I remember when I was much, much younger – growing up as a military dependent in Germany was an amazing time for me. I would go Volksmarching with my parents and my sister, and in the 10km we walked, I would get to see a lot of the country-side each weekend. Sometimes, the trails wound through town, sometimes through the local farmer’s fields along the paths used for the tractors and other farm equipment. However, whenever the paths wound through the forests, I would be especially happy. The forests provided me with the best opportunities to leave the trail, and walk within the woods – parallel to the walking trail, of course. Those forests spurred my thoughts and allowed me to see other worlds. Worlds full of Elves, full of imaginary battle scenes, and even dinosaurs hiding behind every large trunked tree. Yes, I was particularly fond of dinosaurs growing up. What kid wasn’t? 🙂
It was so easy to believe in magick, and the Fey, and even the Gods. But as I grew older, I was told that such things were not appropriate for a young man. Seeing Fey folks peering back from deep in the woods was just a fanciful imagination running wild. It was “ok” to believe that such things existed, but not as I got older. Things like that were “child’s stuff” and I needed to set that aside, in order to “grow up.” I was to push all that out of my mind and dismiss any such thinking as unhealthy and unproductive towards becoming a “normal” member of “grown-up” society.
As a young adult, I spent a lot of time pushing thoughts about the Gods out of my mind. Dismissing all of it as a product of my over-active imagination. But it was certainly acceptable to believe in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit…though I had no feeling towards the existence of that. And when I asked for proof, I was given a book and told the answers could be found on those pages. Because it was “socially acceptable” to believe such.
Do not get me wrong here – there is nothing wrong with the belief in the Christian God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit. That is something that works and calls to those that feel that within themselves. Just as the calling of the Gods and Goddesses and Spirits of Place and Spirits of Ancestor work for me – and many other Pagans. And just as there are those who claim to have the calling of the Christian Trinity in their lives, but have no real connection – in other words, paying lip service….there are certainly those within the Pagan communities as well. But this is not about either of those sets of folks.
We believe readily in magick, the Other World, and so many other things when we are young. Not only do we embrace them, we tend to feel them as well. And then, we are told to set those aside – to embrace something that might not call to us, to dismiss our feelings as being unreal, inappropriate. And suddenly, we find that we are suppressing who we are, what we feel…. And going into the future, we might utilize this as a coping mechanism for the world around us. We bottle in who we are, what we feel, what we know to be right….and all of that starts to eat away at who we are.
Back in 1995, I felt the United States military and came back into the civilian world. In the military, it was easy to be a Pagan, easy to embrace my knowledge and feeling of the existence of the Gods. In the military, my beliefs were protected by regulations and rules dictating that to others. Sure, I had some discriminatory moments from others. There was the one time I was physically accosted at the Sembach Post Office at 3am when I was checking mail after shift. But the civilian world is a little different. Physical altercations can be more frequent and far more violent. People around you are a lot more anonymous than when they are on a military base.
It would have been far easier for me to just not be a Pagan. Or to stay in the “closet” – so to speak. it would have been easier, but it would also have been going back to denying who I was and what I felt within me. I carry enough scars from trying to hide things to appease others. I am not about to compromise on who I am or what I believe. Granted, as I have gotten older, I have learned to not wear my Paganism completely on my sleeve. But when directly confronted, I do not hide who or what I am. Not anymore.
I do wonder; however, just how many people out there lost touch with their feeling and understanding of magick – just because they were told to not have an over-active imagination at their age? That believing in the Fey was not something real – that it could be misconstrued as a sign of mental illness? How many others went through similar actions of internal repression because they were told they should not like the same gender as themselves? How many were told that they could not succeed at various desired jobs because of their gender or skin color or their parents’ income status?
I wonder how different this world could be if we would just make an honest attempt towards being who we want to be, to believe in what we know to be real….where could this world be today? I do indeed wonder….
What kind of Pagan are you? What type of Polytheist are you, if any? Do you honor your Ancestors? How often do you do so? Lots and lots of questions….how can you answer all of this?
Well, how about not at all? To be brutally honest, the only person you need to answer these type of questions to, is yourself. You don’t need to keep a log of when you visited that little spot in your backyard, and how many novenas you offered to this God or that Goddess. Because how you practice your personal Spiritual Path is your business, and no one else’s.
Not that long into my past, a co-worker who liked to come into my office and start long, theologically based discussions went this route with me. How often did I go to “Pagan church”; how many times did I recite prayers to my Gods to achieve some result; had I worn a path from my back door to the stone circle in my backyard with my visits, or had grass grown where I would normally tread? Was I hot or cold for my Gods?
I never really gave much of a response to the questions, aside from stating that I did do these things, but the frequency wasn’t the measure that I utilized. Instead, I measured my “hotness” or “coldness” for the Gods by my belief in Them. And I do believe in the Gods and Goddesses, and as distinct, individual beings. And as for the desire to pray for things, the Gods and Goddesses are not vending machines where I insert my payment via the whiskey shots that I leave for Them, and then click “22” on the number pad to get a candy bar. For me, that’s not how all of this works. Not any of it.
I don’t ask the Gods to intercede on my behalf. Well, not often. And usually that won’t happen until I have exhausted all the options that I have the ability to do on my own. My prayers to Crow, Coyote and Fliodhais are for understanding of situations or concepts – to be able to wrap my brain around things I don’t readily comprehend. I have no desire to be a beggar to my Gods. Rather, I want Them to help guide me towards the choices I will need to make with a better state of mind, a clarity I might not already possess — and I am under no illusions that I might not be provided that aspect of lucidity. I ask my Gods to guide me, not do the work for me.
As for being “hot” or “cold” for my Gods or my belief in Them…. Let’s just say that I consider this to be a rude line of questioning. My relationship between myself and a God or a Goddess is a unique one. Just as my relationship with another person is a unique one. My relationship will not be the same as someone else’s with that same God, Goddess or person. The “hotness” or “coldness” of that relationship is the correct temperature for that moment. And honestly, if its not – I would expect feedback telling me otherwise coming from the connection between us. And I have absolutely no desire to measure how hot, warm, cold or otherwise my relationship with the Gods is compared to that of anyone else.
Personal relationships between an individual and their Gods is – in my opinion – as sacred as a relationship between two lovers. It’s a foolish game to play comparisons between how I approach my Connectivity with that of someone else. Even when that person has a measure of Connectivity that is quite similar to my own. It may be similar, but each one is unique. And I would rather celebrate the uniqueness of each relationship than try to denigrate someone else’s Connectivity as not being exactly like mine.
So, what do I mean by “depth” in Spirituality? That’s a fair question, particularly concerning my little back and forth jaunt in yesterday’s blog post. But before I get going too far – let me preface this a little bit here. Trying to define what is and is not “deep” about one’s spirituality is a rather tough topic to tackle. After all, what I believe to be an approach of depth concerning Spirituality could be considered a rather shallow approach to someone else. Thus, for me to define the concept of “depth” for someone else would be a silly gesture. But I can describe how I approach the concept of “Deep Spirituality” and what it means to me. My approach might work for someone else; or it might not. It might inspire someone to seek a perspective of what “Deep Spirituality” means to them; or it might not. The truth of the matter is that I can only speak for myself.
For me, my turn towards a more in-depth approach to Spirituality began with taking my understanding of polytheism a little deeper than I had. To some degree or extent, I have had a belief in more than one God and/or Goddess for quite some time. I never truly approached the concept beyond that of the dual aspect of God and Goddess; seeing the various masks as psychological aspects. Except that I really didn’t believe that. I could see that each God and each Goddess were separate entities. Just as there are so many stars in the night sky, I could see that aspects of polytheistic belief worked the same way. All I needed to do was explore more; come to understand each aspect individually. Bumping into Coyote was not what I truly expected. From Coyote came Crow. Fliodhas has been a long, ongoing flirtation. And I have no clue with what is coming with the ravens. I assume I will find out soon enough.
