Progression on One’s Path – A Personal Perspective

I have written a few posts that explain the why of my working within Druidry. What I haven’t done is explore some of the aspects of progression in one’s own Spiritual Path. For this, I need to work from another person’s perspective. My choice is a Druid who influences me greatly with what she does within her own practice. A few years back, I took the opportunity to take a year long study program with her to get an even deeper perspective on my own approach to Druidry. Yes, I am talking about Cat Treadwell, and specifically a passage from her book “A Druid’s Tale“. This is one of my go-to references, when I am needing inspiration on my own Spiritual path, so it is no coincidence that I pulled this off the bookshelf for today’s post.

Every single quote I am about to add to this post comes from pages 118 and 119. I add these passages to provide some emphasis for part of my own Path over thirty-plus years, and especially over the last thirteen to fourteen.

If you are serious about your spirituality, a point will come when your practice as a Pagan (of whatever Stripe) becomes your way of life. It will be so integrated into your world that the practice is almost entirely natural, not an activity separate from your work, your family or anything else. You are a Druid (or Witch, etc.). This is not special or different, it’s just part of who you are. Many novices aspire to this – and it’s a good goal to aim for.

My first twenty years or so as a Pagan, my personal Spirituality can best be described as a “caravan gypsy.” I did some rituals on my own, and even practiced with a group of Wiccans a couple of times, but at best, my concept of Paganism was more deeply rooted in an academic perspective. I spent a lot of time studying Paganism, but not nearly as much time doing it. Over time, slowly, my personal, individual practice of my beliefs through solo rituals increased my understanding from one of pure knowledge to one of understanding what that knowledge really meant: actually being a Pagan. This was the point where I started looking into Druidry as a more structured aspect of what I was trying to do. That still took a little bit of time to start changing who I was – finding a more serious direction for my practice.

I understand that the entire focal point of some modes of religious practice is to achieve enlightenment of some sort. That’s not Paganism, and certainly not Druidry. It’s a constant. You are, in a sense, continually being enlightened – as you practise, you learn. You are continually waking up each new day with new experiences and perspective, healing the past and moving forward with new potential into the future. That’s active and rewarding life, continuous inspiration that you use personally and share with those around by your expression of it.

When I finished my Bardic grade in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, this perspective nailed me like a brick flying across the courtyard. I even found Druidic inspiration in my daily, mundane work as a data specialist in my mundane job. As odd as it sounds, finding daily functionality in my Druidry helped me to recognize not only the relationships with the world around me, but also how to interpret relationships in my database work. Of course, I had not learned the art of subtlety at this point, and many of my brash observations on the college’s data were taken as criticism and arrogance. All of that possibly led to my eventually termination, though I was seen as someone who could readily interpret relationships and quickly help setup extremely complex data studies. I have never been known to sugar-coat the truth, which was likely the reason that upper management saw me as quite abrasive. Regardless of that fallout, seeking relationships between this thing and that thing has become a strong hallmark of my daily Path of Druidry. Cat’s notation over this making for an active and rewarding life is something I find to be very understated. Whatever your job, whatever is the truest aspect of your mundane life; I am quite positive that you will find that connection and inspiration. It may take some time, but if you have that curiosity to dig deeper, to open your mind to whatever possibility exists – you will find your Druidry open new ways of seeing the world around you.

But there is more, should you wish it. In other traditions, it may be a calling or vocation, but it’s that time when practising purely by yourself is not enough. You want to work with others. Or for others.

Initially, this may be for personal reasons. A group to learn with is wonderful, sharing the journey together, and validating your own experiences. A light is brighter when made up of many flames.

Or you would be called upon to truly be Pagan ‘for other people’ – to serve as a Priest. You may not have ‘completed’ your training (when have you ever?), but you want to be there for others, to help when called upon, whether they are actively seeking their own way or simply looking for information.

Here we go.These three little paragraphs are where I am right now. I struggle with the term “Priest.” However, I am learning that the term does not fit with the Christian baggage that I carry from my time in Catholic schools during my formal schooling period which my parents thrust me into. As Cat notes, one does not have to be complete in their “training”, which as an Ovate student – I am not. I struggle through my most of my Ovate studies, only because it has not been nearly compelling to me as my Bardic studies were. However, it is knowledge I need to understand going forward, so I work my best that I possibly manage. I do; however, feel the Calling to help others on their own Path. To be there to help them back to their feet and being able to stand up before moving forward on their Path. Far too often, I have pushed seekers of assistance or knowledge to others, without even trying to do more than get them to other people. That certainly is a form of assistance, but I need to stop, actively listen to them, and see if I might be able to provide the assistance that I have reserved for others. After all, those people sought me out, I owe them that much. Do I doubt my ability to do this? Somewhat. That may be inexperience talking or just my lack of self confidence to be what I perceive in these other folks that I know. While I might not have all the answers – no one else necessarily does either. Plus I will never know if I can help, if I keep foisting those needing help on to others. At some point I have to roll up my sleeves and get started. Now seems better than any other time.

Cat’s book, “A Druid’s Tale,” is a wonderful book, as is her book “Facing the Darkness” which is a definite go-to book for me when I hit those down-times in life. I am lucky enough to say that she is my friend, and even luckier to have had her as a teacher. While I know she is blushing furiously over this particular paragraph, I will also reiterate that she is a superb role model on how to get things done. As one of the ‘Tom’s” from among her litters…I am humbled by how much I have come to understand and experience within my own Spirituality, just from small comments and suggestions.

My Path in my Druidry will likely never be complete. I will work towards completing my Druidry grade with OBOD. Beyond that, I am not sure where my Path will set my feet, but there will always be more learning and experience to find. Of that I am sure. All that I have described here is what I would consider a progression in one’s own Spiritual studies. You start out with the basic, and then finding how these all configure into your daily life. And then, maybe, you will want to be in a deeper role, helping others on the myriad of Paths here within Paganism. That would be your individual choice. Wherever you decide to stop and find yourself completely at home in your Paganism is definitely your individual choice. The whys of it is nobody’s business but your own. There may be those that look down on you for not continuing from where you are…and that’s their loss. They are not seeing the beauty of you continuing to thrive right where you are. But your Path is not theirs to walk. Whatever your Path, whatever your choice…I, personally, think it’s the most beautiful thing that can happen. Your happiness, your curiosity are the most important parts of your daily Walk. To quote the Grateful Dead:

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone

–T /|\

Quarantine Has Changed Some Routines

As most of the states, if not all of them, are working through issues of opening back up – I thought it might be interesting to take a look at this from my own perspective. Both from a personal point of view, as well as the way this changes some of the approach to my daily Path. After all, its a bit apparent that the COVID-19 issue is going to be around for quite a bit of time longer.

A Touch of Background

Most folks who read this blog or know me in person are aware that I have some health issues that make me quite susceptible to the COVID virus. I am a Type-II diabetic, which compromises my immune system to a great degree. I was also stricken with Pneumonia a little over a year ago, which also brought on an aspect of kidney disease thanks to the drugs that I was administered during that illness. So, my respiratory system is still being built back up, but it will never be as strong as it was. Respiratory issues are another factor in being susceptible to the virus. My kidney failure issues add to the strain on my immune system, making that particular weakness even more glaring. And I’m not much of a spring chicken at the age of fifty-four either – though everything I have read, the virus is more susceptible to individuals about a decade older than I am. So all of this informs me to remain away from others as much as possible, as well as continue to take the precautions that were in place during Texas’ shelter-in-place mandate.

Changes in Personal Routines

I used to not give being in public a second thought. Granted, large crowds make me nervous beyond the Nine Hells, but I could traverse in public without a thought. Nowadays, I have to be a little more prepared when I go out into the public. I carry my inhaler with me wherever I go. Normally, I carried it with me when I was doing some sort of strenuous activity. Not anymore, I just cannot take the chance of being any distance beyond my physical person. I carry a mask with me wherever I am. I have a mask here on my desk, another in my truck, and two more that I have stashed in each of my to-go bags (read: backpacks). Inside the truck or the house, I do not wear the mask. However, once I step outside of the truck or even take a walk around the block – the mask goes on. I do realize that its not 100% effective at keeping droplets carrying the virus at-bay, but whatever percent it is – its certainly better than zero.

Because of my health conditions, I do try and work out as much as I can. It helps with my diabetes, and keeps my blood-flow at a somewhat healthy state. Plus, my fat ass could certainly use the sweat equity. I spend most of that time in the house – mainly in my office. I ride my Peloton bike as much as I can, and have even started incorporating some small weight-lifting into the daily regimen. I do get outside and walk around the block, and always wear a mask doing so. I don’t come into direct contact with anyone…but better to be cautious.

Changes in Spiritual Routines

I don’t keep an altar in the house. This is as close as it gets.

In the past, I used to spend time in the morning greeting the sun, by standing in the backyard. I still get up around sunrise, but rarely do I head outside. My typical greeting comes with me standing at my west-facing window and watching the growth of the morning shadow of the house – followed by the slow shrinking of the mid-day sun. Again, I try not to be out of the house for too much. My daily routine has always been to thank the Gods for Their guidance at mid-day, and I still carry this out. In the past, I did this at my stone circle in the backyard. Since the move, I have not had the chance to get outside and rebuild the stone circle. Perhaps that’s something I might need to take the opportunity to do so. Just not right now. Instead, at mid-day, I stand before the little icon of Gaia that you see in this picture, which has found its own spot on the same smaller bookshelf in my office. In the late night, I added a period of meditation since the quarantine period. It is this time where I seek the guidance of my Gods…Tricksters They may be, but I can always find some wisdom in what They provide to me. Even if I am the butt of Their jokes from time to time. I’ve gotten quite used to the sophomoric pranks. While its not as ideal as I want it to be, much of these changes to my practice have been necessary for me.

