The Gods, the Darkness, and the Quiet Times

This morning, it’s a cold Valentine’s Day here in the center of Tejas. As I look out in the backyard, I can see the patches of ice that have formed in the yard from the low temperatures. There is a promise of even colder weather, as well as a possibility of some significant amount of snow. Well, significant as it relates to here in Tejas. Currently my coffee is still warm, though I will need to refresh it sometime in the very near future. My speakers currently have Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush with their duet “Don’t Give Up” from Gabriel’s “So” album. Just the perfect stuff under the grayish skies above.

Weather like this reminds me that Winter will grab hold and try its best to cling on to our days for a little longer. However, Spring is nearly here, we just need to be patient for a little while longer. The Gabriel/Bush duet reminds me that there is always struggle in Life, even in one’s Spirituality.

I have walked through many valleys within my Spirituality, most recently during the last three months of this past calendar year. I tend to refer to these valleys as my “quiet times” in my life. Crow will whisper in my ear from time to time during my “normal” times. Abnoba tends to be more direct with confrontation in dreams that will linger long after I awake. Coyote…. well, communication there is far less frequent and tends to be a lot more subtle. However, the “quiet times” feel a lot more disconnected, and as I have learned recently, are tied tightly to my “down” moments with my depression.

I have never been sure why the “quiet times” come about, and aside from tying it loosely to my “down” bouts, these tend to happen without reasonable frequency. Sometimes, these last for a while. Sometimes, not so much. When I first started to experience these moments, I would panic. The world feels so out of touch, out of sync with me – nothing felt like I expected. I would feel like I did something wrong. However, I have learned through experience that these moments happen, and that I will be walking on my own for a while. It still feels scary when it occurs – plus my entire life feels very dis-jointed and disconnected when it occurs.

There are those that come to Paganism expecting to be put under the protective embrace of a God or Goddess, only to be disappointed when it does not happen. Folks, the Gods choose to work with those they choose to work with. Sometimes, They even find a working agreement with an individual and pick those folks as Priests and Priestesses. While I work with Crow, Coyote and Abnoba quite a bit, I am not a “chosen” individual with any of the three. I’m just someone that works with Them. Crow made it very clear that I have a role outside that of traditional First Nations’ aspects. I am not of the People. Their traditions are not mine to work with. My working with Crow is for a different purpose and reasoning. What exactly that is…is not really mine to question or easily discern.

Like I said, many folks come to Paganism expecting a direct relationship with chosen Gods or Goddesses. My relationship with Crow and Coyote is not a direct one. Occasionally, my Path will intersect with Theirs. Abnoba is a little different. I am sure there is something that She wants from me. As of this moment, I am not completely sure, though She is more likely to be directly in my face over things. There is no direct connection there, yet. There may never be. Some will say that I am lucky to have such a “direct” connection to the Gods. There are times I would scoff at the term “lucky”.

My connection with Crow, Coyote, and Abnoba is just – a connection. None of the three play a major part in my daily Spirituality, aside from offerings that I give to each. My daily Path is more about connection to the environment around me, and far less in devotion. The whole point of connection for me is why I feel so disoriented during my “quiet times.” When you have something as integral in your daily practice that suddenly gets “turned off” – well, as I have described my depression before, it becomes a very dark and lonely place.

For those coming to Paganism seeking a connection with a specific God or Goddess, let me impart a piece of advice to you. The Gods and Goddesses are not the Hollywood and Marvel depictions that you see in comics, books, and movies. Those two-dimensional depictions are meant to entertain you for the time you spend in those fictional environments. Loki is not Tom Hiddleston and is a far more complex Being than what those crappy movies depict Him as being. If/When you do encounter Loki, you will find that out.

