This is my favorite quote from any of the Star Wars movies. This singular quote also encompasses a large part of what and who I am. I am not one for holding to a good deal of absolutes to anything in my life or Spiritual Path. Over the past half-year, I have had a lot of time to contemplate aspects of my own Druidry that I held to as absolutes. Over that time, I altered a few approaches that I had, and discarded a few others that no longer really served what I needed on my Path. Now, I have made it to where I am. Standing on top of the hill, having climbed to this point. Ahead of me, I see the even taller, steeper mountain that remains on my Path. My Spiritual Path requires more work, more effort, and the rest of the time I have in my Life in this incarnation – and probably beyond that.
Malleable, But Not
Over the many years on my Spiritual Path, I have come to realize that my Spirituality is a malleable form. I can alter and shape it to my current needs. However, while I note that there are few absolutes in my understanding of the world around me; there are a few things that are solid and unchangeable. My belief in many Gods is one of those. I don’t have empirical proof of the Gods, aside from my own beliefs and experiences. In my early-to-mid-twenties, I carried a perspective where I had to defend what I knew against all comers. In my late twenties to my early forties, I realized that continually arguing over the reality of belief accomplished nothing except wasting time and energy. Now, in my mid-fifties, I have a better understanding of how my beliefs have evolved as I grew and changed – and will continue to do so going into my own future.
My concept of ritual is one example of the malleability of my connection to the world around me. When I first started down my Pagan path, I would read about various rituals that were in books by Scott Cunningham and Donald Michael Kraig. I would read about all the materials necessary, the preparation, and the mindset that would be required. Everything just HAD to be EXACTLY as a described. Later, I would realize that certain materials could be swapped with others. I would realize that one’s hand could be just as powerful (or even more so) than a wand of any sort. The color of the candle did not matter. Even further on, I would come to realize that intent mattered far more than the date/time that the ritual took place. The materials utilized were there to enhance the experience, not drive it. Only a few years ago, it dawned on me that there was no absolute in ritual – aside from personal intent.
Instructions Are Instructions
Yes, instructions are necessary for anything that one tries to do – unless you are creating something from scratch. In a manner of speaking, personal ritual is a lot like playing jazz music or making alterations to a recipe. However, before you even take a single step along the lines of riffing on your Paganism, you need to understand the basics far better than you may realize. To turn a ritual to your liking, you need to understand the format of what you are altering. I learned this lesson the hard way. I wanted to make changes to a particular ritual format that I had experienced a few times in a group setting. So, I made changes to parts of the ritual that I didn’t care that much about. What I wound up with was a complete mess that really did nothing for me. I had to strip away the changes and start again. I made the changes one after another. One change at a time wound up being helpful. I could sample various things and determine what worked and what didn’t. When I had finished, I had a personal ritual format that worked well for me. I had removed certain elements completely, altered/enhanced others to my liking, and added a few things that I had wanted. However, the full set of changes took a lot of work, a lot of sampling, and a lot of self-analysis. Not to mention tons of trial and error, and a metric ton of unsatisfying results. However, I wanted it – I worked at it – I developed it. In the end, the instructions of how to set up and conduct the ritual provided a basic framework to develop things from.
Rebuilds Are Not Always Necessary
Yes, I did strive to rebuild my Druidry into something that worked for me. In the beginning, the idea was to create something a bit more edgy and dark, which is not me whatsoever. What I wound up doing was stripping away overly romantic elements of what I have been taught within Druidry, while developing my own understanding of the connections I knew already existed. What I have left is a Druidry that is much easier for me to move forward with. A Druidry that resembles what I had before but removes a lot of the absolutes that I had inferred from the perspective of other Druids. I didn’t need Druidry to be from their viewpoint, I needed to develop it from my own viewpoint, my own understanding. What was important to them might not hold any importance to me whatsoever. I needed to shape things in my understanding and comprehension. A rebuild was not necessary though. What I wound up removing from my own Druidry was so miniscule that I could have – should have – just removed it without too much thought or pretense. However, in the end, I do believe that the process was cathartic for me. So, perhaps, in one perspective, it was necessary.
Crossing the finish line of that rebuilding process did bring me to the realization that my Druidry has never been about absolutes. I have very few lines that cannot be crossed in one fashion or another. There are always exceptions to the rules. Some call that being “wishy-washy” or will remark that this is “so Libra” of me. That I am unable to make a single decision. That I spend too much time keeping all my options open. Well, maybe. I am a quintessential Libra, or so I have been told. If that methodology or perspective is offensive to others or what have you… Well, so be it. I know what works for me. I have had enough time to live those experiences to understand that for myself. Plus, I would never say that this works for every single individual out there. Whoops, there is me seeing things from a malleable point of view. 😊
Life has certainly changed a lot for me – not just in the past few months, but also over the longer course of this river that is my life. I keep thinking back to the first few years of where I was in my Pagan Path comparing it against the Pagan and Druid I have become today. I see a lot of differences. A lot more than I had initially realized. I had honestly never thought I would be where I am at now. In fact, looking back, I am not even sure of where I thought things were going to go for me as a Pagan.
In the Beginning
Most of my Spiritual background comes from an empty slate. My parents were Protestants but sent me to Catholic schools because the education there was supposedly better than the public schools. I learned a lot about the Catholic church’s history, its rituals, and its philosophy. The problem with that…I simply didn’t believe what I was being taught by the Priests, Nuns, and other faculty members. Perhaps, part of that is the rebellious streak that I have in me. I have never taken to having something shoved down my throat. Frankly, I learn better when the material is presented to me, and I am given the opportunity to make decisions on my own.
Once I graduated high school, I moved over to the Southern Baptist realm. Again, I rebelled against having a philosophical perspective shoved down my throat. The ladies were prettier though. 😊 I didn’t really learn much about this belief system while I was there. I came to realize quickly that I was no fan of the presentation method of loud yelling and threatening “unbelievers” with a painful eternal life in Hell. I never have dealt too well with threatening perspectives. Threats only make me feel like my back is against the wall.
Eventually, I came across a Wiccan Priestess that I was interested in romantically. She was up-front about her beliefs and offered me the late-Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” to provide me some perspective. What I read was what I had believed – right there in words. At the end of the book, I noticed a Bibliography of other books, and was compelled to ask about those. Luckily, she had a few of those in her library and provided those to me. At this time, I was in the Air Force and stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas.
On-Fire for Paganism
I would read these books during the shifts that I worked in the Data Processing Center, where I worked the base’s mainframe operations. Late at night, when the work was done (or during the long weekend hours), I would not only read about how Pagans and Witches had been treated over the ages according to what the authors would write – I would openly try to discuss this with the Christians that I worked with. I was never very kind about what I read and what I thought of it. Eventually, this pushed me on to a shift where the other three members were all Evangelical Preachers for their congregations. Eight-hour shifts with these guys felt like an eternity. Twelve-hour shifts were absolutely Hell. Over time, I learned to just work and keep my mouth shut.
That was a good thirty-plus years ago. I was not very accommodating of Christian beliefs and was hot-headed enough to say so. These days, my perspective has changed a lot. I see the Christian path as valid for those who seek to follow it. Those who attempt to ram it down your throat – well, they are simply doing what they feel is right. So long as they do not try to force me to believe as they do – its easy for me to ignore them and move along. This choice has certainly made my Path a lot quieter than it was before. 😊
Stick to the Rules
Reading a lot of the books, I saw how rituals were outlined, and all the setup work that went into making things “right”. Certain types of incense for certain rites. Certain color candles for this and that. If I couldn’t find the exact stuff – I just wasn’t going to be able to do the ritual. To me, at that time, these books were holy writ. No changing anything. Over time and talking with other Pagans that I have encountered along my long, flowing river – well, I have come to realize that nothing must be a certain way. Anything can be done with what you have on-hand. Its your intent that matters more. Don’t have candles? Flashlights can suffice, if needed. Don’t have drinking water available? A bottle of Dr. pepper can stand in for that if needed. Don’t have ritual clothing? No worries. That Pet Shop Boys concert t-shirt, those worn-out jeans, and your beat-up tennis will be all right. Forgot the words? Well, if you don’t have a physical copy of the ritual…wing it, if you can. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. What matters more is where your heart is at that moment. Where your mind is. Where your being is focused. The rules, the outline of the ritual, the various tools, clothing items – shit, even the date you do the ritual – is just extra and not really needed. The only thing that can’t be replaced or over-looked…is you.
To be openly honest, most of my rituals that I do on my own are impromptu. I have a basic structure that looks somewhat like OBOD’s ritual framework, but only somewhat. Outside of that, everything is stuff from the top of my head. I know that none of what I do for myself will have much impact for others. But I am a solo Druid. The only impact I am worried about in a ritual-for-one is for me. When I gather with a group of Druids or Pagans for any ritual aspect, I follow their guidelines to the letter. Their show…their rules. For me, it really is as simple as that.
Where Does It All Go?
Back when I first started down my Pagan Path, I honestly do not recall myself having any kind of direction. Even when I was part of the Wiccan groups I started with. My goals were essentially whatever they told me those should be. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. By the time I came to Druidry, I had a better idea of what I was trying to do – what kind of Pagan I wanted to be – even what kind of Druid I wanted to focus on being. That was around eleven years ago. A lot has changed for me since then. My focus is a little different. I have a desire to be a mentor…but I have no idea where or how to get there. Or if that Path would even be open to me at this point. I know I have a lot more to learn. My Path is only now starting to come out of one of the darkest periods in my life. There are lessons from that which I still need to learn and process. And lessons that I learned during my time in the dark that I need to work on completely removing. All of that takes time. It takes work. It takes sweat and effort. I honestly can’t say I knew that starting down this river. I really did think this was all just reading books and drinking and chanting around a campfire. Damn I was young and foolish. I’m older now. I can still be foolish…as shown by the last year. However, as I have learned over time – experience is a damn gorgeous teacher. A bit stern sometimes, a bit harsh at others, but She is awesome, nonetheless.
Through it all, I must echo what Mickey Hart said at the end of the Grateful Dead’s last show. Be kind. Not just to others, but to yourself too. You will make mistakes. You will get hurt. But if your heart is in the right place, you will heal – and continue. Just be kind about it all.
By the way, I am not the Pagan I was when I first started down this river. Thank the Gods for that. Looking back, I was not a very pleasant individual to be around. Some would say that I am still not a pleasant individual to be around now. 😉 But I would like to believe that I am a much more mellow individual than I was. Much more forgiving. Much more understanding. And yes, kinder.
The future of Paganism. A heady topic, to say the least, and one that many bloggers in the so-called “Pagan Blogosphere” have grappled with from time to time. Back in 2016, the Pagan news aggregate site, The Wild Hunt, published an article tackling just that perspective. Where would Paganism be in one-hundred years’ time? I was intrigued enough with the perspective that I wrote a post on the topic and published it nearly to this day (1/27) in 2016. I happened to catch this in my Facebook Memories, and jumped over to the post to read what I had written. Or I should say, what I had not written.
My post is vague on what I believe things would be like in forty to fifty years. I understand why I wrote it the way that I did. I am not one for looking to the future with a definitive perspective. For me, what is to happen has so many cross-roads and forks in the road, that it is almost impossible to determine which way anything will go. This time around…well, I will try to be a bit more upfront. I am sorry to say, my outlook is not very rosy. The time frame I chose was forty to fifty years. That puts things around the time of 2056 to 2066. So, I will continue to stay with that choice.
As a momentary aside, I will point out that much of this post is written from a perspective of Paganism within the United States. After all, I live here, and am a citizen here. That is not meant to spit on Pagans elsewhere in the world, merely that my viewpoint is narrowed to where I live. I cannot speak to how things are or might be elsewhere in the world, and certainly those that live in those parts of the world would be far better (and far more informed) than myself at expressing an opinion concerning that.
My first stop was on the concept of public acceptance of Paganism. There have been a lot of steps taken towards the acceptance of Paganism within the public sphere. I was a part of some of those steps. The more open acceptance of Pagans within the United States military services. Circle Sanctuary was an extremely large part of that push, providing information to military chaplain services, and helping those of us trying to gain equal footing on a spiritual level with our fellow brothers and sisters in uniform that practiced the “big five” faiths. That took a lot of time and effort, and that ball has been moved a few yards down the field, but there is still a lot left to be done. Much of that effort was done in the late-1980s to the mid-1990s, and yet there is still a long way to go before anything close to equality can be achieved. That was a little over twenty-five years ago. Using that as a poor measuring stick, I think that public acceptance of Paganism by 2066 will continue to move forward, but at a very small, incremental pace.
The second point that was made was concerning temples, sacred spaces or other venues that would be akin to the common day Christian church. I live in central Texas, just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro-mess. Here in this small, rural large town, there are seven churches within three miles of the house I live in. Seven. In the rest of the town, there are four more. Hillsboro is far from being a teeming metropolis. Yet, the number of churches is quite large for such a smallish population. To my knowledge, I’m the only Pagan living here. Certainly, there are far more Pagans living to the north of me. But even in the DFW area, I am only area of a handful…well, less than five…public Pagan groups. Two of those reside within the arms of the Unitarian Universalist churches. Not truly Pagan, but it is a start. The point here is that there are not that many spaces that can be construed as “Pagan” and temples or sacred spaces. But these do exist. By 2066? Well, I would posit that there would be many, many more. Not in the numbers that current Christian churches exist. I think only Starbucks rivals that number. However, I do see this number beginning to grow, but also at the incremental number that I have mentioned previously.
