Where Did Acceptance Run Off to Hide??

A few days ago, I finished listening to Episode 70 – “Asfidity and Mad-Stones with Byron Ballard” from the podcast Down at the Crossroads. Its a delightfully charming episode with discussion covering a wide and varied range of topics. At one point in the episode, the discussion turns towards aspects of the Pagan community, and Byron Ballard commented that things seemed to be much more accepting of differences back in the 1980s (I’m paraphrasing heavily here). She offered an example of two people approaching the same God or Goddess in different ways and achieving different results.

All of this, of course, set my mind into overdrive, remembering what Paganism was like when I first started on my Path back in late 1986 / early 1987. And I do recall that there was a lot more patience for an over-questioning newbie, such as myself. I would go down to a local (well, it was over 50 miles from the Air Force base I was stationed at, but it was as local as things can get in the sprawling DFW MetroMess) Pagan bookstore called “Flight of the Phoenix” in Grand Prairie. Here, the Grandmother Priestess to the coven I was in ran the shop and was always available for conversations. Pattalee Glass-Koentop was extremely patient with my twice monthly visits. I would show up around 9am, and stay until somewhere near 2pm. We would talk about dreams that I had, or questions that I encountered in reading various books or she would recommend another book to read when I had finished one. All the while, she knew I would be back in another two weeks to talk more. There were a few times she referred to me as a “silly boy” when I tried to relate how a particular passage in a book was conveyed to me as a reader, but never once did she shove me aside and treat me any differently from any other Pagan because I was a newbie.

I left the DFW area in late 1990, and eventually found myself in the Kaiserslautern area in Germany. It was there that I saw some of what newbies can experience. The disdain for those who “don’t know enough” or have experiences with Gods or Goddesses that someone holds dear to their own personal practice. I wrote a lot of that off to the fact that nearly every single one of us had to be slightly underground with our practices. The US military has been, and continues to be, dominated by Southern Baptist members. I experienced a lot of issues when I decided to be public about what I was, and helped spearhead an effort to eventually gain Chapel rights for Pagans throughout the US military. When I returned to the DFW area, as a I left the US military and transitioned back to civilian life, I found a very different Pagan community landscape.

Newbies were held at arm’s’ length and not generally welcomed. Members of other Pagan groups were treated with suspicion. The “White-Light-and-Love” group of folks were treated as pariahs, and openly ridiculed by some. This was a time frame where I decided to withdraw from the Pagan community and ply my Spiritual Path alone.

Much of what I saw then, continues to play out into today’s Pagan community. Byron is correct in her statement – the Pagan community was a bit more accepting than it is today. There is a lot of what Tara related in the episode as “The One True Way” ™. For me, there’s a lot more need to be empirical in what we state, and less accepting of the idea that each individual will forge their own unique relationship with each of the Gods.

For example, John Beckett – someone that I consider to be a friend – has a strong relationship with Cernunnos and with Morrigan, a God and Goddess that I have absolutely zero connection with. But if I did, my relationship with either or both would be different than his. Just as the relationship that John and I have is different than the relationships we have with our mutual friends. We are all unique individuals. The Gods are unique and distinct Beings. How we interact, approach, and even worship Them will be unique to who we are combined with who They are. Would it not stand to reason that each relationship would be unique as well? I would posit that it does. And since those relationships are unique, who am I to be a sentry watching for the slightest bit of wrong in those unique relationships when compared to my own??