If you don’t encounter a God or Goddess in your daily practice, continue with your devotions to Them. Its not hurting anything to do that, and who knows, your efforts may yet attract Them to you. If you are disappointed and finding that a lack of a God Or Goddess in your Life is making your daily practice of Paganism meaningless to you…perhaps, this Path is not for you. That does happen. If, like me, you find yourself in a moment of the “quiet times” – persevere in continuing through that dark valley. Trust me, the Light will eventually return, the connections will renew, and you will have made it through. Just don’t expect it to happen right away. The darkness of the long night does not fade so easily. Hang in there. You will make it.

And if you need it, reach out your hand. I’ll be happy to hold it and walk beside you in the darkness. Your darkness doesn’t scare me. I am not afraid of being sucked into your depression. I know what it is like to be left alone in your own darkness. And I know what it means to have someone care enough to reach out.

–T /|\

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The Candle’s Flame, Moments Before Twilight

One of my favorite times of the day is when the sun starts making its entrance back into our daily lives. When that bright disc in the sky nears its rise over the edge of the earth’s curve. That period we refer to as “twilight”. As the sky goes from completely dark to the beginnings of the sky starting to lighten. The colors are amazing, as your eyes adjust with the slow procession of the sun towards the edge. Until the sun finally peeks over that curve of the earth, bathing everything in that bright light that will illuminate our environment for a time, and warm us to one degree or another. This is a beautiful time of the day for me. This is also a dangerous time of the day for me as well.

I am suffering from diabetic retinopathy in my eyes. Essentially, I have some hemorrhaging of the blood vessels in my eyes, due to periods of high blood sugars. To try and stabilize the condition, I have injections into my eyes at regular intervals. And I hate needles. With a passion. But that’s another direction in all of this. My eyes are their weakest during the morning and evening twilight hours. Walking around, no problem. Behind the wheel of a car? That is a different story. The world becomes a very scary, two-dimensional world. The location of oncoming traffic is a little difficult to discern. Thus, a scary and potentially dangerous situation for me. If I am out driving during the twilight hours, I will find somewhere to pull over until the world is much lighter or much darker.

As I write this, I am looking out the window to the west. The sun is setting, and the sky is a pretty salmon color. In a short while, everything will be set back into darkness. Over the weekend, I was an observer in Cat Treadwell’s Imbolc observance. You can find that on YouTube here. She had mentioned about living in the in-between spaces during this time. This resonated a chord with me, especially concerning my issues with depression.

My depression tends to take the form of a very dark environment, where you can see absolutely nothing. There is danger from objects you cannot see or even comprehend. However, like all my dark, depressive times, I know that eventually the environment will lighten – much like the time of twilight in the morning. So, I do take comfort in the knowledge that my depressive moods have a cycle of some type. Though the periods of darkness can be much longer in some cases in comparison to others. But I am also cautious during this time because I cannot completely trust my vision.

Imbolc is a time of new beginnings. I would also offer that it is a time to be cautious as well. Yes, Spring is coming. Yes, the world is getting lighter. However, weather patterns can sometimes fall back to the cold, dark aspects of Winter without a warning. Those moments can play havoc with one’s mind and mood. However, we can rest assured that Spring and the warmth of light will eventually come. Just as I can always count on twilight being over after a period – making driving not as dangerous for me.

The entire world is coming out of a long COVID nightmare. Vaccines are becoming available to the public in greater quantity. Yes, I am just as impatient as anyone else to get the two shots. However, we are in the twilight hours of this period of our collective nightmare. Much like my need to be patient for twilight to pass, so my eyes are better adjusted, I also must be patient for the vaccine. That means continuing my hyper-vigilance concerning protecting myself from others. I can only hope that others do the same.

I have electricity to keep my home lighted and heated during the Winter months. Granted, this time of the year is nowhere near as harsh as other parts of the world can get. After all, this is Texas. We’re not in the more northern climate zones. Winters here are generally mild. Summers…. well, that’s a time for a different post. However, I am reminded that prior to the wonders of modern electricity, lighting was achieved by candlelight. Imaging that for a moment, I can see where the light of the candle or even the light of the hearth was integral towards the promise of Spring. Light would be more abundant. Warmth would be far more plentiful. And that light was the measure of beating back the darkness.