Now I will add a little bit of politics into all of this. Sort of. During this past Presidential election cycle, the divide between Republicans and Democrats was showcased quite emphatically. Now, forget the two people running for the position. Instead, let’s focus for a moment on the overall demographics of the voters. Republicans, particularly those red-hated MAGA idiots, self-identified as Christian people. Again, let’s discard the semantics over what Jesus would be like if He were here. Look at the numbers of these self-professed Christians. It is large. Once you add the self-described Christian folk from the rest of the populace – voting or not – the wider Christian belief system would probably be about one out of every two people. Probably not quite that number, but close. The wider Pagan community – the “Big Tent” or the “Umbrella” or however you want to classify it – would make up far less. Will the Pagan population be bigger by 2066? Of course, it will. The growth numbers bear that out.
However, let me throw one more perspective out there concerning all of this. I have no scientific data to back this up, other than my opinion. I do believe that many of the Pagans in 2066 will be unaffiliated within any organization – be it a Druidry order, a Wiccan coven, a Pagan seminary, or a national Occult group. I see the many Pagans going the route of what I call the “Do It Yourself Paganism” thematic. With more and more Pagan books showcasing ways for Pagans to manage their own Paths, I can see many folks choosing to go the DYI highway with their Spirituality. Something that I do not believe is a terrible thing. Though, I do believe that there is still a lot to be said about traditions and being with those of a like-mind. However, I am looking towards 2066 – not right now.
The future, as much as we want to keep pushing it back, keeps coming forward. With that future, comes new Pagans. With those new Pagans comes a desire to try “new” things or to alter things as those stand now. In my mind’s eye, for Paganism, 2066 will find its standing on the public stage a little different, but still as a background player in the play. I can see more places being designated as “sacred spaces” but nothing approaching the stature and number of today’s common-place church. The animosity of the Christian right towards any belief that is not theirs will continue, until social change takes effect here in the United States, and that is if it happens at all. Until that occurs, smaller belief systems such as Paganism will continue to hold far less of the spotlight in the world of Spirituality. I do; however, see changes coming within Paganism itself. A tidal change towards a more self-driven aspect of Spirituality.
Of course, with any future predictive analysis…I could be way off base. In baseball, there are always predictions on how bad a team will be. But a season is one-hundred-and-sixty-two games. Anything can happen. One only need to look at the miracle season of the 1969 New York Mets, a team that was left for dead before the season began. They went on to win one-hundred regular season games – and the World Series. You must play all the games to find out what the future holds.
I am writing this post as the 2020 Year starts to wind down. The coming year holds a lot of promise and hope, but the reality is that we will not find either until we find that in ourselves. The removal of Donald Trump as President may solve a few things and relieve some of the pressure in various areas. COVID vaccines will hopefully help bring the virus under control and allow us some degree of normalcy in our lives, which we haven’t seen since March. But let’s consider both aspects as symptoms that allowed various things to come to fruition in our lives just a little faster. COVID removed some of the immediacy that we had in some relationships while forming new ones that we never saw coming. COVID also brought some realities of our lives to the forefront that we had never considered. In the end, some of that happened for the good of things, and in others created utter devastation that we could never have imagined. After all, life is short. We need to live with no regrets.
2021 is not going to be better just because Joe Biden is President. The only way it gets better is when we start to take stock of who and what we are. Me? I’m a Pagan. I’m a Druid. I’m me. And I have my own problems that I have to figure out, for myself. My world is different now. In complete darkness, I am trying my best to pick up the shattered pieces and rebuild something that resembles a fucking life. So, for me, 2021 is not about hope. It’s not about the promise of things getting better. 2021 will be about finding myself again. 2021 will be about being able to look in the mirror in the mornings and see some kind of day that I can move forward in. And I sincerely believe that we will be doing much the same thing as a collective society.
Who are we? What are we? What are we going to believe? As a collective society, we are going to have to take a few moments, catch our breath, and consider quite a few things about the world around us. Racism is not dead. ‘Us v. Them’ is still alive in every corner of our lives. Discriminating against others because of differences – whatever those differences are – is far more pervasive than we thought. You can see it right out your front door if you look deep enough. But finding it, pointing it out, getting others to see it – that’s the easy part. Thanks to the last four years, we’ve all seen it. The bigger question is ‘what now?’
I am really the wrong person to be asking where things are going or even how do we get there. I’m an idealist. I prefer to see the good in people. I expect people to defer to doing the ‘correct’ thing, the necessary thing. And typically I’m disappointed every single fucking time. It’s gotten to the point that I no longer hope for people to do the right thing. I expect the worst. And with my state of mind, I can expect some really, really bad shit. Stuff that I really don’t care to entertain in my thoughts whatsoever. Because I have seen the worst that human beings can do to each other. And it’s not pretty.
So all I can really do is answer the questions from my own perspective. Who am I? Well, that’s easy. I’m a Pagan. I believe that the natural state of the world is best when mankind stops fucking with it. I’m a Druid. Because I believe the concepts laid out in Druidry are some of the better starting points in how we can deal with one another on a daily basis. And I’m me. Because I believe that individuality is important, particularly in a modern, plastic world that emphasizes that everyone should be the same in their daily approach to Life. Being you is more important than anything else. Your uniqueness brings more beauty, life, and sanity to this world than anything else possibly could. That without you, the world loses a little of its vibrancy. What am I going to believe? Well, I am going to believe in you. That your presence; however small you may believe it to be, brings everything together. And that without you, the world loses a bit of its beauty. Yes, this even goes for me…digging my own way through the deeper recesses of who I am. I believe our differences make us stronger, and that does not dilute the so-called “purity” of what we are as humans. Our diversity is our strength because we can see so many different perspectives. Some even diametrically opposed. Those differences allow us to find unique, stronger solutions. But only when we listen. Right now, we have closed our ears to that perspective…for whatever reason.
2021, not 2020, offers us a chance to move in a different direction. But like a large ship on the ocean, it takes a while to make a new directional change. We’re not going to shift ninety-degrees immediately. It will take time. It will take effort. It will take conscious thinking on everyone’s part. And it will take forgiveness. Not just of those who voted for Donald Trump. That’s small stuff. We are going to need to forgive our collective selves. Forgive ourselves for allowing things to happen, and then get started on doing things right. No pointing of fingers. No assigning the blame. We can deal with that much, much later. We are hurting now. We need to bandage the wounds and start the healing process. We can figure out who is to blame much later on.
Again, we need to decide who and what we are. Are we a mob demanding immediate justice? Or are we people who seek to first find healing and help for those in need? For me, it’s obvious…I prefer healing and help first. Those in need should always be first and foremost. The next question…is how? That’s where the rubber meets the road.
Well, we’ve reached the point where the blog goes dark for a short while. There won’t be anymore posts for 2020. I will; however, be writing during the time that I am not posting. Yes, I will be doing what I have said that I don’t do – creating a small army of posts that I can draw from. I just won’t be posting what I write. The idea here is to give my brain a little bit of a rest, and make posting to the blog feel a little less like a chore. Ya know…to stimulate the creative juices, so to speak.
Let’s take a look back at 2020. Don’t grumble. 2020 definitely was a bad year. But even in a bad year, there are lots of lessons to be learned from what has happened. Both personal and on a wider public scale. Some of it hurts to talk about. Some of it…well, we really do need to talk about it.
Why don’t we come to terms with the facts There’s a method behind all this madness We must be blind not to realize We’re all victims of chance now Talking ’bout what everybody’s talking ’bout I wanna talk about, we gotta talk about it
In Dweezil’s song, the lyrics state that we need to talk about it, so let’s talk about it.
Probably the largest issue that faced us all was COVID-19. No, not President Donald Trump’s antics and statements. I’ll come to that in a minute. However, COVID-19 was the most disruptive aspects of our lives from somewhere in March to today. In that time span, this virus has changed the way we deal with one another on a daily basis. Well, for most folks it has. There are those that continue to call the virus a hoax and refuse to follow the concepts of masking-up, washing your hands, and practicing social distancing. “Don’t want to be afraid of a virus.” Yeah, I can understand that, but only to a point. As I have stated over and over here on the blog – I have underlying health conditions that require me to be a bit more cautious. Contracting the virus could literally kill me. But from this particular issue of combating the virus and staying safe, comes two more points to consider for this post. First, the division that these safety procedures have created between those who follow the safety protocols, and those who deny that the virus is even real or as deadly as has been reported. Second, what happens if these deniers do not get the vaccine that is currently in the early deployment stage to the public?
I have been in three distinctly different areas of Texas over this time period of the virus’ existence. Denton (a small city located just north of the Dallas/Fort Worth metromess), Hillsboro (a small, rural town located just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth metromess), and the huge metromess of Houston. Thinking of the size of each population, I would have expected to find more people not following the COVID-19 safety protocols in Houston. However, the exact opposite has been the given here. With the sole exception of a single day that I happened to shop inside of a local WalMart. Everywhere else I have been, the large majority of people are masked and practicing social distancing. Its actually the smaller-sized community that was the opposite side of things. When I have been in Hillsboro, I have routinely seen people not wearing masks, gathered in small crowds, and not socially distancing at all. Denton, which is a fair-sized college-based town, seemed to have similar levels of not following the protocols that Hillsboro had. What conclusion can I infer from all of that? Well, its not scientific or based in numerical aspects. However, I would conclude that the more rural areas treated the virus far less seriously than the environments where more people happened to reside. The larger the community, the more serious the measures following COVID-19 safety protocols were taken. Not scientific or fact-based at all…merely my own observations.
The second largest issue, and the one that seemed to generate more opinion and perspective throughout social media was current President Donald Trump. Whatever the Donald did, it was scrutinized, criticised or praised from nearly every corner of the World Wide Web. His followers proclaimed him as a stealthy genius. His critics offered up a cartoonish image of an over-sized infant pitching a titanic tantrum. The reality of his four years as President are that he was ineffective on most subjects, and where he was not, he stumbled to get to the right footing. Here, at the end of a Presidential election cycle, the Donald is raging against the outcome, claiming he was cheated. Interestingly enough, this position of crying foul has been rather common in American politics for nearly two decades now. The difference is that no one has continued to cry foul over the recount processes. American politics used to be about accepting losses at the polls, vowing to win in the next election cycle, and moving on with life until then. However, our election cycle did uncover one extremely ugly truth. We are far more divided amongst ourselves as Americans than united. In my opinion, because we cannot accept the losses and move on as Americans, we have created the largest two-party rift ever in the history of this country. We can thank Donald Trump’s usurpation of the Republican party for that, as well as the Republicans for being led down that path by their collective noses. And to some degree, similar rifts have occurred in the political world around the United States as well. Folks, when political and ideological rifts like this occur…major wars are typically not far afield.
The next big issue, for me, has been the challenge of handling my own mental health issues. Yes, I have depression. That depression has fed into other aspects of my life, and has made things difficult – if not impossible for me. While I still scoffed at the idea that I had mental health issues, I have sought out help. I never felt like I was depressed….even though I had no personal experience with the feeling, and thus no perspective to work from. I have friends who have been diagnosed with depression. I have friends who battle their own demons daily. Many of them saw their own struggles occurring within me. They spoke up. They asked – even begged – for me to seek help. Again, not having anything to gauge my understanding of what depression was and how it felt – I still scoffed. But I knew all of these people were speaking out in concern, and love. It took convincing, but I have taken that first step – seeking help. If you have that “lost” feeling, but don’t consider yourself to be depressed because you don’t know what depression feels like – do what I did, and seek help. It might not be depression, but a different perspective can always help you find your way back.
The death of Eddie Van Halen was an extremely difficult moment for me. When I first found out about rock and roll, one of my cousins had played the first album for me. Jokingly, we would refer to Eddie and Alex as “lost members” of the Van Hook family. Eddie was an original guitar hero of mine. The sounds he could elicit from a guitar were just incredible stuff. I had never heard sounds like that before. A few years later, I would “discover” Randy Rhoads’ playing with Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo album, and Eddie was replaced at the top of the guitar player pile. It is fairly well documented that Eddie was an asshole to many people, particularly Michael Anthony – the original bass player for the band. Nonetheless, his talent and creativity with a guitar have always been incredible. The music industry lost a talented player in 2020.
