You Get to Define That. You Get to Live That.

For this blog post, I decided to cross some very familiar territory. Some of this will be a bit of a look back. Some of it is a bit of finality in drawing boundaries for me. Much of it is about adding some more framework to how I will define my Druidry going forward.

So, where are we headed to? Well, back to some labels and terms. Priest. Teacher. Mentor. Shaman. Elder. Druid. Generally, the terms that I have struggled with in the past and continue to struggle with here in the present. In the groups that I am a part of, these terms are used fluidly to describe what many believe is the quintessential aspect of any Pagan-ish training. Each is utilized as the very end of the trail we all traverse in our studies. These are the goals that many seem to hold in highest regard. For me, these are just labels. Nothing overly special. Not even the slightest bit of goal-oriented thinking. Not any type of an objective to attain. Just loose descriptors. After all, each term/label carries a connotation that can wobble slightly from one person to another, in terms of descriptive understanding.

Terminology

Probably the most difficult of all these terms for me is that of Priest. Growing up in a non-religious household, the terminology never meant all that much to me, until my parents sent me to private Catholic schooling. The term “Priest” in my mind will always conjure the image of the Jesuit Priests that were at the forefront of my education. At least as the first iconic imagery that comes to my mind. Later in life, there were the pastors of the Baptist faith that I explored, prior to Paganism. For me, a Priest is an individual that leads the religious education of others, as well as being at the forefront of ritual for a group of people. Honestly, none of that is me. I have no desire to be considered the “authority” on anyone’s faith, other than my own.

Teacher is probably the easier term for me to deal with. I have been a teacher in my professional life. For three years, I taught collegiate students about Information Systems, and did my best to show them some of the real-world applications of these systems. Granted, I strayed far from the textbook in doing so, but from the first day I taught out of that text – I believed it to be a shitty manner of showcasing what information was in our current environment. However, my style of teaching is not an easy one for a student – I will readily admit that. I prefer to hand the information to the student, let them assimilate the information the best that they can, and be available to them for any questions. Within a Pagan context, I know that this can be difficult for others to handle. So, I know my own limits towards being a teacher. However, even with that warning, if a student persisted – I would likely be open to being a mentor. The difference between teacher and mentor? A mentor gently guides. A teacher is a lot more hands-on. 😊 There is a song lyric from Halestorm’s song “Break In” that goes “Put your lighter in the air and lead me back home.” This is about as far as I want to get to being at the forefront of anyone’s religious education or instruction. My ideal perspective is to help lead others to where they are trying to get to, not force them down my own Path.

Shaman. What a charged term this one is. Because of my ties to Crow and Coyote, I have heard people mutter the term “Shaman” in my direction before. I have also heard the murmurs of cultural appropriation as well. Well, to put it bluntly, when I started working with Crow, it was made very plain to me that I was not of “The People” and my dealings would have absolutely nothing to do with the religious or ritual aspects of the First Nations. I am not working in sweat lodges nor am I undertaking a vision quest. Those are not for me. I am not of The People. I am also not a Shaman. Any thought that I would head down the path of the First Nations is categorically incorrect. I work with two First Nations’ Gods because the Gods approach those that They approach. Simple as that. I have always been, and always will be, uncomfortable with the notion that I am trying to work some Shamanistic approach.

Elder. Gods, I hate the term but I have been on my Pagan Path since 1986. Whether I like it nor, the basic definitive application of the term certainly can be levied at me. As a point of levity, in the movie ‘We Are Soldiers”, Sergeant Major Plumley makes the statement “If any of you sons of bitches calls me grandpa, I’ll kill you.” In many ways, I feel the same way when people express astonishment about the length of time I have been on my Pagan Path, as if longevity makes me wise or sagacious. Really, its just a notation of time, not a marker of knowledge. I am uncomfortable being noted as a ‘Pagan Elder” but I also understand why such a charge is levied at me. I only wish that people would stop reacting to it as if it is a badge of honor. Because, frankly, it’s not.

Druid. Well, I am a Druid. Even if I am just within my Ovate grade in the order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD). Regardless if I continue into my Druid grade or even finish that grade – I am still a Druid. In the past, I was always reticent about utilizing the term, especially when I had not finished all three of the grades within OBOD. However, it is not the grades that make me into a Druid. It is me. With or without OBOD’s training, I am a Druid. With or without the training of another Druid order, I am still a Druid. You may, honestly, have no idea how difficult it was for me to come to that understanding. Or how much that still has me dancing on my tiptoes in nervousness. Yes, it is an aspect of Imposter Syndrome. Going beyond that…. well, it will take time.

