, or a tracker, a ranger’s true calling is to defend the outskirts of civilization from the ravages of monsters and humanoid hordes that press in from the wild.

This fierce independence makes them well suited to adventuring, since they are accustomed to life far from the comforts of a dry bed and warm water. Some rangers find the responsibility of protecting the rest of an adventuring party to be burdensome, but most quickly find that other adventurers who can carry their own weight in a fight against civilization’s foes are worth any extra burden. City-bred adventurers might not know how to feed themselves or find fresh water in the wild, but they make up for it in other ways. A ranger’s talents and abilities are honed with deadly focus on the grim task of protecting the borderlands.

Warriors of the wilderness, rangers specialize in hunting the monsters that threaten the edges of civilization—humanoid raiders, rampaging beasts and monstrosities, terrible giants, and even dragons. They learn to track their prey as a predator does, moving stealthily through the wilds and hiding themselves in brush and rubble. Rangers focus their combat training on techniques that are particularly useful against their specific favored foes. Thanks to their intimate familiarity with the wilds, rangers also acquire the ability to cast spells that harness nature’s power, much as a druid does. Their spells, like their combat abilities, focus on speed, stealth, and the hunt.”  

“Classes –Ranger”, Dungeons & Dragons website, located at https://dnd.wizards.com/dungeons-and-dragons/what-is-dnd/classes/ranger

The point that stands right out for me is the concept of fierce independence, followed quickly by a desire to defend others against forces aligned against them. I have always felt a desire to protect and defend others. My military service was filled with the perspective that part of my duty as a military member was to defend the Constitution of the United States against all aggressors – foreign and domestic.” And while I don’t serve in the military any longer, I still hold that oath as being in place with who I am. Admittedly, its not the easiest of perspectives to maintain in this day and age, with the swirling political waters we found ourselves in. I have lost a few friends refuting their perspectives of what is appropriate for a President to do with Constitutional proof that its the exact opposite. Politically, I hold no party affiliation nor do I have a desire to affiliate or find any form of allegiance to one. I have taken that particular stand since I was eighteen. I’m nearly fifty-five now (in just a few days, in fact). For some indelible reason that I cannot firmly place my fingers on, I feel a kindred spirit with this particular class in a table-top role-playing game.

Cinematic Cliff Hanger for Part One

These are just some of the characters that I find myself associating with. Certainly there are others, but these were the first ones that came to mind when I was writing this. Just as I am sure there will be others going into the future as well. With this particular section now approaching 2500 words, I’ll bring this to a stop here. In the next post, the second half of this, I want to take a look at how stories with these archetypal characters influence us on levels that we might not even be aware of. I will also take a step back to looking at Science Fiction and Fantasy as potential gateways for folks into Paganism, something I have done before. Lastly, I want to explore one more aspect – if all of this should matter to you at all – a rhetorical question I will probably dance around the edges of, but one that I think might be useful for some folks to explore.

Thanks for reading part One. I hope you stick around to read Part Two which I’ll post tomorrow.

–T /|\

Revisiting “Morphing the Myth” – Building a Mystery or Personal Self-Examination?

All of what you are about to read started with a question posed to me in Facebook, which I turned into a status post. From there, what I perceived to be a touch of playfulness from Cat Treadwell turned into me turning that same point over and over in my mind. First let me setup what happened to get this entire aspect kicked into gear.

Q; Biggest Pagan confession?

Well…its not much of a confession, as a lot of people do know this about me. I’m not a fan of the Mabinogion. Never really was enthralled with it when I read it (all three times, different translation each time), and its generally not a part of anything that I practice within my Spirituality. I grok that it speaks to others….just not me. Now what’s my penance? ::eye-roll::

This was what started everything. A simple question, followed by my answer. Many of the members of OBOD – and many more Druids – are inspired by the Mabinogion. For me, its an odd series of tales, which provide no area of ready comprehension for me. That prompted the following….

Cat: So what story speaks to you instead?

Me: Mythological?? Theseus and the Minotaur.

Cat: I do wonder who set those Pagan Rules. Tolkien made his own mythology. I’d love to see yours.

Me: Mine would be really messy…I mean REALLY messy….

Cat: Do it!

…and all of that started my brain racing.

A few years back, I attended Pantheacon in San Jose, California. Actually, I attended it three years in a row. In one of those years, there was a panel that I attended called “Morphing the Myth” which I wrote a blog post on. There’s actually about six or seven blog posts that tie to this panel, but you should get the picture with the one. If you want to read further, just do a search on “Morphing the Myth” here at the blog site, and you should pull up the other posts.

Back to Pantheacon’s “Morphing the Myth” panel… Much of the discussion fell towards how Science Fiction and Fantasy open the doorway to Paganism for so many people. Cat’s point on Tolkien really struck home with this thematic for me and realized that I was suddenly thrust back into the panel’s wide-ranging discussion. Tolkien wrote a very impressive universe for his stories to live in. His vivid depictions of places such as Fangorn Forest, the formidable and dangerous land of Mordor, and the dwarven fortress of Erebor, provide the fertile ground upon which the seeds of his stories grow and take deep root. In much the same way, we find similar fertile ground in the myths and legends that we read, study, and explore. For some of us, certain legends resonate deeply with who we are and the manner in which we connect with the world around us. As I noted, the Mabinogian holds no such cherished treasure for me. Furthermore, while I identify greatly with Theseus in the story concerning the Minotaur, is is also not a story that calls deep to my heart either.

Oddly enough, I am drawn to the stories of the old West here in the United States. The stories of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, and so many others ring deeply in my soul. However, it is not the lawman that resonate with me. I’ll use a very specific example – the movie Hidalgo, which depicts the legend of distance rider Frank Hopkins. The character is one that does things his own way, a trait that plays well in my way of dealing with the world. I am also drawn to the mythologies of the First Nations, some of which do not dove-tail neatly from tale to tale. As I noted my idea of a mythology would be extremely messy, and this rag-tag mythology of tales fits right into that particular point.

Building my own mythology. While it certainly sounds intriguing to my ears, its a direction I cannot tread – other than through a fictional narrative. I have often though about creating my own world for characters that wander through my mind. There is a certain appeal to doing just that, through short stories which I might be able to weave into a longer tale. As I noted, it would be messy. And while I am not completely seeing how I might be able to do this, as I said there is a certain draw to it.

You come out at night
That’s when the energy comes
And the dark side’s light
And the vampires roam
You strut your rasta wear
And your suicide poem
And a cross from a faith that died
Before Jesus came
You’re building a mystery

“Building a Mystery”, sung by Sarah McLachlan

The “Morphing the Myth” panel did have one extra feature to the discussion that I thought was an incredible point – we give life to the Myths and Legends that we hold close and dear. We don’t always get all the points absolutely correct in the retelling, and this literally brings these stories back to having a renewed life. Plus, there is some aspect of retelling these stories with updated parts to the stories – told against the background of a culture so alien to the original story. Take for example, the 102nd episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Darmok”. Much of the story parallels “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and is a very interesting showcase for how an old myth can be painted against a futuristic backdrop. I have often wondered at the inspiration of so many other films and whether or not that inspiration may have been drawn from a myth or legend that have long been put to the wayside.

I don’t keep an altar in the house. This is as close as it gets.

Would I create my own mythology and legends, from which I could use as a backdrop for a series of characters? I do not know about the “would” part, but the “could” reaction is that yes I could. It would be messy. As if the entire aspect of the myths and legends was not completely preserved. This is a thought that I have constantly had concerning the myths and Gods and Goddesses that we all work with. Yes, this God was a god of this or that, and there are references to the God having certain characteristics and personality traits from the myths and legends. However, I have often wondered if we paint too much of a two-dimensional portrait of the Gods in this manner? Maybe the stories, legends and myths that have survived are not a complete understanding of that particular God or Goddess. Maybe Pan was more than just the epitome of a collegiate student headed to the Florida beaches for Spring Break. We just don’t know about an alternate, more serious and studious side of Pan because those stories did not survive being handed down during the ages.

And what if we have an incomplete understanding of the Gods? Does it negate what energy we have put into worshiping and working with Them? For me, that answer is easy: no. Over the years, I have developed my own relationship with both Coyote and Crow. Both are tricksters and enjoy having fun at my expense from time to time; however, both can also be quite serious about things that need to be accomplished too. For me, this is a case where the myths and legends only show you a two-dimensional aspect of who the Gods are. If you believe that the Gods are individual Beings who have Their own lives and make Their own choices…then of course, the myths and legends will only show a singular side of who They are. Do I believe that? Yes, I definitely do. Do I have a complete understanding of who Crow or Coyote are? No, not even close. My relationship shows me a side of each of Them that is chosen to be shown to me. I know enough of Them to do the workings that I need to do for Them.

…and all of this came from a single comment made on a Facebook post. That’s generally considered diving down a rabbit hole. Except that it is not. That one comment opened a doorway I have walked through many, many times. That comment lead me through the doorway to something that I have done my very best to consider, evaluate, understand and believe for a huge portion of my adult life, and will continue to take up my thoughts far into the future. Is my perspective empirical fact? Nope, not even close. It is; however, a part of my own UPG – Unverified Personal Gnosis. And as such, you might even be able to consider it a part of my own personal Mythology. For me, it is just the prelude to some chocolate eclairs for this morning – and a topic that I will continue to obverse, evaluate and explore well into my next lifetime.

…and I certainly have to thank Cat…for knocking the door off the hinges, so I would walk through. 🙂 Conversations can take us all to some supremely strange places.

“‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'” Indeed Alice…what are legends, myths and stories without internal observation and personal examination. Indeed.

–T /|\

Rambling on About Stories

From time to time, I look back on older posts to try and draw inspiration for newer posts. Today, four posts caught my eye, all with the thematic “Morphing the Myth”. These were all written back in 2016, shortly after I had returned from my first Pantheacon. The panel was titled “Morphing the Myth” (hence the thematic of my post), and was led by S.P. Hendrick, Diana Paxson and a gentleman whose name I never found out. The entire panel’s discussion was held on a very academic level, which I appreciated deeply. But within my notes (which I still have) was a perspective that Science Fiction and Fantasy works can become the gateway to Paganism, as well as pulling in a personal perspective of how myth fits into one’s modern-day life. Plus, I added a bit more on how music can play a part in all of this as well, using my love for the Grateful Dead as a backdrop. The four posts I am referencing here are:

Now let’s be clear about something. I am a better writer today than I was back then, so some of these posts meander into left field and the such. Not that I don’t do that these days here. However, try and excuse a lot of the mistakes that I make within these older posts, in much the same way I make mistakes these days.