My last, “gotta talk about it” moment of 2020 was the May 25th death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police department. So many protests were sparked throughout the country from this single incident. And even with COVID-19 running rampant, people still came out to protest. People wanted the officers, particularly Officer Derek Chauvin, to be brought to justice for such a brazen, disgusting, public display of police brutality. Many of my friends chose to take to the streets of their local municipalities to show their anger and disgust over what these officers had done. I absolutely agree with many folks who are asking for police reform, banning brutal tactics such as kneeling on the necks of individuals who are considered to be resisting arrest. Furthermore, I am a firm believer that many of the incidents that occur could be handled better by the officers by using deescalation tactics. Particularly in stops where the officer is Caucasian and the individual being stopped is a Person of Color. Police Officers are emblematic of their communities, and should provide proper levels of decorum to the individuals within their communities. I can assure you, if officers treated everyone like a valued person, rather than as something akin to an animal, I believe far less of these various stops would be violent in nature. Notice I said far less, not all. I am also not in favor of defunding the police departments. Rather, I am in favor de-militarizing the police departments. Just north of Hillsboro is the slightly larger town of Cleburne. Here, their police department has a military-style assault vehicle decked out in the police department’s normal vehicle colors. While I do not think that the city would have need for such a vehicle…I would certainly be interested in what the declaration was that made the purchase of this vehicle necessary. As for defunding, no thank you. Certainly, police budgets need to be heavily scrutinized and funding cut for unnecessary needs, such as these urban assault systems. But let’s remember that the police department needs to be funded so that officer can be paid for the services they should be providing to the community. And that appropriate training for them also needs to be funded, so we can have police departments that are truly in a position to serve and protect their local communities.
Now, you are probably noticing that much of this is fairly political in nature. That’s correct and intentional. This is a Pagan blog. I am a Druid. I try to stay between those lines as much as I can. I am; also, a member of the wider aspect of society. I watch. I observe. I listen. I form my own opinions on things. The Gods know damn good and well that many people are not going to agree with me on a lot of this stuff. I am not worried about that one bit. Because everyone has to make up their own minds and find their own footing around topics such as those above and so many others. This year, 2020, I made a promise to myself not to delve too deeply into politics….knowing that a Presidential cycle was underway. I also tried to stay outside of the Black Lives Matters issues, even though I do fully support them. Why? Because all of you reading this are adults. You can read. You can watch and listen to the news. You need to make up your own minds, and my opinion should carry very little or no weight in your personal process. You are intelligent, caring, loving, and understanding people – for the most part. I have always believed it is important for you to derive your own perspective through your own research. Yes, I understand that reading my blog – essentially my own personal opinion – is a type of research. but as I pointed out above…I’m a Pagan. I’m a Druid. And I try my best to drive between those lines the best that I can. But as this post is meant to showcase, I do have opinions and perspectives on stuff. Sometimes….I say something.
Usually, this is the time of year where I start to get questions about what I am doing for Samhain. This year, not so much. That’s been both a relief and a touch puzzling. But it is understandable, especially since nearly everyone I know is aware of the state of flux my life is in at this moment in time. But, I thought I’d try and discuss this just a little bit, just in case someone out there is looking for ideas of what to do.
This year is a super odd year. We have COVID-19 floating around. There’s all the angst over a potential second term of President Trump coupled with a contentious election cycle. Some folks are still being affected by the various state shutdowns, as jobs haven’t come back as robust as many had thought those might. And this year, the full moon is on Halloween. Take your pick from those or find one of your own, if you want – this year’s Samhain will definitely be a little odd.
For me the biggest driving factor throughout this year has been what I’ve been trying to avoid since March – COVID-19. For public events and such, this has been the largest consideration I have to take into account. Trust me, it’s not an easy thing to deal with. I’m moving two-hundred miles and it’s a major concern every time I put the truck in gear to drive the distance to and from. All I can do is take my normal precautions and just try to avoid people who aren’t doing the things that matter.
Currently, I have an invite to a gathering in Oklahoma for Samhain. However, I am not sure I will make it. First, I saw that the COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma City are climbing. That brings major concern to me. Secondly, I have no tent to sleep in. The option I have to work with is to throw a sleeping bag in the back of my cab (I drive a Supercab F150) and sleep there. My third issue is the distance, which is greater than the distance between where I am now and Houston, where I am headed to live. So there’s a chance that this may be something I don’t make. Other options include attending any of a number of online events that will be occurring. Not quite the same thing as a live event, but better than nothing. Or I can do ritual on my own, inside the confines of the house I am currently living in. This is more than likely going to wind up being the option I work with. I’ll have to do a lot of improvisation, as most of my ritual materials are in Houston and I have no plans to drag them back to here.
But then there’s Trick or Treating. I have my cloak, I have my crow-skull mask, I have black clothing, and I can wear a mask under the skull to keep me safe. Yeah, I might handle the trick or treating stuff….I mean, I do like all the little kids that come to the door. It’s something that I usually find to be entertaining…but the trick or treaters tend to be smaller and smaller in number. So, I have the potential to be a bit disappointed over the turnout.
In the past, most of my Samhain stuff has basically been me staying indoors and spending time in meditation. But that’s not really been cutting it for me the past few years. So, some of this is about being a little more out in the open and having a little bit more fun. Yeah, for those who have known me for a while…. it’s definitely a different me. But Samhain should be a time of fun, spookiness, and mystery. You aren’t going to get much of that with the porch light off and you sitting in a darkened office room by yourself. or at least, I’m finding that to be the case.
My hope is that this is the last Samhain I spend alone. I have ideas of what to do if that winds up being the case. Just as I have ideas of what I can provide to the celebration in Oklahoma – should I find a way to get there safely and sleep…somewhere. LOL
A long while back, at a Gulf Coast Gathering, one of the individuals that I initiated into the Bardic Grade with sought me out at the very beginning of camp. I think I had been in camp less than ten minutes at that point. He wanted to let me know that he was initiating into the Ovate Grade at this camp, which thrilled me to no end. That was quickly tempered by part of his next statement: “I was motivated by you going into the Ovate Grade last year. You inspired me to do this.” Inspired….I have always been uncomfortable with the position of being a mentor or a leader. So this particular statement really made me hold back for a moment before giving him a big hug (pre-COVID days, you know?). To provide a bit more context concerning my frame of mind and reaction, I need to take you back in time a little ways, as well as provide a piece of lyrical perspective from a Tommy Shaw solo song.
The United States Air Force trained me how to be a leader and a mentor. I learned how to work with people of different personality traits and to show them how to do a task without taking over completely. Because there’s no experience like hands on. I went to two training schools to learn all of that, Non-Commissioned Officers’ Preparatory School and Airman Leadership School. But even when I was being trained to be able to do handle these leadership skills, I had a very difficult time adjusting my mind to the idea that I was “good enough” to be such a person. Yes, I struggle greatly with the perspective that I am not good enough to have success in my life. I have a fairly good idea where all that originates from, but its not so much something that will help me change that mind-set by confronting it.
Later in my eight-year career, I became a well-liked shift leader by my subordinates,. My leadership style; however, was far too unorthodox for my supervisors. I did not always follow the Air Force’s idea of military discipline. I treated my subordinates as equals in capability and knowledge. I felt that they deserved that much, since I was pouring my knowledge and understanding into them where the job was concerned. My ideal flight of individuals would be those who could do the job as well as I could. In knowledge and skills, they would be my equals. We just happened to be in the Air Force for different amounts of times. See, this was wrong because in the military there is a reason for rank – so a pecking order of who is in charge can be established. Me? I don’t give two shits about that. My focus was on getting the job done and making sure that the people in my flight were the most knowledgeable and capable that they could be. My job was to keep it all together and make sure everything got done. We worked as equals, not as supervisor/subordinate. See, I took the idea of “the mission’s success, at all costs” that I had been taught in my career and morphed it into my own philosophy. To this day, I’ve utilized that philosophy in my work, but to much less spectacular results. Life outside of the work place is much more important than what you do for a paycheck, a lesson I learned the very hard way.
I have always had an extreme fear about being a leader, especially a Spiritual one. I’ve watched scandal after scandal from Christian leaders and even Pagan ones, to not see the warning signs. Absolute power will corrupt absolutely. Tommy Shaw put out a song that succinctly explains my trepidation with all of this in a single lyrical moment. The song comes his first solo album, “Girls With Guns”. The song is called ‘Free to Love You”.
I don’t want to grow up To be a preacher I don’t want your soul in my hands
When I hear people call me an inspiration, these lyrics immediately spring to mind. When I hear those kinds of words, I feel myself being placed on a pedestal (and I really am scared of heights). I am truly no one special. Not to be put on that level. So I hear that kind of praise and I can imagine myself arguing with people and telling them to use the wood they are building the pedestal with for something else. Build a house, make a fire and cook food for everyone….anything but that.
What makes this even more difficult is when people start characterizing me as a person with the “best moral and ethical character that I know.” Back when the tv series The Mandalorian came out, Shadow wanted to sit down and watch the series with me. “He reminds me of you.” Sure as shit, she was right. The Mandalorian is not a leader. He gets a mission he fulfills it, sometimes using questionable tactics. But essentially, he’s just trying to make his way through life, while trying to do the right thing. This really epitomizes my daily walk. I’m no Saint. I have a moral code to what I do. I have an ethical responsibility to others as well. Sometimes those don’t mesh well with the typical perspective of the rest of society. I have done quite a few questionable things in my career, in order to get the job done. Sometimes even sacrificing my happiness. And honestly, that’s not a good choice. So I wouldn’t classify myself as a paragon of good virtue.
Despite all of that, I have to grapple with one realization. I AM a teacher. As much as I want to deny that, I know I’m good at it. One of my styles of teaching is to inspire people to look at the topic and turn it over and over until it calls to them. I have been doing that since 1988, when my duty section Supervisor put me in charge of learning the new Uninterrupted Power Subsystem for the mainframe we worked on. Then tasked me with teaching all the other shifts. I was excited about a new piece of technology being added to the system. That showed when I tried to teach others. Even the ones that didn’t want to learn. This was exactly the style of teaching that I did in the collegiate classrooms later on in my life. I don’t always reach everyone, but I always said that if I reached a single student in a year, I would be satisfied with that effort.
Now I can’t teach any Druidic students because of where I am on my current Path. However, if I did – and OBOD would want me to do so – I would prefer to be a tutor in their system. Currently, I am headed to Houston, somewhere that I am not aware of many OBOD folks. I may not be able to run study groups, but I can try and build a social perspective within the area. At least gather folks together that have like-minded perspectives and want to spend time together. More on that much later, when I have my feet a bit more firmly on the ground there.
I can be an inspiration to others, just by living my life. Out loud. Out in the open. No fences. No apologies. I am definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, but I am not worried about that anymore. I have my own Spiritual practice to work with. I have Gods that I work with. I have an equal partner in my life. I am a perpetual student. Somewhere in all of that, someone is drawing some kind of inspiration to move forward in their life, to seek joy, happiness and positivity in all that they do through the day. And if that is just one person in an entire lifetime, then I have provided my own little spark to their part of the Universe. And in that, I can rejoice. I just have to make sure no one puts me sky-high on a tiny platform.😉
Much of my Pagan Life, I have avoided the usage of Tarot Cards and other aspects of Divination. There were a lot of reasons behind this decision that I made, all of which – until recently – continued to be the logic behind my perspective. I want to take a little time to discuss some of these and why these are no longer valid for me. Perhaps you have had some of the same thoughts or maybe others that I do not address here. Perhaps it might be time to take a look at where things sit and attempt to reconsider your position based on those thoughts. I know it made a difference for me.
Trying to figure out which deck worked best for me was always a confusing process to try and undertake. I never knew which one may be best for me and which one would not be suitable. When I asked folks how they figured out which deck was best for them, I get a myriad of answers that only confused me more. Look at the artwork, see it speaks to you. Hold the cards in your hands. See how they feel. Meditate over them for a few moments and see if any deck calls to you. Look at the price and see which one fits into your budget at the time (seriously). For me, the answer came in a little different manner. I attended my last Pantheacon in 2018, where Kristoffer Hughes was selling his Celtic Tarot deck. I had listened to a lot of Kristoffer’s talks and quickly realized that he spoke straight-forward and honestly on various topics. I surmised that the same would hold true for a Tarot Deck that he helped develop. I bought a deck and it made it to my bookshelf. Where it sat, unopened. Now, nearly a year and a half later, I finally opened the deck, spread it all over the floor so that I could create reverse cards within any given reading, brought the deck back together and started the process of my first reading. That reading not only turned out to be accurate, but quite a swift kick in my ass as well. Three more readings brought more navigational points that also pointed in the same direction. I realized that without thinking about it, without going through all the meditation processes, gazing at the artwork endlessly or even considering the price…I had found a deck that worked with me. But was it the deck or me? More on that in a moment.
When I first started looking at tarot I was astounded and confused by the large number of layouts that one could do a reading through. if you go to a search engine and try to find a card spread that you can examine and try working with – there are hundreds. Some are more complicated than others, some are rather simplistic. For my purposes, I stuck with the three-card layout that is in the accompanying book with the Celtic Tarot. While keeping the question in my mind, I shuffled the deck nine times (three times three…I’m a druid, so threes are important). The first card explores the issue itself. The second card explores the unconscious factors, or things that you may not be aware of. The third card brings the two together in a conclusive manner to offer guidance. For me, this particular layout was short, concise and to the point. Precisely what a novice such as myself needed.
Now others will swear by more complicated layouts where more cards are revealed. I’m sure those work with folks that have been using the cards for large amounts of time. But right now, I am just a novice at doing this. So the simple three-card layout seems to be the best option at this point.