Happy Thoughts, Lying on Green Grass, Under Blue Skies

In the end, this whole aspect of labels and terms will matter more to some people, and far less to others. For me, I could give a shit what you call me. Just don’t call me late to dinner. I know what I am. I know what I believe. I know what I need to get done on my Spiritual Path. Just like anyone else, I have certain images and concepts mixed with the terms we all utilize so inter-changeably. Some of those will match up with what you understand. Some of it won’t. Where it matters the most is not to me or anyone else. What matters is how it matches up with what you believe, how you are a Pagan or whatever. If titles, labels, and descriptives hold that much meaning to you – that is awesome. None of that holds any major weight with me, though. And that should not matter one whit to you, me, or anyone else.

I promised you happy thoughts while lying on green grass, underneath blue skies. Well, for me there is happiness going forward. My path is my own. I walk under a framework provided to me by OBOD, but with the knowledge that structuring things beyond that is up to me, and me alone. Your connection to the world around you is up to you. You provide the depth and detail that works for you. You explore in the manner that provides the most meaning and representation to you. All of that will be different from the way that I do it – from the way anyone else does it. Because your connectivity to the world around you is yours – and yours alone. Revel in that. Soak it in like the sunshine in the daytime or the moonlight in the night. Your choice, your approach. You get to define that. You get to live that.

–T /|\

Long ago there was a dream, had to make a choice or two
Leaving all I loved behind for what nobody knew
Stepped out on the stage
A life under lights and judging eyes
Now the applause has died and I can dream again
Is there anybody listening?
Is there anyone that sees what’s going on?
Read between the lines, criticize the words they’re selling
Think for yourself and feel the walls
Become sand beneath your feet
–Queensryche, “Anybody Listening?”

That’s Me

The past two days, I have been talking about the “abridgment of Ann Coulter’s free speech rights” by the University of California at Berkeley. Or at least, that’s the way that Coulter has been spinning the narrative. The reality has been that UCB was trying to keep their campus in a state of a “safe environment” for their student populace – a number one priority for any University or College. What has started to come out of all of this conversation – both in face-to-face discussions and online – has seemingly come down to a labeling of me by quite a few.

So let’s get a few things out in the open.  I’ve talked about labels and my dislike for them before. I even wrote a poem about it. Yes, I know the world works via labeling. Its convenient to pile a lot of these similar things over here. And some of those things that are similar to one another, but not the first group in another pile over here – and so on. It makes it easy to understand what we believe is the basic nature of this, that, and those others. Except it doesn’t.

I have been labeled a lot of things. Crazy. Odd. Hippy. Old. Out of touch. Headbanger. Punk. And so on. The reality is that I ascribe to three labels. Pagan. Priest. Druid. For me, these three labels are who I am. These three labels are what I am. What I say, what I do, the way I do it – all reflects, in my opinion, on who I am as a Pagan, a Priest, and a Druid. As I told Scott (I’m sorry to throw this into the post, Scott – its not a reflection on you, but on what I am saying) earlier today on Facebook:

I don’t identify myself as much. I’m a Pagan, I’m a Druid, and I’m a Priest. My personal perspective of politics tends to lean towards the assignment of being a liberal, but liberal doesn’t define me. Its an ideology that I utilize from time to time. That doesn’t make me a liberal, it makes me….well…”me”. My actions, words, and personal worldview aren’t defined by politics. Its framed by my beliefs, by the way I serve my Gods, and the by the manner in which I find my connections in the world around me. My political striping is merely a singular – and honestly, rather minor – connective string in all of that.

I’ve mentioned before my aversion to the label of “Priest” – and then came back to revisit the concept a second time. So, in a way, this concept of defining labels is something I have talked about quite a bit. But there’s a reason for that. I don’t believe a word, which has a meaning ascribed to it by our wide-ranging concept of “society”, can truly be a complete descriptive of a single person. I’m a Druid – an Ovate grade student in OBOD. Cat Treadwell is also a Druid. So is John Beckett. So is Damh the Bard, Philip Carr-Gomm, Kristoffer Hughes, and so many other people I know. Not one of us is the same Druid. We all bring our own individual persons into what we are. To utilize a single descriptive of “Druid” and apply a wide-ranging, generic descriptive to all of us captures *some* of who we are, but it by no means is a complete descriptive of who we are. We are all individual human beings who approach our beliefs, approach our understanding of the Gods, and our perception of connectivity differently. And this unique approaches are what makes us the people we are. Not some singular, generic descriptive of a singular aspect of who we are.

Most interesting in all of this, it seems that politics – particularly American politics for me, are what showcase the nonsensical concept of singular word descriptives of people. Its almost as if politics takes the labeling concept and wraps it in the dull, glowing light of flash-fired neon lights down the Vegas Strip. Are you a conservative? Are you a liberal? Well, honestly I have liberal leanings, as well as some libertarian theories, and some aspects of classic conservatism wrapped up in my politics. So what does that make me?