Perhaps, instead of seeing myth or Science Fiction/Fantasy stories as the gateway to Paganism – we could talk a bit about the way that these stories live within our minds and imaginations, and fed aspects of our own personal Spirituality. And this plays a little deeper into another post that I wrote about this panel – Static or Dynamic Mythology. Yes, it can be said that this particular panel really opened my eyes to a lot of different avenues in relating to myths and story-telling. The panel also led me towards understanding how important story-telling is in our everyday society, as well as how it plays into my own Spirituality.

J. Michael Straczynski’s Bablyon 5 series was the first instance where I found storytelling reaching deeply into what I thought myself to be. The storylines, the characters, the settings all played into my own imagination of what the future could hold – a place where various alien races could gather and work out their differences without resorting to war – though that did happen several times in the show. The characters all had flaws, strengths, and were believable as individuals. Some of them even changed from one type of character towards being a different one – just as people tend to do in real life. From that construct, I started to look at the world of myths and story-telling differently. I started to place the pieces into the stories that helped the characters and their tales come alive in my mind. And from that, my understanding of how to work with the perspective of the Gods being alive started to take a more solid shape in my life.

In my instance, Science Fiction and Fantasy was the gateway towards seeing how the Gods were truly alive. Granted, I was still applying my construct of being alive onto Beings that I could never truly relate completely to, but it still allowed me to understand the Gods from a perspective that felt more alive. It also allowed me to see the Gods as something that could change, ever so slightly because Their reality of time is most assuredly different than my own….that They did not have to be a static, never-changing concept. The Gods are most assuredly alive.

Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

Are the myths alive? Can we re-tell the myths, adding flourishes and embellishments along the way? Well, certainly we can do just that. We’ve done that through re-telling of the legend of the hero Hercules. In some ways, to make the story more palatable for an animated Disney feature. You can be quite certain that the myth was not followed completely. Does this re-telling of the myth change what Hercules is? Only if we let the animated re-telling stand in place of the actual myth. And the concept of just letting it stand really depends on the individual more than it does on society (in my not so humble opinion).

Stories are important, in my opinion. Sit around a campfire at any gathering, and eventually folks will begin to tell the tales that they know. Some may be about the heroic deeds of Hercules, or two hobbits taking on a task that was seemingly impossible for them to do. Perhaps it will be about the time that I got lost in the forest just outside my assigned apartment in base housing when I lived in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Or maybe the times that I would go to the Class VI store on Ramstein Air Base, purchase a bottle of whiskey, and ride the German rail system drinking until I was removed from the train at the German border. Everyone knows a story. And the story does not have to be mythic in nature. Nor does it need to just entertain. Regardless, stories are an important part of our culture.

Currently our stories are told to use in books, spoken word recordings, songs, television shows, and movies. In the past, families would gather around the radio in the living room to listen to the stories that were told over the airwaves. Prior to that, everyone gathered around the campfire and took turns regaling one another with tales. No matter how much we deny it…stories are the fabric of our society. Stories matter.

Thinking About: Pantheacon and Pagan Gatherings

This past week, there was an announcement made that this coming Pantheacon would be the last. Now, there are quite a few folks who have never heard of Pantheacon. And many, many more that never got the chance to go to one. I made it three years in a row. To be honest, it was an interesting experience, to say the least. All kinds of Pagans, every flavor you could think of. Everywhere. Mingling, talking, laughing, learning, discussing, debating, having fun – because that is really what a convention experience should be like. There was literally something for everyone. Serious panels, panels that took a light-hearted approach, themed panels, concerts, music, and hospitality suites run by various groups. You could find food, drink, conversation, more teaching, more discussion. And none of that gets into the moment that the Krampus Walk gets upon you – and you had no idea what it was or that it was even coming — my first-year experience.

But to be honest, conferences are expensive beasts to run and maintain. From the cost of the hotel itself to all the other smaller details that go into it – putting these on gets expensive, in terms of money. Then there’s the sweat equity of the folks behind the scenes. Making sure that projectors, project screens, speakers, microphones, etc etc are in the correct places at the correct times and working correctly. Managing such mundane details as fire-code issues for room occupancy, maintaining a lost-and-found, providing information for people lost or overwhelmed in the hotel, mitigating issues on behalf of those booked at the hotel with the hotel staff – and the list goes on and on. Its quite an undertaking. I know. I have been there before.

Back at the beginning of Project Akon, I was the Security Director for the very first two conventions. The first convention went fairly easy, but at the second one, I had to deal with people throwing rocks from the rooftop into the swimming pool below, handling a few sticky-fingers issues within the dealer’s room, and a pair of drunken females wanting to disrobe at the pool in the early morning hours of the night. Each of those moments carried a shit-load of stress for me, and I was only in charge of a single group of volunteers (fifteen to be exact). In the case of both conventions, I think I got less than ten total hours of sleep over each three-day convention. Those days were tough, and I was completely exhausted by the end of it all, but it was grand fun for me. I got to meet and talk with cartoonist Tex Avery (scratch that, I got my “Tex’s” mixed up. It was Bill “Tex” Henson) during the first one, simply because the room I was checking badges for had no one in it. He pulled up a chair, introduced himself and we talked for at least two hours about animation in the 1950s and 1960s. Eventually, we had a small group of folks gathered around, just listening to our conversation.

I am sure that some of the folks at Pantheacon have had similar moments. I know I did. My first and third years, I shared a room and a trip with John Beckett. John presented both of those years, both with the convention and in the hospitality suites. The second year; however, I went alone. I spent a lot of time in the OBOD suite talking with Frank M. and with Kristoffer Hughes. A presentation of Kristoffer’s that I attended, I saw again three weeks later at the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. It was just as interesting, entertaining and informative as when I had heard him at Pantheacon. That second year, being on my own, I explored more panels and visited the hospitality suites more often than the first year. And I could never forget the lovely singing of Byron Ballard to begin one of the panels on death that year.

Were there controversies? Were there issues? over the years, it has certainly been documented. During the three years that I went, I never really saw or experienced anything that would be considered controversial. But then, I tend to run in very small circles when I attend events like this. So, most of that may have been outside of my senses. But I also do not go to public events seeking to be controversial either. I am just me…just as I am anywhere else. I am not sure how controversial I may be considered. I tend to get the feeling that I am considered to be rather milquetoast, even for a Pagan, Druid, and/or Polytheist.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

There are a few folks that see this as the possible beginning of the end of large social gatherings for the Pagan community, particularly in the arena of conventions. Maybe. There are a few other conventions that are Pagan-oriented around the country. People that are interested in this type of setting can certainly find those fairly easily. But I certainly would not call the end of Pantheacon the end of such a setting or even the end of a large convention setting. Its the end of Pantheacon. Certainly traveling to conventions is expensive. The flight/drive, the hotel, the food, all the other expenses – that shit adds up quickly. But if this is your kind of thing, there are other spots to attend. And let’s not over-play Pantheacon as some massive monolith that just cannot be replaced or created again elsewhere. Because that is just not true.

So, what to do next? Well, if you can afford to make it to Pantheacon in 2020, I would suggest you go. In my estimation its a wonderful experience to have. If you can’t make it, see what’s near you and make plans to be there – whether that is a convention or festival or a gathering…whatever. All of that is part of your wider community. Reach out, meet new people, engage with old friends…have experiences! It does not have to be “just like” Pantheacon…does it?? I don’t think so, but that’s just my perspective. Your experience will definitely vary because we are all unique. But seriously, reach out, find new places to explore…

As for the folks who have helped put Pantheacon on for these many years, I say thank you. Certainly, there were rough times, but the wonderful experiences throughout it all would hopefully outweigh all of that, especially over the number of years the convention has existed. I, as a three-year attendee, am grateful for all that you have done.

JOEO

Devotional Practice – My Approach

As I have mentioned before (quite a few times), I am a Polytheist, a Priest of Crow, and maintain my own devotional practice to Him. I have a few friends that are also Polytheists and have their own devotional practices with their own Gods and Goddesses. And our individual practices all look different, which is as it should be. I’m not interested in making my own practice look like theirs. I’m interested in making my practice work for the relationship I have with Crow.

My Backyard Stone Circle
My Backyard Stone Circle

At Pantheacon this year, I attended several concurrent sessions throughout the time I was there. When I was choosing what sessions, I was going to attend, I did so with a mindful purpose. I wanted to attend sessions that would help me strengthen my relationship with Crow and Coyote. At the time, I was also going through what I had perceived to be a potential start of a relationship with The Morrigan. That turned out to not be the case and was also colored by a certain perception bias I had instilled on things as well. It turned out to be a set of Valkyries that came to deliver a point. When I looked through the sessions, three stood out to me instantly, and I knew I had to attend each of these.

The three sessions, “Beginning Devotional Practice“, “Advanced Devotional Practice” (both by Silence Maestas), and “Brigid: History, Mystery & Magick of the Celtic Goddess” (by Courtney Weber) each had an immediate attraction for me. While I have a daily devotional practice working with Crow, and from time-to-time with Coyote, I am always open to the prospect of new ideas or techniques. The Brigid session, on the other hand, was an odd choice, given my so recent flirtation with Fliodhais. Still, I knew I needed to be at all three of these sessions. I’ll discuss the Brigid session in another blog post though.

I had attended Silence’s session at Many Gods West last year. So, I had a decent idea what I was expecting in these sessions. I knew there would be an open discussion, allowing members of the audience to share their own thoughts and perspectives. Last year, this was an invaluable tool for me in gathering my thoughts concerning Fliodhais, and where I thought things would be going. As it turned out, the flirtation was just that. And eventually, my devotional practice has set back to Crow and Coyote, with some extra work with the various Spirits of Place up here by the Red River that forms the border between Texas and Oklahoma.

In the initial stages of the beginning session, Silence talked about the basic aspects of starting a devotional practice. Choose a single thing to start with, and do it until you are extremely comfortable. Then begin to add other elements as you are called to do so, and continue working with your daily practice. My start came from greeting the Sun. But what the start is, does not matter. Silence added in some characteristics of Devotion into the conversation: Choice, Constancy, Perseverance. The choice allows you to become an emotional experiencer.

Why Have a Devotional Practice?

