Thinking About: Beltane, Samhain, and Drinking the Keg Dry

Beltane is on the radar. From the calendar perspective, its just less than a week away. Like any year, I’ve been asked what I am doing to celebrate this time of year. My answer is always the same: as little as possible. This is not one of my favorite turns of the wheel. Beltane, along with Samhain, are two of the most popular times to hang out with Pagans. Lots of partying, lots of good mead being shared in copious amounts…just a good time for all. I don’t and won’t begrudge anyone else the awesome festival atmosphere of either turn of the wheel. For me, its just way too many people, but its also a feeling of being like the two times of the Christian calendar point of Easter and Christmas. Let me explain my perspective a little…

When I was exploring the Christian faith – shortly after I graduated high school – I noticed a phenomenon that took place in both the Catholic and Southern Baptists perspectives that happened each year – the massive increase of attendance at both Easter and Christmas. In both instances, I asked the church leaders why this happened and both explained that there are “lukewarm” members of their faith. People who only come to church at Easter and Christmas because these are the two most important moments in the life of their Savior – His birth and death. Because this had so much significance in their belief systems, their followers seemed to feel that this was the only time that they NEEDED to be in church. In the Baptist faith, the Pastor explained that these “lukewarm” Christians would have troubles crossing over into Heaven because their faith was not strong. “Jesus will spit out those with a lukewarm faith in the same way that one would spit out coffee that had cooled for too long,” he explained to me.

Does this also apply to the Pagan folk that attend Beltane and Samhain gatherings only? Surely, there would be a large contingent of folks that were at either gathering because of the free-flowing alcohol, the very sexualized aspect of things (in the case of Beltane), and the fun, carnival atmosphere of both, right? Sex, booze, and partying are always a good strong attraction, especially for those looking for all of that to be available without having to work too hard for it. Very appealing…one would think. I’ve been at gatherings where new individuals to the group spend more time helping to empty the mead keg than to participate in ritual…sad, but very true.

Now with those observations out of the way, let me point out a few added moments of clarification. In both cases, the number of people that fit those categories is not hugely significant. They are, usually, some of the louder people at either set of the gathering – usually needing to be seen, as if that swings the camera of the video feed in their direction – providing the Gods with a record of their having been there. In baseball parks, these people are commonly referred to as being at the game “to be seen.” They are usually referred to as being lower than casual fans, usually there to ham it up for the camera so that their faces can be displayed on the jumbo-tron screen for the entire cadre of folks in attendance to see how pretty they are. Do these folks detract from the game, even for the hardcore stats fans like me who score the game on paper with a pencil? Not at all. Nor do these “lukewarm” attendees at the gatherings, some of whom I have described above. The only hardcore foul is the copious assistance in draining a mead keg that was meant as a chance to sample and partake for all attendees.

Some of the groups I have been acquainted with over the years solved some of this issue by holding invitation-only Beltane and Samhain celebrations. In this manner, they manage to control their gatherings a little tighter, ensuring that an atmosphere that they wish to have is held to a standard that they are requiring. Good for them. I have been invited to such gathering in the past, and while Wicca is not my cup of tea – this type of attendance control has been a good handle for me. A few other groups have handled their celebrations by making it a members-only gathering. Again, good for these folks. It works for them. However, I have found myself doing the majority of my celebrations and observances of the Wheel alone. As an individual who is working on my own within a larger, world-wide group – this methodology has worked for me. I can manage the focal aspects of seriousness and playfulness to a level which I am comfortable with. I only have a single individual to worry about…me. Of course, I do still need group aspects as well, which is why I try my best to make the Gulf Coast Gathering for the celebration of Alban Eilir. We carry on, giggle, laugh and such, but there is also a seriousness associated with the rituals as well. These people are family to me, I am very comfortable with them. Gathering with them is a salve to my practicing alone. There’s a touch of difference between that gathering and the public gatherings I have attended in the past for Beltane and Samhain.

There are people that will be irritated or downright disagree with me over my perspectives that I am pulling forward in this blog post. Not only is that just “ok”…I expect it, and it should be so. I’m no law giver when it comes to Paganism, Druidry, Beltane, Samhain, or anything else. I have zero interest in telling people how to Pagan. My Paganism is lived every single day, just like anyone else’s is. I live it out loud, just like everyone else does. The difference is that I like my volume around four, while others might like to “turn it up to ten, and rip the knob off” – to paraphrase the old Z-Rock commercials from back in the 1980s. That’s a bit off-putting to me, but I always remind myself…that’s the way that they approach their beliefs. It works for them, and that’s what is more important. Pleasing me over how they do their Paganism should never be any kind of factor in things.

With all of that said… I hope you have an awesome Beltane – however, wherever and with whoever you find yourself celebrating with. This is a time of renewal. A time to celebrate the new growth of crops in the field, which will grow and yield a bounty for all. A time to shake off the cold and dark of Winter and revel in the warmth of the coming Sun. A time to reflect on where we have been during the dark of Winter, and a moment to discuss the coming Year and the promise that it holds for you on your Path. For me, it’s a time to shake off what has been, and prepare for new steps in a new environment. Again, I hope you have an awesome Beltane…and a glorious, bountiful coming year. May your Gods bless you and walk your Path with you from time to time. 😊

–T /|\

Ritual Happens…A Lot

Over the weekend, I wrote an entire blog post for today. This morning, I find myself not wanting to publish it, as its another screed on politics. I don’t think I need to go that route. This is, after all, a blog aimed towards my Spiritual Path – not a blog aimed at ranting on politics. My politics are not my Spirituality. Instead, let’s take a different path for today, shall we?

Too often, when I talk with non-Pagans about my Spirituality I am assailed by their mental images of me performing human sacrifices, drinking blood as I toast Satan, or wild orgies with multiple partners. Well, human sacrifice just ain’t my bag. Taking a life is an affront to what I believe is sacred and should never be done unless absolutely necessary. Just my two quid. Partaking of blood? No thanks. I’m not overly fond of the sight of blood, even when I am testing my blood sugars for my diabetes. And Satan? A Christian construct for “evil”. I’m definitely not a Christian of any sort. As for the wild orgies…never seen that happen. But if you could point me in the right direction…no, I’m kidding. But I’ve never seen an orgy of any sort break out in a Pagan ritual environment. Not saying that it never happens – just that I’ve never seen such an occurrence in my three and a half decades on my Pagan Path. But ritual? Yes, ritual happens. A lot.

There’s this common thought, particularly from non-Pagans and newbie Pagans, that Pagans do rituals for everything. Making coffee? There’s a ritual. Taking a pee? There’s a ritual. Stepping outside to go to your car? There’s a ritual. Listening to a lot of that, I always get the feel that Paganism should be a secular version of the Catholic faith. We should all be on your knees or prostrate before the altars in our homes – honoring the Gods with every exhaled breath. I used to get frustrated at such thoughts, but these days…I just smile to myself and silently giggle. There are Pagans like that, which there is nothing wrong with. But I’m not that kind of Pagan. I do my rituals when I have need to do so, usually at the seasonal celebrations of the Wheel of Life…which I don’t really hold to that construct. My view is that it is more like a trail that I have walked throughout my life, with the points of seasonal celebrations viewed as way-points. That’s a discussion for another time though.

For me, I see my everyday existence as a ritual, of sorts. Working my way through the day, troubleshooting issues as each arrives, finding solutions to help me get on to the next necessary task, eating, sleeping, playing, flirting, talking, discussing…its all part of my honoring my Gods with my efforts. I’m not some holy man. I’m just a simple Druid making my way through Life, one single day at a time. I can’t predict the future. I subscribe to Alan Kay’s perspective: “If you want to predict the future, invent it.” (For those who are wondering, Alan Kay is a computer scientist, who is one of the fathers of Object-Oriented Programming) I know many folks within Paganism get caught up in the nets of Tarot and work towards seeing the future. I’m not one of those people. A single day at a time is enough for me. Frankly, that’s just my perspective. Others with a different perspective, I’m glad that it works for them.

Which leads me to ritual itself. Not really the “hows” of it. That varies widely depending on the tradition or the practitioner or even the reasoning behind it. Rather, I want to lean on the “why” of it, which will provide an even wider set of data points than you could ever imagine. Everyone has their own reason behind the rituals that they have in their lives. From making coffee to deep, religious perspectives. All of these will differ from person to person to group to tradition. However, I came across a quote from Joseph Campbell that I felt lends a touch to this “discussion” I am writing here.

A ritual can be defined as an enactment of a myth. By participating in a ritual, you are actually experiencing a mythological life. And its out of that participation that one can learn to live spiritually.

Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth“, p.228

Here, Campbell is discussing the spiritual (or if you prefer, religious) aspect of ritual. I am not entirely sure that every ritual can be described as a re-enactment of a myth, but I would posit that the ecstatic aspect of ritual does provide an injection of feeling that brings an individual (or group) much closer to any mythological aspect that they are approaching. As an example, at a Pagan Pride Day here in Dallas, John Beckett (and the group of Pagans with him) led a moving ritual for Cernunnos. I, unfortunately, did not get to participate since I was watching the cash box for the vending side of Pagan Pride Day. However, I was just up the hill from the ritual, and I could feel the energy emanating from it. The ritual was powerful, heart-felt, and from what I heard from those who were much closer – there was an energy and feel that was incredible to experience. In this instance, the ritual provided an exact fit to Campbell’s definition. I would also hold that not every ritual is going to provide this type of feeling nor should there be an expectation that it will. Rituals hold very different meanings for others.

If you’re looking to dig even deeper into rituals, I would recommend Rachel Patterson’s book “The Art of Ritual.” In it, you will find discussions on tools, examples of rituals, and some discussion on the meaning of those rituals. In my opinion, its an excellent starting point, particularly if you are looking to connect stronger in your rituals.

For me, ritual is about taking a few moments to honor the Gods in a very specific way. I don’t do a ton of rituals anymore. I have specific time frames to do what I do. But I certainly don’t need to drop to a ritual moment for everything. I don’t lie prostrate before the Gods to honor Them. For me, living my life intentionally as a Pagan is enough. But I’m also not in the habit of pissing all over what ritual means to others. We all approach our Gods and our lives in our own way. It would be absolutely profane of me to declare my way as the “only way.” Because its not.

–Tommy /|\

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

Working Ritual Without a Safety Net

Circles. Barriers. Keep the energies in. Keep the bad energies from working their way in. Create sacred space. Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of the idea of casting circles. For my own workings, its just not something that is helpful to my own state of my mind. Yet, it’s a strong, and firmly entrenched part of Paganism, as a whole. Even the rituals I have been a part of within OBOD has this process within it. Casting a circle is a very common part of Pagan practices. Except in mine.

To say that I feel alone in this particular area of thought is – in my mind – a deep understatement. I have yet to meet another Pagan that works their rituals in this manner. I have been told by others that essentially, I am working ritual without a safety net. That without such barriers, my rituals will lack focus and intention. That I will not be able to properly focus my magickal intentions, which will diffuse into the beyond, and have no focal power to brandish. When I would point out that my rituals were not meant to work magicks, thus I wouldn’t be too worried about much of those thoughts – I was asked “why do rituals in the first place?”

Many, many times this line of discussion has kicked off pointed lecture after pointed lecture aimed at me. Why ritual is important this way. Why casting a circle is a necessity. Why I’m doing this wrong. Why I’m doing that wrong. Why I’m a bad Pagan. I’ve spent a lot of years listening to statements like that. And countless hours trying to explain my perspective to ears that didn’t want to hear it. Enough that I’ve rarely spoken about my own approach to ritual over the past decade. Instead, I’ve just gone and done my own thing.

