Find Your Tribe

In the last blog post, I received a comment that is one of the most common questions that I hear from new Pagans. “How do I deal with how my non-Pagan family and friends will/might react to me being a Pagan?” Believe it or not, this question can be answered in a myriad of ways and is not as straight-forward as one might think.

The easiest answer I can give is my own approach. However, that’s because its what I live every single day: I don’t care. Or I should say that I don’t lend a lot of energy to the situation because I do care what my family and friends think about me. I just try my best to not get too caught up in trying to model myself in a way that I think others will accept me. I’m me. If people cannot handle that or disapprove of it…I shrug and move on. In the basic basics of things, I must live my life in a way that allows me to feel free and places me in a perspective of being free and true to myself. If I try to be what they want me to be…well, I wind up feeling like I am living a lie. However, I tend to tone down my Pagan beliefs and perspective when I am around my DNA family. I do my best to not kick up arguments with them. We don’t agree on a lot of things – beliefs, politics, etc. etc. – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them any less. They are, after all, family. However, I do tend to keep my face-to-face interactions with them at a minimum, to keep the strife down.

Another way of dealing with such things is to ostracize yourself from your family. I can understand the approach. I did the same thing when I first left home for the US Air Force. My mother was a very domineering individual. So, when I had the opportunity to leave, I removed myself from the dynamic. I didn’t contact my mother for close to two and a half years. So I can relate to this perspective to a degree. Eventually, I made amends to a point, but I was truly never very close with my parents after that point – a perspective that was amiable for both sides.

There is a myriad of other solutions, as I said before. However, whatever solution you come up with, just realize that the dynamic can change. After all, people do soften or harden their perspective on issues, depending on the individual and the dynamic in play. Everyone has a different perspective, need and dynamic – so there really is not a “single solution” that fits all.

I think that the hardest part is telling someone about your Paganism for the first time. You never know how they might react, so one tends to steel themselves to the worst possible interaction. Many folks develop what everyone seems to refer to as the “Two-minute Elevator speech.” Basically, its just a short little one-way dialogue explaining who you are and what you believe to someone that is encountering you for the first time. Personally, I find it to be a waste of time to develop something like this, but others have found it to be quite useful. Again, it’s a matter of what you feel works for you. Everyone is different.

Ratcheting up your courage to initiate the conversation/encounter might be the most nerve-racking part of all of it. It usually is for me. However, I remind myself that there is nothing to be afraid or embarrassed over. Paganism is a part of who I am. I am a Druid. There is nothing wrong with any of that. Its no more embarrassing or “odd” than Evangelical Christianity, Buddhism, the Muslim faith, Agnosticism, or any other belief system or perspective. I’m not embarrassed of who I am. I’m not embarrassed of being an Information Technology Generalist. I have no need to hide or deflect over the education that I have received over my three degrees. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea or shot of whiskey, but that doesn’t mean that every single individual will be repulsed by me. It’s just a measure of finding those who are my tribe. The individuals that accept me for who I am and revel with me in the uniqueness of our differences. Those that cannot do that, I acknowledge the differences and respectfully move on. No fuss, no explosion, no heavy energy. No need for dramatics. Simple as that.

Now, everything I have described here is my own way of dealing with things. As I have noted over and over, this works for me. You might try it and find it doesn’t work for you. Believe it or not, that’s perfectly fine. Everyone is built differently. Everyone reacts differently. Some folks are going through more shit right now than others. There are so many factors that play into face-to-face interactions. You just have to do a little detective work to figure out what methodology or approach works best for you.

So, if you are sitting back and wondering how to broach the “Pagan topic” with people in your life, remember that it’s your choice that matters most. I would add that approaching things from a perspective of respect is usually a good tact to utilize. You know, that saying of attracting more flies with honey than vinegar. Just remember if things go sideways – quietly walking away is an option too. That approach calmed a lot of tension between myself and my mother. We eventually found footing that allowed us to effectively communicate with one another. She never accepted my choices and decisions in where I went with my life, and that took a long while for me to realize that never was going to change. But despite her disapproval, I know that she loved me.

Coming out is a difficult decision that can only be made by you. Whether that is your religious belief, your sexuality or even the number of partners that you decide to have. Being part of what the world terms as an “alternative” lifestyle is not always an easy choice. But it’s a part of who you are. You won’t always be accepted over your choices by others, particularly in your family, if it’s a fairly conservative one. Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Just remember that you can temper your interactions with others. Find your tribe. Should you ever need to talk, my Email is always open. There are so many others that are willing to listen, willing to give you that hug to reassure you that you are cherished as you are. There are always options.

