Three Drops of Awen – From Kristoffer Hughes

 

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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…

If You Want to Predict the Future, Live it With Your Eyes Wide Open

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

I read a lot. Probably more than I should. And rarely is it just stuff on Paganism or Druidry. usually, it is about History, particularly the history of computing. One of my favorite books is What the Dormouse Said” by John Markof which goes into lengthy detail about how the world of experimental drug use helped some of the visionaries of the computer dream up some of the stuff that we take for granted. One of the people chronicled in the book is Alan Kay, to whom the quote that stirred this post is attributed to. There is some debate as to whether he really stated such, but it eventually became the working maxim of Xerox PARC, where much of the computing world’s innovations grew from.

If you want to predict the future, invent it.

Which is quite literally, what they did at Xerox PARC. So, what does this have to do with a blog on Paganism and Druidry? Well, if you have read this for any length of time, you know that I take long looks into my own personal past. I have never claimed to be a Saint or any type of visionary. I have helped out in a handful of causes within the United States military to help further religious equality. When I left the US military, others stepped up and took my place and continued pushing forward. My contributions, however small those may be, are a part of the legacy I leave behind.

Standing still and looking back is nice, but coming back to Kay’s point – what about tomorrow? I turn fifty-three later this year (much later this year), and I have no desire to shuffle off this mortal coil any time in the future. As a wider-arching community, we stand in a whirling dervish of confusion, anger, miscommunication, and pain. When I try to see forward, that miasma clouds what may happen, what might be, what can be – and that makes the footing uncertain. what can I do to help leave my Pagan community a better one than when I arrived in the middle of the Witch Wars of the late 1980s?

To be extremely explicit here, I am no savior. I won’t be the individual that solves all the problems of the world. In fact, I see myself as nothing more than an extremely minor character in the world around me. I blog. I write my thoughts out here for others to read. My readership is fairly small. What impact can I have? I have no desire to be a “famous-Amos” in the Pagan community. I truly just want to be me – a simple Priest of Crow, a Druid on a Path to honor the Gods, just me. I am not a shining beacon of hope. I am no paragon of virtue, no hero of true deeds. Every day, I ask what it is that I can do to help make my Pagan community better. And every day, I hear the same things in the back of my mind:

Get involved. Just be you. Your contribution is to be yourself. Your future is to walk your Path and to stumble and fall. And then to get back up, dust off your cloak, and continue your Path.

Is it really just that simple? Just get up in the mornings and greet the Sun? Get out in the backyard and pour my offerings to the Gods? To say the words, make the gestures, and pour my soul into what I believe? Surely, there is a quest that I can undertake? There is a fight that I can be a part of?

And then the response comes:

What about getting involved? Get off your ass and get back into your community. You are a solo Pagan. Being solo means you walk your Spiritual Path by yourself. That is who you are, but you do not walk your daily Path in life by yourself. You cannot and will not survive like that. There are no heroic quests to undergo. There is no ring to carry. No tremendous burden that needs to be placed on your shoulders. You want a quest? SHOW people what it means to be a Pagan. BE who you are, but no one can see that just through your words.

Yeah. Getting dressed down by your God is never an awesome thing. Nor is it a great thing to realize that you have been eating too much of the fantastic world of Fantasy novels, where the common character becomes an uncommon hero by having some heavy burden or quest placed upon them. Life is not a quest to throw the One Ring into the volcano. And real Life is not a constant struggle against the Orcs or the difficulties of traversing the mines of Moria.

So what does the future hold for me? I really cannot say for sure. As I noted, the way forward is cloudy. But then, the future is always an uncertain thing to predict. Sure, I can follow Key’s maxim and try to ‘invent’ my way through it. But then, isn’t the future always going to be a product of invention? We are never sure of the way forward and have to take the steps to see if the footing is firm and sure. Inventing is – for me – a rather poor word choice for this. Perhaps, a little editing and mending might be more appropriate.

If you want to predict the future, live it.

After all, finding out what the future holds means walking through the mists and discovering what lies beyond. And for me, that means shedding some of the illusions of being some form of hero in all of this. As has been noted before, the Storm is here. The dervish has pulled all of us into it to one degree or another. We have all experienced some of the chaotic winds that it provides. And for me, I have stumbled and fallen from my Path. Time to right myself, dust off my cloak, pick up my staff and continue doing what it is that I should be doing. There are some unpredictable aspects to all of this, including how to get back into my wider Pagan community, which means trying to see how and where I fit in. And being an individual that is not very good at public, social situations – that means pushing myself into areas where I am uncomfortable. I have no desire to predict the future, but to find out what the future holds – I have to live it. And I have to live it with my eyes wide open.

