Thinking About: Being Alone in Paganism

I am in quite a few groups on Facebook and while I do not always participate, I do read them. A few weeks back, in one of the groups (I do not remember exactly which one), an individual who was also studying the Path of Druidry dropped a question that instantly felt like a plea for help.

Does anyone else feel alone on this Path?

I saw that quite a few folks had already responded to the individual, so I left the conversation alone. The question; however, has lingered with me since. For the most part, my personal Spirituality has me on a Path where I am alone. I do not have a grove to study my Druidry with. Or to hold ritual with on a regular basis. Or to socialize face-to-face – though that is truly impossible with the increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections here in Texas. With my health conditions, I would turn done even the most innocent gathering of more than two people.

Most years, I get the chance to feed my social interactions with others at events such as ADF’s Imbolc Retreat held by Hearthstone Grove here in Texas, and OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. Like Said….most years. This year….well, its definitely a little different. Both events were cancelled for this year, which put my social interaction with other Pagans and Druids at zero, in a face-to-face setting. While online gatherings are a nice way to somewhat reconnect, its not truly the same. Thus, the feeling of isolation creeps in a little deeper. Sort of like a body check by Scott Stevens. So, when I read the individual’s post on Facebook, my mind immediately answered back.

Nine Hells, yes. Especially this year.

Now, I am in the Ovate grade in OBOD. My studies are meant to be taken and completed alone, which in some ways exacerbates the entire feeling. I cannot speak to how other Druid orders do their training, as I have never done or participated in any of them. So I started wondering, how often might others feel this way?

I can only guess, but I would hypothesize that its a fairly sizable number. Adding to that, the pure isolation that social distancing from others in this new age of COVID-19 may give an extra edge to that feeling as well. I know quite a few Pagans who have issues with being out in the open community, for one reason or another. And that fear of being around other people – I would guess social anxiety might be the best descriptive for it – can be an extremely paralyzing moment. I’m a fairly social creature, so I can only attempt to understand how all of that feels. In a new social setting, I can be the ultimate wallflower, believe that or not. However, once I get the feel for the people there, I am more than happy to sit and talk. About anything. So social anxiety is not something that I, personally, suffer from. I do; however, know many folks that do. And I have bothered to quietly ask what that feeling is like. Suffocating. Paralyzing. The general feeling of panic and a need to flee for the safety of solitude. So, it leads me to wonder if this particular individual might have been feeling the same thing??

On the other hand, when walking your Path in your Spirituality, there is a series of moments that I refer to as “travelling the dark woods” that happens. Where you find your footsteps have taken into a part of your Spirituality that feels dark, foreboding, and downright scary. Where you feel like you are going to need to wash out your underwear when you manage to get beyond this…IF you get beyond this. Those moments can feel like the entire world abandoned you on the doorstep of the Nine Hells with only a teaspoon to defend yourself with. And that’s if they were being nice to you before leaving you there alone. That moment in your Spirituality can be an extremely lonely moment. I have had this happen to me several times in my thirty-plus years on this Pagan Path of mine. Each time has a slightly different feel to it, but the feeling of lonliness has always been there each time. No lie, that stuff can feel rough.

Do I feel all alone on my Path? Depends on what day and hour you ask me. Right now, with all the COVID-19 issues out there keeping people from meeting – my answer would be yes. When all this clears up, and I can get out and meet with other Pagans? Probably not. In the meantime, I do the best I can to cope. Emails, texts, video playback of gatherings that happen online ( live streaming is a little difficult from where I am at) – this will have to suffice as I move forward. In the meantime, to avoid thinking about the solitary aspect of my walk as it currently stands in today’s environment, I go back into doing my Ovate grade studies. And sharpening my database and programming skills. And reading. All of this comes down to one prevailing thought. In all of the dark times I have encountered in my daily walk, the only way out was to keep walking. To keep moving forward. No matter how lonely it felt, I knew it couldn’t last forever. Because I cling to hope like my old, beat-up Teddy Bear from my childhood. Were it not for that tattered Teddy Bear as the physical incarnation of hope, I am not sure what might happen.

–T /|\

Inspiration + Creativity + Enthusiasm = Personal Passion (Thinking About)

Inspiration. Creativity. Enthusiasm. Mix that all together, and you have your passion. All that wrapped up together creates an energy that is unlike any other. A heady elixir that you will crave to the end of your days in this existence after you taste its first drops. Some people search for what will drive their passion throughout their entire lives. Others know exactly what it is at an early point in their life, and spend their days pursuing it in a maddening, inspiring chase that at times resembles the travails of the Wild Hunt at its pinnacle.

Recently, I have been watching Ant Anstead Master Mechanic tv series on the MotorTrend channel. Now, I am familiar with Ant’s work from his time with the show “Wheeler Dealers”, also on the MotorTrend channel. He has a very peculiar sense of humor, but also gets really passionate in explaining how a car part actually works. Now, I’m not a mechanic whatsoever. Unless you count working on computers as being a type of mechanic. I learn a few things about how cars work through Ant’s explanations, but not enough to roll up my sleeves and hang my shingle as an auto mechanic. No, what really draws me to Ant is his passion for what he does. On his new show, the Master Mechanic one, he is building a tribute car to the 1930s Alfa Romeo 158 Grand Prix race car. I watch and marvel at his ability to create this vehicle from scratch, using old car parts from a Fiat Spyder (I think that’s what it was) and some newer technology parts to make the vehicle far safer than its inspiration. Watching him work and explain is like watching a kid in a candy store with $100 in his pocket and no adult supervision.

I love being around people that are like this. I love listening to them explain whatever it is that they are doing, even when I don’t understand one bit of what they are talking about. Its not the topic, its the energy. The way they glow as they describe all the intricate details of what they are doing. Its just amazing to bask in their exuberance.

I have been told that I can get the same way, too. No surprise to me there. Databases are a fascinating world to me. I can remember when I got hired at the college, I could talk anyone’s ear off about how to setup a database or how to write a complex query. I’m passionate about the storage, maintenance, and reporting of data. I can also remember during my last year at the college how quickly people turned me off as well. That’s the other side of having that uncontrollable passion. Not everyone appreciates it for what it is. In my case, it essentially turned me into a pariah within the system – someone that was shunned and disregarded, even in my own field of passion. Truth be told, when I got fired, it was no surprise to me. In fact, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my chest and I could breathe freely again. You can snuff out someone’s enthusiasm quite easily, particularly when you dismiss that passion as “useless”, “misguided”, or “stupid” – all words that I was told to my face about how I felt about working with data. yes, from people in a college who had been directed by upper management to become “data-centric” in their decisions. In many ways, I’m quite content to not work there anymore. But that’s getting side-tracked…

One of the big points that Ant makes in his show is that building a car from scratch requires about “80 percent preparation.” This is true of anything you do, even within your area of passion. Database schematics need to be determined and figured out – right down to the data type. Which key fields map to what tables is also important. The same holds true for anything that you are passionate about. You have to lay the groundwork to be able to create from. This even holds true within your Spirituality.

I have talked quite a bit about how my own Spirituality is rather free-form. However, even that requires a degree of preparation as well. Before I could get to the point of being able to free-wheel what I do on a day-to-day basis, I needed to take the time to build the basics, or if you prefer, develop the groundwork for everything. For instance, how to construct the beginning aspects of a ritual for just myself. Do I draw a boundary between myself and the world? No. I prefer to have everything in the open and not bound away from the connections I feel with the world around me. Do I call to the Four Directions? Yes. Plus, I have certain Gods and Goddesses ascribed to each direction, all of which has meaning for me. Do I do magickal workings once I have completed the start of the ritual. That depends on what you call magickal workings. Most of the time, I meditate and seek guidance from the Gods and Goddess I have chosen to work directly with. Sometimes, I write. Sometimes, I just sit and let the experience of my immediate surroundings wash over me. Just depends on what and why I am doing this for. Regardless, there is a basic framework I manage. On top of that framework, I add my own flourishes to make it my own.

Does that work for everyone? I don’t think so. But I can only speak for myself. You would have to do a lot of asking to find out the true answer to that question. But before I could add the flourishes that I use, I had to know what the basics were, and how each worked. No different for database work or automotive work. You have to understand the territory you are about to work within before you start moving things around.

