One of the more difficult questions that came out of the discussions at Many Gods West was actually not a direct statement made anywhere in the discussions, at least not where I can recall. And to be honest, I was caught on this particular thought for a long while, just a few years back.
What happens when you compare where you are in your polytheistic practice with others that you know? Is it fair to do so??
Admittedly, this is a difficult topic, and difficult to put in terms that are not so personal to me. In fact, I don’t really know a better way to bracket this entire topic, other than to utilize myself as an example. So, yes – this particular blog entry is about me and my own experiences, along with a lot of thinking that I had to eventually get beyond in order to be more of what I have become.
Comparisons are inevitable. Particularly when you get too wound up in the idea of advancing towards being a better [x]. I hold three academic degrees: a Bachelors of Science in Computer Sciences; a Masters of Information Systems Management; and a Masters of Business Administration. Any professional conference I have attended, conversations with strangers have always started with something close to: “So, what are your degrees?” Almost akin to the “how big is your penis” conversations that men supposedly hold amongst one another on drunken nights. (I can vouch on my behalf that I have never had one of these conversations before) It’s a quick comparison of how this person may or may not match up to your intelligence level – like a degree seems to be some measure of intelligence. ::eye-roll:: But regardless the comparison is there. We do it in the Pagan community as well…
How many years have you been a Pagan? What degree do you hold in your tradition? What’s your lineage? Who initiated you? All questions I have heard asked of me or others within the Pagan communities that are out there. But it’s the internal measures that caught me. Where I found myself comparing my abilities and experiences as a Pagan against others that I knew.
I found myself comparing my experiences in everything. With the Gods, with Spirits of Place, with Spirits of Ancestors, how far I had managed to get in my Bardic studies in OBOD, whether my experiences with the Gods were as deep as this person….EVERYTHING. And I wound up being a complete wreck as a person, and what I felt was an even worse example of a Pagan. There were nights that I sat on my knees in my living room, silently crying because I felt I was a failure as a Pagan because I didn’t measure up to where I felt another person was on their Path.
This was not a very comfortable moment on my Path. I had found Coyote a short while before. I had just been led to Crow, and I was questioning a lot of what and how I was – as well as a lot that was being asked of me. I was pointed towards one person as an example of what to do, and how to be. And I was completely unsure I would ever be his equal in anything. In fact, I still doubt that I will be his equal in a lot of things. But whether he believes it or not, he has been a mentor of sorts to me – if just from a distance. I was provided this individual as an example. Not a cutout. Not a pattern to follow precisely. Not an image to become a carbon copy of. An example. Particularly, an example of how to be a Priest. I only hope I have become what Crow has intended me to be at this point on this Path – and that I continue to grow towards what He intends me to be in the future.
What happened was that I let my own internal fears get in the way. I started looking at who this person was, how he approached topics, how he handled his own calling to his Gods – and I tried to hold myself up to that precise level. I needed to learn to do ritual the same way. I needed to reach the levels that he has climbed to. I had to do things in [x] time because he had. And that small voice came to the back of my mind, one night on the living room floor.
Be you. I need you as my Priest. Not a copy of him. Aspire to those attributes, but mold those to who you are.
When I responded with the doubtful voice that I wasn’t sure that I could, I was told:
You can. There is no doubt of that.
After a long period of pulling myself back together, finally believing in my own ability to travel this Path on my time, ensuring that I learned what I needed through all my lessons – I started to remember key points of what I saw in this individual. He followed the rules, learned the knowledge, and then scored it appropriately so that it became his. His. I didn’t really need to compare myself to him. I needed to emulate some of his perspectives in order to start down certain parts of the Paths laid before me. But in the end, I needed to place my own feet into the appropriate places for my travels. Walking this Path is not about emulating someone. Rather, it is about walking down a well-worn Path where many others have come before us, and many others will come after….and making the experience of the travel my own. It wasn’t about being “as good as”…it was about being “right and appropriate” for me.
At Many Gods West, one panel was a massive discussion that wound all around the room. And for a few moments, I felt as intimidated in that room as I did on the floor of my living room on those mostly sleepless nights. Many of the people there described very personal experiences that they had had with their Gods with beautiful, evocative descriptions of some of their experiences. And it was really tough sledding for me. I began to question whether I had a “tight” relationship with Crow. I started to slip back into my own doubts of how “good” I was compared to the rest of these people. And after a few minutes, I suddenly realized that I had spoken. I had said something.
And after a few minutes, I suddenly realized that I had spoken. I had said something. And for the life of me, I couldn’t remember exactly what I had said. Listening to the follow-on statements, I understood I had mentioned something about my relationship with Crow….how I managed to create a bargaining system between us over some of the tasks that had been set before me. Tasks I was uncomfortable with. And that what I had said was sparking a thread with others at the table that was delving deeper into all of our relationships with our Gods and Goddesses and Spirits. There was that small voice at the back of my head:
See stupid? There was never any doubt.