That’s Too Many Battles….

Well, we have all seen the pictures and the images of the so-called QAnon Shaman. The entire outfit looks outrageous on the news. Many non-Pagans have likely been chuckling through it all. “Look at the weird guy in the weird outfit.” “What a typical, goofy Trump follower.” However, a lot of Pagan folk have been fairly upset by the image, and most particularly by the stylized descriptive of a “shaman”. I have read in quite a few places where folks are saying that this guy is a good example why gate-keeping in Paganism should be necessary. That this guy is an example of someone who needs to be told that he isn’t doing “Pagan” incorrectly.

I’m still of a different mindset. I believe that Paganism needs no gate-keeping. Certain traditions and mystery schools certainly do – and should. To be a part of that, you promise to adhere to the aspects of what that Tradition or mystery school is about. But general, everyday Paganism? No. At least in my mind. Others will disagree.

For me, I don’t have enough time to walk around policing Pagans over what I think they should or should not be doing. I have my own Spirituality to tackle. I have my own relationships with my Gods to work on. Add to that, I have other aspects of my life that are turned around, upside-down and inside-out. I have plenty enough on my hands to deal with. I certainly do not need to be in the middle of how others approach their Spirituality, no matter how superficial I may find it to be.

As you can tell, I am not a fan of gate-keeping within the general Pagan community. My personal perspective is that if I am busy trying to right myself after my own stumbles, I certainly do not have the room to critique others on the way they walk on their own Paths. To be honest, when I do encounter gate-keeping, I tend not to have a fond look upon it either.

Ok, so this so-called QAnon Shaman was wearing an outfit that didn’t just border on cultural appropriation – it scratched out the line and traveled right across it. Sure, call that type of shit out for what it is. But let’s also remember, people can – and do – cross the line into cultural appropriation without even realizing that they are doing so. Slamming them like an NFL linebacker eats a running back for lunch might not only be a little harsh, but it can also drive someone away from a Path that they are just exploring at this moment.

Now, I am not excusing this QAnon Shaman for his outfit or even for his actions. Nor am I slamming the folks calling for gate-keeping for their views. I’m only trying to point out that when encountering such an individual for the first time, it might be best to approach them lightly. To point out that…hey, that outfit disrespects several First Nations peoples, their traditions, and their Spiritual Paths. Or…hey, this might not be the best approach towards Paganism, if that’s where you are trying to go with this. Can we talk?

So, is this QAnon Shaman guy a Pagan? I don’t know. I certainly don’t care. Am I disgusted by his outfit and his actions? Certainly. I don’t really have any super-nice things to say. But to be honest, beyond that…I can’t really say much. I already have my hands full. As the saying says – choose your battles. I already have enough battles in my life. I know when I need to put some more of them back. As for others, who feel they need to be gate-keepers for Paganism…well, I don’t agree. But my hands are still full. This is also a battle I have to put back as well.

I do not write this blog to tell you how you should be doing your Paganism, or your Druidry. I write this blog to talk about how I do it. Not so you will do the same things that I do. Rather, in the hopes that you find inspiration from what I do to find your own way of doing things. For you to discover new aspects of connectivity to the world around you. I am certainly not here to make the rules for anyone to approach their own Paganism or their own Druidry. In my mind, that would be dishonest with my own approach.

–T /|\

Picture by John Beckett, who takes amazing photos

Circling Back to Gate Keeping….

About ten days back, I wrote a blog post, I Prefer Individualism Over Gate Keeping, within which I worked through some of the issues I have with the concept of Gate Keeping and why it clashes with my personal default setting of Individualism. Statistically, its the most popular blog post I’ve written this year. However, in discussing this with a few people, I have come to realize that part of it seems to be misunderstood. So I thought it might be a good point to come back and clarify a few points and be a little more clear about what I was intending.

If you are learning from someone else or from some tradition, the lessons that you are taught or typically is what is considered to the basics. You do the best to walk in the manner that they wish to – until you finish the way they want to you or you just can’t finish.

Seemingly, this has been taken to mean that you only learn what you want from some Order or Group or Individual and then you move on when you feel like you’re fulfilled enough to travel in your own direction. Sure, if you want to do things in that manner, that really becomes your business. However, as I have said previously elsewhere, I take my oaths seriously. When I started down my Path within OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), my initiatory perspective was to finish what I was starting. I was, and still am determined to work my way through the three grades. I finished my Bardic grade and am currently working in my Ovate grade. I am determined (and hopefully) that when I finish my Ovate grade, I will be accepted into the Druid grade for the lessons contained therein. Am I after some title? Hardly, my desire is to learn whatever is being offered to me and add all of that to what I do now and into the future. However, there is a moment of Gate Keeping here.