Honestly, its not been easy doing things on my own, utilizing an approach that I’ve always noted as being completely different than everyone else. It also stands as one of the primary reasons that I approach my own Paganism and Druidry without a group. I manage by using what works for me, without assuming that what I do works for any single person beyond myself. I don’t do things in ritual just because “everyone else does.” I do things in ritual because it works for me. Nor would I be presumptuous enough to stamp my foot and demand that things be done my way when I am working within a group. I always defer to what is more well understood by others in a group setting. When working in a group, its not about me. Its about the group gelling and working cohesively together.

Why no circle casting in my solo work? Well, to understand that, its best to first discuss why casting a circle is looked at as a necessity. Now, most of this is what I have gleaned through the various traditions and belief systems I have worked within and with – its not an exhaustive look at things. Rather, its what I know of within my memory. As I’ve said before, I’m not an expert on anything – except myself. Now, circles are cast to create sacred space – a point that exists between worlds, where magick can be done, rituals can be held, etc etc. Many believe this to be a physical barrier that separates our mundane world from the magickal. This barrier is set to create a safe place for participants to gather, for magick to be done – where the pains and negativity of the mundane world are removed. In my mind, this sacred space is an area of null value. Null being an area of nothing, where negative, positive, emotions, and such do not exist. This concept does not work for me.

I don’t cast or create sacred space because I hold that everywhere around me is already sacred space. I don’t need to cleanse it. I don’t need to define it. Its here. Its all around me. From the concrete jungles that mankind has created to the manicured suburban sprawl we all seem to live in to the wild, uncharted areas of the world – we’re already in sacred space. As for the negativity, the bad energies, the difficult emotions…all of that is a part of us. Banishing it means to deny its existence in the world around us. I don’t wish to exclude anything from my environment. Good, bad, indifferent…its all part of sacred space, in my mind. Instead of seeing a barrier outside of my ritual, I see a glowing sphere emanating outwards from my rituals. This is not a barrier, but rather the extent of my magickal working – the energy I am creating at that moment. Its not banishing anything. It co-mingles. It exists within this wide-open sacred space. Its literally my connection with the world around me.

Some traditions and belief systems call the Quarters or the Watch-Towers, setting wards and protections against the negative world about us. They ask for Spirits or Entities to watch over the ritual. I do something similar, except that I ask for the Spirits of the Wild, the Spirits of Place, my Spirits of Ancestors, and the Gods to come to witness the rite, should They choose to do so. All of Them are a part of my environment around me, so I don’t expect any of Them to come forward. But I do offer the invite…and not as Guardians or Protectors…merely spectators or witnesses. I don’t ever expect myself and my ritual to be the focal point of Their attention at that moment. I merely ask, and never for protection. Just to be there to see it occur.

I am told that by doing this, I am leaving myself open to the negative spirits of the world. That, in essence, I am operating without protection…working without a safety net. My response may seem a little flippant or even feel like I am challenging Fate: that negativity, those meddlesome Spirits…that’s all part of the world around us. To exclude that is to deny the whole aspect of where and what we live within. At least, in my opinion. I am not one to parcel my world into pieces, and then choose which I want to be in my daily life.

I completely grok the point that I may be working without a safety net by not casting circles or calling the Quarters or what have you. But I am not a proponent of putting barriers between myself and that which I see as sacred. Even when that sacred space is affected with pollution, negativity, anger, and all else that is considered as “bad.” The pollution, negativity, anger, and such are not what makes it sacred. The sacredness is deeper down. That is what I embrace by removing the barriers of circle casting and other methodologies. The sacred is underneath my feet, even when it is covered with the profane. I don’t want barriers between myself and that which I perceive as true sacred space. Thus, I work without that “safety net.” And in so doing, I get the lectures that I have gotten in the past. All well-meant. But, in my mind, unnecessary.

Thinking About: My Gratitude Ritual in mid-December

December 1992. Kaiserslautern, Germany. It was my third December overseas in my Air Force career. My third December as a solo Pagan. It was the first December since I had appeared in an October 31st center-piece entitled “Practicing Pagans” in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which was delivered throughout the European Military command. While I knew several Pagans, Wiccans, Heathens, and Ceremonial Magicians in the K-town (The US military’s affectionate nickname for Kaiserslautern), I had never felt more alone than I did on that mid-December night. My face was known to many I had never met after that article release. I had been verbally assaulted several times in public, and physically attacked in the Sembach Air Base Post Office on an early morning after my work shift. I didn’t have the loving arms of the Wiccan coven that I had started out on my Pagan path to turn to. Dallas, Texas was a long, long away. I was very alone.

You’re not alone. You just need to find your footing on your own.

That voice in my head then reminded me that I was capable of being a Pagan on my own. I protested that I knew very little of how to handle a Wiccan ritual on my own. I was further reminded that Wicca was not my Path. It was a starting point. As for ritual, I could create what I needed, so long as suited me and came from the heart – that’s all that really mattered. That voice, as it turned out much, much later, was Coyote. I wasn’t being asked to align myself with Him. As I said, that comes much later – many years later. I was only being asked to pull up my big-boy pants and move forward on my own. Kill the pity party, and just get on with things.

I devised a small “ritual” – something that was easily duplicated, which I could alter as I need to. That first night was a cold one. Well below freezing with about a foot of snow on the ground. I lived in Kaiserslautern, down in the valley. I worked at a higher elevation at Sembach Air Base. Because of the snow, I had parked up the hill from the command-and-control facility that was my duty section, a small bunker under a large pile of rocks next to the football stadium. When the snow was heavy, the snowplows would not come down either of the steep hills that were on either side of the bunker’s entry point. It was a late-night shift change, and I walked through the snow to climb the hill to the parking lot at the top. There was a picnic table there. I did my small ritual here, hoping that someone sitting at a picnic table at 1am in the snow on a Saturday night would not attract the attention of the military police. I certainly didn’t need to be turned in for a psychiatric evaluation.

I had brought a red pillar candle with me in my backpack, along with a lighter that I used to start charcoal fires in the BBQ back at my residence in Vogelweh Housing. I sat down, lit the candle, and looked up at the bright, yellow moon. Nearly a full moon. I had wanted to do this under a full moon, but I wasn’t working that night, so this would be the closest I could manage. Back in Housing, there was no way I could do what I wanted without someone observing and potentially interfering. So here I was.

The entire “ritual” was simplistic and easy. I sat and went through the motions of drawing a circle in my mind, I called the four Quarters in my mind. I thanked the Moon for witnessing my rite. Then I sat there and went through everything that I was thankful for. Depending on the year – I have done this every year at the closest full moon to mid-December – my list of things to be thankful for has been super small or uber huge. But there’s always been a list. In later years, I did away with calling the Quarters and drawing a circle. I didn’t need or want a barrier between me and the rest of the world. Instead, I moved to calling for any of the Gods to come and watch over my rite – asking four times, once at each quarter. For me, this made a lot more sense than creating a circle, calling the Quarters, and establishing a barrier between me and “the big bad world” out there beyond.

Some will say that I am doing this too simplistically. Or that my form is a touch too raw in its form. Not polished enough was one term I’ve heard before. But I always felt like I was behind tall walls of a fortress calling out my gratitude to the Gods and Spirits who have been there but are now locked out of what I am doing. Basically, I felt I was shouting over the walls of the fortress to thank the very individuals I have pulled up the moat bridge and lowered the gates to keep out. To me, that didn’t have a feeling of gratitude to it. More like a frightened “thank you” being called over the wall. You know, a “thank you for not killing me” or some such perspective. As for “polished” – I’ve gone in for rituals that felt more like rehearsed plays. I prefer the raw, emotional aspect of the unrehearsed, but that’s just my choice.

The ritual or rite or whatever you want to call it, its simple. Simple is easy to remember. Simple is easy to prepare for. I don’t have to have the planets aligned, except the moon to be full. Even that is not a requirement more than it is a choice. The only real requirement is to place myself in a mindful state and remember every aspect of gratitude that I can recall. For those that I cannot recall, I typically end my remembering with a statement along the lines of: “…and thank you for all the things that I should recall as being grateful for but cannot. I am, after all, only human.”

What am I grateful for? I am grateful for all of my friends who have stuck with me through what turned out to be one of the most trying moments of my life. I am thankful for all the people who have passed out of my life and those who have entered into my life since last year. I am thankful to be alive…still. I am thankful and grateful to Coyote, Crow, and Abnoba for the guidance that Each has provided for me. I am thankful for Their patience. I am thankful and grateful for the abundance of choices that I have in my life. I would be so very lost without having choices to make. I am grateful for the chance to continue beyond the mistakes that I have made. I am thankful for having the chance to make those mistakes as well. I don’t learn without them.

If this inspires you to something similar, let me reiterate – you should create a ritual that works for you. Something you can do without any heavy thought or major preparation – unless that’s your kind of thing. Make it yours. Do what matters for you. Do the things that give it meaning for you. Whatever that is. Play music if that helps you. This year, I’ll be using a recording of Brooks and Dunn’s ‘Red Dirt Road” as part of mine. The song’s title has meaning for me and where I’ve come from. Some of the lyrics have strong meaning – even despite the overt Christian lyrics. Do what brings meaning to you…whatever that looks like. No judgment from me. And if you get judged for what you are doing…remember, its about what has meaning for you. A moment of gratitude is about what it means for you, not how others will perceive it. Be you. Be true to who you are and what you are. I’d give you a hug at this point if we talked about this face-to-face. But since this is a blog post and not a face-to-face conversation…just feel the hug. I’d goose you too…so long as you promise not slap me. 🙂

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Its Not Wrong, Its Just Wrong For Me

I’m not overly fond of Samhain and Beltane on the Wheel of the Year. Yep, you read that correctly. Beltane and Samhain are my least favorite times of the year. This has nothing to do with the darker side of Samhain. Likewise, it has nothing to do with the overtly sexual aspects of Beltane. These are the two perspectives that most people assume that I have issues in relation to the two celebrations. Rather, it has more to do with the baggage that so many folks seemingly carry into both celebrations.

For me, Summer Solstice is my favorite point on the Wheel. The height of Summer offers a moment where the gathering of people is something akin to a familial time. Of course, the same can be said about ANY point on the Wheel. Its more a consequence of the people that have gathered for that moment in time. Samhain and Beltane have slowly become the more public gatherings, or at least that’s what it seems to be. Thus, with loads more newcomers to the gathering, the atmosphere changes. Plus, Pagans are notoriously generous with alcohol, which seemingly gathers the frat-boy element – folks that are there for the free alcohol. Don’t try and talk me out of that point. I have seen it happen far too often over the last three decades to be dissuaded from it.

Now, before I get accused of being the stogy, crotchety old man who is trying to piss on everyone’s fun, let me point a few things out in my defense. Around the Gulf Coast Gatherings (OBOD), I’m known as a mischief-maker. Working with two Trickster Gods, one tends to find ways to provide a touch of chaos here and there – all in good fun. So long as no one gets hurt, everything is good. Should someone get hurt (emotionally, physically, etc etc), all the play stops, and serious moments of apology and accepting responsibility for going too far will happen. This is me. But despite all of the playfulness, there are always two things that I try to keep at the forefront during such gatherings (public or private): the ritual is a serious moment, and we are gathered together as a form of extended family. Connecting with others is paramount.

Perhaps, as I look back over what I have written, the issues are just my own. Perhaps the baggage that is carried into this comes solely from me. In fact, I would posit that this is precisely true in both cases. After all, I’m the jack-ass writing this blog post, right? Sure, I’ll cop to that pair of points. What I have written here is my own perspective. Its my opinion, and I am well aware that it is not a popular one – even before I stated it. For so many folks, these two points on the wheel are their quintessential aspects of their Paganism. Drawn to the “free love” and openness of caring and cherishing others, Beltane makes perfect sense to be that moment of revelry. Drawn to the darker nature of Pagan thought, Samhain provides that moment where folks can be far more open about their darker practices. I completely grok all of that. I just wish that both points on the Wheel were not regarded in a carnivalesque atmosphere by so many. But as I have acknowledged, this is probably just me.

