Just One Hill. There Are Still Mountains to Come.

“Only a Sith deals in absolutes.”

This is my favorite quote from any of the Star Wars movies. This singular quote also encompasses a large part of what and who I am. I am not one for holding to a good deal of absolutes to anything in my life or Spiritual Path. Over the past half-year, I have had a lot of time to contemplate aspects of my own Druidry that I held to as absolutes. Over that time, I altered a few approaches that I had, and discarded a few others that no longer really served what I needed on my Path. Now, I have made it to where I am. Standing on top of the hill, having climbed to this point. Ahead of me, I see the even taller, steeper mountain that remains on my Path. My Spiritual Path requires more work, more effort, and the rest of the time I have in my Life in this incarnation – and probably beyond that.

Malleable, But Not

Over the many years on my Spiritual Path, I have come to realize that my Spirituality is a malleable form. I can alter and shape it to my current needs. However, while I note that there are few absolutes in my understanding of the world around me; there are a few things that are solid and unchangeable. My belief in many Gods is one of those. I don’t have empirical proof of the Gods, aside from my own beliefs and experiences. In my early-to-mid-twenties, I carried a perspective where I had to defend what I knew against all comers. In my late twenties to my early forties, I realized that continually arguing over the reality of belief accomplished nothing except wasting time and energy. Now, in my mid-fifties, I have a better understanding of how my beliefs have evolved as I grew and changed – and will continue to do so going into my own future.

My concept of ritual is one example of the malleability of my connection to the world around me. When I first started down my Pagan path, I would read about various rituals that were in books by Scott Cunningham and Donald Michael Kraig. I would read about all the materials necessary, the preparation, and the mindset that would be required. Everything just HAD to be EXACTLY as a described. Later, I would realize that certain materials could be swapped with others. I would realize that one’s hand could be just as powerful (or even more so) than a wand of any sort. The color of the candle did not matter. Even further on, I would come to realize that intent mattered far more than the date/time that the ritual took place. The materials utilized were there to enhance the experience, not drive it. Only a few years ago, it dawned on me that there was no absolute in ritual – aside from personal intent.

Instructions Are Instructions

Yes, instructions are necessary for anything that one tries to do – unless you are creating something from scratch. In a manner of speaking, personal ritual is a lot like playing jazz music or making alterations to a recipe. However, before you even take a single step along the lines of riffing on your Paganism, you need to understand the basics far better than you may realize. To turn a ritual to your liking, you need to understand the format of what you are altering. I learned this lesson the hard way. I wanted to make changes to a particular ritual format that I had experienced a few times in a group setting. So, I made changes to parts of the ritual that I didn’t care that much about. What I wound up with was a complete mess that really did nothing for me. I had to strip away the changes and start again. I made the changes one after another. One change at a time wound up being helpful. I could sample various things and determine what worked and what didn’t. When I had finished, I had a personal ritual format that worked well for me. I had removed certain elements completely, altered/enhanced others to my liking, and added a few things that I had wanted. However, the full set of changes took a lot of work, a lot of sampling, and a lot of self-analysis. Not to mention tons of trial and error, and a metric ton of unsatisfying results. However, I wanted it – I worked at it – I developed it. In the end, the instructions of how to set up and conduct the ritual provided a basic framework to develop things from.

Rebuilds Are Not Always Necessary

Yes, I did strive to rebuild my Druidry into something that worked for me. In the beginning, the idea was to create something a bit more edgy and dark, which is not me whatsoever. What I wound up doing was stripping away overly romantic elements of what I have been taught within Druidry, while developing my own understanding of the connections I knew already existed. What I have left is a Druidry that is much easier for me to move forward with. A Druidry that resembles what I had before but removes a lot of the absolutes that I had inferred from the perspective of other Druids. I didn’t need Druidry to be from their viewpoint, I needed to develop it from my own viewpoint, my own understanding. What was important to them might not hold any importance to me whatsoever. I needed to shape things in my understanding and comprehension. A rebuild was not necessary though. What I wound up removing from my own Druidry was so miniscule that I could have – should have – just removed it without too much thought or pretense. However, in the end, I do believe that the process was cathartic for me. So, perhaps, in one perspective, it was necessary.