What About You?

Have you found yourself making alterations and changes to your own Spiritual practice? Perhaps, you’ve reached a blocked point where you are not sure how to proceed with making changes. I’ll provide a piece of advice – take it or leave it as you see fit. Making changes to your Spiritual practice is similar to making changes to your daily routine. Try it. Give it a chance and do it for a short bit. See if it works. If it doesn’t, go back to the way you did it before – if you can. If you can’t go back – try something different. The worst that can happen is that you need to change it again. If you need to, give it a shot…see if it helps.

–T /|\

Thoughts on a Personal Approach to Daily Practice (aka The Ramen Way)

Well, I am a Pagan. I am a Polytheist. I am a member of a Druid order. All of that is a part of who I am, how I approach my daily routine and the manner in which I find a connection with the wider world around me. I am not here to rebuild or reconstruct ANYTHING. Nor am I here to slam anyone who does use that approach for their own Pagan practices. In fact, I would like to applaud them for finding that works for them. And as much as I would love for some of them to stop slamming others for not following their approach, I am going to try my dead-level best not to do so. Why? Well, let’s explore that a bit, shall we?

RamenEvery so often, it seems to pop up in my news feed…how we need to do ritual this way in order to be “authentic”. We need to follow what the research of others has shown us as the “proper” way to do our rites. Otherwise, we are doing it wrong, and we have no right to call ourselves “[insert whatever descriptive you need here]”. Usually, the constant re-cycle and re-hash of this manifest in a three-to-four year cycle. Twelve to fifteen years ago, I would roll up my sleeves, adjust my personal Bulletin Board armor, lower my lance, and charge right at that windmill. Or ferocious Giant. I forget which. Anyway, I would charge right in, ready to argue the merits against the concept of such “standards” within Pagan belief systems. I would receive a response a day or two later, and off we went dancing our dance. Well, the internet makes such communications much faster. And the days of the old Bulletin Board systems were shouldered out of the way by the Twitters, Facebooks and various blogging platforms of today.

The “right” way. Sounds familiar, eh? Yeah, fundamentalist perspectives. Especially when dealing with concepts such as the Divine, the Sacred, the literal essence of our Spirituality. How do we appease the Gods? How do we contact Them? How do we curry favor with Them? Well, we should use what is tried and true, eh? What our ancestors did. We should handle our daily rites in the same fashion. using the same methods, the same words, the same phrasing, the same approaches. I completely understand the need for all of this for folks who utilize this and find usefulness from it. There is not one thing wrong with that. For them.

I have talked about this before throughout this blog, my approach is far more eclectic, and to some degree more utilitarian. Off-the-cuff ritual formulas are not uncommon for me. While I am unlikely to call the North while facing West, it *could* happen. I am not ready to rule that out, changing the correspondences of the cardinal directions. What feels “right” at that moment, I am willing to use (short of harming people, animals, plants, etc etc). I have my limits, those places where it becomes a bridge too far. But I am willing to step up, place my toes at the very edge and stare down into the abyss. Reconstructionist, I am not. Nor would I consider myself a fundamentalist. My rules are a little more malleable and flexible than those of others.

See, I look back at what those that have come before have done. I see their efforts as a framework to start with, a place of inspiration. An initial step on the Path, if you will. But this time is now, not then. The times have evolved. The Gods have evolved as well. We have evolved. Our understanding of the connectivity with the world around us is different than it was during the time of our ancestors. Nine Hells, our understanding is different than it was a year ago, five years ago, a decade…we are ever-evolving. My rites are moments of devotion, awe-inspired clarity, a celebration of our connection with the Gods and/or Goddesses that call us.

I am not sure about you, but the same old thing every single rite; the same gestures, the same words, the same timing, the same…everything….that gets rather rote, boring and stale after a while. Sort of like my younger, far more broke days of eating Ramen noodles every night for dinner. You just cannot beat five packs for a dollar, in terms of frugality, especially in those tights of paycheck to paycheck living. No offense to the reconstructionists and the fundamentalists out there, but I am not ready to turn my rites, daily or otherwise, into five packs for a dollar Ramen meal. Sure, it worked way back before, and to be honest, I can spice that same Ramen pack up with some added fresh vegetables, a little bit of meat, and some spices. The basic ingredient is still there, that little rectangular brick of noodles – all screaming for hot water and release. But look at all the extra stuff that got added: vegetables, spices, protein…and what if, every once in a while, we left out the Ramen?

I think you can see why fundamentalist anything does not appeal to me. And its fairly clear that a reconstructionist’s territory is somewhere I do not belong. And there is still nothing wrong with either side of that. So long, as we agree that there is no one, singular way to approach our individual approach to the Gods. Or even to how we perceive the Gods. The fundamentalist and reconstructionist approaches do not work for me. I can speak of the hows and the whys that neither appeal to me. I can even provide a narrative, as I have here, about why my approach is better. For me. I have the answers for me. But the honest truth is that the only person who has the truth for you is you. You know what speaks to you, what gets you excited about being under the moonlight (this serious moonlight), participating in the rites to your God(s) and/or Goddess(es). If the reconstructionist path or the fundamental path work for you…awesome. For me…let’s sway, under the moonlight. This serious moonlight. And if you say run, I’ll run with you. And if you say hide, we’ll hide. Probably somewhere in the cabinet. Behind the packs of Ramen.  –T /|\

Four Tablespoons of Pagan, Please

As I sit and watch another round of an “are you Pagan enough?” diatribe taking place on the interwebs, I am reminded of what makes me a Pagan, and why a yard-stick measurement argument rings so hollow to me. A lot of this back-and-forth arguing sounds so much like church services to me. A competition based on how holy you were, presented through the lens of clothing, singing, standing, and tithing.

Back when I was exploring the Christian side of things, I recall how the Wednesday evening and Sunday morning services at the Southern Baptist church I was attending was like. The older folks would arrive on Wednesday evenings in their business casual attire, straight from work. Sundays would be reserved for the coat and tie or the proper, conservative blouse and dress. Those of us fresh out of high school, or still in high school, would show up in torn-up jeans and t-shirts or if our families were attending church, in nice slacks and polo shirts on Sundays. Most of us were frowned upon because we did not dress the part of the penitent Christian, desiring to be all-dressed-up for Christ.

During the church services, there was another silent contest going as well – who could sing the hymns the loudest, with the prettiest voices, and without looking in the hymnal. And who could rise and sit at the appropriate moments during the service as well. Rarely did I stand. I always figured that if the Christ was going to look into my heart and decide if I was an appropriate member of his “flock”, he would be able to do whether I stood, sat, or laid down in the middle of the aisle and took a nap. And singing? Shit…if you have heard me sing, you know why I don’t do so in public. I could easily be considered a deadly weapon.

All of that aside, none of that was about following the edicts of what Christian was about. It was a pissing contest to see who could pee the furthest up the hill. Noe of that determines whether you are a good Christian or not. But all of that, and a fiver in the offering plate will definitely have the pastor openly stating that you are punching your ticket to heaven. Yeah. Pure bullshit. if you really want to find the individual following the teachings of the Christ, look for the person who volunteers in the soup kitchens to feed the poorest of those among us. Look for the individual who stops what they are doing in their own lives to provide their energy, ability, and thoughtfulness to those who are alone. There you have someone following the teachings of the Christ.

Ok, three paragraphs of examples of issues relating to Christianity…all as a manner to drive a point home about Pagans. Silly, isn’t it? Here I am painting a picture of Christianity done wrong and right so I can showcase an issue about why its silly to try and determine if someone is “Pagan enough or not”. And all of that really showcases another issue we have – and I didn’t even intend to do this – how we constantly find ways to set unintentional (or even intentional) measuring sticks of Paganism against Christianity. I should delete all of that and rewrite this so it is not there, but I am going to leave it – because it really does help drive a secondary point home. Doing what I just did above to provide a parallel perspective of Paganism and Christianity really isn’t necessary.

What does being “Pagan enough” really mean? Should I set a yardstick of myself against Chris, John or Lauren when it comes to working in ritual? These three are the most brilliant ritualists I know. My skills at doing ritual pale deeply in comparison to any of these three. Does that make me any less of a ritualist than they are? Does it make me less of a Pagan because I do not have their skills at doing rites to praise the Gods and Goddesses? Do the Gods and Goddesses care that deeply about my deficient skillset?? And if They do, would They not convey that to me? Does it make me any less of a Priest than any of these three? Or is the true measure of who we are as individual Pagans what we have in our hearts, what burns deep within our souls, and the callings that we feel? Can we distill that down to a liquid, vapor or a powder that we can then measure against someone else?

Does that not sound absolutely silly to you? It does to me, nearly as silly as my three paragraphs above trying to make a pound for pound comparison between some similar comparative, competitive nonsense that I experienced within Christianity as this within Paganism. I really have no real desire to hold your head in my hands, look into your eyes, and try to measure the “Paganism within you.” I would say, that if you feel deficient in what you are doing in your daily Pagan practice, take a few minutes to examine what you are doing – and determine how you can put more of who you are into what you are doing. If that means holding your own personal rite in your backyard at each full moon, go for it. if it means waking up earlier in the morning and greeting the Sun as part of your daily practice, go for it (its what I started doing a few years back). If it means taking up Yoga for thirty minutes each day and spending that time in thoughtful meditation through each of the poses, go for it. Whatever it is, make sure it has meaning FOR YOU and TO YOU. And only you can be the true measure of what that really is, and how it gets measured. Just sayin’….   –T /|\

 

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

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

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

If you want to predict the future, invent it.