For me, it helps that I am super passionate about my beliefs and the ritual patterns associated with it. That passion keeps the framework in my mind, and makes it easier to recall those requirements when I have need of them. Same thing with databases, and the same for automotive issues, I would guess. Now, I do tend to forget things from time to time, which is why I have things written down. That way I have somewhere to reference when my mind doesn’t want to remember. Its the same reason my bookshelves are lined with several texts on databases. I always have something to reference when I am forgetful or even when I am about to really experiment with what I have. I can check to see what the rules and requirements are before I start playing the mix-and-match game.

I’m willing to bet that you are super passionate about something. Star Wars, maybe. Or writing. And I’m also willing to wager that in your passion, you have learned the basic components of what you are passionate about. Those basics are the foundations of what really excites you…the stuff that really gets you. And that’s important. Its quite a heady drink to have. And it is so very worth it – even when others scoff at what is important to you. Don’t be deterred when others don’t “get it” – just keep stepping and bouncing to the beat of your drummer.

–T /|\

Thinking About: My Potential Role and Why

So…another Thursday dawns, and with it another ‘Thinking About” segment. This time, I want to pull the focus back from all the politics, revolution and talk of change to the concept of police forces. Not that this stuff does not have an importance in everyone’s live, but uber focusing on it certainly gets old after all – and all the talk around it starts to feel like a tremendous echo chamber. So, its a little important to pull back a bit, if for nothing else than sanity’s sake.

In my mundane life, I’m what is usually referred to as a “Generalist”. I have programming skills. I can handle networking and system administration functions adequately. I can troubleshoot issues with desktop systems and help non-technical users manage their way out of confusion. I can build and repair hardware systems. I am quite capable of working Project management timelines and associating costs to tasks. I can troubleshoot difficult software problems. My area of primary ability – where I am the strongest – is in managing and dealing with database systems. To that end, I can also do some data analysis, though my skill set there is rudimentary, at best. I am not a “professional” looking individual. I am closer to the wild-eyed, coffee-guzzling, grizzled Information Technology geek that is kept in the back. Honestly, this is where I am most at home. Let me know what needs to be done, and I’ll do it. Bring me up front in front of all the Executive members, and they will wonder what sewer you dug me out of. I am better at being your “Mr. Scott” than being your “Mr. Spock” or to quote a sketch from the comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”: “Scotty, just fix the fucking engines…”

Would it surprise you to know that this type of role is also where I am most comfortable within the Pagan community? You know, the Pagan that rolls up their sleeves and tries to get things completed….or in some cases, just started. I am not comfortable formulating the overall plan, but I can look over the plan and tell you where things might have issues – where things will potentially bottleneck. Ask me what the best route to take to get a local Community from point A to point B, and I can formulate a few suggestions, but I doubt many of them will be good. Ask me how to get the community moving in the direction of point B, I’m more than likely your Pagan. But there is a problem.

I am not just a technician. I ask questions. Furthermore, I will try to determine better paths to a solution. There are a lot of people in leadership roles that have issues with people like me. Many folks in leadership spots are accustomed to providing directives and having folks do what they are asked. But I do have to ask questions because I like to make sure every avenue is explored. Plus, if I do not understand what is being done, I tend to ask. Not because I am questioning the ability of the person who set things up, but because for me to do my job correctly and efficiently, it helps to know what the end result that is attempting to be achieved is. What I have found is that this tends to irk people, rather than them feeling that I am trying to be helpful. That leads to a lot of friction, which cascades into personality issues. I am more than understanding over the fact that I can be quite abrasive, especially when I feel that I am being blown off so that I will just get back to work.

So how does all that fall back to my Druidry? Well, the way I work is an intricate part of who and what I am. I cannot turn that off. I do the same thing within my Druidry, and the results of that type of working is probably a large part of why I choose to work alone. See, while I do ask a lot of questions, I am also a conflict-adverse individual. I do not like to start up arguments or even continue an argument – unless there is a valid reason to do so. To me, short-term conflict and disagreement is useful, but only if there is discussion associated with it. If the response I get is to “shut up and just do it”, as I have heard so many times in my previous job….well, I tend to stop asking questions or offering solutions after a while, which runs counter to my nature. I like to be helpful. But I can only be beaten down so much until I become unresponsive. To avoid a lot of that, I work alone. That means that my arguments tend to be with myself, as do my discussions. And now, you have an even clearer picture as to why I tend to follow my Path alone.

But I am not completely solo, Han, Hope or otherwise. I do like to be around other Pagans. I do enjoy conversing with other folks and discussing where and how they are on their own Paths. Those conversations are not only fun, but informative. And yes, I do offer advice and a different perspective from time to time. I’ve never worried about whether someone follows what I tell them. They have to figure out that for themselves, and its a point I always try to make clear.

Tuesday, I posted about finding one’s leadership role within today’s society. Don’t worry, I am not about to go on a short rant about that here. Rather, I want to focus on the Lakota proverb I posted.

Do not only point the way, but lead the way. — Lakota proverb

My role as a Druid (Ovate grade, OBOD) is simply this – to be there for others. I am not going to tell people what to do. Rather, I am going to gather up the lantern and help find the way for not only myself, but others. In a weird sort of way, I am like Charon, the Boatman of the river of Styx. I just don’t have a boat nor am I requiring the payment of the coins placed on your eyes to ferry you across. Or maybe, I am a signpost, pointing the way, with the number of miles left to go. My role is not to lead you, but to help you find your own footing on your own Path. In a super strange sort of way, that’s what this particular blog is becoming. I don’t overtly point you down your Path. I do my best to provide with points and topics to turn over in your own mind as you travel on your Path. Some are not going to see me in that light…and to be honest, I am perfectly fine with that. What I have to say and the way you interpret it, is for you and you alone. I’m no Oracle. I’m no Seer. I’m just the guy in engineering….

And Captain, its those damn dilithium crystals that are causing the problems!

–T /|\

Thinking About: Changes

Not completely sure what to write about for today’s “Thinking About” topic. I could discuss all the protests, but really that’s been overdone on various social media outlets to the point that my head is starting to hurt. I could do a detailed look at Disney’s “The Mandolorian” but that’s more of a personal musing than anything else. So, this post might sit for a bit until I can figure something out…

Well, with Life constantly moving at breakneck speed, I am now at the end of the day…and sort of in the same space as before. But….there are places we can take this to….

Tomorrow, June 5th, my calendar shows that Philip Carr-Gomm’s farewell address to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids will take place. On the 6th, Eimer Burke’s installation ceremony as the Order’s new Chosen Chief will take place. Both are, at least in my mind, big changes for the Order going forward. For many of us, myself included, Philip is the only Chosen Chief we have known. And for some, Eimer may be an unknown quantity of sorts. I have had the opportunity to meet both over the last few years at Gulf Coast Gathering, and I find that they are two very different people. Where Philip is a quiet individual (from what I experienced of him), Eimer is quite vivacious and outgoing. I enjoyed my self-limited experience of both (more on that in just a moment) during my time there. I know the two of them have spent a lot of time trying to make this transition as smooth as possible, and as a member of the Order, I deeply appreciate this. I am looking forward to both events in the next two days, as well as the coming future.

Now, I noted my time with them was self-limited. I tend to do that with any of the guests that Gulf Coast Gathering has. On the one hand, I am one of nearly fifty guests there. On the other hand, the guests are there to soak up as much as they can of Louisiana that can be offered through the Gathering’s weekend. I am always cognizant of taking up the time of people, especially those whom I only know in passing. I did the same at the OBOD East Coast Gathering with Damh the Bard, his lovely wife Cerri and Kristoffer Hughes. I didn’t try to insinuate myself into the smaller campfire conversations that they were a part of. After all, the three of them had traveled from the UK to the States – they deserved time away from everyone and everything as much as the next person. Just my own perspective on that….everyone else’s mileage may vary.

The calendar also notes that the 24th is the coming Alban Hefin, or Midsummer or Summer Solstice, which reminds me that I should already be planning for that to one degree or another. Just where in the Nine Hells did this year go?? While I am not huge on celebrating the Wheel of the Year, instead focusing on finding celebration in daily ritual perspectives, I do my best to at least be observant of the Solstices. Doesn’t mean I always manage to do so…but I try.