Crossing the finish line of that rebuilding process did bring me to the realization that my Druidry has never been about absolutes. I have very few lines that cannot be crossed in one fashion or another. There are always exceptions to the rules. Some call that being “wishy-washy” or will remark that this is “so Libra” of me. That I am unable to make a single decision. That I spend too much time keeping all my options open. Well, maybe. I am a quintessential Libra, or so I have been told. If that methodology or perspective is offensive to others or what have you… Well, so be it. I know what works for me. I have had enough time to live those experiences to understand that for myself. Plus, I would never say that this works for every single individual out there. Whoops, there is me seeing things from a malleable point of view. 😊

–Tommy

Rebuilding My Druidry – Looking Back to the Beginning

Over the past few months, I have fleeting mentioned that I am rebuilding my approach to Druidry. A few posts ago, I went into a bit stronger detail with a post titled “Rebuilding My Druidry: Ritual” where I discussed my own approach to ritual in accordance to the Wheel of the Year. I had a few compliments passed on to me on what I had written. A few mentioned that I had expressed how they also approached their own Spirituality within their own Spirituality. Others disagreed but noted that it was important to see different approaches, particularly for those who are new to Paganism. After all, the more you read, understand, and experience – it only stands to reason that your own approach becomes much more informed.

In that vein, I will try my best to take one post a week and do some open exploration of my own approach to various topics as it unfolds in my own rebuild of my Druidry. For today, I will take some steps backwards and start from the beginning of this process.

I have been on a Pagan Path for close to thirty-five years now. Much of my early years were spent trying to swim within the pool of Wicca. The fitting between myself and the Wiccans I encountered was never a good one. Much of what I was being taught fell along the lines of strict hierarchies, none of which I believed were useful or helpful. I have never been shy about expressing my opinion on things. Looking back, it would have been better to just keep my mouth shut and move along. However, I was a very different Pagan when I was younger.

I didn’t come to Druidry until sometime in the early to mid-2000s. While the fit has never been completely tight or right – it is the closest thing I have found to what I believe. The framework provided by the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) has enough flexibility for me to find ways to make this Path my own. However, I didn’t realize that until shortly after I completed my Bardic grade, which took me nearly seven years. Thus, I had swallowed much of the symbology behind what a Druid “should” be, without critically examining what had presented. Those of you that have come out of families that were strong in the Southern Baptist faith will understand this. You accept what is taught and find ways to contort yourself around perspectives that don’t necessarily fit directly to you. Blind obedience has never really sat well with me.

In the past few years, I have loosened up the compartmentalization that I have had in my personal life, allowing my Druidry to flow easier into my life. More than once, aspects of my Druidry clashed with approaches that I used in secular (Gods I hate that term) life – some of which put me in awkward and even dangerous situations. This has caused me to tear down two matrices that I have constructed in my life – my own personal approach to daily existence, and my Druidry.

Because these two matrices were originally constructed to work independently of one another, when I let down the barriers between them, conflicts started to arise in my everyday life, and even within my own personality. To make the two work together meant pulling everything down, and then rebuilding from the pieces of both, while examining what was necessary, removing what wasn’t, and finding ways to combine those that were in diametrical opposition to one another.

Probably the most difficult part of all of this is bringing myself to understand that however I do this rebuild, whatever it winds up looking like – I am not doing this to please others. I am doing this to make my everyday approach to life map easier to my Spirituality without removing too much of the non-Spiritual perspectives that work for me. In other words, I am a Druid, but that does not negate who I am. I am not a slave to my beliefs. My beliefs are what help me connect to the world around me, and my beliefs should be helpful in my own approach to everyday things such as decision-making, and in the usage of my own emotional intelligence.

My first step was to remove some of the over-romanticized perspective of what Druidry is. I am not Gandalf the Grey or Gandalf the White. I am not Getafix. I am not whatever popular perspective of Merlin that is shown to us in the various renditions of the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I am me. I am not a Priest to the masses. I am not some individual who is strong with some arcane power that others just cannot comprehend without the training that I have. I really am just me. I am a Druid. As a Druid, I am constantly learning. I am constantly experiencing. What I learn and experience is different from everyone else, including the people that stand right next to me. I am still searching for what type of Druid I might be – if any. To me, archetypes are like labels – they’re useful for sorting, but completely bullocks in being useful beyond that. If you read through the blog, you will find where I struggle with labels such as “Priest”, “Elder”, “Teacher”, and even “Mentor.” I might fulfill some aspect of all of these – and likely even more – but in the end, I am still myself. So, the first step was to rebuild what I felt was a Druid.

