Rambling On…

Yeah, I missed out on Tuesday’s blog post – I’ll make it up to keep the posting on schedule with two posts over the weekend. For today’s post, I wanted to take a little tour around a particular idea I’ve always harbored in my mind, combined with one of my favorite classic rock songs of all-time.

I’ve never made a secret of how much I love travelling, especially in the mid-western part of this huge expanse of a country. Or as Cat Treadwell once commented: “America is a big place.” Living in Texas, you get a fairly good idea of how much that statement can be. Plus, everywhere in Texas is different than somewhere else in Texas. Houston, easily one of the worst places I’ve ever visited in the state is very different from its big city cousin to the north – the Dallas/Fort Worth metromess. In between those two masses of too much population in too small of a place, there’s countryside. Pastures full of cows, horses, long-horned cattle, wheat, corn and more for as far as the eye can see on the side of the road. In some places, the view is punctuated by miles and miles for forests (in the east) or lands that are pock-marked with ridges suddenly punching towards the sky (to the west) or miles of blue sea (to the south). Depending on where you are, you can make out the distant tall peaks of the southern Rockies. All of it can be seen from the thousands and thousands of asphalt and concrete and dirt roads in the state. All of it just makes me want to continue beyond the state lines of this giant piece of land with its fscked up concept of civil administration.

Bob Seger, on his 1982 album “The Distance” has a song called “Roll Me Away” which talks about that desire that pulls me beyond the borders of wherever I’m at. That desire to be on the highway, going wherever the front tire of the motorcycle may take you. Of course, all of that requires money, time, and most importantly health. The late Neal Peart did something similar after his first wife died. Just got on his motorcycle and rode – for a little over a year.

Stood alone on a mountain top
Starin’ out at the Great Divide
I could go East, I could go West
It was all up to me to decide
Just then I saw a young hawk flyin’
And my soul began to rise
And pretty soon
My heart was singin’

Roll, roll me away
I’m gonna roll me away tonight
Gotta keep rollin’, gotta keep ridin’
Keep searching ’til I find what’s right
And as the sunset faded, I spoke
To the faintest first starlight
And I said next time
Next time
We’ll get it right

Bob Seger, “Roll Me Away”

Not a lot of people know or understand this about me. I like to drive. I took a trip from Texas to Glacier National Park up near the border of Canada in western Montana state. I didn’t fly. I drove. All three days of fourteen or more hours in a vehicle. I had the time of my life. I drove north along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains until I reached the northern crossover in Wyoming. I saw the Rockies in a way I had never dreamed of, and I never got out of the vehicle except to take rest breaks, meals, and to stop for the night. But then, any driving excursion I have taken has always been a joy for me. Seeing the world out of the windscreen is just an amazing thing for me. The only disappointments only any such trip comes from the fact that I can’t always stop at all the nearby attractions that I pass by. Thus, I have always had the fantasy of just driving throughout the United States – just to see the United States. No arrival dates, times, or places. Just a vague idea of where I was headed – Denver, maybe – enough clothes for a few days, enough food for a day or two in the truck, and a working credit card with a bank balance that can handle the monetary dent such travels would provide.

Reality brings a lot of that to a screeching halt. I have responsibilities that I have to manage. Bills, new house payment, my truck payment, responsibilities to a job (hopefully something soon), the ability to be there for certain folks should they have need, and my continuing list of health issues.

This year brings the move to Arkansas, which happens in about two weeks. I’m already laying down ideas for travel to places I couldn’t readily reach from Texas. Mammoth Cave in Kentucky ranks high on my list. Toltec Mounds just outside of Little Rock is already on my “revisit” list, given that its about a thirty-minute drive one way for me. There’s always a trip to St. Louis to see my beleaguered Reds in “enemy” territory. A trip to my parents’ grave sites is less than an hour trip. A trip to the cemetery that holds a large majority of my deceased family in Acorn, Kentucky is just an eight-hour trip. A trip to Indiana to visit living relatives is a full day’s drive (instead of two days) distance. I’m likely to surprise a few people, should I arrive for a few family get-togethers. 😊 Its always a surprise when a black sheep comes back to the flock. LOL

Little trips like that will sate my ever-growing desire for the road. My understanding is that there are plenty of trails in the nearby forests to walk. Another aspect that will make the Pagan and Druid in me happy. So this move certainly holds a lot of potential for various adventures. Still, I hear that beckoning call of the road. The desire to slip behind the wheel of the truck and just point myself in a direction – and go. Just imagine if I was in the UK or Europe. Oh boy, that’s tempting….more than you really realize.

The Road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can.

Bilbo Baggins, “The Hobbit”

–T /|\

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Howling Into the Wind: The Pagan Marketplace, Pagan Newbies, and I’m Just Old

How do I get started on a Spiritual Path of Paganism? What books do I need to buy? What clothes do I need for rituals? Where can I get a staff like yours? How much does it cost to move up in your progressive levels of Druidry? If I spend more, can I go faster? When I’m done with all the training and the levels, how much power will I have? Will I be able to make the hot girl that works in Marketing fall in love with me? Will I be able to curse the Trump supporter that lives next to me? Wait. Where are you going? I thought you were going to answer all my questions….

It can be tough dealing with new Pagans. It can be especially tough when they see all the stuff that they can spend their money on, in the hopes that all the extra stuff will make them look more “witchy” like Stevie Nicks, or more sage and powerful like Gandalf the Grey or Obi Wan Kenobi. That commercialization aspect even digs into the reading of the books. Read this book once through, and ::poof:: you’re a bloody fscking Pagan genius. Like the magick and wisdom just mlet off the page and collect within your body and mind…. I really cannot count the number of times that I have quietly walked away from these scenarios. I practice patience and kindness, but at some point, I feel like I may take the tip of my staff and ram it through their right eye. After all, Odin lost an eye for wisdom, right? Maybe it would work…except that its assault and battery in our local laws. And I prefer not to spend my time in a jail cell waiting to explain to a judge why I did it. “He wanted wisdom, your Honor, so in keeping with Norse perspectives…I helped him out.” “Six months, and a psychiatric evaluation, Mr. Van Hook.” ::slams gavel:: “Next.”

These commercialized versions of Pagans are everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. For the most part, they are harmless. Many of them saw some idiotic marvel movie (I’m not a fan of the movies, so take that however you will) and decided that this was their Path. Now here, I have to stop for a moment. Is that wrong? Are they bouncing into Paganism in the wrong way? Do they need to be sent to the back of the line, and told to wait their turn? All because they came to this because of a stupid set of movies? Well, as I stated in Thursday’s post…no, they don’t have to. What they will find is a Pagan world that takes those Gods seriously, utilizes a set of practices that are a discipline to their Spirituality. And that those folks – and many others – will be loathe to bend on all of that. That even goes for those attracted to Wicca from “The Craft” or those attracted to Druidry from ::shudder:: either version of “The Burning Man.” People find their entrances into the wider world of Paganism where they do. So, how they got to this point isn’t really up for debate. What is up for debate – what should they do, now that they’re here?

Taking one’s first steps into the realm of Paganism is sometimes fairly narrow. They have bumped into a single Wiccan tradition in their local area, poked around for a bit, and have eventually been invited into the first steps into that tradition. This is what happened to me. In the beginnings, I thought all of Paganism looked and acted like the people in this Wiccan coven. In my third week, Joni, Mary, and John changed all that for me. It was a weekend that I had off (I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth), so I was able to stay the night instead of driving back immediately. They took me to a bookstore down by the State Fairgrounds near downtown Dallas. I think it had “Aquarian” in the name somewhere. But it was here that I found books on different types of Wicca, Witchcraft itself, Druidry, Norse beliefs, Greek beliefs, and even more stuff I had never considered. There were tarot cards (I guess they played “Go Fish” or “Five Card stud” with those?), beautiful chalices, and the most massive crystal ball I had ever seen. It was easily larger than a basketball. I think we all stood and marveled at it. Joni helped me pick out ‘Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler for my reading materials, explaining to me that this would help me understand the wider world of Paganism. It certainly did. This remains the first book that I recommend to any new Pagan I come across.

Over the next seven months, I was part of the coven’s “Year-and-day” class. We met physically once a month, where we discussed the various assignments that had been given to us. However, my military schedule was always subject to momentary change (which it often did), and I was set aside as a solitary student, allowed to upload my written assignments to a Bulletin Board System that John and Mary ran. I would show up when I could, sometimes driving across Dallas/Fort Worth after working twelve hours the night before (and having just got off shift when I started driving). Eventually, the military schedule changed completely, and I was being whisked away to the operational theater of Desert Shield. Reluctantly, I had to stop my “year-and-a-day” training because I could not provide assignments on a regular basis. I carried my dog-eared copy of ‘Drawing Down the Moon” with me, so I could read and understand more.

Over the next four years, I would find myself coming back to Adler’s book, seeking clarification on a single point I had noticed before. I started to understand the wider world of Paganism. On my assignment to the Kaiserslautern Military Command Area, I encountered even more distinctly different Pagans. I started to see the wider world for what it was: all the choices that I could make. And it was supremely overwhelming.

I can understand the nervousness of the new Pagans I encounter. Their Spiritual eyes are barely open. They are stepping from a Christian world that demands immediate and unchangeable obedience into a diametrically opposed one. They are about to have more choices than they could ever dream were available. Right there in the wider Pagan marketplace. Groups and Spiritual Paths are going to be screaming for them to “look here!” “We’ve got what you’re seeking!” “We’ve got awesome, matching robes…with our names sewn on the back so we can find one another during dark rituals.” “You need this Path because we’ve got a cornerstone on the truth for the masculine Diving. Oh you’re female? Well, we’ve also got the answer for the Feminine Divine.” And many of them are not sure what exactly they are looking for. They only know that they don’t want what they had before.

Its easy to get caught up in all the glitzy merchandising of what you see. “This person wrote a book on that. Certainly, they know what it is that I am seeking.” “This person is offering classes for free. Plus, I think he thinks I’m hot.” Well, buyer beware… Even here in the Pagan Marketplace, we have predators – people who look for unsuspecting newbies to follow their Path…at the price of sexual favors or whatever notch of power they are offering. There’s also more than one cult of personality as well. So, even though you’ve arrived in this wonderful marketplace of ideas and spirituality….you still need to be on your guard.

Me? I have no group that I’ve formed. In my Spiritual practice, I’m a group of one. I belong to the order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, where I have met so many lovely people that I am proud to refer to as “family”. But I’m just one guy. I have no students, other than myself. Occasionally, I help new seekers find potential destinations that they seek. But beyond that…I’m not trying to point a single soul in any direction. I’ll sit….I’ll listen to you talk…you’re going to fill the void with your voice. I’ll toss in some comments or question s to help figure it out the best that I can. When I think I understand, I’ll nudge you in the right direction…and if I know someone there, I’ll let them know you’re coming. But even the directions I nudge you are just suggestions. You are the only one that knows if “this” is a fit for you. I’m not a tailor. I’m not making you a suit. Your own travels on your Spiritual path will do that for you. Just as it has done the same for me…over the past… ::counting fingers:: ::counting toes:: …uhm…let me gat a calculator here….thirty-six plus years. Don’t look at me like that. All it means is that I’m old.

–T /|\

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Don’t Give Away the Home World!

A large part of what my Druidry is…for me…comes from two perspectives I have held for a long time in my life. Be kind. Be helpful. I admit, I’m not always successful in either approach. I’m human, after all. I make my own share of mistakes. I miscalculate the odds (never tell me the odds!). I sometimes even have bad perceptions of people and provide more than I should in the way of trust. Like I said, I’m human. I’m fallible. But I do my best to be kind and helpful to others.

Part of this notches into an arena that I’ve learned to call “service to others.” I can’t help or assist everyone with everything. Some things, I just can’t do anything about. But I’ve found, over time, that there’s a fine line between being “of service” and “being used.” More than once, finding that line has been painful, particularly emotionally. Some of those moments have caused me to relearn who I am, what I can be, and what I am willing to stretch myself thin for. After all, if I do too much for others, how can I do for others when they have need, and I have the capability and capacity to do so…were I not already stretched thin.

A few months ago, a military front-line paramedic that I served with back in the early 1990s found me via a military group that I am a part of. He imparted to me that he had looked into Paganism after I had left Germany, ending my military service career. He had heard rumors about my part in various Pagan efforts around the Kaiserslautern area and decided to take a look into all of that. Just curiosity for him. Through that, he found Ceremonial Magick and wanted to touch base over all of those changes in his life. As we caught up on almost three decades of time, I lamented the above point. That I had made my own mistakes within my own personal life recently and found myself stretched too thin emotionally to help a few OBOD Bardic grade members who just wanted to talk with someone about their struggles. I told him I had been flattered over their decision to approach me but felt terrible when I told them that I couldn’t offer them much help, considering the chaos I had self-inflicted within my own life.

“You’re doing what we were taught about the battlefield, Tommy,” he started in with me. “We’re always told to triage the casualties on the battlefield into groups: those that need immediate help and will likely survive, those that can wait for medical attention, and those we comfort as the end draws near. But before we can do any of that, we have to triage ourselves. We have to make sure that we can assist those that need help by ensuring that we are “ok” to a degree that we can make those decisions. Battlefield medical tech 101,” I could hear him smiling over the speaker as he finished.