The reality is that we’ve reach June. By the end of the month, we’ll be reaching the mid-point of the year. Looking back, its not exactly been the best start to a year, but looking forward – I see a lot of hope. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Coronavirus, racial strife raising its ugly head again, the lashing out of a President without controls – how in the world can I see hope in all of that? Well, let’s start with the same notion of what is taking place tomorrow and Saturday within OBOD – change. Coronavirus has not only made us change the way in which we communicate with each other, but also made us very aware of how connected we are to one another through our environment. We wear masks to keep from spreading the virus between us all, we have learned the connecting to one another can be done without being around each other, and I am fairly certain all of this is going to change the way we deal with one another with a different manner of closeness. All the racial issues that have reared up are showing us how much more still has to be changed going forward. We are still a long ways from being able to remove this ridiculous bias towards skin pigmentation that permeates throughout our society in the world. Regardless of skin color, hair color, eye color, handedness, height, weight, number of digits….we’re all still human beings. The same with some minor differences of diversity, which makes things pretty cool and fun, in my opinion. So, instead of seeing despair, I see a progression towards change. Its just up to us how we want that change to manifest.

The elephant in the room. The violence, the looting, the generally bad behavior. Look folks, that is going to happen when people get frustrated. No its not “right” – it is understandable. Plus, some of that is not perpetrated by the BLM folks, but by others with other agendas…and genuine criminal types seeking an advantage to what they do. But when you’re not listened to, told to sit down and shut up whenever you voice concerns, and police brutality continues to happen in major disproportionate numbers to people of your skin pigmentation….there is going to be frustration that grows from that. Plus, let’s not let that behavior hijack the overall message. Stuff needs to be done, stuff needs to be changed, stuff needs to be set right. That’s right…change is not only needed, its going to be necessary.

So….someone once asked me what I thought about June in terms of the year. Well, its the last month of the first half of the year. Its a tipping point, where the year becomes a downward slope. Its a place of change. And everywhere I look, I see change occurring. Some of it is fast change, some of it is much slower change – but its all change. And if we adjust right, its all good.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Winds of Change

So. Folks are rioting over the deaths of various folks at the hands of brutal police tactics. They are aggressive in their protests. They are destroying property. And a lot of folks that are fairly well off are wringing their hands over all of it with worry on their minds.

But here’s the thing, when someone feels that they are not being listened to, feels that they are not being treated fairly or equally…the last recourse that they feel they have is to react in a manner like this. Its an understandable reaction and a natural recourse to where these folks feel they are in today’s society.

Is it the end of America? The beginning of the destruction of what is America? Hardly. This is a marker of a need for change. Our society still lives around the idea that a corporate product is more important than the wage workers that support its creation and sale. Currently, many of those wage workers have been sent packing from their jobs because of this COVID-19 pandemic. Its not the livelihoods of the corporate elite that are in danger here. These wage workers are in danger of losing their housing. With no job and no associated health-care, these are perilous times for these folks. There’s a need for change….and this has nothing to do with politics. This is not about pulling down and putting away historical remembrances of the US Civil War. This is bigger than all of that, and far more meaningful.

This is about societal change. Where we start caring about one another…and stop the soul-less concept of just looking out for number one. We are at a cross-roads for our futures. What we decide to do at this point will reverberate throughout our Past, Present and Future.

Now, you can look back through the posts here on the blog – you’ll find I don’t say much about stuff like this at all. That’s because I don’t write this blog to influence who you do or do not vote for. Nor do I write this blog to chide you over whatever other choices you do or do not. I sincerely believe in your ability to choose for yourself. And I sincerely believe in the ability of human beings to do the right things on their own. This blog is not about celebrating that or being some kind of instruction manual for how to live one’s life. I have no desire to be that person.

What I do hope that comes across in the blog, is that my own perception of other people comes from their actions – not from their skin color, hair color, eye color, height, weight, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever else you can come up with. I try very hard to live my life not judging people on the way that they look, but rather on the actions (or non-actions) that they take in their lives. Because this is the way I HOPE the rest of the world can start to act in this same manner. And yes, I am aware that I am a single individual, and that my influence is limited to those that will read this blog. But I am reminded of a quote from the Dalai Lama

Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.

My reach may not be very far, but I hope that it affects change in someone else, who can be the next pebble dropped into water – thus increase the reach of this idea – and so on, and so forth. The Gods know, I am far from being perfect. I have my own personal prejudices that I fight on a daily basis….but I do fight. I do my best to affect change within myself. And that is really all I am in control of. My fight is a constant internal struggle, and not seen by very many. I can only hope that others can see my struggle and desire to change, and seek that in themselves as well.

One last thing, let’s remember that people are not born as racists. Its a taught thing. Most of us that acknowledge our own struggles with racist concepts in our lives – no matter what skin pigmentation you have – learned that behavior from others. I know I did. And I am not holding my parents as members of the Klan or something. But they did occasionally comment about how I was supposed to be better than others simply because of my skin color. Over time in their lives – both of my parents have passed away a while back – they came to understand a little better that skin pigmentation meant nothing. Its the internal will and desire of the individual that causes them to succeed and none of that will and desire comes out of skin color. It comes solely from inside the individual. It took them a long time to accept that and change, but they did change. Their desire was to be better grand-parents than they were parents – and I like to think that they succeeded at that. Others can change too. Maybe not as fast as you want them to, but they can change. With some patience, love, and understanding.

Where we stand now, with escalating violence in these protests, the burning of buildings, the constant barrage of “burn this mother-fucker down” — the effect of getting people to listen… Its been achieved. People are listening. The news coverage is there. Its time to talk openly about what is needed. The changes that must be put into effect. How brutal police tactics need to come to a halt. Changing laws so that police officers can be held accountable in a court of a law. Breaking the barriers that provide the unseen privileges that whites like myself enjoy without even the barest knowledge of it existing. Now is the time to talk. Now is the time to make the demands. Now is the time to make those changes happen. I can only hope that some folks that everyone can listen to say something, and start moving towards effecting these changes.

By the way. I said this was not about politics. Its not. But politics may need to be utilized as a form of leverage to get there. To be openly honest, I don’t believe that either the Republican or Democratic candidates are the people poised to make those necessary changes – much less even listen. And no, I don’t believe that Mr. Sanders would have been the right person either. Mr. Obama was the right catalyst to start the conversation to make those changes. America is going to need another forward-thinking President that can create inclusion to help get over this hump. Who that individual is – I have no fucking clue. I just know that individual did not run for President of the United States in this cycle.

We aren’t looking at a change of “Empire” or the crumbling of America as it stands. In my eyes, that’s not what the Storm is all about. We are; however, looking at a strong societal change coming down the streets of this country. In fact, I can see a lot of this same change starting to well-up in the streets around the world. We have to change our mindsets from getting whatever we can for ourselves and our chosen tribes – and fuck everyone else. We are hearing people’s anger over being treated differently than others. The laws of our various countries are meant to be applied equally across the board – not at differing levels according to your skin color or the amount of money you make. In the workplace, there is enough monetary wealth to insure that workers in your companies have more than adequate health-care, the means to do more than survive from paycheck to paycheck, and for facilities for the appropriate and loving care of their young children. We have the monetary means to insure that our education systems are more than government run babysitting facilities. But to get there…..we have to find a way to get people to stop being consumed by greed, and that is a steep hill to traverse. Not impossible, but extremely difficult. We, as a species are better than this. I have faith that we can accomplish this, but no mistake – it will require changing a lot of mindsets. And I sincerely doubt its going to happen in my lifetime or the lifetime of my child, or even his children. But I do have hope that it will happen. It will be a long, tiring road. We need to vow to be there for each other, and even for those who think differently than we do. Showing them that we live and love the way we think – that’s what will change minds.

#TwoQuid

–T /|\

Thinking About: The Power of Words (Magick)

Its Thursday….which is exactly a week since the last blog post. I went down to Houston to see someone this past weekend, so that left the weekend posts out of the loop. Then when Tuesday rolled around, I thought it was Monday…until about 11pm that night. So that’s how Tuesday fell out. My fault. But then I don’t have an army of these posts floating around either. I write these off the top of my head – on the days that I post them. Today is no exception to that. As usual, I am stuck for a topic at the moment…and no, I have no desire to write about politics or what’s in the news. Just really don’t want to rehash what’s already out there….