For this question, I cannot really answer for anyone else. Everyone will have their own set of reasons. For me, the start was with Coyote. I was seeking a Guide that could show me pathways I had never considered in my own Spiritual approach. In return, I was offering to be Their hands and feet within this realm. I spent three years thinking I could make a connection with Germanic Gods and Goddesses. I wound up with Coyote answering my desire for guidance. It made sense. I live in the middle of Native American lands – the southern edge of the central plains. I knew Coyote to be a Trickster. And I spent a lot of time being humiliated by Him before I finally stood up for myself. ‘Why would anyone want to work with me after making me into such a mockery?’ ‘At least you understood the point of the lessons. You need to stand up for yourself’ was the answer I received. And thus, started what has been nearly a decade of solid work with the first of my Trickster Gods.

Choice

You choose to do this practice. No God or Goddess will compel you to do any of this. They may ask, but it is still your choice. You have the Free Will to say no. Granted, there are consequences to saying ‘no’. Just as there are consequences to saying ‘yes’. Be sure you are prepared for either perspective. Just as well, be prepared to receive no answer at all. Too often, I have heard Polytheists say that they feel like they are doing something wrong when no God or Goddess answers them, directly or indirectly. That they feel they are doing their worship and devotion wrong when no Gods approach them. Worship and devotion are your choices; not a compulsion, not a directive. Sometimes, the Gods don’t answer. Just because there is not an answer or a manifestation, should that be the definitive answer as to if you believe? Remember, the Gods are not Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that just spit out the answers and Their attention whenever you ask for it or manage to punch in the right combination on the keypad for Their attention. The Gods do as They see fit as well. They also have choices. They also have Their own Free Will. Remember, devotional work with the Gods is a relationship, and relationships are cultivated – not created with the snap of a finger. Trust needs to be developed. Relationships are grown.

Constancy

Perhaps the easiest aspect of Silence’s Characteristics of Devotion is that of Constancy. If part of your devotional work takes place at the butt-crack of dawn (as mine does), then be there. That consistent behavior provides the religious context of what you are doing. And honestly, your devotional practice needs to be something that you can do easily. You do not have to wind up looking and acting like a Catholic Priest or Nun in your devotion. My devotional work requires me to be there. If I happen to be wearing a Rush concert t-shirt and a torn-up pair of jeans – then that works. Constancy is not about dressing the part – it is about being you. No matter how you look. If “robing up” is something that helps get you into the frame of mind, then do so. Just remember, you may not always be somewhere that you can just do a quick change into a set of ritual robes. As I noted, part of my devotional practice is greeting the sun as it rises into the morning sky. Even when the clouds obscure it. Even when it is raining outside. Or in the case of my trip to Ireland two years back, standing in a waiting area in the Dublin international airport. And while I stood there and looked out the window, with a cardboard coffee cup in hand and my carry-on backpack hung over one shoulder, it was a magickal moment indeed.

Perseverance

So, you have made the motions. You have set up your devotional practice. You have decided which God or Goddess you want to work with. And They do not answer or acknowledge you. What now? Well, keep at it. A relationship with a God or Goddess is like any relationship you have with anyone else. it can take time to build the trust necessary for a relationship to be established. You do not have to pitch a piece of expensive jewelry into a lake to show that you have devotion. Well, maybe you do. That is truly up to you, and the nature of your relationship with the God or Goddess that you are flirting with or Who is flirting with you. That is a choice for you to make. The point is that whatever relationship you are cultivating takes time. And once the connection is there, like any relationship, obtaining depth requires constant work (remember Constancy?).

This is a relationship of choice that you are building. A choice that was made between you and a God or Goddess. Certainly, They are beings that we do not ultimately comprehend completely, but this is still a relationship. Just as it took some work and time to develop trust between yourself and your significant other, the same holds true here. You want that intimate relationship? That takes work buddy. And that work requires you to be constant, work through difficulties and misunderstandings, and to choose to have this. If you are wanting it just to have a God or Goddess notch on your altar…you’re not approaching this as you should. Remember, relationship = trust, trust brings intimate relationship, intimate relationship = commitment, commitment comes from hard work.

A Caveat – I Am Not an Expert

Now, I have stated this before. I have also stated this in the professional conferences that I have led sessions on SQL coding. I am no expert. I can only relay what I have learned, what works for me, and what does not work for me. I am not the final arbiter of what is or is not devotional practice for anyone. Well, except for myself. In that realm, I certainly am the expert and final arbiter. All I can really say is that anyone who wants a devotional practice can develop one. You must commit to study, practice, and ritual to achieve what you are wanting. Read, do, repeat. Or as the bottle of shampoo notes – Lather, rinse, repeat. And above all else, look carefully at what it means to cultivate a devotional relationship with a God or Goddess. Like any relationship, the prime commitment is time. Be sure what you are getting into before you do it.

–T /|\

Three Drops of Awen – From Kristoffer Hughes

 

IMG_0211 (1)
Morning at the ADF Imbolc Retreat fire…

I am currently trying to get myself prepped for three events happening in my life over the next eleven days. I am packing for the ADF Imbolc Retreat in the Texas hill country, a professional conference in Corpus Christi that starts immediately on the heels of the retreat, and Pantheacon just a single day after I return from Corpus Christi. So, essentially, I am packing three different bags for three very different events. Yeah, I have lost my mind.

 

 

BookofQuotes
My book of quotes

A while back, I had lost my “quotes” book, which is a small leather wrapped notebook that I carry with me nearly everywhere. In my determined unpacking from an event last year, I had placed this on a shelf in my office, and then set my two bottles of Bushmills’ whiskey in front of it. Given that I am carrying whiskey with me to Imbolc, I pulled the bottles out to pack and re-discovered the notebook. Naturally, I started thumbing through it and came across several quotes I had written down from last year’s Gulf Coast Gathering, which Kristoffer Hughes had attended. I thought it might prove interesting to explore some of what was said…

 

The Druids of the future will look to the Druids of today for reference when it comes to ritual.

Given all the navel-gazing I have been doing over the last few months concerning legacy, and how the Druids of the future will stand on the shoulders of the Druids of today who are standing on the shoulders of the Druids of the past – this quote was quite interesting to find as the first in my little book. My notes next to this state that documentation is key for the future understanding of the past. And that rituals can help restore order to that which is in chaos.

I admit, there are times when I look at the state of what I perceive to be our current Pagan community, and I have moments of despair over the constant arguing and fighting. And it is difficult for me to see a way forward where there may be cohesion and agreement. I want to have the grand vision of a larger, vibrant world-view, where Paganism is readily accepted on equal terms to Christianity, and other world faiths. With the constant turmoil, arguing over definitions, terminology, and trying to develop standards of who is “Pagan enough” just do not seem like strong forward reaching efforts to me.

And then I get the feathered wing to the back of the head, as I am reminded again and again that a myopic view of the world is the narrow focus that needs to be avoided when looking long-term. There is plenty of documentation taking place through books, blogs, conferences, podcasts, videos, and retreats such as the one I am about to attend. When I start focusing on all the squabbles, I miss all the wonderful things that do move things forward. The multi-faith efforts that happen throughout the world, the growth of the wider community in areas of ritual and daily devotion, as more and more Pagans reach out to find a deeper connection in their spiritual lives, as well as a stronger commitment to their Gods.

Druids are not defined by who they are. They are defined by what they do.

Part of what I am learning about myself is that service to others is paramount to who I am. Whether that be through this blog or stepping back into my local Pagan community or being a mentor to others seeking to find deeper connections in their own lives – living my life is about reaching out to help others. And through that point of individual service, no matter how great or small, I learn a bit more about who I am and what I am capable of. As well as a good dose of humility, which I have been sorely in deep need of.

We all strive for meaning in our daily lives, as well as meaning to our overall existence. For many, that is a concept that is difficult to deal with – the struggle is definitely real. And I can definitely add – it is a lifelong battle. Sometimes, you can feel that you have a complete handle on things, and then a single event can collapse all that confidence like a house of cards in a hurricane. In the end, it is the actions that provide the glimpse at the depth of meaning behind who we are. The individual intention, beyond anything else, gives motion to our actions. When we live an intentional life, we give focus to what we do, how we do, and why we do it. Which oddly enough, dovetails with the last quote I have from Kristoffer…

Your job is not just to know ritual but to understand the “why” of ritual.

Honestly, I can read book after book, article after article, and listen to talk after talk about ritual; practice performing the entire script of what needs to be accomplished; work on the flourish of my hands; perfect the intonation of the words that are spoken – none of that means anything if I do not have a clear understanding of the ritual’s overall meaning. All the book knowledge in the world will not breathe heart and soul into what I am attempting to accomplish with the ritual. All the acting skills in this world, the Nine Hells, and beyond the veil will not mask a lack of heart and passion geared behind the “why” of the ritual. A poorly followed set of words, motions, and movements will pale when that individual is doing so with the passion and fire synced to their desire to do all of this for the appropriate reasoning and intent. And this is one of the reasons that I have always felt so in tune with my impromptu, unscripted, off-the-cuff rituals that just whisk me away into the moment. It might seem “wrong” to someone else, but it is a moment of pure perfection for me.

In a little over a week, I will make my way to Pantheacon, where I will have the pleasure of seeing Kristoffer’s smiling face, and hopefully, experience a massive bear hug. I am looking forward to attending a handful of presentations as well, where I will hopefully get to add to my quote book. And I am thoroughly over the moon at finding my little friend once again…

The Gods Are Alive – You Need Only Reach Out and Open Your Mind

A few nights ago, I was contemplating the legend/myth of Santa Claus. Seemingly, it is interesting that something near to this image of a jolly, older guy passing out presents is so far-reaching and encompassing throughout many cultures around the world. Perhaps, it can be attributed to the wider reach of Christianity throughout the entire world. Maybe. I would prefer to see it a little differently though. I believe that the underlying concept of freely sharing the joy and love of what human beings can be – regardless of nationality or race, is an easier concept to reach for so many.

We live in a world where conflict is common-place. So common-place that many of the conflicts are not readily reported in the news media. But then again, with most of the news media concerned with who hates the Sunkist-Orange President or where a “fascist” can be found that can be punched in the face – news is not as readily available since it does nothing to assuage the feelings of an extremely vocal few. And that is truly a post for another time.

No, the entire concept of Santa and gift giving is a wonderful sentiment to have. I would hope that it spreads to more than just a single day. And more than just six days throughout the entire year. As a myth or legend (whichever you prefer), it does make for an interesting study of just what myth and legend can mean to us as a global society. And not just religiously oriented myths. Myths and legends provide our somewhat monochrome, monotone world with color and expression.