Each introduction to these Gods and Goddess (one at this time) are far more intimate than I am willing to reveal on a blog post. But each has brought me to another part of diving deeper – research. And that’s one thing I can truly say for Pagans over Christians – Pagans tend to be a combination of data analysts, librarians, and folk researchers. Always combing for more information, looking through the tea leaves, the bones, and interpreting the cards. Hardly leaving any stone untouched, or any potential path to be examined. In my mundane job, I am asked to find patterns in the habits of students, the grading patterns of instructors, and the ebb/flow of enrollment between three main semesters of an academic year. In a manner of speaking, this is part of diving deeply into the analysis of my college’s student body. The same can be said about expanding and deepening my understanding of such concepts as the Wheel of the Year. All the rituals associated with certain aspects of the year, as well as the ebb/flow of the moon phases have patterns as well. Through continual study, as well as examination of ritual concepts against such aspects as cultural history and folklore; patterns can be discerned, examined and acted upon. But there’s always the reminder in the back of my mind: I am not trying to recreate something from the past. I am trying to bring pieces of the Past forward into the Present, where I might be able to utilize these in moving with far better grace into the Future.
Its those connections, between myself and everything else, and everything else with everything else that keep me driving forward. As I mentioned in a few recent blogs, conversation with other folks is another aspect of diving deeply for me. I don’t get this as much as I wish I could. But, that will eventually work itself out for me. Of that, I am confidant. Sharing of ideas and concepts with others is a wonderful to expand my point of view, in my opinion. Everyone tends to approach a topic from different angles, and each individual experience adds to what I consider to be the overall consciousness of an issue.
I know that some of what I have written here will strike a vein with some folks. Other folks will shrug and make an observation of the lightness of my approach. Others may scratch their heads and not completely understand. Believe it or not, I grok all three of those positions. I have been there. Each is an experience that I relate to very, very deeply. And at the same time, I know that everyone’s approach will be a little different than my own. Its what makes us all unique.
At the end of it all, I know that a large part of my Spirituality is about continually learning, growing, and evolving. There is no end-game. Only continual experience. Only expanded understanding. I don’t have a mystical hall of roads paved in gold, and a heavenly mansion awaiting me. Only experience. For me, that’s the blanket of the future for me. Always weaving itself. And the best way I have managed to do this? By not trying at all. Ain’t that some kind of paradox? Personally, I don’t think so.
So, I enter into the third and final part of looking at my Spiritual journey…a look at today and the unknown reaches of tomorrow. I have discussed the aspects of why Druidry is the framework I choose to work with. My current daily work leans more towards impromptu ritual, finding the spiritual in the everyday mundane, and trying to find new connections with the Gods, the Spirits of Place and Ancestor. This includes a deeper look into my own DNA and Ancestry that started last year during a visit to “The Celts” exhibit in London during my UK trip at the New Year.
DNA-related family has never been a strong point of mine. I have never felt like I was part of my relations, as my Path in life is vastly different than any of theirs. But during my trip through the Celts exhibit, there was a lot of information relating to the DNA side of things. That started me to wonder why I am drawn so heavily to a Celtic framework, particularly over these last few years. The more I dig into my ancestral roots, the more it makes sense. The more it makes sense, the more I relate to aspects of Celtic mythology that I never paid much attention to previously. I honestly do not see some of the connections, but am starting to see small aspects of it in the way I relate to the environment around me. The result of look at my Ancestry has me finding out where my family comes from, how they might have believed, and how they may have related to their native land.
There’s Fliodhas. An Irish Goddess of the Forest, that has found Her way into my everyday Life. I do not readily understand the connection, but She takes a prominent role in my daily Life. She is in every moment that I am outdoors, whispering in my ear about the beauty of Life and the connections associated with that – both readily known, and those that are far more subtle. Where that Path is drawing me towards, I have no idea. But I readily walk it, staff in hand.
And finally there’s Druidry. I started my Bardic Grade a few years back. And honestly, I started out on-fire. Just ready to get things done. And then Life happened. Job changes. The amount of money that was available at any given time. Many other personal issues. I faltered. I took steps backwards in my studies. I did a poor job of documenting where I was, what I did to get to that point. I wound up dancing back and forth in place. Last year, after a conversation with several people at Gulf Coast Gathering, I buckled down my resolve to finish, and changed my attitude towards my studies. As a result, I am continuing down the road with what I must learn in the Bardic Grade, and am taking far better notes – not just on what I am learning, but also HOW I am learning it. The idea/hope is that I will be able to take those lessons and apply those going forward into the Ovate Grade, provided I am accepted to move forward.
Lastly, there is my tie to two First Nations trickster Gods. Crow and Coyote. Coyote started my journey, with lessons concerning the degree of seriousness I approached the world around me. I have learned to be a bit looser with the way I approach the world, and to not only find the positive in the world — but also find the humor in situations. Even when things look catastrophically bad. Earlier this month, I purchased a camper. I have no idea how to back it up properly. To get it into my driveway, I drove through my front yard in order to pull it down my driveway in a semi-straight line. That, I could back up. It certainly smacked of being a silly situation….and I can laugh about it. It happened. It was a silly solution, but it was still a solution.
Every day is a new moment for me. I greet the sun’s rise, and try to approach the day with a new motivation, a new vision to accomplishing tasks set before me, and with new eyes so I can try and discover new pathways that I did not notice before. At the end of the day, I say goodnight to the sun, and ask for the promise that He will rise again for tomorrow’s dawn. I set aside my frustrations over the course of the day, and prepare for an evening where I can relax, read, or study. My daily Path is about constantly learning, focusing, relaxing, and then refocusing again – all with the measure that each day is a new start. And each new day allows me to take new, fresh steps on my daily Path…find new connections I had not considered before, and strengthen the connections I already have. My Past through the Catholic faith, the southern Baptist faith, and within Wicca have helped bring me here. Whether the lessons I learned were negative, positive, or neutral does not matter. There was something to be gleaned from those times within my life. Paganism is the stream that brought me to where I am now, opened my eyes and mind to the perspective of individual Gods and Goddesses, and has renewed my faith in that perspective each and every day. I am on a pathway of Druidry, as a Polytheist Pagan. That’s who I am. But I can never discount or demean where I have come from. All of that is a part of me as well.
From the very beginning, it was obvious to me that Wicca was not a complete fit for me. I was still grappling with the concept of duality (God and Goddess) within the bounds of what I had been taught. In trying to understand that both God and Goddess were separate entities, I fell back to my Catholic roots. Much like there was Big Daddy, Junior and the Spook (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), the concept of God and Goddess found fertile ground in my understanding of my personal spirituality. It still wasn’t quite what I believed, but I barely had any manner of explaining how I really felt about the concept of God, Goddess, and my own personal approach. So, this was enough for me for the time being. I could shoehorn my own beliefs into this, at least for the time being. Perhaps the terminology and concepts I would learn going forward would be helpful in generating my own perceptions. So like a lady trying on shoes in Al Bundy’s shoe store, I pushed as much as I could into the boundaries provided, and pretended that it fit.
Now, I joined the United States Air Force in 1986, so here I was just a little over a year in and I found my first area of controversy. I worked the night shift at the Carswell Air Force Base (Fort Worth) data processing facility. My shift was comprised of five individuals and myself. Of those five, four were charismatic Christians. Like charismatics in the military, they were over-the-top about their beliefs, and not afraid to shove their beliefs down your throat. My first night on shift, with Drawing Down the Moon to read, lead to all kinds of problems. I caught attitude from all four of these preacher-types. One of them lived three doors down from me in the dorms. He continued the same in-your-face moments with me outside of the work place. Complaints to my chain of command about my work ethic started to crop up. I went from being the guy who knew the mainframe system better than the civilian engineers from UniSys to being the problem child. In 1990, my transfer orders for Germany came in, and I danced inside at the idea of being away from these people.
Germany proved no different. I wound up in another duty section with a born-again Christian, but here my beliefs were respected. As long as I kept my beliefs to myself, there were no problems. Religious discussions were typically avoided. And I found a group of individuals who were not only sympathetic to my position as a Pagan, when I was featured in the centerfold story of “Practicing Pagans” for the Stars and Stripes newspaper – they kindly poked fun at me (my last name was misspelled as “Ban Hook” in the story). This was also the time frame where I parted ways with Wicca.