A long while back on the blog – somewhere, I’m just too lazy to go look it up – I had a bit of a discussion on magickal names. The idea seems to come from picking a new name when you start your Path down whatever Tradition you are in – you take a new name to signify the change you are going through in your life. When I first started on my original steps in Wicca, I did this as well. I didn’t really stray too far from who I am – I went with my pen-name, Robin Birchleaf. This was the name I’ve used in writing my poetry…at the time, it was on various dial-up Bulletin Boards. Nowadays, my poetry tends to be kept private or when I do post it publicly, I do so here on this blog. But the name seemed to suit me. Robyn came from the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Robyn Goodfellow, a play that has filtered throughout my life in various manners. Birch is one of the younger trees in the Beth-Luis-Nion alphabet (I think that’s right) and signified my start on this new Path. The leaf? Well, I am just one individual of a greater whole…the leaf seemed appropriate.

These days, I go by my nearly life-long nickname – TommyElf. This is another name that originated from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. Growing up, my hair was nearly white in color, which is hard to believe given my dirty, dish-water blonde hair of these days. The high school students at the local Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) were putting on the play, and were auditioning parts. I happened to be playing soccer nearby. The teacher leading the production saw me, and asked me to come in and read a few lines…as King Oberon. She liked me in the part so much, she asked where I lived, and walked me back to my home there in military housing – so she could ask my parents if it was alright for me to play the role. To shorten this down a bit…my parents said yes, and I was in the week-long run of the play. After the play’s run was over, I would run into the same high school students from the play – and the referred to me as “King Elf” for a short while, a nod to my role as Oberon. Shortly after, they started referring to me as “Tommy the Elf” which got shortened to “Tommy Elf”. In later years, I’ve just scrunched it all into a single word “TommyElf” and I have become far better known by this than even my legal name.

This is the lesson in the power of names – magickal or not. My pseudo-name Robyn Birchleaf lends power and meaning to the first steps of Pagan Path. I use it sparingly now, still primarily with my poetry writing. My childhood nickname, on the other hand, has taken a life of its own – with whatever power and meaning it lends to the person who uses it. For some folks it can be a happy thing. For others, it can have a meaning like “Oh shit, here comes THAT dude.”

But that gets me to thinking a bit more about the power and meaning we place behind all kinds of words. I have often wondered if writing can be considered as some kind of spell or magickal working? Just putting thoughts to the reality of existence – and yes, there is POWER in doing just that. Just as there is POWER in the way a good speaker tells a story with intricate details and flowery wording – weaving that picture in the minds of those listening. Writers do the same thing…even in something as simple and mundane as blog posts. A well written piece (that typically doesn’t come from this corner folks) can excite you, outrage you, make you fall in love, or feel completely at peace with everything around you. Or maybe even all at once. What we read, what we speak – how we speak it, how we write it – that’s all got power within it. That’s all pure magick.

Yeah. Magick. As in spells and all that stuff that I avoid like the plague. And yet here I am, doing just that in the writing word – or when I ran the podcast, in what I talked about. Others can do all the wand waving and the incantations at the precise moment that the moon reaches apogee and the ginger-ale in the cauldron boils….or whatever — I’ll stick to honing my magick through writing. And occasionally speaking when invited to do so. (Just remember, I write and say “fuck” a lot – I’m generally NSFW, unless told to bring it down a notch or twelve)

So….make your magick your way. If writing or speaking just ain’t your thing….cool. Whatever is your way, do it. But for me, I am just starting to realize where my magick really is. And now I have to sharpen it and make it better. I am trying. And I haven’t even started addressing the ideas of music or even computer coding as magick.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Aptitude Testing and Personal Spirituality & Growth

What do you want to do with your life? Here, take this block of aptitude tests, so we can figure out what career path will work best for you…

I remember these kinds of questions quite well. The first one, I heard from my parents, my high school teachers, and my high school guidance counselor – ALL the time. And I honestly had no real clue. I was enthralled with the Apple //+ computers that were in a basement classroom at my high school, and completely in love with my Commodore 64 computer, but I was never really sure you could make a living with these things. The second, the statement about aptitude tests, was what the United States Air Force made me do when I had initially enlisted. I had seven months from the time I enlisted to my initial reporting date to Basic Training. In the time between, I went in for an all-day physical, where they tested my reflexes, my hearing, my sight, my teeth, my heart rate, and made me pee into a bottle for drug testing (good luck finding anything aside from alcohol). The next week, they sent me in for a series of aptitude tests called ASVAB (otherwise known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The four areas tested are Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Mathematics Knowledge. These are all combined into a singular score which is then utilized as an AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) which determines if you’re qualified to enlist in the US military service. That was all back in 1984, when I took the test….I know its still given, but I am not sure of how it used now. Back then, your scores helped determine what specialty job you were assigned to. Me…even with my lower mathematical scores (I only went as high as Algebra II in high school), I was placed in command-and-control systems, which included the wild world of cryptography. My ease of use and understanding of computer equipment, apparently made me ideal for this career field, and off the Air Force trundled me in that direction.

I have a lot to thank the Air Force for in that regard. They taught me a trade skill. They taught me responsibility and leadership. They also showed me that my absolute adoration of the Apple //+ and the Commodore 64 from my latter high school days, could become an occupational skill set. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been noted as an individual with mechanical aptitude. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by people who can work on engines of all sorts…but that’s just not me. No, computers were the big dream, I just had no idea how that dream could be formed and shaped – at least not until I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 2003.

All of that got me into thinking….which is why this has wound up here in a “Thinking About” segment on the blog. I wonder….how did I get to this point in my Spiritual Path? What was the “big, formless dream” that I had in regards to my personal Spirituality that led me down to here?

Fortunately, there’s no ASVAB testing to determine your faith. I mean, we had those idiotic vocational tests in high school that would attempt to determine if you were a writer or something else that it tried to determine. Mine came back with “Philosopher” – no, seriously. I figured I could get a better descriptive out of a box of Cracker Jacks. But there’s nothing like that for testing your Spirituality. Big burly guy, who likes axes and swords? Well, you belong in the Heathen club. Petite young lady who has an affinity for the color black or purple? Off down the Witch Path with you. Like wearing white and being in the forest? Welcome to Druidry! Yeah, thank the Gods that there is no ASVAB for Spirituality.

I have talked about my perspective before…I was drawn to Polytheism earlier on, thanks to my constant reading about the Greek and Roman Gods out of the encyclopedia sets in the library. But how I showed up with Druidry, was a much longer road. In the very beginning, for me, there was Wicca. And it just didn’t work. I went overseas to a new military duty station and left Wicca behind for a bit. There, I met Pagans of very different stripes, including a couple of Ceremonial Magicians. I figured out fairly fast that I wasn’t interested in that direction either. When I came back to the United States, I found a different Wiccan tradition, and give it a second try…with the same results. So I started hunting for something that might fit better – with the knowledge that I might not fit anything. I ran across Druidry through Ross Nichols’ work, “The Book of Druidry”. After reading it, I could not see how Druidry could fit into what I was trying to do…thinking that the way Druidry was described was a hard, fast set of rules. So I kept looking. Eventually, I came across Philip Shallcrass’ book, “Druidry: A Practical and Inspirational Guide” published through Piatkus Books. This made me reevaluate what I had read in Nichols’ book, and I started to realize that Druidry was a lot more than I had thought – and was far more pliable in relation to my own beliefs. This search through Druidry led me to a better understanding of how I could make Druidry my own through the OBOD teachings. And that’s the short version of how I got here.

Thinking through all of that, I wonder what would have happened way back in 1984, if I had take a Spirituality aptitude test to determine what Path I should follow. I had been through Catholic schools through the seven years of my secondary education. This included mandatory education in Catholic theology, an area I understood quite well despite my reluctance to adopt its teachings as Writ. When I started looking through other faiths, I settled on Southern Baptist for the year and a half prior to entering the United States military. This was mostly because most of the people I had as friends were Southern Baptist, and it was a way to somewhat identify with them. Again, I understand the perspective, just never really bought the idea that it was holy Writ. Where would I have wound up? Well, given the amount of programming and teaching that was poured into my head on a nearly daily basis at school…I’d probably have remained within the Catholic faith. What that would have done to me as a person, I am not even sure I want to contemplate.

Did I dream of being a Druid? Of being a Polytheist? No, I can’t really say that I did. At least not anymore than I did when I was trying to figure out kind of job a person could get for fiddling around on a computer, playing with native programming languages. Or that there was even some abstract concept such as a data-driven database that I could stuff information into.

Am I glad to be here? To be in Druidry? Of course I am. This is the best fit of anything that I have encountered for the way I view and deal with my own Spirituality. I am happy with where I am, with what I have become, and for the choices I have for what I can become. There was a lot of hardship and confusion along the way, but all of that helped me to determine ways of working through issues and problems. All of my life has been an informed process of getting to this point and will continue to do so going forward. Honestly, I would not have it any other way – because this is me. And I am happy with me. And its been a much more logical choice and solution than what I think may occurred – had there been an aptitude test for Spiritual back in my last year of high school.