Not Knowing Attributes by Memory
One of the most intimidating things about tarot cards is trying to discuss readings with others. Many of these folks have the attributes of each card in the deck memorized. They also have many layouts memorized and can just look at a spread of tarot cards and provide answers to you immediately. Little ol’ novice me has to take the time to open the associated book, flip through the pages to find the section on that card and then read what it written there. After that, comes a few moments of trying to analyze what I just read and piecing that together around the question that I asked. Then, moving on to each successive card and then trying to piece all of that information into a cognitive perspective. It has always been intimidating when the far more experienced tarot readers rattle things off so quickly and then are seemingly offended when you can’t quite keep up.
This used to turn me off to even getting involved with the tarot at all. I can’t get to where those people are over the course of a few days. I wind up feeling like I am just “not good enough” to do this. Until one day when I was refusing to attempt tarot readings in a meditation with Abnoba. She pointed out to me that at one time, I was just as much of a novice in programming languages. it took me time to learn the constructs of various programming schematics before I got fairly decent at putting these into practice without much thought. “You need to practice. Spend time with the cards of your choosing. You will get better. You know this.” After considering that, I started to realize that when discussing programming techniques with novice code-writers, I was probably just as intimidating and maybe even came off as a bit dismissive. Perspective truly means everything, folks.
Not Placing Faith in the Process
One of the most difficult parts of the process of working with the tarot, at least for me, is placing my faith in the process. One Witch that I have known wanted to work some magick on me. I consented, thinking the person was only playing at what they were doing, not really knowing that they had the skill and the power to do just what they were suggesting. That particular bit of spell work continues to work to this day. I was proven wrong (happily though).
The same holds true with working with the tarot. Have faith that what you are doing by working with these decks will produce results. The results may not be exactly what you intended or bring up more questions than get answered, but that is a result. More of a starting point than an ending place. One thing I have found to be completely true in any case, is that the magick is inside of you. have faith in your ability to put your personal magick into the reading. But that leads me to a final question.
Is It the Deck or You?
Where does the real power for all of this lie, in you or the deck of cards? I am no expert, but I would posit that it all lies within you. The deck merely acts as an amplifier or a magnifying glass concerning all that could be, that surrounds you. And by “could be”, I suggest that there are many places in Life where choices have to be made. Sometimes, the tarot can bring to light some of the points that may bring those choices to life.
I see the tarot as tool that amplifies all that is around you and shows you the potential of what can be, should you work with what you had asked in your original question. Its not a Magic Eight-ball with its crudely set choice of x number of answers. Rather, it is a system and methodology of being able to plug deeper into your own thoughts and reactions. Of course, I have no proof of that, aside from the readings that I have done. It still remains to be seen how well the cards will continue to respond to my self-readings, much less the extra complication of doing readings for others.
I went from a half-skeptical individual to believing in the tarot’s possible capabilities. That will teach me to close off my mind to the possibilities. And I have so much more to learn.
I have question for you to think about. Have you ever decided that something was to be a priority in your life, only to let something else be more important according to your actions? Put another way, do your actions not match your words? I have. And very recently. I had to take a long few moments and (a) figure out what I was doing wrong, (b) figure out what I needed to do to change that, and (c) apologize to Shadow for doing it. And (d) have a long heart-to-heart over the entire aspect. What have you done when you’ve realized this? Froze and did nothing? ::raising hand:: I have been there too. Totally given up because you can’t see a way to change things? ::raising other hand:: Been there too. ::looking at hands:: Oh look, I’m surrendering.
Let me try and explain the process that I have gone through. Maybe you will get something out of the methodology, maybe you won’t. But maybe reading what I went through, you might get something out of it.
Taking Stock of What You Are Doing
I was in a position where my actions were not matching my words. In short, I kept balking at making a commitment. I sat down and took stock of what I had been doing and why I made something else my top priority over what I had said I would do. To be completely open and honest, I went through a similar struggle when Crow first introduced himself into my Life. Crow had agreed to take me under his wing, so to speak, but kept making demands of me that made me look comical. That is until I put my foot down and demanded to know why I was being treated as a fool. Part of that answer was that there was a need for me to have a backbone, even to a God. The other part of that answer came in a statement questioning my commitment to the relationship I had entered into. To try and figure out what I needed to do, I had to understand out just what I had been doing. Taking stock of everything in my life, documenting in my head the things I had committed to and what was most important was the start. After I had that squared away in my mind, the next step was to figure out what priorities I was actually putting first.
Checking Against Priorities
This particular step sounds easy, but it requires a lot of analyzing your actions against your words. It also requires crystal clear honesty with yourself. And that honesty can really cut deep. Remember, you’re trying to reconcile your stated priorities over the reality of what you are doing. You are questioning everything you are doing against everything you have said. With Shadow, my Honor and my Word are paramount things. When I say I am going to do something, that Honor requires me to do just that. My Word becomes sacrosanct at that moment. Not doing what I said I was going to do or dragging my feet over the issue is not providing any of that. With Crow, it was also a manner of doing what I had said and intended in a timely manner. When I didn’t follow through over a couple of months, it became a frank statement of whether I was going to be faithful to my stated oath.
Change and Owing Up to Your Mistakes
Altering a pattern of behavior can be difficult, especially if you are comfortable with that pattern. Finding the balls to make that change also means you have to admit that you were wrong. Not just to yourself but to those you have wronged. Trust me, that’s not an easy thing to do. Especially when you expect someone to tear you apart over the matter. In this, I’m lucky. Shadow is a kind person, willing to listen, and completely capable of forgiving. Yes, I fucked up. There is a ghost of our pasts that I will have to continually fight to make amends. I have a sword, a staff, and two knives. I am willing to fight that Ghost whenever it arises. And it will arise.
Crow was a matter of atonement over a period of time, followed by immediately doing what had been asked of me. Patching that issue up took a lot of work and it continually means that I am looked at concerning living up to my bargains.
In both instances, its a matter of changing behavior. Proving you can live up to your word. Not just once, but continually. It’s all a matter of rebuilding and solidifying that trust factor. If you look at it and think that it’s not worth it – you will walk away. I believe it’s not only worth it, but its what must be done. I am not walking away. I have no intention of doing so.
Remembering to Stop and Recheck
One of the most difficult things to remember to do in going forward is to periodically stop and check with how you are doing. For Shadow and I that will mean occasionally coming back to this conversation and making sure I am still setting my priorities correctly. It also means that we will need to check on how she is doing as well, as well as how we are doing together. Relationships require work, honesty, very open communication, and effort. There will be smiles, happiness, joy, sorrow, tears, and even angry moments. But sitting down and re-checking things from time to time is a helpful side of checking the health of things and listening to how things can be made better.
With Crow, things like this are not that easy to work through. There is a lot of give and take when working with the Gods, as well as understanding how everything is moving along. Gods are not always as expressive about where your relationship is with them. So there’s a lot of unspoken cues you have to work with, especially in how you are being treated. You can ask a direct question along those lines – just don’t expect a direct answer.
Don’t Forget the Apology
Lastly, don’t forget the apology. Particularly, if you are considered to be in the wrong. Don’t argue the semantics of rightness or wrongness. Forget that nonsense. It’s not a battle of right and wrong. Its an issue of manners and respect. Treat your partner as an equal, not an inferior. Shadow is my equal. I never, ever forget that. And as my equal, I do my best to work through feelings and emotions in ways that I expect she would do for me.
I offered an apology to Crow for my inability to do things the right way. I never received an acknowledgment of that apology. But Gods work differently than humans do. What we may perceive as offense behavior might be simple, everyday behavior to Them, and vice versa. Still, I felt the need and desire to apologize, so I did.
Look folks, there’s a time to be stubborn about things when you are in a relationship. There is also a time to acknowledge when you make mistakes. The relationship Shadow and I have is a paramount priority in my life…for somewhere around fourteen years of our lives to this point. I will do anything to make sure things are right, especially when I do the wrong thing. Crow and I don’t have nearly as much time in our relationship. However, it’s still important to me. If it wasn’t, I would not feed time and energy into it, I would merely walk away. Check your priorities against your word. See if they match. If they do, awesome sauce! But if they don’t – and the relationship in question is supposed to be a high priority of importance…change what you’re doing to match what you’re saying. Trust me, every ounce of energy you put into the process is worth it. There will be tears. There may even be some anger. But you need to face all of that to start making the change you need to. I’m extremely happy that I made that effort.
NOTE: Much thanks to Shadow for her editing on all of this. Not just in the small, basic typos that I make, the capitalization mistakes that make my writing suffer, but for all the love and patience she provides me. I truly would be lost without her.
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
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.
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?
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.”
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.
Morning, well at least that is what it is here, as I type this blog post out. Somewhere along the line here in Tejas, the weather has decided to take a turn for Fall. Though the leaves have not seemed to have gotten the note just yet. Still green in color and still clinging tightly to the branches. Still the weather is nice and conducive to some longer walks through the neighborhood, if the rains from the tropical depression down south would just hold off for a while.
The onset of Fall is still a reminder that Samhain is right around the corner. This is not a time of year that I get terribly excited about. Trick or treating is a wonderful tradition for younger kids and in the past I have enjoyed giving candy out to the kids. However, in the time of COVID, I am a touch more concerned about doing so. Even the idea of leaving little “gift packs” of candy at the front door has me a bit worried about the spread of COVID to kids – and to some degree, me. So I am beginning to think that this tradition is probably off-the-table, at least for this year. As would attending most Samhain functions. With the pre-existing conditions that I have, I always have to make super cautious decisions based on being out in public.
All of this leads into a recent question I got in Facebook Messenger.
What do you do for Samhain?
As one whose Spiritual Path is done mostly solo, the snide answer is “not much.” But this is mostly a self-defense type of answer designed to stop the questioning. I am not sure I want to completely come off as Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson is Dennis the Menace’s curmudgeonly neighbor, if you are trying to grasp the reference. Some of you younger folks might still not get it…google it, if you need to. ::smile:: Anyways, tossing a snide retort is not really answering the question, so let’s unpack a bit more. After all, I get tired of all these Spiritual travel bags….
For me, Samhain occupies two particular points on the Wheel of the Year. I know, I know – there’s more to Samhain than just two points, but this is where it falls in my own Spiritual Path. My approach would probably be considered a statistical outlier, if we were mapping this on a graph of relevancy. However, this is where I am. Samhain is the point where the Wheel of the Year ends and begins. The Old Year falls away and the New Year begins anew. The second point is that this is the time frame on the Wheel of the Year where the veil between this world and those beyond is at its thinnest. For me, this means a time where I can work with the darker, deeper aspects of my Spiritual Path without a heavy effort.
The simpler of these two points is the ending of one year and the beginning of a new one. Think along the lines of December 31st/January 1st on the Gregorian calendar. At that point in time this year, we will say goodbye to a horrible 2020 year and hello to a hopefully better 2021 year. For me, the end of the old year and the beginning of a new cycle on the revolution of the Wheel is much the same. Except that I don’t toast the end of one and the beginning of the other with alcoholic drinks and a massive party. For me, its a much quieter moment. On the first night of the full moon, I stay up through midnight and spend my time in study and meditation. For me, this is the way that I wish to end my old year. Around midnight, I change over to doing journal work. I write about the previous year that has just ended. I try to recall everything of major significance that I can and record my thoughts at that time. I also pull out my previous year’s list of goals and desires so that I can see where I managed to stay on expectations and where I came up a little short (or a lot depending on what happened). My desire is to step into my new year with my mind recalling the old year in detail. Once finished, I go to sleep. When I wake, I spend my day plotting out goals. Short-term goals, long-term goals – I try to get a focus on where I hope to be by the end of the next turning of the Wheel.
And that’s it. See? I told you that I am likely the outlier where all this is considered. Wha? Oh. Yeah. There is a bit more. I’d kind of hoped you might have forgotten. However I did type it back up there, didn’t I?
Diving Deeper and Darker
Starting around the mid-point of October and carrying over into the mid-point of November, I start doing some deeper – and sometimes darker – Spiritual work. I do my best to work with the Spirits of my Ancestors. This is not easy work for me. In my family, I am considered to be the ultimate outsider. Most, if not all of my family (Ancestors included) do not share in my beliefs. Working with Ancestors who glaringly disapprove of your Spiritual Path is not the easiest Path to walk. I try my best. I honor those who have crossed the Veil before me in the best manner that I can. However, aside from working with my Ancestors (arguably, the weakest link within my Druidry), I also take a walk down much darker Paths. On these Paths, I work with some of the emotions that I tend to push back – sorrow, anger, rage, jealousy and even hate.
These strong – and arguably – negative emotions are my truest Achilles heal. Back when I was a much younger man, I was ruled completely by my emotions. Those who knew me when I was younger know quite well how easy it was for me to reach for and grab a handful of the mane of Anger. Having learned that burning the lands you stand on will leave you in a very barren place where it takes even more time to nurture and regrow friendships, I have learned to push the strongest of emotions deep down inside of me. This does not mean that I do not get angry. I do. I just try and do my best to contain that anger the best that I can. An individual cannot contain all of that within themselves. I tend to refer to this as working the darker Path of myself because I am grasping very tightly a set of emotions that I tend to suppress within myself. In a sense of description, I am embracing my darker Self – the one that is wrought completely with the emotions that I desire not to work with immediately.