Well, damnit, it makes me who I am. A Pagan. A Priest. A Druid. That’s me.

Hashtags, Labels and Bias – We Are Not Talking to One Another

Druid. Pagan. Polytheist. Animist. Germanic-Celt. Member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. North Texas resident. Institutional Researcher. Cincinnati Reds fan. Podcaster. Blogger. Unaffiliated voter. Database Administrator. Information Technology Specialist. Amateur MLB Researcher. Caucasian. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Short. Diabetic. Friend. Just me.

All of those words describe me. And yet, these are not a complete depiction of me either. There are plenty of other descriptives that could be used to denote who I am. Jerk. Asshole. Arrogant. Ill-tempered. Dismissive. Too Emotional. Not emotional enough. Flippant. Irreverent. Leader. Follower. Its really a matter of who you talk to, and what interactions that they may have had with me.

A long time back (and I mean a really long ways back – the late 1980s), I had taken my first steps on the Pagan Path that has helped me learn about myself and how I connect with my environment and others – I found myself at the doorsteps of a local (well, as local as the wider DFW area can get) Wiccan group. I had started my year-and-a-day lessons, and was given a paper to write. Looking back, it wasn’t really the hardest thing to do, but it sure was a royal pain in the ass to write.

The objective was simple. Write fifty things that detail why you are good or things you are good at doing. Then, write out fifty things that are bad about you or that you are bad at. Then, write two paragraphs comparing and contrasting the two lists. I found out later in college classes, that this is a Psychology exercise called “Positive/Negative Mirror”. I cam away from the exercise with two tangible thoughts. First, it was easy to write the bad things about myself, I am my own worst critic. And secondly, many of the same traits showed up in both lists. It was merely a matter of perspective of how I viewed each point.

For a kid in his early twenties, it was an eye-opening moment. I had never really considered the world from someone else’s eyes. Here I was being confronted with seeing myself from a vantage point other than my own.

I have talked quite a bit about labels in the past. The truth be told, labels are not just easy methods of classifying things. Labels can also be utilized to place a negative stigma on others as well. For instance, descriptives such as the infamous racial slur known as “the ‘n’ word” in “polite” society brings extra descriptives such as lazy, freeloader, welfare-cheat, an d ne’er-do-well to mind. Those are descriptives that have been added to that particular word, which are meant to bring a negative perception to mind.

Back in the day, a Pagan or a Polytheist were terms that had people equating those folks with Satanists. And to be honest, Satanists were often thought of being individuals that looked like Anton Szandor LaVey – and had the friendliness and slimy charm of a used-car salesman. Over time, the Pagan community has managed to get much of our moedern, “polite” society to understand how neither of those terms are equated with Satanism. And while Satanists still get lumped in under the comical portrayal of LaVey and what seems to be 1950s and 1960s horror movie schlock…many of the Satanists I have met are quite intelligent people, who are just like any other person I have met. Their understanding of belief, and their view of the world around them is vastly different from my own – and we will likely never come to an agreement on where middle-ground is located in spiritual discussions, but they sure seem like everyday folks to me.

Lately, modern society has been forced back into a discussion of racism, replete with all the labels and stereotypes associated with it. Both sides of the #blacklivesmatter argument have utilized these labels and stereotypes to further attention to their respective sides of the conversation. Which really isn’t a conversation. A conversation happens when people make their point, and then shut up and listen to the other side of the issue make their counter-point. After that, a discussion usually happens that defines where middle ground is located, and the conversation continues as solution-based points are brought about to resolve the issue. Over the past two years, the #blacklivesmatter side shouts their points over and over again. Their opposition shouts back their retort, over and over again. Both sides “hear” what is being stated by the other, but instead of listening, comprehending, and finding mutual points of discussion – they both react by shouting their points louder, as if volume is going to provide a solution. What results from that is a buildup of frustration.

When I am writing complex SQL code, I sometimes get frustrated when the system returns no data for what I had requested. I am known to fling my pen across my office, as I get frustrated. So, I can relate to what happens when people get frustrated, thinking that their points are not being heard or dismissed out of hand. Frustration usually leads to some kind of outburst or out-of-the-ordinary behavior. Sadly, that includes physical violence. I am sure many of my pens could file assault charges on me. So I understand the outbursts, even violent ones. I understand the reasoning, but I do not agree with the methodology.

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  —Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Martin Luther King, Jr., Clayborne Carson, 2010 (256 pages), page 74, ISBN 0-8070-0069-8.

Dr. King understood how violence never solves an issue. It certainly can bring light to an otherwise ignored issue, but it will never provide the solution. Only honest, open dialogue can do that. And this includes listening, which in my opinion, very few people seem to be willing to do.