–T /|\

Walking your Path may sometimes require you to turn back and walk a stretch of your journey that you have already walked previously. Turning back and covering ground you previously tread is not an invitation to become a sentry walking a post.  Sooner or later, you need to continue making forward progress on your Path. You are trying to add experience and sensation into your life, not become a guard.  –TommyElf

From Slumbering Acorns…

There were so many side conversations at the ADF Imbolc Retreat. The rituals are nice, the presentations are gems in their own right, but its the side conversations that really stick with me throughout the experience. Not only do you get a chance to catch up with people you have not seen in nearly forever, there are deep, conversations that take place spontaneously that are sheer magick.

One of those conversations took place at the top of the hill, overlooking the camp. And it was more than just a conversation, it was a moment where I got to see myself through someone else’s eyes. And I not only understood what was being said, it was echoed later in a handful of other conversations.

Being blunt and honest here, I do not have the most positive self-image. It tends to show in the way that I present myself. And it bleeds through in so many other ways. My self-defense mechanism is self-deprecating humor. Its my way of deflecting what I perceive as the way others might view me, by finding ways to subtly (and sometimes not) insult myself. As was told to me at that moment on the hill, its not pretty to watch. Its also cute the first few times; after that it becomes a huge turn-off in leading towards serious conversations.

There are a few people who have seen beyond that sheer covering and gotten to understand me a little better. But again, that self-defense mechanism tends to drive others off to the side. And it doesn’t just hurt my relationships. It has destroyed parts of me slowly from the inside. My self-deprecating humor has led me to developing an even thicker coating of an introvert. Once people get to know me a little better, they realize that the aspect of introversion is another of those defense mechanisms that I employ.

During the retreat, I sat around the fire and marveled at how everyone was so comfortable getting up in front of everyone and singing, telling stories, and reciting poetry. The next morning (Saturday) I was approached by one particular individual who asked why I didn’t get out front and tell stories. I replied that I was not that kind of person. The response back was to notice that another person got out there and told stories by the fire too. If that person could do it, so could I.

That one moment planted an acorn, and the tree has already started to grow from it. I watched everyone around the fire during the Bardic competition. There were folks who sang serious songs, some who brought their own marvelous compositions to the fire, those who utilized bawdy humor for their contribution….and each tightened their belts and stepped up to the moment. And then there was the one recitation of poetry, where I watched someone that I know utilize the poem, the moment, and the environment to transform themselves into the poem itself. A truly magickal moment that I will never forget. Sitting there to the side, I kept thinking back to the earlier conversation…and realizing that I could do that too.

“Except,” said the back of my mind, “You will have to get past your fear of crowds.”

“But I really can do this,” I responded. “I acted in school plays before. Not only did I memorize all the lines of the play, but I even created an English accent for my character – who happened to be a Tory sympathizer. I have done this before.”

“Forty years in the past,” I dutifully reminded myself.

There it was. My own self-doubt rising up to sow the seeds of the unknown. He and I have dealt with one another for so long, I even know exactly what flavor of coffee he likes, and how much sweetener to add to it. We have danced this dance many times.

“Play guitar?”

“Your hands are too small.”

“Sing?”

“No one wants to hear THAT voice.”

“Write poetry?”

“You are not very good at that at all.”

“But! I did enter the Creative Writing contest a few years back. Not only did I win my category, my poem was chosen as the best entry overall in the competition. I didn’t just win a first place award, I won a best-in-show aspect. So there!  Folks outside of my own friends and family loved the work enough to declare it to be good.”

“Yes. But your entry the next year placed third overall in your category.”

“That’s because I entered in the adult category rather than the student – and there was only an option for essay or short story. But still, it placed. Besides ti was never really about placing anywhere – it was about submitting it.”

Sometime during the evening after the Bardic competition, while I was watching everyone around the fire continuing the singing and storytelling – I realized that this is something I can do. I do have the ability to be all of this, and more. I merely have to believe in my ability to do it.  I won’t be the next David Bowie, or have the relevance and polish of my hero, Robert Frost – but I don’t have to. I just have to be the best that Tommy can be. The idea is not to be the best, but to share the emotional aspects of what I have in my Life. Joy, sadness, anger, despair, elation… all of that can be encapsulated in the poetry that I do write, as well as the stories that can be told.

Getting over my fear of crowds….can be done by confronting my other biggest fear: myself. I need no critics, including myself. I only need to want to be the Bard that is trapped somewhere underneath all those defense mechanisms. And obviously there is something worthwhile down underneath all of that – I wouldn’t have created defense mechanisms to protect it otherwise.