In 2016, I attended a panel on Mythology at Pantheacon, where the discussion turned from the myths as we have told them prior to the addition of modern technology versus the addition of CGI and movie technology providing a new vision. And while I would posit that these modern adaptations of the myths, bear the marks of how the Hollywood producers and executives deem the Gods to be, or even how the Gods seem to be to the graphic novel writers and artists would dream the Gods to be; there is an impetus that these modern adaptations do bring people into Pagan traditions. These people may dabble in various traditions before they cast these off and find their own manner of approaching the world around them. And some of them may stay within a Pagan tradition, finding their own expression of the Gods that drew them in – ditching Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the embodiment of what the Gods may seem to be to them, and finding their own imaginative interpretations within their own minds and hearts.

Petroglyph Trail - Mesa Verde National Park
A narrow passageway along the Petroglyph trail in Mesa Verde National Park, where I came face-to-face with Crow.

As I noted in my “Static or Dynamic Mythology” post back in 2016, for me the Gods and Goddesses are alive – each their own individual manifestation. But the myths and legends are alive as well. Surely, some of these myths and legends have grown and adapted with the colorful additions of Bards and Storytellers throughout the ages. An embellishment that becomes believable is a true gift of a storyteller weaving his or her spell around a campfire. The same holds true for those same stories translated into a written word or onto the large screen of the movie theater. And given the desire of so many to purchase books, watch movies, and even tv shows geared to the myths and legends of our times – the thirst for the colorful nature of myth and legend is readily evident.

And the thirst is not even true for just movies or even mythology. To present that perspective, look to the X-Files tv shows and movies, which tackle many modern myths and legends. Aliens, shadowy government forces, and deep, hidden conspiracies are all a part of our modern cultural myths. Some are unlikely to be true, but it does provide some color to our black and dark blue suits, with the red ties and white shirts or even the more mysteries camouflage and olive drab uniforms.

Or perhaps, your concept of myths and legends is geared more to the far east with guardian monsters protecting the woods, mountains and streams o the island of Japan from the rampaging force of Godzilla (hat-tip to Mojo)? The idea of a monster created from the frightening and dangerous powers of nuclear energy is a rather modern one. Godzilla has been rampaging throughout Japan since the 1950s. Taking a rampant fear of nuclear technology and applying it to monstrous creations that destroy small-gauge railroad sets made to look like the Japanese cities and countryside, provided both a story that has become beloved and a more hidden warning of the need to respect the Kami that are literally everywhere.

Our myths and legends will continue to grow and deepen as we grapple with the questions of where we fit into the world, and even the universe, around us. And many of these myths, legends, and stories are adaptations of situations within our own lives – projected onto a wider screen than any monitor or television: our own minds. No offense to the amazing CGI and Hollywood writers, set designers, and animators – my own projection of Crow is more amazing than any special effect could make Him. And while I am not reliving any legend or myth (and I really don’t need to) – each day of my life is lived within a landscape of living Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, and my own Ancestors. Every day brings me new experiences that have meaning, complexity, and depth to me. Paganism and Polytheism are not for everyone. And not every person will have similar experiences as I have. However,  without taking the time to explore, the patience to try multiple times, the desire to read and learn about where you are diving deeply into, and having an open mind to what you are experiencing – you may never know. The first step is wanting to.

 

TommyElf, the”Writer”?

I have always had trouble coming up with topics to write about. Honestly, it took a long time before I realized that the books I was reading could spark topics and questions for blog posts. Nowadays, any book I am not reading for leisure takes longer to read because I have a notebook in hand when doing so. In that notebook, I jot down questions to ask of myself, topics to explore in more depth, and even books I need to locate and add to my growing collection. From those notes, I create these blog posts.

Two years ago, I attended my first Pantheacon. I was fortunate enough to have a semi-experienced guide for that time in fellow blogger (and far better than I could ever dream of becoming), John Beckett. Since that time, John has become a published author with his really great book, “The Path of Paganism.” While at that Pantheacon, I went to several panels, wrote copious notes, and came back with more blog material than I could have dreamed of. Since then, I have notes from other conventions, some Pagan gatherings, and even from interviews from podcasts such as “Down at the Crossroads.” More interestingly, I have started to gather blog topics from conversations I am having with other Pagans – both in online and face-to-face conversations. In short, I am finding blog topics nearly everywhere around me.

I have never been a prolific writer. In collegiate classes, I was praised for my writings in several research papers and essays. In a Creative Writing class, I wrote a short story based on a true incident that I had in going back to my unit in Germany from a rehabilitation stint I had in Wichita Falls, Texas. Incidentally, when I first joined the United States Air Force in 1986, it was this same base that I did my technical training at. Now, I live less than an hour away from that same base, here near Gainesville, Texas. Amazing how life tends to revolve in circles and cycles. Back to the writing aspect though, my papers and essays were mostly singular writings. In other words, I wrote a single draft, checked for spelling and grammar issues – and then submitted the assignment. Rereading those assignments, I can see where my writing truly fell short.

Back to the writing aspect though, my papers and essays were mostly singular writings. In other words, I wrote a single draft, checked for spelling and grammar issues – and then submitted the assignment. Rereading those assignments, I can see where my writing truly fell short. Circular logical references; thoughts and points that were cut short; and just generally poorly constructed explanations are rife throughout all of that work. I am truly amazed that I managed to make my way through two Masters degrees and a Bachelor’s degree with what I had submitted.

Looking back on older blog posts, here at the site, I also see many of the same faults. And a lot of that stems from my own lazy habit of writing singular version posts. I know I am a good writer, but as I was once told by an evening fire during one Gulf Coast Gathering, I have the ability to be an even better writer. So, in an effort to try and move beyond that singular version writing of blog posts, I write very little during the last two weeks. Well, very little that got posted. There are currently four posts that are being written – not including this one. One will be completed tomorrow (Sunday) and posted. The other three will be completed and set up for posting automatically. So that material can be reread, revised, and rewritten as necessary.

Coyote taught me not to take myself too seriously. I learned to laugh at myself and my mistakes. To not think of myself as having complete mastery of anything. All of that helped me learn to not be overly serious and find the fun in everyday life. I am more likely known as a smart-ass than anything else. However, those closest to me also know about my serious side. My desire to get things “right”…not just “right enough”. That is carried over into my daily life, into the statistical and data work I do for the college. But I have managed to not bring that into things outside of work. I clown, I kid, I try to find the absurd in everything. And somewhere between those two extremes is where I really am. It is long past time to embrace the two, and be a little more serious…while also finding fun.

So, to start the more serious, more deliberate aspect of writing…I provide this post as that moment. I know my initial efforts may not be the brightest, shining examples of this. However, these are just the start. I hope to get far better, a bit more deliberative, a bit more precise in what I write. I am not sure I was meant to be a writer, but I am meant to relate the stories – both of my everyday life, and those of the Gods. I am excited about the possibilities and fearful of the technique in doing so. As I was reminded shortly after my Ovate initiation, being a little fearful of what was about to take place was an indication that I was taken the approach in the correct, serious manner. There will be seriousness, there will be fun….

Plain-Language Programming – Mean What You Write

Back in 1995, I took a class in Pascal programming – much of which I have forgotten at this point in time. But the instructor taught us a programming concept that he called “pseudo programming” which basically boiled down to regular sentence statements for what was going to be done. For instance, if we were going to write a loop, we would create pseudo code that looked like this:

Check variable [x] for [y] value
As long as [x] does not equal [y] do the following
(long string of functions to be performed on data and stored)

Later on in my professional career – which admittedly looks like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney – I learned that this process is sometimes referred to as “Plain Language Programming” which is just a fancy way of saying that you are talking about stuff in a manner that non-programmers (for your language) can understand what is taking place in the block of code that you are commenting upon. This is typically done so that some other meathead programmer can come along and comprehend what was going on in that garbled mess that I call a brain, without me being there. Or as I pointed out to my students when I taught – if I stepped off the curb in Sundance Square in Fort Worth, hit by a speeding city bus, and thus turned into a pile of mushed meat that could fit into a can of KalKan – someone else could pick up where I left off. Yeah, it got a few giggles and some startled looks, but it kept the students awake. But that’s a deer trod that we will ignore for this post.

Plain Language Programming is wonderful stuff. Its just easy, plain, to-the-point descriptives of what’s taking place. But its not as easy as you think. You have to be precise with what you state. Saying that a block of code “processes some stuff here, and spits out data in the magic format required” is not nearly as meaningful as “the process performs calculations on the data to determine a player’s batting average, on-base percent, and slugging percentage. Once completed, the output is put into a comma-separated value format as specified by the required upload format at baseballstatsarecool.com”. Precision in the language matters, particularly where description is concerned.

All of this comes back to Starhawk’s presentation “Crossing Stony Ground” at Pantheacon this year. The point made was “Watch what you say or repeat…” Next to that, I wrote “PLP” for Plain-Language Programming. When we read or hear something – particularly in these overly sensitive times in our online environments, we can sometimes misread what is being said – totally missing the point of what is being said. I know I have that issue, just as anyone else does. Rather than reading through the entire message for context, we leap to our conclusions or answers based on a small amount of information. Sometimes, its because we are in a rush to provide a response or opinion. An appropriate example came this morning when I was playing Jeopardy on my Amazon Echo. The question was “What number is the last Constitutional Amendment…” (I had my answer here) “…to the Bill of Rights?” I fired back with “What is 27?” That would be right, except that there’s the extra added part of “the Bill of Rights” which makes the answer “10”. Instead of waiting for the rest of the question – I had the answer. And it was wrong. See, words have meaning…and not enough words gives you only a partial picture.

…and its interesting to watch all of this take place, particularly within the online in-fighting we see among the Pagan community. We bicker, we fight, we posture, we threaten, we defend….and most of the time, we haven’t even gotten into the “Bill of Rights” part of the statement, which allows for context. We find our conclusions, form our stances, build our defenses, populate the ramparts with archers – for a single rabbit on the path to the main gates. Granted it could be a killer rabbit…with fangs! So perhaps, we’ve done the right thing by sliding into DefCon one from DefCon five.