I know that there is no going backwards. What’s happened has happened. What’s changed is changed. No one will ever be able to change the shape of the community back to what it was. The community is always changing, always morphing into something new. With each passing day, new people come to Paganism and Polytheism on their own individual Paths. Many come through the same, worn steps of before. Some come from completely different directions. But they all continue to come. And others also leave Paganism as well. Just as your body regenerates new cells, it also sheds old ones too. Our Pagan community is no different. We cannot go backwards, but perhaps, we can infuse a little more acceptance of the newer folks coming on to their Pagan and Polytheistic Paths. For they will be the future. They are the new cells regenerating and growing our Community. And if we teach them acceptance by being accepting of them and their experiences – then perhaps, just perhaps…we can realize a true dream. Where Paganism and Polytheism are accepted “normal” Paths of Spirituality within our worldwide community. Where the Gods and Goddesses can be worshipped openly and without fear. And what an awesome dream that can be…


Two Pence – Pagan Leadership

IMG_9670Leadership scares the shit out of me. Seriously. I have noted this a few times: some folks look at me as a “natural” leader. I maintain that I am not. But my reasoning, while gathered from a fictional character in a movie, is weak at best.

In a scene from the Sylvester Stallone movie “The Demolition Man”, the character of Edgar Friendly makes the statement: “I’m no leader. I do what I have to. Sometimes people come with me.” It is a snarky line, but it is also an issue of pushing the leadership off into space.

See, there are leadership qualities that people have – the ability to think quickly on your feet. The ability to break problems into workable tasks. The ability to delegate those workable tasks to people who have the ability to get those done. And the ability to motivate people to get things done. For some strange reason, I have some of the ability to motivate people. I know that I have the ability to break problems down into workable tasks. I do that every day in my job. I also have the ability to stay calm when things come apart at the seams. But I have to be honest and give the United States Air Force the credit for some of this as well. All of that is delineated into a particular skillset. Its called troubleshooting.

In my opinion, troubleshooting is not a skillset of leadership. It is a skillset of the Troubleshooter, which is something I do consider myself to be. I enjoy taking situations that are in chaos, sorting things out, prioritizing what needs to be done, and rolling up my sleeves and getting arm deep in the issues. I can be problematic when I am in this mode. I can push those that are in a position of leadership out of the way. Essentially picking them up, setting them to one side, and saying: “Stay right there until I solve this. Then you can have the steering wheel again.” In my military career, I have told Commissioned Officers to “get the fuck out of the way” while trying to resolve mainframe systems issues. It never made me popular with the Officers, but the enlisted folks (of which I was) loved me for it.

But let’s be clear on something. I never shoved people out of the way, unless I was sure that I could resolve the problem. In the Air Force, I knew my systems inside and out. In two locations, only the Field Engineers were more knowledgeable than the 23-year old me on how the system operated. Older non-commissioned officers and commissioned officers learned to get out of the way when I was called in to repair things. But I had to earn that kind of respect, by showing that I could resolve problems that were set in front of me. That’s not a skill of leadership. Rather that’s a skillset of technical ability. And that technical ability masked on arrogance that I had.

Leadership is not about shoving people out of the way and proclaiming yourself the expert. A better version of me – now nearly thirty years down the line and full of life experiences – would counsel the twenty-three year old me to not shove people out of the way, but counsel them on how to resolve the problem, looking over their shoulders, and explaining why this particular issue was resolved in this particular way. Leadership is not about pointing and directing. That’s a task for ego-maniacs. And I have seen plenty of my share of these in the Pagan community. A Leader teaches others how to resolve the problems, allowing their hands to be the ones that turn the wrenches and use the tools, while explaining the reasoning behind each process.

Leadership is a status that is earned. Rightly or wrongly. The individual(s) empowering you into a position of leadership have confidence in your ability to resolve issues, and put things into motion. Sometimes, you have this bit of respect thrust upon you. For example, a newcomer to Paganism or Polytheism will look to you as their example of what it means to be [x] within Paganism or Polytheism. Whether you wanted that role or not, it is given to you. Even after you explain that you’re no leader, in your best Edgar Friendly impersonation. And if you think about it…it is a weak explanation, as well.