So, I’ll start with the podcast. Retelling shorter stories and reading poetry 0 including my own. It won’t be the primary feature, but it can be a part of the overall show. And it will be baby steps towards overcoming my own fears that are generated by me. As I have said before, 2017 looks to be another year of change and transformation. Some thing are coming to an end within my life. Others are the slumbering acorns that are now awakening. And that little voice in the back of my head? Well, if he shows up…I’ll strangle him in my sleep. I can do this.

Riffing on Paganism and Druidry

John Beckett has written a recent blog addressing aspects of polytheism moving forward in a monotheistic environment. It covers a lot of ground, and proposes quite a bit of food for thought and discussion, but one particular part of it jumped off the page at me when I read it.

At the 2009 House of Danu Gorsedd, John Michael Greer said that Paganism in general and Druidry in particular are not revived religions or even reconstructed religions. Rather, they are indigenous religions of modern Anglo-American industrial society.

Now, I am far from someone that takes my understanding and interactions with the Gods and desires to hearken back to the manner of worship within the Past. And this little quote from John’s blog post reiterates that for me. In fact, it tickles a particular thought I have had over the past year: do the Gods really care whether we follow the exact same patterns of worship from long ago? This plays into what I have taken to calling “Jazz Paganism”, which is a style I essentially practice. I wrote about this a while back in “The Song I Sing for Today” and “Free-Form Ritual – Knowing It“, both of which have addressed my style of beliefs and practice. None of that has changed. And its rather doubtful any of it will in the future. Its a style that works for me.

One of the bones of contention has been over the term indigenous. Rather than trying to argue and nitpick over definitions, I will just set the way I understand the term, and leave it at that. Revealed religions are those that are started by one individual who has a spiritual way revealed to him and shares with others. Nature religions, on the other hand, are indigenous and revere nature. In this aspect, indigenous refers to something that grows naturally from a region, for instance Native American beliefs or Celtic beliefs. From my understanding, one telling difference between the two is that the Nature religion has the flexibility to continually grow and change, while the Revealed religion has a very stringent set of rules or guidelines (I would tend to call this “dogma”) that adherents must follow.

So, if I follow what Greer is saying above, Druidry is a set of beliefs that grow, change and/or evolve over time. Druidry as we know it today is not the same as Druidry as it was in the 1960s, nor will it be the same as Druidry in the 2020s. I am not sure I completely agree that Druidry grew out of the modern industrial society, though. From my perspective, it found fertile ground within that cultural environment, where a need and desire for things natural, green, and growing was a necessary contrast to the cold, dark, steel and concrete environment that manifested in the western world. Much like we humans need complexity and simplicity, we also have needs for the industrial world as well as the natural. That concept of dichotomy seems to be rampant within the way our human minds operate.

So, if someone asked me for an in-depth answer of how I view today’s Paganism in comparison to say, Paganism in the 1960s – I would say that today’s Paganism is continuation of what we have seen. Its evolved, and changed. In many ways, its a direct answer to many of the issues that we have in our modern society. And in many others, its an offshoot because of those issues. Not quite an answer, but closer in concept as a result of those issues. And from that, people are coming to Paganism to remove themselves from a dogma-filled aspect of the Revealed religions.

With no dogma, many of the Natural religions allow people to explore concepts of Spirituality in ways that they haven’t been provided before. I know it is a major pull for myself. Had I remained a Christian, a doubt I would have even stumbled over the amazing experiences I have had, nor would I have grown as much as I have as an adult. And trust me folks, those who remember me in my twenties prior to finding my way into Paganism, can attest to the asshole that I was.

So, is Druidry and Paganism the framework for moving forward into the future? Well, I don’t know about the entirety of the human population. After all, we are all very different individuals with very different ideas to the bigger and more useless questions of life, such as who should be President of the United States. But I hold out hope that one of the smaller, and more important point in life is something we can all share throughout this world: we need to treat one another far more kindly. For me, my exploration of Paganism and Druidry is my guiding aspect in all of this. Respect for other aspects of Life, including other human beings. It might not be the sole guiding principle, but it certainly is one of the major ones for me.

So, back to Greer’s statement. Is Druidry something that grew in the wild from the muck of a modern Anglo-American industrial society? I would tend to agree. The seeds do not come from this particular part of history. Those go much, much further back, and are shrouded in the mists of oral history, and muddied by the attempts of individuals to take from that oral history, and document it in writing and video and other forms of media. Much like a plant can be “groomed” a certain way (think ivy vines growing over an archway or up a wall), I would posit that much of what we understand of Druidry today is “groomed” by the manner in which it has been recorded and documented by others who have long since passed beyond the veil.