An excellent point was made in the comments to a previous post. Perhaps, the reason for the overt boisterousness related to these two points comes from the baggage people bring from their Christian past. With its proximity to Easter, Beltane serves as a quick jab of two fingers into the eyes of a Christian past. Samhain showcases the embrace to the darker (and more shunned) aspects of Spirituality, thus jabbing two fingers into the eyes of Christianity again. Or, if the imagery is better, flying the bird to a Spiritual perspective that was forced onto the lives of others. That’s understandable, particularly in the earliest steps on one’s new Path. You want to turn and shout back: “This way is far better than the one I just left! The path suits my feet far better!” Trust me, I felt the same when I left a Catholic faith that had been ingrained into me through private schools from the 6th grade to my Senior year in high school. Catholicism was not a proper Path for me. My first steps into other Spiritual Paths was always punctuated with some statement that this new Path felt more comfortable than the previous one. I even felt that way when I started down my Pagan Path and made similar statements. My first High Priestess quietly made the comment to me that I would stop making such proclamations the further I trod my Path. That statement has definitely turned to truth, as I don’t see my current Path as being better or more superior to any other. The individual finds the relevance in the Path. The Path does not impart the same wisdom to every individual.

So, do I have issues with Beltane and Samhain? Or are my issues with the manner in which others approach these two particular points on the Wheel? Most likely, it’s a little of both. Which means that my dislike is more of a difference between how I approach these two seasonal points versus that of others. And that, can be perceived as wrong on my part. Its wrong for me to look upon the practices of others when it comes to how they approach their own Paganism. Its ok for me to dislike those approaches, but its not ok for me to call those approaches “wrong.” Instead, its far more appropriate for me to do what I have done in the past – step away from the carnivalesque atmosphere, and handle things on my own, for me. I strive to approach my Spirituality for the perspective of an individual. Painting with that brush onto others is not the approach I wish to take. So, I have to admit that I have been wrong in seeing the popular approaches to public ritual at Beltane and Samhain as something that should be seen as distasteful. Its not for me, that’s for sure. But its not for me to judge such approaches as wrong. Its just wrong….for me. Maybe, I am that crotchety old man yelling at the kids to get off my lawn. ::shrug::

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sacred Space – My Process, My Take

Over the last few posts, I have been describing some of the working techniques that I use. Or, if you prefer, some of the tools that I have been using to provide me a better boost through the trying times I have found myself in. One of these tools, or methodologies, that I have referred to is that of “sacred space.” In my solo practice, sacred space is a defined area from which I can work directly with focus to achieve a calmness or stillness.

A sacred place is first of all a defined place, a space distinguished from other spaces. The rituals that a people either practice at a place or direct toward it mark its sacredness and differentiate it from other defined spaces. To understand the character of such places, Jonathan Z. Smith has suggested the helpful metaphor of sacred space as a “focusing lens.” A sacred place focuses attention on the forms, objects, and actions in it and reveals them as bearers of religious meaning. These symbols describe the fundamental constituents of reality as a religious community perceives them, defines a life in accordance with that view, and provides a means of access between the human world and divine realities.

Encyclopedia.com, “Sacred Space

For me, this definition is not ultimately satisfying for how I see the concept of sacred space, except for the last part noting that “sacred space is a means of access between the human world and divine realities.” Even then, its not a snug fit for my perspective. Sacred space is a means of such access, but the overall aspect of sacred space is a means of sliding between the realities of our mundane world and the worlds of divinity, for lack of a better term. In the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD), you may hear some members of the Order refer to one’s “Inner Grove”. My sacred space is the same as that Inner Grove, except that I refer to it as sacred space.

I use my sacred space as method to put myself into a proper state of mind, specifically for ritual. However, I do not use it in bringing a setting to a public ritual or to a ritual where there will be more than just myself. I don’t expect others to be able to settle into my sacred space – nor would I expect to be able to place myself into their Inner Grove. That space is intensely personal. I do suppose that through shared meditation techniques, a group of people could create such a space before a ritual – placing the individuals that are performing the ritual into a proper frame of mind. Personally, I have never tried any such technique with a group of people before, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility, simply because I’ve never tried.

My Processing of Creating and Closing Sacred Space

My first steps are to create the proper mood to take the first steps towards sacred space. A ritual bath (or even a shower) is my usual starting place. Once finished, I dress in comfortable clothing. Usually, I’m barefoot. Ritual clothing? Well. Search through the blog, and you’ll find that I’m not big on playing dress-up for ritual. I’m far more geared toward comfort than presentation. Once I am ready to get started down the road to getting sacred space started, I light a candle – usually a white pillar candle, but that somehow disappeared after my move from Houston. However, any candle can do in a pinch. I just prefer pillar candles out of years of habit. Once the candle is lit, I take a few minutes to calm my nerves and my mind. Then, I focus my mind. I also include the large white stone that I refer to as my “focus stone” in the setup. Usually, it’s right next to me so I can physically feel it.

My usual start to entering my sacred space is to find myself walking through a thick forest of pine trees. I slowly push my way through the branches. Sometimes I suffer small cuts from the branches, other times I don’t. No rhyme or reason to things that I have been able to discern. After going forward for a bit, the growth starts to thin out, and the walking gets easier, until I come to an egg-shaped meadow. In the middle of the meadow are three trees: a very large Oak standing between a much smaller Birch tree and a slightly larger Apple tree. The trees are aligned east to west. Just a few steps to the south is a large boulder. The boulder usually serves as a place to sit when discussing things with my Gods. When my Gods are not there, I can see five to eight crows in various places on the boulder. Again, no rhyme or reason to things. A dozen yards to the east of the trees is a small, one-room building. In the past, it was still built up and maintained. These days, it is in extreme decay. Again, no idea why it is in this state, but I don’t spend a lot of time near the building.

Once I enter the meadow, I always check for the three trees, the boulder, and the ruin of the building. In surveying that, I can usually locate if anyone is in this sacred space. Ninety percent of the time, there’s no one there. Once I have my bearings, I start whatever ritual I was coming here to do. I can hear my voice in my mind, but I know that I am not speaking. Most of my individual rituals are silent, except in the voice I can hear within my mind. I go through the process of creating a ritual space by thanking whatever direction I stand facing. I don’t cast a circle, though that is what typically happens in rituals where I am with others. In my individual rites I start in the East then move to the South, then the West, and finishing in the North. Once finished, I pick whatever direction feels right to me and thank whoever has decided to come and attend to the rite. That’s about as complicated as my individual rite will get. I can understand the more complicated aspects of drawing a circle, calling on the Gods to witness the rite, and going through the needs for protecting oneself. I prefer the simplicity of my own approach.

To close out my rite in personal sacred space, I start by thanking whoever has witnessed the rite, and then thanking the directions in the reverse order. Once I have finished that, I take a few moments to feel the energy that was raised during my time in scared space. Then I walk towards the edge of the meadow, feeling the energy I have created dissipating as I grow closer to that boundary edge. As I start to walk into the forest and feel the growth of the trees getting thicker and having to expend more personal energy to move forward, I feel myself being pulled back to this reality. That pull is created by the focus stone, which is my anchor here. The focus stone serves a lot of other uses in my personal rites, but this is its primary purpose. Its usually just underneath the screen of my monitor.

Now, I am more than aware of how different all of this is compared to what OBOD teaches. I am also aware of all the people that are saying “You’re doing it wrong.” Yeah, I get it. My process is not the same as a lot of other people. But I am not trying to be them. I’m just trying to do what works for me. To be honest, if you are looking at all of this and going “that’s what I want to do.” Sure, go ahead. Just remember, if you are in a tradition of some sort, you need to learn their stuff too. In fact, I would say that you should work in their tradition’s process until you have it down good and well. THEN you can step into experimentation. That way, you have a strong base to work from. Just my opinion.

As for creating and entering your sacred space or Inner Grove, work through your process until you can do it in your sleep. In fact, when I am having trouble sleeping, I have utilized my sacred space to bring myself to a much calmer state so that I can get to sleep. What you create will most likely not look like mine. How you enter or exit it will likely be very, very different from my own. Remember, this is YOUR sacred space. Uniquely YOURS.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Offerings

With the upcoming trip to Mesa Verde, I will be returning to the spot where I had a strong “moment” with Crow. This time around, I plan on bringing an offering with me. The notation of this prompted some questions being tossed to me about what I mean by that. Specifically, Karen S. wanted to know what ritual I was planning on doing for the offering. J. Thompson wanted to know what I was considering using for an offering and why. Fair questions, indeed. So, I gathered those up for today’s blog post.

Why Offerings

Thinking this through, there is a bit of a need to cover the reasoning behind offerings. In this instance, I am providing my thanks for the last six years of guidance. In returning to where I was provided with what I now consider to be “stern advice.” Crow’s message of “keep going” was meant to be more than just walking the Petroglyph Point Trail, and more than just working my way through the second passageway. That voice has echoed in my mind at several points in the past six years. A reminder to not stop moving forward, even when the prospectus seemed to be completely bleak and lonely. That voice has reminded me that what’s in the past remains in the past – exactly where it belongs. The only way through things is to go forward. So, my return to that point on the trail is about providing my thanks for that message. It will also serve as a “thank you” for the Spirits of the Land and the Spirits of Place for looking out for me as I moved through the trail in a reckless manner.

Ritual

Well, this usually winds up being a controversial part of anything that I try to explain concerning my daily practice. My rituals are simplistic. I don’t call quarters. I don’t call directions. I don’t even make a circle. I take the time to offer my ritual space to Whoever or Whatever may be watching, so long as They come without malicious intent. Then I do whatever the meat of my ritual is, and then close by thanking Whoever or Whatever decided to watch. Simple as that. My offering rituals are even simpler. I take a few moments to ground and center, using that time to bring myself to a place of calm. Then I provide whatever I am offering and give thanks to Whoever or Whatever I am providing the offering to. Then I take a few more moments to bring myself back to the awareness of the environment around me and I move on. I know some of this will sound silly to some – especially those who place a great deal of importance on elaborate (or what I consider to be elaborate) ritual gestures and intonations. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with any of that – its just not what I do. When I am with others, I defer to whatever everyone else wants to do. But when I’m alone, I keep it as simplistic as possible. Some might even call it primitive. ::shrug:: It works for me.

What to Offer

I know a lot of Pagans and Druids that pour libations to their Gods and Goddesses as offerings. Typically, these seem to be alcoholic in nature. That’s perfectly fine for what they do. Nine Hells, their Gods and Goddesses may have made it known to them that was what was needed. Who am I to say that’s right or wrong? Not my Gods, not a request from my Gods. Just like my rituals are simplistic, I do the same for what I offer.

My typical fare is birdseed, tobacco, water, or some combination of that. As a follower of Crow, I figure that the birdseed is a fairly understood gesture. With Abnoba, a forest Goddess, the birdseed also makes sense there as well. Usually, I go with a Birdsong mix that I pick up in large bags at my local Wal-Mart. A ten-pound bag will usually last my three-to-four weeks. Yes, I do frequent offerings in the backyard using this.

With Crow and Coyote being First Nations Gods, the offering of tobacco is a somewhat standard gesture within First Nations’ cultures. In a manner of speaking, I am borrowing from those cultures with this offering. However, I am not trying to pretend that I am on the same standing as the People (the First Nations’ cultures) are. My offerings do not come with the pretense that I am doing medicine of any kind. I am merely making a familiar offering to a pair of Gods I work with. My go-to for this is any loose-leaf chewing tobacco product, which typically means ‘Red Man”. Unfortunate branding name, but the pouch version of this product tends to work best for my purposes.

Water is probably the easiest of the offerings to understand. Just as was stated constantly during the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, “water is life.” I provide water in most of my offering rituals for this very reason. If possible, I leave the water in a vessel that local wildlife can easily access. If not, I will pour a small amount while quietly stating that “water is life.”