See, I am nearly fifty-one years old this year. I have been in Paganism in one capacity or another since 1987. That’s twenty-nine years of being a Pagan. I was a doe-eyed newbie at one time too. Anyone who had been in Paganism for any length of time, regardless of Path, was an incredible person to me. Until I met Pattalee. She ran one of the few local Pagan bookstores in the area with her (then) husband. I would go down there, and tentatively sit one a bar stool next to the jewelry counter. And I would ask questions, and listen to the answers – hanging on her every word. I guess she humored me at first. But after a while, instead of answering my questions, she would prompt me to answer my own questions. Then, she would have a long, prolonged discussion of where my logic was incorrect, and where I made assumptions that had no factual basis. Instead of puzzling things out for me, she quietly prompted me to learn from myself. Sadly, she passed away quite some time back, and her ex-husband eventually closed the store. But I always remembered those talks, and how she dealt with the doe-eyed newbie sitting in front of her.

After her passing beyond the veil, it took nearly another decade before I realized that she talked with me through a position of leadership. The authority of leadership had been given to her by me. She most likely didn’t want it, but she accepted it – and led me gently towards the habit of puzzling things out for myself. She gently showed me how to look inside myself and find the answers that I was needing. And pointed out how the “truths” as I found them applied to me, and not necessarily to others. Leadership is not about molding people forcibly, but showing them the potential that is inside of themselves.

Newbies may hand you a mantle of leadership, simply because you have been around longer than they have. Throwing that mantle back in their faces and saying that you’re no leader is not the way to handle things. Folding that mantle up, and setting it to the side, with care and reverence respects the responsibility that you have been handed. And eventually, you will be able to gently, and with respect, hand that mantle back to those newbies – pointing out that they have always been able to fend for themselves. In my opinion, this is how we grow our Pagan community. We don’t grow leaders in this process. Some of those newbies will become leaders in their own right. We grow self-sufficient Pagans and Polytheists, able to handle themselves as Solitary practitioners of their own connectivity with the Gods, and able to work within the wider ranging Pagan and Polytheist communities as individual parts of the whole. Able to be Priests/Priestesses and Leaders without becoming tyrants. Able to teach others how to grow, without delineating debilitating and crippling dogma that creates a belief structure that is too rigid to be flexible with the changing world around us. We grow Pagans and Polytheists that learn to cultivate their relationships with others, the Gods, the Spirits of Place, and Spirits of Ancestors, while expanding their understanding of those connections and their own position within those sacred relationships.

Yeah, I can claim to not be a leader. That I just do things, and sometimes people come along. But in the end, that statement – while playful – is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to the people that come along. It is a wise-ass dismissal of the authority that they hand to me. It is slapping the respect that they have for me as an elder in the wider Pagan community, while laughing in their face with my flippant comment. And to be honest, it is long past time for me to ditch the attitude. I’m a podcaster and a blogger in the Pagan community. I make commentary on how I feel about Paganism and Polytheism from both platforms. And whether I want to agree with it or not, I set myself out there for my opinions to be read. And people respect me for that. Yes, some of them hand me their respect as an authority., as an elder. And I need to return that respect as well. I need to follow Pattalee’s example, and fold up that mantle and set it to the side. And listen.

Pagan leadership is about helping the community. Troubleshooting issues. Listening. Growing Pagans that are new to this Path. Leadership is about being the appropriate example to our community. And we are all leaders, in one capacity or another.

Two pence….  –T /|\

Pagan Community – Something to Believe In

Music does a lot for me. Its the soothing sound in the background. Its also something that makes my brain percolate around topics. While writing the previous post on ritual – I found myself straying into the topic of the Pagan Community. Don’t ask me how I get there, it just happens. But one thing was a marker of sorts for me – “Something to Believe In” by Poison.

Ok, I get it.  Hair bands are not exactly popular things these days. And I do remember a documentary where the late Ronnie James Dio – someone I respect immensely – stated that Poison and bands like them essentially killed heavy metal. I disagree with Ronnie, and am floating a little beyond the topic – but it definitely was this one song that keeps coming back to mind. So bear with me as I drag a piece of my mis-spent youth into the picture (look what the Elf dragged in!). Ok folks, you can put down the fruit, vegetables, and eggs you are about to start throwing.  I’ll get back to the topic!!