–T /|\

View From Medicine Wheel

Teaching and Learning, My Way

For about the last six weeks, I have been peppered with questions asking if I was going to do what other Pagans have started to do – teaching online. I have tried to be light-hearted about the potential idea – but the true reality is that I am not the kind of teacher that folks would really get much out of way. My way of teaching follows the same perspective of how I learn – it’s about discussion and experience. Honestly, theory blows by itself because there is nothing tangible to hold on to until you try it out. That turns theory into experience and puts this right into my wheelhouse. Makes sense? No? Perhaps, I need to dig a little deeper into how I teach and how I learn…and why this way makes sense to me.

For a little more than three years, I taught Intro to Information Systems in a collegiate setting. The first semester I taught, I had four classes and stuck hard to the material. However, once I got the idea of what the author of the Gods-awful textbook that was assigned to the class was trying to convey – I started adding my own spin to things. I wanted to convey to the students how information systems affected their lives daily in a manner that they never really realized was taking place. I brought in examples of new computer technology, along with computer technology from back in my early hey-day in the 8-bit world. I wanted them to not only see the difference in the early technology versus the new, which afforded them a good, strong look at micronization, but I wanted them to physically hold and inspect the items for themselves. Being able to hold the technology and physically appreciate the differences is about experiencing what is there.

I also spiced up some of the lessons with stories of what I did in my days working in Information Technology Operations. As I told them in class, if there was a way to do it wrong – I’ll bet that I did it. For some of them, being able to find solutions to errors and mistakes – by making errors and mistakes – was a signal that absolute accuracy was not something that could be achieved. If you want an awesome example of that – go back a few years here in the blog and check out my horrid typing mistakes.

And all of that is how I learn best. Regurgitating information from a text or lesson plan teaches me nothing, except to memorize information for the short term. I cannot tell you how much I have learned over a high school diploma, Bachelor’s degree, and two Master’s degrees that I have forgotten shortly after I no longer had a need of that knowledge. I retain what I need to know and lose the stuff that has no real application to what I am trying to complete. I had a strong, wonderful education in Catholic history, theology, and teachings when I was in high school. I wasn’t even a Catholic and I understood things far better than most of my classmates. I graduated high school in 1984 – I can tell you right now, that my recall of that knowledge has been next-to-zero. I started on my Pagan Path in late 1986 and set aside everything I had learned about Catholicism – it just wasn’t important to me any longer…and remains in that category to this day.

I do a lot of code writing in my professional life. I have certain aspects of code memorized. Others, I don’t use as often, so I keep a lot of the code I have written over the years – so I can bring my mind back to it. I have programs that I have written in Pascal, C, C+, C++, SQL, and a few variants of BASIC. I am not a proficient programmer, since I do not understand a lot of the programming language’s syntax, but I understand the logical pattern of loops, structured programming blocks and modular programming. I don’t understand development concepts such as Agile, because I have no need for it. I know how to tackle a program’s basic constructs and move on from there.

How did I manage all of that? Trial and error – basic experience. People have often asked me why I don’t do magick workings or spell work. It’s simple. I see those as a nuclear option – essentially a last resort. I try to solve things with my hands, my brain and my sweat first. Nine-Hundred-and-ninety-nine times out of a thousand, one of those methods or a combination of some sort tends to achieve the results I want. Magick and spell-work I hold off for that one chance in a thousand….and then, I still must ask myself if I want to travel down that route. In other words, do I really need it.

I know the question…why not teach? Because my idea of teaching Druidry and Paganism is more about sitting with you around a late-night campfire and having a casual conversation. On what? You pick the topic. You pick the starting point. Over the course of the conversation, I can assure you that we will wander all over the place – and hit whatever topic you want. But here’s the real hitch to things: I don’t have any answers for you. You’ll find that those are inside of you and have been all the time – you just needed to talk it out with someone that you trust and understand, that would presumably me. Why, I am not sure…but hey, it’s a hypothetical situation. What does it cost? Maybe two or three beers. And a little time. And trusting enough to open yourself to a healthy conversation. To me, this is what teaching is about. Not pouring information INTO you, but helping you get OUT of you what’s already in there and that you instinctively know.

See, teaching online isn’t really the grandest perspective for me. Other folks are wanting to give you knowledge. I just want to talk with you. I cannot see charging you a single dime for something we can do for free on the front porch swing at your house. I’m not arrogant enough to think my ideas and perspective are any better than the folks down the road. The difference is simply that I am here, and you feel trusting enough to talk with me. I’m no guru. I’m no leader. I’m nobody special. I’ve just been on my Pagan Path long enough to keep the drama out of my life as much as I can, and to know when an experience is one I shouldn’t step into. That took time to learn. The only way you’re going to learn it, is to grab that hot pot handle and burn yourself. That’s how you’ll know.

–T /|\

Thinking About: The Storm – Just One Opinion

Remember back in 2019, when we were looking at the coming year of 2020 as a better day? That things were going to be a little easier? I do. Somewhat. I don’t really look to a period of time in the future to being better than the one I am currently standing on. That’s because I don’t know whether it will or won’t be. My personal philosophy is take each day one step at a time. Take each week one day at a time. Take each month one day at a time. Each year one day at a time. Each decade one day at a….what? Oh, you get the point. 🙂

I do hear a lot of people openly hoping for that better day coming. Or even those that keep hoping that the future will look like the past. Both sets of folks are going to be disappointed, in my opinion. The only thing I can be one-thousand percent confident about is what has already happened in the past. What’s happening today? Right now? That’s as much a surprise for me as it is for you. What’s happening in the future? I have no idea. I’m no fortuneteller nor do I claim to have any stranglehold on any corner of what is to come. As such, I can only take one day at a time.

But, here’s what I know. And it comes from a set of lyrics from the band Styx. The song if “These are the Times”….

If the flickering light of your campfire dims
The world grows smaller, it’s closing in
I’m standin’ here, and I want you to live

(I know) These are the times we find out who we really are
This will be when a true friend stands at your side
Someone like me who wants to believe
In the days of high times and innocence
Drawing the lines and shouting back to the night
Someone like me who wants you to live

–Styx, “These are the Times”

Just about every Pagan I know is talking about the phenomenon known as “The Storm”. Some have been talking about it for several years. Others are just coming around to the concept. When you arrive at the idea doesn’t really matter. The Storm is The Storm. Many folks pin it to the concept of the crumbling American Empire. Not me. I see it differently (of course I do – I have to be different – or so some folks would say). This isn’t about the decay of an Empire. Nor is it the orgasmic demise of Capitalism within society. Certainly that idea is better than Viagra for Bernie Sanders, but I just don’t buy into it being the core of The Storm. At best, those concepts are symptom of what is taking place.

For me, from what I have been able to glean and tease from my understanding of what is taking place, this is about a societal change in the way we regard others. The old guard – mostly people of my generation, the Baby Boomers – have held the aspects of wealth and material accumulation above everything else. This is basically a knee-jerk reaction to the concept of the Hippy generation prior to them, where people could do what they needed to so long as they didn’t harm others or the environment. In my understanding, this is an ideal perspective (I have always claimed I was born a generation late), but it does not reach far enough. The future generations see the decaying planetary environment that is currently in place. They see all the people who do not have enough to survive appropriately, and the way that society looks down upon these people because they do not help themselves out of the lower levels of society. No acknowledgement is given to un-level playing fields or the extremely difficult obstacles that have been placed in the way of most of these folks. The Storm is born from what is being done to re-balance things to be able to provide capability and capacity to those that want it.

No, I am not saying that people trying to achieve these balances are at fault for The Storm. I am saying the friction of their desired aims against the current established perspective of the so-called “haves” is causing much of what we currently have going on over our heads. That friction is causing the backlash (perceived or not) from those in positions of so-called power. I believe that this is what allowed the current US President to be elected, since most of the folks that are catching that backlash have been taught that their vote doesn’t mean anything. But that’s only a symptom of everything. The cause continues to be the struggle between two different perspectives over the value of life. Don’t think so? Recently, Governor Abbott noted in a conference call with other legislators in the state of Texas that re-opening the state would certainly result in more deaths attributed to COVID-19. Who is mostly at-risk in that situation? The wage workers in the retail stores that just opened. The lower ends of the workforce, who have been badly impacted by the lack of income from a shutdown. Those with monetary means are certainly taking a hit, but not as devastating as those wage workers who typically live from paycheck to paycheck. So, how do we know its ok to completely re-open the state and claim “victory” over a virus? Well, you need lab rats…and in chess the pawns go first. Pawns are expendable. On the chess board, these are the wage workers.