My depressive state is already starting to have the first glimpses of light against my darkness. I am still cautious in my approach towards things being better than before. After all, there is always a chance of slipping back into the dark. My twilight seems to be on the near horizon. I cautiously hope. I realized that this also follows the cautious hope of the glimmer of Spring that Imbolc provides. So I am thankful that I have a compass, of sorts, to work with through Imbolc. For me, its something solid that I can grab a hold of. And that’s a good thing.

–T /|\

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Everything Will be Fine…Eventually

Every day brings change. Each time the sun rises over the horizon, I am reminded that the day that is coming into focus will be different than any of those that came before. Sometimes, those changes will send Life in a different direction. Sometimes, those new directions will have you looking around at those still with you on the journey and seeing new faces. Sometimes, many of the faces you thought would be there forever are no longer there. You adjust and move on.

A short while back, I wrote about how my Druidry was not providing me with the focus that I needed. Not because it wasn’t working for what I needed. Rather, my Druidry was based on some silly notions of what Druidry was from an overly romantic and idealized perspective. Many folks read this and thought that I was abandoning Druidry. That was not the case. I’m taking the time to inventory what I need from Druidry and discarding the pieces that I don’t really need. In short, I am stripping my Druidry down to its nuts and bolts, so that I can build it back in a manner that works for me.

A few friends, particularly my more overtly Christian ones, felt that this was a moment to step in and hawk their brand of belief.

“Your Druidry and Paganism has failed you.”
“Your misplaced faith has put you into the position of mental depression you are encountering.”
“If you had a more rooted faith, you wouldn’t have the relationship problems that you have.”

Yes, I have had a lot of this hurled at me, particularly in the last few days. The reality is that my Druidry and my Paganism have not failed me. Neither are a cause of the mental depression that I am working through. Neither have a hand in the relationship issues that I have. To make another point, suggesting any of those three only suggests that attempt at bringing me to their faith has the trappings of a used car salesman than that of an individual trying to show how their faith works for them in their time of need.

I do; however, grok their perspective and, to a certain degree, understand their intentions. We don’t agree on religion, theology, spirituality, sports, politics, or how to hold a fork when eating. However, they are friends and only want to see me happy and smiling. So, I try my best to not be overly harsh when I emphatically put my foot down and say “no”.

Yes, I am currently going through rough times in my life. As I have said many, many times before – I have good days, I have bad days. Most of my days fall somewhere between those aspects of the spectrum. I do not really pay much attention to how I may seem to others, but I probably don’t laugh or smile nearly as much as I usually do. I probably seem to be more serious than I usually have been. I am likely a thousand times quieter than my Puckish self is usually. That is how it seems I am internally. That probably shows quite a bit externally too. Since that is not my normal mood as described by others, I am sure it shows more often now than before. Everything will eventually be fine. Just not right now.

My Druidry, my Paganism, my beliefs did not bring me to this spot. None of that caused the way that I feel. In the end, these will be some of the anchors that will bring me back to where I used to be. There is no failure in any of that which brought me to where I am now. My emotional scars that I tend to come from elsewhere. Those scars will heal in time. Right now, they are fresh and extremely painful. My Druidry, my Paganism, my Spirituality will help me to heal over time. But first, I must feel my pain. My pain will allow me to learn. And to be honest, no one can learn this for me.

I still have the same hopes. I still have the same goals and desires for where I want my Druidry and my Paganism to take me. However, the overall scenery has changed a bit. I have talked about how my depression feels like an all-encompassing darkness, where I cannot make out the features of anything around me. This morning, as I write this, I am watching a fog crawl into the area of central Tejas that I am in. I am reminded that the darkness I find myself in is much the same as the fog. It slowly crawled into my life. It will slowly clear as well. And in time, it may be back. Maybe less dense. Maybe more. I can’t really say.