See, there was always the chance that I could have been stopped from going forward from the Bardic to the Ovate grade. There is an aspect of Gate Keeping here. Its not my opinion that matters at this point, its the perspective of others. In fact, if we look at other aspects of Pagan belief systems, we can find all kinds of issues of Gate Keeping that takes place. And like it or not, in those instances, its a necessary thing.

Let’s work from a very specific example – initiatory rites. According to various locations on the internet (various Dictionaries and Wikipedia), an initiation is the action of admitting someone into a secret organization or group, sometimes through the act of a ritual. Most all of us have gone through a form of initiatory rites to be a part of an organization or group that we desired to be a part of. In those initiatory rites, we all faced challenges of some kind. Those challenges were a part of Gate Keeping. You either answered the right way or the wrong way. The right way led you in to become a member of the group or organization. The wrong way led you back to the outside where you were before.

Let’s face some facts here, shall we? Paganism in whatever flavor you can dream up is just not for everyone. And it shouldn’t be. Just as Christianity is not for everyone, as it wasn’t for me. Some aspects of Gate Keeping are necessary to help put some folks on their proper Paths. Or, if you prefer, to help them off the Paths that are not really conducive to their learning. This type of Gate Keeping develops boundaries that are necessary. This is not meant to be the creation of an “exclusive” group of people that are “better” than others. These boundaries are helpful in defining what path individuals are on. For example, the concept of Priesthood. Becoming a Priest is not something everyone will need. Truthfully, Pagans can be defined as their own “Priests” and “Priestesses” as the charge of handling your Spirituality is in your hands. However, Priests, Priestesses and many other roles are also people with specific duties and that is where the boundaries are helpful. Knowing who is who.

To bring another example into all of this, me. I do feel the pull for a formalized role of Priest. However, knowing the roles of a Priest….and being aware of my own limitations at this time…its not something I can fulfill at this time. I have a lot more to learn. I also have a lot of things to “unlearn” as well. In a manner of speaking, I am Gate Keeping myself, if you will allow. I know where my boundaries lay and how these boundaries do not intersect with a defined role as a Priest. I am a Priest unto myself. However, I currently do not intersect with the boundaries laid out for being a formal Priest. One day, I might be ready for that role. In the meantime, I accept where I am and continue to move through Life.

Now, I am referring to some extremely precise points, in terms of Gate Keeping. You just can’t walk up into a group, organization or a tradition and just proclaim you’re part of them. You have to be accepted in, learn their ways and knowledge, and work your way through the organization to become a trusted and respected member. All of that takes time, effort, patience and humility, all preceded by acceptance.

Being a Pagan is a little different. You decide that you are a Pagan, as far as I am concerned – you are just that. Its your self-identity. You want to be a Polytheist, you believe in multiple Gods or in many faces of an Archetypal God and Goddess figure. You are a Polytheist. Your views on Polytheism might be different than my own, but I am hardly the person to tell you that you are or are not one. Your heart is yours. You know it better than I do. I can only go by your words and actions.

I will admit, I detest Gate Keeping, particularly when someone tells me that I am not something that I believe that I am. Just like anyone else, I don’t take too kindly to rudely being told I am wrong. I am; however, open-minded enough to listen. I think that some of the knee jerk reactions to Gate Keeping are likely from the manner in which it is brought up to someone else. However, I am not a Gate Keeper of anything other than what is in my heart and part of my personal existence. And thus, the reason that I prefer Individualism over Gate Keeping. I enjoy getting to know people and placing barriers between us is not likely to allow that to happen. In the end, we will likely discover that we are both different Pagans with opinions that might be in diametrical opposition to one another. However, in my mind, you’re still a Pagan. You’re still a Polytheist (or not if you said you weren’t). Most importantly to me, you’re still you. And Gate Keeping is still a necessary function to help place some defining boundaries in the world around us. But I am still not going to tell you how to walk your own individual Path or how you should approach the Gods (or if you even should). Gate Keeping or not, we all have to walk our Paths individually. “That Path is for your steps alone…”

Hopefully, all of that helps clear up some of the misty version I seemed to have written earlier.

–T /|\

I Prefer Individualism Over Gate Keeping

I am a Pagan. I am a Druid. I am a Polytheist. I believe the Gods are real. I believe They are all separate, unique entities that can be experienced in a variety of ways. I know there are other Pagans that believe similar to me. Just as I know there are other Pagans that do not believe as I do. There are those that find all of that discomforting. I don’t. I take great comfort in understanding that the Gods are experienced differently by everyone. Why would I take comfort in that thought? Because it means we are all individual, unique human beings. It means we have the Free Will to expand our understanding of Those Beyond our understanding in a manner that speaks to each of us. It means we are not cut from the same mold, that we are as unique as I believe that the Gods are. And the best part of all of that? Not a single soul has to agree with me at all.