He’s right. We do have to be sure that we are ok…or at least ok enough to be helpful. I felt bad for turning those three folks that asked to just talk, but the reality was that my life was a fscking wreck at that moment. Even if I did listen to them, I couldn’t help without mixing in my own fears of the moment. In retrospect, I only wish I had pointed them (and introduced them to) another OBOD member that could have had the ability to be there for them at that moment.

Sometimes, our desire to help can make things worse – or even wrong. We never meant any harm in what we said. We didn’t even mean to spoil things. But we did. I’ve made it through my Bardic grade. That means that I know about the Bardic initiation, the Bardic Gwers work, the Ovate initiation, and parts of the Ovate Gwers that I have worked through. I have had new initiates, Bardic grade members trying to finish their grade, and Bards getting ready for their initiations come to me asking for advice on many things. How to get through a specific Gwers. What are the initiations like? What are the sekrit handshakes? Trying to answer questions like these is not an easy task.

First off, every member is assigned a tutor in both grades. These questions are typically best asked there, rather than through me. But remember…I see my Druidry as a part of being in service to others. So, while I tell them this – I also want to be helpful beyond just shoving them to their tutor. If I can, I’ll take a walk with them, and let them talk…what are they afraid of, what have they read, how are they feeling emotionally at this moment…and then I sit back and let them talk. I’ve found that if I stay silent, they will fill that void with what there are feeling. Eventually, instead of worrying about what exactly the initiation is about, they usually speak about fears of what MIGHT happen. It’s a matter of calming them down and getting them to center and focus on what their Gwers have brought them to at this point. My experiences don’t and won’t matter. This is THEIR initiation, not mine. What they pull from the experience is for them – and them alone. But if its possible for me to be there physically for the initiation, I always offer to be there. I can’t lead them to their experiences, but I can be an anchoring presence for them.

The same happens within the Gwers work. I ask them what they are doing, how they feel they should be approaching the material, and let them talk. I have yet to offer more than a “does that sound like it might work for you?” after such talks. Trust me, I was there too. But I am not going to let on how I resolved the issue or figured out where I needed to be going…because that worked for me. That’s not necessarily the same thing for anyone else. In my case, I resolved these issues by talking to myself in a mirror. My reflective self never answered, so I filled the void by suggesting solutions. Sometimes, that’s all that’s necessary.

It would have been easier to just answer their questions out-right. Provide them the moments that would happen, how it happened to me or even the solution to what they were trying to do. But if I did that, I would be giving away the parts of the mystery that would hold enlightenment for them. And it might not even be the same thing that did that for me. It might be something that just didn’t “click” for me in that particular moment. The journey through the mysteries of a Mystery Tradition will always be a different experience for each individual. Being helpful is a good thing, except when you’re giving away an experience that may have changed that individual.

Whenever I get approached by someone asking for help or knowledge about stuff within OBOD, a part of me kicks in that is part of my core principles of being a Druid. I want to be helpful. I want to do so with kindness. However, I also must balance that urge with the knowledge that being too helpful can be far more harmful than I intended. For much of this, I must let my college professor personae kick in. Let the student talk their way through it. Many times, with a lot of effort and encouragement, they will work their way through the issue and carry on in their own way. In this manner, they learn. They retain. The experience changes them as it needs to. They did it. Not me. The same holds true when I am dealing with my own life issues. I have to make sure I have a good base for where I stand, how I feel, and how I am. I can’t help other when I am dealing with my own wounds. Battlefield medical tech 101, indeed. Maybe Battlefield Druid tech 101….Druid, heal thyself first.

Humorously, I reminded of when Londo Mollari walks away from a negotiating session on an episode of Babylon 5. He leaves his bumbling assistant, Vir Cotto, to handle the rest of the negotiations. His final instructions to Vir were “Don’t give away the home world!” Indeed. We can be helpful and kind without giving away the mysteries that others will find for themselves, even if those weren’t the mysteries as we experienced them. However, before we can help or be kind, we must be sure that our own selves are in a position to do so…where we aren’t compromised by our own chaotic moments within our own lives. Being in the right place, at the right moment, for the right person, in the right frame of mind – doesn’t always happen. but we can do our very best to be the right person at that moment…its a part of being who we are. We all do the best that we can. The hard part is knowing when to bow out because you need to tend to your own injuries first….

–T /|\

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Thinking About: Morphing the Myth, Pagan Newbies, and Kirsten Dunst (Sigh)

We’ve all encountered them. The new folks that show up at the Pagan gatherings and public events. They’ve watched a movie or two from the Marvel Universe. They’ve been swayed by the hunky depictions of Hemsworth and Cumberbatch. They’ve done a few Encyclopedias Britannica searches on Loki and/or Thor and have unearthed the Norse Pantheon, and the concept of worshipping the Gods. Or maybe they’ve watched “The Craft” and decided that the Witchcraft that they saw there was something “fun” to try. In their moments of scant research, they found that there was this thing called ‘Wicca”. Their further research uncovered a public gathering of folks called “Pagan Pride Day” at a town or city near them – and they’ve arrived. Ahh, the inevitable culture shock.

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

Morphing the Myth (S.P. Hendrick)

I’ve written a handful of blog posts on this particular panel from the 2016 Pantheacon in San Jose, California. I keep getting drawn back to the topic because it does express an indelible aspect of Paganism: how our pop culture influences our Spiritual practices. You don’t think it does? Well, I’d point to all the starry-eyed Loki fanatics that enter into Paganism with dreams of cuddling up to the Benedict Cumberbatch imagery that they have – as well as the fluffy Marvel depiction of one of the more difficult Trickster Gods to work with. Books, movies, tv shows, music….tons of stuff. All of that feeds into a narrative that so many people seem to be bringing themselves to. New Pagans. Love and Light. Are you shivering yet?

Every Gulf Coast Gathering that I have attended (I’ve been to all of them), I met newbie Pagans. People who are attending their first gathering of Pagans in any form. I’ve seen these folks at Pagan Pride Days. Gods know I ran into TONS of them at the three Pantheacons I attended. Many of the questions that these folks fire off are so basic that it gets a little irritating.

What’s it like to touch the Gods?” Well shit, I’m not totally sure how to describe it. Its typically different for each person. Your relationship with a God is different from that of another person> Just like your relationship with a person is different than the relationship someone else has with that same person. Relationships, experiences, what have you – all of that is unique to the individual.

How hard was it to become a Priest?” I’ll let you know if I ever get to that point. Its never been the top of my list of what to accomplish in the first place. That’s the beauty of your own Path. Your footsteps take you where you need to be, even if you don’t realize it until you arrive there. 😊

Is it easy to score with Pagan chicks?” Well, there’s nothing different from Pagans than any other human being. So, dating, sex, and stuff like that….its no different. You still get rejected for being an ass – like asking questions like that. However, I do emphasis…if a Pagan teacher says you got to give up the booty to learn the information…run, don’t walk, away from that person. Paganism has its share of predators, just like any spiritual or religious system.

Do I need to wear the cloaks and Renaissance gear?” No, not really. A lot of folks like wearing the stuff because it provides a certain aura for them. I’m a touch different. I go for comfort. Typically, I wear blue jeans and concert t-shirts. But I do have a cloak that I enjoy wearing on chilly evenings. So its not uncommon to find me in ritual with a Styx t-shirt, torn up jeans, tennis shoes, carrying my walking staff, and wearing that cloak. It looks odd to some folks, but its comfortable to me.

…and the questions tend to go on and on and on. At least, until you hold up a hand and confess that you need to get a refill on your tumbler’s iced tea contents. These newbies are excited. They’ve found something that they feel “clicks” in their lives. Their exuberance and enthusiasm can be easily tiring, and eventually can become annoying. Its understandable that many Pagan-folk will back off from these newbies. They are physically and mentally draining. For me, most of that comes from untangling their fever-dreams of Paganism brought about by Marvel comics and movies from the realities that they are going to find. Yeah, I hate being that kill-joy.

In the “Morphing the Myth” panel, there was a lot of discussion on how science fiction and fantasy movies, tv shows, books and comics can (and have) been the gateway into Paganism for many. Many of these newbies come to Paganism on a super-high set of expectations created by graphic artists and amazing special effects. There’s so much to ingest from these depictions. And hey…I’ll trade places with Hemsworth for a single kiss from Natalie Portman. Just sayin’. But what happens when their Hollywood-induced high crashes into the more mundane reality of Paganism?

Well, if you guessed that many of these folks might leave Paganism and run screaming back to their CGI fantasies – you MIGHT be right. The reality is that we don’t rightly know. There are no statistics kept on people who come to Paganism and leave after a single year. There are no matriculation rates for first-year Pagans – to steal a concept from my previous paying job. Thankfully, there is no registration process for becoming a Pagan. So there’s no real way of knowing how many people that come into Paganism remain after the first year, the second year, the fifth year, or even find a home within a particular Spirituality. So, I can’t even fathom a guess at how many step in, take a few steps into the darkened woods of Paganism, and then turn tail, screaming their entire way out of the woods – back to where they came from. But I’m certain that it happens. And for a large variety of reasons, too.

Perhaps, instead of just throwing these new folks to the wolves – so to speak – letting them deal with the violent clash of their bedazzled Hollywood visions of Paganism and the harsher realities of Paganism as a personal Spiritual Path…. (taking a breath – its getting to be a long sentence) …we can steel ourselves to the idea of answering these same questions over and over and over again. All coming from different faces and voices. All hungrily looking for something to fulfill their empty Spiritual stomachs. Yes, they are going to be clingy. Yes, they are going to be annoying with their questions. Yes, they are going to be frightened and confused when the bubble of their Hollywood concepts of Paganism bursts. But. I take a moment to remember one thing. I was there too. Joni, Mary, and John were kind enough to be patient with me. I owe their generosity and love to do the same for others…and impress on those newbies to be just as patient and loving when they reach a similar point that I am at. In the meantime, tell Peter Parker to move out of the way…I want a date with Kirsten (like I stand a chance, but I can dream…right?)

–T /|\

Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)

Pagan Conferences, Gatherings and My Face on a Milk Carton

I get all kinds of question from people wanting to know more about me or looking for my opinion on things. Most of this tends to be on political topics or controversial things – sort of like looking for that “gotcha” moment, except that I have no problems with my opinions on things – even when I’m in the hardcore minority. My perspective is my own, and I don’t shy away from it. This morning, I was asked if I was going to return to Pagan-oriented conventions. Its an interesting question, considering the timing. We’re just starting to come out of COVID-19 hiding, so there’s a lot of cautious nature involved. As an individual with pre-existing conditions (I’m a Type-II diabetic, I have high blood pressure issues, I continually fight issues of chronic edema associated with my bout with pneumonia a few years back), I’m probably more cautious than most when dealing with the public sector. I still carry a face mask in my pocket wherever I go. I have two face masks hanging from my gear shift in the truck. I have two bottles of hardcore hand sanitizer in the truck (and constantly use them). Sure, call me paranoid if you like, but I do prefer the idea of being alive…so I take the best precautions that I can. So, this is the background I work from when people ask about conventions and gatherings.

I enjoy conventions and gatherings, but I enjoy each for very different reasons. For me, these are two very different types of environments, thus I tend to treat each differently.

Gatherings

Probably the easiest of the two to describe and deal with, gatherings come in many different sizes and guises. I’ve been to quite a few over the years. My favorite amongst all of these is the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering. I’ve been to every single one of these, and the people that run this gathering are nothing less than family to me. Seeing them every year was immensely gratifying and refreshing. The two years that were cancelled because of COVID were some of the most difficult times I’ve dealt with. Earlier this year, the gathering was held again, and it was such a relief to see my family again – as well as new people that were there for the first time. I’ve been to others over the years as well.

OBOD East Coast Gathering, which had a large cross-over with the Gulf Coast Gathering, was quite an interesting time in the woods of Pennsylvania.

Pagan Pride Days in Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin have been interesting gatherings to attend, as well as work. I think I enjoyed working in my first Pagan Pride Day more than just attending the latter ones.

Ár nDraíocht Féin’s Imbolc Retreat is another of my favorite gatherings. While I am not an ADF Druid, I was not only made welcome, but treated as family. Moving to Arkansas will make attending future events a little rough, but I can always try to find some manner to get there. I do love waking up to the remnants of the previous night’s fire, the quiet of camp, and the clear blue-sky mornings when I was there.

Austin Witchfest was an interesting gathering, the year that I attended. COVID was just getting started, but there was still quite a good gathering there. There was a touch of disappointment, as it seemed to be more of a seller’s market than anything else, but it was nice to catch up with a few people that I know when I was there.

Each of the gatherings I’ve described here had their own flavor about them. Merchandising, rituals, workshops, getting together with family, meeting new people – these gatherings were smaller in size than the two conferences I’ve attended. And that smaller size, to be honest, is a compelling reason why I am looking forward to getting back into this environment in the future.

Conferences

I must admit, my experiences in this environment are limited to two such instances: Pantheacon and Many Gods West. Sadly, neither of these conferences seem to be in existence any longer. Both; however, were wonderful experiences that allowed me the opportunity to experience things from a different perspective than the gatherings. Far larger, far greater in diverse topics, these conferences provided opportunities I probably would never have gotten at gatherings. Well, for the most part. ::grin:: I’ll explain in a minute.