So, for me, Life continues. I am not sure of the form it will take. But I know my Druidry will be with me through all of it. I know that my Paganism will continue to be with me. Not because I am a part of those elements – for I am. But because I am adding those elements to who I am. No offense to my Christian friends, but I have no need or use for your beliefs in these dark times in my life. I appreciate your desire to see me happy, but your beliefs are not going to do that. That is solely my job. My Druidry, my Paganism, my Spirituality – these all provide me with the connections that I understand and can use as I move forward. Without these, I would be completely rudderless in my own sea of despair. And I have no desire to float aimlessly through my Life. I have my purpose in my mind. I have my own goals that I have set.

Everything will eventually be fine. Right now, I have my own emotions to work through. I have my own mechanisms to explore, expand and repair. But everything will eventually be fine.

–T /|\

Too many hands on my time
Too many feelings
Too many things on my mind
When I leave, I don’t know
What I’m hoping to find
When I leave, I don’t know
What I’m leaving behind

 Neil Elwood Peart / Gary Lee Weinrib / Alex Zivojinovich
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My Darkness

Every day brings a new challenge. Every day brings a new perspective to see the world from. All of that can be marked down as being true. Except it is hard to see when all you encounter is darkness. Not that night-time darkness that your eyes eventually adjust to. Rather, that jet black darkness where you cannot even make out your hand when it is two inches away from your face. You have nothing to reach out towards that you can see. Any obstacle is completely unseen, and presents not only a tripping hazard, but has the capability to severely injure you if it has any pointed aspects or extremely sharp edges to cut you with. Welcome to my form of depression, in words.

Most of my understanding of the world around me comes from observing the perspective of other objects in relation to me. Door handles. The edges of tables. The hands of friends that I can reach out for to steady my balance. The steering wheel in my truck. My staff, if I am carrying it with me. All of these are things that I can reach out for to steady myself, to provide balance, to allow me a moment to regain balance. In that inky, black darkness, I have none of those things. This throws me off balance, and kicks in my fear that I may hurt myself in just trying to move. Thus, beginning my own internal paralysis.

There is a lot more to this scenario that describes my depression, much of which I won’t go into detail here. However, I do know the shape that my darkness takes in my everyday Life. Chaos. I am an ordered person. As an Information technology troubleshooter, my professional career is defined by an ordered flow of “if this, then this” which helps me identify where issues are located at, as well as determining how things get fixed. My personal life follows a similar Path.

When I take trips, I make lists of what is needed to be packed, the order that things go into the truck, and what I need to do to get myself into the truck and on the road. I know, it sounds boring and rote – and it is – but it is necessary for me, so that I don’t leave something behind. Yet, I always manage to do so. 😊

Over the last four months, my life has been turned inside-out, upside-down, and shaken hard to make all the loose change fall out of my pockets. When that was done, Life tossed me to the side, where I tumbled end over end. When I finally came to a stop, I was disoriented. I had no idea which way was up. I had no markers available to me to help re-orient my posture. The entire world also seemed to be spinning and tumbling out of control as well, which made things even more difficult. To put it into a single thought – I was lost.

During these four months, my Gods stepped back from me. That added another void where I had expected some aspect of stability and an ability to re-orient myself. I had none. That made things even deeper and darker for me. I began to realize what someone who had lost all their senses would feel like. What a scary world without sensation could feel like.

Due to a lot of personal issues, I was driving constantly through the backroads of Texas. Rarely did I stop between destinations because of COVID, and even then it was just to stand at a gas pump and fill my truck’s tank. A few weeks ago, I was driving back after a snowfall, which is rare for central Texas. Looking through the windshield, I could see the white-covered landscape.

There were very few vehicles on the road with me, so I stopped when I saw a little picnic area at the side of the road. I turned off my truck and got out to walk around. Just like the snowfalls that I remembered from winter walks near Vogelweh Housing near Kaiserslautern, Germany, the air was quiet. Like the whole world had drawn in its collective breath, and was quietly breathing slow, small breaths – not wanting to disturb the peace. I brushed off the seating at a wooden picnic table and just sat, taking in the scene.