But…where do we go from here?? I have said it before…damned if I really know. When it comes to the notation of institutional racism, I agree. It occurs. And as a Caucasian male, there’s a degree of “privilege” (I hate that term by the way) that I am afforded. But there’s also a measure of religious bias associated in the system as well, and as a Pagan, there’s a degree of negative bias that I experience from it as well. I may not completely understand the bias that exists against a black person, but I can certainly grok it from the perspective of being in a minority religion. So, the only way that I can see anything changing as we head forward, is that we begin pressing our politicians and law-makers on every level to execute the laws fairly and evenly. That means ditching the stereotypes when applying the laws to citizens. That means ditching the concepts of stereotyping through profiling that law enforcement has utilized in applying our existing laws. It means changing the system to a manner of performance that we all believed it should be: where all are created equal, and thus treated equally under the measure of the law.

Now, I’m no politician. Nor am I a law enforcement officer. I’m a statistics guy working for a small junior college in northern Texas along the Oklahoma border. Like any person, I have biases. In my job, I have to set those biases aside when reporting data. I have to adhere to a position of neutrality, even when I am not neutral on an issue that I am being asked to explore from a data perspective. I could let my bias slip into my work, so as to affect the judgment of the people utilizing that data. But that’s unethical. Its also not what I am paid to do. To paraphrase Kevin Bacon’s statement in the movie “A Few Good Men”, I represent the data I am working with, without bias or prejudice. perhaps, we need to remind law enforcement officials, and politicians at every level that they represent their communities without bias or prejudice. And where bias and prejudice becomes a factor in their judgment process in upholding or making the laws that govern this country – perhaps they need to do the ethical thing, and remove themselves from the entire process. And as for the people that have decided to move their protest from peaceable demonstration to outright violence…perhaps, you are doing more harm to your cause than help. Frustration is understandable. Violent reaction, on the other hand, is not.

Two pence…

Taking a Look Four Years Back

I wrote this particular post (the one at the end of the blog post) back in November of 2011, during the height of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. I still stand by what I have said here…nearly four years into the future from that date. Most folks seemed to focus on the “Occupy Wall Street” aspect – particularly where I noted my perspective that the protests were negative and ineffective. But it seemed that many people stopped reading at that point, so that they could respond to my negative notation of a movement that they found was “effective”. In fact that seemed to be the only point they took away from the entire post.

But that wasn’t my point. One of the things I hate more than anything else – are labels. Particularly labels that get painted on you by others. I’ve been there. Geek. Freak. Socially unacceptable. Strange. Odd. Weirdo. Each meant to cast an individual into a pile that is easily identifiable as “outcast”. But there are other labels that I have embraced, because the definitions I use for those terms fit ME:  Druid, Pagan, Poet, DeadHead, Hippy, Politically Unaffiliated, Friend.

I’ve pointed this out many, many times since the last Grateful Dead show. That’s right, Mickey Hart’s last notation on the show to “be kind to one another.” And in essence, it was what I was writing about back in 2011. Its what I talk about here on this blog in 2015. Its what I try to get across on every single podcast I have done. And to be kind to one another, we need to learn to communicate with one another. Not just talk for the sake of talking.  We need to learn to LISTEN. To UNDERSTAND. To COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY. I’m a firm believer that one of the largest problems we have as a society, is that we have learned to talk, so we can hear the sound of our voices. We have seemingly forgotten that communication is a two-way street – requiring a sender AND a receiver. That before the receiver becomes a sender to respond, the receiver needs to become a translator of the information received. And that’s only part of the process.  We have forgotten that communication requires work, it requires patience, it requires understanding. It requires us to be kind to one another, and to be kind to ourselves.

Give the post a read…its almost four years old. I don’t expect people to agree. I only hope it causes people to think, and examine their communication processes….

Listening. My Perspective on the OWS Protests

13 Nov 2011

I don’t get involved in politics much.  If you’ve read this blog for a while – or listened to my podcast over the last year – or even had the misfortune of talking to me face-to-face (LOL) — you’re quite aware of my stance on politics.  In a recent conversation on a friend’s Facebook wall posting, I saw my particular position articulated by an individual during a “debate/discussion” over the effectiveness of the OWS protest.  It went along these lines:

Why worry about the 1%?  They aren’t going to listen, even if ALL of the ‘99%’ gathered together to yell and scream at them.  Why not do something more effective like work in the local soup kitchens, help with the yearly toy drives, and other social initiatives aimed towards helping those less fortunate in the ‘99%’?  That would make a far better solution than standing around, yelling and screaming about the inefficiencies of the system.

When I read that, I realized that this has been the direction I’ve been attempting to articulate for quite some time — just doing a very poor job of it (nothing new for me).  I completely grok what the OWS protests are trying to say – I mean shitski, I completely agree with the points being made.  I just see the entire protest as being ineffective, and a waste of energy that could be directed in far more positive and appropriate directions.

