Today is a rainy day here in Hillsboro, Texas. As I sit here and write this blog post, I am reminded of the time of year. We are in the time of Imbolc on the Wheel of the Year. A time of new beginnings. For me, today is no different in that regard. In my life, I stand on the edge of new beginnings. I also stand at the edge of endings as well. After all, many beginnings in our lives are the start of new adventures. Much like Bilbo Baggins sprints down his Path to catch up with the dwarves on their quest to the Lonely Mountain, I find myself taking steps along a new portion of my own Path. Just as Bilbo left behind his contented life for new adventures, I leave behind pieces of my Past, and move towards a Future that holds some exciting promise towards the short-term. While a lot of other Pagan-y folks find Samhain to be the time of taking stock of how things have gone over a period of the year – essentially making Samhain akin to the secular concept of New Year’s Day – I find that this time lends itself better to my perspective of thinking.
I can understand that a lot of folks will read into this idea of new beginnings and think that I am changing and vacating my Druidry. Hardly. In fact, if anything were closest to the truth it would be that I am doubling down on who and what I am. I am a Druid. I am a Polytheist. I am a Pagan. None of that is part of any aspect of change. My approach to each; however, is subject to change. Parts of that are also in the mix of new beginnings. Much of what I am about to relay may come off like a batch of New Year’s resolutions, and that is exactly the point. Right now, my life is sitting off the railway tracks. Part of this is a process to right the train that is me, and get things rolling forward in a positive manner.
Exercise. Let’s face it. I am a chubby, out-of-shape, fifty-five-year-old man. I have underlying health conditions that are not in my favor where life is concerned. That means that I need to do better at keeping myself as healthy as I can. That means taking my medications at regular intervals, as prescribed by my doctor, eating better, and getting my fat ass out of my computer chair on a regular basis. I have already plotted a four-and-a-half-mile walk through the neighborhood, which is what I used to walk every other day when I lived up in the Corinth, Texas area. Add to that I’ll be adding some weight training, along with some stationary bike work. I know that I will probably not be able to hit every single day that I have planned for working out, and that is really “ok”. Just so long as I manage to do most of the times that I have laid out. I am not going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dwayne Johnson, but I will be a lot healthier than I am now.
Gwers Studies. My goal here is to be finished with my Ovate studies by the end of the calendar year at the latest. I have created a schedule for this as well, making sure that I do not push myself too hard. Recently, I have restarted my Ovate work, and am taking things very slowly and methodically. I have learned that it is far easier to move at a pace that I am comfortable with rather than push myself too hard. Pushing hard achieves burn-out status for me far too easily.
Online gatherings. This past year of COVID has taught me a lot about myself. I am a far more social creature than I had realized. Time away from Pagans that I truly love and admire has cratered my own feelings of loneliness and despair. I have eschewed online gatherings for quite some time, always sermonizing to myself that it does not replace the feelings that I have in face-to-face gatherings. The reality is that this statement is true. However, when online gatherings is all that is available during a time frame where a pandemic is raging throughout the country (much less the entire world), you work with what you have. Sure, I can grumble about it, but what is available is what is available. Today and tomorrow, I take steps in that direction with two online Imbolc gatherings.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time indoors in 2020. During that time, I managed to read three books. Three. Long past time for me to get back into that habit. Plus, I will be doing reviews on what I read from time to time. I also watched very little television and very few movies. I already have a list of tv shows to check out, as well as a grouping of movies. I seriously doubt I will be reviewing any of these, but I do need some leisure time in all of this. Plus, I purchased a Play Station 4 and am already scouting for games to play. However, I don’t want to get sucked down that rabbit hole too far. Games are nice for leisure, but I certainly don’t want these to dominate my free time.
Just as there are new beginnings for this time of year, there are also endings to be considered. Some endings are not worth the time to dwell upon, beyond acknowledging that things had happened. Others contain some important life lessons to put into perspective and think more deeply upon. Certainly, I have had some endings to things within my life. Most are quite personal, which I will not share here. Some are extremely painful to dwell on, others not so much. All have provided lessons that will help me find a better perspective towards walking my Daily Path. Some have involved people no longer being in my life, an aspect that has me mourning the loss of these folks within my life. However, life continues, and dwelling on these losses for too long of a time will stall the forward momentum I am trying to achieve. But as I stated, they will be mourned and remembered in a happier light by me.
Imbolc is a time of new beginnings. This is approximately the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The crops are growing again. Slowly, in this colder period, but the promise of lush, green growth is there. The beginnings of Spring are upon us. The beginnings of new endeavors are here as well. This is the reason that I see this time as a position where new resolutions for your daily Path can be made. The above is merely my perspective on this time of the year – my personal outlook on how I am approaching this new year. This is also a time of the year to be hopeful of what is to come…an outlook that I find encouraging with a COVID vaccine becoming more widely available. Change is certainly in the air. How you approach that is up to you.
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.
Back when I was working through my nearly decade-long trek through the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids’ (OBOD) Bardic grade (ok, it was seven years), I would run into periods that I would call the “calm seas”. Some folks refer to this as “the doldrums” which I thought would be interesting to look up and refer to here.
The Intertropical Convergence Zone, known by sailors as the doldrums or the calms because of its monotonous, windless weather, is the area where the northeast and southeast trade winds converge. It encircles Earth near the thermal equator, though its specific position varies seasonally.
(Found as a description for the Wikipedia page for Intertropical Convergence Zone during a Google search for “doldrums”)
According to some of the information on the Wikipedia page, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” describes just how the doldrums could play havoc on ships during the so-called Age of Sail. It’s an interesting perspective, when you place it against the studies, lessons, and other aspects of one’s Druidry. About six months ago, I hit that same wall here in my Ovate studies. This time, instead of retreating and trying to restart from a previous point, I have let myself sit at this spot for six months. Several times, I have picked up the Gwers I am stuck on, only to make zero progress. I have reached my doldrums within my studies.
Back during this period (several periods of this) in my Bardic studies, I questioned whether I was on the right Path or not. This time, I know that this is the Path I should be on. However, this time I have a better idea of what the issue is. It’s my approach to my own Druidry. A few posts back, I detailed a point where my approach to Druidry set me in a position of physical danger. I took on a role I thought was correct – without being sure that I was not setting myself into unnecessary danger. But that wasn’t six months ago. Six months ago, I hit a brick wall. A few months later, I realized that it was my approach to Druidry that had me at a halt. It’s taken me a few more months to realize that this is what has me stalled.
See, my life is literally upside down right now. or at least that’s the way it feels. It could be sideways or even right-side up. My problem is that I don’t have the proper footing in my own mind to know what the correct orientation should be. Until I can manage that, I may not be able to find a straight-forward path through my studies. However, it is good that I know what the issue is. That allows me a starting point to gaining my perspective again. Once I can manage that, my forward progress through my studies will be capable again.
Why do I write this? Well, this is just one perspective of what happens when things go wrong. Sometimes, Life is going to get in the way of your studies. Sometimes, your studies are going to get in their own way. When that happens, you are likely to find yourself at a full stop. Take that stop. Grind everything to a halt. Then pick up each issue, one at a time, and find solutions. When you manage to clear the tracks for the studies to continue, take a deep breath and move forward. There is no time limit to your OBOD studies. There is also no need to compare yourself to others on their paths within OBOD. Everyone’s journey looks different. Everyone’s progress will be different. That’s because we are all different. The speed you move is the speed you move. Don’t agonize and beat yourself up over the speed of your progress. And when you run into roadblocks, don’t accept defeat. Solve the roadblocks, take a deep breath, and keep on with your studies at that point.
Yeah, all that sounds a lot simpler than it really is. My current roadblock is dealing with my own depression, coupled with a need to rewire the way I make decisions. Both of those have added minor issues that I also have to work through. So, there’s a lot of things to do before I can get my own Ovate studies train back on the tracks. But I will manage things and get moving again. It’s a goal I have set for myself. First, one step at a time. One issue at a time. One solution at a time.
So, maybe you’ve run into some issue. Let’s say it’s rough. Well, let’s sit down right here and now. You and me. Maybe it’s extremely frustrating and aggravating. Maybe you’re super tense over things. Let it out. Cry. Kick your feet. Pitch a fucking fit. Just let it all out. Once you feel you have released all that tension, let’s take a few moments and re-center your energies. Let’s ground, and center. Whatever technique works for you. Then let’s sit for a few minutes and just listen. Hear the nearby cars driving by? The birds chirping from the limbs of the trees or over in the bushes? Or if you have music playing, listen to the instruments, the voice, feel the rhythm. Anything to bring your mind to the here and the now. When you’re ready, stand up, and let’s start walking forward on your chosen Path. See, it’s a good thing to let go of the tension. Once you let the tension drain from your muscles, you can start focusing on what you need to do to get past the things as they stand. Then, you can focus on the things you had to set to the side.