One thing that I have learned over the many years I have been a Pagan, is that the Earth is more than capable of taking these negative energies that I have and turning them to Her own need. From mid-October to mid-November, I spend a lot of time working on my earth-grounding exercises. Except that these are not exercises, its a necessary moment in time for me. And I choose this time of the year for a specific reason. By removing these energies from myself, allowing myself to completely feel all of these emotions before I bury them into the ground, I am completely a rite of dying and re-birth for myself. I lose the energies that have been building up inside me, I work through the issues that created all of this and I arise at the other side of the turning of the Wheel with a new personal perspective.
Yeah, I see the doubt on your face. But I will be honest with you, I’m ok with anyone that doubts this entire process. Everyone approaches the world around them in a different manner. We all find our own ways of making it through the everyday shit that Life tends to bring in front of us. All I am doing here is sharing what it is that I do. There is no mandate that YOU HAVE TO do this as well. Even if you were my student, I wouldn’t lay this down as something you need to do. You’re an individual, just as I am. We might walk the exact same Path, but we still walk as individuals. Condemning you for not doing as I do means that I have no respect for what you believe or practice (or not). I share, not in the hopes that others will do exactly as I do, but that others will find ways, rituals, Paths and what-not that work for them. I only present what I do as a potential starting point for others. If all of this sparks a desire or an intent in you to find a Spiritual Path for yourself (if you don’t have one), or a new method of how to approach your Spiritual path (if you do have one), that’s all I have ever intended.
There is a road, no simple highway Between the dawn and the dark of night And if you go no one may follow That path is for your steps alone
Usually, I save the ‘Thinking About” posts for Thursdays, but that has not really worked out the last few times. So, I sit here in a darkened office, with music playing in the background on a borderline Saturday night/Sunday morning with my mind trying to take in what is essentially some stolen time. Time to take in the last few days and juxtapose that against some of the other times I recall in my life.
At this point, it has been a little more than twenty four hours since the news of Justice Ginsberg’s passing reached my ears and eyes. Her death has not really been a shock to me. At eighty-seven years of age with failing health issues, the length of her time on this side of the veil was quite apparent to be short. Her passing means that another Supreme Court seat is now to be filled. Ironically, it comes with even shorter time than it did for the end of President Obama’s second term, a Senate hearing for the position that was held up by Senate Republicans claiming that it should be filled by the people’s choice for the Presidency. Now, the seat on the Supreme Court needs to be filled immediately, according to those same Senate Republicans. Hypocrisy at its finest. Capitol Hill politics as usual (remember, we were supposed to have the swamp drained from such political antics by the Blowhard-in-Chief when he took office four years ago?). For me, someone who has watched the Capitol Hill scene since the early years of the Reagan Administration, all of this is nothing new to me. For many of the younger folks out there, its a moment of sheer outrage. How can these politicians not do what they were elected for? For a lot of others, Justice Ginsberg’s death feels like a death knell in their lives. Without Ginsberg to provide the moral compass for the Supreme Court, all is certainly lost.
Mid-March of 1994. I had arrived at the airport in Shreveport, Louisiana the night before. My flight schedule had been an early afternoon non-stop flight from Frankfurt, Germany to a late-night arrival at Dallas-Fort Worth International airport. All I was carrying with me was a backpack and a jacket. My suitcase was in the belly of the plane. Both that suitcase and myself had to run a race of time across two terminals to reach the flight from Dallas to Shreveport. Otherwise, I would be waiting another eight-plus hours for the 6am flight the next day. Honestly, if I had missed the flight – it would have been faster to rent a car and drive the distance. I would have arrived two hours before that flight left Dallas. But apparently we both made it to the flight – moments before they closed the doors.
The morning after the marathon flight, I borrowed my father’s F100 1975 Pickup truck and drive along Interstate-20. I crossed over the Red River and arrived at the back gate to Barksdale Air Force Base. My instructions were to go through the front gate to the base, but if I had done that I would have needed to register the vehicle at the gate for what was a 150-yard walk from the back gate. I parked in the parking lot just outside the gate and gathered myself for the walk. I was wearing my Class-A Blue Uniform, with a dark-blue tie, and all my ribbons displayed. My correct rank of Airman First Class, which I had been stripped down to just two weeks ago, was correctly sewn on my uniform. I had a copy of my duty transfer paperwork, which released me from my squadron at Sembach Air Base to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO) here at Barksdale. This was the last transfer of duty station in my eight years with the Air Force.
I was being released from my six-year commitment that I had made four years ago at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. A base that had been erased from history just seven months prior by the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission appointed by President George W. Bush. The base’s problem was it was expensive to maintain. My problem was that I missed a mandatory formation. I overslept. That was enough to remove me from my position in the military. It was enough to reduce me in rank from an E-4 Sergeant to an E-3 Airman First-Class. The Air Force made the decision to separate me from their ranks. After eight years of not completely fitting into what they wanted as a model Non-Commissioned Officer and member of the Air Force, I completely agreed. Our compatibility just wasn’t there and we both knew it.
The entire ordeal took approximately thirty-five minutes to complete from the time I walked into the building to the time I was back on the sidewalk with my discharge paperwork in hand. Despite the fact that I was technically a civilian, I still provided a hand salute to the Captain I passed on the sidewalk, as well as a “Good morning, ma’am,” along with a smile. I made it to my father’s truck and drove back to his house on the west side of Shreveport. That evening, he started the conversation that I did not know how to finish: “So what are you going to do now?”
I had not really thought about this. The Air Force had sent me to a class on how to write my military experience into a resume. Most of my skill sets did not translate well into Corporate America. Most military positions don’t. Not every Corporation out there has need for a Command-and-Control Communications Systems Specialist. Most of the equipment that I knew and was essentially an expert on were well over a decade or more in the world of obsolescence. Plus no one in the Computer Communications needed a systems operator or technician that was trained in the usage of small arms, rifles and combat techniques. What in the world was I going to do?
One thing the military did teach me well was how to adapt to situations. I needed about another three weeks to sit down and assess where the technology world was and contrast that with where I was in terms of skills. I needed education. I knew how to deal with processes, how to learn new technologies on the fly, but I lacked the modern language to discuss those aspects of myself. With the help of my parents, I enrolled at Bossier Parish Community College and started to learn. I listened to how the professors talked. I talked with other students who were already employed in the computer fields. I learned the vernacular. I learned the technology. Two years later, I found myself employed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and my career in Information Technology started its step-by-step process to where I am today.
Justice Ginsberg is gone. Her legacy remains. All the work she has done in her life to bring equality for women is well detailed. I certainly understand that it feels like the paved road just ended and you may feel like you are back on the dirt road. However, her passing is not the end of the struggle to gain equality for all. Her legacy is the foundation from which we build FURTHER. The end of my military career had that same distinct feeling of the end. I had envisioned a twenty to twenty-five year career with the military. That road wound up only being eight years long. I was twenty years old when I enlisted. I was twenty-seven when I was ejected from that world. I used the experience that I got from that short time to build into a new career. And with the loss of each successive job after that, with the transition from one part of the Information technology world to the next, I built the experience and career that I have now. All of that wasn’t pretty. Some of it was downright scary. Very little of it was precisely what I had intended for it to be. However, I found ways of making it work. This movement that we currently have going – the desire for equality throughout human-kind regardless of color, race, creed, gender (or non-gender), hair color, eye color, height, weight – whatever else we can dream up as a difference between all of us….it continues on without Justice Ginsberg among the ranks. But we continue to build, we continue to grow…using her work, her energy, her drive as the continued foundation. And we use the same from so many other people as well, some not even known to any large contingent of folks, we continue to build on that foundation to make a world equal for all.
One thing I have learned throughout my life, there is always another way to continue. If there wasn’t another way to continue, I don’t think I would have survived as long as I have. Adaptability is the name of the game. I cannot tell you how many times I have broken rules and laws to keep computer systems working in the short-term so that I can develop a long-term repair to replace the illegal or improper repair that I created to keep things going. Whenever my commanders or supervisors asked me how I fixed something so quickly, I always replied with “Sir, Ma’am – with all due respect, its better that you don’t know.”
So, cry over Justice Ginsberg’s passing. But remember what she stood for – Change, Equality, Justice and the Law. And remember, when you feel you have mourned enough, there is still work to be done. Work that is done for the change for others, seeking equality, demanding justice and following the law. But in all of that, done in the name of love. Love for us all. Justice Ginsberg, I believe, would never have wanted anything less.
To be able to change, we must be able to adapt. To be able to adapt, we have to want to live. If we want to live, we have to want to love. to be able to love, we have to open our hearts to everybody. Those seeds do not perish for a lack of watering or planting. Those seeds die for a lack of empathy for all.
Most of my early youth was spent living in (what was then) West Germany during the 1970s. I saw large portions of the German countryside, thanks to my parents’ desire for the family to participate in what was termed as a “non-competitive fitness walking” – otherwise known as “Volksmarching.” Loosely translated, the word means “People’s walk” and were 5km, 10km and 20km walks throughout a local area. The trails were pre-determined by the local Volksmarch Association that put on the event. For me, as a child, the incentive was the “medal” that was given at the end of the walk. I have around eighty of these medals….somewhere. I cannot recall what each medal was for or what the walk for it looked like, but I do have some strong memories of a few walks through the Black Forest area of Germany.
The dark canopies were sometimes a bit frightening, particularly at times near dusk. I knew about the typical forest denizens to watch for – the hardly ever seen wolves and the more formidable (and far more territorial) wild Boar. However, I also looked into the tightly packed forest and wondered what might be deeper off the well-marked and well-worn Path that we were on. Perhaps, there was an evil Witch living just beyond the sight of normal humans, waiting for the wayward child to wander from the Path? Or maybe a wild pack of Goblins. A wild pack of “das Wichtelmännchen” (literally “Goblins”) making their way through the woods in parallel to those of us on the trail. Just waiting for the group to split into smaller numbers so as to make their attack all the more easy. Ah the wonders of a child’s over-active imagination. And yet….
The reality of living in 1970s Germany was a bit more frightening than some may have thought. My parents rarely spoke of the terrorists there, but there were active anti-American terrorist cells operating in Germany. The operations of the Red Army Faction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang took place during the time I lived in Germany. I do not recall any of this and was only made aware of this type of danger upon my arrival in Germany in the 1990s for my own active-duty military tour.
There is danger everywhere. Even danger that you are not fully aware of, if ever. I lived in a country during a time where service members and their families were considered “legitimate” targets by those opposed to the American forces on stationed on German soil (a conversation for another time). I can recall the numerous times that my friends and I would wander into the fields directly across the street from base housing and wander throughout the wooded area. In one area, there was a cave that had been constructed into the rock of a hill side, where all the dependent children would go to smoke and do things that kids do as a form of rebellion from their parents. We were off of base housing, off of military housing and there were certainly a lot of “shady” Germans that wandered through the area as well. There were no guard shacks barring entry to the base housing area. Certainly, military police patrolled the area frequently, but safeguards here were not the same as those on the actual military installations. Civilian traffic frequently utilized part of base housing as a “shortcut” from one area to another. Thinking it through my head today, we were such easy, exploitable targets for an organization with no ethical core, such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang.
Thinking back, I always wondered at my complete innocence over something so real, while I had that great chill down my spine over the potential existence of das Wichtelmännchen. The real difference was in how I assimilated information and formulated the concept of danger. I am quite sure I saw news stories about the Baader-Meinhof Gang’s exploits on Armed Forces Network (AFN) television. But that was television. At age eight, it was difficult to understand and formulate the concept of danger.
I wonder if, in some ways, much of this type of adjustment to danger can be applied to Pagans that are new on their Path? They meet all these new Pagan folks that are nice to them, welcoming and so loving and helpful. They open their arms in trust and walk right into the arms of the Predators that are prevalent in the community. Yes, there are predators within the Pagan community. Individuals seeking sex, power and even wealth from unsuspecting newbies. We have all heard about these situations before. Either directly from such victims (typically after the fact) or third-hand from others. They step on the Path and come to the large public gatherings. They meet so many other people, including those that promise to divulge the deep, dark secrets of Great, the Amazing Witch of the South. All you need to do is become my students and follow the instructions that I provide to you. Yeah. Thirty-plus years as a Pagan, I’m highly unlike to fall for crap like that. Someone that is thirty-plus days on their own Path, likely sees that Path to get-Witch-quick, a chance to be as powerful, knowledge and wise as those that are thirty years on their Pagan Paths and those newbies leap for it. Right into the jaws of their predators.
Honestly, they didn’t know any better. They are moving along their path and they see Power for what it is – Power. And they think they don’t have it. And they need it. They want it. They want the short-cut, so they don’t have to do the work. Because they still feel the pull of the overly commercialized and power-driven world we live in. They hear the call of the pack of das Wichtelmännchen just beyond the trees. Instead of being frightened by it, instead of being on guard because of it…they are curious and drawn towards it. What they will need is someone that is on the Path that can intervene and tell them that it is best to stay on the well-worn Path for the time being. To learn from others that teach them not for a sexual favor, but for a love of the knowledge and a desire to pass it on to others. Those who teach have an obligation to do so ethically, but to also nurture their students into a love of the knowledge as well. Those that do not teach, should have a desire to protect wherever possible. Between these two points is where I find myself.