No, words have meaning. And when you work without the full context of those words, misunderstandings take place. And from those misunderstandings, we draw battle lines. And from those battle lines…..well, you get the picture. Much like plain-language programming needs to be as descriptive as possible without being overly complicated, we need to be careful about what we invest into what we read or hear, until we know the context of everything. Online communication, being rather binary in its nature, is easily misunderstood. There’s no depth or dimension that is carried by tonal inflection. No additional context added by physical aspects. No smiles. No hand gestures. No standing or sitting postures. No hint of laughter in a voice. No sternness portrayed by narrowed eyes, or surprise by widened ones. As such, we need to be careful with what we say, but also in what we repeat. We need to be sure to hear the latter part of the statement, so that we know that the last numbered amendment refers to only the Bill of Rights, not the entire stack of amendments. And really, the only way to accomplish this – is to learn to slow down and listen. Not an easy task in today’s lightning paced, online driven social environment.

My Odd Thoughts on Journals – Hand-written v. Keyboard

So, I write poetry. Back in the day, I wrote a LOT of poetry. Being in the military at that time, with a girlfriend back in Shreveport, Louisiana, I sent all of those poems to her. She would cut them out of the letters, and put them in an album. When we broke up, I never saw that album again. But then, I discovered BBSs, and wrote a lot of my poetry while logged in. I was rather prolific there as well. When Renaissance BBS closed down, I was provided with a printout of all the poems I had written there. Two moves – one to Germany, the other back to the States – provided a loss of those poems as well. Thinking back, I believe it may be somewhere close to 400 poems or more that I have lost over that time frame – probably to never be seen again.

These days, I tend to write poetry here on WordPress, and will sometimes back it up on EverNote. But the reality of that has been slim to non-existent, which is a bad habit I have fallen into. A few years back, I submitted one of my poems – Lone Wolf: Innocence in Snow – to a writing contest here at the college. I won first place in the poetry contest, and also received an award for best writing work for the entire writing showcase. I realized at that point, that I needed to start backing up my work, particularly since I wrote mostly in a digital environment.

As I noted, my backup efforts have been sporadic, at best. So, when I finished my Bardic Grade with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, I realized that I needed a better manner to protect my writings – particularly my poetry. So, I bought three blank, lined journals – dedicated one to my own personal thoughts, the second to my upcoming Ovate Grade Gwers work, and the third to my poetry. Now, my efforts are towards writing out my poetry by hand into my journal. And in doing this, I discovered something rather strange.

As I started reading through my entries here on WordPress, I realized that I had written poetry that I couldn’t recall. There were a few that I remembered, but as I looked through those, I realized that these were poems I had hand-written back in the late 1990s. The other poems were ones that I had written in the last few years, via the computer. As I sat and pondered over this, it dawned on me that many of the appointments and event schedules that I write in Google calendar are easily forgotten a few days later. Furthermore, I found myself using Google calendar for a few days, and then no longer using it like I had previously. However, if I wrote things down – even as a scribbled note on the back of an envelope – I could easily recall what I had written three, four, and even eight months later.

Maybe its just a learning concept for me. If I write it, I remember it. I remember every single note I took at Pantheacon, earlier this year. I hand wrote all of those notes. A meeting with another department, I couldn’t recall a single note I took. That meeting was less than two weeks ago. I wrote those notes using a blue-tooth keyboard connected to my iPad.

There is a history of Alzheimer’s disease among the male members of my family on my father’s side. My grandfather, before he died, couldn’t even recall who his grandchildren were. My father had trouble with his short-term memory before he passed away a little more than two years ago. Perhaps, its just my genetic makeup?? If so, why should I be able to recall what I wrote at Pantheacon a few months ago with a slightly fuzzy clarity?? And why can I not recall poems I wrote a little over two years ago on a keyboard, and have vivid recollection of poems I wrote back in the early 2000s, and even back in the mid 1980s?? Its certainly a concept to study a bit deeper.

As an experiment of sorts, I have started moving all my writing – save for the blog – to pen and paper. I am also moving my calendar from Google to a daily planner. And I will be taking careful notes about how well I recall things using these methods for the next year-plus. Who knows? Perhaps my clarity of recall has something to do with rote memory of what I write physically with my hand because of the motion. Maybe its something to do with how I learned as a child. Maybe its none of that. Or even all of that. But this is the kind of stuff that puzzles me. And the kind of stuff I enjoy researching.

Connectivity, indeed…..

–T /|\

Life as a Long Hike

As I noted in a previous post, some of the minor themes in a talk given by Starhawk at Pantheacon this year have brought interesting conceptual thoughts to my mind. One of the more interesting ones was looking at one’s life-time journey as a hike. A really long hike.

Now, I enjoy walking. I get a chance to wander and accomplish what I call “walking meditation” where I can literally turn a single thought over and over in my mind as I walk. Lately I have not done a lot of these, and I really do need to change that. But that is a thought for another time. Using a hike as a metaphor for life was certainly an intriguing thought. There are all sorts of things that can be utilized in hiking that can be brought over to looking at one’s journey in life.

Pathway in Mesa VerdeFor instance, probably the easiest one to bring into focus is the ups and downs of life relayed into the hiking of hills and valleys on a path. I walked a rather long trail in Mesa Verde National Park. The start of the trail was up a steep hill to get closer to the cliff-side nearest to me. Once there, the trail hugged against the cliff-side, and narrowed considerably. The drop-off into the valley below was extremely steep and at times a sheer drop-off. At other times, the path passed through very narrow passageways between large boulders and the cliff wall. It was along this pathway and through one of these passages that I encountered Crow, which I can describe in no other way than an initiation of sorts. At one point, the trail scaled straight up a cliff wall, which – for me, as an individual with an acute fear of heights – was quite harrowing indeed. But thinking back along the lines of a hike as a metaphor for life….makes perfect sense.

The steep climb at the start of the hike, is quite similar to the initial steps one takes in life or even a Spiritual Path. We do not necessarily know exactly where things are or how definitions to certain terminologies or concepts can map into our own lives; so there’s a rather acute struggle. Or if you prefer, a climb of sorts. As we accumulate knowledge and understanding, we build on each concept and build and grow our application of that to our own lives.

But hills and valleys can have other meanings as well. The height of a hill can be a positive moment in our lives. Where we reach the pinnacle of some aspect. Everyday life seems to be in harmony with anything we do or try. We feel the awesome joy of accomplishment, able to look outwards at all that is our life, and survey the beauty of everything that is there. The valley, with its downward momentum, can have the feeling of riding in a vehicle without brakes. Gaining speed at every moment, careening dangerously along the path; a certain painful, and sudden stop that may certainly be in our very near future. Our demeanor reaches depths of sorrow and despair, as if our immediate world is being torn asunder. And we know that once we reach the bottom with our painful, injurious stop accomplished, that our future will require a slow, difficult climb to reach the heights. At times, we can feel like laying at our stopped location in the valley, staring up at the sky with despair that we will once again have to expend the energy to achieve what we once had. And we know that the top of the coming climb will provide a different vantage – similar to the previous one we had – but different all the same. Each individual person will have to determine whether they feel that such a climb is still within who they are.

And then, there is the narrow pathway that I found along my Mesa Verde walk. There were places where the path lead down a very steep, and short dirt path to the cliff edge. The drop off was certain life-threatening. A single misstep could potentially spell outright doom for me. Every step was carefully determined, each handhold was carefully tested to insure I had a strong grip, and that the handhold would hold enough to keep my pudgy ass from pulling me over the edge. Believe me, that the cliff edge was very much on my mind. We do much the same thing throughout our lives. We make plans for this or that; we make preparations for how we are going to accomplish these tasks. We make plans and preparations for our rituals. We decide where and what we are trying to accomplish. And sometimes, that narrow Path is the only way forward we have. Its not the yards-wide Path with smooth dirt or concrete or asphalt that we would prefer. Its rocky, uneven, and fraught with ways for us to trip and fall. We take our steps slowly, trying to keep our balance, and our footing. We navigate our way through some aspects of our lives in careful, measured steps. Where we have walked many times before, we might make quicker steps – faster decisions – sure of our footing or our position. And we might find an unknown root in our way, ensnaring the toe of our boots, and sending us sprawling face first into the Path. What else is there to do, then pick up our wounded pride, check for injuries, dust the dirt off our clothes, and move forward – looking more carefully?

So, there are certainly ways to see Life as a long, long hike. We get a little cocky on our walk, trip and fall in places where we seemed to be certain of our footing. In other areas, we are acutely aware of the drop-off at the cliff’s edge, and tread far more carefully. But the true measure of our hike is not how far we’ve managed to walk. That comes from looking around us. Seeing the environment within which we’ve walked. During my walk along the Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde, I was struck by how beautiful the views were from my side of the wide valley. The land rolled outwards from my vantage point, moving hundred of yards in distance until the other side of the valley rose sharply from the ground. Once I got far enough away from people, I could see deer – or they might have been antelope – down in the valley below me, searching for food and water in the brush far below. Crows cawed from the trees above me, and Hawks soared on the thermals in the skies above. There is so much to what happens around us in Life as well. People come and go in our lives. Some stay and walk the Path with us from time to time. Some stay longer than others. All of them touch our lives to some degree, even if just momentarily.

Life is a long hike. But its not the distance that matters most. Its what we experience along that distance that matters the most. Those experiences make us who we are. Steep climbs; long valleys; thin trails; deer trods that we can barely see; extremely wide, paved paths – all of it provides the trail. But what we encounter on the trail, and just off the trail adds to what makes our Life experiences. And from my own perspective, those experiences are the treasured aspects of who and what I am.

 

Missing My Stone Heart-Beat

I am back home after two weekends of travel. And I have another three days coming up in the next week where I will be away from home yet again. These first two events – the ADF Imbolc Retreat and the 2017 Pantheacon – were just plain awesome times where I got the chance to reconnect with people that I consider to be a wider aspect of my tribe, as well as excellent opportunities to meet people I have only had the chance to have discourse with via online.

But I will be honest. By mid-day on Sunday, I was missing home. So much so, that I literally spent most of the afternoon in my hotel room. See, I’m an introvert by nature. And sometimes there’s just too many people to process, such as a large event like Pantheacon. I wind up just needing to get away from folks for a short while. But that’s not the entire aspect for me. I missed my little stone circle in the backyard.

IMG_9670When I get off work this evening, I walked into the backyard right after I pulled into the driveway. Its my primary way to get into the house, as I use a backdoor key to get in via the porch. But I have to walk directly past my stone circle. And this evening, it was the first time I had seen it since I had landed the previous night. I dropped my shoulder bag on the sidewalk, and immediately walked around the circle in my work clothes. I took in every stone I had placed in it, feeling the extension of each rock’s ripple into the immediate world around it. I let each ripple encompass me as I walked slowly part each one. I looked into the center where my small resin statue of Kokopelli stands, next to another large stone I have added in the last few weeks. And I felt how comfortable I was with the feeling of this. I pulled off my shoes and socks and let my barefeet feel the ground under my feet.