At this point, I am still trying to formulate a complete answer to that. I find myself constantly falling into the asinine “Are You Pagan Enough” tripe, when trying to work up an idea of what a Druid is. So, I have decided to not worry about the fallacy of trying to find a definition for the word. I know where my footsteps are on my Path. Its not for me to judge whether someone else’s footsteps are “worth enough” to hold a similar descriptive to mine. In fact, given that I shamelessly advocate for others to find value and worthiness in their own footsteps, it would be hypocritical of me to provide any such judgment. Rather, I find it more useful to encourage others to continue to seek their direction, to continue to see worth in what they are doing, and to fail. Failing is an experience that teaches us about our efforts. I’ll write more on this in the next blog post for Tuesday.

This rebuilding of my Druidry is not going to be complete if I focus on it entirely. I also must focus on my own self as well. I have made no secret that I have been working with a mental health counselor. One of the bigger areas that we have worked on is a deeply rooted aspect of “Imposter Syndrome”. This has shot most of my personal confidence and has been a major cog in my constant second-guessing myself on various aspects of my life. This is a slow road to change, but a very necessary one.

After I wrote the “Rebuilding My Druidry: Ritual” post, I had a few folks tell me that they didn’t agree with my approach. I can grok that. In fact, I would say that they are completely right. My approach is not the right thing to do – for them. They know what works for them, and they realize that this won’t work for them. I am not them. They are not me. We are Pagans, but we are also individuals. No one has told me that I am completely wrong in what I am doing, and I am thankful for that. I dislike fundamentalist Christians for their lack of vision that the world around them is not the same as they are – and that the world is better off for those differences. I dislike fundamentalist Pagans even more. Everyone should, in my opinion, have the freedom to explore their own approach to the Divine. If they make mistakes, if they fail – they will learn from those experiences and adapt their beliefs and practices accordingly. While I can warn them about my own experiences in those areas, its is also better for me to be there when they need someone to hold them and listen to their laments over those experiences. No “I told you so” moments. Just understanding, and a steady shoulder for them to lean on or cry into. As the mem says: “I’m not here to compete with you. I hope we all make it.”

Rebuilding things is not the easiest task to accomplish. For me, it is necessary. I cannot live my life where aspects of myself are constantly in conflict with one another. This process is not quick nor is it easy. I am relearning the idea of personal patience. Plus, I am realizing that some of my life choices during this time were not healthy ones. But those were made. These are part of my Past now. A past that informs my Present and has a part in shaping my Future – whatever that might look like. Sure, after thirty-five some-odd years on a Pagan Path, at the ripe age of fifty-five (fifty-six this year), doing a rebuild like this may seem strange to handle. Why not just let it stay the way it is, relax and enjoy the latter part of my Life? That sounds awesome, but it is not me. I am still learning. I am still experiencing. Rebuilding my Druidry, as well as rebuilding parts of my own Self – to integrate the two more tightly and appropriately – well, that’s just being honest with myself over what needs to be done. The “fake it ‘tll you make it” tripe just never felt like I was being honest with myself. Others can disagree. I am not them. They are not me.

–T /|\

Rebuilding My Druidry: Ritual

Spring is one of those times of the year that I enjoy being outside. The temperature is not too cold here in central Tejas. Nor is it face-melting hot, but there is a promise in the air that this will be the future here. The elbow-in-the-ribs joke is that if you don’t like the weather here, just wait ten minutes. Except in the dead of Summer.

Spring also has the promise of one of the celebrations on the Wheel of the Year that I tend to avoid – Beltane. I have discussed that before, though. However, the year of lockup and lock-down that COVID-19 has provided for all of us, has uncovered a lot of other things for me. I have begun to see this past year of COVID-19 like a river in a high-drought season. As the water’s depth disappears, the stones that make up the river’s bed get exposed. Your perception of the river changes because of that. In so many ways, COVID-19 has done this for me in many places in my life – personally, professionally, and even Spiritually. This uncovering of the stones in the river bed has led me to re-examine parts of my own Druidry.