As I noted before, Wicca never really fit what I understood as my own personal Spirituality. I just never had the words to understand. But I did have the companionship of the people that were part of the coven I studied with. When I left for Germany, I had none of that. I was on my own. And I had a better understanding of Paganism; a better understanding of the dual concepts of the God and Goddess; and a stronger understanding of polytheism. I finally had concepts that fit what I believed – a wider, more expansive view of the perspective of Deities, specifically Gods and Goddesses. With no group to provide an anchorage, I started to explore my own concepts of Paganism. Without that safe harbor of a coven, I found other Pagans in my nearby communities. We banded together under the moniker of “The Pagan Support Group” (which always seemed silly for a title), and I started to learn more about how other Pagans approached their beliefs, their rituals, and their Spirituality. It was here that I started describing myself as a “neo-Pagan”. I wasn’t trying to recreate something from earlier history. I was constructing my own Path through the forests.
And the forests of Germany was where I once again found myself feeling free. Much like the years where I spent time volksmarching as a kid through the woods – I found myself taking long walks in the woods very near to the military base housing I lived in. And it was in these woods that I had my first experience with a Spirit of Place.
I was walking along a ridge above the Celtic/Roman shrine that you see in the picture. This is just west of a small town called Kindsbach, which itself is just west of the outskirts of the city of Kasierslautern. It is in the wooded area just to the south of the football field on the west side of Kindsbach. The ridge above this comes to the edge of a small 40-ish foot cliff to the path that runs right part this shrine. The area is frequently walked by the residents of the area, and they pick up most of the trash. I spent time getting the stuff that they generally missed or was a bit too far for them to reach. On this particular day, I had gotten close to the edge of the ridge, which kicks my Acrophobia into high gear. So I sat down with my back against a tree and tried to collect my breath. I shut my eyes, and felt a presence. I neither heard nor felt any specific communication, but felt a feeling of “thanks”. At first I took no notice of it. But every single time I came back, I felt that same feeling. And on the day I knew would be my last time there – when I knew I was going back to the States the next day – I could feel sorrow at my leaving. I stayed there until nightfall, which is not advised because of the wild boar population. When I walked back to my microbus (what I was driving at the time), I stopped and turned back to look at the wooded visage in front of me. It felt like a small child was hugging both of my legs tightly. I’ve never forgotten that feeling, and will return some time in my lifetime to revisit this place.
That single experience opened my eyes to a much wider world of Spirituality. Monotheism, and Duotheism would never be workable concepts for me. I finally had the words to understand what I believed. I believe in many Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, Spirits of Ancestors….polytheism. The belief in many, individual Gods and Entities. Now my Spiritual Path would lead me to find a framework on which to build my personal Spiritual beliefs upon.
Do you hear the sound on the wind?
The beating wings of crows?
Do you hear that on the wind?
The whisper of Andraste and Segomo
Do you hear the spears and swords beating on shields?
Teutates! Teutates! Teutates!
For the protection of Land!
For the protection of Tribe!
For the protection of kindred Spirit!
Standing Rock is the battle line.
—Robyn Birchleaf, 9/7/16
Its been a while since I have dusted off of my old poetry moniker. Back in my early days as a Wiccan, this was also my “Craft” name. Eventually, Wicca faded as a part of my life, but the moniker continues as my writing name.
This piece of poetry I wrote last night. I had set some music from the Johnny Whitehorse series of albums on rotation, and pulled on my headphones to block out noise. As I listened, I let my mind wander to my inner grove, while watching my stone circle in the backyard being bathed by the sprinkler system. It eventually brought my mind to the perspective of water, which naturally led my mind to what is going up in North Dakota. People were protesting, as peacefully as they could, the building of an oil-transport pipeline underneath the Missouri river. Any leak at or near this point threatens the clean drinking water source for the peoples of this area, and everyone else downstream. This includes farmers, whose crops feed the markets of this country where people shop for their food. Odd how all of that is so interconnected when you think about it, right? Not really, to be honest.
There’s nothing truly odd about the interconnection of all of us. What we do to the environment, our communities, ourselves, others, the animals, the air, the water, the land….it affects all of us to one degree or another. That’s a huge part of what I have come to understand and relate deeply to within my Druidry. There’s more than a “Circle of Life” – there’s an interconnected web, where everything finds harmony to one degree or another with everything else around. Everything that is, except mankind.
As human beings, we have managed to be arrogant enough as a species to consider ourselves above everything else in Nature. As a collective species, we have even managed to excuse that arrogance with “divinely inspired” spiritual perspectives that categorize the earth, the animals and everything else to the position of a giant grocery store for our use and abuse. We place ourselves above everything else, and then excuse our abuse and overuse of resources by declaring that there will be an end to this Earth, and the righteous will be flung up into the heavens to enjoy a plentiful and never-ending paradise. The wicked will be sent to a place of eternal damnation. And the planet and the animals? Who cares? Its use will be finished. We can just wade it up, and pitch it over our shoulders. After all, we’ve managed to create a very disposable society in the same vein. But I digress slightly…
When I wrote that last night, I was remembering that time and again, the clarion call of the Wild Hunt’s horn in my dreams and meditations. I remember a few meditations that were filled with whispers on the wind. “The battle draws closer” “I do not ask for war. But I do ask you for to defend when the time comes” “Remember, your staff is not just for aiding you in your walking” Those were some of the louder whispers that I heard. For me, a determined peace-loving Druid, to speak of hearing whispered words of war is a difficult thing. I don’t like violence of any sort. I prefer to find peaceful, negotiated manners of dealing with conflict. But many times over the past months, I have been reminded that sometimes physical battle comes to one’s doorstep despite your best efforts to quell it.
The issue at Standing Rock is starting to resemble those moments where one has to reach for your staff because peaceful resolutions cannot be easily found. Last weekend, during a three-day holiday stretch, the corporation building the Dakota Access Pipe Line decided to bulldoze a large swath of burial ground that is part of the area that is to be built up. The protesters there immediately started to attempt to stop what was happening, only to be met by a “security” detail with poorly trained (if at all) dogs. The protesters were attacked by dogs that were encouraged to attack by their handlers. Protesters, including children were bitten. Many other protesters were maced by these same “security” folks. All the protesters had to defend themselves with were a makeshift flag on a stick, and their bare hands. What they really should have had in their possession were mace canisters. Not to attack with, but to spray at both the “security” detail and the dogs once the attacks against them (the protesters) had started.
I have always lived by the perspective that being non-violent and peaceful in protesting is the key to getting one’s message across. But just because you are being peaceful and non-violent does not mean that you are not prepared to defend yourself with forceful means. Trying to resolve issues with words and negotiation is the appropriate measure to take, but always be prepared to defend yourself against violent action. Defend, not retaliation. Retaliation belongs in the realm of vengeance, and that is a business that is far more serious, and should be far more thought out and appropriately measured.
From my perspective, and my interaction with Gods and Spirits….there’s a palpable anger on the wind. And return is coming…like I said, vengeance is for deeper thought, and far more measured response. I leave that to the Gods. Should They decide to utilize me as part of that response, I’ll know when They tell me. Until (of even, IF) that time, peaceful, non-violent, legal protesting is the call for the moment. Standing Rock is the battle line.
After driving for four solid days on America’s interstate system (and some of its back roads), I found that spending time in the cab of a pickup truck by myself allowed for a lot of time for thinking. And with no one to bounce ideas or concepts off of…I eventually had conversations with myself in my own mind. Most of those conversations came about because of unique moments. Such as the moment when I realized I was driving into the mountains (more like very tall hills, but who is really counting?) near Mammoth Cave National Park, and my revolving music playlist started up with “The Hills They Are Hollow” by Damh the Bard. I had to pull over into the next rest area, sit outside on a picnic bench and marvel at the world around me.