Again, my offerings are kept simple and to the point. One reason is that I prefer the simplicity of such gestures. Another is that I can do these quickly in public places, such as Petroglyph Point Trail, without drawing undue or unwanted attention. The public practice of my beliefs is not meant to be a sideshow for others to gawk at. Thus, I keep my offering gestures short, simple, and concise. The shortness does not lessen the depth of what I am doing or what I am offering. I know that doesn’t work for everyone. It does for me.

Final Thoughts

I am a solo pagan. A single Druid. Just one guy. Much of what I do is kept simple because its what I am comfortable with. I don’t wear robes. The only true piece of “ritual” clothing I have is a cloak, which is not the most comfortable thing to wear in the Tejas heat. Most of the time, I am wearing a concert t-shirt, jeans and boots or tennis shoes. I dress for comfort. When I am comfortable, ritual comes far easier for me. I keep my offerings simple. Unless my Gods or my Goddess ask for something different. They haven’t. Yet. Maybe it happens one day, but in the meantime, I stick to what I know, understand, and can manage on my own. Keeping it simple. After all, I’m just a simple Pagan Druid trying to make my way through this everyday journey that we call Life.

–Tommy

Oops!…I Screwed Up Ritual (Again)

This morning, I am sitting here chewing on some muffins and drinking my coffee. Outside the door is a cloudy (sort of) day. I’m hoping for some rain to get a bit of relief from the 100F temps that we have managed to bump into here in central Tejas. As I sit here, I keep running possible topics over and over in my mind. This is a typical day for me when writing blog posts. I’m not as polished as some blog writers. I don’t have an army of blog posts waiting in the wings that I can choose from. I say “fuck” a lot. Rather I write it a lot. If you were physically around me, you would find I write very similar to how I talk. ::shrug:: That’s me. Warts and all. I’m far from perfect. Perfect is something I never want to be.

I guess that’s a similar approach that I have towards my own Paganism and Druidry. I make mistakes in rituals. I have no trouble laughing at myself out loud when I make errors. I flub lines. I mispronounce terms and names. I’ve even faced the wrong direction when calling a direction during a public ritual. That truly is me. I apologized to the leaders of the ritual, afterword. I could see in their eyes that they weren’t pleased. ::shrug:: I can’t make everyone happy. I have a difficult enough time doing that for myself. However, I have learned not to be too hard on myself after making mistakes. After all, I am still human. Not sure who to attribute the quote to, but “to err is human.”

I think that my ability to just fuck things up beyond compare, and then laugh at myself for doing so, is why I have two Trickster Gods that I work with. I know I have been quite the hoot with Them over the years. Sometimes in ways that I don’t really like. Yes, I do have a serious side to myself as well.

For the last…let me see (counting on fingers)…thirty-six years, I have been involved in the Information Technology world in one capacity or another. Gods, the fuckups I could tell you about. Some of them are so funny (at least to me), that I can barely get through them. However, I have worked for a lot of Type-A personalities over these years as well. People that just can’t remove the stick from their ass. None of them saw the humor in some of the mistakes that I made. All they saw was that their plans and projects rode over a speedbump that they did not anticipate. I have taken many an ass chewing over the years. Sure, it hurt my feelings a bit to get chewed out over those mistakes, but over time – I have looked back and still find the humor in those moments too.

Again, I think this is why I have two Trickster Gods that work with me. Plus, I still live by the mantra that my first supervisor in the Air Force taught me: “If no one is going to be potentially killed by your mistake, then everything will be all right.” There’s a reason I didn’t fix engines on B-52 Stratofortresses. ::grin::

All of this pulls from a question that Angie F., a US military member currently stationed overseas, wrote to me in an Email a few weeks back. She had found a set of blog posts where I detailed my time in the Air Force as a Pagan and started up what has become a running dialogue between the two of us. Eventually, she asked if I had ever made mistakes when doing my rituals or spell work. Well, I rarely do spell work (I mean REALLY rarely), so I responded back with some examples (including the one above) of how I have fucked up in a ritual. Consequences over those foul-ups? None from the Gods. Plenty from various people at the ritual.

I have been accused of screwing up “the mood” of the ritual with the things that I have done. Honestly, I have never done any of those moments as a malicious act. Most of the time, I get the lines right from the script. I add an appropriate inflection and tone for what I am trying to accomplish in my role. When I screw things over, its usually because I am trying to add too much to what I am doing or because I didn’t check on a pronunciation prior to the ritual. Simple mistakes. But I have had people get mad at me for not being perfect.

Personally, perfection is a myth to me. Its nice to talk about, but something always happens. Like the time we had a perfect ritual planned at a friend’s apartment. We lit the candles. We lit the sage. We had the perfect mood going (there’s that “perfect” word again). Then, the EXTREMELY loud fire alarm went off. We cleared all twelve units in the building. The fire department showed up. They checked every unit for a fire. They found none. They found the reside of our burnt ash on the table, along with the extinguished candles. We had the police brought in. We were suspected of having a massive weed smoking party. That one was not my fault, nor was I blamed for it – but shit happens. After everything had died down, and we were all sitting in the living room with rather sheepish looks on our faces, I commented that the Gods were probably rolling on the floor laughing their asses off. I mean, why not? Certainly, the Gods have a sense of humor too. Plus, we humans are so good at fucking things up in the most dramatic fashion.

So, what should you do when you screw up in your Paganism? I don’t know. My personal response is to laugh, take a step back, and do it again the right way. How you go about in that moment is really for you to formulate. I certainly cannot and will not ascribe what I do as “the way” to do things. I’m not that arrogant to think that I have the right way to do anything as it relates to anyone, except myself. However, I go back to my first supervisor’s statement – if your mistake is not going to kill anyone, everything will be all right. Stop. Take stock of the moment. Take a deep breathe. Restart. Or whatever sequence works for you. You will know what works best for you. Maybe not. Perhaps, you will need to do some trial and error with those moments to find what works well for you. Man, that’s called “learning”. And that shit is awesome.

Perfection? No thanks. Mistakes are a part of life. Some folks can view that as “sloppy” work. I see it differently. It’s a learning opportunity. You should, in my opinion, strive to be the best at anything that you do. However, if (and when) you fall short – don’t beat yourself up. Don’t give up. Get up. Dust yourself off. Strive to try to do even better next time. But never give up on being just who you are. That’s the special sauce that no one seems to want to acknowledge. Be who you are.

–Tommy

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 /|\

Break Glass in Case of Emergency

So, let me tick off a list of things that I said I hardly ever do in my own Druidry practices. Spell work, check. Well planned and thought out ritual (as opposed to impromptu or off-the-cuff ritual), check. Darker magicks, check. Tarot cards, check. You will find a lot of commentary based around all of that throughout the blog. Well, guess what? Never, say never. You’re reading that correctly. In the last two weeks, parts of my Druidry have crossed over into the areas that I, personally, would ascribe as being much closer to Witchcraft than Druidry. What in the Nine Hells happened, huh? Mostly circumstance and need, but this illustrates the particular point of never saying never. All of these particular techniques can basically be considered as arrows in the quiver. And while those arrows may never be used until a need arises, what happens when you start to stretch and flex these magickal muscles that haven’t been used? And does it mean that my Druidry is changing?

Knocking the Rust Off

I have always said that magick use for me is always the option of last resort. I’m a Druid. I like to talk my way out of things, if possible. I like to find ways for cooler heads to prevail. If that does not work, physical mundane means are usually the next position to take. Essentially, roll up your sleeves and get the work done. However, if that is not possible – the last option is to turn to magick. This is a little flawed logic. Yes, I am admitting to using flawed logic in my approach to various things. Because, sometimes magick should be the first option, particularly if you are trying to bend the Will of another to see reason. No, I am not saying start throwing the curses the moment shit doesn’t go your way. Not at all. Rather, utilize some subtle magicks to help the other side see reason in an issue. Then, the talky bit might work a little better. Consider it to be greasing the hinges so the door doesn’t squeak, if you prefer. For me, this was a pretty tough realization to come to. It changes a lot of the tactics I have utilized in various dealings. This also means that I have to knock the rust off of a lot of techniques I have not used in years.

Flexing Muscles That Haven’t Been Used in Years

One of the very first magickal techniques I ever learned was shielding. My shielding was built a few decades ago. That’s right. Decades. Due to the recent changes in my life, I have been battered in ways I never could imagine. It took about a week to realize that my own personal shielding just wasn’t holding up. The problem for me was that I had literally forgotten how my shielding had been built. So I needed advice on what to do. So I turned to the person that taught me about shielding. Folks, I have been on a Pagan path for well over thirty years and here I was approaching an old friend on how she had taught me to build shielding because I had actually forgotten how. There’s a short lesson here – do not be afraid to reach out for help, no matter how long you have been on your Path. Realize when you are in over your head and find that lifeline you need. A quick re-learn-it session over Facebook Messenger, and I was ready to rebuild and reinforce my shielding. Even with the warnings about drawing too much energy to yourself, I did it anyway. I wound up being wide awake for most of the night. See, I wasn’t USED to using those muscles anymore. As I have been reminded, much like coding – when you don’t practice it, you lose it and have to do some relearning. These are muscles that have weakened from disuse because my philosophical perspective was not entirely appropriate.

Is My Druidry Changing?

Three days after that, I have done two more rituals with intent and purpose behind them. One of those was my usual impromptu style ritual, which – well just didn’t have a lot of the “zing” (for lack of a better  word) I expected it to have. The other, I spent some time crafting out the pieces of the ritual. I included a list of things that were needed for the ritual. I included a set of semi-readable instructions for setting up for the ritual prior to creating Sacred Space. I wrote a step-by-step ritual with spoken and non-spoken aspects. I included an aspect of disposing of the detritus left over from everything. When I did the ritual, I was not great at what I was doing. I did not flow well within the ritual with my spoken parts and my non-spoken parts. I stopped several times to figure out where I was and what needed to be done next. From a theatrical perspective, it was shit. However, what was in my heart, what I brought forward from my soul….that made up for the shit part. I have always said that heartfelt intent is better than theatrics any single day of the week. But after I got done, I started looking back at all I have done over the course of two weeks (about sixteen days). As I noted, many of these things I have done have a feel that is closer to Witchcraft than Druidry. So I began to wonder out loud if my Druidry was changing into something else??

I had hoped to have a quote from one of Philip Carr-Gomm’s books for right here, but most of my personal library is sitting in a box in what will be my bedroom soon enough. So, in the meantime, I’ll have to improvise through this a little. Druids follow a path of Druidry. Witches follow their Paths in Witchcraft. However, there are some overlaps between the two, particularly in the usage of magickal workings. So, as I wring my magickal fingers and stretch my ritual muscles and re-learn processes that so many consider to be everyday basic stuff – much of these techniques have overlap between the two areas. So is my usage of techniques such as spell work, tarot cards for divination and what have you – changing me into a Witch? No, not really. What is happening is that I am re-learning techniques and concepts that I have set to the side for some very wrong perspectives. If you prefer, I am growing again in my Druidry in a direction I had previously not considered for anything other than a “break glass in case of emergency” moment. The reality is that I never needed to approach it from that point of view.

So, here’s where I admit that I am wrong about my perspective on magicks, spell usage, structured rituals, and tarot cards. And I further admit that my gorgeous editor AND my lifelong, always long-distance friend LL were both right. Unfortunately for me, it took a “break glass in case of emergency” moment to realize this. I’m just thankful that the two of them are gracious enough not to sing “I told you so” to my face too many times. 🙂 Finally, I would add this – take a good look at your “whys” when it comes to not using this or that magickal technique or concept. just check on it every once in a while. Turn it over in your mind and see if it still applies. Because you do change and grow, so do your perspectives.