Right now, my life is difficult. Difficult because I am unsure of any decision that I make. At this moment, I have decided that it is time to sit down on the ground and cry. I have reached out for mental health counseling to help me through this moment. Someone that can listen to me objectively and is not part of anything going on. Soon, I will need to stand up and move forward, with this counselor’s advice, and their unbiased perspective. After that, I will find myself moving forward, unsure of what my world is going to wind up looking like.
For me, these are not the “doldrums” – these are the “dark hours.” I am in the depths of the forest, climbing the tree to see above the canopy of the trees. I know that Bilbo saw the butterflies but could not see an end to the canopy of trees. I have no idea what I will see, I only hope that when I breach the canopy that the skies are daylight and not night. But climb the tree I must.
Druidry has been a part of my daily life for around a decade. There are times that it has been at the forefront. Other times its been on the back burner. And others – all sorts of locations in-between. Over the past two months, my life has been undergoing a massive amount of change. Some of it was planned. Some of it wasn’t. There were plenty of decisions that were made in that time frame as well. Many of those choices were made through a lens provided to me through my understanding of Druidry within my life. Some of those decisions were not the best ones that I could have made…laced within the perceptions I had of what Druidry was.
I’m not some ambassador type. I’m not here to solve conflict in peoples’ lives. Nor am I meant to make everyone happy and pleased with the decisions that I determine for myself. Yet, I have done that. That all drives back into a narrative that Druidry is about being the Peacemaker. But that is also not me. I am built more in the vein of a Protector, not a Diplomat. I may not be a physically strong specimen, but I’ll step between an abuser and their target.
As many of you know, I am currently going through some difficult times within my life. It can definitely be hard to be anything for anyone else when you are tearing yourself apart. My depression has certainly become the dark forest that I have always feared. At times, its difficult for me to figure out which way is ahead, and which one is behind. Many of the markers that I have counted on to mark my path, just have not been there. That includes my Druidry.
I have reached out to professionals for help. With their help, I have started to understand some of the places where I am broken, and which places are just bent and needing to be reshaped. At this point, my Druidry has not been a focal point of my life. I am not reaching out for connectivity to the world around me, as much as I am reaching within to find the connectivity of myself. In doing this internal process, I have started to re-evaluate where and how Druidry connects me to myself. I’ll worry about how Druidry connects me to the world around me later. To put in a different sense, I am learning to re-wire me.
I wrote in a previous blog post how people who know me the best – those who have been and are a part of my daily life – started to notice how much I was pulling inside of myself. How much I started backing away from everyone. How my demeanor was more akin to an abused animal waiting to be hit than it was to who I have been. They all asked me to get help. They all tried to steer me towards seeking assistance in dealing with what I have now come to define as “the dark hours”. The stubborn parts of me said that I was alright. That I didn’t need help. That my beliefs could steer me through all of this. None of that was true. I needed the help, and denying it not only kept me in the dark hours, but also was an indicator that I wasn’t listening.
I did; however, realize what was being said, and reached out for help. I have been learning a few techniques and processes to help me with my decision-making, and with my ability to process information. I am not completely better, but I now have some tools to work with. Moving forward will be a slow process. The scarier part is who will still be there, standing by my side through all of this. I can’t predict the behaviors of others, but I do know that some people will and may already have, left my life over these changes I have made. Everyone has their own choices to make.
So, circling back now, where does my Druidry fit into all of this? Well, many of the studies that OBOD has, deal with working with the Inner You. Once I manage to figure out where, how and why Druidry is a part of who I am, I plan to step back to some of those lessons, and approach things with a new perspective. First; however, I have to build a basis of who I am. Am I still the Protector that I envision myself to be? Certainly. That’s always been a part of me. But how that particular role fits into my everyday Life…that’s up for my internal discussion and debate.
I did get asked about how I am looking at all of this mental health work in relation to who I am. I see it as needing to stop, take a good look at the overall engine, and see what needs to be re-tuned to make it run better. I know that my process will be slow…and may likely continue through the rest of my life. For anyone seeing that as a “bad” thing….it’s not. There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be many, many days somewhere in-between. What I am learning to do is manage those days…so that I can be a better person. One who continues to get people to laugh, smile, and enjoy themselves. Not the brooding, withdrawn individual I had become. My Druidry fits in there somewhere. I’m just not totally sure where and how…just yet.
In the last couple of weeks, I have had two people in my life tell me to stop with my “Druid peacemaker bullshit.” Now, in both instances, it’s related to a subject I will not discuss openly, but there are some aspects that were pointed out to me that I will share. I have a major tendency to try and keep everyone happy in a situation. In this particular instance, I chose to put myself in a potentially dangerous and compromising position, in order to not to hurt the feelings of another individual. While nothing happened that was overly threatening nor untoward to me, there were reasons that I should not have done such a thing. In the aftermath of all of this, it’s gotten me thinking a bit more about my boundaries, in conjunction with my perceived responsibilities. To say this has been a bit unsettling is a major understatement.
I have always perceived that Druids are the peacemakers in conflicts. Always striving to find all sides of an issue and attempting to help cooler heads prevail. While that may be true to a certain degree, there are a few other aspects to consider: personal boundaries, safety, and discretion. Each one of these areas has brought me face-to-face with how foolish my perception has really been.
Sometimes, you just have to hold your hands up and say “enough is enough.” Don’t laugh and those of you that get the irony in me making that statement – stop laughing. I am quite well known for taking on too much, far too often. I have a bulldog mentality when it comes to getting things done, I don’t like to let go until I’ve managed to get things done. My hardest issue is learning when I’m in over my head before I really am in over my head. In nearly every employee evaluation, I was always marked down because I would never seek help in a timely fashion. Many people refer to this as my “stubborn side.” Sometimes, being overly stubborn can put you in a bad spot. So, the aspect of personal boundaries needs to take shape. Knowing what I can and cannot do – and being ready to ask for help. Along with that, I need to do a much better job of realizing when I’m in danger and walking quickly away – instead of escorting it to the end of the driveway for a talk.
Safety is definitely a high concern of mine. Most Druids will note that their role is to be the peacemakers in situations, but sometimes there can be a larger issue of personal safety. In my case, I had already been warned about the potential issues of an individual, and yet I still stepped forward to try and talk things through – rather than just closing the door. Without getting into too many details, I literally put myself in potential danger by not following the warnings that had been given. And all of it was done to try to smooth some ruffled feathers, so to speak. Something not worth putting myself into that kind of danger. So, I really have to note here, if you are that kind of person who wants to be that peacemaker…just like any fight, choose your battles wisely. I did not. And I was VERY, VERY lucky.
We have all heard the saying: “discretion is the better part of valor.” This is an extension of the back part of the personal boundaries statement. The Oxford Dictionary describes this as a proverb which means, “it is better to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it.” (https://www.lexico.com/definition/discretion). Avoiding the danger, whatever it looks like or however innocent it seems, would be the more prudent direction to take. In my instance, I did the very wrong thing. Even despite the warnings, I went on a perception I had previously of the individual, not knowing what had been said that precipitated the warnings. It’s not just a matter of discretion. It’s also a matter of using your noodle. I had the warnings, which were credible. I failed to heed that, and put myself somewhere I never should have been. All because I was looking to appease every individual in the situation.
I will say it again. I was damn lucky. Nothing happened. But that’s not really the point here. I slid into my “Druid peacemaker bullshit” role and set about trying to be everything for everybody. And that shit just isn’t going to work. Fact of the matter, that shit is going to get me hurt or to be even more dramatic – killed. Instead of trying to live up to some romanticized aspect of what Druidry is, I need to start living up to how Druidry fits into Tommy. Druidry doesn’t get to dictate my concepts of boundaries, safety, and discretion – I do. Perhaps, I have been looking at some aspects of Druidry in a backwards manner. Certainly, there is a role for a Druid to be a peacemaker but one gets to walk away when aspects of boundaries, safety, and discretion are bent, mutilated, or just outright destroyed. Much like so many of you, I have so much more of my life to live…I have a lot to be living my life more safely for. And it is long past time that I started putting my safety first and forward in my life.