The mountains have a huge appeal factor for me. Just being in the mountains makes me feel at home, and a lot calmer than I am out here on the plains, where I live. During this part of my trip, I was driving in a narrow construction zone with eighteen wheelers and other traffic zooming around me (I was driving the posted speed limit). I know I should have felt nervous, but instead I felt calm and assured. In a similar construction zone on the east side of Memphis, Tennessee (the previous day), I was extremely nervous and agitated with the same type of traffic around me. I know I am in kinship with the Spirits of Place in mountainous areas.
That kinship with Spirits of Place is something I have started to explore in more depth. Each time I go into a mountainous area, I spend time just being outside – hiking, sitting, walking, standing – just being. Opening myself to the moment and the feeling. There is really no way to describe the feeling I have – other than being calm, and clear-headed. Anything that is happening elsewhere in my Life is on hold during that time. I am right there, focused on that moment – drinking in all the sensations and experiences I can.
Quite a while back, I had mentioned somewhere about a conversation I had with a fellow coworker. His questions were concerning where I get my moral authority from. My response was that I certainly don’t get it from a book. At one time in my life, I had my feet firmly planted in the Christian faith. But during that entire time, I never felt comfortable with the mandates and rules that came from its pages. Particularly when I was told that the Pastor or Preacher or Priest needed to “interpret” what was written there. I was even more uncomfortable, when I realized that the Bible was considered to be “divine inspiration” even though it was translated into the English from the Latin and was translated into the Latin from the Greek. And when I started to realize that passages in the Bible could be countermanded with other passages from the same Bible – I began to not trust what I was told to believe in blindly.
I understand my own moral code. I should not kill others out of spite or simply because they are different. I should not shun others who are different either. I trust people when they give me reasons to trust them. I should stop people from harming others. I should strive towards finding peaceful solutions to issues as a primary means. I didn’t need a book to teach me this. I only had to place myself in the shoes of the other person and think of how I would want to be treated. Call that the Golden Rule or whatever you want to…I just know that is where my compass is.
I follow the Old Gods. That does not mean that I think everyone MUST follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I have a grip on how others should follow the Old Gods. Nor does it mean that I understand the relationship between others and the Gods and Goddess I am drawn towards. My relationship with Them is as unique as it is between any of Them and others. I am not the Gatekeeper to Polytheism…and if there ever was such a position – I wouldn’t want it in the first place.
But all of that, coupled with being out in Nature – particularly mountains – is what makes me feel alive. Every single moment of every single day. On the worst days I have experienced to the most incredible experiences that I cannot even begin to describe. And driving through the mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky made me feel that exhilaration. I felt “at home”. I felt “calm”. I felt positively alive. I wanted to stop the truck on the side of the interstate and climb up into the woods around me. I wanted to feel the leaves of the trees in my hands, and the warmth of the sun-soaked soil between my toes. I wanted that moment of ecstasy. I settled for sitting on a picnic bench in a rest area along the interstate. And it was enough.
And during all that time, I could feel the soft warmth of Fliodhas’ hand on one shoulder, Crow’s claws digging in slightly on the other, and the warm fur coat of Coyote in my hand at my side. And I could hear the words in my mind: “There’s deep, old magick in these mountains. You should explore more.” And I certainly shall….
In a recent post, Nimue asked: “What’s your truth, and what do you need to do to speak it into everything you say, and carry it into everything you do, and what happens if we do that?” Before I continue on, let me encourage you to go read Nimue’s very thought-provoking post. I’ll wait patiently here at the keyboard.
What Nimue is discussing in her post is a very powerful process. It requires a lot of inward soul-searching, in my opinion, as well as looking to see where your flashlight (or torchlight, if you prefer) is pointed. Which reminds me of a quote from Babylon 5 that I believe helps showcase a part of my own truth.
If I take a lamp and shine toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often we assume the light on the wall is God, but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the revelation upon seeing it. Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him, sees nothing. What we perceive as God is the by-product of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light, pure and unblemished, not understanding that it comes from us. Sometimes, we stand in front of the light and assume we are the center of the universe — God looks astonishingly like we do! — or we turn to look at our shadow and assume all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose — which is to use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty and all it flaws, and in so doing, better understand the world around us. –G’kar
For me, in trying to speak my own personal truth, its the very end of this moment that expresses what my own truth is all about. See, I’m a polytheist. I believe all the Gods and Goddesses are real. I believe the Spirits of Place and Ancestor are also real. I believe that all of Them are individual entities, which we can work with, in our own individual manners. I believe that each of our relationships with these entities is individual and unique. And those unique relationships are the walls where I shine my flashlight, so that I can examine, inspect, and marvel at the uniqueness of what I am experiencing. But that’s not all.
A large part of who I am is about experiencing things. Walks in the woods. Long drives through the vast countryside of the United States. Working with my programming and databases. Sitting in the backyard next to my pool. Standing out by stone circle, in another part of the backyard, to watch the sun rise. Watching the growth of the cattle that I pass every day on my way to work. Standing on the back porch to feel the warm Summer rain, while listening to the mighty boom of nearby lightning. Conversations with friends and strangers on a wide variety of subjects. The warm, enveloping hug of friends that I saw yesterday, and the strong, enthusiastic hugs of friends and distant relatives I haven’t seen in quite some time. I tend to refer to all of that, as “my Druidry” – but that is the same thing as saying that it is a large part of “my Truth.”
Not All Personal Truths Are Equal
Perhaps, a few of you are reading the above statement and shaking your head. “That’s definitely not my truth,” you might be saying to yourself. And that is definitely all right. Much like the relationship between one individual and the Gods is one thing, another individual’s relationship to the Gods may be something completely different – even to the same Gods. Your own Truth may not be about experiencing things. Your own Truth might be about something way different. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless you are proclaiming that your Truth is the Truth that everyone else must have as well. Then, we start down the road to the unbending rod of dogma. And while that may be your Truth, for me, a rigid dogma is a definite “no” for me.
For me, this is a very simple thing. Speaking Truth everyday is adding my experiences to my daily Path. This means taking time away from my keyboard at work, so I can step down to the gazebo at the duck pond, and just watch everything happening around me. The students coming and going, the sounds of their many discussions. Watching the clouds rolling in from the west, as the jet stream pushes them forward. When I do encounter students in my daily work, I try to be encouraging. I listen to them as they talk, ask leading questions to get them to puzzle out their problems for themselves. I step into their experiences. And every once in a while, they will ask how I manage to understand all of that, and I get the chance to discuss my own concept of dealing with experiences. Whether they adapt some of that or not, that is for them to decide.
In my nightly devotions to my two Gods and single Goddess, I try to add small commentary about my experiences for the day. Just as a way of sharing my day with Them. Plus, it serves as a reminder to me that these experiences have helped me to grow, and understand the world around me, and all the connections that are a part of that and myself.
So, What Happens?
This is where your mileage will vary greatly from my own. Because what happens is nearly as unique as the connection between us and the Gods. Or the connections between us and other people. Or our experiences to various moments in time. But, one thing I have found – when we start speaking our Truth, when we start consciously understanding our own personal Truths…it bleeds out into everything we do. We begin to commit actions that mirror how we believe. For me, this was learning to live my life much slower, more deliberately. To not be rushing from one location or task to another – unless it was merited by a deadline or a specific individual requesting data. Slowing life down in a deliberate manner, allowed me to embrace the connections I could readily see, and discover newer ones that were not readily available.
Slowing life down has also allowed me to embrace a different mantra. For this one, I have to lean to Mickey Hart of Dead & Company. At the very end of the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary celebration, he made the following statement:
The feeling we have here — remember it, take it home and do some good with it. I’ll leave you with this: Please, be kind. –Mickey Hart
…and for me, that encompasses an even greater Truth. If we live our own Truth, we will find that it all leads to one simple mantra (at least I hope it will): be kind to others. I cannot say for certain what your Truth is or is not, but I certainly hope that in the end, when speaking it to others, when living it in yourself, that it all boils down to one thing: being kind to others.
If you have found anything I have written here intriguing, or you are intrigued with what Nimue has posted….please, take the time to explore your own Truth. Write it down. Examine it. Write about that examination. Put your Truth in motion. Don’t let it be a hidden part of you. Live it out loud.