The Storm is a form of class warfare, in my opinion. And its not. Many of the people that need a leveled playing field are those wage workers. And before you accuse me of propping up in favor of my own status, I haven’t been a wage worker since 2000. However, I do know all too well what it is like to be living from paycheck to paycheck. Where tomato soup and ramen become the primary staples three to five days before the paycheck hits the account. Where a single automobile part failure can send a family budget spiraling out of control for weeks to months before recovering to where things were prior to that moment. But The Storm is a form of class warfare, and at the same time it is not. It is about finding empathic solidarity with your fellow human beings, and changing the rules from where things are set by the current societal perspectives.

Back in 1985, less than a year out of high school, I was taking a Sociology class at LSU-Shreveport. In order to demonstrate the differences in society, the class was divided into three groups – upper, middle, and lower classes. The goal of the upper class was to insure that all members stayed in that class. The goal of the middle class was to propel members upward into the upper class while insuring that no members fell into the lower class. The lower class was to propel members into the middle class. Each member of each class would draw a card that gave them a certain number of points each round. If members of the middle class and lower class had points higher than a member of the group above them, they would exchange places. In other words, if a member of the middle class had more points than the lowest member of the upper class, the two would change places in their respective groups. Predictably, when the points for each round were passed out, the upper class distributed their points among their group to insure that the lowest point members were as close to the overall group as possible. The members of the lower class would pool all their points for the round and give these to the individual with the highest number of points to move them into the middle class. The middle class group never shared their points with any of the other members – or if they did, it was an extremely rare occurrence. After about five rounds, I was in the middle class group. I set my cards down and announced that ALL of my points would be evenly distributed among the other members of my group. The professor asked me what I was doing. I stated that I realized that this was class warfare, and I had no desire to participate in such a mechanism. I was allowed to sit on the outside and declared to be “an anomaly” – essentially a random segment that exists but should be ignored as being insignificant. I have often wondered what the professor would have said if the rest of my classmates had enough spinal material to have done the same.

In a manner of speaking, my stepping out of the classroom exercise was similar to what we are experiencing with The Storm. In that classroom exercise, I received a zero, even though I had initially participated prior to my declarative moment. That was the backlash moment, my “Storm” within the classroom. We have always had those that wanted to have others treated equally within society. For the most part, their voices were small and considered insignificant. Today, “The Storm” is the equivalent of what might have happened in that classroom if my fellow students had joined me in semi-exile from the exercise. Many elements of today’s Storm are from the consequences of our collective actions as a society to keep things “status quo” when more and more people are realizing that the “status quo” is no longer truly working. Because they are willing to stand up and shout that a change is needed, you see the consequences of those actions.

Please realize, I am not stating that this is a bad thing. In fact, I am a firm believer that we need to go through this to achieve what is necessary. Balancing the equation and leveling the playing field are some of the necessary elements that need to be created to allow our society to evolve beyond where we are. Certainly, I can see the elements of a “crumbling Empire” and the “death of Capitalism” encompassed within that, even though I see it more as the pains of an “evolving Empire” and a “re-thinking of Capitalist theories.” I am certainly not looking for a dystopian societal paradise. Right now, my focus is making it through the Storm with as many of you as I can. As the song says, I’m standing here, and I want you to live. Even if you are on the other side of what I see and believe. Because its not just the human thing to do. Its the right thing to do.

–T /|\

Thinking About: What Makes a Druid a Druid?

Yesterday, I was surprised by a comment on the blog by William. Now, I don’t get a ton of comments about the blog – either openly or privately – so getting one is always a nice surprise, but William posed a question to me, which I have to openly admit, is a really tough one to answer.

What defines or maybe a better wording is what are the essentials that make one a “druid”? What is the tie/beliefs or tenets that connects all druids and are unique to those calling themselves druids? Or is there such a thing?

This is a really tough question to answer, for a whole lot of reasons. Probably the most recognizable issue is something that William noted in his question.

Get too general and it encompasses other paths….. try to narrow it down and it seems to exclude too much.

Complicating it even more, is that not all Druids follow similar Spiritual Paths. For instance, I am a Pagan, Polytheist with bits of Animistic philosophy thrown in for good measure. There are Druids that follow a Christian Path, those that fully embrace Buddhist philosophy and principles into their Druidry. And I haven’t started to delve into the various type of Druid orders that are out there.

So where to start? Well, I could make this completely about how I see things, except that my own perspective would fall into the narrow thought process that William noted above – thus excluding a lot of other Paths and beliefs held by those that embrace Druidry at their core. When I start trying to figure things out, I tend to go into my old academic mode…I went to the bookshelf and pulled a group of books I thought might help build something of a core perspective to work from. Yes, this is my default mode. Seriously.

There is no ‘sacred text’ or the equivalent of a bible in Druidism, and there is no universally agreed set of beliefs amongst Druids. Rather than it being founded upon doctrine, it urges followers to learn from their own experience of being in the world. Despite this lack of doctrine, there are a number of ideas and beliefs that most Druids hold in common, and that help to define the nature of Druidry today. … Druids share a belief in the fundamentally spiritual nature of life. … the greatest characteristic of most modern-day Druids is their tolerance of diversity. …One of the unwritten tenets of Druidism is that none of us has the monopoly on truth, and that diversity is both healthy and natural. they also believe that the world we see is not the one that exists. –Philip Carr-Gomm, “What Do Druids Believe?” ISBN 1-86207-864-5

Within a spiritual tradition where there are so many different views it is almost impossible to find an all-encompassing definition. …In many ways, Druidry is even more complex than Paganism or another broad spirituality, such as Hinduism. Its is truly a polytheistic faith, within which can be found space and honor for any deity or any concept of deity, together with their priests, devotees and philosophers. There are many within the tradition who call themselves Christian, while some assert that Druidry is not a religion at all, not even necessarily a spirituality, but simply a philosophy of living. –Emma Restall Orr, “Thorson’s Principles of Druidry” ISBN 0-7225-3674-7

Rather than being an organized religion, Druidry offers a personal individual life path that can become part of a modern urban existence as easily as a rural life. It connects us instinctively to the life-giving energies of the earth beneath the pavement, and the sky above the highest office building. Druidry has the same reverence for the ancestors, love of nature, and awareness of the life force flowing through plants, insects, animals, and humans alike that characterize the indigenous culture of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. So in a world that daily gets smaller with the advances of technology and faster travel, people of all cultural backgrounds can find kinship within Druidic ritual and celebrations of the passing year. –Cassandra Eason, “The Modern Day Druidess” ISBN 0-8065-2637-8

So, working from these three quotes, there are a lot of directions and conclusions one can make. But in Emma Restall Orr’s quote, the notation that it is nearly impossible to find an over-arching definition of exactly what a Druid is seems to be the wisest choice of understanding here. Druidry is essentially about the individual experience, which will be completely unique from person to person. No two perspectives will be completely the same. Similar, yes – but not completely the same. But all of this is not all of what William asked. William asked for me own perspective. And for that, I will have to take a few steps backwards.

My perspective of Paganism is one of individual experience. For me to understand something, I need to experience it. That has been the case for nearly anything throughout my Life. I went to an all-boys Catholic school in my last two years of high school. Topics and perspectives were taught as infallible writ. Questioning any aspect was particularly frowned upon, and you were regarded with suspicion from that point on. All for the crime of being inquisitive enough to try and understand what was being relayed through a lens of individual experience and thought. From there, I wandered into the camp of the southern Baptists, where individual experience is described in terms of collective group perspectives. For someone seeking something that embraced the idea of individual experience, this was an off-putting environment. Eventually, I found myself within Wicca, where everything was seemingly compartmentalized into the males do this, and the females do that. Granted, this was likely some of the doing of the tradition I was a part of…but I moved on as quickly as I could. (I had been involved in Wicca earlier, but that experience was far different for a lot of other reasons) When I finally rolled across Druidry, I was not expecting the full embrace of what I came across. I had passed Druidry by several times, mostly with the thought – “I just don’t look good in white.”