I would also posit that Druidry has changed, thanks to the many writers we have today, and the numerous Traditions as well. Druidry (and Paganism), in my mind, is a growing entity. It will evolve and change in response to the issues and crises of the momentary point in time. In a Druid Prayer and Devotion on the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids website, there is a particular series of statements:

And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;

Druidry has a focus on social change, a focus on addressing corruption in government at all levels, and a focus on understanding and respecting others regardless of their beliefs, skin color, eye color, hair color, height, weight, gender, political affiliation, etc etc. In my eyes, this is where Druidry can be utilized to address the issues of the current moment in time. There is a desire to find equality for all, that none are treated differently or seen to be different. There is a desire that each are treated equally for aspects of justice, regardless of social status, personal wealth, or whatever other difference making descriptive you can think of. For me, this particular point, along with many, many others, allows Druidry to be elastic in its usage as an approach to the future. This is what allows Druidry to grow from the muck of the world around us, to produce a strong, steady oak tree into the future. And as the tree grows and sheds its acorns into the future, those grow into more oaks, providing more relevance to tomorrow’s society. For me, Druidry is a continually evolving and changing response to our global society and its ever-changing issues and crises.


One final note. It took me nearly five days to formulate this. All based off of a single quote from John’s original post. It is not quite what I think John had in mind, when he published his original post over on Patheos. But I let this grow organically in my mind as I wrote it. Hopefully, its coherent. And hopefully, it does for you what John’s post did for me:  spark some deeper thought. I encourage you to clink the above link to John’s original post, and give it a couple of reads. Check out the comments as well, as there are even more thoughts there that can hopefully help spur discussion and thought.  –Tommy /|\

 

Being a Generalist in a Specialized World

At one point in my working career, I was considered to be a generalist. An individual with knowledge of many working areas (in my case, Hardware and Software), but no specialization. At the lower rungs in the business environment, this was particularly fine for someone that was just starting out in a company. But as I advanced further down the line in my career, I was pushed more and more towards the concept of specialization. Until I find myself where I am now – Data Scientist, Data Analyst, Data Herder….whatever title you’d like to bestow upon me. My job is simple. Get information out of the complex data network that the college has, and get that individualized data to the correct people to help them make an informed decision of some sort.

I cam across the following passage in “Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing” by Robert Wolff. And this passage has certainly got my gears grinding over the difference between the way Pagan beliefs tend to approach spirituality, ritual and honoring the Gods, and how more mainstream systems such as Christianity do the same.

All systems (health systems, economic systems or political systems) are creations of our unique way of looking at the world, our reality. Systems are expressions of our beliefs.

…(A)ll our systems are designed around a belief that everything is so complex and difficult to manage that we require experts to help us navigate. There are experts for every aspect of life. Everyone who does anything at all needs training, probably a degree or a diploma, certainly a license. The result is that each of us is powerless, except in the narrow slice of the world we ourselves inhabit. There is hardly anything we can – or are allowed to – do for ourselves. We are made to think that we must ask for expert advice for everything we do.

Because systems are rooted in beliefs, we and even the experts find it difficult to imagine that there might be other ways of doing things. We cannot imagine that there are other beliefs. Thus we think that ours is the only true reality, that other people, other cultures, are backward, archaic, underdeveloped, and so on.

By judging others as less than ourselves, we cannot learn from them. That is sad, because we throw away, suppress, and deny the accumulated wisdom of generations or ancestors. (p.59-60, “Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing” by Robert Woolf.

A few days back, I wrote about my need to redefine the concept of the term “Priest” and how it related to me. In reading this, I am realizing that my problem is not so much that the role is defined in a certain manner by Christian concepts. Its the specialized nature of the role within the Christian definitions that bothers me so much. In many Christian churches, I sat in the pews and listened to frothy-mouthed pastors shout about how to follow the word of God as it sprang forth from the Bible. They would utilize a concordance to help assign modern definitions to translated words and passages. They assumed a role as an intercessor between their congregation and God. It was this specialization that I have been assign to the term Priest…correctly or incorrectly.

IMG_0243For me, as I have to come to understand what the role of a Priest means to me, I find my understanding to be different. As a Priest, my role is not to serve as a position between someone and the Gods. My role is to help in honoring the Gods through ritual – whether solo or in a group. I may be a mentor of sorts to those who are young on their own Path, but even then I am not to serve between the individuals and the Gods. I am to be there, to stand by their side and offer support, and advice. And whatever advice I offer can be rejected, as the choice is the adherent’s to make, not mine. My role, as a Priest, is to be more of a generalist in service to the Gods, to my Community, to my extended family, and to myself.

Certainly, this different manner of looking at the concept of Priest is a step in a slightly different direction on the Path…but its a step I am willing to explore and embrace, as I discover the new sights and sounds with this unmarked trail….