Someone’s got to step up to the podium, and grab the reigns of leadership. We need a person that can be the spokesperson for the wider aspect of the Pagan community. Someone we can all point to and say “that’s who you talk to when you want to know what’s what in Paganism.” We need that one individual that steps to the forefront every single time and asserts their position of autho….wha?
Ok…you got me. What I just spouted off on is completely antithetical to what I believe about Paganism in general. No, the Pagan community, as a wider arching body, has no need of an authoritarian figure. And before anyone suggest it…even if the Pagan community had need of such a thing, its definitely not me. Yeah, I have this blog…with the five people that read it. Yeah, I have the podcast with its three dedicated listeners. But if I wanted to utilize either platform as a bull pulpit and try to make my idea of Paganism into the be-all, end-all….honestly, I would have gotten into Talk Radio and tried to give Rush Limbaugh a run for his money. But that’s not what I want. At least not for Paganism, and definitely not for me.
What do I want for the Pagan community? For people to respect one another’s differences, and be kind to one another. Yeah, that’s a definite theme of mine – being kind to one another. And if you disagree with others, be respectful about it. Of course, I am more likely to get a goose that shits solid gold eggs given to me by a kid with magic beans that grow huge beanstalks that could feed every third-world country for years, then any of that respect hogwash. But I can dream, can’t I?
Essentially, we have made it back to the “They aren’t ____ enough” arguments that have been prevalent for the last decade or more. Seriously folks, it was attitudes like that which ran me out of the Christian belief systems. People proclaiming that you weren’t Christian enough because you didn’t fork over 15% of your take-home pay into the offering plate on Sundays. People claiming that you weren’t Christian enough because you acted on the natural urge to have sex…even when you weren’t married. People saying you weren’t Christian enough because you didn’t read the “right” version of the Bible. Give me a fucking break! If you follow what’s in your heart…then you are doing what’s right. Even as a Pagan.
Look, I’m the last person to hand out a commandment to anyone regarding how they live, who they are having sex with, what you eat (or who), or how you offer up prayers and devotions (or not) to the Gods and Goddesses. I do what I feel is correct – for me. I post about it here on the blog and talk about on the podcast – because I feel its a good place to talk about things. To re-examine (or not) what each of us is doing in regards to our Spiritual lives. I’m not here to condemn you if you do things differently than I do. That’s what makes us who we are – individual, unique, human beings. All I ever lay down as a commandment of any sort — that you examine things as each pertains to you. Adopt it if it works, reject it if it doesn’t. In other words, think for yourself!
I know there’s going to be people that disagree with me. There always will be. And frankly, I am perfectly fine with that. So long as those detractors and disagree-ers (is that even a word?) just take the time to think for themselves, rather than just parrot what they are hearing – for the sake of going along with the crowd. And have enough respect for others, to allow those differences to be what they are – unique differences between us that can be acknowledged and respected.
All right…thank you for the Emails folks. I will write more often than I have been as has been asked by a group of folks. And staying with the requests…let’s move on from politics, and talk about some other stuff instead, agreed?
A few folks noticed a statement I made a while back about how I was confused that an Irish Goddess of the forest would approach a Germanic kid like myself. Well, I’m not a kid – at fifty-plus (my fifty-first is October of this year) – and as was pointed out to my via Email, there’s a potential for a lot of melding of Celtic Gods and Goddesses throughout much of the cultures within the islands and mainland Europe. Much like the intermingling of Roman Gods, Goddesses, and cultural influences during the expansion of the Roman Empire into the north and western reaches of Europe; there is a potential of similar intermingling of the Celts in a similar vein. Ok, I grok that perspective. And given that my heritage comes from a full-blooded German mother, and an American father whose ancestral tree traces throughout the central Eastern United States – there stands a more than fair chance that my ancestral DNA may be more than fifty percent in the Germanic vein.
Now, there’s some aspects that seem somewhat interesting to me. First, I am drawn with interest far more to the Roman civilization than I am to the Celt. My interest in Roman history goes far back in my life. When I was nine years old, my parents took me to the Base library numerous times. I was allowed to peruse the book shelves for things that would interest me, as well as look through Encyclopedias for information for classroom studies. Two topics piqued my interest: nuclear fission, and the Roman Gods and Goddesses.
The first was more from a social perspective. The premise and potential for nuclear war in the 1970s was becoming stronger, particularly with the posturing of the (then) Soviet Union. The wild craze of building bomb shelters in one’s backyard had gradually died down, but there were folks who continued work in that vein. My seventh grade Science Project was a depiction of nuclear fission using dominos to illustrate how the method worked. Originally, I had attempted to add some of the more graphic depictions of nuclear devastation from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, but was rebuffed by my Sciences teacher, and opted instead for pictures showing the internal workings of a nuclear weapon instead.
The Roman Gods and Goddesses were something I stumbled upon in picking up some research on the Roman military itself. The more I read about the Gods and Goddesses, the more I realized that these were more than the empty feeing I got when attended Catholic church. The Holy Trinity didn’t speak to my heart. My parents were invested in me continuing on to Catholic services, so I was taken there from time to time. Later, I would be enrolled in Catholic schools, where the indoctrination towards the Catholic church would continue. I would be taught why certain services were held, and when. I would learn more about the Sacraments, and the concept of transubstantiation. None of this really called to me. Plus I still recalled in the book of my mind that there were other Gods and Goddesses that belonged to other cultures. I knew the statement of condemnation – “thou shalt have no other Gods before Me”…but I struggled with the idea that a supposedly loving God would condemn individuals of another culture to spend an eternity in a place of torment, pain and anguish – simply because they had no concept of the Christian God or the Christian practices. To me, it was antithetical to what the Christian beliefs were about (as I understood them to be): loving, caring, forgiveness…. In the late 1980s, I started exploring outside of the Christian faith and found Paganism…and learned more about it than an Encyclopedia Britannica had ever expounded.
That was 1987. Since then, I have explored many aspects of Paganism. And in this exploration, I danced all around the terminology that would open my mind to where I am now: Druidry and Shamanism. But that exploration that I undertook is something I would never want to relinquish or forego were I given the chance to go back in time and do things differently. I learned so much more by traversing various areas, only to find that it was not where I truly belonged.
Over time, I have had two Gods that have helped guide me to where I am at this point in my life. Neither Wolf nor Crow have ever pointed me in specific directions. Rather, through meditation, dreams and subtle pushes in personal study directions, I have managed to make my way to where I am in Life now. I give thanks and veneration to Them for Their guidance. In return, I have my own appointed tasks that I agree to do. I am not compelled to do these things, I do these of my own choice.
That’s only part of the story that brings me to the here and now. There’s a lot more to it then this. Some of it, I am reluctant to pass along – not because its fantastical and I fear no one will believe. I am not worried at all about someone else believes of me or not. Rather, I am reluctant to share some of this, because it is private and personal to me. Not all of my story is for public consumption.
A secondary question that was brought to this – how does one get the attraction of a God and/or Goddess to themselves? Honestly, its a lot like falling in love with someone. If you spend your time looking specifically for an individual to share your life with – someone you can give your heart to – you will find it to be a difficult time. Furthermore, you will spend a lot of time compromising on various aspects and facets that you would want in a loved one – simply to fit them into your life. You’ve essentially created a human-shaped hole in your life, and then spend your time trying to reshape that template to fit the people you audition for that role. In my experience, its far better to not go into the search, and just live your life. When the person that is right for that part of your life arrives; you won’t need to reshape some template. You won’t even need a template. They fit into your life, and you (and they) will know its the correct fit.
In my personal estimation, finding a God or Goddess working through you in your life, taking an interest in you, laying claim on you….that happens the same way. Keep working on your Spiritual life. Keep doing the things that give meaning to you. Meditate. Do ritual – even solo rituals (this is where I was/am). If a God or Goddess seeks you out, you have the option of being flattered and still saying “no”. Take your time when you feel things happening. Do personal research on the God or Goddess. There’s a reason that I don’t heed the call of the Morrigan…I hear Her, but my Path is not with Her.