What I found was a path that I would describe as a framework upon which I could hang and frame my own Spirituality, my own understanding of the world around me, and the world beyond. However it wound up looking like did not matter. It was mine. I could decorate as I felt it should. I could set what felt right to me, without judgment. But what exactly makes a Druid? What exactly does a Druid believe? What are the principles that bind all Druids together, regardless of their chosen direction? I think a lot of that is encompassed in what is termed as “The Druid’s Prayer”

Grant, O Gods, Thy Protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences,
 the love of the the Earth our mother, and all goodness.

Now, this is the version that I personally utilize. Some replace “O Gods” and “the Earth our mother” with what feels right to them. All Druids, in my experience (which is admittedly limited), believe in the points of providing Protection to those in their communities, lending their Strength to those that need it, trying to understand a perspective before making choices, continuing to broaden their Knowledge, seeking Justice where it is needed, believing in the need for Justice found through Love of all things, which brings diversity, and the love/connection with Nature (that is to say, that mankind is part of Nature, not separate from Nature).

So, what makes a Druid a Druid? Well, an attachment and affinity for those concepts, mapped against every individuals own unique experience and connection to everything around them. is there a hardcore definition that can be found and utilized? Most likely not. But if you are looking for something that might connection all Druids together, the above “Druid’s Prayer” may just be the keystone you are seeking.

…and just to muddy the waters a bit more…the “Druid’s Prayer” can easily be applied to any other Pagan Path, should the adherent choose it for their own Path. Maybe, deep down inside, we are all Druids….but only if you want to be. Your Path is your own to define. #TwoQuid

–T /|\

Thinking About: That Time When I Tossed My Beliefs on the Fire…

Sometimes, I get asked what life with two Trickster Gods – Crow and Coyote specifically – is like. Well, at times, it can feel like your life is a giant dumpster fire. Other times, its like being at a comedy rave, where the joke is your Life. But there are always lessons to be worked through, and plenty of chances to laugh at yourself. Every once in a while, you get the chance to stop and take inventory of everything that has happened. For me, this is the moment that transcends all the others. Its the moment that I really live for in my Spiritual Practice, even if it comes far more infrequently than I would prefer.

Coyote has been a part of my life far longer than Crow or even Abnoba (the Germanic/Gaulish Goddess that has been working with me recently). Coyote was there to throw the match on a lot of what I had managed to cobble together in the early aspects of my Spiritual Path. I have been on my Path for over thirty years. In the first fifteen or so years, I believed strongly in a polytheist world, but one where the Gods were psychological archetypes, not individual, distinct entities. When I moved onto the edge of the central plains (here in the United States), I managed to stumble into Coyote through a series of meditations. At first, I thought it was just a dream or some sort of manifestation of my subconscious. Then things would disappear from home, and turn up in the hands of Coyote, who would describe exactly where the item was – in a place I had not been before. That’s when my perception and understanding started to change to where I am now – that the Gods are each singular, distinct entities that are real, but just beyond the perception of one’s everyday, normal senses.

All of this placed my previous perception of Paganism and Polytheism in a position of change. Everything I knew was being tossed into a dumpster. My eyes were opened to a different level of understanding and perception. To be able to step forward, meant that it was time to light everything else I understood on fire, sit back to watch the blaze, feel the energy from the heat, and sift through the final debris to see what was salvageable. I even had a very vivid meditation that detailed this scene very well. The entire time, I heard Coyote’s howls of laughter in the background, as I felt a welling sorrow for all the work I had done and developed being destroyed right before my eyes. You can imagine how chaotic my world had suddenly become. I had no anchor to work from, nothing that felt solid.

A lot of folks would have walked away from their Paganism at this point. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame them. I nearly did as well. For a different perspective, imagine yourself as a doctoral student that has been preparing his/her final dissertation. All that hard work and research to build a strong foundation towards their Life’s work, and then having that foundation erased in a single night because of a sudden revelation about one piece of evidence. That it was an improper perspective, and removing it brings the entire study to a resounding crash.

Yep. Welcome to the crash of my world and understanding. And all of that to the soundtrack of laughter and derision from the God that pulled back that curtain. Crushed just doesn’t even begin to describe where I was.

Thankfully, Coyote was not a vengeful individual. Some pity was eventually taken upon me, and some long discussions explained the necessity of developing foundational understandings that were built of more solid aspects. Coyote even provided some direction to start working from. So, I started out rebuilding what I knew, starting with my perspective on Polytheism. From there, I started to see where the path of Druidry that I had started following – that of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) could help settle some of the framework that I needed to design from my new foundations. There were some things that I added that got laughter from Crow (and some folks that I talked with), but I learned where to defend what I had added to my structure, and where I needed to make a more critical look for amendment or deletion.

Picture by John Beckett, who takes amazing photos

Following this path has been very similar to writing a Doctoral Dissertation. Reading, research, experimentation, testing of hypothesis – all of that has helped me to get to this particular point on my Path. Please do not misunderstand, its been a major shit-ton of work, but there has been a lot of fun too. And a whole lot of learning. About me. About Druidry, in general. About Polytheism. About religion, in general. And about personal belief. And there’s a whole lot more to learn…about everything I just stated, and more. Stepping out on your own Spiritual Path is a lifelong journey. And there is no degree or graduation ceremony waiting at the very end.

That’s right. Nothing like that. When I finish the three grades within OBOD, I will still be learning about everything that I have noted, and more. The reward? The sating of my own personal curiosity and desire to learn, both of which will never have their individual thirsts quenched. What I will get from all of this is the satisfaction that I kept on learning, that I kept on experiencing. And that is what my approach to Paganism has really been all about – experiencing. I don’t accumulate the experience in order to move up to the next level for my class. Dungeons and Dragons is a really, REALLY fun game, but its not Life.

So where am I at with my Paganism? Well, let’s see – I started back in 1986. I don’t remember exactly when – so I’ll be kind and use 1987 as the first full-year in Paganism. That puts me at thirty-three years and change. But all of that time makes me no better than you. All of that time makes me…well…me. And that’s really all I can really ask for. If you are trying to figure out what do for your own Paganism, especially in this particular time-frame that our world provides for us….dive deep.

What do I mean? Simple. Set your Paganism out on the table. Dig into what it is. Do you believe in a Polytheistic Path where the Gods are individual entities? Do you believe that the Gods are archetypes that are rolled into a God and Goddess that is defined by the face of the Deity that you see? Or is it something else? Whatever it might be, examine why you believe that way. I mean REALLY examine it. Get to the root of things. Then build outward from there. And believe me folks, you won’t be able to do this in a single day or even a single week. Take your time, do it right – do it slow. When you’re peeling apart your beliefs, you are essentially re-learning you. You’re making love to what you are. Trust me, you’re going to want it slow and deep. And that’s not just some sexual innuendo.

My Life will always have these two Trickster Gods in it. Crow and Coyote enjoy tossing obstacles in my way, but nothing that I am not able to overcome. Both of them know how to challenge me. Both of them also are reminders that Life is meant to have laughter within it. No matter how much I want to be absolutely serious about a topic – there’s always some aspect of it that can appeal to the juvenile within me. And to be honest, I just love the sound of laughter….even when I’m the butt of the joke.

Dive deep….

–T /|\

Thinking About – You’ve Lost That Pagan Feeling

Thursday! Its morning, and I still have no idea what I am going to be writing about. LOL Yeah, this blog is a little off-the-cuff, but then Life is a spontaneous thing with me. Yes, I do plan things, but I try not to plan down to minor minutiae. Besides, Life is sometimes fun when the unexpected happens… Four hours later, I’m still sort of struggling with what to write…LOL

This is something that tends to happen with me when I attempt to force my writing. Essentially, I just blank out and lock-up. Its definitely one of the things that I have learned to deal with over a great deal of years. Mostly, I just let things go, and write about whatever tends to come to my mind. if nothing comes, I tend not to write.

Which leads me to wonder…could this happen when dealing with your Paganism? Well, why not? In fact…let’s make Thursday a permanent “Thinking About…” topic time, eh?

Ever had that feeling with your Spiritual Path? Everything was so strong, vibrant, and just right there – and then all of a sudden, it wasn’t? Where you feel like you should be walking in the forests of northern California, and instead its like you’re walking through the scrub prairie of western Texas? ::Raising hand:: I’ve been there. More than once. That spiritual dry spell, where it feels like you’re never going to have the same connectivity ever again. Definitely a tough place to be. Worse, it seems like anywhere you go for advice, its like whoever you talk to just doesn’t quite “get” what’s going on with you. I’ve gone through those before. I’ll tell you about the worst one though.