What do you think? Not just as an individual to whatever Path, tradition or organization that you find yourself, do you find yourself in a position to teach these new Pagans on how to find and walk their own path? Do you find a desire to help them avoid some of the pitfalls that others can find themselves on? I’m a Druid. I’ll help any individual that needs to find an ethical group or individual to learn from, regardless if its my Path as a Druid or not. I owe it to them to be the helping hand that I needed so badly back on the beginnings of my Path. I owe it to that new Pagan that had such difficult understanding where his own footing was, right in the middle of the Witch Wars of Dallas and then at the initial footsteps of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. I know we all laugh about the newbies and the Rainbow Pagans and the White-Lighters that we all encounter. But those fluffy bunnies are typically new to their respective Paths and in some cases are not sure of where to step without creating offense to others. I’m not really feeling a need to let them run into das Wichtelmännchen on chance…..
About ten days back, I wrote a blog post, I Prefer Individualism Over Gate Keeping, within which I worked through some of the issues I have with the concept of Gate Keeping and why it clashes with my personal default setting of Individualism. Statistically, its the most popular blog post I’ve written this year. However, in discussing this with a few people, I have come to realize that part of it seems to be misunderstood. So I thought it might be a good point to come back and clarify a few points and be a little more clear about what I was intending.
If you are learning from someone else or from some tradition, the lessons that you are taught or typically is what is considered to the basics. You do the best to walk in the manner that they wish to – until you finish the way they want to you or you just can’t finish.
Seemingly, this has been taken to mean that you only learn what you want from some Order or Group or Individual and then you move on when you feel like you’re fulfilled enough to travel in your own direction. Sure, if you want to do things in that manner, that really becomes your business. However, as I have said previously elsewhere, I take my oaths seriously. When I started down my Path within OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), my initiatory perspective was to finish what I was starting. I was, and still am determined to work my way through the three grades. I finished my Bardic grade and am currently working in my Ovate grade. I am determined (and hopefully) that when I finish my Ovate grade, I will be accepted into the Druid grade for the lessons contained therein. Am I after some title? Hardly, my desire is to learn whatever is being offered to me and add all of that to what I do now and into the future. However, there is a moment of Gate Keeping here.
See, there was always the chance that I could have been stopped from going forward from the Bardic to the Ovate grade. There is an aspect of Gate Keeping here. Its not my opinion that matters at this point, its the perspective of others. In fact, if we look at other aspects of Pagan belief systems, we can find all kinds of issues of Gate Keeping that takes place. And like it or not, in those instances, its a necessary thing.
Let’s work from a very specific example – initiatory rites. According to various locations on the internet (various Dictionaries and Wikipedia), an initiation is the action of admitting someone into a secret organization or group, sometimes through the act of a ritual. Most all of us have gone through a form of initiatory rites to be a part of an organization or group that we desired to be a part of. In those initiatory rites, we all faced challenges of some kind. Those challenges were a part of Gate Keeping. You either answered the right way or the wrong way. The right way led you in to become a member of the group or organization. The wrong way led you back to the outside where you were before.
Let’s face some facts here, shall we? Paganism in whatever flavor you can dream up is just not for everyone. And it shouldn’t be. Just as Christianity is not for everyone, as it wasn’t for me. Some aspects of Gate Keeping are necessary to help put some folks on their proper Paths. Or, if you prefer, to help them off the Paths that are not really conducive to their learning. This type of Gate Keeping develops boundaries that are necessary. This is not meant to be the creation of an “exclusive” group of people that are “better” than others. These boundaries are helpful in defining what path individuals are on. For example, the concept of Priesthood. Becoming a Priest is not something everyone will need. Truthfully, Pagans can be defined as their own “Priests” and “Priestesses” as the charge of handling your Spirituality is in your hands. However, Priests, Priestesses and many other roles are also people with specific duties and that is where the boundaries are helpful. Knowing who is who.
To bring another example into all of this, me. I do feel the pull for a formalized role of Priest. However, knowing the roles of a Priest….and being aware of my own limitations at this time…its not something I can fulfill at this time. I have a lot more to learn. I also have a lot of things to “unlearn” as well. In a manner of speaking, I am Gate Keeping myself, if you will allow. I know where my boundaries lay and how these boundaries do not intersect with a defined role as a Priest. I am a Priest unto myself. However, I currently do not intersect with the boundaries laid out for being a formal Priest. One day, I might be ready for that role. In the meantime, I accept where I am and continue to move through Life.
Now, I am referring to some extremely precise points, in terms of Gate Keeping. You just can’t walk up into a group, organization or a tradition and just proclaim you’re part of them. You have to be accepted in, learn their ways and knowledge, and work your way through the organization to become a trusted and respected member. All of that takes time, effort, patience and humility, all preceded by acceptance.
Being a Pagan is a little different. You decide that you are a Pagan, as far as I am concerned – you are just that. Its your self-identity. You want to be a Polytheist, you believe in multiple Gods or in many faces of an Archetypal God and Goddess figure. You are a Polytheist. Your views on Polytheism might be different than my own, but I am hardly the person to tell you that you are or are not one. Your heart is yours. You know it better than I do. I can only go by your words and actions.
I will admit, I detest Gate Keeping, particularly when someone tells me that I am not something that I believe that I am. Just like anyone else, I don’t take too kindly to rudely being told I am wrong. I am; however, open-minded enough to listen. I think that some of the knee jerk reactions to Gate Keeping are likely from the manner in which it is brought up to someone else. However, I am not a Gate Keeper of anything other than what is in my heart and part of my personal existence. And thus, the reason that I prefer Individualism over Gate Keeping. I enjoy getting to know people and placing barriers between us is not likely to allow that to happen. In the end, we will likely discover that we are both different Pagans with opinions that might be in diametrical opposition to one another. However, in my mind, you’re still a Pagan. You’re still a Polytheist (or not if you said you weren’t). Most importantly to me, you’re still you. And Gate Keeping is still a necessary function to help place some defining boundaries in the world around us. But I am still not going to tell you how to walk your own individual Path or how you should approach the Gods (or if you even should). Gate Keeping or not, we all have to walk our Paths individually. “That Path is for your steps alone…”
Hopefully, all of that helps clear up some of the misty version I seemed to have written earlier.
The question stung enough to hurt, but it also let me offer up a glimpse into things that I see and rarely talk about. My response:
Yes. Yes, I am scared. Scared of a future where healing doesn’t take place. Scared of a future that continues deeper down a dark trail humanity seems to already be on. Sure, admitting that I am scared of what a future may bring can seem like a cowardly perspective to some. To me, its a position of reality. It doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t change what I am willing to be in service to my Gods and to my fellow humans. But I am scared…not just for me, my family, my friends…but for everyone. Take that however you want to.
Many folks that I talk with are citing the election as the point they are focused on. If America elects Donald Trump, the country goes to shit. If America votes him out, the country is immediately better. I stopped looking at that point some time ago. I’m now looking beyond and seeing a huge chasm between folks here in the United States. In fact, I’m seeing that chasm stretch beyond the United States and out into the world beyond. Here in America, we are deeply divided by our values. Our governmental system was founded on the idea of compromise and common ground. Now, common ground has been eroded away from the advanced widening and depth between two polar opposites. Compromise is seen as a sign of utter capitulation and weakness. When I look beyond the election, I seriously wonder how two sides with a “my way or the highway” mentality will ever reach a point of compromise, much less the necessary point of healing that desperately needs to take place. If the Republicans win, I only see the divide deepening. Should the Democrats win, I cannot fathom the Republicans stepping up to work with the Democrats. I have no idea how things change for the better.
As I started writing this, I was playing Joe Satriani on shuffle, and his song “I Believe” came on. if you would like to hear the song, just follow this YouTube link. The lyrics struck a deep, resonating chord in me, so let me juxtapose my thoughts against the song.
I’ve been out walking, for hours I got something on my mind How did we get here? Where are we going? Why is life so hard
I admit, walking is one of the things I do when I really need to think. I might even be able to walk from here to Houston with all that is on my mind. (Note: that is a distance of some 208 miles, which Google maps thinks would take me about 68 hours to do. In reality, as slow as my aging carcass goes, it would probably be closer to 80 hours) But the song asks the pertinent questions,. How did we get here? Where are we going? For the first question, there are a lot of factors, issues and moments in History that got us to this point. For me; however, the more pressing question is the second. Just where are we going? To be honest, I don’t really know. I see a dark, dark time coming here in America on November 5th. There is a strong likelihood that we will not know who won the election, an even stronger likelihood that the election will be strongly contested in various states by both candidates, and with all of that, violent unrest among the followers of the candidates. That violent part is not speculation on my part; there has already been violence between anti-Trump folks and Trump supporters leading into this election.
I read the stories, see the photographs World’s a crazy space Got to hold on to my dreams There’s just no other place There’s just no other place
I have tried my very best not to get caught up in all the craziness of the election cycle and the various things that the President says or claims. He enjoys a chaotic atmosphere around him, as it lets him obfuscate actions that would not be tolerated by others. Think of the axiom: “Watch the right hand, so you don’t notice what the left hand is doing.” I try my very best to remain on that island of common ground, which is slowly eroding away like a shallow sandbar under the pressures of a hurricane coming ashore. To keep myself sane, I focus on my dreams…my dreams for the future. My dreams…my goals of what I want to accomplish (and I still have a lot to accomplish). My dreams….and all that I need to do to crawl, claw, and fight my way to what I feel is right. Sometimes even that is not enough and I have to stop what I am doing. Stop to try and catch my breath in the whirling dervish of Trump’s news cycle. Stop to ground myself against all of that chaos and remind myself of where I am trying to go. And hope that everyone else can do the same.
I’ve seen the shadows, of the living I’ve seen them turn and walk away And I keep searching, for the right words To send these thoughts away
There’s a picture, I like to look at A picture of a beautiful face And I see something, in her eyes Sends me to a better place Sends me to a better place
I am frightened. Frightened of what the future holds. Not just for me, my family, my friends or the tribe that I hold dear. I’m frightened for everybody. Not just those who oppose President Trump but even for those who support him. Weird, huh? That I would fear for the very people that are opposed to my lifestyle and the lifestyles of the people that I love and care about. I should hate them, shouldn’t I? I should shun them, shouldn’t I? I should treat them as being beneath my contempt for them, right? Except that I can’t.
My Druidry teaches me that we are all here together. Our survival on this planet means that all of us need to be included in getting to a point of survival. Even those who don’t believe in the dangers of climate change. Even those who would bring us back to an oppressive Christian church, albeit that it would be an Evangelical Christian church position rather than that of the Catholic faith, previously. My Druidry teaches that Peace and Justice is for everyone and everything, not just a select few. And because of that, I look forward beyond Election Day here in the United States, and I do not see a future for Peace or Justice because I see no room for needed and necessary Healing. The Election is not going to change the fact that we are still struggling against a monolithic justice system that is systemically leaned against African Americans, Hispanics, First Nations peoples…essentially anyone that is not European, white descendant. We are still struggling against a government that rescinds treaties long ago agreed upon with the First Nations peoples because there are “necessary” resources on those lands that were ceded to them. Lands that should never have belonged to anyone because the land should be free. Make no mistake about it folks, the fights for freedom haven’t even really begun just yet. We are only wiping the sleep out of our eyes and climbing out of the bed at this moment.
I believe, we can change anything I believe, we can rise above it I believe, there’s a reason for everything I believe, in my dream I believe, we can change anything I believe, in my dream
Yes, I am frightened of the future. I am frightened because I cannot see a good step going forward. Regardless of who gets elected, this nation has to figure out a way to heal this deep divide. A divide that goes way back into our collective histories. Not a few years, but a lot of years. A whole lot of years. An election is not going to heal this divide. An election is not going to change the way things stand in this nation, or even around the world.
There is a battle raging between fundamentalist perspective and the desire to change and grow. Seemingly, we have absolutely forgotten something – to borrow from Damh the Bard: “We are standing on the shoulders of Giants.” On both sides. They struggled for the changes they provided for us. For the foundations that we work from. There will be change coming. Make no mistake about that. Of that I am sure. I am just unsure of the shape it will take.
My Spirituality will get me through all of that which is to come. No matter how dark the road gets. No matter who wins the election. My Spirituality does not change. My faith in the Gods and Goddesses does not waver. My oaths to my Gods will not alter. My responsibility to others will not change. I am steadfast in all of that. But I am still frightened by what I see coming. Frightened for all of us.
By the way, the song mentioned that “I believe in my dream.” I do. With all my heart and soul. I believe in a world where all of our differences can be accepted as just that – differences. Not an item of contempt, but a point of celebration. That we are not all the same. That we are individuals with our own convictions, dreams and goals, living on this planet together as equals. How do we get there? By believing in that dream and acting on it, one at a time. Kristoffer Hughes once stated in a presentation of his that we all get our own Pagan Square mile. And that Pagan Square mile would be connected on all sides (think 3-d modeling here) by other people’s square miles. That we could find harmony living next to one other by respecting each other’s individuality. Its an idea I truly believe in. And as Kristoffer was also prone to say the idea can be passed on as a Druid Transmitted Infection, a DTI. Gods, I certainly hope and pray that it can be done, with a little love, care, understanding and patience. I certainly hope so.