All of this is only a starting point. Please understand, I am not an expert in anything, except for myself. I know what works for me. I know what *might* work for me. I know what doesn’t work for me. Whatever those things are…the manner in which I categorize them (will, might, won’t) is not necessarily true for you. Explore. Granted, you might get your hand slapped for being in a place where you aren’t meant to be. Just apologize and back out. And while some might not agree, just remember to mind your manners when dealing with Gods, Goddesses and Spirits of Place.
Yes, I know this post opens a variety of different directions to move on from. One of those will be my exploration of my DNA, in relation to some of my Spirituality. I am not sure that there is that strong of a connection between the two of them, but that’s an uneducated supposition on my part. And as I noted – exploring suppositions brings a bit more information. It just might not be what I expect it to be.
One last note; and take it in whatever manner you would, working with your Spirituality is a lot more than just burning candles, chants, rituals, and meditation. There’s research, digging for information, and even getting outdoors in the dirt. Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to do some hard work…Spirituality doesn’t come free or easy.
So why Fliodhas (or alternatively Flidais)? Why indeed. its definitely time for some inquiry, research, and even some DNA inquiry. Time to go spit for Ancestry.com.
I am not really in the closet as a Pagan anymore. There was a time that I went to great lengths to hide who I was and what I believed from anyone and everyone. I had my standard “I don’t really believe in anything” speech all memorized. Sort of a short 30-second elevator speech designed to turn people away from me when attempting to discuss things of a Spiritual nature. All of that stopped in 1997 (I’ve been on a Pagan path since 1986). But while I am open and up-front about what I believe, I don’t spend a lot of time introducing myself with my Spirituality leading the way. But eventually, the question does come up….
What do you believe in?
There is always the trite statements. I believe in the extra point in American football. I believe in the mystical nature of great music, great poetry, and great conversation. I believe in the connected aspect of everything around us. Damnit. Somehow, I always come back to the real aspect of my Spirituality, even when I am just trying to wave things off with a funny (to me) statement.
I’m a Druid (or Druid-in-training, if you will – but I’ve been corrected on that statement enough that I do refer to myself as a Druid nowadays). I believe in the connections that are all around us, which makes us a part of our environment – not just the Master/Mistresses of all we survey. I believe that this planet’s resources are alive, just as much as we are. That there is a cycle to everything in our environment. That everything has a soul, and is alive – some moving at a speed we cannot observe or discern. I follow the concepts of Zen when dealing with my Spirituality – always trying to locate balance and center. I don’t always achieve it, but I will try my damnedest to get there. I believe in the Gods and Goddesses as individual beings. Three of them have claim on me, not as a Priest (yet), but as one who follows their calls. I believe in the Spirits of Place, and the Spirits of Ancestor – and I do my best to provide proper respect and reverence for them throughout my daily walk. Outside of that, I believe what Crash Davis states in the movie “Bull Durham” to sum up the rest (just a bit censored for the blog):
Well, I believe in the soul, the c*ck, the p*ssy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.
Essentially, I try to keep my Spirituality as stripped down as I can make it. As many of you have read here, my rituals are fairly bare…and usually impromptu. I believe that its more your heart that matters than the manner in which you accomplish the act of ritual. And I will caution you, that’s just my opinion. It works well for me. I can’t say it will work (or not) for someone else. Thus, an individual’s mileage will most likely vary.
I’m not into selling my beliefs door-to-door. In fact, just writing this particular blog post is a little nerve-wracking for me. I almost feel like I am shoving my beliefs down your (you, the reader) throat. But I do feel that its an interesting discussion point as well.
A long while back, my boss asked me where I get my moral authority from. As a Christian, he was attempting to show me that true moral authority only comes from the Bible. I understood the tactic too well. At one time, I was into the Southern Baptist faith…and its a tactic and style that was drilled into my head during Sunday Bible Study. Honestly, I don’t need a book to give me my moral anything. Nor do I need a Preacher or a Priest to interpret some “holy” writ for me either. I need no intercessor between myself and the Gods. We manage to communicate quite well without a middle-man, thank you very much. But that does not mean that I believe that the Bible is a bad thing or that Christianity is an evil belief system. Not at all. The teachings of Jesus ben Joseph are those that focus on love and compassion for one’s fellow human beings, as well as the animals and environment around us. No, its not the belief system that is at fault, but rather the twisting of the beliefs by those seeking power and control over others. My moral authority comes from treating others in the same manner that I would want to be treated. A little of a cop-out in terms of trying to express my perspective, but I am not a theologian nor am I a philosopher. I’m just a simple Pagan making his way through Life.
Now, I am not adverse to a long, quiet, philosophical discussion on personal theology….you just need to buy me a cup of coffee first. 🙂
In the first two posts of this “series” – I took a look into how I try to answer the questions posed to me: “Why Paganism?” and “Why Druidry?” In a manner of speaking, those particular questions were fairly easy to answer. Both questions allowed me to focus on what and who I am – and the reasons why I am on those particular Paths in my life. This last question is a little more difficult, because it is the exact opposite. I must take my focus away from something positive and step over towards answering a question in the negative. And to make it even more difficult, I will have to try and do this, without sounding like I am bashing on a belief system that many people I know find uplifting and positive influences in their own lives. If you feel that this post comes across as bashing on your beliefs or being overly critical or overtly negative on your beliefs – please, that is not my intention. I am merely trying to be open about how I answer this question that I get from my non-Pagan friends quite a bit:
Why not Christianity?
In some ways, its an unfair question. Sort of like asking someone that you just met if they have stopped physically abusing their significant other. And just like the other two questions, the best place to start an attempt at answering this question is from the beginning. Except, this time I have to go much further back. Into the late 1970s, in Montgomery, Alabama – my seventh, and eighth grade years.
My parents had started me at a public junior high school for the seventh grade. However, being a small, and uber-skinny kid, I was an easy target for bullies, and according to what they have told me – I did not thrive very well in large population classrooms. I vaguely recall Cloverdale Junior High School. About the only memories I really have are the line of school buses I had to walk in the mornings and afternoons – and my favorite class: Reading. There were these speed-reading machines – designed to help you read faster and retain the information that you see. You would read a short paragraph at a set speed, and then take a short multiple-choice quiz over the material. When you managed to score 100% on the quiz you could move up in speed, and in difficulty reading. I considered it a game, and did my best to not only excel in comparison to that of my classmates, but I wanted my times to be so great that no one could surpass me. And seriously, that is all I remember of that one year in public junior high school. Perhaps I blocked out the memories of being bullied by other kids…but whatever the case, my memories are not that vivid beyond that reading class and the school bus line.
My parents, wanting a good education for their oldest child, quickly moved me into Catholic school. As I have said before, my parents were not all that religious, but they were impressed with the education system that the school had – along with the small class populations. Trust me, as a college professor, it is far easier to deal with a class of twenty students than it is to deal with a class of sixty. Our Lady Queen of Mercy was the school I was enrolled into. Like any Catholic educational system, there was a class on the Catholic beliefs that each grade had to take. I read the materials, I did the homework. Much of the ritual aspect was really strange to me, but I managed to understand the basic precepts of what the Catholic faith was about. Jesus Christ died on the Roman crucifix and was resurrected to atone for the sins of humankind. Non-Christians were to be treated with the same kindness that any other human being should be – and the Christian should help them to understand the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Which was odd for me, since I did not believe in the divinity of Jesus. Smeg folks, I was what…ten? Eleven? Being the naive kid that I was – I figured it didn’t matter what I believed. Everyone at the school would accept me for who I was. Was I ever wrong.
One afternoon, on the way to the Catholic class, I mentioned to one of the other students that the class was “interesting” – particularly since I didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus. Shocked gasps rose up from the back of the line (my last name starts with a “V” – I am therefore always near the end of whatever line has been created), which soon brought the Nun instructor to discover the issue. My message was relayed by another of the students, and I soon found myself being towed to the Principal’s office by my left ear. I was deposited into a chair at the foot of the Father’s desk, my statement relayed from the Nun to the Father (and I was told to keep quiet when I tried to interject). A few very nasty glares were sent my way, and both walked out of the office. I found out a bit later that a phone call had been made to my parents summoning them to the school. While I waited for them to arrive, the Father kept asking me whether I was demon-possessed (how the Nine Hells should I know?), then read the resurrection passages out of all four gospels. When my parents arrived, I was threatened with being kicked out of the school. All over my statement of non-belief.