I will say this, if you see the peacemaker role as one that fits you – by all means go for it. All I really ask is that you are careful in what you do. Think before you get involved. Look, listen, and read everything that you are presented with. If the situation doesn’t look right or seems a bit more dangerous than you thought it might – take a moment and assess things carefully. You have got a lot of life ahead of you. Be safer with it than I was.
I will also add that not every person studying Druidry *HAS* to be a peacemaker. The perception that every Druid will step into any conflict to try and restore some peace is just a ludicrous concept, in my opinion. Druidry doesn’t turn people into peacemakers, just as Druidry doesn’t turn every individual into a fabulously wonderful Priest that is capable of serving the needs of a wider community. In my opinion, Druidry helps you to become a better person. If part of that helps you achieve the perspective of a Priest or a peacemaker, wonderful. Just don’t expect that to happen to every individual that is studying Druidry.
One last note to all of this. The largest criticism of me has come from my tendency to try and make everyone feel happy in a given situation. That singular perspective put me in more danger than anything else. I am learning that I cannot and should not try to make everyone feel happy over an issue. Sometimes, I have to say “no” in a rather hard manner and just close the door. That is going to hurt some feelings along the way but it will keep me safe and not needlessly in danger. And I realize that I am using the word danger a lot here; however, the threat was real – whether I perceived it that way or not. Don’t be foolish and stubborn like I was. Be smart with how you deal with situations in your life. Be careful, you have a lot to live for. I know I do.
Usually, I write these blog posts with some standard idea of a topic that I want to cover. I may not have an idea of what precisely I am going to say, but I normally have a topic in mind. This past week and a half has been a complete jumble of personal emotions. Every blog post has been a struggle and a fight for my mind. Today, Thursday as I write this, my mind is tapped dry. So, I guess it might be time to talk a little about what happens with me during Samhain. Because a lot of what I am going through has a lot to do with the energies that I get during this time of the year, and at Beltane as well. But let’s keep the focus at this time of the year. I warn you now – I am about to dive into some of the darkest parts of my personality. Please don’t take this post as me looking for a way to end everything. I am nowhere near that point. In fact, I have a very bright and vibrant life ahead of me and a partner who will be there to steady me whenever my footsteps become stumbles from the exposed roots of the trees of the forest. Without her, I would truly be completely lost.
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.
This year, apparently this type of work is at the forefront for me. In the past few weeks (arguably a month and a half), I have been fighting my own war against these emotions on a nearly daily basis. As I move forward and am trying to shed significant portions of my past, these particular emotions are tied to several very distant memories. These memories have surfaced for a variety of reasons. I have found myself experiencing these emotions in a very real and distinct manner in relation to people who do not merit or deserve these emotive moments. As I experience all of this and paint it on to others unfairly, I find myself in that very memorable spiral. The lashing out, the regrets at doing so, feeling my own anger and sorrow at what I have done, lashing out at others…etc, etc. I wind up with Noctura’s “Die Another Day” lurking in my mind.
Believe me Never meant to make you feel this way Forgive me Before i die another day I can’t erase The things i said that made you go away Give me just one chance and hear me say I’m sorry -Noctura, “Die Another Day”
There is a reason I have a tendency to celebrate Samhain (and Beltane as well) alone. Because I know how I can lash out at others with my emotions that get generated from this time. if you look at the Wheel of the Year, you will notice that Beltane is at the exact opposite position. Both are times where the veil is the thinnest. And that thin veil does more than allow the Spirits to cross over. It also allows pieces of your Past that haunt you to cross over more easily as well. I am a quintessential Libra. I seek balance and calm in everything I try to do. But as an air sign, I can also be unbalanced by extreme emotional moments too. And an unbalanced Libra is difficult to deal with. I am not a vengeful person. I’m not an individual that seeks out conflict or wishes to harm others. But my darker parts of my personality can certainly lead me down the Paths to such thoughts.
Usually, this time of the year finds me reaching into those places where I have pushed back my jealousy, my sorrow, my anger, rage and hate. Normally, I don’t even realize that I am doing so, but can catch myself doing it. Its a sign that I need to draw up inside myself and deal with things. This year; however, has been a little more difficult to deal with in a manner I am used to. Starting right around my birthday (October 1st), my entire world has been shifted from its base. Done deliberately. By me. And I am now dealing with emotions that I had long buried underneath that base. In essence, the forest closed up around me and blocked out the light. There’s a path underneath all of this…I just cannot see it. I feel it from time to time when my feet cross over it. But I am still pushing through the darkness to find my way. I am still reliant on a helpful nudge in one direction or another….not knowing what or who pushed me in that direction. For all I know, I’m travelling in a wide circle at the amusement of Crow and Coyote. And in that darkness, I am encountering everything that I pushed back. And lashing out blindly as a result. This is what Samhain and Beltane feel like for me.
I wrote in one of my journal entries that I would be celebrating the full moon of Samhain alone again this year. Perhaps, next year will be different. In fact, I know it will. I’ll have others there that will help me walk a bit more solidly during this time. I don’t know what shape that will take. Each step of the journey will get me closer to that time. But this year will not be that time.
In “Samhain Approaches….That Time of Year“, I noted that I do the best that I can to work with my Ancestors at this time of the year. As an actual outcast from my family, its a bit difficult to work with disapproving Spirits of Ancestors. However, during the full moon, I will do my best to honor Them, as they are my Ancestors. They don’t have to approve of me nor I of Them for me to give honor to the footsteps They left on this earth during Their time. A good friend of mine passed away earlier this month. I only found out today. Though he and I disagreed with one another for the last decade-plus, I still consider him family. I still care about him. He will be given honor in my ritual on the full moon. There are also so many others within my Path of Paganism that I will find time to honor as well. They all had a hand in my growing to be the Pagan that I am today.
For me, I will continue to struggle with the strong emotions that I encounter during this time. Next year…things will be different. But for this year, I continue my struggle in a time of constant flux, change and no base/foundation to completely work from. But I’ll manage. Because the alternative is to succumb and let the waves crash over my head and allow the current to drag me to the bottom. And I just cannot let that happen. I could easily let these completely overwhelm me to the point that I am unresponsive to the world around me. But I have something that reminds me there’s a reason to fight back – the future, the here and the now. And I am learning to ask for help. Because asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.
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
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 I have been 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.
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.
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.
A short while back, Facebook peppered me with a memory from back in my days working with the college. For those that don’t know, my job was to pull data from the Student Information System as requested by others. Typically, the data requests were fairly straight forward and never really required any in-depth SQL coding to get to it. However, sometimes the requests were a bit more complex and from time-to-time required pulling data from disparate systems and connecting the databases, as well as connecting the data with the appropriate student, took time, thought, and a certain aspect of creativity. This Facebook memory is an actual conversation between myself and a co-worker (denoted as CW). I was being sarcastic, but it was not taking that way. I wound up being brought to my supervisor for a behind-doors discussion.
CW: “Its a fairly complex data request, right?” Me: “Yeah. Its a complicated, hot mess of a query. However, I think it can be done.” CW: “So what do you need?” Me: “About two hours, two dry erase markers, SQL Server Management Studio open on my computer, a live chicken, two shots of whiskey and a competent Witch.” CW: “What?” Me: “I need the two hours, the dry erase markers and SSMS to write the query. I need the live chicken as a sacrifice, and the two whiskey shots for devotional offerings.” CW: “What about the Witch?” Me: “I just need someone to talk to while I do all of that – and preferably someone that I can bounce ideas off of.” —– This is why people do not ask me how I get their data. My sense of humor, and my sarcasm combined with my inability to keep my inner monologue under control with a single cup of coffee….just never provides the answers other people are seeking.
This entire moment wound up with me in front of my supervisor, as I have already noted. The sarcastic commentary was not the issue. The issue was the implication that I was not a Christian, which I wasn’t then, before or after. I was asked point blank if I was a Christian. Point blank, I answered in the negative.This prompted a series of questions, which turned into a long conversational perspective of why I was wrong – according to the Bible. Well, it was conversational in the context that I answered in short, concise replies and was countered with diatribes that rivaled politicians being set in front of a microphone and provided with open-ended questions. One question out of all of these had me trying to formulate an answer.
Where do you get your moral authority?