Help One Another

We all blather on and on about community.  And that’s all that happens with it.  Its just a load of talk with no concerted, lasting effort behind it.  I’m just as guilty as anyone else in this regard, so its not like I am singling any one individual or group with my statement.  My own finger is pointing back at myself here too.  We’ve talked a lot about getting together as a community – supporting one another – coming together in both ritual and deed.  We’ve got the ritual aspect down pat.  Throughout the year, there are open circles and rituals, where the public at-large is invited in.  At one time, here in the DFW area, the Pagan community had the social aspect down fairly well too.  There was a public place to gather, but over time, it seemed that the support of the location continued to fall to the same people – over and over.  There were folks who also provided assistance, but they were few and far between.  Folks started letting personalities and politics cloud the idea and lead the discussion.

Seemingly, we’ve let the focus shift from helping one another — being there for more than just food, clothing and monies (when absolutely necessary) — being there when someone just needs someone to talk with — and not just about their problems, but to just TALK.  Being someone of a like-mind who can just be there to spend some idle chatter and a few minutes out of the day…until you’ve been in that spot, you have no idea how much that small gesture can mean.  When people hear the word “support” they think of the clothes, materials, and food that they can provide — but what about the time? Not just the time standing on a soup-line helping serve food to the needy, time spent in the kitchens preparing the food or washing the dishes.  How about the time spent just sitting and listening to someone?  REALLY listening to them?  Providing them your undivided attention for a short period of time…that makes more difference than you really know.

In the end, terms like 99%, 1%, Pagan, Christian, Wiccan, Conservative, Liberal, etc etc.  These are just labels.  Just descriptives that don’t tell the full story of the individual.  Once applied, the stereotypical definition attached to those terms is applied to the individual — even when the definition misses the mark.  That’s the true sadness of watching the entire OWS protests.  Everyone is caught up in the process of finding quick-stick definitions to apply to everyone else.  No one is listening.  No one is hearing what the real angst is within all of this.  And sadly, that message was washed away a long time ago.  I’ll say it again, we have an opportunity here to come together as a much larger community…helping one another in ways that are already in place, and by doing the one thing that was never going to be accomplished in the first place with the OWS movement:  listening.

Fourteen Years Along – Digging No Deeper Than the Surface

So, I wrote this post yesterday – but held back in publishing it until today. My points are no less valid today, than they were yesterday. However, I felt that publishing this one the day of remembrance for the attacks would have been in poor taste. After all, we were remembering the people who had died in the attacks — and hopefully all the people who died in the aftermath as well. Anyways, here’s the post I wrote for yesterday….

Well, the calendar has turned to one of the most infamous days in history. The eleventh of September. Fourteen years ago – individuals with a twisted mindset of what their professed faith said about people not like them, set out to visit unspeakable horror on these “different people”. We’ve all seen the images, many of us remember where we were when we first heard. Some of us even remember the rapid grab of power by our own government – all in the name of protection.

Many, many people that I have met believe that I look at members of the Muslin faith as “evil” – after all, I served in the Air Force during conflict with a middle eastern country. But they would be dead wrong. The Muslim faith is fairly well documented as to the manner its adherents should believe. But that’s not my argument at all. Rather, I do not judge an entire belief system and its adherents on the actions of nineteen individuals who were bent on savagely terrorizing others, in the hopes of achieving…whatever they were wanting to do. I can make some assumptions on those aims, but to be honest – it would only be wild assumptions based on *my* understanding of the world around me. Not a fair comparison whatsoever.

These individuals that carried out these acts of terrorism are not the typical adherents of the Muslim faith. They are not even the mainstream aspects of that faith. Try telling that to the average Christian American though. A belief system that calls for one another to “love our neighbors”, to “hate the sin, but love the sinner” — how interestingly odd that there’s this point of not applying this to members of the Muslim faith, simply because of the actions of nineteen men. But let’s not point the finger solely at the Christians – after all, American is not a Christian nation. We are made of many different faiths, many different backgrounds. And furthermore, finger pointing is not what this is about either….

Let’s peel away some of the layers to this though. Its not an American versus Muslim thing — its a basic “Us versus Them” thing. They look different from the majority of Americans. They believe differently than most Americans. That difference means that they should go back to wherever they came from, right? That would be the house at the end of the block. They live here too. In fact, they are a part of us – unless you go to redefine what “us” really means.

For my own perspective, I don’t really see things in manners of skin color, hair color, eye color, height, weight, sexual preference, religious faith, economic level, or whatever measure you may dream up. In the words of Depeche Mode – “people are people.”