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

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

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

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

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

And then the response comes:

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

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

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

If you want to predict the future, live it.

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

–T /|\

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

Lather, Rinse, Repeat – When Daily Practice Becomes Dull Routine

From time to time, I find myself stagnating on my own daily Path. Let’s face it, the same old thing day-in and day-out can be a dull drag at times. Plus, I have run across folks who have this odd belief that when you work directly with a set of Gods, that life is full of excitement – like a Laura Croft adventure. The truth, its nothing like that. Sometimes, life, and even daily practice can fall into a rut of routine. The same offerings, the same prayers, the same tasks – lather, rinse, repeat. No ancient temples to explore, no epic tasks to complete which Bards will sing and regale the tales of. Just the same prayers, the same offerings, the same everything. Surely, a monastic life might offer a bit more, right?

But. I am not living a monastic life. I even have problems describing myself as a “Priest” at times (see earlier posts in this blog, if you’re interested in that). I am claimed by Crow. I do walk my Path frequently with Coyote at my side. And I still have coquettish flirtations with Flidais. These Three are in my life daily. But its not a glamorous thing. I do my devotions and prayers to each. I occasionally get my direct communications with each. Occasionally, I am given work to do. But I’m not becoming a wild activist trying to destroy oil pipelines or foresting equipment (though there is nothing wrong, in my eyes, with either of these things – particularly where Native peoples are brushed aside as if they were sub-human so that these activities can be done on their lands). I don’t lead a group; its not my calling, so I am essentially a Priest of one (which is where I think it should be, but that’s a blog post for another time). What I do, is continually explore who I am, what I am to be, and the connections between myself and the world around me. And all of that wrapped up with my devotionals to the Three that are in my Life.

And that routine does get dull. Like I said, not glamorous…nothing like people seem to bring about in their minds when they hear that you work with the Gods. Sometimes, that routine gets off-putting too. I have had thoughts during these long stretches of routine….

What the Nine Hells are you doing?  ::What I am called to do::

Do you really believe this stuff?  ::With all my heart and soul::

Wouldn’t it just be easier to go with the flow and worship a dead man on a tree like everyone else around you?  ::Sure, but I would be betraying what is in my heart and essentially living a lie, just for the sake of convenience::

…and there’s more. But these will provide the tip of the spear, so to speak. I do have a mind that will doubt what I am believing, and question what I am experiencing. And all of that is part of the doldrums of the constant routine. I do crave new experience. I do seek out adventure. I do want to feel the rush of being somewhere new, experiencing something I’ve not been through before….and to be bluntly honest, there are times where I seek to be a Gandalf the Grey – constantly in battle against the evil of the world. But that’s the TV shows, the movies, and the books. And I do have to remind myself of this from time to time.

Life is not an adventure to destroy the One Ring and free this existence from an unimaginable evil. If it were, I would have already cut Donald Trump’s finger from his hand, with wedding ring still on it, and found an active volcano to throw that digit and ring into. But life is not that way. Instead, I bide my time until Donnie comes up for a vote, and will actively campaign against his re-election – provided that the Democrats will provide a candidate worth my vote.

But all of that is just an example – not what the post is about. My daily devotionals and prayers are my focus that connect me with Crow, Coyote, and Flidais. This is a daily process that keeps me grounded in what I believe, and what I experience. Yes, the same thing over and over can get dull, and begin to feel quite routine – until I start to examine the process in a bit more detail. An offering of a small shot of whiskey to Flidais. A handful of birdseed left in honor of Crow. Five minutes of a late evening staring up at a large, bright full moon to remind me that Coyote and I see the same thing that evening. Each offering has its own meaning, and each prayer said over those offerings can be changed ever so slightly – to make it new, and refreshing. And sometimes, rather than a prayer – an offering of a song or a poem. All of that changes the moment, redirects the energy from a long programmed direction, and adds a feeling of newness – without changing too much of the process so that it becomes unrecognizable.

Much like this morning’s small rainfall (less than .01 of an inch) provided a change to the local environment from the past few days, making small changes to my prayers and offerings is a refreshing draught against an oppressive heat of routine. The change of the process brings me new focus, allows for a different feel in the energies I put into my devotionals. I like to believe that it provides a much needed change in the interaction between myself and my Three from Their end as well. Personally, I think its far better than the same old routine…turning my devotionals and prayers into something as programmed as washing my hair. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Life as a Long Hike

As I noted in a previous post, some of the minor themes in a talk given by Starhawk at Pantheacon this year have brought interesting conceptual thoughts to my mind. One of the more interesting ones was looking at one’s life-time journey as a hike. A really long hike.

Now, I enjoy walking. I get a chance to wander and accomplish what I call “walking meditation” where I can literally turn a single thought over and over in my mind as I walk. Lately I have not done a lot of these, and I really do need to change that. But that is a thought for another time. Using a hike as a metaphor for life was certainly an intriguing thought. There are all sorts of things that can be utilized in hiking that can be brought over to looking at one’s journey in life.

Pathway in Mesa VerdeFor instance, probably the easiest one to bring into focus is the ups and downs of life relayed into the hiking of hills and valleys on a path. I walked a rather long trail in Mesa Verde National Park. The start of the trail was up a steep hill to get closer to the cliff-side nearest to me. Once there, the trail hugged against the cliff-side, and narrowed considerably. The drop-off into the valley below was extremely steep and at times a sheer drop-off. At other times, the path passed through very narrow passageways between large boulders and the cliff wall. It was along this pathway and through one of these passages that I encountered Crow, which I can describe in no other way than an initiation of sorts. At one point, the trail scaled straight up a cliff wall, which – for me, as an individual with an acute fear of heights – was quite harrowing indeed. But thinking back along the lines of a hike as a metaphor for life….makes perfect sense.

The steep climb at the start of the hike, is quite similar to the initial steps one takes in life or even a Spiritual Path. We do not necessarily know exactly where things are or how definitions to certain terminologies or concepts can map into our own lives; so there’s a rather acute struggle. Or if you prefer, a climb of sorts. As we accumulate knowledge and understanding, we build on each concept and build and grow our application of that to our own lives.

But hills and valleys can have other meanings as well. The height of a hill can be a positive moment in our lives. Where we reach the pinnacle of some aspect. Everyday life seems to be in harmony with anything we do or try. We feel the awesome joy of accomplishment, able to look outwards at all that is our life, and survey the beauty of everything that is there. The valley, with its downward momentum, can have the feeling of riding in a vehicle without brakes. Gaining speed at every moment, careening dangerously along the path; a certain painful, and sudden stop that may certainly be in our very near future. Our demeanor reaches depths of sorrow and despair, as if our immediate world is being torn asunder. And we know that once we reach the bottom with our painful, injurious stop accomplished, that our future will require a slow, difficult climb to reach the heights. At times, we can feel like laying at our stopped location in the valley, staring up at the sky with despair that we will once again have to expend the energy to achieve what we once had. And we know that the top of the coming climb will provide a different vantage – similar to the previous one we had – but different all the same. Each individual person will have to determine whether they feel that such a climb is still within who they are.

And then, there is the narrow pathway that I found along my Mesa Verde walk. There were places where the path lead down a very steep, and short dirt path to the cliff edge. The drop off was certain life-threatening. A single misstep could potentially spell outright doom for me. Every step was carefully determined, each handhold was carefully tested to insure I had a strong grip, and that the handhold would hold enough to keep my pudgy ass from pulling me over the edge. Believe me, that the cliff edge was very much on my mind. We do much the same thing throughout our lives. We make plans for this or that; we make preparations for how we are going to accomplish these tasks. We make plans and preparations for our rituals. We decide where and what we are trying to accomplish. And sometimes, that narrow Path is the only way forward we have. Its not the yards-wide Path with smooth dirt or concrete or asphalt that we would prefer. Its rocky, uneven, and fraught with ways for us to trip and fall. We take our steps slowly, trying to keep our balance, and our footing. We navigate our way through some aspects of our lives in careful, measured steps. Where we have walked many times before, we might make quicker steps – faster decisions – sure of our footing or our position. And we might find an unknown root in our way, ensnaring the toe of our boots, and sending us sprawling face first into the Path. What else is there to do, then pick up our wounded pride, check for injuries, dust the dirt off our clothes, and move forward – looking more carefully?

So, there are certainly ways to see Life as a long, long hike. We get a little cocky on our walk, trip and fall in places where we seemed to be certain of our footing. In other areas, we are acutely aware of the drop-off at the cliff’s edge, and tread far more carefully. But the true measure of our hike is not how far we’ve managed to walk. That comes from looking around us. Seeing the environment within which we’ve walked. During my walk along the Petroglyph Point Trail in Mesa Verde, I was struck by how beautiful the views were from my side of the wide valley. The land rolled outwards from my vantage point, moving hundred of yards in distance until the other side of the valley rose sharply from the ground. Once I got far enough away from people, I could see deer – or they might have been antelope – down in the valley below me, searching for food and water in the brush far below. Crows cawed from the trees above me, and Hawks soared on the thermals in the skies above. There is so much to what happens around us in Life as well. People come and go in our lives. Some stay and walk the Path with us from time to time. Some stay longer than others. All of them touch our lives to some degree, even if just momentarily.