And I paused. Home. I have really missed this little patch of Home. I silently gave thanks to Coyote, Crow and Fliodhas for continuing to show me how nourishing Community can be for the soul. And I thanked Them for showing how important home can be as well.

With another three-day trip just around the corner, I know that my anxiety will be even greater at this conference – a professional one, not Spiritual in nature whatsoever. But I am also at the overflow hotel – not the primary one. This means I can take great care to stay away when I need to….and that I will have a quiet place to write from. And if everything works out well, I may even have some Pagan visitors over those days as well. If not, I will have plenty of time to manage some down-time as well. Perhaps I can get more than just a couple of hours of sleep, like I managed at Pantheacon and ADF Imbolc Retreat both.

Most importantly, was reconnecting with my Stone Circle. Tomorrow, I will spend more time…and provide offerings and thanks for all that I have experienced over these last two weekends. I have definitely missed my little Stone heart-beat in the backyard.

It Must Be the Cloak….

Ever been to one of the many Pagan-themed conventions?  How about a local gathering?? You know – the places where all the authors, bloggers, podcasters, and well-known Pagans come to?? Ever go all fan-boy or fan-girl on these folks? Well, let me relate an experience to you, along with a handful of observations.

This year, I made my first trek to Pantheacon. My very first time in California. My very first time to a Pagan-themed conference of any sort. Previously, the largest Pagan-themed event I had attended was the Dallas Pagan Pride Day. And I helped work part of that, so I didn’t get to play free-form experience like I did at Pantheacon. There were a metric ton of people there, and then some. And there were a metric ton of authors, bloggers, and even musicians there as well – some of whom I had more than a passing knowledge of their material.

I was lucky enough to have a part-time guide, and roomie for the entire Convention from my local area – John Beckett. Now, John’s a fairly well known Pagan in his own right, and I not only highly respect John’s point of view – some of his blogs have influenced aspects of my own perspective on personal, individual spiritual experience. John provided me with a few helpful hints of how to survive Pantheacon, and even spent a bit of his time walking me around to get the lay of the land (so to speak). But for three days, I was essentially on my own. I had my own panels that I wanted to catch, mostly from Pagans that I knew or had talked with online.

My first experience of meeting someone that I knew/read was with Shauna Aura Knight. It took a few minutes – actually quite a few – to hold back in the background and let other folks talk with her. Eventually, I got my chance to meet her, shake her hand, and talk with her for a short bit. And yes, I fan-boy’d a bit on her. After all, her blog introduced to some of the more difficult to grasp concepts of group leadership – an area, which I admit to being so lousy at, that I tend to stay in the background in most groups I am with. Because I know I am no good at it. Talking with her via Emails and Facebook messages was great, but getting the chance to talk to her face-to-face was a really big moment.

My second experience was catching a panel by Kristoffer Hughes. I had already been around Kristoffer at the East Coast Gathering, but here – he was just off the hook. I was introduced to some of the funniest moments of the entire Pantheacon experience in this panel. Kristoffer’s off-hand comments about the heat of San Jose were nearly side-splitting. His panel was one of the most intense moments I experienced, particularly from a knowledge perspective.

My final experience was in a very laid-back, very cerebral panel on the cross-collaboration between Science Fiction and Fantasy with Mythology. Here, I came face to face (nearly) with an author I had read for a long time in my life – Diana Paxson. She was one of three individuals on what turned out to be a fascinating time, which I have written about in several previous blog posts.

But I found myself doing something I had never realized I had done until long after the fact. Many of the authors, bloggers, musicians, artists, and even us lowly podcasters get placed on pedestals and treated differently than other Pagans. Its almost as if the books that are written, the blog posts that are thought out and articulated, the music that is played, the podcasts that are formulated and mixed down, the sculptures, paintings and other items that are created — its almost as if all that makes those folks different.

None of that stuff truly makes any us different from anyone else. As a podcaster and a blogger, I am just trying to present ideas and points of view that can help people start a discussion – even with just themselves. Our community’s artisans (I will use this as a collective term for all that I have mentioned here – as well as some things I haven’t) are sometimes placed on high pedestals. These folks are championed for having the bravery to place who they are and what they have to say in a format that we all take in and incorporate (or not) into our own lives. Sometimes, we even forget that these folks are just like we are. They laugh, they sing, they have good days, they have bad days. They cry. They do everything that we do. And sometimes we forget that and hold them to an even greater standard. When these folks may have had the shittiest day in their lives for whatever reason; sometimes we expect them to place all that behind them and be there for us. Because we happened to be there. We make them into super-heroes – and they are that indeed – but e forget to let them be ordinary people, too.

We sometimes forget that they don’t always want to talk Pagan stuff. Sometimes, they want to talk about ordinary, everyday stuff too. I had a wonderful time at Pantheacon. I had a wonderful time talking with Shauna, listening to Kristoffer, and allowing Diana and the panel she was a part of to absolutely melt my brain on the concept of modern-day mythology. When I got ready to leave for the airport, I walked over to Shauna to say goodbye. She asked for a hug. And I got my first taste of being treated on equal footing. By someone I admired from a long distance and had spent time in her panel gleaning more information on leadership techniques that I have found ways to apply within my own mundane job. And sitting at the airport, waiting for our flight back to Dallas – I ate dinner with John, and we talked some about American football. Afterwards, I teased John about the many pictures I took of my foot at his panel – waiting for the right moment to get a single shot of him. If I happen to see Kristoffer or Diana at the next Pantheacon, I plan to take a moment and just ask them how their day is going. Nothing of a Pagan-esque nature. Just how their day is going. So they don’t have to be super-heroes every single moment of the day.

Super-heroes. Indeed. It must be the cloak….

img_9678

Morphing the Myth: What Does Myth Mean to You?

This is the second in a series of posts that are inspired from questions I wrote down during the “Morphing the Myth” panel at Pantheacon, earlier this year. In asking myself these questions, and writing about them here in the blog, I wanted to take a deeper look at an area of my own Path in Paganism that I sometimes overlook.

As I noted in the last post, Mythology and story-telling can provide the gateway for folks to look deeper into Paganism – or for some, be the first steps that they may take on their search within Paganism. I am no different in that manner. Digging through Encyclopedias at the base library opened a door of belief and thought for me, particularly where mythology and folk-tales were concerned.

Thanks to the wonderful podcast “The Celtic Myth Podshow” run by Gary and Ruth, I have been introduced to the world of Celtic Mythology in a manner that I have never had before. They produce a podshow that retells the stories of the Celtic Myths in a manner that I can only describe as something akin to the radio programs from a historical time frame called “The Golden Age of Radio”. At times, they have included interviews with various Pagan folk as well. One particular moment that stands out in my mind is when Damh the Bard and Cerri Lee were interviewed in an episode. The recreation of such myths as the First Branch of the Mabinogion, and the Irish Mythological Cycle have introduced me to a world of stories, and tales that I had never known previously. These shows are literally story-telling treasures for me, and occupy a place on my iPhone that I reserve for long trips. If you have never heard of this wonderful podshow or these two fantastic people…you seriously need to.

What does myth mean to you? How do you incorporate it into your life?

Myth can have so many meanings to so many different people. Stories, folk-tales, superstition, lessons from time….the list can literally be endless. For me, myths, and mythology are ways in which I can connect with my ancestors, with my Gods and Goddesses, and with myself. My ancestors, like the ancestors of anyone else, told stories around their campfires, late into the night. These stories held cautionary tales for the listener, explaining where and how things went sideways…and how everything eventually got put back together. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what cultural environment you look to, you will find the Bardic Arts involved in society – telling the tales of the Gods, the Goddesses, the Heroes, the anti-Heroes.

For me, I live in an area of the southern Plains peoples. Here, the peoples of the First Nations lived, hunted, warred with one another, and were part of their cyclical aspects of the environment around them. At their fires, they told the tales of their Gods and Goddesses. How trickster Gods such as Crow and Coyote created mayhem and mischief, and the punishments and repercussions that occurred from those actions. When I finally felt the pull and call of the Gods, I was not overly surprised to find Coyote and Crow over my shoulder. I read up on their respective myths, learned how to handle their aspect of humor, and derived my own lessons of humility from those tales and my own interactions with both of Them. Their tales do not always overlay completely into my own Life. In fact, that rarely happens ever – if at all. But there are parallels between Their tales and some of the lessons I have encountered in my Life.

Its difficult to relay the meaning of Myth to my own Life in a manner that may make sense for you, the reader. Everyone will draw something different from Myths. Everyone’s interaction – or non-interaction – with the Gods and Goddesses will be different. After all, we are all unique individuals, its only logical that our experiences with the Gods and Goddesses will be just as unique. For me, Crow, Coyote, and Fliodhas, are ever-present. Not always over my shoulder, or whispering in my ear – but typically near. The Myths and Tales that I do have, are treasured readings for me. Whenever I feel lost or out of sorts, I pick a Tale and read. Sometimes, I find meaning in a place I had not before, and sometimes reading the Tale provides some insight I had not considered before, even if it were not provided directly within the story itself.

I sometimes wonder what will happen when the Tales, Stories and Myths will no longer be told. I truly believe that which is remembered will never fade. And those moments become reminders that this is part of what brought me to the Path of Druidry – the Bardic Arts. Damh the Bard, Bran Cerddorion, Wendy Rule, Spiral Dance, Paul Newman, Loreena McKennitt, Gary and Ruth, Fionn Tulach, the great Robin Williamson….and many, many others, have brought the Myths to life in their songs and retellings. yes, that which is remembered, never fades….

–T /|\

Morphing the Myth – Gateway to Paganism

As I related in the previous post, I am embarking on a series of posts that answer some of the questions I posed to myself in notes at Pantheacon 2016. The panel was titled “Morphing the Myth” – and to honor that particular panel, I have chosen to title all of the posts in this series as “Morphing the Myth” with the question following it.

In the panel’s description in the Con’s Information booklet, it was noted that many folks have come to Paganism through various stories. So, the first question I wrote down was

What is your gateway to Paganism?