I watch what happens in politics. I watch what happens in societal issues – such as what has occurred in Maryland and Missouri over the past year. Its not a color thing. Its a lack of respect for one’s fellow human beings. The race and economic factors are merely the platitudes that get used to justify that lack of respect.

Seriously, we have managed to reach a point in society where the labels placed on people mean more than the people themselves. Label me?  Sure, go right ahead. I’m a Pagan, a Bardic Grade student, an Animist, a Polytheist, a straight male, a white male, Germanic, a statistician, a data analyst, a student, a teacher, a friend, a Libertarian, apolitical, blue-eyed. So what does all that really mean. Nothing. Put together, it makes up who I am or at least a part of it. But if you only look at the labels, you only get the smallest part of who I am. You miss so much more by only glancing at the surface.

On this day, fourteen years ago, an unspeakable tragedy occurred. Many people lost their lives. Many more would lose their lives as the United States government lashed out against the people of Afghanistan and Iraq through military force. Many others, here in the United States were verbally and physically abused – some even killed in cold blood — simply because people would not look past the label. We light candles for a few more than 3,000 individuals who died during the attacks. The aftermath shows that countless more paid a similar price – just because of who they were, where they lived, and what faith they believed. All because nineteen individuals followed a twisted version of their own faith. And because we couldn’t look past the surface…

May all of these people have found solace in whatever belief they had of the afterlife. May they have found peace in such unspeakable violence…

Get the Label Machine Out….

Lots of things happening all at once — all of it draws attention in one way or another. Depending on the person, and what they are interested in, the degree of noticeability will be greater, smaller, or nonexistent. If you go back a few years in my previous podcast “From the Edge of the Circle” – you will find a period where I paid a lot of attention to the politics of the day. Over time, my attention for this has waned a great deal.

Now, stopping the narrative here, I typically get accused of not caring about my government or the legislative process. In other words, some folks draw a conclusion that since I do not have a marked interest in incessantly reading, parroting, or discussing/debating politics that I do not participate in the election process. This is not true. I monitor when my local polling location is open, read up on the topics, make my own decision, and proceed to my polling location and vote. In fact, when I last checked with my county’s head of elections – we went to college together – I fall in the roughly eight to ten percent of the county population that does vote in what is termed “off-cycle elections”. These are the elections that do not have a Presidential race (every four years), or a Governor’s race (four year cycle as well, but done in the two years between the Presidential cycle). So the assumption made about me is not true.

A corollary manner of assumption comes from my chosen manner of “discussion” in online forums — such as Facebook. In the past, many of my friends from back in my BBS days can attest to this, I would lustily step into any battle on politics or religion. I would roll up my sleeves and prepare for a message after message after message battle on a topic. Some of these back and forth debates took place over the course of several months. Now, in today’s internet communications model, these “debates” can take place in a matter of minutes – even when the participants are separated by oceans, mountains, fields, and rivers. Another unfortunate side-effect of the internet platform is that it is rife with conversations that turn into debates and quickly devolve into insult events of a nearly festal nature. Maybe I am growing old and weary at an age of nearly fifty; however, chatter of this nature tends to drive me away rather quickly. I just have no desire to wallow and party in an atmosphere of personal negativity. Thus, my adoptive posture in “conversations” of this nature is to state my point a single time, and potentially clarify it with a follow-on statement. Then to just leave it at that.

I can actually see where certain assumptions would be drawn from this chosen form of “tossing my two loonies in the well” – so to speak. Its the overly quick manner in which (seemingly) everyone jumps to a quick conclusion of another person’s state of mind without trying to explore more in-depth through more genial, amiable conversation. Rather, there seems to be a proclivity towards immediately applying labels to other people based off of a single sentence, and sometimes that sentence barely achieves the state of a fragment. I have talked quite a bit previously about labels here in the blog. And yet, I use labels in my job every single day. Students can be labeled as male, female, white, black, hispanic, multi-racial, international, American Indian, Pacific Islander, Asian, First-time, Transfer, Continuing, Full-time, Part-time, Degree-seeking, Personal Development, Certificate-seeking, and many, many more labels. This all helps me to classify various students in various manners for the many State and Federal reports that the college has to submit. But when you wipe all that away, students are better known by other labels: Jennifer, Eric, Mom, Dad, Grandmother, Grandfather, Uncle, Aunt, Sweetheart, beloved….all perfectly good labels, and far better suited to each individual person.