–Tommy /|\

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Staring Through the Window

So, the turn of the Wheel is nearly upon us. For many Pagans, including myself, this is the change from one year to the next. As the season changes to the dark of Winter, the veil between this world and the OtherWorld is said to thin – allowing easier visits from one to the other. I personally don’t hold to that concept; for me, the shift from this world and the OtherWorld just happens. I honestly cannot explain all of it because I honestly have no words that adequately do so. Plus, it is not the focus of what I am writing about.  🙂  That’s one of those deer trods that lead off into the forest from the trail I am walking in this post.

The changeover from one year to the next is marked by Samhain or as the popular culture of our day calls it “Halloween”. For a lot of Pagans, it is a time of reflection, a moment of celebration, or even a downright raucous party. For me, it is a time frame where I draw back from the world around me, particularly people. I do this at Beltane as well, another big “party” and “celebrate” time for most within the Pagan community. And over the last five years, I have pulled back from the Pagan community so much, that few people ever notice my disappearance. Like I said….few people.

I get a slap of feathers to the back of my head, an occasional paw swipe against my nose, and even a sharp beak to the back of the head. My ancestors don’t play much of a role in my life…I have so little in common with my DNA relations….but I am reminded by those that I consider being family….those not related to me by blood, but are my family of choice….  Pulling back is not a proper thing to do. And yet, year after year….I find myself doing just that. Because it is an ingrained habit.

I am a solitaire Pagan by choice, and somewhat out of necessity. I choose to follow my Path alone because it feels natural for me to do so. I also live a very long way from any Pagan in any direction. The closest group of Pagans are about 45 minutes to my south – via interstate driving. Getting there is no easy chore. Remembering to leave on-time to get down there for their open rituals and gatherings….even more so. One of the greatest joys of being a solitaire Pagan is that I handle things on my own time, at my own speed, at my own pace. But being alone…sucks. There are no Pagan friends to talk with. Most of my discourse with other Pagans happens online…and that only carries you so far.

But being alone…sucks. There are no Pagan friends to talk with. Most of my discourse with other Pagans happens online…and that only carries you so far. I enjoy the gatherings of Pagans that I have made it to….and consider a great many of those folks as my family which is not an adequate description for what they mean to me.

My two Trickster Gods – Coyote and Crow – continually push me out of my safe boundaries. I attended Many Gods West in the northwest US….by myself. And that was extremely outside of me being comfortable. But I met a lot of people I enjoyed interacting with, discussed things of a Pagan and Polytheist nature that I don’t normally get the chance to do so (outside of online conversations). And I left that gathering of like-minded folks remembering why I follow the Path I do – and realizing how important such discussion and discourse can be…

So, here I am. Approaching a new year. Coming towards the dark of the seasons, where much work is down internally. And I see myself in my usual place:  outside – looking in. Its such a familiar place for me. And oddly enough, there’s a comfort level to it. Like someone standing just outside of a restaurant, peering in at all the nicely dressed people. Just watching them. Wondering how their lives place them where they are. Why the food choices and drink choices they have made. Knowing that I could walk through the door and join them…and just trying not to feel ill at ease for putting myself somewhere that I would be out of place. And then hearing those two familiar Voices in my mind, insisting that it is time to be uncomfortable.

I remember once reading a post by John Beckett, which talked about the need to have others within your spiritual practice. I remember nodding to myself, and pointing out that coming to the various gatherings and conferences was what was needed. And I joined him in going to an ADF Imbolc Retreat, and a few weeks later to Pantheacon. And I did the same the next year, except I went to Pantheacon on my own (this year). At the ADF Imbolc Retreat, I came a little further out of my shell. At Pantheacon, I met people I had talked with online. I interacted with people. Later, I attended the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering – my Spring-time Spiritual home and family (this is such a poor word to describe what these people are to me). I once again came out of my shell a little further. I did something I had never done before – I told a story out at the nightly fire. As I noted, I went to Many Gods West – knowing not a soul there. And I here I sit….looking at another Samhain on my own.

Because why? Because my inner Nature claims me to be an introvert….when I am not completely so.

Many Pagans (and others) will tell you that there is only so much Spiritual growth that you can do. I have to throw the Bullshit flag and call them for a fifteen-yard penalty. I am 52-years old. I have been on a Pagan path since 1986. I am still learning and relearning the puzzle that is me. I still have obstacles to overcome, such as forcing myself to be a completely solitaire Pagan. Like many other humans, I am a social creature. I need interaction with other like-minded humans. Not online interaction, face-to-face eating a meal at a local Cracker Barrel and discussing whatever comes to mind.