While Pantheacon was the first conference that I attended, Many Gods West was a different environment altogether. Held at a much smaller hotel than Pantheacon, there were far fewer panels than Pantheacon. There was some distinct emphasis on the merchandising room, and if there were rituals held, I wasn’t aware of them. The feeling was rather low-key, food was much further away, but there was ample opportunities for conversation in the event rooms and in the hallways. With a smaller level of patronage, there was less noise to shout over, which made hallway conversations into intimate and interesting times. There was a lot of exchange in thoughts, ideas, theories, and perspectives… Sadly, shortly after this particular year’s event was finished, the organizers closed the doors on their conference.

Pantheacon….was a monster event. The hotel was extremely busy during the entire three-day event. There were Pagans of all-types there. Hallway conversations were a bit more difficult to have, as the traffic throughout was thick, heavy, and always loud. Most people were trying to traverse the hallways through the hotel to get from one panel presentation to another. The timing between panels was usually around fifteen minutes, which made some of those moves to get from panel to panel into mad dashes if the two panels were on opposite ends of the hotel. A series of second-floor rooms were set aside as comfort suites utilized by various groups, where one could find snacks and drinks, as well as “off-the-track” presentations, some of which didn’t make the Pantheacon panel tracks. With the ADF and OBOD suites side-by-side, it was easy to find people I already knew that I could sit and talk with. Plus the noise factor here was much quieter.

I learned a lot from the panels that I attended. But once, I got a presentation twice. Kristoffer Hughes did a presentation that I attended at Pantheacon. Two weeks later, he provided the same presentation at OBOD Gulf Coast gathering, where he was the headline guest. He even made the comment that ‘Tommy’s going to be bored. He’s already heard this.” 😊 The reality was that I wasn’t bored, as Kristoffer altered the presentation with material I had not heard at Pantheacon. 😉

Much like Many Gods West, Pantheacon succumbed shortly after the three straight years I attended. It was a marvelous experience; one I am glad that I took the chance to partake in. I’d almost classify it as a Pagan carnival if they had offered free rides. However, the Krampus Walk almost made up for that. 😊

Presenting

A few people have expressed the idea that I would be good at presenting a panel at one of the few remaining Pagan conferences. I have presented at professional conferences when I was working with the college here in Texas. In fact, I left my last ADF Imbolc Retreat in the early morning hours of Sunday (think about 4am) to drive south to Galveston to attend a professional conference from Monday to Wednesday, which included me presenting as part of a multi-college team presentation. I’ve provided presentations on SQL query writing at conferences in Tulsa and San Diego, as well. Add to that, the three years that I taught in a collegiate classroom, one would think that I am a natural at stuff like that. Not really. I get super nervous. I can be a rambling mess. And I suck at keeping time. But the real reason that I’ve never presented at a Pagan Conference or gathering comes down to one thing: I’ve never submitted anything to present. Maybe in the future…if someone talks me into it and plies me with enough whiskey… In the meantime, my best presentations tend to happen around a campfire…in the middle of the night…just talking.

The End

This is usually where I put my final slide, which provides my sources, along with the books and websites that I recommend for further reading on the subject. In my presentations, this is the slide where everyone gets up and takes a picture of what it presents. I guess it’s a famous slide or something. Maybe its showing too much skin or something. But it always tends to be the most popular slide. I’ve always wondered if that says something about my presentation style. 😉

Regardless, I’ll be trying to find new Pagan-oriented conferences and gatherings to attend. Rest assured, I’ll be at Gulf Coast Gatherings. That gathering and those people are family…plus, its where I hope to do my Druid Grade initiation, if I ever get there. 😊Who knows, maybe I’ll see one of you at one of these gatherings or conferences. I’ll add a picture here…so you can recognize me. Or if I go missing, you can paste it on a milk carton. 😊Providing that someone would want to find me.

–T /|\

Howling Into the Wind: Speaking of Tides…Not Storms

Earlier this morning, I was awakened by the sound of thunder rolling in from a distance, along with occasional flashes of light. The typical sounds of a storm rolling in from the so-called “hill country” just to the west of here. Except it never got here. Instead, it swept just to the north, missing the area I currently live in.

Thunderstorms are part of the cycle of the ecosystem here on this planet. It’s a natural methodology for getting water to areas that need the precipitation to survive and grow. But its not water in a watering can that can be poured out in precise amounts at regular intervals. Storms come and go with irregular intervals because the imbalances that create them do not happen on some magical cycle.

Many people see storms as something to fear. We can see it in popular culture. When things happen within our socio-political realm, we tend to label it as a “storm.” Except its not. Socio-politics is not a weather phenomenon. It doesn’t create floods and tornadoes, nor does it bring a gentle rain that has a calming feeling. Socio-politics is a man-made creation that hardly resembles a storm. The metaphorical descriptive of calling it a storm is…well…somewhat useless and misleading.

Perhaps, as we look at the history of socio-politic movements, we might want to consider it more to be a tide. Of sorts. Strong conservative and liberal movements happen all the time over history. Currently, here in the United States, there is a strong conservative movement rising. It’s not a storm. More like a tide. Some of its roots come from the so-called “Red scare” in the 1950s, when politicians were turning over every rock to try and find a communist sympathizer that could be brought before Senator McCarthy’s Senate committee for a bogus trial. Certainly, there were individuals who believed in the Communist philosophy of governmental process. There are those that believe that still. Its antithetical to the government process that the United States runs on. A complete shift to that would be impossible. So, the believers of Communist principles were ferreted out by McCarthy’s committee were done as a dog-and-pony show to keep McCarthy in his position of assumed power. At one point, McCarthy overreached from his power base in accusing the Army’s Signal Corps of having Communist sympathizer’s within its midst. During the McCarthy hearings, he was accused by the Army of trying to obtain preferential treatment within the Army for a colleague of his. The resulting trial revealed the bullying tactics that McCarthy employed in his “Red scare” hunt. The result was that the public turned against McCarthy, effectively ending his reign of terror against those he deemed to be “unpatriotic.”

The 1950s and the 1960s saw the tide of conservativism wane. The rise of the hippies and the philosophies associated with them came to rise. The drastically different lifestyles from the so-called “nuclear family” were a shock to the values of family-oriented people. As the flowing tide of socio-politics went back towards the conservative values, the rise of technology blunted some of the concepts that were held by the conservatives. The 1980s brought the so-called “decade of excess” where families spent liberally on the backs of credit that was offered to them by banking systems. This eventually lead conservatives to bring in the badly named concept of Reaganomics in response, which lead to “trickle down economics” where the wealth of the rich would trickle down to the poor. Attacks on non-family values went on the ride. Conservatives created their own straw men to provide the foes they needed to charge their rising tide. Satanism, the threat of nuclear annihilation from the “Godless Communist,” and many other modern-day boogiemen helped keep issues on the rise. The conservatives had finally found a new weapon – fear. In the 1990s, Satanism boogiemen preachers, such as Sean Sellers and Mike Warnke were discredited. The Soviet Union fell as it couldn’t outspend the United States in the Cold War – a tactic that put the United States in deep debt, much like many of its citizens who had madly overspent in the 1980s. Fears that had been stoked, died down – even despite the rise of the Tea Party and its twisted sense of values. Over time, the Tea Party has helped foment more fear, leading to a distinctive rise in conservatism again. Which brings us to today.

Conservatism, as well as liberalism, has enjoyed a rising and ebbing of its tide within American society. Every rise has a common theme associated with it – fear. Right now, we are told to fear the public schools indoctrinating your children with ideas and concepts that are antithetical to the same 1950s values of conservatism from so long ago. Conservatives teach the concept of hatred – and in some cases violence – towards those that hold a different set of values from themselves. When they can’t win the battle of values within the political realm, they try to overthrow time-honored processes that elect representatives to our federal government. My current Senate representation comes in the form of two individuals I vehemently disagree with. However, you won’t see me contesting the results of their elections. Why? Because I respect the process as it is meant to be. Because even though I am not being represented by individuals that share my values, I respect the concept that I am in the minority in my area of residence. I don’t agree with the values of the individuals that outnumber me (considerably, by the way), I do respect the governmental process that elects them. But I digress…

We’re not living in a storm. We’re experiencing a socio-political tide. A tide that will ebb and wane as it has done many, many times over the years. Each time a rise of the conservative tide has happened, those conservatives have fomented anger, hatred, and even violence against those that disagree with them through the use of fear. Fear that the ideas diametrically opposed to them have no merit. That those ideas will “pervert” their children. That those perspectives will destroy America and turn it into a Communist state. Honestly, the only way that will happen is through extremely violent revolution. The American governmental form is meant to form and shape itself in response to the social mores of society. Its meant to be a social contract between all of us that determines how we can disagree with one another, and through its rules – still be a community together. We can disagree vehemently with one another, but together we are all Americans. Outlawing people based on their gender/identity is not something we should be doing as a country. The statue of Liberty is a symbol of our desire to take in people of all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs. Our diversity is meant to be our strength, not a marker of what is or isn’t “American.”

People will disagree with me, and in the spirit of what it is that makes up America, that’s perfectly fine. None of us are going to agree with everyone else. We are built on the idea of being able to disagree with one another – even vehemently – and still have the common decency and respect to shake hands and walk away. No violence. No hatred. Our disagreements might be the storms that everyone talks about. But those storms dissipate over time. Just as the tides of socio-political will wane and wax over time.

For those of you who read this from overseas locations, I apologize for making this post so America-centric. I am not sure that any of this makes sense in terms of your country’s socio-political realm. Hopefully, there are comparisons that you can easily draw. I can only write on what I know and understand well enough to say something about. Again, my apologies for making this so America-centric.

–T /|\

Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Beltane, Going Deeper, and Re-investigating the Basics

Well, we made it to the end of one month and the start of a new one. An apt description for how I manage my Druidry and Paganism – one day at a time. Though that does conjure images of McKenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli….but I am essentially carbon-dating myself with that reference. Essentially, we’ve reached May Day, Beltane…whatever you want to call it. We’ve reached another spoke in the wheel.

Sometimes, I like to take these spokes and compare where the turn of this year’s Wheel is to where things were in previous years. A few years ago, I had been troubleshooting one of the largest SQL queries I had ever written. I had found that a data-type mismatch that I had been unaware of previously was the culprit in making this monster query take over a full eight hours to run. After changing the error that I had made, the query ran in less than a minute. That was the culmination of eight months of constant troubleshooting. Just a simple data mismatch. But the investigative methodology taught me more about query writing than I had ever known. I had to get down to the basics of HOW the query ran, in order to understand WHY it ran so slow. That investigative process taught me a lot about how to go about the process of digging deeper. Just a few months later, I found myself using the same process to help me go even deeper into the woods with my own Druidry. Those initial steps were not easy ones to make and not easy ones to continue with today.

Almost every Pagan and Druid I have talked with has made mention of the moment when their Path suddenly took a downward turn. Not downward in terms of being “bad” but downwards in terms of getting “deeper.” One individual explained it as wading into a pool at the shallow end. The water is usually about hip deep. You can swim if you want to, but you can wade just as easily. Your typical walking gait is severely slowed as your legs push against the force of the water. The depth of the water slowly gets higher as you walk further down the length of the pool until the it is just below your armpits. Each step forward becomes slower and more difficult until you feel your body start to float. Now, you need to swim. She described the swimming part as realizing that she needed to change her approach to the water she was engulfed within. Merely floating was not enough. She learned how to keep herself above the water line so that she could breathe. This was dogpaddling. Not floating, but not swimming either. She was becoming acclimated to her environment’s change in depth. Her perception of the water had changed. After a time, she realized that when she cupped her hands in a certain manner, she could literally pull herself across the surface of the water which allowed her to traverse the length of the pool much quicker. Her perception of the water had changed. She could travel through it freely. But if she held her breath, she could slip beneath the familiar, comfortable surface of the water to descend into a scenario that was far different from what she knew at the surface. Here, she could only spend short periods of time beneath the surface before she had to surface for air. Underneath the surface, she could perform somersaults and gymnastics moves that she was unable to do in the air-filled environment she was used to. She could descend to the bottom of the pool and with some effort and determination, she could slowly walk along the bottom. Later, she found that she could spend greater amounts of time within this new realm through the usage of breathing equipment, such as scuba gear. The more time she spent in that watery environment, the more she learned how to interact with it in ways that allowed her to do so much more. That didn’t even account for the wider world she would encounter when she finally took the chance to swim in the ocean, where her perception was a mere speck compared to the vastness of what potentially awaited there.

When my friend was describing this piece of perception, her purpose was to get me to understand her perspective in going deeper in her own Pagan studies. She’s a Wiccan, so I didn’t think I would find myself grasping her analogy all that well. Plus, I’m not a swimmer (honestly – I don’t know how to swim). It turned out it was far easier for me to understand than I had realized.

As a Druid, my personal analogy has always been the forest. I have always talked about going deeper into the forest. The first steps have the trees quite a bit apart. The sun is able to get through the branches easily enough. To see the clearing that you’ve left, you only need to turn around and look back on the way you’ve come. But the deeper you go, the closer the trees become. The branches lower to the ground are devoid of foliage. The sunlight comes through in single shafts of light because of the dense foliage on upper branches that have ready access to the light (Maples versus the Oaks, anyone?). The bare limbs nearer to the ground will occasionally reach out and grab at your cloak or your shirt, attempting to hold you in place, slowing your pace through the forest. Occasionally, you can hear the sound of a nearby creature walking over the ground, which is covered in dead, musty pine needles. This thick, rotting “carpet” muffles the sound of those feet creating a dull thumping sound that seems to echo from under your feet. Looking back, you see the same thing as looking forward – an endless see of greyish tree trunks. Occasionally, you can hear a wind blowing through the leaves above, providing a hushed soundtrack to the landscape you find yourself within. The secrets of the forest are all around you. You only need observe to find the answers to those secrets. The riddles among the trees within the forest.