To say that this confused the Nine Hells out of me was an understatement. I had been reading that the non-Christian was to be met with respect, treated with dignity, shown what the kindness of Jesus Christ’s mercy can do for the status of your own daily life. And here was the head of a church, treating me like I had farted in his new car. Needless to say, my parents were contrite to the Father over the issue – and furious with me. Which confused me further, since they had never shown any measure of piety prior to this. From here, I moved on to Montgomery Catholic High School, where the Catholic classes continued, but I had learned to keep my mouth shut at this point. And then my father decided to retire from the United States Air Force, and move the family to Shreveport, Louisiana – for my last two years of High School.
Once again, my parents deposited me into a Catholic School – Loyola College Preparatory School for Boys. That’s right. The two major Catholic High Schools were separated by the sexes. I found myself having to wear a school uniform. Once a month, the entire school participated in a Catholic Mass. At one point, my teacher remarked that I was the only individual in my class that understood when to sit, stand, kneel, and how to properly genuflect. When she further remarked that I probably did not know how to receive communion, I promptly stood, and showed the two proper methods for doing so.
Why don’t you receive Communion, Tommy?
Because Miss Tabereaux, I’m not Catholic.
You can imagine how popular all that made me with my classmates. But the Catholic class my Junior year was different than anything I had experienced before. The teacher, Mr. Lerchie, set the class up as a Comparative Religion class. One quarter of the class, we studied the entire Passion Play aspect through the lens of the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. He posed questions to the class about whether the resurrection was a host – and utilized the lyrics of Judas Iscariot in the rock opera as an example of how it could be. For the first time, I had an authority figure provide me with permission (of sorts) to turn my beliefs over and over – and examine them in the light.
It was here that I first started to answer the question of “why not Christianity?” – it certainly wasn’t going to be Catholicism for me. I had seen too many instances of Catholic adherents treating one another with kindness, and looking down their noses with contempt at non-Christians – “the unbelievers” was the descriptive of derision that was to be worn like a Scarlet Letter by the non-adherent. But thanks to Mr. Lerchie’s Comparative Religion class, I was aware that there were many other forms of Christianity to try.
I peeked at many different forms of Christianity, before settling on the Southern Baptist side of things. In Shreveport, there are literally several dozen Southern Baptist churches in the city. I soon found out where some friends were attending, and joined them in services. It took about two months before I started realizing I did not fit in here either. There was one guy in the entire church with shoulder-length hair. With my thigh-length hair, it did not take long before the whispers fell around behind us – we were pot-smokers. And nothing could be further from the truth. The hardest drug we touched was a six-pack of beer on Friday nights. Before and after church, we could be found over on the fire escape, playing chess or writing poetry. We were about as Bohemian Hippie as one could get – except that we listened to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Stryper, and Messiah Prophet Band. We were metal-heads. It didn’t take long before people started forbidding their children from hanging out with us. And it wasn’t long until the hushed whispers turned into statements made out loud – just loud enough for us to hear. It didn’t take me long before I realized that this wasn’t where I needed to be.
Over the next five years, I would study about Christianity on my own. I found the entire religious concept to be a beautiful concept. Unconditional Love for all, including non-believers. A belief in a world full of peace and happiness. But that was the “pretty” side of Christianity. I soon found other passages aimed towards the dominance of everything on Earth – where the entire environment was essentially created to serve Man. While I longed for the unconditionally love and peace – as promised through the shiny side, subjugating and dominance over anything only leads to one result – a struggle by the oppressed for equality. Furthermore, I couldn’t jibe all of this with my ideals that Mankind was a part of his/her, an equal partner and part – not a ruler.
And then there was the lip service that was done in the name of Unconditional Love. I saw then – and continue to see now – if an individual expresses any aspect of non-conformity such as, un-natural colors in their hair; piercings through their lips, nose, eyebrows or other personal parts; dressing in a non-conservative manner; or having something other than a typical sexual preference — the amount of anger, hatred, and dismissive attitude presented to those individuals turns my damn stomach. And I do realize that there are those Christians who will point out that people doing such actions as these in the name of Christianity are not following the teachings of Jesus Christ. I still have a problem that this is done – and is not repudiated publicly by other Christians.
Why not Christianity? Because the Natural World is treated as a resource to be used, not as the living, individual entities that comprise it. Because I see a system of Belief that provides lip service about kindness to others, and than perpetuates the opposite towards those that do not conform to their rigid standards of dress, behavior, and preference. To be more blunt – I am a Pagan. I am both a Polytheist and an Animist. I believe in the Gods. I converse with the Gods from time to time. I converse and exist with the Spirits of the Lands. I believe that human beings are a part of their overall EcoSystem and need to learn to coexist in balance with the other inhabitants of that EcoSystem. I believe that people should be allowed to love and live with whom they wish to – regardless of gender, race, creed or any other system of labeling you can dream of. I am not here to nullify the Christian belief for anyone else but me. Nor am I here to attempt to convert anyone to my way of belief or thinking. All I ask of anyone else is that same measure of respect.
Back in the first post – Why Paganism? – I did my best to address one of the many questions I get from my non-Pagan friends. My second question, is one that I get from quite a few of my Pagan friends, as well as my non-Pagan ones. Why did I choose a path of Druidry? And why specifically did I choose the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids? As I stated before, the “Elevator Speech” does not quite answer these questions – at least not to a point where I feel I have been able to relate my perspective.
A few years back, I always felt that this question was self-evident, particularly in evidence with how I approach my understanding of Paganism. But over the last few months, I have started to realize that many of my friends that ask are not always aware of the personal Path that lead me to the doorstep of Druidry. So when I look for a spot to start my answer, its typically been my experience to start somewhere around the beginning, which transports us back to 1987 in Fort Worth, Texas at Carswell Air Force Base.
I had been conversing with several folks over some of the local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs), and had been discussing spirituality and religion with quite a few of the folks. It was here that I first encountered a Pagan, which led to meeting more over the BBSs in the local area. Soon I had quite a few to discuss information with, and I began meeting some of these folks for Friday night gatherings at local establishments for long, protracted conversations. I distinctly remember closing down the Pig and Whistle Pub in Fort Worth several times with a group of folks, and the extremely detailed conversations that occurred over a few pints. This was where I encountered my first full-fledged conversations on topics such as reincarnation theory, animism, polytheism, shamanism, symbology and many, many good-spirited debates on comparative religion. There were quite a few very heated discussions that took place, but at the end of the night, we all laughed and hugged one another as we returned to our own homes. There were many times that I felt completely out of my depth in some of the conversations.
However, over time, I became familiar and comfortable with Wicca – and began borrowing books from one of my friends. I read every book cover to cover – and discovered even more concepts and topics that left me scratching my head. Theosophy, the Ordo Templi Orientis, Thelemic mysticism, Kabbalah, Gnosticism….each new concept made my head swim as I learned a little more – but Wicca felt like home. A love of Nature, a connection with the Gods and Goddesses, finding connections with the environment…but there was one nagging constant that I did not enjoy. Ritual.
My upbringing is that of a Catholic, despite the fact that my parents were never all that religious. I know many people who find the Catholic Mass to be a ritual of immense beauty. I am not one of those people. And my dislike for ritual bled over into my time within Wicca. I learned to tolerate the entire aspect of ritual. When rituals were finished, I listened to people gush over how they felt so much more connected to the Gods and their environment after this particular ritual or that particular moment when this Quarter was called or that God or Goddess was invoked. And the entire time, I felt myself thinking how the ritual was not really that necessary – the Gods and Goddesses were always there, the Spirits of the Land (not the term I was using at that time) were easily found – you just had to open yourself to what was there and allow yourself to experience that moment. I constantly volunteered to leave the offerings for the Spirits of the Land after ritual, since it gave me the chance to steal away from everyone else long enough to leave the offering somewhere – and allow myself a moment to open up without interruption. Its really odd, even now – twenty-plus years down the road – I still get strange looks from other Pagans when I note how little use I have for formal ritual.