In a manner of speaking, the question seems somewhat silly at first glance. Essentially, some topical approach is being blamed for one’s deeper involvement in Paganism. Sort of similar to blaming Cocaine usage on one’s earlier usage of marijuana or if one wants to complete the slippery slope of context – one’s usage of cigarettes at an early age. But, we will pick up this football and run with it. At least until the referee blows the whistle.

Mine was fairly simple. I was a curious kid, and loved to spend hours at the base library. Particularly in the section where the encyclopedias were kept. Yeah, I used to read encyclopedias for fun. That was where I came across the Roman Gods and Goddesses. That eventually lead me to the Greeks, the Celts, and the First Nations.

Tommy at the Beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

In essence, my gateway to Pagan belief came from reading the encyclopedia. Granted, it took a while before I realized that I believed in the Gods and Goddesses as the individual entities I see Them as today. I had a lot of Catholic programming to overcame, and a lot of “civilized” societal mindset to shed. I was raised in a household that really wasn’t heavy into belief; even though the children (me and my sister) were sent to Catholic schools. Not for the religious education, but for the so-called “superior” education we would receive in comparison to the public schools. But education with Catholic schools comes with mandatory religious education. So I had plenty of years of being pounded with the idea that a single God with a triune perspective was the “only” way.

When I finally made my initial steps on to the Path of Paganism, the Catholic veneration of Mary made the transition to relating to a God/Goddess paradigm was rather simple. Each of the aspects of the God – Jupiter, Pan, Odin, Thor, Loki, Coyote, Crow, Cernunnos, the God of the Hunt, were just different faces that allowed the follower to relate better. The same held true for that of the Goddess. Not a really far step away from the Christian perspective of a singular all-knowing God. There was no way that anyone was going to blow the mind of this simple, young Wiccan in the United States Air Force.

Over time, my understanding of the Gods and Goddesses began to change. I can’t really pinpoint a time frame or a specific book or movie or talk that set me on a pathway to understanding that each of the Gods and Goddesses were individual, unique beings. if I were pressed a bit for some accuracy, I would put it somewhere between 1997 and 2003. Give or take a few years in either direction. And to be honest, I am not sure it really matters one way or the other. I know what I believe now. And for me, that matters far more than the exact details of how I got here.

I am sure of another thing, though. That not every Pagan out there will believe exactly as I do. Some will see the Gods and Goddesses as aspects of a God and a Goddess. Others will believe as I do, that there are many, individual and unique entities. Others may not believe in any Gods or Goddesses whatsoever. And I am not really all that interested in how close or far away from what I believe that they are. I only care that they believe in what do they do believe in. That they put their heart and soul into who they are. That they live their life as Pagans of whatever stripe – without regret, without apology. And that they respect others’ rights and needs to follow their own hearts and beliefs.

Every single one of us have something that led us to this Path we walk. It was a gateway that brought us to a point where we decided to follow this particular Path we are on. In the next post, I’ll take a look at Myths, Stories, and tales – and the roles that these can (and do) play in my daily life.

–T /|\

Morphing the Myth – a Personal Look

One of the nice things about taking time off from everything else in life, is that I get the chance to look backwards a bit. In this case, I was digging through some old notes in my Evernote application. I ran across some things I wrote during the “Morphing the Myth” segment from this year’s Pantheacon – which was an absolute blast. As I read through the notes, I realized that each point could be written in up as a set of posts for the blog, and I have been working on that since that point. Later this coming week, I will start publishing those here on the blog. However, I thought it would be prudent to preface those posts with this one.

One of the first things I should do here is to introduce what the panel was about. According to the Pantheacon booklet I received during my registration:

Morphing the Myth (S.P. Hendrick)

Mythology is an integral part of our belief systems. Over the years, however, these ancient tales have been transformed and added to in order to make them more palatable to modern audiences. Many Pagans of today had their first experiences with Paganism in their reading of ‘The Mists of Avalon’ or watching the British ‘Robin of Sherwood’. How has the modern interpretation of mythology changed the Pagan community, and is it a change for the good?

When I was putting together my schedule for Pantheacon, this was one of the “must attend” panels I had starred. There were only five of those total. “”Finding Your Personal Magic” (Shauna Knight), “The Dark Side of Druidry” (John Beckett), “The Cauldron of Change” (Kristoffer Hughes), and “Bardic Magic” (John Beckett). The last was held in the ADF Hospitality Suite, and I would hear it again later at the Gulf Coast Gathering (2016) in a slightly revised format. The other panels were all presented by people whom I have met (briefly in some cases), but “Morphing the Myth” was on a topic that has drawn me in quite a lot over the years. Mythology. And it went further down the trail…into the realm of how new stories create new mythologies, and how retelling of the stories can change with the moods and tastes of the popular culture of the time. In other words, morphing the story to fit the understanding of the new cultures that have grown up.

Yes, the panel intrigued me quite a bit. In fact, I might even say that it was the highlight of the entire Pantheacon for me – at least from an intellectual side. And that’s not taking away from the cerebral aspects of any of the other panels I attended. Hardly. Just merely stating that this one panel piqued my curiosity in a manner that I could not explain, heading into Pantheacon.

Once I arrived at the panel, I found quite a few folks had already arrived. I was four deep in what appeared to be a crowd of about thirty-five. For an early morning panel, I assumed that this was a healthy number of attendees. As the panel continued, more folks filtered in. With S.P. Hendrick were two other individuals – an Australian man (judging from the accent) whose name I never caught, and a lady whose face seemed familiar. She turned out to be the author Diana Paxson, whose books I have adored for quite some time. As my notes show, the conversation moved along some very familiar territories, which I will explore through the next series of posts. And the conversations were absolutely fascinating. In one of my writings after Pantheacon, I noted this as well as how the panel has had me looking through various stories that have been favorites in my life.

IMG_0215And while I have alluded to where I am headed with this next series of posts…I am about to dive a little deeper than before. What I am wanting to do, is to dig a little deeper into the ways that mythology, stories, songs, poems and other aspects of the Bardic Arts fuel the fire of who and what I am. Hopefully, some of what I am about to present over the next few posts provides a way for you to look deeper into your own personal Spiritual fires. And perhaps, some of the questions I walked away from this panel with will also help you look a little deeper into how mythology presents itself to your life, your Spirituality, your connection to the Gods and Goddess, and your connection to the world around you. I know its done just that for me.

–T /|\

 

Static or Dynamic Mythology

As Pagans, we are all keenly aware of Mythology, and how it ties into our beliefs. To some degree, Christians are aware of the same thing from their spiritual and religious perspective, but they tend to see their mythology as alive and living. Which certainly brings up the question of why Pagans should not see their own Mythologies as also being alive and living? In a manner of speaking, I find it rather hypocritical of Christians to believe that their legends and mythology are alive and living through the continued existence of a part or all of their Triad aspect of Divinity (God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit), and deny the perspective that the aspects of Mythology for Pagans are merely superstition and “explanations” for “naturally occurring phenomenon” for peoples who could not comprehend or understand the divinity of their belief system. In fact, I would place that on a level of arrogance similar to that of another Christian mandate, where the Earth and its natural resources are merely placed here for human beings to use until the rapture. That argument about the dominion of man over the Earth through the mandate of God is an argument for another time and blog post.

The Gods and Goddesses are Alive

My friend, John Beckett, has posted several times on his blog: ‘I am a polytheist’. So am I. Like John, I believe that the Gods and Goddesses are alive, and among us. It only takes an open heart, an open mind, some patience, and hard work (nothing occurs without consequence) to find Them, communicate with Them, and learn from Them. Yes, these are the Gods of the Myths and Legends that we have read about, told Their tales and legends around our camp-fires, and (as some of us have experienced) found Their claim on us. I cannot – and will not – provide you tangible proof of the existence of the Gods and Goddesses. If you are going to believe and experience the Gods and Goddesses, you will need to do the work yourself. That is – from what I am told – part of Unverified Personal Gnosis. I’m not an individual that holds to the terminology of academic religious studies, so terminology such as that – along with the overall definition – are fairly foreign to me. I know what I believe. I know what I experience. And I know what I believe, and what I experience will be far different and very close to that of others – all depending on ourselves as individuals. But I do believe in the Gods and Goddesses. I do have experience in dealing with some of Them. And my experiences are truly my own.

The Myths and Legends are Alive

While at Pantheacon, I had a difficult time trying to choose between some of the panels that were available. There was one panel that immediately reached to the heights of a “must attend” status:  “Morphing the Myth” with S.P. Hendrick. There were two other presenters within the panel, a gentleman from Australia whose name I did not get, and author Diana Paxson. The panel was described thusly in the Pantheacon Guide:

Mythology is an integral part of our belief systems. Over the years, however, these ancient tales have been transformed and added to in order to make them more palatable to modern audiences. Many Pagans of today had their first experiences with Paganism in their reading of “The Mists of Avalon” or watching the British “Robin of Sherwood”. How has the modern reinterpretation of mythology changed the Pagan community, and is it a change for the good?

The panel was extremely well done, and flourished on an academic level. In fact, one of the audience members had written a dissertation on this very topic. I had the fortune of being able to talk with her for a short bit after the panel.

But the panel certainly drives up some food for thought. The movies, books, and potentially even the songs that we listen to are changing the myths as we have known them to be. Certain characters are combined, some are split into two other characters, and even more are merely omitted for one reason or another. Storylines are combined, twisted, changed, or even created out of whole cloth. Does any of this change the myths and legends into stories that no longer have meaning to us? As younger generations are introduced to these “restructured” myths and legends, which then form a potential gateway into Paganism – do these changes nullify the experiences that they have with the Gods and Goddesses? Or let’s say that the acting job by a certain actor or actress brings a character that has always been viewed as a secondary part of the myth forward to a more prominent role in the minds of the viewing audience. And that changed status of the God or Goddess in that portrayal resonates with the audience members. That particular God or Goddess suddenly is set forward as being more important than the Gods or Goddesses portrayed in the myth or legend. Does that nullify the manner in which the God and/or Goddesses that were previously portrayed as being more prominent in the tellings/re-tellings of the myths?

From my own personal perspective (which is worth far less than a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop), I believe that these re-tellings and changing of the myths and legends lends to the idea that even these stories are alive. As our societal times change, sometimes these myths and legends change as well, so their narratives and lessons can fit into aspects of our communal society as well. But I do know people who would scream “blasphemy” in the face of such things. Just as a singular example, I was a complete naysayer when the character of Tauriel was added into the story of The Hobbit through the recent films. For me, this piece of fictional work is a seminal part of my childhood, and to change it was downright cruel to the mind of my fourteen year old self. To my forty-year-mumble-mumble self, it was taken the story beyond the pale. Until I saw the movies. When I saw the soft touches that the character added to the story, how her vision of the world around her was far different from that of the other Elves, how her understanding of beauty led her to recognize that within one dwarf – my mind changed. The Hobbit as I read it as a fourteen year old remains a revered part of my childhood, and that will never change. The movie adaptation, though it differs from the book, has become something I enjoy, and from every watching, I see aspects of modern society reflected in its scenes. In understanding this in myself, I can also see how myth can live and change over time.