I follow the Paths of Paganism, Druidry and Polytheism to create my own experiences and understandings of what is beyond. To experience, relate with, and create from my own perspective – without judgment. I am not here creating dogma that is to be applied to the whole world. I am here trying to understand what I feel, what I experience, what I know to be a part of my reality. I’m not here to tell a single soul what is their own reality, what is their perception or how to define their experiences.

Every so often, a manner of discourse crops up with various folks in the Pagan Internet-Sphere (or Cloud or whatever you want to call the boundless and ever changing internet community we are all part of here). The argument tends to fall around the concept of gate keeping or perceived gate keeping. “You can’t be a follower of this God or Goddess because you don’t experience [x] or have studied [y] or done [z] research.” “You can’t be a Witch because of [a].” I grok the exclusive nature of such statements. Everyone wants to have a defined view of what [q] belief is really about. if you can’t reach those check boxes, than you can’t be [i]. The reality is that there are no check boxes to your personal Spirituality. To quote my favorite classic rock band: “That Path is for your steps alone.” You walk where you can, how you can. (That’s the Grateful Dead and the quoted lyric comes from their song “Ripple”)

If you are learning from someone else or from some tradition, the lessons that you are taught or typically is what is considered to the basics. You do the best to walk in the manner that they wish to – until you finish the way they want to you or you just can’t finish. Learning their framework means you are learning their way. It still doesn’t nullify how you walk the Path of your own Spirituality…unless you want it to. That is the truest measure of what you are doing…walk your way, you set the final steps in what you do. Walk the Path defined by others, you choose to follow that direction. There is nothing wrong with either…until you start demanding that others do the exact same thing.

Those of the Christian faith do this. They demand that everyone do the same things that they do. If you don’t, you are considered to be outside of who they are. You are treated differently because you choose to be different. Reality shows that you are just as much a human being as anyone else. Some Polytheists do this too. They see their way of viewing the world and connecting with the Gods as the only way possible. If you aren’t doing it their way, you are treated as “knowing less”.

Like I said, I am a Polytheist. I don’t want everyone to be just like me in their Spiritual practice. To me, that removes some of the beauty of diversity and individualism. Plus, who am I to say what is right and wrong for you? I believe that Paganism and Polytheism is stronger for the diverse array of Spiritual Paths. We are made stronger with the approach of individualism for each Practitioner. They know where their footsteps are best placed. They understand how the Gods look and react to their own belief of worship (or not). They know which manner of connectivity works for them. And if they are still searching for a potential perspective that works, their questioning approach should be understood from the perspective of the Seeker, not the Accuser or the Heretic. We all seek betterment, knowledge, solace, divinity, and ourselves on our Spiritual Paths. Questioning those for not taking the same footfalls as you is not a useful aspect of our own individual Path. Helping others to find their own Paths is not about steering them towards our own. We should be helping to find the part of the Path that aligns better to what they are seeking. I am not an evangelist for Druidry, Paganism, Polytheism or even the order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD, which is the Druid order I am currently studying within). But I am here to listen, without prejudice or bias (as much as I can attain that, knowing that I am biased in some degree to all things); desiring to help someone find their way.

Is Polytheism good? Is it bad? Is it some form of neutral perspective? I believe the answer to all those questions is that all are valid – depending on the individual. The same holds true for Druidry and Paganism. The only way of understanding how that answer formulates for you is to explore each on your own. Or if you prefer, as the Oracle tells Neo in The Matrix Reloaded movie: “Bad news is there’s no way you can really know if I’m here to help you or not, so it’s really up to you. Just have to make up your own damn mind to either accept what I’m going to tell you, or reject it.” The same holds true with your own Spiritual path. You know your steps. You know where you need to walk. You’ll make up your own damn mind about it. And if others don’t agree with you? That’s all right. They have their own Path to walk, secure in the knowledge that what they believe is where they need to be.

Maybe, one day, we can get beyond the concepts of gate-keeping or trying to tell others how they should be on their Spiritual Paths. Maybe. I still hold out hope that we, as human beings, can take a step beyond. When we get there we can marvel at the similarities we missed while arguing about our differences. Plus, we can be astounded at the beauty of Paths that went where we couldn’t find appropriateness for our own steps. Viva individualism! We are resilient in our ability to find our ways to goals we wish to achieve. Our ability to experience and formulate solutions is astounding. Even when those Paths and solutions are as divergent in greater and greater ways.

–T /|\

Gizmo hiding…sort of