–T /|\

Personal Ritual – Doing It For Yourself

Welcome to day (counting on fingers)…..whatever of the #CoronaVirusPanic! Seriously though, just try to remember not to panic folks… Beyond this small paragraph, you won’t read too much from me on the #CoronaVirusPanic of 2020. Why? Because all you need to do is flip on your television or your radio to get caught up. My opinion? Well…it sucks. That about sums up my feelings….

I’m a day late with the blog post, which is an “ok” thing. First, no one is going to die if I don’t write these on time. Second, I don’t have an army of these posts lined up and scheduled for lift-off. I tried doing that…and I wound up writing even worse than I usually do, so I resorted back to sitting down and just writing – which I think provides a better blog post (for the most part). Plus, there are not that many bloggers – Pagan or otherwise – that are using this methodology to write with.

Besides, I get plenty of questions to work off of. Derrick from Ohio (its what he preferred me to refer to him as), wanted to know a bit more about doing ritual for just yourself, particularly in this time where we have started to live a life shut into our homes. All right Derrick, I will give you my run-down, but I do caution anyone – not everyone does what I do. There are many ways to do what you are asking…or if you prefer, there are many roads to Rome. I’m not sure that any of those roads connect across the Atlantic ocean to the United States, but what the Nine Hells….

I have a morning ritual that I do, which is the start of nearly every day for me. Its nothing super crazy, and its fairly simple. Whenever I get up, I step outside and greet the Sun. Even if its behind the clouds. On really nice mornings, I’ll add the OBOD “Tree Meditation,” as depicted in this video.

Its not really important what you add or remove from a daily meditation aspect. Some folks take time out of each day to venerate their ancestors, others seek a time of clam and reflection, and others will provide prayers and thanks to their respective Gods. What matters most, is what you do has meaning to you. As well as developing a daily routine of doing what you are wanting to do. Does it deepen your focus in a way that you want? Does it honor your Gods in a manner that you feel reflects the veneration that you wish to offer? Does the morning, afternoon, evening or night feel best? Only you can answer those questions. And whatever you answer will be correct – for you.

The other key in all of this is learning the basic framework of the ritual you are wanting to do. Most of the rituals I do for myself are impromptu. They are some basics to what I do, such as the recitation of what is sometimes affectionately referred to as the Druid’s Prayer.

Grant, O Gods, Thy protection;
And in protection, strength;
And in strength, understanding;
And in understanding, knowledge;
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice;
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it;
And in that love, the love of all existences;
And in the love of all existences, the love of the Gods.

Now I have altered it slightly to reflect my own Polytheist bend – I just changed God to Gods – but these lines all hold strong meaning to me. As such, each recitation provides a reminder to me of what my Druidry is all about. Aside from the Druid’s Prayers, I will turn to each of the compass points (north, East, South and West) to thank all entities that are attending my rite, and ask that They not do harm or trickery during the rite. That is a little something I have taken and altered from a few of the ADF rituals I have attended. Those are my basics. Nothing overly difficult, nothing too complicated. Everything else that happens between the opening of the rite to its closing is completely impromptu. I have been known to recite poems, sing, talk or just sit quietly. The actions are dependent on what I feel at the moment. I have had a few folks tell me this is some kind of ecstatic ritual format…to which I usually shrug. I’m not really worried about learning theological terminology that I can apply to the ritual techniques that I have learned to use. I just want to do my rite, when and where I feel like.

I have mentioned it before, don’t go grabbing at pieces of various rituals – as I have done here – and trying to sew them together, until you have learned the basics of what you are taking from. Without the understanding of those basics, you have a foundation made out of sand – mushy, and not completely solid. Learn a basic comprehension of what you are using, so that you can apply it correctly.

All of that leaves me at group rituals. I have not done enough group rituals to really consider myself all that knowledgeable. I can handle myself fine with a piece of paper in my hand, with my speaking part laid out among the speaking parts of all. Putting one together? Well, that’s not for the feint of heart…and let’s just say that I am cognizant enough of my abilities and understanding to know when and where I am in over my head. I tend to leave group rituals to the people that know how to do that, and do it well. But I am learning. So maybe in the future, my writing on this will have changed ever so slightly.

Tools? Flash cotton? Props? Costume? Ritual garb? Sure, why not? The basic elements of my ritual clothing is a green cloak and usually a t-shirt and jeans under that. I have toyed with the idea of getting some clothing together that I could use for ritual…think Renaissance type clothing…but that’s only in its initial phases of contemplation. Right now, I remain in cloak, t-shirt, jeans and either boots or tennis shoes.

In these days, where we are essentially shut into our homes over the #CoronaVirusPanic, you can find the time to make a daily ritual. get up and greet the sun. In the evenings, go outside in your backyard and bid the sun a fond farewell for the night. Get the Sun to promise to rise again in the morning. All of that is ritual. Something that is done over and over. Or if you prefer, spend some time in meditation with your chosen Gods. If you do circles for your rituals, do one to create sacred space for your meditation. Allow the circle to dissipate, just as you would in your ritual.

In other words, its time to do some home exercises on our personal faith and devotion. No matter what practice. Take some time getting closer to your Gods. Take some time to get closer to your personal Spirituality. We always complain that we don’t have a lot of time to work on our Gwers lessons. Well, if you’re home instead of at work….you have the time now. Just a thought.

Thoughts on the Public Face of Storytelling and Ritual

At Pagan conferences and gatherings, I tend to be seen carrying a yellow or white legal pad. That is me and my note-taking. And I have a copious amount of the stuff. Despite that, I suck at detailing where and when I wrote these notes. Some are easy to remember, others – well, not so much. This afternoon, while I was waiting on a particularly rough query to run its course, I flipped through one of those legal pads and came across a question I had written, but with no side context or anything else associated with it. usually, these are the signs of a “thought out of the blue” that happens to me from time to time. Like a stray bit of conversation fires off a neuron in a completely different direction.

Where did storytelling go? Why does storytelling seem to go the way of the Dodo? Are we collectively too meek to be leaders when it comes to the Bardic Art?

Well, its not a totally fair question. Storytelling has not disappeared or gone the way of the Dodo bird. It certainly does exist, just in formats that we do not see immediately as storytelling – movies and songs, for instance. We see storytelling easily in book or written form. Discernment is not that difficult for plays, although seemingly cloaked in plain sight much like the movies. However, the format we seem to crave the most happens around the fire at the campsites or around the firepits of the backyards. And it is here that this art seemingly shrinks into the darkness beyond the fire’s reach.

Much like anyone else out there, I have a running theory as to why this seems to be the case. However, as I dig deeper and deeper – I begin to understand that my theory fits into smaller segments and regions than it does as an expansive concept. See, I notice that there is a lot of fear towards public performance. So many folks are afraid of flubbing their lines, having people laugh at their momentary fsck-up, and/or being the butt of a joke. or maybe some of them are allergic to the spotlight, such as me. Or a combination of things. Or maybe something different, but the point is still there – being adverse to being in the spotlight for whatever reason.

I see this a lot in public ritual as well. Nine Hells, I was definitely there. I remember my first Gulf Coast Gathering. The main ritual has parts divided between the three grades. As a fledging member of the Bardic grade, I was super nervous at having a speaking role during the ritual – even though I had the ritual script in my hand. Everyone wanted the parts that had the fewest lines or one of the directions that spoke best to their personality. Me? I volunteered to take the part with the most spoken lines. Why? Because no one else wanted the role. yeah, that is definitely me – championing the underdog, in this case, the ritual role that no one else wanted. I was seriously working myself into knots getting ready for the role. Here’s a hint – I did just fine. I flubbed a line, and no one got upset. The next year, I participated in more than one ritual, again with the same speaking role as a Bard, and I started to add vocal inflections, vocal volume, and to a smaller degree, gestures. I got compliments on what I did, which was nice, but I had more than one person comment on how what I did in that role (which is the first speaking role in the ritual – another sweat-inducing panic moment) helped set the tone for the ritual.

Moments like this, standing in front of the fire and thanking the Gods for the safe travels of all, used to frighten me. (Picture by John Beckett)

So what in the Nine Hells does any of this have to do with storytelling? Well, the public ritual is as much about storytelling as it is about being a rite of worship. We tell the stories of the Gods and Heroes of our mythologies. We have to step out there and be ready to take our role, be our part, become what we are in the ritual – a part of the story. And stop worrying if we stumble and fall. Just get up and do it. If you trip and fall, brush off your cloak, get up and finish. And remember where that fscking tree root is next time!

Two years ago, again at Gulf Coast Gathering, I did something I had never done before – I got up at the Bardic Fire and told the story of the Screen Door Boar – a Bardic Initiate adventure from the previous year. Getting up to tell the story, very few people knew what I was going to do. I was literally scared to death, again afraid that I was going to flub a part of the story, which I did at least three times. My bigger worry was holding people’s attention and being entertaining for them. Apparently, I was. But I seriously was nearly brought to a stand-still a few times, thinking that I was doing things wrong. Again, the point – try. Even when you don’t succeed, you still learn. And if you want to be a storyteller, try again after polishing up what you are doing. It takes practice. practice leads to confidence. Confidence brings out the best in you and allows your story to shine. But to get there, you have to try.

Back to my theory. When I was in high school back in ::mumble-mumble:: (1980-1984), we had classes in Public Speaking and Drama. Some of us really got into both or one of these classes. Others, not so much. Some who got into Public Speaking also got into the Debate team. All of these put students in front of other people to speak. Their work was criticized, refined, massaged, and improved over time. Repetition and experimentation in technique helped people get better over time. Again, some excelled at this. Others, it was not their area of comfort and ease. Sound familiar? Repetition? Refinement? Improved technique over time, coupled with hard work and patience? That is correct – nearly the same formula for ritual or even magick. I know some schools still teach public speaking, have drama clubs and debate teams, but the emphasis seems to be less and less than it was back when I was in high school.

So are we collectively meek as leaders when it comes to the Bardic Arts? Possibly. Sometimes, I feel like leaders can stifle the creative growth of some of the more timid members by continually casting these folks into the smaller speaking roles. Some folks who lead are worried about the way a public ritual goes because of the way it affects the people who have come to join in the ritual. Flubbed lines, stuttering speech and the such can stifle some of the ecstatic expression of a ritual. That is a proper role for a leader to consider when designing a ritual. But the growth of group members is also a role for a leader to handle as well. That requires patience when helping others realize their untapped potential. It also requires carefully challenging these folks to step up into these difficult moments, encouraging them when they are having trouble feeling their way through the role, and providing constructive critiques of their approaches.

Part of most Pagan practices are rituals and gatherings where individual expression can not only shine, but make the difference for the adherent as well as the participant. Growing that expression in others is not the easiest thing in the world to do, much like growing crops in your backyard or allotment. You have to spend time with what you are growing, nurture it, give it the chance to be something beyond what even you envision, and know when to get out of the way and just let things grow. And that takes time, experience, and learning on your part as a leader.

Thankfully, at Gulf Coast Gathering, I have had fellow OBOD members who have helped me to be more open and outgoing and less of a wallflower. I have helped to make ritual experiences fun, informative, and reactive for many of the new folks that have come to the gatherings. My experience in helping out has allowed me to develop relationships with others that come regularly to Gulf Coast Gathering (and some not so regularly) that I likely would not have if I had not been shown how to come out of my shell. This coming year, I hope to find a wallflower or two to add to the little band of rogues and tricksters that has been slowly developing in size and scope. Why? Because these gatherings are about learning, worship as individuals and community, advancing on one’s Spiritual path – but it is also about being fun. And to be honest, participating is a lot more fun than watching everyone enjoying their time. #TwoQuid

Improvising in Ritual? Learn the Basics First…Trust Me.

So, let’s ditch out of the talk of the impending “Storm”, shall we? There are plenty of folks writing their own perspective of that…plus, my focus is really elsewhere. Instead, let’s drift over to working within one’s own personal Spiritual practice and walk down a favorite trail of mine: improvisation.