Sting noted in one of his songs that people can build fortresses around their hearts. Sure, I get that. But people also build barriers between themselves and the outside world for similar reasons too. I have slowly torn down my fifty-foot high walls until I have a two-foot wall left. But it is still a wall. It is still a barrier. And I still have to remove it. Even at two feet, it will not come down overnight. But it has to come down. And I have to make that effort…because I can be a solitaire, polytheist, Pagan Druid, but I still need others in my life more often than three to five times a year for just a few days.

Learning My Lesson – Family Matters

Yes, I have been a little quiet over the past week. I owe everyone a podcast episode which is mostly done. I have a few blog posts to write and push out as well. All of which are just in the planning stages. But everything went on hold when I found out that my Uncle Jimmy had passed away last weekend.

I do not have terribly great relationships with most of my DNA family. Except for two of my cousins. Terri and I clicked way back when in our teens. We have been strong friends ever since – even when we do not communicate for long stretches. We disagree. On a lot of things. But despite that, we still respect one another’s opinions – and we manage to be civil to one another throughout our discourse. April and I have begun to renew our friendship over the past two years. I am quite sure we disagree on quite a few things, but we manage to tiptoe around those and focus on things important to both of us. If I lived closer…I have no doubt that these two cousins of mine would help me stay in trouble.  🙂

When I made the decision to drive up to southwestern Indiana for my Uncle’s funeral, I had no idea what I would be walking into. But I knew why I was going. No matter how much I may disagree with these folks – they are still my family. Uncle Jimmy is family. Family matters. Jimmy was the Uncle that was always “fun” – you would get little cheesy one-liner jokes, and when your parents weren’t looking or listening – he would crack a good dirty joke for your ears as well. He was just that kind of fun Uncle. There were parts of  his life that I never knew anything about – for instance, his service in Viet Nam. I would have loved to sit and let him talk about it.

It took four total days of driving to go there and come back. And thanks to some issues with work, I spent part of my time trying to get things corrected via long-distance. But, I was there.

Funerals are never much fun. It is always a somber time, remembering the recently departed family member who is now beyond the veil. A couple of small and short conversations with my cousins found all of them in agreement – we need to get together at some other time as a family. We need to continue holding onto one another and keeping our connections strong. Facebook is nice, but we need to be together face-to-face from time to time. Uncle Jimmy would be over-the-moon-happy to hear that. Family was an important thing to him. For me, it is humbling that it took his death to remind me of that.

TripThis is the picture of my full trip meter in the truck when I made it back home. I spent thirty-four and a half hours driving my truck to get there and to come back. 2,021.4 miles. There is a lot of distance between Indiana and Texas, that is for sure. And I did not take the same route back that I took getting there. Getting there, I drove from Gainesville, Texas to Nashville, Tennessee, a trip of nearly thirteen hours. That was the first day. The second day, I drove north from Nashville to Louisville, Kentucky, and then through the back-roads of Indiana to reach Connersville. Because of the construction zone between Louisville and Nashville, and the insane construction in east Memphis, Tennessee – I rerouted my return trip through Indianapolis and then down the interstate that rides along the western banks of the Mississippi. I stopped for the night in a small eastern Arkansas town, after nearly eleven hours of driving. The next morning, I continued on home in a trip that took a little under seven hours.

My iPhone was crammed full of music and podcasts. I caught up Druidcast and the Wigglian Way. I finally got to hear John Beckett‘s interview on Down at the Crossroads. But for the most part, I played Damh the Bard on constant random/replay mode. When I started into the mountainous area between Nashville and Louisville, the first song that hit the speakers as “The Hills They Are Hollow” – and from that moment on, the drive through a very frenetic and harrowing construction zone was far more calm than I had thought it would be. There really is something about the mountains that makes me feel right at home. The Rockies have always held a measure of beauty and strength for me, but driving through the far more weather-beaten and rounded mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky had its own beauty and feel. It has been well over ten years since I have been up in these mountains. With a new caravan coming to my driveway next weekend, I can easily see a trip into these mountains in the future.

I will be back to regular blog posting, starting this week. Unlike some of the other Pagan bloggers out there, I do not have a ton of writing that is readily available for time frames where I disappear for a week. I did manage to post one blog while I was on the road…but there will be more to come. There are still aspects of my own understanding of Polytheism to explore, as well as concepts that I have been exploring thanks to writers such as Nimue Brown and Joanna van der Hoeven, as well as concepts that are contained within the books on my bookshelf that are in “to read” status.

While it was awesome to see my cousins again, and in some cases meet spouses I have only talked with and read on Facebook….I am glad to be home. I am glad to get my fuzzy hugs from Kaylee last night and this morning. I am glad to be at my stone circle in the backyard, to greet my local Spirits of Place, and greet the rising of the Sun this morning with a coffee cup in hand. But this trip was necessary. To say goodbye to my Uncle Jimmy, having crossed beyond the veil, and to say hello to him as he takes his place among my Spirits of Ancestor.