Moral Authority? I have never been asked a question from this perspective prior to this. In fact, its a question that falls more to the perspective of Theology – according to definition it is “the systematic study of the nature of the divine and, more broadly, of religious belief.” This led me down a path to understand what was being set forward as “moral authority” and where I would derive such from. For the definition, I will fall to that which is in Wikipedia. Academically, Wikipedia is never considered a solid choice, but for something such as a blog post masquerading as an essay, I believe it will manage to be useful.
Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth.
For me, this entire perspective comes down to something that is derived from “Truth.” For a Christian, such as my supervisor was (and still is), his construct of moral authority is derived from the King James Bible. He can find supporting passages within that text to justify any aspect of “truth” as he wishes to define it. His choice of moral authority means absolutely nothing to me, however. I am not a Christian and have no desire to set my life on a defining touch-point created by a faith that I do not follow. However, my problem is finding a point of moral authority in how I practice my own faith. I have no “magic” tome to lean towards for my moral authority. I have no one that I can point to as a point of dispensation of such “truth,” since I hold no one in that high of a regard. As I read more, I began to realize that I had no way of answering my supervisor’s question in a manner that could provide a standing in an argument. Not that I would want to utilize my faith and belief in any kind of a battle with someone challenging the legitimacy of what I practice and follow on a daily basis. The only place I need legitimacy is in the connection I have with my Gods. Besides, I have no need to prove my beliefs nor do I have any reason to challenge the legitimacy of the faith and beliefs of others.
Now, a few years down the road from that moment in time, I have a slightly more reasoned answer. I am a strong believer in individualism. My moral authority comes from within myself, from my desire to treat others with the respect I expect to be treated with. However, on further contemplation, I realized that this would also be rejected in such an argument as I am referencing. However, I also came to another conclusion, why should I have to answer at all?
Now, some three years after the fact, I have come to realize that the conversation was more of a morality trap than anything else. A straight up comparison of one set of beliefs against another, utilizing the backdrop of moral authority upon which to lay out the commonalities and differences. In a manner of speaking, it was an autopsy of what I believed versus what he believed. The measuring stick was to be against the backdrop of his beliefs. As my beliefs are not built on a book or the cult-like leadership of a single individual – historical or not – I was provided with footing that was nowhere near that of a solid state. In all reality, I should have declined the perspective from the very beginning, and brought the conversation back my work-related duties. Instead, I stepped right where I was being beckoned to do so.
The overall conversation lasted about two hours. Two hours of wasted productivity, to be honest. However, they paid me to stand there and listen, hardly getting a word in edge-wise. I certainly could have used those two hours a lot more productively trying to figure out how to tie the three systems together in a single SQL query, which I eventually did. Instead I wound up being brow-beat over my beliefs. Back then, I was moving into my thirtieth year as a Pagan; this conversation had no chance at all of eroding my Pagan faith. Now, three years later, there is a far lesser chance that it would. I am a Pagan. I am comfortable with my faith and beliefs. I am challenged daily with what I believe to find connections in a world gone haywire all around me. And I still have no desire to define where I get my moral authority from. I am not a Theologian of any stripe. I am not interested in trying to figure out what makes other faiths tick. I am more interested in walking the Path, as I know it.
I do; however, have a competent Witch I can talk with whenever I need to. I don’t necessarily need the live chicken anymore, but I won’t turn down the whiskey.
Yesterday’s post (which should have been Tuesday’s), Wanderlust, Memories and Spirits of Place – Against a Backdrop of Times Before COVID-19, was only a small slice of my travels over the past decade or so. There are so many other places that I have traveled, where the pull of Spirits of Place was immensely strong. Some were in the oddest places. Some, I have suspicions that it may not be the Spirits of Place that still haunt the areas.
I have already made my love of driving known. I seriously have no issues pulling long drive of twelve to fourteen hours before I need some kind of lengthy rest. In the past, I have made long drives from the north area of Dallas to just north of Kansas City in a single night of driving. Part of that drive is through a tolled section of Interstate-35, which is mostly a rather boring drive that is punctuated throughout with overtly right-wing Christian signs denouncing abortion. Those signs are placed on the private property that borders either side of the roadway. However, there is a section of the drive where the landscape changes dramatically. This is the Flint Hills region of Kansas, and it is a magnificent part of the drive. The interstate winds down into the Flint Hills and the back up other hills. Unlike the majority of the turnpike going north, this is not a straight line of driving. All around you, on either side of the road, is miles upon miles of prairie land. Occasionally, you can see animals in the distance, but it is essentially clear, flat-land for the most part. Most of the commercial signage also disappears here, as well as a huge amount of the done-in-the-garage anti-abortion signs. Plus, there is also the strong pull of the Spirits of the Land here. Even with an interstate and barbed-wire fencing, this area has that strong feeling of power. Anytime I have driven north or south through this area, this particular part of the drive has always been my favorite. I always exit the Flint Hills part of the interstate with a feeling of energized power, which I have no explanation of. For reference, this is the ancestral lands of a few First nations peoples including the Kaw, Kikaapoi, Oceti Sakowin (Sioux), and the Osage.
When I was stationed in Germany, in 1992, it was a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I was younger and living in Germany while my father was stationed at Weisbaden, we never took the chance for a visit to Berlin. Thanks to military mission that I was attached to, I got that chance in April of 1992. We didn’t get the chance to stay very long, only three days, However, we all took the opportunity to visit the remains of the Wall, as well as Checkpoint Charlie. We were not allowed to bring cameras with us, so those of us that went did not have anything but our memories to carry back with us. I remember thinking how different life was on each side of that wall. On the West Germany side, apartments and shop fronts were as close as ten to fifteen feet from the Wall. On the opposite side…mostly guard stations and barbed wire. Over the years, there were many attempts by East Germans to scale, tunnel or circumvent the wall to a freer society in West Berlin. Most were stopped and taken to prisons or killed in their escapades. While visiting, I felt strong presences there. Many of them. These did not have the same feeling of Spirits of Place. It was more as if they were there because they had nowhere else to go. To this day, I wonder if I could still feel those presences so near the foreboding Wall that separated Germans from Germans, sometimes splitting families in two.
Another place that I ventured to was Medicine Bow Peak near Laramie, Wyoming. On October 6th, 1955, a United DC-4 crashed into Medicine Bow Peak killing all 63 passengers and 3 crew members aboard. The aircraft was traveling from New Your City to San Francisco, California and had made a stop in Denver, Colorado for a routine crew change. Assigned to an altitude of 10,000 feet, the plane was to fly through the Rocky Mountains along a path that kept it away from mountains taller than the assigned altitude. There is; however, a narrow shortcut through the northern tier of the Rockies that can be flown, that would reduce the flight time to Seattle by nearly ninety minutes. As there was a lengthy delay in Denver, it is assumed that this was the reasoning that the crew deviated from the flight plan and attempted the shortcut, in order to get the flight back on scheduled time. Instead, they fly straight into Medicine Bow Peak, a mountain of some 12,000 feet in height. When I visited the area, I was struck by the number of boulders strewn all around the area below the summit. About a mile away from the crash site, there is a paved road (back in 1955 this entire area was wilderness with no roads – paved or otherwise) which leads to a parking area with many picnic benches. The day I was there, it was very sunny, and extremely warm. Plus, there were no other people at this location. The hike alone the well-worn path was a nice stroll, with the exception of coming across a tree with deep claw slashes in it, which appeared to be fresh. This was the sign of a bear marking its territory. Keeping that in mind, the rest of the walk was rather brisk and a bit short, leading to the location where the aircraft had slammed into the sheer face of the summit. In this particular place, the Spirits of Place were extremely strong, and I wondered what it might have been like here long before the pavement invasion of the white man. These lands are the ancestral home of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Oceti Sakowin (Sioux). All three of these tribes figure prominently in the retelling of Hollywood versions of the time of the first white Settlers in the west. Early history of Medicine Bow Peak is not known prior to the 1833 and 1834 expeditions of John C. Fremont within this area. Down in the foothills, the Lakota, Ute and Eastern Shoshone were known to have also inhabited the area or utilized the canyons and mountain passes as travel routes to and from Summer and Winter lands.
Each of these locations hold vivid memories in my mind. Both the Flint Hills and Medicine Bow Peak have often left me wondering what the area must have been like before the coming of the white Settlers. While most of my musings likely have a heavy tinge of romanticism attached to them, I do understand how rough life would have been. Still, I envy the sheer closeness that comes with being so close to nature. Even under the auspices of such terrifying ferocity that was surely evident from the various predators that lived there.