I’m not sure if either of these descriptive passages call to your idea of Paganism or Druidry or what have you. The perspective of uncovering the depth and breadth of the mysteries that we all celebrate. We stand at the spoke of the Wheel at the point of May Day, Beltane, or whatever you prefer to call it. We celebrate coming to this moment in time and what it represents to us within our own Spirituality. We are halfway between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. For many, this is the gateway to the Summer. Others see this as a potent time of fertility for the land, the cattle, for all. For me, this is a point in the Wheel of the Year where I seek a Path or direction and prepare myself to go deeper in my investigation of it. For this year, it’s a repurposing of who I am and my connection to this wonderful Path of Druidry that I am on. It is a time to go back and look at the beginnings again. Not to do things over. Not to rewalk the Path. But to stop and observe along the way. To see things again, but to look in minute detail. Perhaps, I’ll find a data-type mismatch in something that I had not considered before. Something that will not only reopen my eyes in wonder and awe but will also find me learning to swim in a deeper level of perception. Something that will have me listening to the whispers of the trees to learn the secrets of the forest that I had never contemplated when I was here last.

Have a wonderful Beltane, May Day or whatever you call it!

–T /|\

Photo by Luis del Ru00edo on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Beltane, Samhain, and Drinking the Keg Dry

Beltane is on the radar. From the calendar perspective, its just less than a week away. Like any year, I’ve been asked what I am doing to celebrate this time of year. My answer is always the same: as little as possible. This is not one of my favorite turns of the wheel. Beltane, along with Samhain, are two of the most popular times to hang out with Pagans. Lots of partying, lots of good mead being shared in copious amounts…just a good time for all. I don’t and won’t begrudge anyone else the awesome festival atmosphere of either turn of the wheel. For me, its just way too many people, but its also a feeling of being like the two times of the Christian calendar point of Easter and Christmas. Let me explain my perspective a little…

When I was exploring the Christian faith – shortly after I graduated high school – I noticed a phenomenon that took place in both the Catholic and Southern Baptists perspectives that happened each year – the massive increase of attendance at both Easter and Christmas. In both instances, I asked the church leaders why this happened and both explained that there are “lukewarm” members of their faith. People who only come to church at Easter and Christmas because these are the two most important moments in the life of their Savior – His birth and death. Because this had so much significance in their belief systems, their followers seemed to feel that this was the only time that they NEEDED to be in church. In the Baptist faith, the Pastor explained that these “lukewarm” Christians would have troubles crossing over into Heaven because their faith was not strong. “Jesus will spit out those with a lukewarm faith in the same way that one would spit out coffee that had cooled for too long,” he explained to me.

Does this also apply to the Pagan folk that attend Beltane and Samhain gatherings only? Surely, there would be a large contingent of folks that were at either gathering because of the free-flowing alcohol, the very sexualized aspect of things (in the case of Beltane), and the fun, carnival atmosphere of both, right? Sex, booze, and partying are always a good strong attraction, especially for those looking for all of that to be available without having to work too hard for it. Very appealing…one would think. I’ve been at gatherings where new individuals to the group spend more time helping to empty the mead keg than to participate in ritual…sad, but very true.

Now with those observations out of the way, let me point out a few added moments of clarification. In both cases, the number of people that fit those categories is not hugely significant. They are, usually, some of the louder people at either set of the gathering – usually needing to be seen, as if that swings the camera of the video feed in their direction – providing the Gods with a record of their having been there. In baseball parks, these people are commonly referred to as being at the game “to be seen.” They are usually referred to as being lower than casual fans, usually there to ham it up for the camera so that their faces can be displayed on the jumbo-tron screen for the entire cadre of folks in attendance to see how pretty they are. Do these folks detract from the game, even for the hardcore stats fans like me who score the game on paper with a pencil? Not at all. Nor do these “lukewarm” attendees at the gatherings, some of whom I have described above. The only hardcore foul is the copious assistance in draining a mead keg that was meant as a chance to sample and partake for all attendees.

Some of the groups I have been acquainted with over the years solved some of this issue by holding invitation-only Beltane and Samhain celebrations. In this manner, they manage to control their gatherings a little tighter, ensuring that an atmosphere that they wish to have is held to a standard that they are requiring. Good for them. I have been invited to such gathering in the past, and while Wicca is not my cup of tea – this type of attendance control has been a good handle for me. A few other groups have handled their celebrations by making it a members-only gathering. Again, good for these folks. It works for them. However, I have found myself doing the majority of my celebrations and observances of the Wheel alone. As an individual who is working on my own within a larger, world-wide group – this methodology has worked for me. I can manage the focal aspects of seriousness and playfulness to a level which I am comfortable with. I only have a single individual to worry about…me. Of course, I do still need group aspects as well, which is why I try my best to make the Gulf Coast Gathering for the celebration of Alban Eilir. We carry on, giggle, laugh and such, but there is also a seriousness associated with the rituals as well. These people are family to me, I am very comfortable with them. Gathering with them is a salve to my practicing alone. There’s a touch of difference between that gathering and the public gatherings I have attended in the past for Beltane and Samhain.

There are people that will be irritated or downright disagree with me over my perspectives that I am pulling forward in this blog post. Not only is that just “ok”…I expect it, and it should be so. I’m no law giver when it comes to Paganism, Druidry, Beltane, Samhain, or anything else. I have zero interest in telling people how to Pagan. My Paganism is lived every single day, just like anyone else’s is. I live it out loud, just like everyone else does. The difference is that I like my volume around four, while others might like to “turn it up to ten, and rip the knob off” – to paraphrase the old Z-Rock commercials from back in the 1980s. That’s a bit off-putting to me, but I always remind myself…that’s the way that they approach their beliefs. It works for them, and that’s what is more important. Pleasing me over how they do their Paganism should never be any kind of factor in things.

With all of that said… I hope you have an awesome Beltane – however, wherever and with whoever you find yourself celebrating with. This is a time of renewal. A time to celebrate the new growth of crops in the field, which will grow and yield a bounty for all. A time to shake off the cold and dark of Winter and revel in the warmth of the coming Sun. A time to reflect on where we have been during the dark of Winter, and a moment to discuss the coming Year and the promise that it holds for you on your Path. For me, it’s a time to shake off what has been, and prepare for new steps in a new environment. Again, I hope you have an awesome Beltane…and a glorious, bountiful coming year. May your Gods bless you and walk your Path with you from time to time. 😊

–T /|\

My Soul for That Candy Bar? Further Thoughts on Transactional Spirituality

My God and Savior provide all that I need. What does your pagan beliefs do for you?

Every so often, one of my more ardent Christian friends will pop off with this snarky comment or some derivative of it. Usually, I will quietly laugh off the comment, after all picking a fight over something as internally personal as spiritual beliefs is only bound to get contentious. Besides, I have no need for the “my dick is bigger than yours” comparative competition with one’s Gods….that’s just childish and stupid. Besides, its not my place to put my Gods into some kind of test as to whether They are better than anyone else’s. But all of this really fired another thought: what does my Paganism do for me?

This type of thinking – what does my Paganism DO FOR me – drops into a rabbit hole that I have heard and read described as “transactional Paganism.” For some that might not be understanding where this is starting from, let’s get into the concept of “transactional faith.” Essentially, this is much like purchasing a candy bar at the store. I’ll take this Baby Ruth candy bar from your shelves; in return I’ll provide you with a cash amount that you’ve determined that the Baby Ruth is worth. Provided that we both agree that the swap of the candy bar and the money is fair and equitable to both parties, we’ve completed a transaction. Transactional spirituality, religion, faith, whatever you want to call it – is essentially petitioning to $Deity to intervene on your behalf for something you are trying to do.

Please Crow, help me find a job that is worthy of my job skills, challenges my abilities with those skill sets, and pays me a salary that allows me to live in a way that I desire. In return, I will do whatever bidding that You require of me.

me

An example of a transactional moment within Spirituality. We’ve seen and heard people do this a lot in their lives. Praying to whatever Spiritual Power they choose to curry some nudging aspect to place them in favor concerning something. In return, they pledge their loyalty as a follower (usually). Give me the candy bar, I give you my undying loyalty and soul.

For a lot of people, this kind of transactional perspective of belief has a repulsive feeling to it. Providing your loyalty, your fealty for something within this world that is currently unobtainable. Sounds a lot like the old horror b-rated movies where a person sells their soul to Satan, right? Those are excellent examples of transactional Spirituality, in my opinion. You provide this to me; I provide my soul to you when I pass beyond the veil. I really want that candy bar, damnit. I need that candy bar now! Give it to me, and I’ll give you my soul.

Now, Christians slam this down the throat of everyone of how deals with the devil are done. They tout this as the way down the road to Hell. The problem with that is that if you pull back the Christian curtain just a touch, you’ll find that they pray to their God and Savior in the same fashion. Please God, don’t let harm and ill will fall upon me and my family, and I’ll provide you with worship at noon and 6pm on Sundays and 6:30pm on Wednesdays for the rest of my life. I’ll spread my belief in you to unbelievers as you command. Please make me prosperous in this world, so that I can do deeds worthy of Your almighty name.

Doesn’t sound too bad, eh? Give me a way of gathering material things so that I can live more comfortably than most, and I’m all Yours. But let’s not bash on the Christians too hard, shall we? We Pagans are just as guilty of this so-called sin of transactional Spirituality. We petition our Gods for help. We beseech our Gods to allow us to be Their followers. I’ve heard Pagans lament that none of the Gods call to them. That they want to work with the Gods but are unsure of how to get Their attention. They seek the right “transaction” to be provided with that connection they so desire.

To be frankly honest, we seek some form of transactional Spirituality in the things that we do. Transaction Spirituality is not the problem. The over-reliance on this plea for help from the Gods when our needs are the greatest is where the problem lies. We need this, we beseech the Gods to provide for us. The Gods, in whatever form you decide to believe in Them, suddenly become great Automated Teller Machines that we run to for assistance repeatedly. When nothing materializes, we blame the Gods for whatever befalls us, or we lament that its “the will of the Gods” instead of buckling and tightening our belts and moving forward to try and solve the issues in the best fashion that we can. Don’t get pissed. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else.

The flip side of all of this is what is referred to as transformational Spirituality. Where our beliefs change us into a type of individual we strive to be. In the Christian faith, the desire is to be more “Christ-like” – learning to possess the qualities and attributes of Jesus ben Joseph as told in the tales of the New Testament. Caring, giving, forgiving, sensitive to the needs of others…qualities that many so-called followers of Jesus don’t possess, such as the far-right wing of the conservative movement. Religion, as well as the concept of love of country, is an issue to wrap one’s self in so as to seem to be something they’re not. Transformative Spirituality is not measured in words, but in actions. In other words, the transformative nature of your Spirituality helps you become more of the person you want to be. Your Spirituality feeds the need of your inner self to be the type of person you strive to be and helps fortify that the desire in your actions – and even your words. Your Spirituality opens you to the characteristics that you desire to have, and the aspects of that belief provide you the strength to make your way through the adverse times. You change because you desire to change. Your Spirituality feeds that desire to change – to transform into the “you” that you are striving to be.

So, let me address the question here. What does my Paganism do for me? It provides a path that I can follow – through the legends and myths as examples – through the guidance that my Gods provide to me from time to time – through the examples of other Pagans that are striving forward on their own Paths, to be the best individual that I can. Each of those points provide me with a transactional moment, sometimes with no immediately clear portion of the transaction coming from my side, that helps me reach a transformative aspect of who I become as I grow. Paganism, for me, is a transactional process of my Spirituality that allows me to transform. It also provides me with the opportunity to give to others in transactional processes of their own which lead to their transformative moments as well. My Paganism provides connectivity that continues to help me grow, and by extension to help others to grow. My Gods provide perspective from time to time. As part of that transactional aspect, I provide what I can for Them, sometimes through sacrifice of my own needs and desires. Our relationship is another connection from which I grow and learn.

So, what do I get from my Spirituality? I get my own individual opportunity to grow and learn. I am always learning. I will always be learning. My Gods will always be there with me. I don’t need to compare Them to Others. I don’t need to boast that my Spirituality is better than anyone else’s. Because its not. It works for me. That’s what is important in my perspective. I can assist others with finding the Spiritual perspective that works for them. I can listen, I can provide advice, I can provide supportive attention to their needs. Even if their eventual Spiritual perspective is completely different from my own. Why would I do that? Would I not want everyone else to have the beauty of what my perspective provides to me? Of course, I would. But I also know that what works for me won’t always work for others. Instead of turning my back on those who would choose a different Path or a different Perspective, I would prefer to help them find what works for them and encourage them in the beauty that they find. That’s what being kind and loving is all about. But that’s a direction for another time. Soon.

#TwoQuid

–T /|\

Happiness bar by Topher is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Howling Into the Wind: Backyard Egg Hunts, Childhood Adventures, and Personal Choices

Well, its Easter…not a bad family holiday. Hunting colored eggs that have been hidden everywhere in the yard or house. Kids enjoy the stuff a ton. I remember doing this when I was a lot smaller and younger. My parents would hide stuff everywhere in the yard or even in the house, and then send me and my younger sister to go find it all. Sometimes, I’d find stuff months later…ewww. LOL But it was a nice family tradition until we got older. There was no church-oriented stuff though. My parents didn’t really believe in pushing faith on their kids, mostly because they didn’t really have strong ties to church activities and stuff like that. At least that’s what I think is the reason. They both passed several years ago, so I’m not really able to ask that question of them so that I can be certain.