London Bridge is Falling – Thoughts on Death, and New Family

This weekend, I decided that a trip to my parents’ graves was in order. I haven’t been here in Hot Springs, Arkansas since I interred both of them in their locations in the crematorium, side-by-side. Just as my father had requested, and prepared for. See, my father wanted to be sure that everything was taken care of, and apparently either didn’t trust myself or my sister to take care of the details, or didn’t want to bother either of us with it. All the arrangements had been taken care of, from the location, to the plaque on each site, to his own cremation. It had already been paid for by him. The only thing left was to set everything in motion. As I was the only child who was there at the time, showing up for the interrment fell on me by default.

For me, it was an ironic moment. Here I was, the only family member that was there when my father and mother were placed in the little vaults that would contain their ashes. Me. The child that was the bigger disappointment. The one that was always considered to be unreliable (and with some good reasoning behind that too, I might add). Me. The child that had essentially ostracised himself from his parents (on a somewhat mutual – and unspoken – agreement). I was the one that was there for the moment when the coverings were set in place. In essence, I was made to look the part of the responsible, respectable child.

It took a long while for me to reconcile that moment with my life. In my own recollection, it took almost six months before I started to truly grieve the fact both of my parents had crossed beyond the veil. It might have been shorter or longer, I am not sure. I didn’t exactly mark time on a calendar, and never really wrote anything in my journal about the entire process, because I really wasn’t aware of it. When I was finally aware of the process of grieving that had been occuring I was already in the throes of moving into a new home. Just another stressor added upon everything else.

Since then, I have been travelling nearly non-stop. Over to Scotland, England and France. Over to San Jose, California. Over to San Antonio, Texas. Over to Mandeville, Louisiana. But during all of those travels, I have also been aware of changes that have been taking place in how I perceive the world around me. Looking back over notes from Cat Treadwell’s Druidry course, and the notes I have taken in my progress in my Bardic Grade lessons, I am really grabbing hold of the connections I feel around me. I am learning to communicate with people better. I am coming out of my shell. Like a flower awakening from a long Winter’s slumber, I am thriving in my new sunshine. My world is far more than the job I hold. My world is far more than the nice house I live in. And I cannot experience any of it focusing on the wrong things. I feel so alive, but yet….what about death?

If someone had asked me about death twenty years ago, I would have told them that it was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. Now, don’t get me wrong, death is still something I want to avoid, but twenty years ago I was afraid of dying. But dying is merely the next step on my journey, going beyond the veil into the real unknown. Frankly, I am not really “ready” for that now. There’s a lot more to experience, a lot more to feel, and a lot more I want to experience with the people who are my family.

And what does lay beyond the veil? I have my own theories, but how accurate all of that is…I truly couldn’t tell you. I have Christian acquantainces who claim to know the answer to that without question. I have my doubts about their accuracy on what comes after, but then I have doubts about how accurate I am as well.

I do certainly believe in past lives; that we all move along in life after life – mostly not knowing much about the previous incarnations or who or what we knew. I have had offers to take me into a past life regression, to find out who I was. Typically, I politely turn such offers down. I honestly don’t really want to know. There’s a curioisty factor for me, but that’s balanced out with the knowledge that its far better for me to focus on the life I am living right now.

Now my parents chose to be cremated after their passing. My father chose for them to be interred. My choice is somewhat different. I prefer the Capsula Mundi option, where the body is buried in an egg-shaped, bio-degradable container. A tree seedling is planted with the container, and as your body degrades into nutrients in the soil, you feed the tree’s growth. In essence, your physical body transforms you into a tree. I want to be buried using this option…somewhere in the northern Rocky Mountains. I am quite sure my Christian acquaintances will roll their eyes over this one.

So, here I sit in a hotel on the south side of Hot Springs, waiting for the morning to come. I will then travel to the other side of Hot Springs, and then further north to Hot Springs Village, where my parents are interred. Currently, my thoughts and emotions are calm and contemplative. I have no idea what mindset I will be in within the next twelve hours. But whatever it might be, I am ready to embrace that moment for what it is, and what it will become. I literally have an army of friends on Facebook that are right behind me, making sure I don’t fall. They may not be here physically, but they don’t need to be. They are standing right next to me in my heart. Its really interesting how my immediate DNA family has melted away, and a stronger family that is bonded with me in my heart, my soul and my spirit has risen up to show me what family is. I couldn’t have taken these steps back to my parents’ graves without them in my life. London Bridge is falling, indeed.