Life is a long hike. But its not the distance that matters most. Its what we experience along that distance that matters the most. Those experiences make us who we are. Steep climbs; long valleys; thin trails; deer trods that we can barely see; extremely wide, paved paths – all of it provides the trail. But what we encounter on the trail, and just off the trail adds to what makes our Life experiences. And from my own perspective, those experiences are the treasured aspects of who and what I am.

 

Circling Back to Pantheacon

So let us take a few steps back. Its not that far in time – just back to Pantheacon of this year. I do enjoy attending Pantheacon to meet people and see folks that I don’t always get the chance to. But I also get the opportunity to sit in on panels and listen to people talk about topics that I normally don’t twirl around in the pink mist. this year, there was a lot of talk about death, change and renewal – which only slightly touches the areas I would normally think of. Turns out, each one of those panels and talk were precursors for a lot of study that I am currently wading through. Yah for team Synchronicity! But there was a lot of talk about difficult times as well, and one panel in particular proved to be quite interesting:  Starhawk‘s “Crossing Stony Ground”.

Much of the panel was geared towards the current political upheaval that is going on across the United States. But I am not a terribly political animal, so much of that was material that did not quite call to me. However, pieces of these little mini discussions did have threads that I pulled away…and I am going to try something different here. Usually, I try to condense all this into a paragraph that talks about each point. Instead of that, I will recreate the bullet-point notes that I took.

  • “create a circle” – watch chaos
  • do not compartmentalize your Spirituality
  • band together – work together – build what we envision
  • take action for your environment
  • do not divide Spiritual and Political – use together for action
  • restrengthen Druidry connections with your environment
  • Add your passions to your daily life
  • Ups and downs in Life are like hiking trails
  • Practice your grounding daily
  • Put your devotionals at the forefront of your mind when doing those
  • Find your center and your calm during tumultuous moments
  • Feel your anger and your sorrow when they occur but do not dwell on them for too long
  • No “us” – No “them” – there is “We“. There is “All“. We rise together – we survive together – we fall separatedwe fall individually.
  • PLP – Plain Language Programming – watch what you say or repeat.
  • Empty your backpack! Carry only what you need. Do not anticipate issues – carry only for issues that you know. Improvise for unknown situations. “We travel lite – we hunt!”
  • The Storm is here. Be ready to help where you can. The Storm affects everyone.

Now, all of these are what I gleaned from the conversations. Very little of what is written here is what was directly stated. Much of it is parts of conversations that meant something to my mind when I heard it, and written as it pertained to me. Well, I guess I should explain a bit more of why I wrote these things this way.

This was the one panel that I had circled in my conference book let and had a single note written next to it: “Clear your mind, open your senses.” What I was reminding myself was to ground, center, and clear my thoughts prior to the start of the panel. I wanted to listen carefully to what Starhawk (and others) had to say. I also wanted to open my thoughts to allow what was said to form in my mind as I wrote notes. My intention was to take these notes and bring this into my daily routines, rituals and practice. What I wound up coming away with was some of that, but also a lot of reinforcement for what I was already doing. I wasn’t really prepared to hear all of that. I was expecting to get a list of “new”, “shiny”, “unknown” things that I had never thought of before.

Circles and Chaos

The first point that is written here comes from the very first moments of the panel. The chairs were all lined up on opposite sides of the room, and Starhawk asked all of us to move our chairs into a circle. After a few minutes of people moving chairs, trying to find appropriate spacing from others, and a few others attempting to direct the process, she called for everyone to have a seat. What we accomplished was much closer to the shape of a football than a circle. Her ensuing point was that vague directions – “make a circle” – will provide vague results. The panel’s concept of “crossing stony ground” was about moving with intention and purpose through chaotic times. Intention and purpose will never find results from vague instructions, weak wording, and open-ended definitions.

From this point, she pivoted into an area I have far too much practice at – compartmentalizing. For a long time in my life, I have had two sides of me – two compartments of who I am. On one side is who I am to the outside, public world. Just an average working schmoe. I live a generic life in the eyes of these people. I do my job, I go home at night and watch tv. On the weekends, I hang out with friends, and watch baseball or soccer on tv. When I am away from work, I get to be the Pagan that I am. I can openly embrace my beliefs around my friends, who are more like my extended family. There’s nothing to set off to the side. There’s no barrier there. But that double-life, the two “me”s are constantly in conflict with one another. Until I decided to start letting the two aspects merge into one. But only to a point. I don’t talk about the Druid I am at work. Many people would not understand, and there would be too many things to try and explain. So I still compartmentalize to a degree here. But I no longer hide the fact that I am a Druid, or the fact that I am a Pagan. I just choose not to advertise it openly. Its not a perfect merging, but its better than it was – and I have removed some of the stony ground that I walk upon.

Much of the rest of what I wrote is stuff that I already handle within my life to some degree or another. I’m not the greatest in the world at some of this stuff. But I certainly do try my best. However, three things really stuck out for me, and I will write more on these in the coming days:  Life as a Long Hike, No Us/Them, and Plain-Language Programming. Each one of these points has led me down some interesting deer trods in my mind. I’m looking forward to exploring these a little further with all of ya’ll here in the blog.

–T /|\

Lead, Follow or Make Your Own Way

Lead, follow or get out of the way.

When I was in the military, my first direct supervisor imprinted this in my mind as the best way to make my way through the United States Air Force. And honestly, it is quite a true statement. Making my way through a regimented society – and the military most definitely is a regimented society – was most easily accomplished by either taking charge, following those in charge, or stepping aside and letting others handle the situation. My biggest problem was dragging this into the civilian world when I left the military.

Occasionally, I hear this same concept handled in regards to dealing with one’s own Spiritual Path. Either step up and take charge of being within a group, step aside and follow the lead of others in a group or just don’t be a part of things. And generally, particularly for people new to Pagan groups, this is taken to mean that they should just quit being a Pagan and find something else.

Been there. And to be brutally honest, it is a moment that just sucks pop rocks. Being given an avenue that offers only a pair of choices, neither of which is palatable or workable, can feel rather limiting. So can being given the similar binary choice of either those two choices or get out. That is a moment that can send anyone down the endless spiral of doubt as to whether being a Pagan was a good choice or not. After all, you find this wonderful Path that provides freedom of thought and choice in a manner you never dreamed would be possible. Excitedly, you find a Pagan group to discuss this with, and you find there’s only these choices provided to you. An absolutely terrible ice-bucket-challenge moment.

My senior year of high school, I had some classes that I had to take because I had not done my freshman or sophomore years in the state of Louisiana. Taking these classes meant that I would be on a class schedule similar to that of the first two year students, placing me on their lunch schedule. When I was at lunch, all the other senior-year students would be in their classes, while I ate lunch. I would be the only senior on that lunch bell. Effectively, I found myself ostracized from my fellow classmates, and being a senior, I was keep at an arm’s distance by the under classmen. It was a very disheartening experience for me, because I found myself on the outside looking in for most of the functions for my class. And as a result my experiences and relationships with the people I graduated high school were thin in nature and strength.

It is not quite the same thing as finding a Pagan group, and realizing you have nothing in common with them – and realizing there are no other Pagans to be found to talk and discuss things with. However, that sense of loneliness and disillusionment can be quite similar.

My way out of the issue in high school was to seek friendship with people outside of my school. I went to a private Catholic all-boys high school, so it was a little easier to find a cadre of friends outside of the school. I found mine via the Friday night showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the St. Vincent mall in Shreveport. The friends I made there accepted me for the awkward, semi-shy person that I was. They encouraged me to grow in the things that I enjoyed, even when they didn’t completely agree with it. In this instance, I was exploring my musical tastes by delving into hardcore metal – and while they didn’t really care for my musical tastes, they did discuss some of the merits of bands such as King Diamond, Exodus and Slayer in comparison to some of the musical tastes they had. In essence, we were a band of misfit friends. We were all very different from one another, banded together over our desire to be free to explore.

The same can be said for how I approached my Paganism. I went through the rejection aspect too. But I also found ways to connect with Pagans elsewhere. Through message board systems on local BBSs, I found folks in PODSNet, the Magick SIG, and other places where I could talk about what I believed. Through this, I found people who were willing to listen, respond, and assist me in growing myself into who I became.

To put it a different way, I realized that sometimes the path or deer trod through the forest is not always the best way to travel. Sometimes, you have to tighten up your cloak around you, step off the path and enter the forest proper. Granted, there’s a huge degree of caution that one has to take. You have to be careful of your footsteps so that you don’t slip and fall down a steep embankment. You have to be aware of your surroundings, making sure that you don’t run into any animals that may find you to be an intruder that must be repelled. But the experience of blazing your own trail through the forest can be exhilarating, sobering, and intense.

To be upfront and blunt, I do not recommend making your own way to every single individual that is out there. Sometimes, when you get rejected from a group or when you find a group just does not fit who you are – keep looking. Keep knocking on doors. Keep looking for those others.

If you find yourself on a trail on your own, or you find yourself needing to wander off the trail and finding your own way in your own Spirituality – take that chance. Again, be prepared. It can be a lonely path. You will find yourself doubting what you are doing. You may find that you really do need to go back to the trail – and there is not one thing wrong with that. Blazing your own way through the forest is not for everyone. Don’t feel ashamed or upset over it. Cherish the experience, and set it off to the side. You might be able to utilize that experience in something else. And if you do manage to blaze your own trail (and even if you don’t) – be sure to record your experience of it somewhere. In a journal. In an audio recording. In a video recording. Somewhere. So that you can come back to it. Recorded experiences are valuable tools in future learning. And I honestly wish I had done the journaling that I do now back in the 1980s and 1990s.