Wholly committing to improvisation implies taking risks. It’s a philosophy of leaving yourself open to possibility and leaving yourself open to magic.  –Dennis McNally

The quote comes from the authorized biographer of the Grateful Dead, Dennis McNally. The reference is to the musical style of the band. In hundreds upon hundreds of shows, the band never played the same song the same way twice. Certainly, there were elements that were replicated as faithfully as possible, such as primary riffs and rhythm tempos, but solos were off-the-cuff – and sometimes even the primary elements of a song were taken in directions by various band members. As a group, they were tight enough to work with each change. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

I enjoy the music of the Grateful Dead (and its various spin-offs and incarnations) – enough so that I have somewhere around 2900 tracks, totaling approximately 18.7 days’ worth of continuous music. There is, for me, something truly magickal about the way they approach their music. So free, so pure, with a nearly jazz-oriented approach to just playing for the sake of playing.

A good part of what makes my Paganism comes from this perspective as well. Off-the-cuff, impromptu rituals for one (remember, I practice most of my rituals alone) that leave me so alive and in-tune with the world around me. It truly is a gorgeous thing to behold, at least for me. But there is a key to being able to work on such a high tight-rope without a net (so to speak), and it is similar in nature to playing music improvisationally.

Learn the Basics As Best You Can

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A picture taken by John Beckett at this year’s ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat. For some reason, John takes really awesome pictures of me. The dude has a seriously awesome touch in photography.

Musicians will probably say that individual solos are some of the things that they get to enjoy the most. That moment allows them to showcase what they are good, or even to experiment with a style or technique that they normally don’t get to display. It is a moment of creativity and playfulness that is the crux of why they enjoy playing the instrument of their choice. But before they could get to boogie down on these beautiful moments, they had to learn to play their instruments. That means taking on the basics, and practice, practice, practice. The same can be said for ritual. Learning the basics of the ritual format that you use is essentially to being able to spin off into riffs on what you would normally do.

And I actually speak from experience on all of this. When I first started on my Pagan Path, I was doing things within Wicca. Now, Wicca is not the right format for me. But in my initial training with the American Tradition of the Goddess, I was to learn their format for rituals. To say that I did not enjoy their format is an understatement. So, when my moment came to show what I had learned, I handled the ritual as impromptu as I could. I refused to use the traditional quarter notations, nor did I call the Guardians of the compass locations in a proper manner either. I themed the entire ritual concept around wolves, as the group I was working with were formed around the concept of wolves. It made sense to me. It worked, for me. I wound up being scolded for not following the proper format. I was also praised – by the same person – for my creativity.

Now, all of that had a negative impression for me. It also deeply imprinted upon me how Wicca was not the appropriate place for me to be. Several months later, I parted with the group and became the Solo Pagan that I am today. What I failed to understand was that the creative part was acknowledged, but would have been better accepted if I had shown my understanding and adherence to the basic concepts first. Now, a few decades past that point, I have grown a bit more in who I am, and comprehend the need for basics to be found first – and once those are understood, you can futz with the workings to see what you get. The basics give you the foundation that allows you to stretch your creative muscles across – sort of the same manner in which the bass player and drummer provide a background on which the guitarist can improvise without losing the crowd as to the familiarity of the song.

Do Not Be Afraid to Fail

I grew up in a family where failure was not an option. I was seriously afraid to bring bad grades home, as my typical punishment was to get the strap from my father. Sure, we could talk about the “abuse” that it was, but the point is that I was not provided the opportunity to fail. And in not knowing how to fail, I was always afraid of not being successful. Same goes true for ritual. I always obsessed over the idea that I *had* to get it *right*. Even if I had never done it before. I had to succeed. Failure breeds experience. When I did not get things right, I always examined the “why” of things…I always tried to see where I missed the point or where my effort fell flat. In essence, I was learning.

Thanks to a whole lot of folks within the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, I have learned that failure is nothing to beat yourself up over. Every year, at the Gulf Coast Gathering, there are mishaps, bad statements, incorrect placement of individuals, misunderstandings of where and when a person should be at this point and time in the ritual. Everyone makes mistakes. Even some of the more experienced folks have had their issues too. And instead of folks scolding others…there are gentle reminders and nudges to get people back into their roles and say their parts. This is lighthearted laughter and friendly cajoling over missed or misspoken lines. There is no judgment. There are plenty of smiles, hugs, and words of encouragement. Because people need to be allowed to fail, so that they can learn from those experiences.

Do Not Be Afraid to Succeed

And then there is the opposite side of that perspective: success. And I suffer from this more than anything else. The other day, I noticed that a recent post of mine, Devotional Practice – My Approach, had reached a level of reach on Facebook I had never seen a post achieve. My reaction was not one of “Wow, that’s amazing!” Rather, it was one of “Oh Gods, what is happening?” I am not really geared for large-scale success, because I truly do expect things to fail. This is a mindset trap that I need to dislodge myself from going forward, but I am sure there are others out there that feel similar.

So, you do the ritual. In the middle of the ritual, you try some magickal working. It has never worked before, why should this be any different, right? Except that it does work. Whatever it was that you were trying to do, happened. What’s next? Well, let’s not get a big head and think that everything else will work if we do things the same way again. After every ritual, I make notes about what I did. If it was a public ritual, I write notes about the part I had in the ritual (if any). How I felt afterwards. Was it indoors or outdoors? Anything of significance to my mind’s eye goes into those notes. And when I get ready for another ritual, I go through those notes. I note my previous feelings for similar rituals. And in my preparations, I try my best to find anchors from the previous ones to help me stay grounded and focused in this current one. And I decide what a “success” will be to me in today’s or tonight’s ritual. And I aim myself in that direction.

Now, one side of this that I have intentionally left out – how I approach all of this with my own devotional work. Why? Because everyone approaches that very differently. Even two people approaching the same God or Goddess. Our individual connections to the Gods are unique between us and each of Them. Trying to tell someone how to approach something so personal and distinct, in my opinion, is not useful whatsoever. Open yourself to your own Gods, and They will guide you on what is appropriate and what isn’t. That’s about as much advice as I dare give in that direction. I am not here to create a dogma of belief for anyone, other than myself.

Just remember…ritual can be your own free-form expression to the Gods. But like any improvisational musician, you need to understand the basic framework of ritual. For me that is the framework within OBOD. Once you are comfortable with that framework, then improvisational work will become a useful tool in your workings. Yes, I did it backwards…and there is a lot I am still unlearning, so that I can relearn it in a proper framework. But I still have the heart of an Al Di Meola or a Pat Metheny when it comes to personal ritual. And improvisation is still such a joy to me…even if I did learn it in a manner that makes learning regular frameworks a bit difficult for me. I hope you can take something away from this post, and place it into what you do – and have the Awen spring up unexpectedly in everything you do.  –T /|\

Three Drops of Awen – From Kristoffer Hughes

 

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Morning at the ADF Imbolc Retreat fire…

I am currently trying to get myself prepped for three events happening in my life over the next eleven days. I am packing for the ADF Imbolc Retreat in the Texas hill country, a professional conference in Corpus Christi that starts immediately on the heels of the retreat, and Pantheacon just a single day after I return from Corpus Christi. So, essentially, I am packing three different bags for three very different events. Yeah, I have lost my mind.

 

 

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My book of quotes

A while back, I had lost my “quotes” book, which is a small leather wrapped notebook that I carry with me nearly everywhere. In my determined unpacking from an event last year, I had placed this on a shelf in my office, and then set my two bottles of Bushmills’ whiskey in front of it. Given that I am carrying whiskey with me to Imbolc, I pulled the bottles out to pack and re-discovered the notebook. Naturally, I started thumbing through it and came across several quotes I had written down from last year’s Gulf Coast Gathering, which Kristoffer Hughes had attended. I thought it might prove interesting to explore some of what was said…

 

The Druids of the future will look to the Druids of today for reference when it comes to ritual.

Given all the navel-gazing I have been doing over the last few months concerning legacy, and how the Druids of the future will stand on the shoulders of the Druids of today who are standing on the shoulders of the Druids of the past – this quote was quite interesting to find as the first in my little book. My notes next to this state that documentation is key for the future understanding of the past. And that rituals can help restore order to that which is in chaos.

I admit, there are times when I look at the state of what I perceive to be our current Pagan community, and I have moments of despair over the constant arguing and fighting. And it is difficult for me to see a way forward where there may be cohesion and agreement. I want to have the grand vision of a larger, vibrant world-view, where Paganism is readily accepted on equal terms to Christianity, and other world faiths. With the constant turmoil, arguing over definitions, terminology, and trying to develop standards of who is “Pagan enough” just do not seem like strong forward reaching efforts to me.

And then I get the feathered wing to the back of the head, as I am reminded again and again that a myopic view of the world is the narrow focus that needs to be avoided when looking long-term. There is plenty of documentation taking place through books, blogs, conferences, podcasts, videos, and retreats such as the one I am about to attend. When I start focusing on all the squabbles, I miss all the wonderful things that do move things forward. The multi-faith efforts that happen throughout the world, the growth of the wider community in areas of ritual and daily devotion, as more and more Pagans reach out to find a deeper connection in their spiritual lives, as well as a stronger commitment to their Gods.

Druids are not defined by who they are. They are defined by what they do.

Part of what I am learning about myself is that service to others is paramount to who I am. Whether that be through this blog or stepping back into my local Pagan community or being a mentor to others seeking to find deeper connections in their own lives – living my life is about reaching out to help others. And through that point of individual service, no matter how great or small, I learn a bit more about who I am and what I am capable of. As well as a good dose of humility, which I have been sorely in deep need of.

We all strive for meaning in our daily lives, as well as meaning to our overall existence. For many, that is a concept that is difficult to deal with – the struggle is definitely real. And I can definitely add – it is a lifelong battle. Sometimes, you can feel that you have a complete handle on things, and then a single event can collapse all that confidence like a house of cards in a hurricane. In the end, it is the actions that provide the glimpse at the depth of meaning behind who we are. The individual intention, beyond anything else, gives motion to our actions. When we live an intentional life, we give focus to what we do, how we do, and why we do it. Which oddly enough, dovetails with the last quote I have from Kristoffer…

Your job is not just to know ritual but to understand the “why” of ritual.

Honestly, I can read book after book, article after article, and listen to talk after talk about ritual; practice performing the entire script of what needs to be accomplished; work on the flourish of my hands; perfect the intonation of the words that are spoken – none of that means anything if I do not have a clear understanding of the ritual’s overall meaning. All the book knowledge in the world will not breathe heart and soul into what I am attempting to accomplish with the ritual. All the acting skills in this world, the Nine Hells, and beyond the veil will not mask a lack of heart and passion geared behind the “why” of the ritual. A poorly followed set of words, motions, and movements will pale when that individual is doing so with the passion and fire synced to their desire to do all of this for the appropriate reasoning and intent. And this is one of the reasons that I have always felt so in tune with my impromptu, unscripted, off-the-cuff rituals that just whisk me away into the moment. It might seem “wrong” to someone else, but it is a moment of pure perfection for me.

In a little over a week, I will make my way to Pantheacon, where I will have the pleasure of seeing Kristoffer’s smiling face, and hopefully, experience a massive bear hug. I am looking forward to attending a handful of presentations as well, where I will hopefully get to add to my quote book. And I am thoroughly over the moon at finding my little friend once again…

Slowing the Pace, Reading the Stories, Doing the Rituals – Looking For Quality Over Quantity

One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour. It used to be that the university campus was a kind of hermetically sealed-off area where the news of the day did not impinge upon your attention to the inner life and to the magnificent human heritage we have in our great tradition – Plato, Confucius, the Buddha, Goethe, and others who speak of the eternal values that have to do with the centering of our lives. When you get to be older, and the concerns of the day have all been attended to, and your turn to the inner life – well, if you don’t know where it is or what it is, you’ll be sorry.