My oaths, by the way, don’t change. My position is still meant to be there to help anyone on their own chosen Path – even if its not mine. That’s what my role apparently is to be. Through the blog, through whatever interactions we might have. You need help, ask. If I din’t have the answers or I don’t know exactly what to do, I know plenty of other people I can either bring you to or find answers from. Remember, as a wider Pagan community, I would hope we all desire to help others in need. Even when they are diametrically opposed to our values and lifestyle. Its about being human. #TwoQuid
I remember walking into the Military Entrance Processing Station in Shreveport, Louisiana on a cold February morning. Two weeks prior, I had finished a period of questions with my Air Force recruiter, signed my four-year contract and been given a photo-copied map of how to get here. I was the literal description of being the wide-eyed novice. I literally had no idea what I was doing or what was going to happen. My hearing was tested. My balance was tested. My eye-sight was tested. My teeth were checked. I was given a complete physical. Three weeks later, I was on a plane bound for San Antonio, Texas where I would enter the Air Force’s Basic Military Training, where my world was turned upside down. I had absolutely no idea what the future would hold. All I knew was that everything I remembered from high school was gone.
Earlier this morning, I sat here in my little office and listened to the rain beating again the window. Yesterday at this time, the outside temperature was right around 80 degrees and forecast to climb into the lower 90s before a strong cold front would come through. The rain I was listening to would be the last bits of rain, as the temperature changed to where it is now: the high fifties. Winter is beginning its call and Fall is being trumpeted forward. How fast it moves…well that’s another question, but when it does, Summer will have gone. I will be looking into a future that is unsure and thinking of all that has happened for the Spring and Summer of 2020.
This morning, that feeling of uncertainty sinks its roots deeper and deeper into my thoughts. Back in 1986, when I walked into that MEPS location, I was promising four years of my life to the military. Promising to be governed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and not the United States Constitution. Ironically, a document that I would be swearing to protect. And oddly enough an oath I still hold to this day, nearly forty years later. Oaths. A definite certainty that cannot be erased as easily as a blink of an eye erases the moment in time that you just experienced. I’ll come back to that in a bit.
When I joined the United States Air Force, tensions between the United States and the, then, Soviet Union were extremely high. The so-called “Doomsday Clock” had the world center at two minutes to midnight. Should the clock reach midnight, the world would be at nuclear war. Nuclear holocaust was at the back of nearly everyone’s mind. For me, it was very much at the forefront of my thinking. At that time, nuclear warfare doctrine held that only the United States Air Force (bombers and ground-hardened missile silos) and the United States Navy (submarine-based missiles) held the keys to launch nuclear weapons. I have been out of the military long enough that I am not completely sure this is the case any longer. However, I was joining a branch of military service that had the capability to wage the deadliest form of war on the face of the earth. Nuclear annihilation. I was nervous. I was scared. Much of the popular music of the time had a nuclear war theme to it, but none had a greater effect on me than Gary Moore’s “Victims of the Future” and Sting’s “Do the Russians Love Their Children Too?” Music has always had a major influence in my life. I always wondered, if peace could be found to a point where nuclear weapons would not be used — could we ever be friends with the Soviet Union?
In the United States, we sit on the precipice of an upcoming election. Another Presidential election where the choices are not ideal in the least. But forget about the Presidential election and the two party system’s candidates for a moment. The country has been literally torn in two over these two candidates and the ideologies that each “supports” as the chosen candidate for their party. The issues are acrimonious to the point of ripping friendships and families asunder, done in the name of patriotism and fidelity to the Constitution and claimed in equal parts by both sides. The lines of definition run deep and wide between the two sides creating chasms of difference that a single election is not going to heal. There are times I wonder, how can this country ever be pulled together again? How are we going to heal these deep wounds that fester, much less the ones that are going to be caused by whichever candidate wins the election? Much like that moment that I wondered how the United States and the Soviet Union could ever get along peaceable, I wonder the same thing about Democrats and Republicans here in the United States.
I spent eight years on Active Duty service in the Air Force. I spent time in a combat zone. I know what it means to wage war. But I also know what the objective of the military is for – to keep the peace. Some may not think so, but most military members that I know – both current and prior-service – prefer peace to war. What keeps the peace, for the most part, are the armies and the weapons of terrible destruction that stand in the position of promise, should their use be necessary. This doesn’t account for the various proxy wars that the United States and the Soviet Union have fought over the decades. However, it is the promise of the use of these terrible weapons that stands in the background, like a darkly shadowed Grim Reaper.
I see that same shadowed Grim Reaper standing in the alleyways and darkened recesses of nearby towering buildings, as protesters and law enforcement clash on the streets. Protesters wanting the laws to be equal and enforced. Law enforcement continuing to apply the law through tear gas and batons to those who disagree with their application of those laws. And I return to my thoughts, could these two sides ever comes to a delicate balance of peace? Could these two sides ever come to a point where they could pass one another on the street in calmer times and peacefully greet one another?
I recall mid-1987, my first full summer on a Strategic Air Command base – Carswell Air Force Base in Forth Worth, Texas. Home to two squadrons of B-52 strategic bombers and a full nuclear arsenal to load on to those planes. A mission to strike deep in Soviet territory in the event of war. And the summer where I finally decided to follow my Path of Paganism. From those early days, I was always drawn towards the idea that middle ground could always be found, no matter the issue at hand. How Libra of me…considering that I was born smack in the middle of that sign. Even then, I kept trying to find the role of the peace-maker. It would take another two years for me to reconcile my Pagan beliefs with my role within the military.
I joke that I was never born to the concept of being a soldier. To this day, I don’t own a gun. I have no desire to have one; though I am quite capable of handling one. I prefer my staff, though I do lean on it more for walking these days instead of a manner of self protection. I am still quite capable of defending myself or others, should the need arise. My Druidry has taught me the value of observing before wading in. Sometimes, events are not as they seem the moment one walks up on them. So, with the protests, I watch. I support the need for change to police tactics when dealing with individuals. I also support the need to remove much of the military entrenchment that has become common-place in the police department. I live in small-town Texas; yet the nearest small city – Cleburne – possesses a military assault vehicle. Quite a shocking thing to see, which is precisely what it is meant for – shock tactics. But throughout all of that, I do support the police. I just feel that there needs to be necessary adjustment and changes. That balance that I walk, sometimes feel like I am walking barefoot on the sharp edge of a razor blade.
So, what drives me in these times of wide division? Where sides seem to be split into one side or the other with the simple statement: “if you are not with us, you are against us.” What keeps me focused and sane? My oaths. Just prior to my twenty-first birthday, I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against aggressors foreign and domestic. Now, approaching the age of fifty-five, some twenty-six years since departing that military organization – I still hold that oath sacred. In 2015, I initiated as a Bard in the order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD). My initiation then set me on a Path of seeking peace and justice wherever I could find it. I also have an oath with Crow to do the work set forth for me. These three oaths comprise how I approach the world and events around me.
Where I currently live, directly across the street from me is an individual who has a Trump/Pence sign in his yard. He and his family just moved in two weekends ago. When he was outside this past weekend, we greeted one another from across the street. We were cordial and friendly to one another. I am not voting for Trump in the coming election. I believe Trump to be the number one threat to the Constitution of the United States. Why would I treat this man that supports him in a cordial manner? Because my oaths remind me that when all of this election stuff is over, we are still fighting COVID-19. When all of this election stuff is over, we need to sit down and have a super serious discussion on how to reform the police departments around this nation and find a way to set things into a more proper function. When all of this election stuff is over, Black Lives still matter and there is much work to be started, much less done. When all of this election stuff is over, we are all still Americans, a chosen community of geography and ideology. In the movie Gladiator, after Maximus has died on the sands of the Colosseum floor, Lucilla makes the statement:
Is Rome worth one good man’s life? We believed it once, make us believe it again. He was a soldier of Rome. Honor him.
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Atatiana Jefferson. Aura Rosser. Stephon Clark. Botham Jean. Philando Castille. Alton Sterling. Those listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. Those for whom the World War II memorial was created for. Those who lost their lives in Europe and are interred at Oise-Aisne. The countless others who lost their lives, unjustly, at the hands of police officers. And the countless number of police officers who lost their lives trying to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. The 190,000+ who have died due to the lackluster efforts of this current administration, and despite the courageous efforts of those health workers on the front line.
Is America worth those lives and the countless others that I could not recall to add to the list? I think so. My oaths drive me towards that conviction. My oaths remind me, when everything is finished, when the dust settles….we are still bound to each other. Yes, here in America, but also throughout the world. We exist together. That’s why my feet and my staff are firmly planted on common ground. Because we have to start somewhere.
Today’s blog post is in response to a statement posed by a friend on Facebook.
We pagans find it easier to agree on what we are NOT than what we are.
This one is going to be a tough one. Essentially, looking underneath the statement to find the underlying anchor stones, I get left with really wide-open questions. “What is Paganism?” “Why can Pagans not agree on a set of defining principles that bring a solid foundational aspect to what makes a Pagan?” All I can hope is that this post does more than muddy the waters. I do; however, love to play in the waters of the creek. 🙂
To a point, I am reminded of a moment in the tv show Babylon 5, where G’kar is trying to enlighten his fellow Narn as to the truths that he has found in his many moments of solitude. Moments that have changed him from the angry, raging warrior that he was in the earlier seasons to a seeker of self enlightenment that has curbed that anger and provided a much stronger, wiser, and far more peaceable character in the latter part of the show. I will link to the video of that segment below on YouTube. Try not to get thrown by the costuming too much and listen to what G’kar says. In the meantime, I’ll go make a cup of coffee.
I know it seems that I am making fun of the question, but really its not. This particular segment from the tv show has something that I believe is a quite often on display when trying to describe one’s beliefs to others – a lack of compatible wording or even a lack of compatible concepts. The theorem follows that if you ask ten Pagans to describe what Paganism is, you will get eleven different answers. That is just from those that are creating the message. More confuse will arise from those receiving the message. The term “Priest,” for example, means something vastly different to a Christian. Add more than one type of Christian, and the number of meanings gets even larger. The more people you add to the conversation, the more the meanings of words begin to change. The more meanings change, the more misunderstanding that arises from the conversation. So, how to describe a Pagan? How do we synthesize the many different beliefs and concepts of the very wide and vast collection of faiths and belief systems that are ascribed under the so-called “Big Tent of Paganism?” Perhaps, we don’t.
See, Christians have this easier (maybe). They have a holy writ, the Bible, from which their beliefs spring from. The idea of being a Christian is to follow the teaching of Jesus ben Joseph, otherwise known as Jesus Christ. The basic concept is that in following these teachings that, as a follower, you become more like Christ. Yet, even with the anchor stone of the Bible, Christians cannot agree who among that designation is or is not part of that group. Back when I worked in the college, one summer afternoon, I had lengthy discussion with someone I would describe as an evangelic Christian over the Christian nature of the Catholic faith. I pointed back to the anchor stone of the Bible as evidence of the Christian aspect of the Catholic faith. He pointed to the way the Catholic Church does not follow the teachings of Jesus ben Joseph as an example of how these followers were not Christians. All according to how he interpreted the Bible to be read. Yet both are part of the wider range of Christianity, depending on whose interpretation you follow.
So, in light of that difference within a faith, how do we define Paganism? Who gets to be in the “Big Tent” and who doesn’t? Because this is going to help determine the definitive lines that need to be drawn in the sand to identify what is a Pagan and what is not. Right? If you believe (x), you get to be in.
There was a Facebook page surrounding a post from Patheos which slowly devolved into what seemingly is an online pushing match on the playground of Paganism. The pushing match was a result of soft polytheists feeling that hard polytheists were creating the definitions of how the Gods can or cannot be approached or worked with. The Patheos post is here. Give it a read, if you like. Personally, I thought the article (opinion piece, if you prefer) was quite well written. Yes, it is written from a hard polytheism point of view. It also approaches matters from a theological stand point, which I have no desire to go into. I’m not a Theologian. I don’t even play one on tv. I certainly did not perceive the post as trying to create holy writ or even telling soft polytheists that they are completely wrong. However, in a Facebook thread (I do not have permission to link you there) it was taken that way by a lot of soft polytheists. Now, I bring up this thread to not only round out the entire pushing match, but to also provide an example of what I am not in favor of doing: creating lines in the sand of what is or is not Paganism.
So, 870+ words into all of this and I have danced and wiggled (don’t visualize) around the entire concept of defining Paganism. What defining construct do we have that makes us all Pagans? Off the top of my head, we all have an innate love of our Natural world. But then, this makes me believe that we might need to determine what is and what is not the “Natural World.” Technology is a part of our world. Just as the concrete and glass buildings we have created to reach into the clouds are also a part of our world. Perhaps an easier thought would be that we all try and to find a balance between the wild aspect of our environments and the parts that we have “tamed” to provide easier living conditions for us, the human beings of this planet. Some Pagans reach for magick within their everyday existence. Some, such as myself, don’t. That makes us different, but surely despite the difference – we can agree on the existence of magick in many ways and formats, some which we cannot explain readily to others because of a lack of corner stones from where to attach commonality for proper discourse. Perhaps, Paganism is merely the wide-ranging umbrella term that we believe it to be. A term that describes individuals that live a life not bound by a holy writ, such as the Bible or the Koran or whatever set of rules and documents created long ago. Perhaps Pagans are those people who live their lives not bound to such rules. Pagans reach out and connect with their environment openly and find the Paths that are most suitable to each individual.