All of that does make me wonder how parents handle religious aspects with their own children, particularly Pagan parents. Is it a good thing to enforce religious practices with the kids until they reach an age where they can theoretically make decisions of their own – at least in regards to the legal aspect of things? Is eighteen the magickal thumbprint of making your own decisions? Or does the enforcement of the parents’ beliefs naturally push the individual away from the religious perspective being enforced?

The only footprint in understanding all of this is my own. At home, my Protestant parents did not push for religious perspectives, such as Wednesday and Sunday services. Nor did they play the “holiday-only” game either, where mandatory church service during Easter, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve was expected. We didn’t pray at the table before meals. So, my assumption was that the religious nature of Christianity (Or any -ianity or -ism for that matter) just wasn’t that important.

Yet, my parents sent both me and my sister to private Catholic schools where we were indoctrinated into the Catholic faith through mandatory classes, and monthly masses for the entire school. Both aspects of this were instrumental in my rejection of the Catholic faith. While I find elements of Catholicism to be beautiful, particularly in the ritualistic aspects, I’ve never trusted anything that forces you to believe a single way through indoctrination, and intimidation. Call me stubborn, but I’ve always preferred the opportunity to find my own way – which I did after graduating high school. First there was the struggle through various aspects of the Christian faith. Then was the introduction to Wicca, which in the way it was presented as hard dogma, never really sat right with me either. Over time, I eventually found my way into Druidry.

I have often wondered how many people will have issues being forced into doing something simply because “its what everyone else does”? I admit, my twenties and thirties are full of me bucking the trend constantly. After I left the Air Force, I grew my hair long. I dressed horribly – mostly in torn up jeans. Now I’m in my fifties. I will dress completely against the norms. I still wear my thinning hair a bit longer than many think I should. But I honestly don’t care. I dress and wear my hair comfortably for me. I’m not here to be someone else’s fashion plate. I’m here to be me. As comfortably as I can.

So, circling back to today’s holiday…it is Easter. Today, many children will hunt colored eggs and plastic eggs filled with candies. They will have fun doing so. They will sit in church and listen to long-winded sermons on how Jesus ben Joseph dies for their sins so that they can be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. Many others will rail against this tradition as being a horrible method of brain-washing these children. Others will rail about how the mythology of Jesus ben Joseph is a lie, told to comfort those who do not wish to confront the idea of what comes after this life – if anything. Much like Halloween is a contentious time of the year between the Pagans and the world – the same holds true for Easter in regard to the Christian faiths and the world.

For me, it all boils down to familial traditions. Parents (and I am a parent) will typically desire their children to follow in their footsteps. Follow your parents into the trades that they earn wages through. Follow your parents down the traditional religious Path that they have been on, and that their parents were on. No deviation from that norm. You are [this belief] because your mother and I are, and your grandparents were, and so on. You can make up your own mind of what you are when you no longer live in this house. Ahhh, the contentious memories that brings up for me.

However, the memories of being a child looking everywhere in the yard for those colored eggs and other items that had been hidden by my parents – those are special for me. A time of innocence. Where my cares were very few, except playing a pickup game of baseball in the neighborhood streets or going over to the neighbor kid’s house to swim in the giant above-ground pool in their backyard or riding my bike throughout the neighborhood. Or when we lived in Europe, our every weekend ten-kilometer walks in various locations throughout Germany. Life was different when I was ten years old. I smile remembering those memories for myself. I smile when I see children getting to have those activities in their lives too – hunting those colored treasures in the yard. Because its not about some aspect of Christian mythology for them – because its an adventure of the moment. The adults can tie whatever religious or philosophical ideals to it….for the kids, its an adventure of the moment. For me, it’s a remembrance of when I was that young, and the fun I had…as well as a reminder that I need to step out of the way and let them have their fun. My past is not theirs…their future is not mine. They have their adventures and searching to do…they have their own lives to puzzle through. All I can do is be here to provide advice…I can’t (and won’t) do it for them. That just robs them of their own experiences.

–Tommy /|\

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Thinking About: New Footsteps, Old Paths

I am a teacher. I presided over a collegiate classroom for three and a half years, teaching students about Information Technology, automated business processes, and what Big Data is and how it applies to their everyday lives. I wasn’t your typical instructor, though. I took the classroom material, which admittedly is some super boring shit, and turned it on its head. I crafted discussions and exercises to showcase points that the book’ author clumsily tried to amplify. I didn’t just want my students to learn, I wanted them to experience. We crafted a paper airplane manufacturing line to emphasize the need for tight quality control. I brought in older pieces of information technology, along with newer ones, to give them an eyes-view of electronics micronization – where they could literally hold the technology in their hands and see its advancement right in front of them. We had discussions about data breaches, the misuse of data, social hacking, and even Julian Assange, all taken directly out of the news headlines – just to bring them up to speed on the issues of the day. I had a reputation for being a very “different” instructor. I am a teacher.

People ask me to help mentor them in their Paganism studies or even in their approach to Druidry. Here is where the issues for me arise. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I push these people to other individuals (if the querent is local to the DFW area in Texas), or I do my utmost best to get them in touch with other individuals who have online courses of study (if they are not local to the area I know better than others). I know that disappoints the people who approach me, but I’ve always felt that others can do a better job at this than I can. In about two weeks, much of that is going to change, as I relocate to Little Rock, Arkansas.

Essentially, I will have nowhere to hide any longer. I’m an open Pagan; I don’t hide who or what I am. But I’ve always kept my religious practice as a solitary approach. I’ve done that because its efficient for me. No discussion of how ritual is to be done. No discussion of the verbiage that is meant to be used. No back and forth over what God and/or Goddess should be the focal point of the ritual. No debate over the use of drawing a circle to create sacred space. Each of those points are my understanding and perspective. But going forward, I am likely to not have that option anymore. See, I’m sure there are Pagans in the Little Rock area, just not sure of how many OBOD folks there. I’ll continue to be open about who I am and what I am, which is likely to draw interest from others contemplating the same Path. I have nowhere to push potential adherents to the path off to. And I don’t think that my Gods are going to let me do that any longer, anyways.

The reminders have been there. I teach, and I’m good at it. I can formulate where somewhere is getting hung up on terminology and design creative ways to getting past those snags. Many dreams and meditations have had points made to me that I can no longer say “no.” I believe in the future of Paganism through the eyes of new adherents. In a sense its hypocritical of me to not embrace being there for those that would want more about my perspective than what I write here.

I bitch, I moan, I kvatch about labels such as “Priest,” “Elder,” and “Teacher.” The problem is…I can’t hide all of that away and still rage on about the coming waves of the future for Paganism. Hiding in the forest just doesn’t cut it. I have to wander the trails in the forest too, and eventually encounter those trying to make their way through it.

::big sigh:: What this doesn’t mean – I’m not going to be setting up an online class format, charging monies, and what not. That’s a world that is decidedly not for me. Rather, it means that I am now planting the ideas for forming a potential Seed Group in the future. I’m not sure that anything will occur from the ideas that I am planting. In fact, I’m not sure what these ideas will germinate into. I can’t sit back and just not try. It means embracing terms I have pushed away for a long time. Many of you who are reading this recognize a lot of the issues I have had with all of this over the last four to five years of posts here on the blog. In a sense, I’ll be rehashing these points out again…some here on the blog, many not. I saw you wipe away the anxious sweat over me writing about all of that again. But that’s ok. Just think about those posts like re-examining a rock you’ve picked up before. In going through this, the idea is to see the rock from a new perspective, examining it for its texture, its color, the feel of its sharper edges under your fingertips or even feeling the soothing, smooth caress of the rounded edges that have been smoothed from the wear of weather and the constant rubbing from the contact of your skin.

Sometimes, we find our footsteps back on parts of the path that we have already walked. Sometimes, we’ve walked those steps in every imaginable direction and we feel there’s nothing new on the Path to see or experience. But its not the footsteps that changes our perspective when we come back to familiar territory. It’s the change in our mindset that brings new experiences from this weary, overly familiar landscape. Our footsteps are not as heavy, not as quick, we step livelier rather than dragging our feet…all because we think a little differently than before.

This is where I am now. New steps on familiar ground. An idea planted. Now its time to be patient and help it to grow. Into what? I have no idea. But I’m interested to see. Brave new steps into a familiar old world.

–Tommy /|\

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Thinking About: Defining Pebbles and Small Rocks in the Avalanche

One of my favorite Metallica songs has a lyric that I’ve really found to be somewhat profound over the years.

You labeled me
I’ll label you

Metallica, “The Unforgiven”

These two short lines from the song “Unforgiven” can sum up a lot of stuff within my own life. How I’ve accrued the various labels over my life, particularly from my own parents. Hippy. Dirty. Lazy. Unworthy. And a whole host of others. All because I chose to live my life in my own manner. But I’ve accrued labels from other places as well. Druid. Pagan. Polytheist. Hard worker. Inventive. Quick thinker. Priest. Mentor. Leader. Patient. Troubleshooter. Capable. A lot of people will look at that list and see things that they have labeled me as, as well. Some will look at that list and exclaim: “you’re not that!” The reality of it all is that the labels that get applied are always different from person to person and based on their own focus through the jaundiced lens they see the world through. While I detest some of the labeling that gets applied to me, much of it applies from the perspective it gets adhered to me.

Much like the bumper and back window of your car, we all accrue labels that are applied to us by others. Each bumper sticker describes that label, placed there by someone else. You’d be pissed if someone applied a bumper sticker to your car, which espoused a perspective that you didn’t agree with. You’d rip it off your car as quickly as you could, so that you wouldn’t be seen driving around town with that moniker on your car – tying you to a belief that you didn’t agree with, right?

Just to add a touch of flavor to all of this thought, back when I started my first abortive attempt to a bachelor’s degree, I was driving a two-speed Honda Civic around Shreveport, Louisiana (circa mid-1980s). I had a bumper sticker on that over-qualified golf-cart that had a bumper sticker stating “Recall EWE”. This was the first political bumper sticker I had. It was a reference to an effort to recall then-Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, one of the most corrupt politicians in Louisiana. One morning, I parked my car in one of the student lots on campus and came back to my bumper sticker having been removed from my bumper. Apparently, one of Edwards’ ardent fans took exception and remove my bumper sticker from my car. At first I was pissed off over the entire thing, having a feeling of being violated over my rights to free speech. Over time, I realized that it was a childish response by someone else to what I had been espousing. Instead of feeling anger, I felt pity for the individual who had done such an act – they were triggered by a simple label that said something diametrically in opposition to something they believed in. It took me a long time to get to that perspective.

See, I’m no different than anyone else when it comes to being labeled as this or that by others. The labels sting and are hurtful. Our society teaches us to label things we wish to mock. Democrats become DemonRats. Republicans become Repugnicans. Cute twists in wording but meant to denigrate a group of people that we disagree with. During the height of the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south in America, blacks were referred to as “monkeys” or “apes” among other monikers. The labels were meant to denigrate and be harmful. There was no positivity associated with it. More recently, the Witches among the Pagan community have started to reach back for the term ‘Witch” – removing it from a denigrating perspective (such as “A Witch with a capital B”) to something that they hold as a positive label. Something that expresses the positivity of their Path.

Many labels that we have are hard to shake, for whatever reason. Not all can be claimed or should be wanted to be reclaimed. For those, I can only suggest that one does their best to ignore monikers hurled as insults, and calmly and quietly reject those that are incorrectly applied. I’ve gone through this constantly with the term “Priest”. In the not-so-distant Past I have bristled over its application to me. I still don’t feel as if it is an accurate description of who I am on the Path I follow. I’ve learned to be more gentle over pushing it away from myself. In some cases, I’ve learned that its just easier to accept its application, rather than turning my rejection of it into an unintentional contentious battle, typically rounded over the difference in opinion of its definition.

Further complicating the entire label/terminology/definition point has been the recent loud addition to the conservative culture war over the identification of transgender individuals. “Define a woman” was a rallying cry by conservatives during the recent Supreme Court nomination of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. For me, its an easy situation…if you identify as a woman, you’re a woman. If you identify as a man, you’re a man. If you identify as being non-gender, that’s who you are. Period. However, conservatives prefer to identify people by their genetics, and then assign laws to place that labeling on those who do not identify the way that they (conservatives) prefer.

Labeling happens everywhere in our history and culture. We (as a collective society) prefer to have everyone labeled and placed into convenient descriptive boxes. That way, quick assumptions of people can be made. If you identify as a Democrat, you’re a socialist out to destroy American values and turn this country into a Socialist graveyard. If you’re a Republican, you’re a political thug that wants to subvert the Constitution and send this country back to the 1950s with backward and outdated social norms. If you’re an American, you want to create countries around the world that are subverted to American control and utilized in a slavish manner to prop up American capitalism as a means of identifying your culture as rich and dominant throughout the world. There are all kinds of terms that are utilized to quickly identify these piles of people.