Greek and Latin and biblical literature used to be part of everyone’s education. Now, when these were dropped, a whole tradition of Occidental mythological information was lost. It used to be that these stories were in the minds of people. When the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what’s happening to you. With the loss of that, we’ve really lost something because we don’t have a comparable literature to take its place. These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage, and if you don’t know what guide-signs are along the way, you have to work it out for yourself. (The Power of Myth, p1-2)

This lengthy quote from “The Power of Myth” really got my mind to wondering about a variety of things, such as how different our individual approaches to the aspects of Spirituality that appeals to us may have been if today were just ten or twenty years prior. “The Power of Myth” came out in the late 1980s, a time frame where I had just started on my own Pagan Path. Therefore, some of what Campbell references here is very clear in my somewhat fuzzy memory. The news cycle had started to shorten with the arrival of cable news networks. Compared to today’s endless 24x7x365 news blitz, the starting point from much of this was much shorter. Even in this changing moment for news reporting, the traditional news cycle that was handled as a combination of daily newspapers, national news broadcasts at 5pm local time, and local news broadcasts in the morning, noon, evening, and late-night (10pm local) still ruled the roost. Today’s constant, non-stop news cycle is a hallmark of the fast-paced, constantly on-the-go lifestyles we have adapted to. And in some cases, this go-go-go lifestyle is all that one may ever have known throughout their life. And that fast-paced, constantly “on” pace provides little time or need for classic learning behaviors. Through this, certain aspects of our lives are swept aside as “unnecessary”, ‘unneeded”, or “unwanted” because there is not a quick, neat correlation to this new, quicker paced lifestyle.

John Beckett recently did a second installment of his Q&A posts, what I gather to be a monthly installment for his blog. I read the first version with curiosity, and was very intrigued by the questions asked of him, as well as his answers. For his second installment, I decided to play along. I decided to utilize a topic I knew would resonate deeply with John – ritual. I have witnessed a few of the rites that John has had a hand in creating – and these are wonderful moments to catch. The way he layers meaning, symbolism, and intention into rituals is truly a wonderful thing to behold, in my not so humble opinion. So, for his post, I did a rapid fire of quite a few questions, thinking he would pick one or two to answer. I did not expect him to answer ALL of the questions, but he did and with his usual insightful perspective.

[From John’s Post]: I’d like to see more ritual acts of devotion, especially simple things like saluting the sun in the morning and/or evening, and the moon when it’s visible at night – little things that done consistently remind us of our connections to Nature, the Gods, and our ancestors.

[My Response]: Yes, all of that makes for a daily practice that becomes more intense, more personal, more connected. And I cannot state how much of a difference it can make in one’s life. The focus it provides is quite intense and intentional. I have always wondered if a lack of personal rituals around moments in our lives is a catalyst towards the de-emphasis of how connected we are to the world around us. I would tend towards “yes” but I don’t really have any empirical evidence to prove my supposition.

The above is from my comment on the blog. And coupled with Campbell’s previous quote, I can see where aspects of all of this have started changing the perceptions of how people relate to Paganism, Druidry and personal Spirituality in our new, faster-paced, “modern” world. Daily routines and rituals, such as my morning ritual of greeting the Sun at dawn (something I try to do every day), have been pushed aside that there is more time to cram in to the information overload that we gorge on daily. We’ve pushed classical education to the side, so that we can focus on educating students on subjects that “matter” in the workplace…mathematics, writing/grammar, and technical topics – each essential to a student’s education, but a major de-emphasis on history and philosophy, where students are provided the opportunity to stretch their theoretical legs around concepts revolving around ethics, moral principles contained within stories and tales. In essence, we have pushed our mythologies, our rituals, our daily rites off to the side in the name of convenience. We aim for speed, efficiency, maximum profit for minimum effort…rather than finding the quality in what we have. Quantity over quality to utilize a phrase that was dictated as a “standard” in modern business practices in my MBA degree program.

img_9678Recently, I posted about taking a drastic change in my approach to my Ovate studies within OBOD. I termed this as “diving deep” into my studies, moving at a pace that allows me to bring a certain degree of quality to my understanding of the material. The approach will lengthen the time that I work at these studies, but thus far, it has enhanced the depth of what I am learning by allowing me to take some of the side-trails in what I find in my studies. In this manner, I am allowing myself to branch further out in these studies than I had originally planned on doing. Rather than approach the studies on a plan of do(x) then(y), I do(x) until I find a natural end to the studies of (x). Only then do I move to (y). The previous methodology was focused on accomplishing this set of studies on this particular day. Then moving forward into the next set of studies which were to be done on another certain date. Quantity over quality. After just a handful of Gwers, I started to realize that I was not learning anything in this methodology.

I do not pretend to have any answers to how to live life. Not even for myself. I muddle through life like everyone else does. However, I am increasingly left to wonder if we tried approaching life with a bit more intention, we might be able to improve some of the quality that we seem to be missing. If we brought back rites of passage – such as proper celebrations of birthdays (as a singular, very secular instance), we might find more joy in life? Perhaps, we could tone down the pace in which we devour our news cycle, and choose to consume aspects of daily life at a much slower pace – we might find that quality we all seek? I know when I approach my life with a bit more deliberate intention, I slow down quite a bit. And to be really honest, that change of pace has made all the difference to my attitude in life. Truly, I cannot say that any of this will work for everyone else, but bringing back our stories, bringing back some intention in our daily routines, setting time aside to honor our Gods, our Ancestors, the Spirits of Place – surely, if all of that provides a better connection to the world around you, helps you find a small niche in this world where you truly feel you belong…wouldn’t that be worth it? For me, it has been….

Review: The Art of Ritual

I started down my Pagan Path back in 1986, when I initiated into a Wiccan tradition. The concepts of being closer, more in touch, more connected with the Natural world were strong attractors for me. Some of the concepts of God and Goddess were difficult to completely comprehend, even with my own personal research into the Greek Gods and Goddesses. But the chasm to leap over wasn’t that wide, so it was a part of Wicca I understood well. Ritual, on the other hand, was an area I approached with great trepidation. This was completely unfamiliar territory – being a part of a ritual ceremony, playing a role, memorizing lines that just sounded odd to me. And to be honest, there wasn’t that much out there to help me, aside from my new coven-mates – most of whom I could barely remember their names. Damn, I really wish that Rachel Patterson‘s book, “The Art of Ritual” had been available then!

I love Moon Books, and their authors are folks that I tend to read a lot. I picked up this book because it approached an area that I still have issues with – thirty years down the Path. Most of my rituals are impromptu, and utilize very few of the “tools” that a lot of ritual ceremonies seem to. In fact, the only tool I typically seem to have on-hand is my staff. It doubles as a walking aid, as well as an impromptu weapon if the need arises. So when the Awen grabs a hold of me and has me calling Quarters and casting a circle, my gestures are punctuated by my staff. Most of the typical tools that most people associate with ritual are essentially foreign to me. Guess what?  There’s a chapter about that in this book! And the materials are explained very well, without going into ad-nauseum detail. While some of the descriptives are aimed towards a Wicca-centric knowledge-base, Rachel does a wonderful job of writing this in a manner that doesn’t have that overarching feel.

Then there’s the section about ritual preparation, as well as very well explained examples of some of the phrasing that is seemingly commonplace. What I wouldn’t give to jump into a TARDIS with this book in hand when I was first learning ritual concepts in my infant steps within Wicca. It would have saved many an awkward moment for me, not knowing if I was asking a stupid question about the way something was said. This would have been complete gold for me at that time. So I am envious of those newbies taking their first steps within Paganism with a handy guide such as this.

There’s also a detailed look at the Elements and the roles that each play within a basic ritual concept, as well as some conversation on energy working, calling the Gods and Goddesses, and preparing one’s mental frame of mind. The second part of the book focuses on an explanation of various types of rituals, the concepts behind each, as well as some advice on how to prepare one’s self for rituals. But that’s not all…. The section on ritual planning, in my opinion is worth double the price of the book, in my opinion.

Again, I wish that I had some of this written somewhere that I could have studied and worked with in my early steps on my Pagan Path. Instead, I am envious of those that will have this resource available to them, and will be happy that I will too. Even if it may be thirty years into my steps to where I am now. I can only hope that through my study at this late point on my own Path, that I will become a better ritualist – not only as a solo Pagan, but also in the future when I get the chance to work with groups. Rachel, thank you for writing this gem.

Learning the Basics Allows For Deeper Change

“I’ve run into kids that can play ‘Wait’ better than I can, but what’s the point? Being a technician is only part of the equation, and I’m trying to study the other half–songwriting” Vito Bratta

The quote is from Vito Bratta, the original guitarist of the hair-metal band, White Lion. His point is quite interesting, particularly in how it relates to what I manage to do in my own studies in Druidry, Paganism, and Polytheism. When I first started down this Path, I was focused on the intricacies of ritual methodology – how you called the Quarters, how you moved your wrist when you did this, or the “proper” inflection of your voice when pronouncing that. It was all about technique and the direct application. In other words, the technical aspects.

Technique and technical stuff is good – particularly for supporting frameworks, but focusing too much on all that stuff makes everything rote behavior, in my opinion. Step exactly here. Breathe this many times. Blink this many times. Wave your hand just so, while pronouncing things this way. Its important, definitely, but the real magic comes when you work off of that to create. When you improvise. When you extrapolate. When you add things that feel “right” that weren’t part of the original recipe. That’s when stuff gets real, in my opinion.

Vito’s point, particularly about songwriting, applies here. You have to understand the manner in which you make your instrument sing. You have to know the basics. You have to understand the technique, before you can improvise from it. Back in the late 1980s, when I was first on my Path, this was a concept I did not fully grasp. As a result, my rituals felt stilted, my magick work suffered. I needed to spend more time grasping the basics.

In the late 1990s, I finally turned my attention back to doing just that. I scraped everything I knew about ritual, as I practiced it. I worked on the basics – the wording, the structure, the gestures, the inflection of the voice. I discovered what worked for me, as well as what didn’t. I spent time working out why things didn’t work, and then experimented with changes until I found what worked. But before I got to that point, I had to understand the concepts. That meant working with each aspect that I wasn’t grasping, mulling over it in my mind, and examining it from every angle. It was work. But it was necessary.

The result is a framework that I work my rituals around. Certainly, over the lengthy study period of my Bardic grade with OBOD, I added elements and concepts from what I learned; but the framework remains nearly the same as back in the 1990s for me. I have added concepts, thematics, and structure from OBOD’s materials that have altered my ritual process slightly. But prior to making those changes, I studied what I was doing – both what I was changing to, as well as what I was changing from – to be sure that I wanted to keep the change.

Changing things, particularly those related to some of your core beliefs, is not an easy task – nor is a short process. Time, effort, study, practice, observation, contemplation….all of that needs to be taken into account before a decision to change is made. And there’s never a reason to make a change for the sake of change. From my perspective, if you are approaching the concept of change out of that need, you have already doomed it to failure. Or watered it down enough to where it holds no meaning.

I am passionate about using my rituals to connect to the environment around me, utilizing it to connect with the Gods. I understand that others may not see ritual from this perspective, but it is where I am coming from. I am not trying to provide a be-all, end-all concept or process. Merely proposing a thought about how to approach a potential change. Your mileage and warranty will definitely vary.

Change is Inevitable

Its always been done this way. It worked for Joe Schmo back in 1872, it should be just as relevant for us today, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Do we cast our circles with this certain element in that particular cardinal direction, or can we change things up? Is it set in stone that this is the way that ritual has to be done, or can we alter things without angering the Gods and Goddesses? Essentially, it comes down to tradition versus experimentation. Or if you prefer, structure versus free-form. And I sit somewhere in the middle of this entire conversation. Because, in the end, its not a debate. Its a matter of personal preference.