That moment of serenity was a salve that I needed. My world got quiet. The wild whirlwind of chaos stopped within me, and that darkness parted enough for me to see strands of light. Once again, I heard Crow in my mind. “You need to be your own rock of solitude. You need to find your own peace. Through all of that, We are here. To reach out, you need to go back to your basics. Reconnect with yourself.”

For me, approximately 120 days ago, my life had radically changed. Everything felt like a whirlwind. Now the whirlwind has ended. What’s left of me is scraped completely bare, like a tornado had come through. Now, I can feel the quiet and calm after the storm has passed. Much like my Druidry is being rebuilt, I am now left to rebuild me as well. Slowly. Quietly. Without the chaos.

The darkness is still there though. It will always be there. It is not something I can remove completely. That’s because it is a part of me. That darkness is me. As I rebuild, I also must find a balance that works with it. That will take time, discussion, and patience.

I am not without tools or help. I am seeing a counselor, who has been of immeasurable assistance in understanding certain aspects that I have encountered. I also have Cat Treadwell‘s excellent book Facing the Darkness on my iPad as well. Where my counselor has trouble equating some of my Pagan perspectives to what I go through, Cat’s book bridges the gap in a most excellent and proficient manner. I am sure that I will find other tools to add to my rebuilding efforts. However, none of those can do what my friends do for me – provide balance, support, and unconditional love. Without that…without them, I would truly be lost forever.

–T /|\

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Thinking About: Steps in a New Perspective

Dealing with depression is not something new. Many of my friends have had and/or are continuing their battles with depression. For me; however, that’s a different story. The likelihood that I have been waging my own battle for much longer than I have realized is most likely pretty high. To be honest and open, I managed to get really good at hiding many of the things that I have uncovered in my life recently…even from myself.

Thirty days. Everything can change. In a little more than thirty days, I have turned my life upside down. Everything changed. And some of it, not for the better. But in that time span, I also found out more about myself than I had wanted to know. About parts of me that I had kept below the water-line. Things that I am now finding myself trying to address the very best that I can. And it’s not easy. I am not stepping forward to face my demons. I’m stepping forward to face something a thousand-fold worse. Me.

When I had some of the people closest to me remarking that I was depressed, I initially didn’t want to believe that it was happening to me. How could it happen to me? I didn’t feel depressed, even though I really had no clue what it was like to be depressed. It took a little while for me to realize that they were all correct. I might not understand how it felt to be depressed, but they understood what it *looked* like to be depressed. And for me to cross those last steps to not only recognizing that perspective but completely agreeing with it – some drastic, and seemingly hurtful, steps were made to get me to see. But those were taken out of love and caring for me. Those steps were hurtful because I had to be shown what I needed to see. Because I needed to recognize what was happening to me. And to recognize that this was hurting others close to me.

In trying to do more personal research on the perspective, I have very few resources within Paganism. Cat Treadwell‘s excellent book “Facing the Darkness” has been my primary resource. Exercises within the book have been helpful in getting me to realize some of the destructive behaviors I have created to insulate myself from the truth of how I feel. But I needed to dig further and find more information. I ran across a blog from 2012 on DruidLife, written by Nimue Brown. Titled “Of Depression and Druidry”, one particular quote immediately found its way to my eyes.

As a Druid I have to stay open and aware. I cannot look away, ignore my responsibilities and pretend that all is well in the world. As some ambling ape-descended biology, I can’t always sustain that and keep moving. I have good days, and bad days. My body has a finite capacity for coping with distress. I try and generate hope. I do not always manage this.