I have been around Pagan communities, in one form or another, during most of my thirty-plus (cough cough) years on my Pagan path. I’ve watched how groups start out like a rocket headed for deep space, and eventually lose momentum over things such as internal politics, and inane power struggles. When I was much younger, and far more idealistic, I would actually roll up my sleeves and pant legs – and wade right into the middle of things. Now, as I am older and have far less energy to fight the same battles over and over. I usually pack my tent and head home.

At work (pick a job, any job), I have a penchant for being a troubleshooter. I fix things. I find trends. I try to create solutions. And in the workplace, this is a touch easier. Everyone has the same vested interest – to make the company go, so we can make money through the purchase of our company’s products, and wind up being paid a paycheck, and have our insurance benefits covered. Vested interest = vested attention. Much easier to communicate with people.

The definition of Intentional Community

Its a little harder to do the same thing with the Pagan Community. Many people will join up in a banding of the Community (think Pagan Pride Days, as an example). They will be excited about what the project can bring. How Pagans everywhere can benefit from what is being done. There may be a wide, diverse representation of the Pagan Community involved. And while everyone is gathered, there will be visions of the direction that this can take. Notice. visions. Plural. Everyone will have an idea of how this grouping of folks can benefit their small corner of the Big Tent (to borrow a phrase from the marvelous writings of John Beckett). The original organizers will have an idea how their event or project can benefit the community, as well as providing a springboard for the benefit of smaller groups and individuals. And thus will begin the inevitable herding of the cats.

I have watched this happen many times over. And honestly, it is frustrating, but its also a very sad moment. When people and groups set their own agendas ahead of one that benefits the entire Community. I watch people step away frustrated, jaded and confused. Their goal and intention was to build something that everyone else can utilize as a place to bring their own intentions and dreams to showcase for others. Instead, they get a front row seat to the squabbles, bickering, and posturing of others who sweep aside the wider goal, and subjugate it to their own.

I feel like I am writing an early Black Sabbath song here. All doom and gloom.

Generals gathered in their masses,
just like witches at black masses.
Evil minds that plot destruction,
sorcerer of death’s construction.
In the fields the bodies burning,
as the war machine keeps turning.
Death and hatred to mankind,
poisoning their brainwashed minds…Oh lord yeah!

But. The reality is that not all is doom and gloom. In a few days (less than two weeks and counting), I will be boarding a plane (flying again…sigh) and headed to California for PantheaCon 2016. I have heard stories about things that happen at this Con. Like any gathering, there will be some form of drama. But I have heard about some lovely conversations that come out of PantheaCon. And I am interested in what there is to offer. Thus the reason that I decided to go. And I haven’t even made it through airport security, and I have already made contact with a lot of people that are wanting to talk. Not just to promote something that they have – but also just to talk. To get to know one another. To fellowship together. To pursue ideas. To discuss, and maybe even some light debate. Nothing that could start some “witch war” between us, just respectful disagreement followed on with exploration of those disagreements to find where root agreement flourishes. In other words – practice what a community is.

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

I saw this at the first Pagan Pride Day I worked with at White Rock Lake here in Dallas (2013). I have seen this in action at the ADF Imbolc Retreat that I attended last year (and going to again this next weekend). I saw this at Austin’s marvelous Pagan Pride Day this past year, where I travelled all the way from north Texas in one morning to have a wonderful interview with Chris Godwin (who I will see again next weekend). Pagans who come together, talk, discuss, play, hug, hold light arguments over differences, sing around the fire, pour libations to the Gods – and generally celebrate the fact that we are all Pagans, Christians, Atheists, or what have you….but above that, we are all human beings.

While I am saddened by the events, projects, groupings that have failed for one reason or another – my heart is gladdened by the fact that there are people who overcome these obstacles and keep things on track. Yes, people. While it is a group of people who make things go – keep the project on track; its still individuals who set aside their own personal agendas and desires to make things go that are the ones to be heralded. Eventually, they get afforded the spot to bring their own individual agendas to the forefront. They are provided the spotlight and the stage for their own ideas. That same spotlight and stage that they helped to build for others to do the same.