 

Fourteen Years Along – Digging No Deeper Than the Surface

So, I wrote this post yesterday – but held back in publishing it until today. My points are no less valid today, than they were yesterday. However, I felt that publishing this one the day of remembrance for the attacks would have been in poor taste. After all, we were remembering the people who had died in the attacks — and hopefully all the people who died in the aftermath as well. Anyways, here’s the post I wrote for yesterday….

Well, the calendar has turned to one of the most infamous days in history. The eleventh of September. Fourteen years ago – individuals with a twisted mindset of what their professed faith said about people not like them, set out to visit unspeakable horror on these “different people”. We’ve all seen the images, many of us remember where we were when we first heard. Some of us even remember the rapid grab of power by our own government – all in the name of protection.

Many, many people that I have met believe that I look at members of the Muslin faith as “evil” – after all, I served in the Air Force during conflict with a middle eastern country. But they would be dead wrong. The Muslim faith is fairly well documented as to the manner its adherents should believe. But that’s not my argument at all. Rather, I do not judge an entire belief system and its adherents on the actions of nineteen individuals who were bent on savagely terrorizing others, in the hopes of achieving…whatever they were wanting to do. I can make some assumptions on those aims, but to be honest – it would only be wild assumptions based on *my* understanding of the world around me. Not a fair comparison whatsoever.

These individuals that carried out these acts of terrorism are not the typical adherents of the Muslim faith. They are not even the mainstream aspects of that faith. Try telling that to the average Christian American though. A belief system that calls for one another to “love our neighbors”, to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” — how interestingly odd that there’s this point of not applying this to members of the Muslim faith, simply because of the actions of nineteen men. But let’s not point the finger solely at the Christians – after all, American is not a Christian nation. We are made of many different faiths, many different backgrounds. And furthermore, finger pointing is not what this is about either….

Let’s peel away some of the layers to this though. Its not an American versus Muslim thing — its a basic “Us versus Them” thing. They look different from the majority of Americans. They believe differently than most Americans. That difference means that they should go back to wherever they came from, right? That would be the house at the end of the block. They live here too. In fact, they are a part of us – unless you go to redefine what “us” really means.

For my own perspective, I don’t really see things in manners of skin color, hair color, eye color, height, weight, sexual preference, religious faith, economic level, or whatever measure you may dream up. In the words of Depeche Mode – “people are people.”

I watch what happens in politics. I watch what happens in societal issues – such as what has occurred in Maryland and Missouri over the past year. Its not a color thing. Its a lack of respect for one’s fellow human beings. The race and economic factors are merely the platitudes that get used to justify that lack of respect.

Seriously, we have managed to reach a point in society where the labels placed on people mean more than the people themselves. Label me?  Sure, go right ahead. I’m a Pagan, a Bardic Grade student, an Animist, a Polytheist, a straight male, a white male, Germanic, a statistician, a data analyst, a student, a teacher, a friend, a Libertarian, apolitical, blue-eyed. So what does all that really mean. Nothing. Put together, it makes up who I am or at least a part of it. But if you only look at the labels, you only get the smallest part of who I am. You miss so much more by only glancing at the surface.

On this day, fourteen years ago, an unspeakable tragedy occurred. Many people lost their lives. Many more would lose their lives as the United States government lashed out against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq through military force. Many others, here in the United States were verbally and physically abused – some even killed in cold blood — simply because people would not look past the label. We light candles for a few more than 3,000 individuals who died during the attacks. The aftermath shows that countless more paid a similar price – just because of who they were, where they lived, and what faith they believed. All because nineteen individuals followed a twisted version of their own faith. And because we couldn’t look past the surface…

May all of these people have found solace in whatever belief they had of the afterlife. May they have found peace in such unspeakable violence…

Music, for me, is Essential

Like I noted in the last blog post, music is a big part of my life. Well, today and the 9th are a pair of interesting days for me. Today, August 1st, is the birthday of the late-Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. The 9th is the day that he passed away, back in 1995. This morning, in my Facebook feed, I found a post from Mickey Hart – the awesome drummer, and all-around genius – in my Facebook feed. The title of the post is “Dear Jerry” and points out that Jerry was a catalyst for a lot of people discovering how music can touch nearly every aspect of their lives. The previous day, Mickey had posted a quote from Jerry that I re-shared to my wall:

You need music, I don’t know why. It’s probably one of those Joe Campbell questions, why we need ritual. We need magic, and bliss, and power, myth, and celebration and religion in our lives, and music is a good way to encapsulate a lot of it.  –Jerry Garcia

This is one of those quotes that you stumble across, and realize the potency of what is being said, and for me – how much it encapsulates what makes my life “GO”. Even when I am at work, I am playing music. Currently, I have my iTunes on a full-mix rotation. Its been playing as I am typing this. This morning I have heard Tom Petty, The Grateful Dead, Jewel, Fiona Davidson, Spiral Dance, and .38 Special. I play this type of rotation when I am in no particular musical mood. Usually, I have a particular artist in mind, and I focus on them. But music is always there.

jazzWhen I walk, I typically have a large number of songs from a single artist stuffed on to my iPhone. Its the background music that I am wanting to listen to in order to help focus my mind on a single thought. Yes, I meditate when I walk. Its also one of the reasons I need to stop walking in my neighborhood, since this is a heavily urbanized area, and there’s always traffic around. Its fairly easy to come close to being hit by a car, even when you are not distracted by anything else.