Recently, there were a lot of folks talking about a panel or meeting of some sort at Pantheacon where various Pagan folk talked about how racial aspects affect them within the Pagan community. Furthermore, talk was brought about on Paganism being dominated within the United States by European traditions (predominantly white). Some folks decided to lampoon the idea of this panel, and some offense was taken to that measure. Now, before I go much further, I was not there. Nor, have I kept up with the discussions, blog posts, debates, and such concerning this. I am a white male, following a framework of religious belief, ritual practice, and ethical purpose combined from many different ethnic areas. I work with the Crow in my meditations, and have dedicated my service to Him through my podcast (Crows being messengers). I utilize meditation techniques that I have garnered from Far East traditions. Granted, I might not be utilizing these completely in a correct manner — but I am utilizing these in a manner that works for me. I follow a religious and ritual Path from the aforementioned European mode. And to be perfectly honest – I have no desire to have others follow in my footsteps, unless they desire to do so. I completely grok where folks are coming from with their point that Paganism is seemingly “too white” — but until I think about it from that perspective, I don’t really see the skin color. In my normally, everyday life — I deal with students from all walks of life, all economic levels, and all racial aspects. I see people. Skin color, economic status, gender, sexual orientation — does not even enter into the equation. At least until the State and Federal reporting comes in — and to be honest, creating those reports makes my skin crawl. Its part of my job, but one that I find to be extremely distasteful.

Coming back to the point — we, people collectively, seem to be predisposed to being offended. We are quick to label, quick to disagree, quick to judge, slow to listen, slower to discuss, and slow to comprehend from another perspective. And before you think I am pointing my finger directly at you – this finger is also pointed directly at MYSELF. I am not pompous or self-centered enough to believe that I am outside of this equation. I sit directly in this with everyone else. I will find myself judging someone without talking to them or reading their perspective on something. And when I do find myself achieving this status with nary a blink, I have a tendency to harshly criticize myself. Mostly internal, but sometimes I will state my displeasure at myself out loud.

So I am left to wonder, just what kind of world we would live in today if we just stopped to think about things from every angle? Sure, there are decisions that have to be made at a split second – not lending to the idea of exploring all angles. But what about other decisions that are not so life threatening? What if you stepped outside to get the paper at the end of the driveway, looked across the street and saw the new neighbors moving in. On the bumper of one of their cars is the “coexist” sticker. How do you feel about your new neighbor now? What if there were another sticker on there instead that said “Proud member of the NRA”? Or a “McCain/Palin” sticker? Or a “Ted Cruz for Senate”? Or would you disregard the stickers, walk across the street and offer a hand to help your neighbor move in?? I do wonder how different the world would be, if we dismissed all the labels and spent some time digging a little deeper under the surface of who people are.

SignPost Ahead – Institutions v. Counter-Culture (Sort Of)

Had a listener of the podcasts point me to this post on the Wild Hunt, asking me for an opinion on it. The article is on “Institutions v. Counter-Culture in Modern Paganism.” What I essentially came away from the article with was a sense that Jason, the blog post’s author, was trying to draw a distinction between which movement provided better traction in moving Paganism towards a more positive position in society. Or some such nonsense. I’m quite sure that Jason’s post strikes a chord with some of the other readers of TWH, as evidenced by the nearly 100 responses the post has generated at the time of my writing this. I’m not one of them though.

I’m not out to bring Paganism into the mainstream – kicking and screaming if need be. I’m also not out to keep Paganism on the fringes of society, a part of the counter-culture movement, eschewing the aspects of the dreaded concepts of “mainstream” and “the man”. In fact, I have no desire to make Paganism into anything for anybody else. I have an understanding of what Paganism is, and how it works for me. That’s enough for me. I can talk about how it fits into my Life, how it helps connect me to my environment, how it provides the symbolism necessary for my own intellect to grasp some abstract concepts concerning Philosophy and Spirituality. But that really is about as far as I can take it. How it relates to you – the person reading this – or anyone other than myself….I just cannot say. After all, I am not you, nor am I any of the other people I have not mentioned out-right here. For lack of a better way to explain it – you are going to have to figure that out for yourself.

My Paganism is about connecting to my environment. Its about connecting with the Gods in my own personal way. My rituals are my own way of honoring the Gods and connecting with them and my environment. In a lot of ways, an outsider might describe my way of belief as a combination of Buddhism and the Sierra Club. There are other ways for people to experience Paganism. For some, elaborate rituals with intricate details and scripting helps them make their connections – provides them with the rudder for their beliefs. Others grab a deeper connection through meditation. And there are probably tens of thousands of other ways that others make their connections. For me, it does not matter what way anyone makes their connection.

To be completely honest, it does not even matter to me if they call it “Paganism”. They could call it Christianity….or Buddhism…or whatever. Its not the name that matters to me. Its that the individual gets their Spiritual connection in that manner. Its also about respecting the Spiritual connection of others, even when it differs from their own. But that’s a completely different path of thought.

I do get what Jason is talking about. There is always a desire for one’s beliefs to move into an area of acceptance, to be welcomed at the Council Fire, so to speak. But to be honest, its not a desire of my own. I am a Pagan. I am a Polytheist. I follow a Path of Druidry. But not a single one of those labels and/or descriptives is the complete tale of who I am. Those are merely the labels that I choose to accept for myself.