There are elements and appointments that are ascribed into the very stone of our ritual souls. Water goes here, Fire goes here, Air goes here, Earth goes here, Spirit goes here. Rarely is there an element of argument as to “why”, and even more rare is the question of “what if we change it up by putting Air over there instead?” And nearly every traditionalist I know is gasping for breathe. Well, possibly. But it does begin to beg the question of whether change can be a good thing or not.

Major League Baseball is going through some of this right now. Changes to the rules concerning how intentional walks are conducted, where a pitcher must throw four pitches outside of the strike zone. Now, the change decrees that a pitcher merely has to point at first base and the batter automatically goes there. No pitches thrown. All done to “speed up” the game. Instant replay has made it to baseball. Certain types of plays can be challenged by the manager. Previously, the manager could challenge the play all the way to the next pitch that was thrown. Now, managers have thirty seconds to make the same challenge. And there is an unlimited number of challenges that can be over the course of the game. Ironically, this one aspect has lengthened the time of the games, nullifying the no-pitch walk. Now, there is talk of removing the Wins/Losses statistic from a pitcher’s accumulated statistics. Its considered to be a poor metric of pitcher performance, given that a Win or Loss is determined more by team play than it is via pitcher performance.

Every single one of these changes, along with the proposed statistical change, have been met with skepticism and outrage from old-school baseball types, such as myself. It changes the game, and evolves it into something that is slightly different than it was before. But the essential rules of the game are still the same. There are nine-innings that have to be played. Each team’s chance in the inning happens until three outs are made. The bases are still 90-feet apart. It still takes three strikes to get a hitter out without a batted ball into the field of play. Four balls outside of the strike zone give the batter a free pass to first base. The scoring rules have not changed whatsoever. In essence its the same game it was.

The same holds true for ritual – to some degree. Change any of the elements, and it changes the formula for the ritual. But the intent of the ritual is still the same. And for me, the formula based aspect means far less than the intent behind the entire ritual.

Now, let me add a few notations of where I am coming from. I am a firm believer in free-form ritual. Outside of the framework that OBOD provides for ritual, I have never done the same ritual, intentional or not, in the same manner. I merely utilize whatever comes to mind at the moment. One short ritual I did down near the banks of the Red River went along these lines:  face each cardinal direction, say the word “Please” out loud, and then step right into main aspect of working – which at this time was merely making a quick space where I could meditate for a few moments. Rather than reaching through a long, somewhat wordy intonation, my single word request was enough to quickly build what was necessary for me. For me, its not the framework that really places the emphasis, but rather the mindset that I had at that moment that mattered most. In fact, I could call to the cardinal directions with a simple “Yo!”, so long as my mindset is in the right place.

There is; however, a matter of decorum and respect where the Gods and Goddesses that comes into play as well. Given that the Gods that I work directly with are Tricksters, irreverent perspectives are sometimes quite welcome. So, I would note that free-form aspects are not useful where Gods and Goddesses that require strict, proper form within rites, requests, and prayer.

Free-form ritual works for me. The simplicity of my rituals lends to the easiness of how being fluid with style, and framework is useful for me. Were I to do a more structured ritual, where certain things must be done at certain times, in certain manners, and stated in certain ways; I would follow the syntax as stated. Coloring outside the lines would likely not be useful or obtain the desired results. For certain aspects of celebratory rituals, I can see where bending the rules is a bit more appropriate. Or as Morpheus tells Neo in the movie The Matrix:  “Some rules can be bent, others can be broken.”

Because adaptation is the key to evolution. And yes, I do believe that Paganism is evolving. I do not believe that the rituals we present to our Gods are the same as the ones presented to Them back in the mid 1800s. Nor do I believe these rituals are the same as the ones that go back into the mists of Time. I also do not believe that our rituals of today will be the same rituals presented to our Gods in the 2100s or even beyond. Our rituals today are the rituals we have today. Some will change. Some will be altered to one degree or another. Some will never be utilized again. But these are our rituals today, in whatever form we give to them. Much like baseball has changed over the years, and will continue to change going into the future – so will Paganism. Because change is inevitable.

Ritual as Improvisational Jazz

Jazz is one of the stranger musical forms out there. Particularly improvisational Jazz, where one merely plays the notes that come to mind. The discordant manner in which the music ebbs and flows can make it difficult for those listeners that prefer music to have a rhythmic backbeat over which keyboards, guitar, and vocals are overlaid. I remember that it took a lot for me to grasp the stylings of Thelonius Monk, and Allan Holdsworth. But over time, I started to discern some of the subtle undertones that make up this style of music. Now, some thirty years after Holdsworth’s Metal Fatigue album (1985), I have started to grasp some of the complicated aspects of what he was trying to attain.

In a manner of speaking, much of my life has followed this same goat-path. While I have studied theological concepts and belief systems for most of my life, I never had a strong grasp of any of these, including the one that I follow – Paganism, until the last fifteen years. And I have literally been stumbling down that particular goat-track since 1987. To achieve all of that required me to study often, question a lot, and take a few steps of faith when I did not quite comprehend something. Much like listening to the works of Holdsworth and Monk provided me with a deeper understanding of syncopated rhythm and complex layering of instruments to a recording track, taking deeper steps into the pool of my beliefs soon allowed me a better ability to swim within those steeper depths. Early in my steps upon my own Pagan Path, I was merely at the edge of  stream, just barely dipping my toe into the waters – turning to laugh out loud at the astonishing cool feel of the water. Blissfully unaware of the depths that a few steps further out could provide me.

I went to ritual after ritual and listened to the astonishment of others as they felt the ecstatic touch of the Gods in their lives. I marveled at the richness of the Priests and Priestesses as they seamlessly moved through a ritual, calling quarters and Gods to their rites. And I felt nothing. No touch of a God or Goddess. No presence of another watching from the edges of the circle. Nothing except the temperature of the environment on my skin, coupled with a desire to be like THEM. I wanted to feel the rhythm of the rite, the feeling of the Gods touching me. I wanted that.

What I did not have, at that time, was the desire to study and learn. And the lack of depth in that area, I am certain, was the firing pin that I was missing. Plus, I am a major introvert; my lack of social skills set me near the outside of any group I joined. I knew about solo Pagans – those who follow their beliefs as individuals and not a part of any group. However, after talking to a few, I realized that I probably did not possess the rote memorization skills that they seemed to have. They could spout information off the top of their head to any question I posed. I knew I was bad a t studying and learning, so I felt doomed. I would never learn to be a Pagan on my own.

Then the United States Air Force did me a favor. I was sent overseas to Germany. All the Pagans I knew, I was leaving behind. I would be on my own. I met other Pagans there, but none that I meshed with well enough to want to be in their rituals. So I would spend time walking in the forests near Vogelweh Military Housing, and found small, secluded areas where I might be able to hold my own solo rituals. And to be honest, I never knew what really possessed me to do so. I could not remember any of the aspects of the rituals that I had read about in Buckland’s big blue book. I could barely comprehend what I was reading in Gerald Gardner’s two books. So I did the rituals as best as I could remember. And I made up the rest. After the third ritual I held out in the woods, I remember walking back feeling deeply at peace. And I realized that improvisational ritual was working for me.

When I tried to utilize this in a Wiccan group I joined after leaving the military – I was excoriated for deviating from the format that the group had designed and used for nearly two decades. Sadly, I shrugged off the criticism, and left the group for good. I felt that if there was no room for experimentation – there was no room for me to grow. Looking back, my leaving was probably one of the best things I ever did. That moment helped me to realize that being a solo Pagan was where I best fit in.

Certainly, my time working through the Bardic Grade within OBOD has shown me where concise ritual patterns can be good. It has also given me a framework where I can add my own little riffs on things. Because whether one understands it or not, there is a pattern to the music within improvisational jazz. Its an undertone that takes some experience to hear, understand, and relate to. In much the same way, what I have learned so far within OBOD has provided a wonderful undertone to some of the stuff that I do. And it is that undertone that becomes the driving force upon which creativity can be built.

Honestly, the best advice I can give you, if you are stuck in your rituals and finding no joy in what you are doing – mix it up. Change something. Make it feel new again, but don’t kill the undertone to everything – unless you need to. I kept trying to find something within ritual – a way of touching the Gods, an experience that would jolt me into another reality. That can be found in ritual, but first – have fun. Learn the pieces you need to learn, and have fun with the people you are with. And if you are alone…experience it all. See beyond the edges of the circle. Enjoy the stares of the Hawk or Crow on the tree branches, or the bewildered look of the horses, cows or sheep. But in the end, enjoy the way that your ritual pulls you to the experiences that you receive. Revel in the idea of being you…..

Re-Centering, Re-Dedication, Re-Focusing

I have slacked off on my morning rituals for a few months. Its been rough to get back into the swing of things, especially with moving up here near the Oklahoma/Texas border. It didn’t help that my cast-iron crows were missing after the move. But they have been found, and placed back into their locations in the stone circle with Kokopelli.

IMG_9670About two weeks back, I decided to spend some time out at the stone circle one night, and do a re-dedication of my Spiritual Path. The idea was to bring the stone circle back into focus within my Daily Path, as well as re-sharpen my focus on some of the things that matter to me in my Spiritual Life. I also had the “dreamy” idea of doing a video of the entire ritual and placing it online as a start to doing short, infrequent video clips on YouTube. Well, I found out that I am horrible at making video work…so that’s still a work in progress. But I did manage to make it through my entire ritual.

Interestingly enough, I had this semi-scripted out. Most of my rituals are very informal, very impromptu. When you are the sole member of your ritual gathering, impromptu works very well. But for this little ritual, I needed a bit more structure.

The idea was to stick to basic concepts, and allow my method to be impromptu. The initial start was to greet the Directions, and then in the center I greeted Fliodhas, the Irish Goddess of the forests. To the North, I greeted my ever-present companion Crow, and to the West I greeted Coyote. In the East, I greeted my Spirits of Ancestor, and to the south I greeted the Spirits of Place. Once I made my way through this initial set, I finished the start of my ceremony by utilizing the call for Peace to each Direction.

Then started my moment for dedication – placing myself into the hands and guidance of Fliodhas. I brought several small cups of bird seed, and two glass bottles of tap-water into the circle. For the dedication to Fliodhas, I stated that I was Hers to guide, and that I would be Her instrument whenever she felt it necessary. I further promised to bring another offering and repeat my dedication to her when I travel to Ireland this coming winter. I then re-dedicated myself in a similar manner to Crow, and I left two offerings of the bird seed in the center of the circle, as well as pouring a healthy dose of water for both of Them.

Then I sat, and meditated on the stones that I have in this circle. None of these stones come from here in Texas. A few come from the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas, some from the Rocky mountains near Colorado Springs, one from the area near Mesa Verda, one from near Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, and a few from Glacier National Park. Each of those areas resonate deeply within me, and thus the reason I have some stones from there. For me, these stones are sacred. For me, the area between them resonates as sacred space. I remembered how each of these stones came to me, and why each of them are special to me.

When I finished with the meditation, I thanked the Gods and Goddess who had joined me. I thanked the Spirits of Ancestor, Place, and Direction for their attention and time, and once again pronounced my desire for peace to each of the directions, along with a final desire for peace throughout the whole world. Then I gathered a few of the cups of birdseed and began leaving small piles of seed just to the outside of each stone, until I had no more birdseed available. Then I opened the second bottle of water, and wet each of the stones in the circle, remembering again how each came to me. When I was finished, I gathered up the cups and the bottles and went into the house to clean up.

Each morning since, I have walked outside before I have had my breakfast and poured a small offering of water, along with a handful of birdseed which I scatter just to the east of the circle in the grass. Each evening since, I have visited the circle again, and performed a grounding/centering exercise. Whenever possible, I have tried to be barefoot when I have done this. All of this has been meant to re-focus myself back on to being who I am, and allowing some of the stress of my workday to be left behind.

I am not sure “appropriate” this may seem to another polytheist, or another Pagan, or another Druid. It works for me. And honestly, that’s what matters most.