Music permeates nearly every moment of my day. There’s always something on. Plus, I am looking into taking guitar lessons as well, so I can get back into playing music with my more musically inclined friends. That’s the first time I have had a serious desire to play music since March 20th in 1982 when I found out about the death of Randy Rhoads from the previous day. That’s the day I set my bass guitar down. And to be perfectly honest, I won’t be the greatest guitar player ever. In fact, I’ll likely be “ok” at my peak. But its not about being the absolute best, its about being able to share that music with my friends.

When you listen to a certain song, do you get the chills and thrills up and down your spine when you hear it?  When you know that this is the song that defines a specific moment in time – or that this song will always remind you of these musicians? Or that this song expresses this moment so perfectly? In my opinion, that’s part of what Jerry means in his quote about “magic and bliss” — where a certain song can literally define that moment for you forever. And when you hear that song, you are immediately transported to those feelings. I have a metric ton of these memories.

I know that there are folks who may not understand or agree on the importance of music. To be honest, that’s perfectly fine. This is something that definitely works for me. And something that is a very deep part of what and who I am. So, as Wall of Voodoo is reminding me about “Mexican Radio” – I’ll go ahead and close this post. Here’s to hoping that you’re having an excellent day, morning, evening, night – whatever.  🙂  /|\

Which Wolf Will You Feed?

Last weekend, I went to the movies and watched Tomorrowland from Disney. It was an interesting film — once it got going. Its painfully slow in getting started, but there’s a message in all of it. The movie discusses how the chance to reach for the unknown – for a future that remains possible – can drive the dreamers forward. Or to put it another way, so long as we know that there is a chance for any number of outcomes, we will strive towards our dreams. There are far more statements within the movie, but I wanted to focus on this one for a bit.

Two Wolves

I have a little rubber bracelet that I got from a trip to NASA in Houston a few years back. It has the iconic statement emblazoned on it: “Failure is not an Option.” For the longest time, I applied that statement to my students. When I was in the classroom, I tried to be as upbeat and encouraging with them as much as I could. I’m quite sure that a few of them understood where I was coming from. Even more probably viewed me as some sort of Pollyanna, and dismissed me out of hand. After all, I focused very intensely on very positive outcomes. But it wasn’t because I refused to see the negative outcomes, not at all. Its because I believe intent is driven by what we consume. Or to put it in the words of Tomorrowland‘s heroine, Casey:

There are two wolves who are always fighting. One is darkness and despair. The other is light and hope. The question is… which wolf wins?

The answer is “the one you feed”. I found another aspect of this on the Nanticoke Indians website located here. Interesting, is it not? What we are talking about here is a concept very similar to magickal workings. We form our intention – to feed whichever wolf we want to – and then move forward in our actions to do just what our intentions are aimed towards. I will come back to this in a short bit.

Further in the movie, Governor Nix (played by Hugh Laurie) has a long statement about how humanity embraces the concept of the “end of the world.” At the end of this monologue, he states:

…because the wonderful thing about giving up on the future is that it doesn’t require you to do anything right now.

Which brings me back to the point of knowing the outcome, as well as branching into another point of thought I will get to in a moment. When we know the outcome, without the shadow of a doubt, human beings are more likely to give up, embrace the outcome, and find a way to adapt (if there is one). Tomorrowland points out how this kills creativity and the desire to reach for the unknown. After all, if the outcome is already known…who cares about what we don’t know about already? In the end, its a useless activity to find out more, particularly when there is no changing the outcome. But if the outcome is only 99.999% certain, there are some human beings that will strive with every fiber of their being to find that 0.001% chance of a different outcome. Where there is a hope of altering an outcome, there is always the struggle to utilize our creativity to find that/those other solution(s).