I have so many more memories of pre-COVID travel, but I am also reminded about the one rule I have made for myself when visiting these places, even man-made places such as the Berlin Wall: leave no trace. At Medicine Bow Peak, if you walk on the other side of the lakes formed by ice and snow run-off, you can still find parts and pieces of United Airlines Flight 409 among the rocks and boulders. The plea from many folks is to leave it where it is found. Photograph it, but don’t pick it up. Leave it there, so others may have the chance to experience the “discovery” of such things for themselves. Bring in food, at your own discretion and caution. And by all means, if you bring it in, pack it back out with you. Dispose of your trash where it should be…not just letting it fall out of your hands casually. Let others have the same or even better experience than you did.
COVID-19 will not be here holding us all hostage in our homes forever. Much like influenza, a work-around will be found. We do not have a cure for influenza, but we do have a yearly vaccine that helps control its spread and its effects on the human body. We will eventually reach that point with COVID-19. It probably won’t happen as soon as many would like, but I am hopefully that it will happen. In the meantime, we stay safe. We wear our masks in public. We keep our distance from others, as much as we possibly can. We thoroughly wash our hands. And we practice patience, as best we can.
I was reminded of this quote from Jerry during the Days Between of Jerry’s’ birth and death. This appeared on Mickey Hart’s Instagram account. Hart was one of the drummers for the Grateful Dead and a very close friend of Jerry’s. The quote always reminds me of the necessary need for music towards the expression of our collective emotions, as well as a transport for strong stories that bring inspiration to our minds. If you need examples, I will point to songs such as “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” by the Charlie Daniels Band, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, “One” by Metallica, or even Iron Maiden’s “Still Life” as singular examples among so many others.
Music also brings other stories to mind. Several songs will easily invoke moments where I first heard these songs with friends. As an example, I remember walking with friends around a football field, listening to Midnight Star’s album “No Parking on the Dance Floor”. I’m not overly fond of dance music from the 1980s, but any song from this album will automatically evoke the memories of that late afternoon and evening. Of that group, only three of us are still alive to this day, and none of us speak to one another for various petty reasons. But despite that, my memories of us cutting up and pretending to lip-sync the synth-induced robotic voices will quickly bring a smile to my face. Music has that ability to bring up those stories that we may have long forgotten; however, it is the essence of those stories that provide strong emotions related to those stories.
Here in the blog, I have relayed quite a few of the stories that I have from my experiences throughout the thirty-plus years I have been a Pagan. Some have been humorous. Some, not so much. Each story; however, is a simple momentary glance into what has gone on in my life. My sharing of these stories is just to let you peek into my life or to provide an entertaining look at what a doofus I can be at times. What I hope to invoke with you is a moment where you can start to sort your life into similar small peeks – sort of like mini-chapters of a novel – into who you are. My point is not to have you do the same as what I am doing: sharing it openly with others. Rather, to get you to look at those mini-chapters and find the experiences that you need to work with or save to remember later. Certainly, if you feel called to do so, share those experiences with others. When you feel the need to teach or mentor others along their Pagan paths, you will need these experiences to showcase lessons for others. Drawing parallel conclusions between what you stumbled over, and what your student may encounter can not only be a rewarding teaching moment for them, but also a cathartic experience for yourself.
Stories drive our lives. We can envision ourselves in the roles of the characters we read about in Louis L’Amour novels. We can see ourselves as major or minor characters in the stories we read, or those that we watch on our televisions or movie screens. However, sometimes in our mundane lives, we forget that there is more to this story concept. These days, we all watch on the screen as the numbers of total corona-virus cases rises and the deaths continue to climb upwards in a parallel dance. But each of those numbers, is a singular human being. And their life is a story. How they contracted the virus is a story. The very sad way in which they died is a story. Those that survived and have gone home or a continuing story of success, as well as further struggle with how the virus has wrecked their bodies. It can be somewhat comforting to reduce their stories to numbers, since those can be sterilized to faceless counts. But, in my opinion, that reduces them from human beings to nothing. Those stories need to be told – by their friends, their relatives, their friends, their lovers, and their colleagues. Those who are remembered, truly never die. They live on in their stories that are told.
When I initiated into my Bardic grade at Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana (directly across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans), I remember the faces of everyone that initiated with me, as well as those that participated in the initiation. Many of that initial group have slowly filtered to the wayside. Others have shone brightly in the camps that have come afterward. And some of disappeared altogether. Yet, I still feel the need to talk about these initiates with any new initiate I can corner for five minutes. I want my fellow class of initiates to continue in their own stories. I also want the new initiates to take a moment to see the others initiating with them. The stories that brought everyone to that first initiation of Bards at Gulf Coast Gathering are as wide and varied as the personalities among all of us. Their stories live on. As does the growing legend of the Screen Boar, though I am certain so many folks get tired of hearing it every year. 🙂
I have so many stories about the people that I worked with at the college. Some are fun. some not so much. After leaving there, I am not in contact with these people as much as I thought I would be. For a couple of thousand days, I spent time with all of these people. We worked together, we had fun, we certainly had fights and arguments. But the further that I get from August 28th, 2019; the more my memories of those folks begin to fade. This is an example where the moment of the stories ceases to hold its importance going into the future. The same holds true for my memories of high school. Certain events and moments, I distinctly remember, while others have faded so far from memory, I can scarcely remember them happening. And in a manner of speaking, it is sad that these memories have faded to near total darkness in my mind. At one time, these were very important to me and were vividly recalled at a single moment. Are these moments in time that really were not important? Perhaps they were at that time, but more recent experiences have slowly pushed those out, as my mind has set those off to the side as “not as important as I thought they were”. I cannot say for sure that this is what it is, but I am certain that those memories have faded…
Stories are everywhere around us. You can read the ongoing saga of how Donald Trump has destroyed America daily in the papers. Or, your perspective can be that he has saved America from debasing itself. Sometimes stories can be interpreted differently by many people. Much like experiences, everyone will pull something different from a story that they read, watch or live. We are, after all, unique individuals with unique perspectives. Rest assured though, stories can be found everywhere or be evoked by any of the senses or combination thereof. As someone who places a heavy value on the telling of stories, I would suggest that examining the world around you to find all the stories evolving around you….it is an endeavor that may open your world to a perception you may never have noticed. Such as the war between the two ant colonies on either side of the yard. Or, as Rush detailed in their amazing song “The Trees“, the battle for sunlight between the Oaks and the Maples, as well as the hinted at government that governs the forest. There are plenty of stories to read, watch, experience and discovery. The first step…is finding them.
Yesterday, I took the day to go to Denton County for medical appointments. When I lived in Lindsay, it was a little easier, as the drive one-way was forty-five minutes. Now, Hillsboro to Denton County is about an hour longer, which makes me pile my medical appointments one top of the other for those Wednesdays, and turns a trip to Denton County into an all-day affair. I could just move to new doctors down on this side of town, but once I am comfortable with a doctor, I hate to give them up. On the way home, with my eyes all blurry from being dilated and my right getting a steroid shot to help with my vision (that’s right, I get shots in my eyes about every seven weeks or so), I decided to stop for Chinese food on the way back home. No dine-in option, because the local Chinese place doesn’t deem it safe to have the dine-in area of the restaurant open due to COVID-19 concerns. All of which suits me just fine – given that I am still not comfortable being out in the public spaces for any length of time. So drive-thru window it was to be. I went home, ate about three-quarters of what I ordered and promptly went to sleep. Today, I have struggled to find my topic for today, until I opened my fortune cookie and saw the message hidden inside.
At that moment, I started wondering what in the Nine Hells this was trying to tell me. I’m not one to believe in fortune cookie sorcery, but I always take a moment to pause and consider how these generic messages inserted at random in some fortune cookie factory might fit into my life. I have always found this to be an excellent source for self reflection, and have come away with some really good journal entries concerning my feelings towards where that particular cookie brought me. But this one? This floored me in a way I was not really ready for.