In the meantime, it is time to pick up my pack, grab my staff, and continue walking my daily Path. Whether you choose to walk a trail or blaze a path of your own – remember this: leading groups and others is hard work. Following others is hard work as well, as you need to watch, listen, and feel to make sure you need to keep following. Getting out of the way, merely means you are standing still. Nothing wrong that. Just get moving eventually. Make a choice, experience it, embrace it, and eventually stop. Evaluate what’s going on. If its still working, stick with it. If you need to adjust do that. If you need to change, do that as well. It is your Spiritual Path. It is your walk in Life. Only you can choose where your footfalls will wind up.

 

Walking the Same Stretch of Pathway

Normally, I don’t write in the evenings. My brain goes into an unwinding mode during this time, and my thoughts typically do not flow as naturally as during the mornings after the first cup of coffee. Yet, here I am, hacking away at the keyboard, drinking water, and listening to the thunder and rain outside my window.

I still get a little flabbergasted when people recognize me. “Hey, you’re TommyElf the podcaster!” is something that I hear from time to time. Not as often as people think it might, because podcasting is not a huge medium whatsoever – but it does happen far more often than I ever thought it might. On a trip to East Coast Gathering a while back, it happened on a crowded flight from Denver to Philadelphia. Its happened a few more times at Pagan Pride Day events as well. And for an individual like me, who shuns the spotlight, it can be a very jarring moment.

The podcast episodes of “From the Edge of the Circle”, and “Upon a Pagan Path” were never meant to thrust me into the spotlight. I have never had a desire to be a well known individual or “Big Name Pagan” as it gets tossed around in some circles (and was applied to me and another person quite recently). I do not write these blog posts to get my name out there either. All of that is done to give back to the wider arching Pagan community or as John Beckett would say, the Big Tent of Paganism.

The reality of who I am, is that I am quite shy with people. Its very difficult for me to approach people and just talk with them. As the first podcast hinted at, I prefer to be at the periphery of things. And as the beak that smacks the back of my head, the paw that smacks my behind, and the soft fingernails scraping against my neck remind me – Crow, Coyote, and Fliodhas prefer it otherwise. There is no desire for me to become infamous and well-known; rather that I communicate with others better. I have mentioned before about how far into the background I melted during Pantheacon. That’s instance of where I have been taken to task over.

See, people wonder what it can be to present yourself as a follower of a God or Goddess. This is only part of it. Fliodhas continues to drag me out of my self-created shell by placing me into situations and locations where I must interact with others. Coyote continually reminds me not to take myself too seriously whenever I feel an astonishing sense of accomplishment or importance. And Crow. Crow is about communicating better. More often. With better frequency and consistency. And believe me, each of these three can be stern taskmasters when there is failure on my part.

So why serve Gods and Goddesses that are stern about you accomplishing the tasks that They want? Well. Because I want to. I know that sounds somewhat smart-ass in nature, but it is true. Crow, Coyote and Fliodhas ask things of me; I can always say “no” to what They want. But I say “yes” because I want to. I have the Free Will to accept or reject, just as anyone else does when they hear the call of their own God/s. I am not a slave to Their needs; I am there to help and assist where and how I can.

And service to a God or Goddess is not for everyone. Nor should it be. Every Pagan has their own unique Path to walk. Every so often, we share footfalls on parts of our Paths, but the overall journey is unique to each individual. For some, the Gods make Their choices and ask. For others, the Gods may not speak directly to. Having a God speak directly with you or not speak directly to you at all – does not make you unique or “not good enough”. It makes you that person – the Pagan that you are. And in the end, that is what matters most. Your own journey. With Gods and Goddesses speaking with you or not – your journey is important. That journey is how you grow. That is how your Spirituality connects with the world around you. It is unique to you, and you alone. Some aspects of it you will share with others, some of it you might not. But the sum of it all is uniquely yours.

Yes, I have areas where I need to grow. I have some things that are being asked of me that I have done poorly. Thankfully, my three Gods are being patient with me to this point in getting better. And all of that, frankly, is between me and Them. Just as your journey on your Path is for you, and you alone. Let’s walk together for a while, and talk together. Perhaps, if you are reading this and you will be at Pantheacon or Many Gods West? If so, I am looking forward to getting the chance to spend time with you. If not, invite me out. We can talk over drinks or coffee or even a meal. Or even a short walk in the park. At least we can make our Paths similar in that moment – walking the same stretch of Pathway.

….and There Were Mountains….

Yes, I am on a much needed vacation. Away from work, out west in the Idaho/Wyoming corner. As I sit here, looking out the window into the darkened sky, I see fat white snowflakes in the headlights of passing cars on the road just outside of this wonderful Bed and Breakfast – The Fur and Feather Inn, just outside of Victor, Idaho. In the background is the Vice Presidential debate on the television. I have my headphones on, and am listening to several Rush albums on shuffle. As I start this post, the song “Tai Shan” is playing. My mind is drifting to that mountain in China that I am working towards climbing in the future. And my mind wanders to what I have seen over the last two days.

The first day was spent in Grand Teton National Park, and the second in Yellowstone. Today, Tuesday, was spent in Jackson, Wyoming doing lunch and some tourist shopping. Tomorrow is a return to what is sure to be a snowy Yellowstone. And the final day will be spent on a return to a snowy Grand Teton.

Yellowstone was interesting, and in many places downright awe inspiring. Old Faithful geyser, on the other hand, was not nearly the attraction that folks make it out to be. It certainly was interesting to watch. But in terms of beauty and awe – well, I was not as impressed as I was with the beauty of Grand Teton. Perhaps a lot of that has to do with the fact I love mountains. Regardless, the majestic beauty of the Grand Tetons, as the clouds rose over the top of them, and began to encase their heights in the misty curtains that would bring the start of snow….for me, that was a completely magickal moment.

At the visitor center for Grand Teton, I found that some of my connection with Crow comes from the Shoshone tribe. Tonight, while doing some quick research on the Shoshone tribe, I found that part of the Eastern Shoshone tribe eventually moved southward into Texas (forced by pressure and warfare from the Plains tribes), and became the Comanche. I happen to live in a part of Texas that was Comanche country at one time. My connection with Crow continues to become clearer and clearer, at least for me.

img_9688There was a point where I pulled the car over for this particular photo, and could just feel the moment. Theses clouds were the advance guard of those that are currently raining and snowing all over the region. Watching the clouds come over the top of these mountains, and then begging the ascent halfway down the slopes that I had just seen was a completely unbelievable moment. In a way, I felt I was watching a horror flick, where the man-eating mists descend upon the town, searching for the hapless victims that happen to be caught outdoors.

The smell of moisture was very real. I could smell the sweet, heavy scent of rain. A scent that I can not describe in any other way. I knew that moisture of some sort was on the way. And depending on the ambient temperature, it was going to be snow or rain.

My ancestry comes from the mountainous region of Germany. I have a severe love for the Rockie mountains. Glacier National Park has figured into many of my dreams. The pull of the “spiritual” pilgrimage of climbing Tai Shan is strong. I know that mountains are a part of who I am. Its only taken three days here for me to feel the change in how I feel. Yes, the statement does apply to me….

The mountains are calling, and I must go.  –John Muir

Renewing and Recharging – Fleeing to the Mountains for a Week

Medicine Wheel
Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

So, starting tomorrow morning, I trek to a place I have never been – Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. I’ve driven near it…just to the east, in fact, when I visited The Medicine Wheel in the mountains of the Bighorn National Forest. From what I have been told, it will be precisely what I need – a huge break from work, and a chance to refresh my soul with time in the wilds.

Being a Solo Pagan, there’s always the missing factor of fellowship with other Pagans. There’s not a ton of people that I can talk Spirituality with…and definitely not without the blanket of Christian definitions being imposed upon things. Essentially, concepts such as “Priest”, “Fellowship”, and even “ritual” take on conceptual differences when tinged with the definitive aspects of Christianity. Trying to discuss topics such as Gods, Spirits of Place and Spirits of Ancestor all get met with frowns and scoldings that “you are doing it wrong.” If I were a Christian, that would be true. But I’m not. So, for me, staying out of these types of conversations is usually the best tactic.

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

This is why gatherings such as Pantheacon, Many Gods West, Pagan Pride Days, East Coast and Gulf Coast Gatherings, and many, many more are such joyful places for fellow Pagans. Many of us are not just excited about seeing old friends, and making new ones; but we also get to discuss topics that are typically taboo in “polite company” around our non-Pagan friends and family members. Honestly, I don’t always get invited to the big-people’s tables for these conversations…but I do get the chance to talk with other folks one-on-one (or a few-on-one) for quite similar topics. It is refreshing to have conversations where you don’t spend most of your time trying to define terms for the first thirty-minutes so that everyone is on the same page.

A lot of that is great, but really there is no substitute for being in areas where there’s not a lot of people. Just wide-open spaces (to borrow from the Chicks of Dixie), lots of high sky, and the sounds of everyday life in an area not normally inhabited by humans. Granted, in places like Yellowstone – just as it was in Glacier National Park – there will be tourists and visitors all over the place. But still, there’s plenty of time to find a bench or a rock, and just drink up the environment. Nothing can replace that. No offense to any of my Pagan friends that I look forward to seeing at the various gatherings, but being outside means everything for me.

But this vacation is more then just recharging and renewing myself. Its about relaxing, removing some tension, and just forgetting about work-related issues for a short while. I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to do things like this from time to time – as well as making the various Cons, festivals and gatherings that I can. And I am quite thankfully for all of that. I can remember times when Life definitely wasn’t that way for me.