The End Times

So, we come to one of the biggest differences between Christianity and Paganism, at least in my mind. Pagans embrace an idea that we can change the outcome in our world. If we put into motion the idea that we are a part of our environment, rather than the environment being a resource that we can dominate, and use – we find that there’s no need for an “End Times” scenario. We can live within our environment forever (whatever that means), provided we see ourselves as a part of it – rather than the environment as a resource to devour. Christianity, on the other hand, points to a Dystopian future on the Earth. When the time is over, Christians will be pulled into Heaven, a Utopian environment that cannot be accessed until your death or the Rapture. The Earth will be left to Satan and his minions, and setup as a Dystopian environment of misery, pain, and suffering for those non-believers who were “left behind”. Its fairly obvious to see there’s no need to conserve resources for the future. There’s no need to be a responsible caretaker of the environment. After all, in the end, God will take us from here, to another place. A Paradise. Oddly enough, my favorite Eagle’s song “The Last Resort” addresses just this point.

Call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.

Tomorrowland doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the future. Because the future isn’t determined yet. There’s still hope that things can be changed. There’s still a chance that we can make things better, that we can reach for our dreams. And that, is my point here. There’s always hope. There will always be room in my environment for my dreams. My dreams of a world where our environment is a treasured part of who we are, not merely something to admire or use. My dreams of a world where we choose to live together and are respectful of our differences. How do we get there? Well, I am not completely sure. But I have started walking down that Path myself. And I see things that I need to change in who I am. I need to find ways to be more understanding of the followers of the Christian faith. I see where I need to find commonalities between my Independent political leanings and those of the Right and Left in the political spectrum. That little bit of understanding, those commonalities – that’s common ground. And from fertile common ground – that is where I believe the dreams I have will be cultivated from.

Which wolf, indeed….

My very first sight of Space Shuttle Atlantis
My very first sight of Space Shuttle Atlantis

When Gods and Goddesses Come Knocking at the Door

My Backyard Stone CircleI have been touched by the Gods. Back when I first started along my Path in Paganism, I never truly understood that statement. Just a year earlier, I had walked away from a Pentecostal Christian friend over a very similar statement. He had claimed to have the direct connection to God through the use of his ability to speak in tongues, as well as translate directly for those who were touched in a similar manner. I questioned him as to the origin of his “new” language. He responded back that he wasn’t sure, and that it didn’t matter to him.

“But it matters to me,” I fired back, “You are wanting me to take on faith that you are not making this up as you go.”

“Of course you have to take it on faith, you have to trust implicitly in God,” Mike tossed back at me. He had a rather smarmy smile to begin with, and his statement preceding his smile at that moment only bolstered my image of him as a used-car salesman trying to hustle a deal.

I kept hammering away at his statement, trying to get him to reveal this mystery language that he had suddenly been provided through a George Malley moment (for those confused – in the movie Phenomenon George Malley learns enough Portuguese from a book in twenty minutes to comfortably converse with a native conversation). After a short period of time, I found that he was following the incoherent babble of Robert Tilton, a TV evangelist who swiped money from people that mailed in “love offerings”.

So, when I hear the statement of being “touched by the Gods” my mind immediately ran to this scenario, and my skeptical brain kicked into over-drive. And stayed there for the better part of fourteen years. It was, after all, the only reference I really had to work with.

Now, I know very different. Its not difficult to find where the Gods touch our lives. Its just not nearly as dramatic as it gets made out to be on TV or the movies. Its more a manner of understanding, comprehension, and opening your mind a little further. No God or Goddess is going to just pop down right in front of you and say “its time for a good fucking – get your clothes off.” Although, I’m understanding that Hemsworth’s Thor could have a significant pull for the ladies. However, if we’re going there, I’m a little partial to Hudson Leick’s portrayal of Callisto or Aphrodite as played by the lusciously gorgeous Alexandra Tydings. Just saying…

But while the Gods may not be dropping in for a bit of lewd coupling, there are times that the Gods call on specific individuals. For this, I was equally skeptical. I’ve always been of the mind that the Gods ignore humans for the most part – in much the same way that humans ignore ants. There are folks that I know that make it publicly known that a God or Goddess has tasked them with something to do, or have laid a claim on them as individuals. Quite a few years back, I would roll my eyes and quietly laugh behind their backs. Again, why would the Gods lay any claim into our lives? We’re just silly humans after all – with far little value to the Gods in whom we place a ton of faith. That is – I believed that way until found myself being influenced and led in a particular direction by Coyote.

My time with Coyote turned out to be rather short, because it was a lesson I was being tasked to learn. When it came to ritual and religious stuff, I was a bit stern. Ok, it was like I had a super long stick shoved up my rear. Through Coyote, I learned that the sacred could include laughter and frivolity. But I also found myself eventually dealing with Crow.