How do you stop it? How do you stop labeling people? Well, it takes more than just me and you to change things. It will take a major paradigm shift to change the way we all see one another. It will take a lot to get people to see a different way of enumerating the people we are around. It means seeing people for what they are – human beings – instead of what they believe or what we believe of them. It will take a shifting of the way we try to view others that don’t agree with us in a denigrating fashion…eventually seeing one another as equal to all of us, regardless of their opinions. And where we are at this point in our world-wide culture, how integrated this superior/inferior perspective is ingrained in all of us…a handful of people are not going to change this very much. To quote the fictional character Kosh from the tv series Babylon 5:

The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

I can still hope though. I can still stand my ground on this entire structure of labels. Even if it is too late for this pebble to vote. I still remain the labels that I chose to define myself over – I’m a Pagan. I’m a Druid. I’m a Polytheist. I’m a programmer. I’m a troubleshooter. I’m alive.

–Tommy /|\

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Thinking About: The Application of Force

From time to time, I get tagged on posts that smash and bash on the Christian faith. Usually, I remove the tag and ignore the post. I had my beef with the Christian faith back when I was younger. Over time, my anger towards that faith has mellowed, as I aimed myself towards more positive directions with my Druidry. I’ve also learned to distinguish between those Christians that twist the teachings of Jesus ben Joseph to suit their own needs and those Christians who try their very best to walk the same Path that he did.

In today’s society, the culture war that has been brewing in the hard-right’s teapot has finally started coming to a boil. Laws limiting the rights of people based on who they love or how many have become the first focal point in that war. Certainly, there’s a lot of Pagans that scream about taking up this fight, and I completely understand the fervor behind that battle cry. But I’ve always maintained patience over knee-jerk reaction. I’ve caught a ton of flak over that perspective. I’m not reacting fast enough. I’m allowing the “enemy” to gain the initiative. I’m letting “them” get the upper hand. There’s a lot more, but you get the point.

Sometimes, I think the difference tends to be that I don’t paint these folks as “them”…after all, they are just as human as I am. People will scream and shout that these folks are trying to subvert the Constitution that governs us all here in the United States. That if they are allowed to rule this country in the manner that they see fit, all of us that believe differently than they do will be locked up in concentration camps. How Orwellian. But I try to remember that a loud, small minority do have intentions of harm towards others. While I don’t believe a majority of people are in their camp, I have no illusions that such people do exist…on both sides.

All of that eventually leads to the question: “how do you manage to stay sane in the middle of all of this?” Well, I lean back to my Druidry. My Druidry teaches that all life is sacred – that includes the people that think differently and believe differently than I do. I can disagree with people on all kinds of positions and perspectives, and still care about them in times of need. I certainly don’t climb out of my truck at an accident scene and ask each person what their political or religious beliefs are before helping them. I also don’t check the backside of each vehicle to see which of them have bumper stickers that I disagree with and then refuse to help the occupants based on that. My neighbors here all supported President Trump in the last election. There were only a handful of us that did not have political yard signs declaring our political positions. Still, if any of their houses were on fire, I would not hesitate to run inside to pull people and pets from the house before the fire department arrived. I would not hesitate to turn on their garden hoses and do my best to fight the fire and limit their property damage as much as I could.

“But they disagree with you!” “They are Trump supporters; they want you dead or in jail!” Sorry, I don’t believe everything the news media tells me. I read what is said, see the sources that are quoted in the articles or listen critically to what the “experts” brought on their show have to say…and I make up my own mind about the individual that they are speaking of. In the end, they are all still human beings, and that outweighs any other thought I might have. “What if they are firing weapons at you?” Well, if I shot and harmed them in self-defense, I would still offer and render aid to them – supposing that it was safe for me to do so. But I would defend myself with deadly force if the need arose. I like the idea of still being alive, even though my own health has declined over the years.

I see the political divisions in the world around me. I see many folks getting caught up in that paradigm, referring to the other side of their perspective as “them” or describing those folks as beneath the quality of an average human being. I don’t buy into that. My Druidry, the very beliefs that I live by, won’t let me do that. I recall much the same was said about the Iraqis during the first Desert Storm war. They were referred to with racial slurs and portrayed as sub-human individuals that deserved to die because the President of their country was a dictatorial tyrant. These Iraqi people didn’t overthrow him, thus they approved of him. A simple assumption, which wasn’t true. But an assumption that provided permission to kill these other human beings because they were “inferior” to our thinking. The reality was different. Many of them were conscripted right off the streets into the army to fight on the front lines as the first forces that the Allied units would encounter. Their incentive was clear. Fight or their families would suffer the consequences. They had an additional incentive as well. The fanatical Republican Guard were directly behind their units. Should they choose to feel the incoming Allied forces, it was noted that the Republican Guard forces would cut them down.

Within Druidry as I see it, all life is sacred and to be respected…even when the individual that is to be respected doesn’t provide the same respect to those on the opposite side. To make things a bit clearer, I am not a pacifist of any sort. You seek to visit violence upon myself or any other individual, I will step up to halt that violence to the best of my ability with whatever item I can utilize to do so and whatever force is necessary, at its lowest element of application. Others will definitely see things differently…and do. I may not agree, but I respect the ability of people to make their own choices as well. I’m not here to make other people believe as I do. I’m not here to make definitions of what is or isn’t Druidry, magick, or what have you. I’m here to live my life as peacefully, patiently, and as thoughtfully as I can.

–T /|\

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Howling Into the Wind: What Are WE Doing?

I write. I think. I listen. I question. I hope I inspire others to do so as well.
What are WE doing?
I’m trying to listen and find my path again after the world went mad. Because we’re all mad here, as someone once said. All human.

Cat Treadwell, “Wrong…?”, https://druidcat.wordpress.com/2022/04/05/wrong/

I am quoting the end of Cat’s post here to start yesterday’s blog because I think its an important reminder that we all slip from the Path from time to time. Please, if you haven’t, click the link and read what Cat has written. Sometimes, parts of the Path are obscured by a thick growth of the forest from either side of the forest, and we have to push through to eventually get to a point where we can search for its familiar feel for our footfalls. And that sometimes, the Path changes as well. Because our journey takes us across so many different lands. As a side note, the reason I am saying that this is yesterday’s blog post is because I am posting this on a Friday, having missed yesterday’s “normal” posting time. Getting ready to move takes a lot more time than I remember. Anyways…

The collective world around us has a familiar, yet unfamiliar feel to it. Familiar because we, as a larger society, have been here before. Unfamiliar, because we as individuals have not. We have Russian forces committing acts of violence against Ukrainian citizens, shades of what violent dictators have set their armies to do in the past in so many wars and conflicts. We have laws restricting people from being who they are with threats of arrest and prison time. We had a pandemic rage throughout the world with many different responses to how it was handled by all the governments. Here in the United States, we suffered through an attempt to overthrow an election through means of violence and intimidation. The world has certainly gone mad or at least feels like its spinning off its axis. As Cat asks, what are we doing?

Ok, so we’ve collectively walked off the Path and a little ways into the forest. We’ve gotten a little too deep into the trees and are starting to feel paralyzed by the numerous choices we have. We can go deeper into the trees, in a myriad of directions. Just pick one. We can retrace our steps back to the path, essentially refocusing ourselves on what we’re striving to do. We can sit down and learn to breathe again, so we can refocus and make a choice. Or to put it in a different light, we can read the stories of others. We can tell our own stories. We can refocus by retelling our previous stories to get us refocused on what we set out to do.

Our stories, the stories of all of us, are important. This week, I told some of the stories of Shadow cat, whom I just put to sleep, letting her cross the Rainbow Bridge into the afterlife where I hope to see her again. The news has showcased the stories – what little we know of their stories – of Ukrainian citizens who were tortured, killed…murdered at the hands of Russian soldiers, probably at the behest of President Putin. The news has been full of stories of how governmental control of LGBTQ+ individuals has been taken place under legislative mandates, which promise harsh punitive measures just for being who they are. I’ve read stories by baseball historical researchers who have been advancing the narratives and statistics for the Negro leagues, a part of baseball that has long been encased in shadows and darkness for a wide variety of disparate reasons. Our stories are us. We ignore them at our collective peril.

What can we actually do about what we read, what we hear, what we see? How can we help, especially when we are all being pounded to dust by rising inflation, increasingly punitive measures by right- and left-wing aspects that refuse to see any other narrative to daily life than their own or those narratives that suit their purposes? What are WE doing?

I completely grok the feeling of paralysis over the tidal wave of information, data, and perspectives. I grok the energy that feels like we’re all being bashed against the seawall as the tide rushes in. In my previous employment position, my job was to tell the narrative of the college that I worked for. How did enrollment go? What was the complexity and breadth/width of grades earned by the students? How many students achieved their academic goal of graduating with a degree or a certificate? What was the racial and gender breakdowns of those data points? What about the ages of each of those categories? What data issues do I see in the overall trends? What are the data points that are above the average? Which are below average? How does the college compare to all the other junior colleges in the state in those areas? On and on and on. Each question answered satisfies a point of curiosity but engenders three more questions that require looking into other areas that were not originally thought of in the initial set of questions. The rising tide of data slamming the issue against the sea wall. The only way to deal with this was to organize the necessary data points and pull each one-by-one. That takes time, something that is not available in our fast-moving, overly demanding world. The constant hunger for data can be relentless. The same can be said for the need for action deriving from the stories that we read, hear, and tell. As well as the overly complicated need for action.

Our world is more complicated now than it was back when I was in my early twenties. There are global treaties that entangle nations together. All of this is hard to fathom, comprehend, and act upon – a far cry from what the world was back in 1984 when I graduated high school or 1986 when I joined the United States Air Force. International alliances were easy to understand, international threats were easy to comprehend. Then the threats went from nation-states to political groups, complicating things even more since these new actors were not limited to an understood territorial boundary. Now, our world is a series of complicated treaties – political, economic, and military. Further complicating things is the deep divisions we have created between ourselves as individuals. Conservative, Liberal, Republican, Democrat, Tory, Labourists…and a major ton of other manners to baloney-slice ourselves. We’ve created ways to see ourselves differently. Ways to dislike – and even hate – one another, simply because we believe, live, and even love differently. Anything to make us forget that those individuals on the other side are just as human as we are.

There are stories for each side. Some stories that we’ve not heard before. The stories that I have read about from players who lived during the times of the Negro Leagues are harrowing. Any bus trip to a city in the south could be fraught with danger as segregationist whites could attack a Negro Leagues team bus with impunity, just to kill an individual over the color of their skin. The integration stories of the major leagues provide some rather frightful stories. When Hank Aaron, a black man, broke the homerun record of Babe Ruth, a white man, the stories of how Aaron had to protected from death threats were amazing. That was 1974 folks. Don’t think that the sports figures of today don’t endure racism and sexism today? There are plenty of stories out there to read about it.

Part of Cat’s post talks about reading stories of people whose voices seem to rarely be heard or heeded. There are plenty of reasons why it happens – all of which are nothing more then weak excuses of why people avoid these stories. The points made in many of these stories make people “uncomfortable” with what they are reading. Perhaps that discomfort comes from recognition that we, as a collective society, still refuse to give credence to those people who are different. That their culture is alien to us. That we are only feeling compassionate to others so long as their paradigm and reality doesn’t threaten the comfort we have in our own. Perhaps, we are afraid of having those pre-drawn, chalked outlines of our differences getting us to acknowledge a stark truth we are afraid to embrace – we are all the same. Or to quote from Babylon 5:

Capt. John Sheridan : I wish I had your faith in the universe. I just don’t see it sometimes.
Delenn : Then I will tell you a great secret, Captain. Perhaps the greatest of all time. The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station, and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff. We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out. And as we have both learned, sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective.

Its true. We are all starstuff. Yet because of slight differences and variations, we find reasons to hate one another. We expend huge amounts of energy, thought and creativity towards killing one another instead of finding ways to channel all of that into ways to better ourselves, better our manner of living, find ourselves as we howl into darkness of despair. Indeed, what are WE doing??

Our stories are important. Their stories are important. Even when we don’t agree with what is being said. Even when the narrative makes it uncomfortable for us to absorb and comprehend the narrative that is being provided. We are, as was pointed out by a fictional character in a fictional space opera, the Universe trying to comprehend itself. Or at least, that’s possibly the easiest narrative to provide that makes sense to so many.

We’ve wandered off the Path. We’re in the forest where the sunlight barely penetrates the tree canopy above. We’ve sat on some nettles. Our backside now itches with the resulting rash. We’re intrigued by the beckoning darkness of the forest. Are we making a new Path, taking a new direction, assuming a new personal quest? Or do we go back to the path as we know it, and continue the direction we were going? Let’s remember, no matter what direction we take…there’s no going back into the Past. That’s gone. Our footfalls take us forward, not backwards. Much like Cat, I’m taking my time here. For me, its a time to listen. A time to see what shapes up, and then make a decision of how to proceed.

Put your lighter in the air and lead me back home
When it’s all said and done, I’ll follow the echoes
I hear you night after night calling out my name, ooh
And I find myself running to meet you

“Break In”, Halestorm, from the album “The Strange Case…”

–T /|\

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Howling Into the Wind: Piety and Worship (My Perspective)

What does Pagan piety look like? How do you worship your Gods?

::heavy sigh:: The whole concept of piety and worship tends to come from a Westernized place. To me, questions like these are not that easy to answer because the person asking the question tends to have preconceived idea of what piety and worship are. So, to answer this, I’m going to resort to the online Merriam Webster dictionary to provide definitions as a starting point.

Piety.
1: the quality or state of being pious: such as
a: fidelity to natural obligations (as to parents)
b: dutifulness in religion
2: an act inspired by piety
3: a conventional belief or standard

There are two sets of definitions here. One is a definition as a verb. The other is a definition as a noun.