See, I am just like anyone else. I see all the troubles that inhabit our current times. Police brutality issues that are centered in an unbalanced manner against people of color, our out of control President here in the United States, our Senate here in the States that enables his outrageous behavior, the cries for justice that are happening everywhere, our desire for the freedoms promised to all citizens of this country that are our current government seems to hold as dear and proper for only those that support the President, and the ever present fear of COVID-19. I look around and I see people who are behind on their rent and with the eviction restrictions that our governor placed on landlords about to expire over this coming weekend – I just cannot fathom what or how those evicted are going to be able to manage in an environment where they have been furloughed or outright laid off from their jobs. I look at all of that and feel the weight of despair, injustice and the growing anger that is seemingly all around me. I live in a VERY Trump-supporter heavy county. Nearly every vehicle that has a political statement in the form of a sticker has one supporting Trump. If you go into any public space within the county, you will encounter a multitude of red-hats being proudly displayed. If you drive between Cleburne and Hillsboro (the two nearest large cities), you will drive by house after house on the rural highway that is displaying either a Trump/Pence 2020 yard sign or flying a Trump flag (yes, a flag) in their yard. And these people are active in the Facebook groups for the county, and very vocal about their support for the President. And even more vocal about what they would do to protesters in the streets, if they came across them. That anger and hate is laid out as naked and arrogant as possible, with a hint of violent tendencies just beneath the surface for those that don’t agree. So, in terms of the so-called “long-game,” I am not overly optimistic.
But there is hope, which is what my fortune is seemingly reminding me of. Trump does not get elected solely off the vote here in Hill County or even solely off the vote from here in Texas. However, if he does manage to eek out four more years in the White House, there is still hope. Because we still have each other. I look to the love and caring I get in messages in Email or in Direct Messages or in Facebook status posts, or tweets on Twitter. Take away all the politics, all the ridiculous online debates, and even turn off the news….and the best is still there. Even despite COVID-19, we still celebrate life among one another. We celebrate birth dates, we rejoice in anniversaries of dates we became friends on Facebook. We find happiness in each other, no matter the distances. When we feel down, our friends take time out to console us, they write private messages to engage us, they comment on posts to help heal us – no matter how small that might feel like. All of that is triumphs that we have in our lives. Why does that happen? Because we are in this together. To steal a movie quote from Matrix: Reloaded:
Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us. But if we are to be prepared for it, we must first shed our fear of it. I stand here, before you now, truthfully unafraid. Why? Because I believe something you do not? No, I stand here without fear because I remember. I remember that I am here not because of the path that lies before me but because of the path that lies behind me.
What comes after this point? An election. A hopeful end to a devastating virus. A new world that will change every step in my life for the future. I know there will be an election, I know a vaccine that helps drive down the devastation of COVID-19 will be found, and I know that a new life is waiting for me, just around the corner. The what and when of all of that, I cannot predict, but I am not about to stop fighting or believing in any of what I just stated. Why? Because I believe harder than you? No…as pointed out by Morpheus in the quote above, because I remember and look back on what has gotten me to this point. All the hard work, all the struggle, wrapped up in all of the time and effort I put into going forward. I believe that I can continue to go forward and that I will see positive change, but only so long as everyone else remains willing to fight, work, and struggle. I have faith in your ability to work together and move forward for change. I have faith in all of you that are pushing for a world of equality for all. Certainly, we live in uncertain and unstable times, but our goals for change happen further on. This is not a time to despair over where we are, it is a time to remember where we are headed – and knowing that there is still much work to be done. I do believe that….all thanks to fortune cookie that I opened, just a few hours ago. Who says that the Gods don’t work in weird and strange ways? 🙂
In my defense, the moon was full and I was left unsupervised.
This is, by far, one of my favorite memes on the internet. When I read it, I get a little chuckle out of the idea of being unsupervised and being able to blame my craziness on the moon. With two Trickster Gods riding shotgun, it would be such an appropriate perspective. Except that it really is not.
Let me take you back to sometime between April 1984 and February 1986. This was so long ago, that I cannot pinpoint with any degree of accuracy just when it happened. It did; however, happen sometime after I graduated high school and just before I entered the United States Air Force. Therefore, I can lay down that somewhat wide time-frame. At the time, I was exploring beyond the Catholic faith that I had been taught in high school. My protestant parents wanted the best possible education for me and decided that Catholic school was the direction to go. While I learned about the Catholic faith, it definitely was not calling to me. Once I graduated high school, I set out to find something that might suit me better. My first stop was Pentecostal Christianity. Don’t look so shocked. Shreveport, Louisiana is a fair hot-bed of this wing of Christianity. I stayed within this culture for a little under a year. The waving of the hands, speaking in tongues and so-called possession by the Holy Spirit seemed to be more staged and dramatic to me than anything else. Plus, I learned quickly not to question anything openly with the church members, as I got castigated fairly heavily. Still, I could not fathom how these concepts were not anything more than play-acting in the name of their God.
About four months into all of this, some of the other teenagers from the church wanted to go to a tent revival that was near my house. We all piled into two cars and went. When we arrived, we were ushered away from the back of the tent, where the preacher was sitting and smoking cigarettes with a few other folks. Folks who were moving and acting like normal people do. Once the church services got underway, these same people had “afflictions” that they did not exhibit at that back area of the tent. The preacher would call them up one by one, slap his hand on their foreheads and declare them to be healed. My friends ate it up. It was the Will of God being shown to us. I saw even more dramatic play-acting. When the offering plate was passed around, I simply moved it from my left hand to my right to hand it to the usher standing at the end of my row. The look I got was one of complete contempt. I know right then….this was about money, not God.
Needless to say, as I knew my departure date for the Air Force was getting closer and closer, I started feeling no worries over repercussions over asking questions. When I was reprimanded over my doubts, I renewed my questioning of what I saw. I was told that I was not allowing God to speak to my heart. I was also told that everything that was to happen to me over this questioning was to be “God’s Will.” That, essentially, my life was not mine. God would aim and direct me in all the endeavors that occurred to me – even the bad stuff – so that I would learn and grow closer to God. Needless to say, I shook the dust off my feet when I left that situation.
I do; however, hear a lot of folks within the Pagan community stating that what happens is the ‘Will of the Gods”. To this, I disagree. Crow and Coyote certainly do speak with me. They do give me tasks to accomplish for Them. They do spend time to teach me perspectives I had never considered before. But never have They been the direct focus of my daily life. They do not interfere with what I do. If I err in judgment or action, that is for me to learn from. Intervening on my behalf would teach me nothing. Plus, it would turn the Gods into an Automated Teller Machine (ATM), as John Beckett has said before. If I wanted something, I would just ask the Gods to give it to me, instead of doing the hard work to get what I was wanting. Certainly, the Gods can pat my on the shoulder and tell me that I should continue working hard…but They are not going to do the hard work for me.
Thanks to COVID-19, I have put on about fifteen pounds over the past three to four months. The Gods did not do that to me. My inactivity did that to me. The Gods are not going to snap Their fingers and have the fifteen pounds melt away tomorrow (though I certainly do wish). Me getting into an exercise routine in the house, so I stay away from people outdoors, is how I will lose this weight. Me changing my eating habits is how I will lose this weight. The Gods can – and probably will – provide support for my efforts. They are not going to make things happen any different than it would normally. I walk this daily Path. Sometimes They will walk beside me. Never will They carry me.
So, when I hear people tell me that whatever happened to them is a result of “God’s Will” or the “Will of the Gods,” all I can do is hold my commentary. I am not the person that needs to alter or change their perspective. Only they can do that. If they asked me why the Gods would let this (whatever bad has happened) occur to their lives…my advice would be fairly frank. The Gods did not do this to you. Your choices are what did this to you. And sometimes, we make the wrong choices – even those choices seem rock solid. Because sometimes, life is tough. We can tighten up our belts, pull back our shoulders and move forward or we can collapse from the weight of things. And sometimes collapsing is the only choice you have. That’s where the rest of us come in. We should help those who have collapsed from the weight of their choices. Help them to stand up. Comfort them. Let them know that there are people who are there to help. Assist them in making better choices for their lives – all with the understanding that the point is to help them get back on their Path. Because they have to walk it. Not alone though. Because we can walk beside them too. Just as the Gods will, when you ask. They will not walk your Path for you, but They can be there to support you.
So, in the end of it all – we are not puppets on strings. We are not here for the entertainment of the Gods – though we can be entertaining. We are here to walk our individual Paths in Life. If there is any “Will of the Gods” that might come into play, its likely that They would want us to succeed at what we do our best to accomplish. That is, after all, the best goal we can ever have – to do what we set out to accomplish, within reason.