The vacation also allows me to step away at just the perfect moment. October 1st is the end of my fifty-first circuit around the Sun. I don’t measure my life in the concept of years – merely the number of times this planet has made its orbit around the Sun. Because…well, time is an illusion. Each day that the Sun rises is a chance to start a new adventure. Each day the sun sets is a chance to reflect on what has just occurred, and to greet the rise of the Moon, and the inviting comfort of the blanket of night. For me, Life is Life. Each footfall is precious and treasured. Even when things don’t quite go the way I expected them to. Life is a daily celebration of who I am, the Gods I commune with, and the people who continually make an impact on my Life…even when they don’t realize it.

I will be posting to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when I can. And of course, I will have a slew of new photos that will slowly find their way into the blog.  🙂 In the meantime….step outside tonight into your backyard. Look up in the sky. Find the moon and just stare. If its cloudy, look at the clouds. Try not to have your mouth open if its raining. You don’t want to be the first person to drown standing on land. 😉

 

It Really is a Rigged Political System….

….just not the way you might think it is. No, its not rigged like the Donnie thinks it is. It is; however, fairly close to what Senator Sanders said.

For those of you outside of the United States, I understand that this particular post might not be your particular brand of meat. I promise not to linger on American politics much more than this single post though. So, please forgive me this one transgression.

The American political system truly is rigged. It is not rigged so that Secretary Clinton will get elected. It is; however, rigged so that the Republican and Democratic parties will remain in favor.  As well as pull down the most monies in the “matching funds” pot from tax refunds, among other goodies, including a permanent stranglehold on Congressional (and thus budgetary and legislative) powers. That’s right. Third parties are essentially frozen out of the entire equation. From impossibly high hurdles to gain a spot on the national stage for debates, to aggressively impossible tasks towards getting candidates on state and local ballots – third parties are kept at bay by the two powers in charge.

But before we all start charging out of our houses, affixing bayonets to the ends of our staves, and trying to take the local courthouse by force. Let’s take a quick look at how to fix the system. And it is easy. Believe it or not, the Tea Party showed everyone how it can be done. They just never followed through on the end result. The way to make this work is local grassroots. Local elections. Win the bottom of the ballot offices. Show that candidates of your third-party choice have the ability, desire, guts, and yes….stamina… Wha?  Its true…stamina. In it for the long haul. Show other folks that party (x) candidates have what it takes to hold offices, make PROPER changes, and then move up the ballot to the county, and state. Eventually up to the National Legislature, and…eventually the Presidency.

The Presidency. The weakest, but most well-known political position in the United States. Congress holds the budget strings. Congress holds the legislative strings. That’s where the real power lays. But holding Congress, along with the Presidency – that’s a pure mix for getting legislation through. That’s the formula for making change. But that’s getting ahead of where we need to be. The mistake that the Tea Party made. They pushed through the local, county and state. They provided their viable candidates. When they started taking the National offices, they started not paying attention to the base that got them there – local, county, state (lcs)….and they lost a lot of their support. Now, they are playing catch up to resolidify their movement. But they have shown themselves to not be caring about the lcs aspect, and that’s cost them some voting support.

So….now for my formula for how to handle an election where the candidates that are offered are so bad, you just can’t make a choice between them. My solution?  Don’t. Leave that part of your ticket blank. But be sure you vote your candidates in the lcs aspects of your ballot. If the congressional stinkers have a candidate you can support, vote there too. But if you just look at the Presidential candidates and cannot find a good reason to vote FOR any of them. Then don’t. Or, if you prefer, pick the least worst candidate and vote for them. Don’t fall prey to the mantra my late father tried to feed me time and time again:

If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.

My response to him, much later in life than when I was eighteen and voting for the first time in my life:

That bullshit. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. Your vote, my vote, falls under that right. Its our opinion being tallied. And if we choose not to vote, we are voicing an opinion. Just not one that is being tallied directly. Its our CHOICE to vote. Our vote is our voice. Our freedom to voice that choice, voting or not, is our RIGHT.

Don’t worry. If you feel I haven’t swayed you, that’s all right. It wasn’t my purpose in writing this. Besides, it didn’t sway my father’s opinion either. And the world didn’t end then. Its not going to end this election, either. But I really do believe…if we want to change the system. If we want to get more choices. If we want to get better choices. We have to start small, and allow things to grow. And nurture the movements we believe in. That’s how we are going to change the system. Not by electing a President. But by electing a whole bunch of people to a whole bunch of political offices. That’s the way we make the system change.

Looking Forward on My Journey – Part 3

So, I enter into the third and final part of looking at my Spiritual journey…a look at today and the unknown reaches of tomorrow. I have discussed the aspects of why Druidry is the framework I choose to work with. My current daily work leans more towards impromptu ritual, finding the spiritual in the everyday mundane, and trying to find new connections with the Gods, the Spirits of Place and Ancestor. This includes a deeper look into my own DNA and Ancestry that started last year during a visit to “The Celts” exhibit in London during my UK trip at the New Year.

DNA-related family has never been a strong point of mine. I have never felt like I was part of my relations, as my Path in life is vastly different than any of theirs. But during my trip through the Celts exhibit, there was a lot of information relating to the DNA side of things. That started me to wonder why I am drawn so heavily to a Celtic framework, particularly over these last few years. The more I dig into my ancestral roots, the more it makes sense. The more it makes sense, the more I relate to aspects of Celtic mythology that I never paid much attention to previously. I honestly do not see some of the connections, but am starting to see small aspects of it in the way I relate to the environment around me. The result of look at my Ancestry has me finding out where my family comes from, how they might  have believed, and how they may have related to their native land.

There’s Fliodhas. An Irish Goddess of the Forest, that has found Her way into my everyday Life. I do not readily understand the connection, but She takes a prominent role in my daily Life. She is in every moment that I am outdoors, whispering in my ear about the beauty of Life and the connections associated with that – both readily known, and those that are far more subtle. Where that Path is drawing me towards, I have no idea. But I readily walk it, staff in hand.

And finally there’s Druidry. I started my Bardic Grade a few years back. And honestly, I started out on-fire. Just ready to get things done. And then Life happened. Job changes. The amount of money that was available at any given time. Many other personal issues. I faltered. I took steps backwards in my studies. I did a poor job of documenting where I was, what I did to get to that point. I wound up dancing back and forth in place. Last year, after a conversation with several people at Gulf Coast Gathering, I buckled down my resolve to finish, and changed my attitude towards my studies. As a result, I am continuing down the road with what I must learn in the Bardic Grade, and am taking far better notes – not just on what I am learning, but also HOW I am learning it. The idea/hope is that I will be able to take those lessons and apply those going forward into the Ovate Grade, provided I am accepted to move forward.

Lastly, there is my tie to two First Nations trickster Gods. Crow and Coyote. Coyote started my journey, with lessons concerning the degree of seriousness I approached the world around me. I have learned to be a bit looser with the way I approach the world, and to not only find the positive in the world — but also find the humor in situations. Even when things look catastrophically bad. Earlier this month, I purchased a camper. I have no idea how to back it up properly. To get it into my driveway, I drove through my front yard in order to pull it down my driveway in a semi-straight line. That, I could back up. It certainly smacked of being a silly situation….and I can laugh about it. It happened. It was a silly solution, but it was still a solution.

Every day is a new moment for me. I greet the sun’s rise, and try to approach the day with a new motivation, a new vision to accomplishing tasks set before me, and with new eyes so I can try and discover new pathways that I did not notice before. At the end of the day, I say goodnight to the sun, and ask for the promise that He will rise again for tomorrow’s dawn. I set aside my frustrations over the course of the day, and prepare for an evening where I can relax, read, or study. My daily Path is about constantly learning, focusing, relaxing, and then refocusing again – all with the measure that each day is a new start. And each new day allows me to take new, fresh steps on my daily Path…find new connections I had not considered before, and strengthen the connections I already have. My Past through the Catholic faith, the southern Baptist faith, and within Wicca have helped bring me here. Whether the lessons I learned were negative, positive, or neutral does not matter. There was something to be gleaned from those times within my life. Paganism is the stream that brought me to where I am now, opened my eyes and mind to the perspective of individual Gods and Goddesses, and has renewed my faith in that perspective each and every day. I am on a pathway of Druidry, as a Polytheist Pagan. That’s who I am. But I can never discount or demean where I have come from. All of that is a part of me as well.

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Remembering My Journey – Part 2 – Wicca, Paganism, the US Military and the Gods

From the very beginning, it was obvious to me that Wicca was not a complete fit for me. I was still grappling with the concept of duality (God and Goddess) within the bounds of what I had been taught. In trying to understand that both God and Goddess were separate entities, I fell back to my Catholic roots. Much like there was Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the concept of God and Goddess found fertile ground in my understanding of my personal spirituality. It still wasn’t quite what I believed, but I barely had any manner of explaining how I really felt about the concept of God, Goddess, and my own personal approach. So, this was enough for me for the time being. I could shoehorn my own beliefs into this, at least for the time being. Perhaps the terminology and concepts I would learn going forward would be helpful in generating my own perceptions. So like a lady trying on shoes in Al Bundy’s shoe store, I pushed as much as I could into the boundaries provided, and pretended that it fit.