Worship.
transitive verb
1: to honor or show reverence for as a divine being or supernatural power
2: to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion : a celebrity worshipped by her fans
intransitive verb
: to perform or take part in worship or an act of worship
Noun
1: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power : an act of expressing such reverence
2: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
3: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem : worship of the dollar
4: chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (such as magistrates and some mayors)

So, which to go with? In terms of piety, I’ll stick with the definitions of 1b and 3. For worship, I’ll remain with the definitions as showcased by the verb. Silly, isn’t it? Having to define a pair of terms that would seem to have such simple definitive aspects, right? I am doing this to provide solid definitive agreement on the terms before continuing. You’ll see how muddy these two concepts can get.

In terms of worship, there is rarely complete agreement on what this actually looks like. The definition provides a starting point, but the actions that tend to be made into the act of worship rarely tend to agree. For some, placing yourself prostrate before your God(s) is what worship is. You set yourself forward as an instrument of His/Their use. In doing so, you are worshipping His/Their presence, and acknowledging His/Their divinity, wisdom, and knowledge. For others, you gather on a specific day of the week to sing His/Their praises as a group, that merely doing so rejoices in His/Their divinity. Many others gather together in ritual (as many of us Pagans do) for a variety of reasons, calling Him/Her/Tham to join us in remembrance of the time of the year that we have entered into. However, when you talk openly about the worship of your God(s), it’s the concept of being prostrate before Him/Her/Them that tends to come to mind. Typically, this is from the formation of that thought process through television and movies depicting such acts. My thought process is a little different.

Piety is a little more difficult to manage and understand. Many people have placed piety in the realm of being the “true believer.” By this, I mean the individual that is completely ate-up in their faith. They pray every second possible. They pray before every meal. They ask for protection from the God(s) before they start on a long journey. A pious individual is made out to be what some might term as a fanatic, particularly if the individual passing judgment is not extremely religious. Again, I turn away from some of the standard pushes in this area as well.

My perspective is quite different on these terms. Worship comes in the form that works for the individual. Worship is a way for the individual to connect with their choices in God(s). For some people it comes in forms of regular church attendance. For others, it comes in the form of home altars that they have created and dedicated to that purpose. For me, its neither of those. It comes in the form of walks in the woods, the open fields, even just down my neighborhood street. Worship, for me, is existing. I’m fortunate to wake up every morning, I praise my Gods by living out loud. What I mean by this is that I do my very best to be kind and compassionate to others…even when I completely disagree with them. It might not seem like worship to others, and that’s perfectly fine. I can’t control the ability of others to think or believe what they might. Nor do I want that power or ability. I prefer that people connect with their own concept of the Divine in their own way. Life has more meaning when that happens, in my opinion.

Piety is much the same way. I refuse to get into pissing matches over whether someone is pious in their beliefs. That’s why I have always felt that the “Are You Pagan Enough” movement was such a pile of bullshit. I don’t get the right or the power to tell anyone that they are or aren’t enough of anything to be a part of Paganism. I am not and refuse to be a gate-keeper of any kind. If you say you’re a Pagan, but you don’t practice as I do…who put me (or anyone else for that matter) in charge of determining who is or isn’t Pagan based on some criteria developed by myself or any other? Maybe you’re not my type of Pagan (which is quite possible), but I don’t get to determine if you are or aren’t. You’re the only one that gets to do that for yourself.

There definitely will be people who will disagree with me on these perspectives. That’s perfectly fine. I’m not here to change minds or perspectives. This post is about living my life openly and out loud where these terms are concerned. My perspective is not about winning any argument or disagreement. My perspective is not about making my beliefs into a dominant strain. My perspective is about living my life, free of the shadows to hide myself in. Being able to state what I believe, what I see, what I experience out loud, in the open. I’m not on a Path to convert a single individual to what I believe. But I am also not going to live in the shadows, forever hiding myself because of a fear that I will be rejected by others. I will be rejected by others; I am quite sure of that. That doesn’t mean that my perspective is nullified. All it means is what I already know: not everyone is going to agree with me. The next steps are to figure out which of those individuals will disagree but are willing to accept me for who I am despite our differences. Those are the allies I seek in my life.

How pious are you? What does your worship look like? Those questions should be asked in a spirit of curious nature, not in judgment. Most people might be afraid to directly answer those questions in fear that they will be judged as “wrong” or “incorrect.” The real answer is that there is no “right” or “correct” answer. There’s your approach. That’s what matters. Its YOUR approach. #TwoQuid

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Making a Difference

How do you think you’ve made a difference?

My idea of making a difference is just getting people to open their eyes to other ideas, mindsets, or perspectives. I’m not the originator of those things, I am only trying to get people to widen the scope of their thinking to see what they would normally dismiss. I have a few conservative and Christian friends that I like to poke at what they believe, so I can understand the “why” of it all. That helps me to open my eyes and understand where they are coming from. I can only hope that my example of such a process helps them to do the same with me. In that manner, we both learn a touch more about directions that we normally wouldn’t face.

There are a few people that would suggest that I make a difference by writing about my perspectives here on the blog. ::shrug:: I can understand and relate, but in terms of learning more – nothing beats an out-of-fashion discussion. I say “out-of-fashion” simply because our modern-day society emphasizes the idea of “winning” every contentious discussion that is had.

There are others that cite my example as a Druid as inspiring them to make progress in their own studies. In a major way, this type of “difference” scares me because I know how badly I’ve fucked up along my own Path. I hear that I am an example, but when I compare that to my own Path over very rocky terrain, I’m always perplexed how I can be inspirational and not be cited more properly as a warning sign of “how-not-to-do-it.”

A few folks have mentioned that its my completely open honesty that has that inspirational effect. I don’t shy away from the fact that I’m hardly anywhere near to being perfect. I’m also honest about the landmines I have stepped upon and the ones I’ve tap-danced on. But that’s always been a point of the blog: to honestly show some of the missteps I’ve endured, and how I’ve managed to get beyond those points. I guess that can be considered as “making a difference.”

“Making a difference” also comes in the form of always trying to be there for a hand to hold, arms that can hug others in their times of need, and a staff I can lend to others to lean on. I’ve constantly mentioned the perspective of acts of kindness and compassion. That’s a leftover from Grateful Dead concerts and interviews. No matter which member was stepping up to the plate, there was always a mention of how kindness was something that every single person at the concert could do to make the world a better place. All we have to do is offer a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean into, or an ear to bend. Each one of those acts requires nothing that we should have any issue offering. In the words of Bob Weir, all we have to do is be there.

I have had it mentioned to me many times that I could make a difference by being in a place of leadership. I’ve always been of the mind that there are so many Pagans and Druids that are far better at being a leader than I could ever dream of being. And I’ve had friends disagree loudly on that point. Well, I have an upcoming move to Arkansas – where I have yet to find an OBOD group (or even a member) in the Little Rock area. Since I announced this to friends, more than a few have mentioned that I would seem to be in a place to start some kind of OBOD-y activity there. Perhaps that is true. Perhaps, my Gods are shoving me in that direction. Time will be the arbiter of that perspective. My first concern is getting moved up there after finding someplace to live. Priorities, no?

Being an inspiration, someone to look to for leadership or what not – that’s a very odd place for me to find myself. It’s a scary proposition. I keep trying to push the idea of being a role model away. It keeps coming back to latch on to me like the hairs of my cats to my casual-wear t-shirts. However, knowing that people are looking to how I handle myself, especially with those that are diametrically opposed to what I believe in, has made me take a longer, harder look at how I approach potentially contentious moments. This has me taking periods of pause, to bring myself into check a bit more, so that I act correctly and accordingly. Sometimes, I feel like I am back in Non-Commissioned Officer schools when I was in the Air Force, learning the proper way to comport myself as an enlisted leader within my duty section.

There are so many ways to make a difference. More than I could dare to count. However, I have found myself coming back to one theme throughout my thought process on this: whether I like it or not, someone is going to be looking to me for how a Pagan Druid handles himself. Someone will find my very direct manner of dealing with issues to be an enduring aspect of who I am and take inspiration towards stepping up and into the pitch. And at some point in their lives, someone will be doing the same to them. Making a difference can be complicated, but not doing it means there was a missed opportunity to be the Pagan Druid that I am. And I hate missing opportunities.

–Tommy /|\

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Be a Yuh-Jung Youn. Be a Lady Gaga

This past Sunday evening, I hit “record” on the receiver for the Academy Awards. It was the first time in a very, very long time that I’ve intentionally watched an awards show. The Movie “Dune” was up for several awards, and I was curious enough to watch, hoping it would win. In several categories, it did. But there two moments that stood out for me in the show, and no – neither one of them was Will Smith giving Chris Rock exactly what he deserved.

Granted, the slap and interchange between the two that was all video and no sound for America, has continued to receive the most press, this year’s Academy Awards should not be defined by that rather ugly moment. Make no mistake about it, it was the most talked about moment on Monday, and continues to suck the oxygen out of the room where the Academy Awards is concerned.

The two moments that had me in tears were the moment when Yuh-Jung Youn presented the Supporting Actor award to Troy Ktsur, and Lady Gaga with Liza Minelli presenting the Best Picture Award. Both moments define the ideas of kindness, selflessness, and caring – just beautiful and touching acts of the parts of Yuh-Jong and GaGa.

Yuh-Jung made notations about how she had been slightly annoyed at the previous awards when people mispronounced her name over and over. Yet here she was presenting an award to people whose names she could barely pronounce. She apologized before continuing for any mispronunciations she would incur from her poor English skills. After announcing the nominees, she opened the envelope, and stopped. She then signed Kotsur’s name, and then announced it verbally into the microphone. When Kotsur approached her on the stage to accept his award, she handed it to him, and then signed what I presume to be her congratulations. A little further on, she acknowledged that she had just learned how to sign that statement and Kotsur’s name earlier that day just in case he won the award. In Kotsur’s acceptance speech, which he signed and was translated by a member of his party, he told the heart-breaking story of how an accident had left him paralyzed and unable to sign.

Just when I thought I was past the point of hardcore emotions, Lady Gaga comes out with the incomparable legend Liza Minnelli to present the Picture of the Year award. Liza was in a wheelchair looking visibly frail, and somewhat confused on what she needed to do. I began to think we were about to watch an award show low. Then Lady Gaga gripped Liza’s hand and telling Liza that everyone just adored her. A huge smile came to Liza’s face, and she again tried to start again, laughing at her own missteps. Then Lady Gaga leaned down and quietly said “I got you” and liza responded with an even quieter “I know.” Instead of running over Liza through the segment, Lady Gaga showed deference to Liza, beaming with absolute joy at being able to stand next to the ‘Cabaret” Oscar winner. During the acceptance speech by the “Coda” entourage, Lady Gaga could be seen in the background at the curtain’s edge – still holding Liza’s hand, beaming as if this moment was all she really ever wanted.

Over the past few years, I have preached on and on about how kindness was paramount. In those two moments on Sunday night, I witnessed the epitome of what I have talked about. How spending just a quick amount of time to learn to sign someone’s name and a congratulations message JUST IN CASE the actor in question won his category, that’s an act of selflessness. Yuh-Jung wanted to ensure that the moment would be all Kotsur’s…that he wouldn’t have to wait for translator to state what she had spoken. Instead, she wanted Kotsur to get the message from her first. His moment spoken in his words. Lady Gaga showed patience, understanding, kindness, deference, and love to Liza Minnelli through her actions standing there with her.

On a night that seems Hells-bent to showcase a violent, ugly moment – these moments of beauty are being pushed under the waves, seemingly forgotten. For me, these were two of the greatest moments of the entire show. Moments, I’m not going to forget anytime soon. People always ask me what epitomizes a Pagan or a Druid, and some of my first notations usually fall along these lines. Most Pagans and Druids that I know are concerned with others before themselves. If there is one thing that my Pagan Path has taught me over thirty-five years – care and concern for others is paramount. Particularly when we have the power and capacity to do so. We’ve had plenty of moments over the last three years where people have needed us. Many have stepped into the breach to be there. Several people that I know have had life altering experiences. Some have lost loved ones. I can’t fathom what they are feeling, after all we all have different waves of emotions to life-altering experiences. Many of them are too far away for me to offer anything more than an ear to bend or a virtual hug. That does wear on me, as these are folks that are near and dear to my heart and soul. But I offer what is within my power and capacity to give and provide. It’s the very least I can do.

In world that has spent so much time dealing with a pandemic, a war, over-reaching and over-bearing politics…be a Yuh-Jung Youn. Be a Lady Gaga. Even when faced with your own adversity, your own tragedies. You never know who might be watching, who might gain some strength from your example. We grieve when we need to grieve, how we need to grieve. But we can use the examples of Lady Gaga and Yuh_jung Youn – among so many, many others – to guide our feet and our actions to being more kind, more compassionate, more giving….

–T /|\

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Thinking About: I Wish Everything Would Just Go Back to the Way It Was

It broke. You can’t put it back together again. You can’t go back to the way it was before. You can only go forward.

Long, long ago, this was a piece of advice that my very first High Priestess gave to me. I cannot remember the specific “why” that prompted the statement, but I do remember pieces of the long talk we had. This has been a solace to every single fuckup I’ve done. Like many folks, I’ve got some major moments in my past, some not that far ago. But every single time, after I’ve grieved over the loss of what happened, after I’ve finished slamming myself for being an idiot – every single time I’ve come back to her words. It’s a reminder to get up, slap the dust off my clothing, and continue forward.