So what would be my position? Would I choose Institutions or Counter-Culture? In many of the comments, I say people saying that there did not need to be an “or” in the statement, that they would choose an “and” instead. That they wanted both. I am far more non-committal than this on the entire issue. It does not matter to me. I am a Pagan. I am a Polytheist. I follow a Path of Druidry. For me, that is more than enough for my answer.

Recompiling My Classification Index – Further Thoughts on Labels

A few posts back, I was talking about connectivity between everything – and how I am seeing a lot of this in places outside of Nature….  Well, it keeps happening. Was playing around on the Library of Congress website, looking at the classification system (more commonly referred to as the LCCN subject classification), and I started noticing that some books had multiple tags in the system. So I started digging deeper, and noticed that the tags were for books and subjects that crossed into multiple areas. For instance, books on Native American History were cross-classified in US History, as well as Native American Studies. So I took a bigger step back for a short while, and thought a bit more about how we classify topics and information in our lives.

We classify nearly everything we see, touch, feel, experience…a hot kettle is touched once in our lifetimes (at least I hope you only touched it once). We classify that as being hot, which equates to the painful sensation we received from the touch. We realize fairly quickly that anything hot has the potential to burn us. The longer we touch it, the more painful and long-lasting the resulting burn will be. So we classify that as “dangerous”. We don’t need to have someone put an arrow through any part of our body to realize that it will be painful and dangerous for something like to happen to us. So we classify any area in front of a bowman to be “dangerous” – different type of danger from the kettle, but it gets a similar consideration because of the potential for pain.

I have talked before about how much I hate labels. But the reality is that is a wrong statement on my part. Its not the label that I deplore. Labels – or classifications – are useful, particularly to the individual using this system of symbology. Well, before I continue, perhaps it would be useful to get me and you (the person reading this) in sync with what I mean by a “system of symbology”. The definition of symbology is fairly simple and straight-forward – its the use or study of symbols. In this case, I am referring to the classification or labels that someone uses to describe something as a symbol. Thus, since the classification provides a symbol of sorts, it also carries a definition along with it. When I describe something as “dangerous” – an individual using the previously mentioned concepts of a hot tea kettle and the bow/arrow, will envision some form of damage to someone as the direct result of whatever I am describing as dangerous. And this works well…but only for the individual that agrees with the descriptive classification that has been previously made for “dangerous”.

Perhaps, my definition of dangerous involves getting yelled at or verbally abused by someone. I equate that to an abusive relationship I had with my father, my mother, several girlfriends, two ex-wives, and several bosses. To cross the line where any of these folks would get mad would result in verbal abuse, which I equate with the label “dangerous”. The previous descriptive of dangerous – with the tea kettle and the bow/arrow – is the classification ascribed by Receiver(A). (A) has just done something that is going to upset her boyfriend. My comment about what she has done is: “that was dangerous”. Her immediate reaction is that her boyfriend is going to physically harm her in some way and she flees the scene in tears seeking a place of protection. An over-reaction? Perhaps, if considered from my point of view with my set of classification descriptives. From her perspective, (A) is only doing what she must to achieve protection from what she perceives as a real physical threat.

And here is where we start to have a problem with labels and classifications. Every single person classifies and labels things in their own personal inventory. But they do so by their own set of definitions, created by the derivatives caused from their own experiences. Each person is unique, and therefore will try to define things in their own way with their own experiences. The experiences are all similar, but the terminology we associate with it can be quite different.

The solution, particularly if you are discussing experiences with someone you do not know – and provided you actually have the time to do so – is to talk and establish what I call “common ground”. In this manner, you and the other individual – or individuals if you are talking amongst a group – can find common core definitions to experience and ideas, and you can then link back to these core definitions when trying to explain your own personal classifications. Even in agreed upon systems of classification such as the LCCN, there is a chance for misunderstandings. There is a strong chance that someone who reads “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” may see that book as a treatise on Native American Studies, while another person would classify it as a study on a part of United States History. Which classification is incorrect? Do we treat both as correct?  Do we place dual classifications on the book title for search purposes?

What about in your own personal classification system? Once you determine another person defines “dangerous” in a different way, do you add a secondary classification to your own personal system? Or do you add a secondary cross-reference that is only utilized when this individual enters into a conversation or topical discussion? I realize that this is breaking down the way people think into a very generalized way of thinking, but I do believe that every person uses this system of descriptives to quickly understand the world around them – and they do so subconsciously. And while some folk may think its not an important thing to sit down and look over every once in a while – as a single individual, I certainly do see the need to do so. Doing so, I may be able to unclutter my own internal index, and remove some classifications that no longer work for me. After all, our opinions do change over time….