July 1992
Me – USAF – July 1992

Now, I joined the United States Air Force in 1986, so here I was just a little over a year in and I found my first area of controversy. I worked the night shift at the Carswell Air Force Base (Fort Worth) data processing facility. My shift was comprised of five individuals and myself. Of those five, four were charismatic Christians. Like charismatics in the military, they were over-the-top about their beliefs, and not afraid to shove their beliefs down your throat. My first night on shift, with Drawing Down the Moon to read, lead to all kinds of problems. I caught attitude from all four of these preacher-types. One of them lived three doors down from me in the dorms. He continued the same in-your-face moments with me outside of the work place. Complaints to my chain of command about my work ethic started to crop up. I went from being the guy who knew the mainframe system better than the civilian engineers from UniSys to being the problem child. In 1990, my transfer orders for Germany came in, and I danced inside at the idea of being away from these people.

Practicing Pagans -- Stars and Stripes -- 13Oct1992 -- Page 14Practicing Pagans -- Stars and Stripes -- 13Oct1992 -- Page 15

Germany proved no different. I wound up in another duty section with a born-again Christian, but here my beliefs were respected. As long as I kept my beliefs to myself, there were no problems. Religious discussions were typically avoided. And I found a group of individuals who were not only sympathetic to my position as a Pagan, when I was featured in the centerfold story of “Practicing Pagans” for the Stars and Stripes newspaper – they kindly poked fun at me (my last name was misspelled as “Ban Hook” in the story). This was also the time frame where I parted ways with Wicca.

As I noted before, Wicca never really fit what I understood as my own personal Spirituality. I just never had the words to understand. But I did have the companionship of the people that were part of the coven I studied with. When I left for Germany, I had none of that. I was on my own. And I had a better understanding of Paganism; a better understanding of the dual concepts of the God and Goddess; and a stronger understanding of polytheism. I finally had concepts that fit what I believed – a wider, more expansive view of the perspective of Deities, specifically Gods and Goddesses. With no group to provide an anchorage, I started to explore my own concepts of Paganism. Without that safe harbor of a coven, I found other Pagans in my nearby communities. We banded together under the moniker of “The Pagan Support Group” (which always seemed silly for a title), and I started to learn more about how other Pagans approached their beliefs, their rituals, and their Spirituality. It was here that I started describing myself as a “neo-Pagan”. I wasn’t trying to recreate something from earlier history. I was constructing my own Path through the forests.

And the forests of Germany was where I once again found myself feeling free. Much like the years where I spent time volksmarching as a kid through the woods – I found myself taking long walks in the woods very near to the military base housing I lived in. And it was in these woods that I had my first experience with a Spirit of Place.

Carving at a Roman Spring
Celtic/Roman Shrine – Kindsbach, Germany

I was walking along a ridge above the Celtic/Roman shrine that you see in the picture. This is just west of a small town called Kindsbach, which itself is just west of the outskirts of the city of Kasierslautern. It is in the wooded area just to the south of the football field on the west side of Kindsbach. The ridge above this comes to the edge of a small 40-ish foot cliff to the path that runs right part this shrine. The area is frequently walked by the residents of the area, and they pick up most of the trash. I spent time getting the stuff that they generally missed or was a bit too far for them to reach. On this particular day, I had gotten close to the edge of the ridge, which kicks my Acrophobia into high gear. So I sat down with my back against a tree and tried to collect my breath. I shut my eyes, and felt a presence. I neither heard nor felt any specific communication, but felt a feeling of “thanks”. At first I took no notice of it. But every single time I came back, I felt that same feeling. And on the day I knew would be my last time there – when I knew I was going back to the States the next day – I could feel sorrow at my leaving. I stayed there until nightfall, which is not advised because of the wild boar population. When I walked back to my microbus (what I was driving at the time), I stopped and turned back to look at the wooded visage in front of me. It felt like a small child was hugging both of my legs tightly. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and will return some time in my lifetime to revisit this place.

That single experience opened my eyes to a much wider world of Spirituality. Monotheism, and Duotheism would never be workable concepts for me. I finally had the words to understand what I believed. I believe in many Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestors….polytheism. The belief in many, individual Gods and Entities. Now my Spiritual Path would lead me to find a framework on which to build my personal Spiritual beliefs upon.

 

Remembering My Journey – Part 1 – Pre-Pagan Beginnings

Usually, for the blog, I think of a topic that piques my interest and write. Sometimes, its a response to another blogger’s post. And every once in a while I get a question from someone wanting me to write on something. That’s the case for this particular post. One of the folks over at the podcast’s page on Facebook commented that it would be interesting if I blogged about about how I came to where I am on my own Spiritual Path. I have talked about little pieces of this throughout the blog. But never all of it at once. So, let’s give it a whirl. Warning:  this is going to be in a couple of pieces….

img_0159While my true walk into a Pagan Path starts somewhere around 1987, the true beginnings are much further back than that. Back in my pre-teen years. I was raised in a military (US Air Force) family, and moving from location to location was the theme of the week for me. I was born in Tokyo, Japan, moved to Washington DC; Del Rio, Texas; and Weisbaden, West Germany in the span of a handful of years. From the age of six, I started doing volksmarching with my parents on the weekends, which usually had us walking 10 kilometers in the German fields and forests. At the end of the walking, I got a nice little medal (which I still have a huge pile of these), and my parents would stop at one of the local vendors to get soft drinks for my mother, my sister and I while my father enjoyed a local brew. Walking in the forests and open fields provided me with the love of being in the forests and fields that I have today. Looking backwards, this is really the start of where my personal Spiritual Path begins.

But that’s the reverence of Nature part. My first taste of the Gods comes in nearly the same time frame. As I have posted before, it was through a set of Encyclopedias. The Greek and Roman Gods and Goddesses were presented to me in this way. And this also helped fuel a love affair I have had in World History with the Roman Empire. It was nearly a decade later, that Gary Gygax and TSR helped me see the wider world of polytheism, through the deities__demigods_front_cover_first_editioneyes of Dungeons and Dragons. Yeah.  AD&D helped to open my eyes with the interesting and (for a teenager with little desire to read) expansive tome “Deities and Demi-Gods”. Once again, Roman and Greek Gods and Goddesses were presented, but so were Norse, Celtic, Sumerian, Japanese, Chinese, and many others. It literally allowed me to see a world filled with Gods and Goddesses that were individual entities. Of course, none of that filtered into my mind as real, tangible entities. After all, Dungeons and Dragons was just a game where you used your imagination. There definitely was more to come.

All during this time, I was being brought up in Catholic schools. Not because my family was Catholic, both of my parents were Protestants who didn’t go to church. I was sent to Catholic schools to get “a better education than I could in public schools,” which I certainly did. I finished next to last in my class in overall GPA. But my collegiate test scores showed that I was capable of far more than I ever managed in class. In my senior year of high school, I decided to move on from the Catholic faith system, I never participated in the mass other than to stand, sit and kneel at the appointed times. I never took communion, nor did I ever sit in a confessional (I think Father Reising would have had a heart attack if I confessed all the “sins” I had committed by the time I was seventeen). I moved along to the southern Baptist faith, which seemed to have prettier ladies and a co-ed softball team I could play on (my interests were hardly along the Spiritual lines at this point in my life).

My experiences within the southern Baptist soured me completely on religion as a whole. All I heard about was how I was a disappointment in the eyes of God. How I needed to hit my knees and beg forgiveness every single day of my life, in the hopes of having begged hard enough that God would let me into “Paradise” when everything was done. I constantly heard from adults that my long hair was “not acceptable” – a comment that was always made out of the earshot of others. Honestly, if I wanted to hear comments like that, I only needed to go home and listen to my conservative father’s comments after he had a beer or two.

It doesn’t take me long to move on from this, and I spend a few years not even thinking about my religious beliefs. I join the military, and leave the “religion” area of my dog tags blank. While in the military, I begin dating a Wiccan. She was a few years older than me, but we attempted to make a go of things. One of the first things that was brought up was her beliefs. She handed me three books to read before we even started our overall conversation: Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon”, Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance”, and Raymond Buckland’s “Witchcraft From the Inside”. Of the three books, I really get into Adler’s. I wind up purchasing a copy of this from a local Pagan book shop for myself, and read through it another four times. The year?  Yep, we’ve reached that 1987 point that I mentioned before. Where things go from here….is part of the next post.

The Whispers From the Four Directions

Do you hear the sound on the wind?
The beating wings of crows?
Do you hear that on the wind?
The whisper of Andraste and Segomo
Do you hear the spears and swords beating on shields?
Teutates! Teutates! Teutates!
For the protection of Land!
For the protection of Tribe!
For the protection of kindred Spirit!
Standing Rock is the battle line.
—Robyn Birchleaf, 9/7/16

Its been a while since I have dusted off of my old poetry moniker. Back in my early days as a Wiccan, this was also my “Craft” name. Eventually, Wicca faded as a part of my life, but the moniker continues as my writing name.

This piece of poetry I wrote last night. I had set some music from the Johnny Whitehorse series of albums on rotation, and pulled on my headphones to block out noise. As I listened, I let my mind wander to my inner grove, while watching my stone circle in the backyard being bathed by the sprinkler system. It eventually brought my mind to the perspective of water, which naturally led my mind to what is going up in North Dakota. People were protesting, as peacefully as they could, the building of an oil-transport pipeline underneath the Missouri river. Any leak at or near this point threatens the clean drinking water source for the peoples of this area, and everyone else downstream. This includes farmers, whose crops feed the markets of this country where people shop for their food. Odd how all of that is so interconnected when you think about it, right? Not really, to be honest.

There’s nothing truly odd about the interconnection of all of us. What we do to the environment, our communities, ourselves, others, the animals, the air, the water, the land….it affects all of us to one degree or another. That’s a huge part of what I have come to understand and relate deeply to within my Druidry. There’s more than a “Circle of Life” – there’s an interconnected web, where everything finds harmony to one degree or another with everything else around. Everything that is, except mankind.