Eventually, the talking stick comes around to you. Just as the chalice may come to you within the bounds of a ritual. You wind up with a choice. You can drink from the Chalice, or you can hoist the Chalice in a salute to the Gods and Goddesses that call to you. I have passed the Chalice so many times when it is presented to me. I am hoping that I get the chance at PantheaCon to hold the talking stick for a little bit, but I am looking forward to sitting and listening. Communing with my fellow PantheaCon attendees.

Remember, I had referenced Poison’s “Something to Believe In” at the beginning of the post?  Well, here’s where I add it back in again.

I drive by the homeless sleeping on a cold dark street
Like bodies in an open grave
Underneath the broken old neon sign
That used to read JESUS SAVES

A mile away live the rich folks
And I see how they’re living it up
While the poor they eat from hand to mouth
The rich is drinkin’ from a golden cup

And it just makes me wonder why so many lose, so few win

You take the high road and I’ll take the low road

Sometimes I wish to God I didn’t know now
The things I didn’t know then
And give me something to believe in

Well, to be frankly honest, as I watch Pagan after Pagan come out of the shadows – unafraid to be who they are. I am giving that hope for something to believe in. I have the hope that a widely diverse Pagan community can come together, discuss differences, debate definitions, and at the end of the day hug one another over what holds us together. Can it be done?  Certainly. One only has to look at PantheaCon has accomplished, even with the dramatic moments. It can be done. It has been done. It will continue to be done. Its all a matter of growth, growing up, and some folks stepping through the doorway to be leaders – both loud and quiet, brash and shy, through words and actions. And because of that, I am excited by what the prospect of the future brings for the Big Tent. From my perspective, I definitely have something to believe in for this widely diverse community we are all a part of.


Daring to Make a Noise

I have read a couple of posts here and there about PantheaCon – mostly from John Beckett, but I am sure there will be more to come from the folks who went. I did not go – nor do I ever have plans to attend. I teach college classes, and this particular event happens typically at the quarter-point of my semester. I am not about to walk away from my classes to attend a Convention, no matter how tempting it might be (which it really is not). But I do enjoy reading some of the questions raised at such events, and quite a few were presented over at the Wild Hunt on this post by Jason Pitzl-Waters. So I was quite intrigued to read the material he presented, and the resulting comments – and decided to lend my own (albeit quite small) voice to the fray. So, let’s start with where Jason’s observations did:

If I were to sum up what I thought the spirit of PantheaCon this year was, I think it would be the overarching question: What kind of community, what kind of religious movement, do we want? Who do we want to include? Who do we want to exclude? What do we look like? Are we prepared to examine our flaws? Our privilege ? Do we want to build new institutions? Are the ones that we have serving us?

Quite an intriguing arena of material to work with. But let me start with my first observation – the (what I assume to be) royal we utilized in much of the questions. While I get the idea, I am supremely uncomfortable with the perspective of stating any form of ‘we’ in how I answer. I can no more answer any question or provide any observation for any other Pagan than myself, than I can take credit for any of the database systems I have worked on as a developer or Database Administrator. I certainly had a hand in the design and operation of those DBMSs, but I cannot speak on behalf of anyone else that was on any of those development and operational teams. Now, I am not trying to criticise Jason’s choice of words here, just merely pointing out how I find that choice to be cringeworthy in my eyes. There are a few – as evidenced in the comments to this thread – that point to PantheaCon as being a meeting of elitist Pagans, who only acknowledge people that they feel are worthy of admittance into their group. As someone who has never attended a single Pantheacon event, I cannot attest to the correctness or wrongness of such sentiments…and I can only take the word of individuals who have attended and either feel that to be correct or incorrect. In my mind, Jason’s word choice does not seem to be intentional towards being exclusive – merely just a choice of what seemed appropriate in his statement. I do not see Jason as being any kind of elitist or what have you. Now, that and ten bucks will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. On to more meatier ponderings….