‘Its just another Trickster,’ I would tell myself. Just a furthering of the lesson from Coyote. But after a time, my meditations came to be more significant with Crow, and Coyote became far less frequent. Everywhere I went, there was some form of blackbird following me around. At work, there are two Crows that greet me nearly every morning. In the afternoons, I leave them whatever crumbs I can manage to gather. And Crows actually have the capacity to remember people’s faces. So far, no one at work has really noticed that these Crows that are sitting on the parking lot lights always ‘qwork’ whenever I come out of the building. Plus, I know its more than a coincidence.

Crow was insistent that I change the format of the podcast. Instead of me talking, I was to provide a platform for others to talk. ‘People need to hear about the Pagan Path,’ I was told in one meditation.

“Isn’t that evangelizing?”

“Only if you try to convert them to your Path. You are only letting them hear about the various Paths. They will make their own choice to walk those Paths or not.”

Since that time, the podcast has made its changes. People other than myself are being featured on the show. And I am quite happy with the result. Plus, I am getting people in front of a microphone that normally are never heard of or from. Yes, I am interviewing the average, everyday Pagan for shows. And all because the God that has literally taken me under His wing told me I had to do something for him. Many folks, including myself, do not realize that Crow is a messenger.

Like many folks who have had the Gods enter into their lives, I have had my moments of doubt. My moments where I bristle at the requirements that are laid upon me. Listen to the first year of Upon a Pagan Path, you’ll hear it (and there’s not that many episodes either). I paid the price for that piece of defiance. I saw Crows EVERYWHERE – even in my dreams and meditations. To be fair, I ALWAYS see Crows in my dreams and meditations. There are five of them. Except that during my period of defiance, I saw HUNDREDS of them! Eventually I got the message: get back to what you are supposed to be doing.

If you have ever wondered what it can be like having a God or Goddess putting themselves directly into your life, I found a video that seems to explain just that. Its from the Rock Opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar” and specifically is the song ‘Gethsemane (I Only Want to Know)’. I chose this specifically because of the facial expressions and the way the actor – in this case Glenn Carter from the 2000 TV adaptation – managed to get the vocal inflections into his voice during the entire segment. Particularly moving is where he finally accepts his role as the sacrifice, and still has a hint of defiance towards God for putting him in a position with no choice.

Is there a choice? Certainly. I could have chosen not to agree to Crow’s expectations for me as a podcaster. Before the bargain was struck, I could have walked away without any repercussions. Now…that’s a completely different issue.

Not everyone is going to have a God or Goddess hanging over their shoulder. And there will be people who doubt that it even happens to those that are claimed by their Gods and Goddesses. You won’t find me arguing with those folks. Its far easier to just nod, and let them go along their Path, smug in the knowledge that they pulled one over on me. After I get finished wiping up the blood where Crow’s talons have dug into my shoulder in anger at their statements – I’ll just get back to what I meant to do.

One must understand that to an Indian, ownership of land is a foreign concept. The earth is our Grandmother, who provides us with everything we need to survive. How can you own your grandmother? How can you sell her? How does a piece of paper that you probably can’t read prove ownership of something that can’t be owned? Even if you think you really own some land, try skipping property tax payments for a few years.  –Russell Means, “Where White Mean Fear to Tread”

Pagan Culture – Quote

The Pagan Community does have its own culture. The full meaning of that culture depends on the moment, on the platform, on the environment in which it stands at that moment. And when that moment is finished, the culture continues to change. Yes, the Pagan Community has a cultural aspect to it, the Community just does not seem to realize it until the moment has past.

–Tommy Elf

Answers and Questions – Quote

To understand any question, to find the approximation of an answer, the question must be asked. In asking, you have already moved closer to an answer – the one shapes the other. Yet, as we have already observed, when you ask a question often all you get are more questions which spawn their own answer-questions. It can be frustrating, and it is often why folk give up on such things for they are too wedded to linear processes. They feel they are going round in circles when they want direction. Yet direction you have, albeit circuitous, for you do not go in circles. Rather, you work the rounds of a spiral. And the spiral slowly tightens and you eventually reach the point of it all.

The Voice Within the Wind, Greywind, p.33

Magic – Quote

Magic is about discovering and coming to understand the patterns and balances that underlie all things. It is about working in concord with them in order to maintain or re-establish those patterns and balances. We all work magic of some form or another every day – using herbs to heal, gardening organically, preparing a meal. Those who devote their life ot magic, learn to live their whole life in harmony with the natural order.

The Voice Within the Wind, Greywind, p.21

Connection – Emma Restall Orr Quote

The important element is the way in which all things are connected. Every thought and action sends shivers of energy into the world around us, which affects all creation. Perceiving the world as a web of connectedness helps us to overcome the feelings of separation that hold us back and cloud our vision. This connection with all life increases our sense of responsibility for every move, every attitude, allowing us to see clearly that each soul does indeed make a difference to the whole.

                                                                                                                ― Emma Restall Orr