As human beings, we have managed to be arrogant enough as a species to consider ourselves above everything else in Nature. As a collective species, we have even managed to excuse that arrogance with “divinely inspired” spiritual perspectives that categorize the earth, the animals and everything else to the position of a giant grocery store for our use and abuse. We place ourselves above everything else, and then excuse our abuse and overuse of resources by declaring that there will be an end to this Earth, and the righteous will be flung up into the heavens to enjoy a plentiful and never-ending paradise. The wicked will be sent to a place of eternal damnation. And the planet and the animals?  Who cares? Its use will be finished. We can just wade it up, and pitch it over our shoulders. After all, we’ve managed to create a very disposable society in the same vein. But I digress slightly…

lakota-siouxWhen I wrote that last night, I was remembering that time and again, the clarion call of the Wild Hunt’s horn in my dreams and meditations. I remember a few meditations that were filled with whispers on the wind. “The battle draws closer”  “I do not ask for war. But I do ask you for to defend when the time comes”  “Remember, your staff is not just for aiding you in your walking”  Those were some of the louder whispers that I heard. For me, a determined peace-loving Druid, to speak of hearing whispered words of war is a difficult thing. I don’t like violence of any sort. I prefer to find peaceful, negotiated manners of dealing with conflict. But many times over the past months, I have been reminded that sometimes physical battle comes to one’s doorstep despite your best efforts to quell it.

The issue at Standing Rock is starting to resemble those moments where one has to reach for your staff because peaceful resolutions cannot be easily found. Last weekend, during a three-day holiday stretch, the corporation building the Dakota Access Pipe Line decided to bulldoze a large swath of burial ground that is part of the area that is to be built up. The protesters there immediately started to attempt to stop what was happening, only to be met by a “security” detail with poorly trained (if at all) dogs. The protesters were attacked by dogs that were encouraged to attack by their handlers. Protesters, including children were bitten. Many other protesters were maced by these same “security” folks. All the protesters had to defend themselves with were a makeshift flag on a stick, and their bare hands. What they really should have had in their possession were mace canisters. Not to attack with, but to spray at both the “security” detail and the dogs once the attacks against them (the protesters) had started.

I have always lived by the perspective that being non-violent and peaceful in protesting is the key to getting one’s message across. But just because you are being peaceful and non-violent does not mean that you are not prepared to defend yourself with forceful means. Trying to resolve issues with words and negotiation is the appropriate measure to take, but always be prepared to defend yourself against violent action. Defend, not retaliation. Retaliation belongs in the realm of vengeance, and that is a business that is far more serious, and should be far more thought out and appropriately measured.

From my perspective, and my interaction with Gods and Spirits….there’s a palpable anger on the wind. And return is coming…like I said, vengeance is for deeper thought, and far more measured response. I leave that to the Gods. Should They decide to utilize me as part of that response, I’ll know when They tell me. Until (of even, IF) that time, peaceful, non-violent, legal protesting is the call for the moment. Standing Rock is the battle line.

…and Home to the Fey

After driving for four solid days on America’s interstate system (and some of its back roads), I found that spending time in the cab of a pickup truck by myself allowed for a lot of time for thinking. And with no one to bounce ideas or concepts off of…I eventually had conversations with myself in my own mind. Most of those conversations came about because of unique moments. Such as the moment when I realized I was driving into the mountains (more like very tall hills, but who is really counting?) near Mammoth Cave National Park, and my revolving music playlist started up with “The Hills They Are Hollow” by Damh the Bard. I had to pull over into the next rest area, sit outside on a picnic bench and marvel at the world around me.

IMG_0243The mountains have a huge appeal factor for me. Just being in the mountains makes me feel at home, and a lot calmer than I am out here on the plains, where I live. During this part of my trip, I was driving in a narrow construction zone with eighteen wheelers and other traffic zooming around me (I was driving the posted speed limit). I know I should have felt nervous, but instead I felt calm and assured. In a similar construction zone on the east side of Memphis, Tennessee (the previous day), I was extremely nervous and agitated with the same type of traffic around me. I know I am in kinship with the Spirits of Place in mountainous areas.

That kinship with Spirits of Place is something I have started to explore in more depth. Each time I go into a mountainous area, I spend time just being outside – hiking, sitting, walking, standing – just being. Opening myself to the moment and the feeling. There is really no way to describe the feeling I have – other than being calm, and clear-headed. Anything that is happening elsewhere in my Life is on hold during that time. I am right there, focused on that moment – drinking in all the sensations and experiences I can.

Quite a while back, I had mentioned somewhere about a conversation I had with a fellow coworker. His questions were concerning where I get my moral authority from. My response was that I certainly don’t get it from a book. At one time in my life, I had my feet firmly planted in the Christian faith. But during that entire time, I never felt comfortable with the mandates and rules that came from its pages. Particularly when I was told that the Pastor or Preacher or Priest needed to “interpret” what was written there. I was even more uncomfortable, when I realized that the Bible was considered to be “divine inspiration” even though it was translated into the English from the Latin and was translated into the Latin from the Greek. And when I started to realize that passages in the Bible could be countermanded with other passages from the same Bible – I began to not trust what I was told to believe in blindly.

I understand my own moral code. I should not kill others out of spite or simply because they are different. I should not shun others who are different either. I trust people when they give me reasons to trust them. I should stop people from harming others. I should strive towards finding peaceful solutions to issues as a primary means. I didn’t need a book to teach me this. I only had to place myself in the shoes of the other person and think of how I would want to be treated. Call that the Golden Rule or whatever you want to…I just know that is where my compass is.

I follow the Old Gods. That does not mean that I think everyone MUST follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I have a grip on how others should follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I understand the relationship between others and the Gods and Goddess I am drawn towards. My relationship with Them is as unique as it is between any of Them and others. I am not the Gatekeeper to Polytheism…and if there ever was such a position – I wouldn’t want it in the first place.

But all of that, coupled with being out in Nature – particularly mountains – is what makes me feel alive. Every single moment of every single day. On the worst days I have experienced to the most incredible experiences that I cannot even begin to describe. And driving through the mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky made me feel that exhilaration. I felt “at home”. I felt “calm”. I felt positively alive. I wanted to stop the truck on the side of the interstate and climb up into the woods around me. I wanted to feel the leaves of the trees in my hands, and the warmth of the sun-soaked soil between my toes. I wanted that moment of ecstasy. I settled for sitting on a picnic bench in a rest area along the interstate. And it was enough.

And during all that time, I could feel the soft warmth of Fliodhas’ hand on one shoulder, Crow’s claws digging in slightly on the other, and the warm fur coat of Coyote in my hand at my side. And I could hear the words in my mind:  “There’s deep, old magick in these mountains. You should explore more.” And I certainly shall….

Respect My Authority!

Someone’s got to step up to the podium, and grab the reigns of leadership. We need a person that can be the spokesperson for the wider aspect of the Pagan community. Someone we can all point to and say “that’s who you talk to when you want to know what’s what in Paganism.” We need that one individual that steps to the forefront every single time and asserts their position of autho….wha?

Ok…you got me. What I just spouted off on is completely antithetical to what I believe about Paganism in general. No, the Pagan community, as a wider arching body, has no need of an authoritarian figure. And before anyone suggest it…even if the Pagan community had need of such a thing, its definitely not me. Yeah, I have this blog…with the five people that read it. Yeah, I have the podcast with its three dedicated listeners. But if I wanted to utilize either platform as a bull pulpit and try to make my idea of Paganism into the be-all, end-all….honestly, I would have gotten into Talk Radio and tried to give Rush Limbaugh a run for his money. But that’s not what I want. At least not for Paganism, and definitely not for me.

What do I want for the Pagan community? For people to respect one another’s differences, and be kind to one another. Yeah, that’s a definite theme of mine – being kind to one another. And if you disagree with others, be respectful about it. Of course, I am more likely to get a goose that shits solid gold eggs given to me by a kid with magic beans that grow huge beanstalks that could feed every third-world country for years, then any of that respect hogwash. But I can dream, can’t I?

Essentially, we have made it back to the “They aren’t ____ enough” arguments that have been prevalent for the last decade or more. Seriously folks, it was attitudes like that which ran me out of the Christian belief systems. People proclaiming that you weren’t Christian enough because you didn’t fork over 15% of your take-home pay into the offering plate on Sundays. People claiming that you weren’t Christian enough because you acted on the natural urge to have sex…even when you weren’t married. People saying you weren’t Christian enough because you didn’t read the “right” version of the Bible. Give me a fucking break! If you follow what’s in your heart…then you are doing what’s right. Even as a Pagan.

Look, I’m the last person to hand out a commandment to anyone regarding how they live, who they are having sex with, what you eat (or who), or how you offer up prayers and devotions (or not) to the Gods and Goddesses. I do what I feel is correct – for me. I post about it here on the blog and talk about on the podcast – because I feel its a good place to talk about things. To re-examine (or not) what each of us is doing in regards to our Spiritual lives. I’m not here to condemn you if you do things differently than I do. That’s what makes us who we are – individual, unique, human beings. All I ever lay down as a commandment of any sort — that you examine things as each pertains to you. Adopt it if it works, reject it if it doesn’t. In other words, think for yourself!

I know there’s going to be people that disagree with me. There always will be. And frankly, I am perfectly fine with that. So long as those detractors and disagree-ers (is that even a word?) just take the time to think for themselves, rather than just parrot what they are hearing – for the sake of going along with the crowd. And have enough respect for others, to allow those differences to be what they are – unique differences between us that can be acknowledged and respected.

–T /|\