In the past, I have always tried to make two large celebrations in my nearest Pagan community. Not because the celebrations were important. My attendance was more about being able to mingle with the people there – re-igniting connections with others. The largest of these, for me, is the Gulf Coast Gathering (GCG), here in the States. I have never missed any of the celebrations. Due to COVID-19, I will have missed the last two years of this gathering of OBOD Druids. Many of these people are more than friends. They are family. Many of them, I only get to see at this gathering. Due to our busy lives, we rarely converse outside of the gathering. So, GCG serves as more than a celebration of a spoke of the Wheel of the Year. In many respects, it truly is a family reunion.

Over the past year, I have been to exactly zero gatherings. The last OBOD member I have seen face-to-face was John Beckett back in early March of last year. This past year has taught me the importance of these gatherings to what I am as a Druid, and as a person. All this time away has also taught me another perspective, that my Spirituality does not necessarily have to be focused around the Wheel of the Year. But one step at a time in this conversation.

I have never considered myself to be much of a social creature. When I was at Pantheacon, Many Gods West, the ADF Imbolc Retreat I have frequently attended, or even Gulf Coat Gathering – I was never really drawn to the celebratory gatherings that have occurred in the late-night hours. In my time at any of those events, I would retire far earlier than others for sleep. The truth be told, I always felt uncomfortable around any of those after-hours moments. My idea of winding down after any of these conferences, retreats, or gatherings was to sit around a fire and have quiet conversations about whatever subject. I have truly never been the “party-on” type of person. I do; however, miss the people that I encountered and spent time with at these events. Our discussions might take place on a porch or in a hotel hallway or across a small table in a Subway restaurant, but I have found that I crave these discussions the most. These discussions form a strong basis of how I work through my Spirituality on my own, and without them, I don’t always have the fertile ground that I am hoping for when I contemplate things, such as my own “Pagan Square Mile.”

Much of my practice has focused around the Wheel of the Year. I have worked personal rituals to the various spokes. I always found the time to attend group celebrations as well. This past year, I purposefully abandoned all of that. The exact reasoning of “why” is not important. During that time, I started questioning and rebuilding aspects of my Druidry. My heavy focus on ritual was one of those aspects that received a lot more scrutiny than I had originally intended. I had realized that I spent too much time worrying about what part of the Year I was in, and far less time being absorbed in my surroundings, and my local environment. When I worked at the college, my morning and evening drives consisted of a short ten-mile drive on a dirt road between five cattle farms. I didn’t need to celebrate the Wheel of the Year to see the cycle of death and re-birth. I could watch it through my windshield every single day. I saw cattle disappear from the various herds, obviously sold to market for food production. I would see the new baby calves Just a few days after their birth, moving on shaky legs. A few months later, these same calves would challenge my truck to a race along the fence line, a comical sight to be certain, but a definite sign of their growth. I certainly didn’t need ritual to experience the cycle of life. I only had to live and observe everything around me.

Don’t get me wrong. Ritual has a place within my life. In the smaller form of daily devotionals to Crow, Coyote, and Abnoba, I have an aspect of ritual that takes place every day. My focus on larger ritual celebrations tends to focus around the Equinoxes and the Solstices more than anything else. But ritual has never been the be-all, end-all that it tends to be for other Pagans. Before anyone thinks that I am taking a massive shit on the experiences and practices of others, I will point out that I have never said once that everyone should stop placing strong emphasis on rituals. I am simply pointing out that my Spiritual practice does not have the same manner of emphasis. I know what works for me, what calls to my soul…there is no way in the Nine Hells that I would ever believe that what I do should be done in the same manner by anyone other than myself.

Certainly, there are going to be those Pagans that will point to what I have written here and say that I am “wrong” in my approach. All I can really do is shrug my shoulders and move on. If they were looking for an argument or fight, they probably need to go back twenty years or more and approach me there. At my age, I have no desire to argue or fight about how I approach my own Spirituality. I have other areas where I wish to focus my time, and energy.

So, today brings another light-blue sky for my Sunday afternoon. I would prefer to be outside for at least part of it. I have my mask with me. My intention is to be outside, doing what I do as a Pagan…living my life and experiencing the day.

–T /|\