–Nimue Brown, (https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/of-depression-and-druidry/)

I am only taking my initial steps into all of this. Trying to find ways to make my way through the swampy bog of my mind, while seeking solid ground where I can build a better understanding of who I am under all this protective muck I have created. But to read this, that there are good days and bad days, is very helpful towards allowing me to relate to issues I will deal with every day. It has taken time for me to realize that much of what I want to be within my Druidry will need to get set to the side while I deal with the bad days. That sometimes my brain will short out my ability to do the best that I can. And I will need to learn to recognize those days and find my own coping skills and mechanisms to make it through those times.

In many ways, I am a newborn in the woods, all over again. I am learning to interpret, find and walk those trails all over again. This time with a different perspective. One I had never thought would exist. Currently, I am still stumbling along the Path, tripping over the exposed roots that catch the toes of my boots. I still fall flat on my face in the dirt. It will take time for me to get used to seeing the terrain differently. And for now, that Path is empty. I walk it alone because I have to. In time, there will be others that will walk beside me. Who they are, when they arrive…that doesn’t matter. I have faith that they will. Right now, I work inwardly. Soon, I will work outwardly. Soon, I can help others as others have helped me. Because we are not in this alone.

When the dark wood fell before me.
And all the paths were overgrown.
When the priests of pride say there is no other way.
I tilled the sorrows of stone.

I did not believe because I could not see.
Though you came to me in the night.
When the dawn seemed forever lost.
You showed me your love in the light of the stars.

Cast your eyes on the ocean.
Cast your soul to the sea.
When the dark night seems endless.
Please, remember me.

–Loreena McKennitt, “Dante’s Prayer”

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Seeking Help

“You look depressed.”
“Are you ok? Is anything the matter?”
“You’re not as upbeat as you were a while back.”

I have heard these statements from quite a few people. Not over a long period of time either. These statements have been made to me quite recently. At first, I sort of heard what was being said, but sat there and thought to myself: “I’m not depressed. I don’t feel depressed.” Nearly immediately after that moment, others started expressing their concern. The extra chorus of voices making the same statement brought me back to thinking about the initial statement of me being depressed. Along with the realization that every single person, from the first notice and beyond had made the same plea: get some help.

My initial step was to do the same crap I always do: over-think things. But in that process, I did have my own epiphany over everything. I had made the statement that I didn’t feel depressed, I didn’t believe I was depressed. Well, of course I didn’t feel depressed. I have absolutely no idea what being depressed actually feels like it. So, I had to really sit down and go over some of the stuff that had been mentioned to me. One at a time. And not analyzing it at all. I got a bit lucky. A friend’s mother is a clinical psychologist and was kind enough to discuss everything with me. In the end, I reached out to the mental health process under the healthcare system I am currently covered by (another lucky break for me – so many people do not have that kind of access to necessary help like this).

I usually make morning Facebook posts telling people to seek joy and happiness in their life. It’s a concept I believe in. But there has been a lot of difficulty for me to do exactly that on a daily basis. Granted, I am going through some processes in my life that are a bit stressful, but even through that I should be able to see the good in my daily life. I have a tendency to down-play my ability to do things. I do a lot of self-deprecating humor. Sure, its funny to poke fun at yourself from time to time, but I do it a lot. And believe it or not, when you do that – you begin to believe that. So, there’s some de-programming that I will also need to handle, as well as finding better ways to treat myself. And these are only a handful of examples. 

Now, I am starting the process of working through these and several other issues that I have self identified as needing to be approached. I am confident that this will also uncover other issues, concepts and the such that will also need to be addressed. I also realize that this is not going to be a quick process. This is going to take time. This is going to take effort. This is going to require a strength that I am unsure that I have. But so many people in my life have that faith in me to do this.

I am doing this for me. But I am also doing this for other reasons. Because all of those reasons are just as important to me. Because I have a future that I want. And doing the hard work to get there needs to be accomplished. And I can do it.

Why am I writing about this? For a lot of reasons. Because writing is cathartic for me. Putting my thoughts to written word is a way for me to make things real for me. But also for those who read this. In the hopes that if you feel like you need someone to talk to about life…that you take that opportunity and do so. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out your hand for help. I promise.

–T /|\

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