Written Versus Oral Debate

Good storytelling comes in three forms, in my opinion. Orally, Written, and Visually. Visually typically comes in the form of movies, tv series, and plays – though there’s certainly some argument as to how it can also be applied to the Oral aspect. For this particular essay, I will leave the concept of Visual storytelling at this point of the threshold. That provides the perspectives of written and oral. Written storytelling is a true joy to behold. My bookshelves are filled with novel after novel that relays an excellent storyline, character development, and plot twists. Each book holds a dear spot in my heart – from the tales of the Boy Who Lives to the stories behind the characters that fill the Star Wars universe and many, many more. The stories never change, because the written words are there – unchanging from each visit that I make when I take the book off the shelf, and open its pages for a visit. Oral storytelling, on the other hand, can easily change. Each storyteller memorizes parts of the story to tell, sometimes omits parts that don’t rise easily to memory, and places emphasis on certain passages, moments or dialogue to fit the audience that sits within earshot. For me, its here that Myth and Legend can most easily live, breathe, and change with the societal times. Each storyteller may have an affinity for a certain character or a certain scene, and places the embellishment or emphasis to their own preferences. In the written aspect, the words are placed on the page – we read them, and our own understanding of the related imagery is given life within our minds. Within the oral aspect, we are led along the Path of imagery through the manner in which the story is told. Small details are left to our imagination, but we are essentially guided along to the larger details by the storyteller.

Static or Dynamic?

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaAre the Gods and Goddesses alive and real? Can we alter the Myths and Legends without altering the reasoning behind the tales? Or are we creating new mythologies when we make the changes, and allow the tales to bent to match the changing societies that we live in today? I would posit that They are real, and that They do change over time. We alter the Myths and Legends to meet our own perspectives in a changing society. And sometimes, changing those Myths changes the narrative. But I really do believe that the Gods and Goddesses can change as well. If they are alive, they are growing, learning, changing. But not as radically as some may point out. After all, the Morrigan is not going to be a peace-loving Hippy as time moves along and our modern society changes. The Morrigan may become more impatient as modern society moves away from the values She prizes and champions, and She may become war-like in her dealings with certain humans. I do believe that the Gods and Goddesses change over time, just as Their stories, myths and legends can be altered slightly to better reach the audiences of today. In the end, I am not so sure that we are creating new Mythologies, as much as we are bringing the narrative of the Myths and Legends into a better focus for a far different audience. After all, if Christians can believe that their God is real, changing, and alive – I see no reason at all to believe the exact same thing of the Gods and Goddesses contained within Paganism – or any other belief system for that matter.

 

 

 

The Pagan Square Mile

Some of the things that I noticed while at Pantheacon – the people were all smiling, talking, discussing things and having fun with one another. The smiles were real, the laughter not faked, the hugs were loving and kind, and the fun was authentic. Its such a different experience from daily life. Where people that work together, find reasons to barely tolerate one another. Where everything is a competition as people climb the corporate ladders of their lives. All hell-bent on getting bigger paychecks so that they can spend more in a consumer-driven society where over-consumption is the name of the game.
I ddidn’t see that among the folks at Pantheacon. While I was an outsider here (this was my first time here), people were friendly. Willing to converse about who they are, what they believe, why they came here. They were not guarded in their responses. They didn’t couch their language in generic language, letting the listener decide what things may mean for themselves. No, here people shared freely, openly, with no free of rejection. Pantheacon is a safe zone for discussions such as this to take place. I wonder how long it would take for the rest of the world to act this way?
Or could the rest of the world get to this perspective? It sometimes feels like the rest of the world SHOULD be able to get to this perspective fairly easily. But, there’s also the acknowledgement that not everyone will ever accept that every human being has a right to their own beliefs. Just as there will always be people who believe that blacks will always be the inferior race, even after they are shown that pigmentation is more generated by where your ancestors came from – its a matter of adaptation to one’s environment rather than something that seperates human beings into different subsets that are inferior or superior.  But I digress (as I often do).
Can the rest of the world come to a point of acceptance of everyone else’s faith? Can we eventually get to a point where people are not defined by what they believe, and are instead defined by their actions and deeds? To be honest, I may be the wrong person to answer this question. Looking forward into the future, trying to divine how human beings I have never met will respond to such a difficult issue….that’s really not me folks. I have a hard time planning for anything further down the line than a year from now. And even then I get nervous about doing that. But then again, maybe I am the right person to answer this question.
Or, if you prefer (and I do), maybe I am ONE of many people who are the right folks to answer this question. During Kristoffer Hughes’ talk on Welsh Gods and Goddesses (and again during his “Cauldron of Transformation” presentation) he made a notation of how each of us is responsible for our own individual “Pagan Square Mile” (I am paraphrasing here). Each of our single square miles are ours to handle and maintain on our own. If we approached issues that affect us on a global, social scale – if we approached those from the same perspective, we can effectively spread ideas such as these as a united core of individuals. And in this manner, we can effect change…even on the most difficult issues. Because the united voice is louder than the divided voice.
Seriously, what I witnessed at Pantheacon was incredible. Just as incredible as what I have learned from the various panels I attended. The people here at this convention were nothing short of amazing. And they are only a small part of our entire world-wide Pagan community. There are many others out there that cannot attend. That doesn’t make them any smaller than the folks here – it makes them no different than the folks here. All it states is that those folks didn’t have the means to get here. But they are a part of the conversation too. They are a part of the equation of change too. To ignore the point that their voices matter in this would be the wrong idea.
We certainly have a lot of minds to change. Most of the Christian perspective gets taken up by the very loud, very small Conservative, Ultra-Right folks say. Theirs is a perspective of hate. Theirs is a perspective of gaining power over others – particularly those whose religious perspective does not match theirs. And while they are small in numbers – they are very loud, and hard to ignore. Even more so, they will be difficult to win over. Sure. It looks nearly insurmountable. We aren’t going to change their attitudes or their perspectives. Not right now. But patience will win out. Its not a matter of “winning” the battle – rather its a matter of changing their perspective. Helping them to understand that everyone has the right to choose how they believe, what they believe. They won’t change their attitudes over night. That doesn’t mean we should stop. Nor does it mean that we resort to their level of decorum either.
Grateful Dead - Fare The Well - 05July2015How do we solve the world? Not sure there’s a way to solve, but the start is certainly found in a statement that drummer Mickey Hart made during the Grateful Dead “Fare Thee Well” concerts in July of last year. “The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it. I’ll leave you with this:  Please, be kind.” This morning, those words echoed in my mind the moment I woke up, and that is not something that happens often. When phrases stick in my mind the moment I open my eyes, I pay attention.
My two phrases were:  “How do you solve the world? Through patience, kindness, and understanding.” and “What drives that solution? Determined, deliberate action.” I am starting to see how I am going to cultivate my Pagan Square Mile. How about you? Have you given thought to that yet?

Changes, Mythology, Storytelling — My Three Themes at Pantheacon

I’ve now been at Pantheacon for two-plus days. I only have a partial day left and then I wing it back to Texas on a Southwest Airlines jet taxi. I have met o many lovely and wonderful people here. Most by just sheer coincidence of being in the same room for a panel or presentation. A few of them are presentators that I specifically came here to meet face-to-face. Tonight, I happened across Selena Fox for just a moment – but it was long enough for me to thank her for all the help that Circle had done for us in the miltiary when we were petitioning the chapel for worship space at Ramstein Air Base. She may never remember that twenty second conversation, but it meant the world to me to thank her.

Oddly enough, like so many things in my life, Pantheacon has had three rolling themes throughout the entirety that I have been here. And its not the themes that the Con has had – if they have even had any, I’ve never been aware of that. These themes seem to reflect more of what’s going on directly with me. ::sigh:: Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

At some point last year, Crow hammered me in the head, pointing out that I needed to get out of the shadows and step out into the open. This particular convention immediately came to mind. Somewhere, I cannot recall exactly where, I made my intentions known publicly and started lining up my crows and starlings (so to speak) to come out here. Then John Beckett mentioned that he was going as well, and offered to partner up with me in getting through the entire process (as well as sharing a room – which I am thankful to him for that offer). If that had not happened, I would have been at this convention on my own – and totally freaked out. Once I committed to this with John, there was no backing out for me.

I don’t do very well in large crowds, so I knew this entire experience was going to be a challenging process for me. But I managed to find a few spaces on the edges, where I could people-watch. And that helped. But then, as I started attending the panels – three themes started to leap out at me. In Shauna Knight’s panel on “Finding Your Personal Magic” there were undertones of looking at your journey, finding how your story was unfolding – your own personal story. That committment has consequences to it, just as any choice does. It was the first step in the process. It was my second panel of the day, and an excellent starting point.

Saturday, I spent most of the day people watching. There were smiles everywhere. People laughing, enjoying themselves, enjoying the company they were in. I noticed the young ages of many there (I’m 50 – most people are “young” to me) I sat and wondered what their stories were. What journey brought them to this hotel, here in San Jose, California? And how did they step on to this Path of Paganism? Where were they destined to go with it? There was that under-current of storytelling again. This was further reinforced by my second panle of Shauna’s which was on Chanting, Trancing and Storytelling. There are stories everywhere – you only need to look a little to find them, hidden in the bushes and trees at the side of the Path. Stories are everywhere. Tales, epics, serial episodes – its all imprinted in our being.

Today’s panel on “Morphing the Myth” and John’s talk in the ADF Hospitality Suite only reinforced this even more. As john noted “who is writing your story?” Indeed.

Coming out here, I understood the thematic that has been running through my life since my return from England in early January. Change. Life will be about change on many different levels for me. I understand and accept that this is coming. But Mythology and Storytelling have now joined that mix. I comprehendd some of what that *may* encompass. There’s a lot to think about there, but I certainly see some of the framework behind the concept. Its also had me thinking about how mythology can relate to programming, but that’s definitely for a different blog post.

Where does it all go from here? I honestly have no idea, but I am certainly excited about it.