In late 1990, I was sent overseas to Germany, and for all intents and purposes completely separated from my coven-mates. And for the first time, I experienced the concept of being completely separated from others where my faith was concerned. I encountered a few Pagan folks during my time at Sembach Air Base, but no one I truly clicked with. Near the base housing I was living at, there were woods – not more than one-hundred and fifty feet from my front door. I walked all throughout those woods for hours on end. I even explored all over my local area, trying to find Pagan shrines that may have still been standing. And in a very strong way, I felt like I was back home. Back in the forested areas I had walked in as a younger “me” – but now even more aware of how I fit into the world around me. I could walk away in silence, and listen to the wind whispering through the trees, hear the call of birds and animals in the quiet woods, and I felt so alive. It was during this time, that I realized that Wicca was not a very good fit for me. The emphasis was on rituals and spell-work, both of which were of little use or value to me. So I stepped over to calling myself a “Pagan” figuring that I would never find a moniker or label or Path that completely fit who I am. And I also began to realize that a label or a name for my Path was no longer important to me. I was (and continue to be) happy with being myself.
Eventually, I would make it back to the United States, separate from the United States military, and live my life within the DFW area. I made another attempt at Wicca with another local DFW tradition, but after my year-and-a-day training period was over – I thanked them for their time and moved on. In time, my own personal studies brought me to the path of Druidry.
Druidry, as I have come to understand and relate to the concept, is a way of living one’s life in conjunction with the sacredness of Nature. Through my understanding of Animism (which is literally quite minute by my own admission), the path of Druidry allows me a framework in which I can weave my own conceptualization of the connectedness of everything. The idea that the framework of Druidry is malleable, allows me to mold it to my own personal needs. While there are ritual elements to Druidry, the importance of those elements is left up to me, not placed in front of me as dogma. And the allowance of personal de-emphasis on ritual and re-emphasis on personal experience is one of the reasons I choose the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) over that of Ar nDraíocht Féin (ADF).
So, why Druidry? Because the world around me is alive! I feel the Gods and Goddesses everywhere around me. I am not their focal point – in fact, I would need to achieve their attention through forms of ritual, but I can perceive that they are there. The Spirits of the Land are far easier to work with – in my opinion. Not only are they there, but they are also interested in human kind. Sometimes for the wrong reasons. We – human beings – spend a lot of time trying to destroy the environment that we live in. We try to dominate and use the environment for our own selfish purposes. We sometimes choose not to live in harmony with the Land around us. And it is this point that will lead me down the road to my third – and final – part of this series of posts. I will attempt to answer the question of “Why not Christianity?”….
I have been a Pagan since 1987. That’s approximately twenty-six years of my forty-eight year life. I say approximately, because prior to 1987, my own spirituality and my religious life were not that important to me, but many of the primary issues that drive my life were quite similar. My love of Nature has never changed. I enjoy being outdoors and being in the wilder parts of the environment. You know, the places where there are no concrete sidewalks, no prefab restrooms for the public. Places where you step behind a group of trees to take a piss. Where the paths you walk may be nothing more than a deer trail that has been worn through over several seasons.
I’m no hunter. I carry no weapon to point and shoot at the animals I encounter – unless you count the camera I carry. I do carry a walking staff, and a knife. I do respect Nature enough to know I need to protect myself to some measure. But guns are not something I care to carry with me. I did that enough for eight years in the US military. My camera provides enough of the point/click/shoot interface that I need. Besides, I come to the wilder parts of the environment to carry nothing more than experience and memories from my visit. I’m here to be a part of my environment, not find some manner to dominate, control or use it. As a Pagan, I understand that I am merely one aspect of what my environment is. Everything else deserves the same amount of respect.
I do get a lot of questions about my chosen Path in Life – particularly from my non-Pagan friends and acquaintances.
Why Paganism? Could you not find the same measure of solace within the bounds of Christianity? Why Druidry? What makes Druidry more appropriate than any of the other Pagan beliefs? Is this just your desire to be more weird than anyone else?
…and there’s definitely more than these. But the common thread is simple to understand: why this particular Path? And to be perfectly honest, this is one of the more difficult questions I tend to be asked. Trying to formulate a standard answer is not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, at least for me.
Certainly, there are ways to try and answer this question. For instance, there’s the “Elevator Speech” concept that I have heard/read many of my Unitarian Universalist friends espouse. And I do agree that this methodology is an effective one, where you can craft the entire one- to two-minute spiel to a particular audience. But the difficulty that I find, is trying to explain something that relates the entire world around me in a series of connections that I explore so carefully and have spent a lifetime cultivating – into a simple, short message. This particular delivery method may work for others, but it is certainly not something I have managed to balloon-animal into a working format for myself.
On my podcast, Upon a Pagan Path, I ask my guests to talk about their own perspective of Spirituality and how it helps them to relate to the world around them. My manner of approaching this, is to ask them leading questions and then let them work forward from that point to explore the topic on their own. In a way, what I am doing here is quite similar – except that I am essentially interviewing myself, admittedly a tough prospect in its own right.
So, let’s start at the most obvious. Why Paganism, indeed. The basic premise behind the over-arching concept of Paganism is a reverence and respect for Nature. I am not going to try and define what Paganism is, but rather will describe what it is to me. The distinction is important, because I am not going to try and describe the experiences of others. I can really only relate what and how Paganism relates to me. It is likely, that I will touch on areas that correlate to others who have had similar experiences, but in the end I am still only describing my own experiences.
I never truly knew what Paganism was when I was growing up. I had a very strong feeling of belonging when I walked through the woods in West Germany with my family on while Volksmarching. My mother and father figured me to be daft in the head when I spoke of the “people living in the trees” and wondered why I was fascinated by the various rings of mushrooms that I would find just off the walking paths. I rarely stayed on the paths – I was always bounding off into the woods, walking parallel to the trails until I encountered some obstacle that would force me back, such as a large stream. When my parents enrolled me in Cub Scouts, I was overjoyed to learn about outings where we would camp in the woods, and get to explore on our own. When my father’s USAF position brought us back to the United States, I was disappointed to find that we would be living in a city. There were certainly wooded areas to play and explore in, but nothing like the deep, quiet woods that I had found in West Germany. I never lost my love of the woods, nor did I lose my understanding and feeling of the forest denizens.
Upon returning to the States, I started to understand a bit more about religious beliefs – mostly thanks to my enrollment into Catholic schools. At every grade level, students were indoctrinated into the Catholic faith with classes, and regular church services, held specifically for the students. In junior high school, I made the mistake of noting that I did not believe in the Christian faith, and found myself face-to-face with the school’s Principal and my parents who had been summoned to explain me. It was then that I realized it was smarter to keep my mouth shut and not state what I did not believe, much less what I did believe. And I honestly had no idea what I believed at that point. Eventually, I stepped into the Southern Baptist faith, mostly due to the urgings of a few friends.
The Southern Baptist faith was an odd one for me. My reverence for Nature was noted to be nothing more than an observance of the beauty of God’s creation. That everything I saw and held as beautiful was placed here for mankind’s usage. Man controlled the environment, and utilized it, as had been laid out according to God’s master plan for the Earth. I never believed a word of that. It never felt right to me. I had realized fairly early on, that we co-existed with all aspects of our environment – that together, we made up all the components necessary to have balance. That damn Libra mindset of mine struck again. And once I found that little chink in the Southern Baptist philosophy, I found more and more…and began to realize that this did not fit into my understanding of the world around me either. So I drifted in my spiritual understanding for another group of years. Eventually, I stumbled into Wicca, and thanks to “Drawing Down the Moon” by Margot Adler – I discovered a world of kindred folk, and a spiritual viewpoint that nearly matched my own.
In writing this, I have found that I may have bitten off more than I can chew at a given moment. Therefore, I will write a second part to this – “Ok, So Why Druidry?” will be the next part. And there may possibly be a third part to this as well. Hopefully, those of you reading this will be intrigued enough to continue along with me when I finish the next post on Monday (tomorrow).