I typically reserve Thursday blog posts for a moment where I pick at a topic. For this Thursday, my plan is to go a touch deeper. I want to talk about all the protests that we see culminating in the streets. However, I don’t want to go into too much detail of what each movement is. Rather, I want to go a touch deeper into why I feel we should get involved. Yes, before everyone starts freaking out, Black Lives Do Matter. And before All Lives can Matter, we must resolve the issues keeping Black Lives from mattering. None of that is likely to appease either the BLM or ALM folks, but it is not meant to. We also have the continuing issue of “Water Is Life” – a movement that seeks to preserve the waterways of the world from contamination, the power of corporations to super-impose themselves upon any land (including sacred burial grounds, as what happened in the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation), and the right to access to clean water sources. And as I sit here and think about it, there are many, many more protests taking place to preserve the rights of all individuals, regardless of skin color, race, gender, sexual orientation – among many others. What do these have in common? A challenge to what is considered as “traditional values.”
In many places in the world, the concept of traditional values revolves around a white, hetero, Christian mind-set. In some other places, it is a bit different, but each of these traditional values pits their world vision into a Us v. Them paradigm. You either conform to what we believe, or we find ways to limit whatever freedoms you have. Because there can be no challenge to what values they hold.
For no matter what you do, if you do it against or without the approval, prescription, recommendation, or permission of a ruling party, it is a denial of that ruling party’s power, and thus a protest.
Brendan Myers, ‘Dangerous Religion”, p16
Currently, I am reading Brendan Myers’ book “Dangerous Religion” and I found the above quote to be extremely enlightening. Myers points out that the mere existence of Witches, Druids, and Pagans is a direct challenge to the values of a predominantly white, hetero, Christian society. By just declaring what you believe, challenges their power base. At least, in the eyes of the so-called “ruling class.” Because, honestly, I don’t see myself as challenging them in any fashion, by being the Pagan, Polytheist, Druid that I am. I just want to live my life, honoring my Gods, my Ancestors, and the Land. However, I choose to live what is deemed an “alternative lifestyle” and as that is outside of the bounds of what they determine as “normal” – I’m considered to be a threat. And so are you, if you do not follow what they considered to fall within their parameters of normalcy.
I take a stand for Black Lives Matter because I know that it is the first stepping stone towards making All Lives Matter. As blacks are being attacked and killed in far more disproportionate numbers, it is the first of many stepping stones that need to be negotiated. I take a stand for LGBTQ+ rights because I think people should be able to marry the people that they love. I believe that people should be able to self-identity as who they are. I stand with the Water Protectors everywhere because I believe that Water is Life, and that Life is a basic human right. I am a straight, white, hetero, male…the antithesis of much of what I am supporting. Why do I support that? Because its the right thing to do. In my eyes, its basic human decency.
So, what to do about this? If you’re healthy enough – join the protest lines. If you have medical skills, volunteer as a medic at those protests. There’s no guarantees for your safety. If you’re not healthy enough to be out in these COVID-19 times, such as myself, provide funds to pay for the bail of those arrested. Find food systems to put donations to, so protesters can be fed while on the line. As dumb as it sounds, write to your representatives at EVERY level of government. Let them know that you want to see change in areas such as police funding, the usage of force, the immediate cessation of military tactics against the protesters, for them to cease kowtowing to corporate entities over their citizenry. Remind them that they work for you. As Pagans, Witches, Druids, and other Magick workers…there are a few more steps that can be taken.
Oppressed people frequently resort to magic to assert themselves when other strategies have failed them: this is what the Ghost Dance was all about. Heterodox systems teach that the feeling that “things are not as they ought to be” is a trustworthy feeling. Instead of passive resignation to the world, or uncritical acceptance of the ruling party’s vision of the world, they advocate active participation in the world – often in the form of the supernatural intervention of magic and prayer, often connected to social activism and direct public confrontation.
Brendan Myers, “Dangerous Religion”, p17
I am not a super skilled magick worker. For me, it is the nuclear option – a means of last resort. As Myers puts it, a strategy to use when all others have failed. Others…don’t have this perspective and are willing to do magick work on behalf of the protesters. I say “go for it” if that’s your thing at this moment.
When you listen to a lot of other Pagan folk out there, they talk of “The Storm” or “Tower Time” as a manner of describing this time. I like Myers description of things being “not as they should.” I don’t work in Tarot, so “Tower Time” has little meaning to me, and while I appreciate the symbolism of a coming ‘Storm” – Storms have a far different meaning for me. But this would be arguing over descriptives…and to me, that’s unnecessary. We’ve reached a time where getting things done is what matters.
Now, I have essentially pointed at the Christian, white, hetero community and set them up as the opponent, except that they are not. Some of those folks that fall into that grouping are loving and accepting of all of us…no exceptions. Painting with too broad of a brush will set these folks into a realm of collateral damage, where they need not be. Let’s make sure that we are clear on who these folks are. They are the far-right wing of the Republican party. People who see those of us who live life different from them as being beneath them. They see us deserving of their contempt. They do not see us as their equals.
Do they need to be utterly wiped from the face of the earth? I don’t think so. As I noted before, I am just a Pagan, Polytheist, Druid who wants to live my life honoring my Gods, honoring my ancestors, and honoring the Land. Surely, I can be left in peace to do that on my own? I have no desire to make a single individual believe or practice as I do. I am not the one wanting to make laws prohibiting how others live. I only want the law to apply equally to every single human being. We don’t have to agree on a single thing – except that everyone has the same right to live their life free. Capable of loving who they want or how many they want without interference in the practice of that love. Able to live freely and without fear of police violence being visited on them for the color of their skin or how they dress.
Live and let live, as the saying goes. However, we must get there first. And challenging long-held values is not going to be an easy fight. But we will get there. And hopefully, we can not only find peace when we do get there, but also lasting healing as well.
So, I am doing my usual Thursday routine. Sitting at my keyboard, music pouring through the headphones (today its Deep Purple, and currently its the album “The Battle Rages On…” which may be quite appropriate), and trying to come up with something to write about. I mean, this is a ‘Thinking About” post. It should be as easy as ever to come up with some kind of concept to babble on about. Except its really not. Writer’s cramps (or writer’s block, if you prefer) has been in a strong hold for the last week-plus. So I sit here wondering what to write on. I can tell you that moments like this are frustrating, but also a lot of fun. Quite the contradiction, don’t you think? I get to spend time turning topics over and over in my mind…hopefully I can latch on to one and get started on all of this.
For some reason, the concept of leadership continues to boil around the edges of everything that I am thinking about, so let’s go there. Most of my perspectives of what makes one an ideal leadership come from what I learned in the military. The United States Air Force thought enough of my potential to lead that they sent me to two leadership schools. But before we get too excited over this, both are mandatory training schools for those who sign up for a second hitch with the United States Air Force. I took my first class, the Non-Commissioned Officer Preparatory School in my fourth year of my first enlistment, shortly after I had signed on to my second enlistment. The premise of the school was to teach leadership skills and how to build effective communication skills – focusing on making me into an effective front-line supervisor. I did not exactly excel at this training, but I was not at the end of the group either. I learned about methodologies to create more effective communication with subordinates, as well as finding my footing as an individual that would be able to lead. In particular, the school taught me a lot about how to lead by example, something I have tried very hard to do in whatever job I have been installed into. Three years later, I was inserted into the NCO Leadership School, which was a continuation of what I had learned three years previous. Many lectures ensued. I was taught how to march subordinates as a unit (a skill I personally found to be utterly useless), as well as more training on weaponry and tactical skills that I might need to use in a combat situation. Through all of that, hardcore emphasis on leadership skills and abilities, as well as effective communication were heavily emphasized. Much of what I have learned in methodologies, I have carried forth in my life since then.
What makes an effective leader? Well, for me, its obvious – an ability to effectively communicate with others coupled to an ability to lead people towards a common goal. In thirty-plus years in Paganism, I have encountered effective leaders, and those that would make you laugh and cry at their ineptitude. For some, the power of being a leader goes to their heads, and they become tyrants. If you need a visual, think Donald Trump on a much smaller scale. I have also seen quiet leaders, who roll up their sleeves and start getting the work done. They don’t push others to do the work, they might openly ask, but they hope that their example of getting the work done will inspire others to be involved. I like these types of leaders. Not only do they seem willing to do the work, but they typically are also willing to show others how to do the work – so as to build their skills too.