The question of what kind of community do we want to have, and who should be included – certainly does not help to dispel some of the elitist tags that get bandied about – but it certainly does bring some interesting food for thought. What precisely is going to be the makeup of a “Pagan Community”; how do we define its overall community; and dependent on that definition – should we be all inclusive or aim towards an area of specifics in terms of what makes up such a community? All of this ties into other areas, such as Polytheism, Eco-Warrior perspectives, sustainable living, pantheism, and a few others – but it begs the question: what the fuck should be considered as a “Pagan Community”? And who gets to make that choice??

….and this is where the terrain goes from a smooth, gravel-laid, walking path through the forest – and becomes a rock-strewn, uneven deer trail through the woods. The footing becomes a little less sure, there’s always the potential to trip on exposed tree roots, and sometimes the path can fade into nothing for a while. Then you hope that the trail picks up where you are walking – otherwise, you may find yourself walking in the middle of nowhere, with no trail or landmarks to guide you. And depending on your point-of-view, this can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing.

Again, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself. Which makes addressing the concept of “community” a little difficult. An opinion of one, to address a definition of many. I look at community as a group of people that help one another – regardless of differences of opinion. A community assists one another when there is need. A community celebrates together when there are moments of greatness. A community mourns together when there is loss. For me, there is no reason to exclude anyone – even those who have done some form of wrong. In my opinion, everyone deserves a second-chance. Its when they blow that second-chance that removes them from the community. Forgive the first time, but be wary until the trust is rebuilt. After the second violation…well, there’s no reason to trust after that. But this is what community is for me. Its about helping, assisting one another, celebrating Life with one another, and mourning loss together.

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

So, how to splint this into an idea of what a Pagan Community is for me. Its not difficult for me to imagine. I saw it with my own two eyes back on October 5th of last year. A community of Pagan folk came together and celebrated the fact that we were all Pagan. Together. All of our differences were on display to one another. We accepted those differences, we embraced those differences – and acknowledged one another as brothers and sisters. We came together to give back to the other communities around us – the communities that we physically live in. The communities that are defined by geographical definitions. For that afternoon, we were a single tribe of people, even despite our differences. And for those on the DFW Pagan Pride Day planning committee – it has continued. And I see elements of that continue in other areas of the DFW Pagan Community. For me, that’s what community is about. There’s no exclusion of people because of their social or legal sins. There’s no exclusion of people because their beliefs don’t fit neatly into a single definition. That’s Pagan Community – at least for me.

The tougher questions to answer – are we prepared to look at our flaws? Are we prepared to look at our sense of privilege? I would certainly hope so. Again, I can only answer for myself here. I know I am by no means the “perfect” anything. I make mistakes. I have flaws. I accept that and do my best to not let any of that get in the way of being a productive member of my part of what I perceive of community. But am I prepared to examine my own sense of privilege? I would hope so, but first, I need to see what my sense of privilege is exactly. So my answer to this would be “not yet” — mostly because I have not identified where all of that is around me. Until then, I can only answer in the negative.

These questions are what I consider to be the tip of the spear – the point that needs to be discussed and determined by anyone and everyone. All of our answers are going to be different – because all of our individual needs will be different. But regardless of that level of difference, that area of individuality that tends to be the primary spark within Pagan belief systems…this is still something that we need to examine…and determine for ourselves. Our individual, selves. I think this question will be an interesting one, and that the answers will also be quite interesting as well.  My voice is not the be-all, end-all – and truth be told, I am a very, very small voice in the Pagan blogosphere and podcast communities. I am brave enough to offer my own perspective here – in the open, where it can be hailed as brilliant (not likely), roundly criticised and debated (also not likely) or soundly ignored (more likely). But I do dare to make a noise (a small one) and how I perceive things. An avalanche starts when a single pebble has a dream of moving things.