We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds In the name of destiny and in the name of God
And you can see them there on Sunday morning Stand up and sing about what it’s like up there They called it paradise, I don’t know why You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye
The Eagles, “The Last Resort”
Perhaps, a more on-point perspective might be this. Christians live their lives here on Earth, looking for a better life beyond. Life here is disposable. Their desire is the life beyond this one. Pagans, on the other hand, live in there here and now. We find ways to be the caretakers of this planet because we want to be alive today and leave a livable environment for generations to come. We are not looking for a more glorious place in the After Life. But then again, this is coming back to describing what we are not, rather than what we are.
A better solution might be to jettison all the Christian comparisons and develop our anchor stones a little better. Pagans are those who live their lives connected to the world around them and in some cases to the worlds beyond. Pagans found comfort and wisdom in the environment and try their best to blend the wild aspects of the world with the environments that have been created to keep us more comfortable. As for the everlasting battle between the hard and soft polytheists – and including those that don’t fall into either camp – everyone experiences the Gods (or God and Goddess or the Unknown) differently. We are all individuals, not clones. Our experiences are different, even if we name the resulting part differently.
Now, if all this makes sense to you, come and explain it to me, ok? No, I’m kidding. What I will tell you is this – all of this is my opinion. Its not holy writ of any kind. I am one thousand percent confident that there will be folks that disagree with me. Yes, even Pagan ones. Because if every single Pagan in this world agreed with me, I would need to find another planet to live on. That would frighten me beyond belief.
So what is a Pagan? And can we make it a definition that draws lines to absolutely define what a Pagan is? Well, you’ve got one opinion here. If we work at it, we can find nine other Pagans to voice their opinion too. We might be able to break the record and get fifteen different opinions. 🙂 All I know is that if you define yourself as a Pagan, take it super serious and constantly continue on the life-long exploration to find what works for you and what doesn’t…you’re a Pagan in my book, for whatever that’s worth. I’m not entirely sure I have answered any question with all of this. However, I do hope all of this has provided some food for thought – even if the conversation is just between you and yourself.
I am a Pagan. I am a Druid. I am a Polytheist. I believe the Gods are real. I believe They are all separate, unique entities that can be experienced in a variety of ways. I know there are other Pagans that believe similar to me. Just as I know there are other Pagans that do not believe as I do. There are those that find all of that discomforting. I don’t. I take great comfort in understanding that the Gods are experienced differently by everyone. Why would I take comfort in that thought? Because it means we are all individual, unique human beings. It means we have the Free Will to expand our understanding of Those Beyond our understanding in a manner that speaks to each of us. It means we are not cut from the same mold, that we are as unique as I believe that the Gods are. And the best part of all of that? Not a single soul has to agree with me at all.
I follow the Paths of Paganism, Druidry and Polytheism to create my own experiences and understandings of what is beyond. To experience, relate with, and create from my own perspective – without judgment. I am not here creating dogma that is to be applied to the whole world. I am here trying to understand what I feel, what I experience, what I know to be a part of my reality. I’m not here to tell a single soul what is their own reality, what is their perception or how to define their experiences.
Every so often, a manner of discourse crops up with various folks in the Pagan Internet-Sphere (or Cloud or whatever you want to call the boundless and ever changing internet community we are all part of here). The argument tends to fall around the concept of gate keeping or perceived gate keeping. “You can’t be a follower of this God or Goddess because you don’t experience [x] or have studied [y] or done [z] research.” “You can’t be a Witch because of [a].” I grok the exclusive nature of such statements. Everyone wants to have a defined view of what [q] belief is really about. if you can’t reach those check boxes, than you can’t be [i]. The reality is that there are no check boxes to your personal Spirituality. To quote my favorite classic rock band: “That Path is for your steps alone.” You walk where you can, how you can. (That’s the Grateful Dead and the quoted lyric comes from their song “Ripple”)
If you are learning from someone else or from some tradition, the lessons that you are taught or typically is what is considered to the basics. You do the best to walk in the manner that they wish to – until you finish the way they want to you or you just can’t finish. Learning their framework means you are learning their way. It still doesn’t nullify how you walk the Path of your own Spirituality…unless you want it to. That is the truest measure of what you are doing…walk your way, you set the final steps in what you do. Walk the Path defined by others, you choose to follow that direction. There is nothing wrong with either…until you start demanding that others do the exact same thing.
Those of the Christian faith do this. They demand that everyone do the same things that they do. If you don’t, you are considered to be outside of who they are. You are treated differently because you choose to be different. Reality shows that you are just as much a human being as anyone else. Some Polytheists do this too. They see their way of viewing the world and connecting with the Gods as the only way possible. If you aren’t doing it their way, you are treated as “knowing less”.
Like I said, I am a Polytheist. I don’t want everyone to be just like me in their Spiritual practice. To me, that removes some of the beauty of diversity and individualism. Plus, who am I to say what is right and wrong for you? I believe that Paganism and Polytheism is stronger for the diverse array of Spiritual Paths. We are made stronger with the approach of individualism for each Practitioner. They know where their footsteps are best placed. They understand how the Gods look and react to their own belief of worship (or not). They know which manner of connectivity works for them. And if they are still searching for a potential perspective that works, their questioning approach should be understood from the perspective of the Seeker, not the Accuser or the Heretic. We all seek betterment, knowledge, solace, divinity, and ourselves on our Spiritual Paths. Questioning those for not taking the same footfalls as you is not a useful aspect of our own individual Path. Helping others to find their own Paths is not about steering them towards our own. We should be helping to find the part of the Path that aligns better to what they are seeking. I am not an evangelist for Druidry, Paganism, Polytheism or even the order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD, which is the Druid order I am currently studying within). But I am here to listen, without prejudice or bias (as much as I can attain that, knowing that I am biased in some degree to all things); desiring to help someone find their way.
Is Polytheism good? Is it bad? Is it some form of neutral perspective? I believe the answer to all those questions is that all are valid – depending on the individual. The same holds true for Druidry and Paganism. The only way of understanding how that answer formulates for you is to explore each on your own. Or if you prefer, as the Oracle tells Neo in The Matrix Reloaded movie: “Bad news is there’s no way you can really know if I’m here to help you or not, so it’s really up to you. Just have to make up your own damn mind to either accept what I’m going to tell you, or reject it.” The same holds true with your own Spiritual path. You know your steps. You know where you need to walk. You’ll make up your own damn mind about it. And if others don’t agree with you? That’s all right. They have their own Path to walk, secure in the knowledge that what they believe is where they need to be.
Maybe, one day, we can get beyond the concepts of gate-keeping or trying to tell others how they should be on their Spiritual Paths. Maybe. I still hold out hope that we, as human beings, can take a step beyond. When we get there we can marvel at the similarities we missed while arguing about our differences. Plus, we can be astounded at the beauty of Paths that went where we couldn’t find appropriateness for our own steps. Viva individualism! We are resilient in our ability to find our ways to goals we wish to achieve. Our ability to experience and formulate solutions is astounding. Even when those Paths and solutions are as divergent in greater and greater ways.
Like many people, I am a creature of habit. What I have found is that simple routines keep me focused, while a world of chaotic everything gets me unhinged and away from my purpose. I have a tough time staying on-task when my daily routines get altered. Most people who read me here on the blog and over on Facebook, have been somewhat aware of my routines. In fact, if you read me over on Facebook, you can see one of my daily routines. Typically, every morning, I’ll post what amounts to a “good morning” status. I’m almost certain that the post irritates the shit out of a lot of people, since it doesn’t get a lot of likes or comments. So I post it to irritate people? No, not at all. Essentially its a small greeting to whoever wants to read, along with my thoughts about what I am doing across the course of the day. For me, its just a way saying hello to the day and whoever wants to listen. After all, Facebook is a community and part of that means developing relationships with others.
However, I don’t always get the chance to do this simple thing. Usually its because I have to start my day with my feet hitting the floor running. Sometimes its because I don’t feel well enough to roll out of bed. Sometimes its something else.
There is a lot to my morning routine. Get up. Test my blood sugars. Take my medications, including two shots. Make my breakfast. Make a cup of coffee. Post the Facebook post. Go outside – weather permitting – and greet the Sun on its upward trajectory towards turning Texas into an industrial-strength Easy-Bake oven. If I can handle all of that to start a morning, its been a good start to the day.
Another part of my daily routine has been getting exercise, typically in the form of morning walk. However since moving from north of the Dallas area to south of the Dallas area – I have to find a walking course through the neighborhood that is to my liking. Paving of the roads here is even worse than it was in Mississippi a few years back. Roads with pot-holes are not only dangerous to drivers, but also to walkers who are forced to walk in the roads because of no sidewalks. On such uneven and broken pavement, I am always in fear of turning my ankle with one small misstep. Add to all of that the issue of COVID-19, and I spend much of my time indoors to avoid contact with others. I have a Peleton bike that I can ride; however, riding an indoor, stationary bike in lieu of walking has proven to be a bit more difficult to maintain a daily regimen of.
So, what happens when daily routines like these get interrupted or do not even happen? Well, it doesn’t seem like much but it does have effects on me throughout the course of the day. Missing parts of my morning routine can throw me off the feelings of being balanced. For an individual who seemingly is the epitome of a Libra (or so I have been told), it can bring out some of the worst traits of a Libra. I can run into issues of feeling confused, having issues with making decisions, feeling completely over-run by even the smallest of tasks. A fairly structured morning start is the key towards allowing me to reach unstructured tasks and plans. If I am not feeling that balance, the more unstructured parts of my life will look like I am trying to wipe spilled milk off the floor with a completely soaked sponge. As another example, those of you who read the blog have noticed that more than a few times with blog posts. My writing tends to get unfocused and jumbled. In relation to the heavy alterations to my workouts, a new area and COVID-19 have contributed to me finding nearly any excuse to not do anything. The result? A fifteen pound weight gain over three and a half months. The fact that I find calm, peace and structure in making food does not help either. I make the food because it provides the routine my mind is seeking. I make the food, I eat the food.
Bruce Dickinson’s “Tears of the Dragon” is a song about how all of this can contribute to being (quoting Bruce): “Shit scared of change.”
I heard one of you thinking the comment: How does someone whose Spiritual practice hinges on extemporaneous ritual have issues with working in unstructured environments? This is an excellent question. One of the things that I really stress about improvisation within ritual is that you learn the basics completely before you start changing things around or altering the process or elements of a ritual framework to suit your own needs. In the post, Improvising in Ritual? Learn the Basics First…Trust Me, I talk about the need for learning the basics first. Much like a guitar player, before you can learn to solo, you have to learn chord structure that allows you to feel the rhythm of a song. The same holds true in ritual. Learn the basic elements, learn the whys of this or that within the ritual and then you can branch out and try to give the ritual more meaning to you or provide a stronger connection between you and the God you are working with. When working something new, realize that your effort will have you failing more often than succeeding at first. That can be discouraging. Don’t be completely discouraged. Realize that you also succeeding in knowing something that does not work. That information is just as helpful. In the meantime, back to the point at hand.
How can I be so easy to embrace improvisation and yet have difficulty altering something far simpler, such as a daily routine? Well, the best point that I can surmise is that my daily routine is a foundational part of who I am. Ritual is not. That’s right. Ritual is not a foundational part of who I am. Ritual helps me to provide a more in-depth aspect to who I am. My daily routine is the primary foundational piece of who I am. Everything about who I am is built upon that. When that foundation shifts, it affects everything that is built on top of it. Not sure it makes much sense to anyone else, but it is where I am at.
The US military taught me the idea of being as flexible as possible when things go wrong. After the move down here, I have done my best to be as flexible as I can with many of the small changes that get thrown my way. But learning to be flexible and being flexible are sometimes far different experiences. The key, I have found, is not being overly harsh on myself. Yes, there are experiences to be had from every success and failure, but taking the time to seek knowledge from those experiences is of primary importance to being able to alter my own perceptions of the environment that I live in. As one of my Sergeants told me when I was learning about how the UniSys 1100/60 mainframe operated: “Fixing this beast means taking things one step at a time. First find the problem. Then see where it is not operating properly. The rest is about experimentation until you find a solution. And you move far slower than a step at a time there. Understand the system and its peripheral devices and how they work together. Once you get that down, you will be able to start using unconventional techniques to making things work. First the basics, then the experiments. That is the art of Troubleshooting.” I figure that I have learned quite well from that theorem of thought. I have been utilizing it over a thirty-four year career inside Information Technology and Systems. Plus, its worked for me over thirty-two years of a Spiritual path withing Paganism. Its definitely worked for me. It might not work for you, but what does it hurt to try first?