I’ve uttered those infamous words quite a few times before.

I wish everything would just go back to the way it was.

Except that it can’t. Once something is broken, it can be repaired or even replaced. The repaired item is still broken, its just been patched up to be ALMOST what it was. The replaced item may seem the same, but its still a replacement. Once something is broken, there is nothing that can take it back to what it once was. This is easily noted in looking at a vase. I knocked it off the table, and it broke. I glued it back together and repainted it. It looks just the same, but its integrity is not as strong as it was before. Its not completely whole either. There was a small chip that I couldn’t find in the pieces that I glued back together. Replacing the vase with another means that a different vase is there now. It looks the same, but its not. I cannot go back to the vase that it was yesterday.

Yesterday, I was watching Babylon 5 (my favorite SciFi tv show) and ran across a moment that really dove-tailed into my thoughts for this post.

Dr. Stephen Franklin: I realize that I always defined myself in terms of what I wasn’t. I wasn’t a good soldier like my father. I wasn’t the job. I wasn’t a good prospect for marriage or kids. Always what I wasn’t, never what I was. And when you do that, you miss the moments. And the moments are all we’ve got. When I thought I was going to die, even after everything that’s happened, I realized I didn’t want to let go. I was willing to do it all over again, and this time I could appreciate the moments. I can’t go back, but I can appreciate what I have right now. And I can define myself by what I am instead of what I’m not.
Captain John Sheridan: And what are you?
Dr. Stephen Franklin: Alive. Everything else is negotiable.

Babylon 5, Season 3, Episode 21, “Shadow Dancing”

In this moment, Dr. Franklin is noting that he had been defining his life in terms of what he wasn’t rather than what he is. But he makes a point that he “can’t go back” even as he had been “willing to do it all over again” just so he could “appreciate the moments.” For me, this is an important distinction. I’ve spent a good deal of my life putting in the penance for the moments that I’ve had a hand in fucking up. Blaming myself, defining who I am by the things that I did wrong. All of that makes for an unpleasant me. I’m always grumpy with myself. I’m always downgrading who and what I am. About a year ago, I had to change all of that.

Now, I look at who I am and see myself in a somewhat different light. I look at myself in terms of what I can do. I’m a technical troubleshooter. I might not have the answer. I might not know exactly how to solve the problem. However, I will do my damndest to resolve the issue to the best of my ability. Before, I would be afraid to let go of the issue and ask for help. But I understand the concepts, meanings, and needs of teamwork (thank you United States Air Force). I am not weak for asking for assistance. I have an opportunity to learn. When we succeed, I have someone(s) to celebrate the moment with.

Looking into the past, I have always viewed all the people that have come and gone in my life as the inevitable detritus of my hot mess of a life. But that’s not true either. Each one of those people were part of my life, part of the various moments of joy and beauty that I have had. In some cases, we didn’t part on good terms, but that doesn’t diminish those moments. As Dr. Franklin noted in that scene from Babylon 5, “the moments are all we have.”

We can’t go back to the past. We can’t make thing the way they were. That even goes for laws. We make laws. We change laws. We rescind laws. We bring laws back. But when we bring laws back, rarely are things the same way again. I’ve said it a lot – we are all unique. That even goes for the moments that we have, the moments that we encounter. Over time, we change, we evolve, we experience. All of that changes us incrementally. When we encounter one another again, things are different because we are now, not yesterday. We live now, not yesterday. We live now for the experiences of tomorrow.

–Tommy /|\

You Fail, You Learn, You Get Back Up Again

Not that far in the rear-view mirror, life approached me with a change. Turned out to be a dead-end on my travels, but I still felt the need to explore it. Even if it was just long enough to realize I needed to double-back to the previous crossroads. Life tosses all kinds of curveballs at us in our lifetimes. Sometimes, we just take the pitch – sometimes we swing for the fences – if you’ll pardon the baseball descriptive there. One of my favorite baseball players – Pete Rose – was once reported to have said, “you get exactly zero hits when you don’t swing the bat.” I’m not completely sure that Pete ever said any such thing, but its true. Unless you take a chance by swinging the bat, there will be no hits coming in your line score.

When I first joined the Air Force, I was naïve, unlearned, and completely ignorant of what I was capable of doing. My first “job” was working the base switchboard at night. I answered and connected phone calls in the over-night hours. Occasionally, I would have to call up the radio bridge for emergency issues on the runway. In this tole, I connected commanders together from their radios or their local digital telephone locations, as well as the command post. A function of that job was to keep track of these commanders during their day, and relay that information to the command post. Once, I dropped the Director of Operations off of an incoming bird-strike IFE (In-flight Emergency). I had to quickly reconnect him, as well as identify my operator number as well. He “visited” me in the small switchboard communications room afterwards. A two-star general knocked on my duty station’s door, strode past me, and sat down in my operator’s chair. I quietly closed the door, moved to stand in front of him, and stood at the position of attention.

“You messed up kid,” he quietly commented.

“Yes sir.”

“What happened?”

“My finger slipped when I was connecting the Base Commander to the communications bridge. The result was my disconnecting you. I apologize, sir. There is no excuse on my part, nothing but incompetence.”

“Sit down kid,” he motioned to the second controller’s chair, which was empty because it was the night hours. I sat down immediately, my eyes never leaving his. “You fucked up. That’s all. It happens. Try not to let it happen again. We all make mistakes; we all learn from them.” With that he got up, opened the door and closed it quietly behind him.

I would remember this moment when I had airmen who made mistakes on shift in the Sembach Command Post. Its not the mistake that is the issue. It’s a learning moment. Its when the mistake happens over and over again. That’s when there is a problem, and a training issue. I sure do wish people in today’s corporate environment would understand that. Firing people over a simple, first-time mistake rectifies nothing. There’s nothing served except your ego that you “fixed” the problem by terminating someone’s career.

All of that is nice, but how does this equate to Paganism and/or Druidry? Well, we make mistakes in our studies. We have errors of judgment in dealing with other people. We learn from those moments too. In one ritual that I was a part of – back in the Wiccan days, we were celebrating a full moon. We had a lot of candles that were lit. The five of us were in robes. The High Priestess decided to be a little playful and bent over the north candle. Flipping her robe up to reveal her bare rear-end, she exclaimed: “Check out this full moon!” We all chuckled at the levity of the moment, but when she pulled her robe upwards, part of her sleeve was directly over the candle, which set her robe on fire. After some shrieking and yelling, we put out her robe without her receiving any injuries. She had made a mistake…she had not practiced safety around an open flame, a practice that all of us had been taught from her on our first days within the coven. Luckily, it was only an embarrassing moment, and not an injurious one.

When I make mistakes, I tend to lay the blame at my own feet. All of it. Rarely do I share any of the blame. In my eyes, I should know better. I could have done better. The fault is all mine. I alone accept the blame. Except that isn’t always true. I have a bad habit of taking others’ blame and pulling it to myself, so as to protect them or shield them from the consequences. That’s great for martyrdom, but it doesn’t do a damn thing to rectify an issue going into the future. Everyone involved in an issue has to realize and accept their own measure of blame, if everyone is to learn. Otherwise, the issue happens over and over again. Soon, it becomes a visible pattern that others can see. Sometimes, the individual cannot see the forest for the trees. However, if there was someone who needed to share culpability in an issue…its not my responsibility to bring them to that understand. Mine is to deal with myself…learn what I can, make reparations where I can. I cannot and will not be responsible for the needs and necessary learning of others.

The good part in all of this? Well, everyone makes mistakes. Everyone learns from those mistakes. But everyone also succeeds. Our lives are not just mistakes and tragedies. We have successes and triumphs as well. There are lessons to learn there as well. Believe me, life is more than just living and breathing. Life is about existing, experiencing, learning, succeeding, and even failing. And failing does hurt. Its ok to sit in the path, rub your ass, and shed a few tears for failing. Its just as important to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and ignore any laughter at your missteps. Everyone fails…everyone gets back up too. The question of when and how…that’s left completely up to you.

–Tommy /|\

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Thinking About: Rituals, Gatherings, Druidry Alone, Paganism Together

Rituals, gatherings. Its a part of being a Pagan. Its also a part of being a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a human being – its literally a part of life. Some rituals are simple. Chew your food twelve times before swallowing is a ritual that people make for their eating habits. Anyone around me at breakfast on the second day of camp can attest that I don’t always practice this ritual. Or it can be as simple as what a batter does between pitches in a baseball game. Sean Casey, a first baseman, was once described as a “human rain delay” since he always adjusted his batting gloves, stretched his lower back, and took two practice swings between every pitch. 😊 Rituals can be elaborate, such as a Catholic mass. Most likely rituals tend to fall somewhere between those two points. So does the symbolic nature or intent of a ritual, but the point is that we have these rituals in our lives.

Every Pagan/Druid camp I have been involved in has had three rituals (sometimes more) for their event. An opening ritual thanking the Gods and the participants for attending the event (most have been three days in length), a main ritual addressing the point on the Wheel of the Year, and a closing ritual thanking the participants and the Gods for being a part of the event. That’s a simplistic explanation, but you get the idea.

Everyone has a different approach to ritual – particularly group ritual. In the camps and events I have attended, its not uncommon to hear the phrase “robe up” before any ritual or initiation that was to take place. Essentially, it’s a clarion call to everyone to get ready for the ritual. Some take their participation extremely serious and have similar expectations of others. Tardiness, otherwise jokingly referred to as “Pagan Standard Time” is heavily frowned upon. Those attending wearing street clothing instead of some type of ritual garb are seen as “not being totally serious.” On the other side of the spectrum are those that miss the boat on these stringent non-vocal “rules.”

I’m in-between where the clothing/dress-up factor is concerned. I wear my cloak to rituals, but underneath, I tend to dress in my usual street clothes. Usually this is a Rush or Grateful Dead t-shirt combined with whatever jeans I happen to have on, and my tennis shoes or hiking boots (depending on how cold/wet it is outdoors). I’ll carry my staff with me. I’ll add a photo here for you to get the general idea. I wear the cloak because I like it. Its green because I like to blend into my surroundings in the forest – at least somewhat. Plus, wearing white isn’t exactly a great idea here in the deep south of America. Everything else that I wear is about comfort and utility…not looks, including the staff. My old, fat self sometimes needs something to help with standing for long periods of time. I’m a firm believer that people should dress in what is comfortable and suitable for themselves…even when it “clashes” with the “fashion” of the circle. In my thinking, the Gods could give two shits about how we dress, They accept us as we are. But that’s my two quid into the soup…

Anyone that has attended rituals with me and the shenanigators that I tend to be around with in camp…know about the little giggle sessions we tend to have much of the time. Its not disrespect for the ritual, its an affirmation that we are together, and living life. We are all quite capable of keeping ourselves composed at appropriate moments and during appropriate ritual points. We giggle and carry-on because we’re together, happy to be with one another again, and enjoying life. That is, after all, one of the unspoken functions of these gatherings, being together to enjoy life and one another.

Lastly is the dreaded Pagan Standard Time issue. I’ve watched the toe-tapping and frowning in my direction when I am late for some rituals and events. I’ve learned to flat out ignore it. I’ve also learned to flat out ignore the sullen commentary made when others are running on Pagan Standard Time. Nine times out of ten, its not their fault. Traffic in a large metro area can be difficult at any given moment or time, regardless of how “prepared” someone tried to be. I’ve always tried my best to set my life into a position of patience and understanding when “stuff happens.” Plus, I’m fairly certain that the Gods aren’t going to be upset if the ritual starts twenty minutes later or if Susie couldn’t make it on time to take her role in the ritual and had to be replaced at the last minute by Betty. Its taken a lot of my thirty-four years within Paganism to become more patient and understand…but I’ve managed it. Surely others could as well, but I can’t speak for them.

So, what’s a ritual for? What are these gatherings meant for us to do? Should we all be on our collective knees throughout the event so that we lie prostrate before our Gods? Humbling ourselves before the Beings that we give reverence to. Well, I work with two Trickster Gods who spent a lot of my earlier teachings getting me to understand the significance of having a spine and respect for myself – even when approaching Them or any other God. Certainly, the Gods deserve our respect, and even our awe. But my Gods didn’t want me crawling before Them. The same holds true for rituals and gatherings. There are times for somber, quiet, serene reflection. But we are together. We celebrate being here still – together. We will laugh, carry-on, hug, and act like incomparable children. We are celebrating Life, another turn of the Wheel. We will also spend time remembering those who couldn’t attend, and those who have passed beyond the veil since the last time we laid eyes on one another. We will also celebrate all the new people we will met, learning about them as they learn about us. Welcoming them into our family that exists physically for a few days, and much longer beyond.

I’ve never viewed Pagans as a dour people, constantly bending their knees to the Gods, never smiling, never cavorting in the celebration of daily existence. Honestly, if I wanted that – I would have stayed in the southern Baptist faith back when I was seventeen. Ritual is an observance of a point in time that has meaning in our lives. There are serious moments to be had, but I’ve always seen it as an extension of the gathering – not the source of it. How you dress – matters not one bit. What matters is what is in your heart and in your soul. If reverence and serene activity is what you equate to ritual – awesome. That works for you. That’s not where my mind takes me. Its not where my soul feels free to express itself. Every gathering I attend, every ritual I observe, every step of every day…I try my very best to find the joy in my life. That’s far easier among my Pagan family. I may practice my Druidry alone, but I don’t live my life in solitude.

–Tommy /|\