I was in Germany. I had been stationed at Sembach Air Base for two years, and had the luxury of living in the middle part of the Palatinate Forest Nature Park. This is an area in southwestern to mid-western Germany which has deeply wooded areas that are protected by law. There are a handful of cities within the forested area as well as a fairly good number of towns, but these municipalities are strictly maintained so as not to encroach on the forested regions. At least not without environmental impact studies and a LOT of discussion from city and town councils beforehand. This forested area is OLD. The walking trails throughout are extremely numerous, well-walked, and extremely well-maintained by the local Forest Service. It is beautiful countryside, and the magick is deeply rooted here. It takes very little effort to reach out and find the Spirits of the Land, the Spirits of Place, and all the Otherworld denizens living here.

My first two years being stationed at this particular area of Germany were an absolute wonder to me. I had shaken off the label of Wicca, as well as large aspects of that practice because it just did not suit who I was. Instead, I adopted the perspective of being just a good ol’ Pagan. Nothing more than that. I figured if some system was right for me, it would have to hit me in the face. That would happen nearly decade later, but that’s a different perspective altogether.

The change over from all of that feeling, emotion, and magick being right at my fingertips disappeared overnight on one weekend. Suddenly, I felt nothing. No matter how hard I tried to reach out, no matter how hard I tried to find that feeling again – it was all gone. I literally felt like a man who had been blinded and left to wander a featureless void. I spent nearly every moment trying to figure out why things had happened. Why I couldn’t feel. I even considered that I might be ill or even depressed, and went to the local military hospital to be checked out. Even though I had suffered a tough time after Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the answers were no to medical issues – and a “maybe” to Psychological stress. I used to drink heavily to get beyond tough moments in life. But for this? I didn’t even want to touch alcohol, it just wasn’t something I felt an urge for.

Me – USAF – July 1992

In time, I would screw up, and this got me discharged from the Air Force – two years prior to the end of enlistment commitment. I was sent back to the States and essentially dumped at the duty station nearest my place of enlistment – Barksdale Air Force in Shreveport, Louisiana. I was still having issues with feeling in touch with my Paganism, and could feel myself drifting in Life because of that. This was a very low tide period of my life. I would eventually find new friends, and basically relearned about the spark of living life. That renewed energy helped to re-kindle the fire in my life with Paganism. And suddenly, I could feel things beyond me again. It took a lot to realize that it wasn’t Paganism leaving me, it was me trying to deal with a lot of complex and emotional aspects of my life. Once I got over the hurdle – or around the obstacle as I am more likely to say nowadays – I could see the Path ahead. And seeing the Path ahead is what makes the difference for me.

Consider this for a moment, you’re shut in because of this virus stuff…and you’re feeling like your Paganism, your Spirituality, your connectivity with the world is slowly starting to die….perhaps its not. Maybe, if you think things through, you’ll find that being stuck inside is causing you to lose your connectivity, that you need that fresh air. Take a quick 15-minute walk outside. Avoid people, just like you have been told to do. Just take a quick walk. Try not to touch things, and if you do…wash your hands the moment you get back home. But if you gotta get outside…get outside. If you have a backyard…visit it often. But most importantly….realize this: you’re not alone. If you’re reading this – you’ve got the internet. Write an Email to your friend. Do a video call with them, if your connection allows for that (I can’t do streaming where I am because the internet connection doesn’t have enough power to facilitate that type of connection). Yeah, it sucks that we are all seemingly stuck inside…but we don’t have to lose our Spiritual connections over it.

The time frame that I described above is 1993-1994, just a touch before the time of the commercial internet as we know it. The internet has helped to reduce the feeling of all of us being so far apart. The internet may not have been able to help me sort some of the things I had going on in my head, but it may certainly have put me in touch with the people I missed the most – the Pagans that I knew in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Keep that in mind…being able to connect and talk with others can be helpful. I, for one, am here. Should you need to talk: elfster@gmail.com is my Email address. I may not have any of the answers, but I will listen.

–T /|\

Thinking About – Magick

A quiet night. That is what it is. I have a tall, cold glass of water on my desk. Nora Jones’ “Not Too Late” album is playing on the speakers. I have the volume down a little lower than I normally would. That beautiful smoky voice is softly rubbing against the thoughts I am allowing into my mind.

“We’re gonna be sinking soon. Everybody hold your breath because we’re gonna be sinking soon.”

What a lyric to float on by. Last year was rough. Massive health scares. Loss of a job. Yeah, last year can just scatter down the alleyway. This coming year is going to be about changes, that’s a flavor in the wind these days.

Some folks have asked how I go about doing magick. Well, to be honest, its not so much me doing magick, as it is just sitting back and letting it happen. Aleister Crowley once defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” I can understand and relate to that aspect, but for me, I have come to understand magick as a tidal force that we sometimes dip our toes and fingers into. The ripples we cause with our splashes, is a cause of what we toss into the pool. Sometimes, we want the ripples to effect something in our lives, and we attempt to have an effect on that through spell work and the such. But magick is always there. My idea of working magick comes from just sitting back, thinking about something, and letting it happen.

I don’t do a lot of spell work because I prefer to let things happen. I will influence everything as I live. My preference is to sit and think in the early morning hours or the earlier parts of the evening. The mid-day and midnight portions of the day are for other things. One of those moments, which I can still recall vividly, is the second time I attended the ADF Imbolc Retreat – that Saturday morning.

I am not one for staying up too late in the night. As I noted, midnight time has its own uses in my daily Life, namely that of sleep and dream-work. I had stayed up at the evening fire for a short time, and eventually made my way to bed – long before most folks. The next morning, I was up before the sunrise, showered and ready to greet the Sun in its promised returned. I would surmise that the fire had only recently been allowed to burn out, as there was still a smoldering aspect there. The smoke drifted upward into the cold air. The location for the retreat was in a higher elevation of the Texas Hill country, so the temperature was a little cooler than I had expected. I sat on one of the benches closest to the fire, and noticed that the wood it was feeding on was fresh, an indication that I was not the only early riser in camp. I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for a bit of a respite from company.

I did the grounding and centering exercises that I had learned from my Bardic Grade material, and then opened my senses to the world around me. I could hear the crackle of the fire, with the slight twittering of nearby birds – all carried by the slight breeze I could hear blowing through the nearby Mesquite branches. Far off in the distance, I could hear trucks applying their air brakes on the hilly portions of the nearby interstate. I let the sounds wash over me, and integrate into my own thoughts. At the time, I was fuming over trying to finish my Bardic Grade material in OBOD, and was beginning to wonder if my six years of working the material was too long. My mind set that to the side for the moment, and I wandered over to a variety of other thoughts until I was interrupted by the individual who was tending the fire. We re-introduced ourselves and started to talk about our pasts, finding much commonality between us. Through that conversation, I made mental notes on a new approach to my Bardic Grade material, eventually finding a way to work past my mental blocks.

See, I did not need to fashion a spell to work with magick. I know that spell work is something that others work with intensely and find that it works wonderfully for them. For me, not so much. Spell work, as I understand it, is a super intense mental focus, done through the use of materials or spoken words or ritualistic gestures. I completely grok how that can be helpful to other folks. For me, its really a matter of just finding a quiet place and time to think and let things happen. Perhaps, what I do can be construed to be an aspect of spell work or ritual work designed to bring magick into focus. But I prefer the idea that magick is not something to be forced into “doing” but is something that is just “being”. To use a water-ish concept, I like that the river flows on its own – where, when and how it should. I know that I could divert it to try and focus it for a particular use, such as a water wheel to move a grinding device or other uses that a water-mill has. However, I prefer to let the river flow as it does, without intervention or coaxing from me.

Perhaps, my understand of magick is vastly different than yours. I can understand that. Everyone will have their own way of understanding the more abstract aspects of such concepts. For me to say that your perception is wrong or incorrect….well, that would be greatly arrogant of me. Plus, it would go against my own acceptance that my Path is right…right for me. Parts of what I believe might be right for you…or maybe not even at all. However, I would dare not say that everyone *must* believe as I do…I left empirical Spiritual mandates behind a long time back….I have no desire to pick that up again. Ever. This is merely one perspective, which happens to be mine. Hopefully, I have articulated it well enough to allow you to understand….