But that brings me to another thought. What about being a good follower? After all, not every single person can be in charge. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the “too many leaders and not enough followers” within the Pagan community. I get the perspective though. Everyone has a better idea of how to run things compared to whoever happened to step forward. I’m the same way. Whoa. Don’t look so shocked. I have ideas of how things should go. I have ideas of what the better steps of making things run should be. At least from my own perspective. It took a little bit of growing up and realizing that I do not have all the right answers to set me straight. Making something that is setup for the good of everyone means that you have to swallow your pride and sit on your ego, when the direction is not completely your own personal vision. To be a good follower, you may need to remember the direction that the cause is going. Plus, no project or vision went anywhere without people doing the hard work. That means taking direction. That means using your talents and your sweat to get things accomplished. That also means that you cannot always be the one at the top of the pile. Success happens when everyone works together.
My previous job was at a local Community College. To be honest, I have never seen a more dysfunctional work environment in my life. Upper Management declared that they would be transparent in all that they do with the entire staff and faculty base. Over time, it became obvious that they only shared what they felt everyone else needed to know, while continuing to cling to the perspective of being transparent. The work environment felt like the Pharaohs themselves had returned. Many employees were told to just do their work and not worry about the direction that everything was headed. People that wanted to be good followers were confused with the say one thing and do something completely different approach. Leadership was ineffective. Employees tried to offer ideas of how to fix things and were shot down without a second thought. That lead to anger and resentment, and these folks started to do just enough to get by with their jobs. That lead to anger and resentment from others who were working hard. And all of it was due to a single variable: ineffective communication by upper management. There’s a few other things that exacerbate the entire situation – leadership that constantly and continually changes its mind concerning short and long range plans. And while I no longer work there, I still feel sad for all those that do.
When I was in the military, I learned a phrase that I still use. In fact, at my previous job, I stated this to my supervisor behind a closed door one afternoon: “lead, follow or get out of the way.” Accomplishing things is important, particularly when a group of other people are relying on those results. Ever wondered what goes into planning a Pagan conference like Pantheacon? A lot more than I really wanted to know. There are lots of moving parts. Everyone has a role to fulfill. Some are time intensive. Some require everything to be right at a particular moment in time. Power struggles are unforgivable lapses in accomplishing one’s role. In an environment like that, there’s a lot of “get out of the way” involved. In the military, one of my functions was to insure that crypto-communications were cycled to appropriate command-level personnel in a very timely fashion. Morning intelligence briefings had to be cycled down to the USAF Intel group, the US Army S2 group, and the NATO Intelligence group before 6am. Being late because a printer broke down was an inexcusable fault. My unit’s job was to make sure things ran correctly so things like that would happen. We accepted our role in the process, and agreed to perform to the very best of our abilities. We agreed to be good followers. We were not about to go down to each of those groups and tell them that the large Intel briefing should be held after 8am, so that we could have our breakfast and coffee without being rushed through that momentary morning pleasure.
Now, Pagan communities are not military units. But there are roles and functions to fulfill. Not everyone can be at the top trying to pull everything together. But those who are, they better damn well understand the need for effective communication. They better understand the concept of rolling up their sleeves and working side by side with those that they lead. And those who have roles, functions and responsibilities need to understand that they have agreed to do what they are being asked to do. And if they cannot or will not do what they are agreeing to…they need to get out of the way.
I still hold by the basic principle that I am not a leader. Because I am not. I understand how leadership works in theory. In practice, I’m not the greatest at it. And I know it. I know how and where my personality clashes with others. I know where my weaknesses are. I know my strengths. I know precisely where my intolerances are located, and how far I can be pushed before things go beyond a controllable point. Am I a good follower? I try my best, but not always. But I do recognize leaders that I would follow. I see what they are capable of and where they can be pushed a little further. I know who I would follow and who I wouldn’t. And for me that counts for something. What that means to you, for you, or about you is something you will need to determine for yourself. What leadership looks like….that all comes back to your own personal understanding.
So, Tuesday’s blog post was late by a single day. Thursday’s blog post is now late by two days. I really have a tough time when the winds on the seas of thought go completely calm. Plus, I don’t like to row. 😉
As I stated before, I am currently reading “Anthem: Rush in the ’70s” by Martin Popoff. Interestingly enough, my inspiration for this post comes from the “2112” chapter. The Mercury recording company executives were unhappy with “Caress of Steel” and there was apparently pressure on the band to produce an album with a hit single that could be promoted. Well, as a band, Rush decided to record an album that they wanted – one with an extended, Science-Fiction-ish story-line, and if it meant that the band would go bust – so be it. The result was 2112, an album that almost becomes a rite of rebellious teenage angst to have listened to. The album sold way beyond the first three albums, and continues to sell over 800 units per week, according to the band’s management.
The back story is a piece of nice background and perspective. However, Neil Peart was asked about the criticism of the band, the album, and their concerts. He replies dismissively that the reviews were negative and then explains why he doesn’t read the reviews. He had written a letter to author Tom Robbins stating that he had read Tom’s books and a scathing review in the New York Times. He mentioned that none of those reviewers really knew what they were talking about. In return, Robbins wrote Peart back and told him: “I don’t read the reviews. Because if I believed the good ones, I would have to believe the bad ones too.” That small statement was taken by Peart to be a strong piece of advice. He carried that through his time with Rush, seeing each album to be the very best record that the band could produce, and not worrying about what others might say.
When I made the very difficult decision to leave podcasting behind, and take up blogging instead – I caught a lot of flak. However, I knew it was the right thing to do. My podcasts were not very creative, and continuing to put them out was more of a chore than anything else for me at that time. I did enjoy my time putting them together, but in the end things were a measure of tedium I no longer wanted. I turned to blogging as a creative outlet, knowing that I enjoyed sitting at a keyboard and typing my thoughts. I have thousands upon thousands of lines in an electronic journal, as an example of that. I write in that every single day. Do I miss podcasting? Yes, every single day. At the same time, I still stick to my guns – I will not do another podcast without a co-host.
When I first started the blog, I had a lot of commentary provided to me, particularly in private. If you go through the earlier posts of this blog, you will find that some of the comments are quite well warranted. “Your writing seems disjointed.” That is quite a fair criticism. Many of those older posts have the feelings of being barely finished statements. I may spend some of the future weekend posts trying to bring those thoughts back to life. At the moment, I am thinking of calling some of those “Revisiting” posts, just as this post is part of the “Thinking About” series that I kicked up a while back.
Another comment that I typically got was “why don’t you write more like John Beckett?” John is my friend. I know him in a face-to-face setting; though my move to just south of the Texas/Oklahoma border made seeing him difficult. My latest move to my current location at the edge of the Texas hill country, just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metro-Mess makes it even harder. I read John’s blog, Under the Ancient Oaks, frequently; though, like I do with most blogs, I do not comment as frequently as I did in the past. Writing like John, would mean that I would be compromising the way I write to be more like him, which – no offense meant John – I have no desire to do. We are both members of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. We both believe that the Gods are distinct, individual Beings. After that, we are essentially very different Pagans. As it should be. If I tried to be more like John in my writing, I would be emulating John, and not being me. The same goes for other bloggers that I read frequently: Nimue Brown, Cat Treadwell, and whole host of others that would make this blog even longer than it is. I read blogs for information, and sometimes I get a spark of creativity from what I read there. But each have their own individual style of writing, their own individual takes on topics, and their own individual approaches to their own Spirituality. For me, emulating their style and approach, while flattering, would not be true to who I am.
In a manner of thinking (not speaking), writing a blog is my way of pulling the curtain aside a little, and letting you see a small part of my life. Certainly, the blog is not like stepping into my world and learning more about me as an individual. A better place for that to happen would be in a setting around a campfire, having a casual setting, something I seriously miss during these times of COVID-19. As Peart came to a realization that missing out on the reviews allowed him the ability to judge and criticize his own personal approach to drumming and lyric writing, I also realized that doing things my own way is important. Important, not only to my writing, but also to the growth of how I approach my writing, and the manner in which I work through my topics. I don’t claim to know everything, or how everything works. In fact, sometimes I have no idea how to approach a concept or how to answer a question. However, I do my very best to gather my approach in a manner that is consistent with my own values, my own ideas, and my own creativity. Sometimes, its not pretty, but the aesthetic is not the goal – its the effort made in getting there.
What about you? Have you ever stopped for a moment and taken stock of the way you approach your Spirituality? Or how you troubleshoot and research something new that you cannot readily identify? Every individual human being has some degree of innate curiosity…take the time and explore it a bit. I know letting my own individual approach inform how I did things was helpful in establishing who and what I am today. Let the individual loose….explore….