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 Shadow had reminded me, 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. Shadow has discussed with me 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 discussion. 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

27907982_10155058640496751_3410250210758195766_o
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

 

IMG_0211 (1)
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.

 

 

BookofQuotes
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.

Pulling the Stick Out of My Rear

Another question that comes up quite often in conversation is why Coyote, Crow and now Fliodhas?? My only response for this is….well, I don’t have the first damn clue to the “why” of it all. I tried to explain some of it about a month ago in a post. Perhaps a more interesting question might be why do I have two First Nations’ Trickster Gods interested in me? Which then begs the next question as to why I have an Irish Goddess of the Forest now interested in me? The answer winds up being a big shrug from me. Though, I would point to the Saturday night around the fire with a handful of my fellow Bards at the recent Gulf Coast Gathering as a potential explanation. We spent most of the night cutting up and laughing amongst each other. Our jokes and side commentary certainly brought us much closer together as a group then we were prior to the start of camp. In all honesty, in the dark by the light of the campfire, it was almost as if we each grabbed a hold of a common thread of mirth, frivolity, and inspiration. And we not only shared that moment, but it forged a bond between all of us that is almost indescribable. Given the nature of Coyote and Crow (among other Trickster Gods) and the manner in which laughter at the moment provides a strong feeling of ecstatic experience – I can only come to a single conclusion. That – for me, at least – my two Tricksters were showing me (us) a side of one another that could only be understood through our shared experience of the moment.

Before I started down the road of my Pagan Path, I was raised a Catholic, and even spent a little more than a year in the Southern Baptist world. Both experiences make religious rites and spiritual experiences into a very solemn, serious experience. There is typically no room for joking around, or even irreverence towards the moment. And when such experiences do happen, an authority figure will eventually come along to frown upon those moments. Piety is a very serious business, and one must not crack a smile when experiencing spiritual ecstasy of the moment. In a manner of speaking, its almost as if one must have a stern, stoic face when approaching matters where spirituality, religion, and the heart intersect. Of course, I am stretching this to an extreme to make a point…I am sure that there are moments of frivolity within both the Catholic and Southern Baptists faiths, though I am quite sure that irreverence is most assuredly frowned upon to an even greater extreme than I am projecting here.

When I did my first Wiccan initiation, waaaaaaaay back in the day, the initiation called for me to be completely disrobed – skyclad, if you prefer. I was a serious stick in the mud back then…quite the prude, if you will. After all, my background prior to being at this point (less than two years on my Pagan Path) was strictly from a background where nudity was frowned upon. So, the running joke amongst my coven mates (I found out about this many years after the fact) was how they were going to get me to disrobe, much less approach a circle of others who were also nude. Trust me, it wasn’t all that simple, but I eventually did so. I locked eyes with EVERY individual I approached. I never looked down, I never looked around. Looking back, I can laugh about how nervous I was about being that vulnerable in front of everyone else. And yes, I was very body conscious at that point in my life. I’m still a bit hesitant about disrobing in front of others, but I no longer have the body conscious issues that I had previously. Shit, I’m fat and I know it. LOL

Back in those days, I was always worried about how others may or may not perceive me for who I was. And I seriously laugh about that too. I had to have the RIGHT clothing for ritual. I had to have the RIGHT tools with me for ritual. The moment had to be RIGHT. Everything had to be in the PERFECT place. Otherwise, I felt that the ritual was spoiled and not “pure” enough for the Gods. it took a lot for me to overcome that. Now, ritual is more about honoring the Gods than it is about the exact perfection of this motion or the wording of these phrases. When I stumble on words or state something in the wrong order – I am quite sure that the Gods are laughing along with me. A little levity goes a long way to relaxing other people involved in the ritual. After all, they are probably just as anxious about the way they are handling themselves within the ritual as well. And that levity, the ability to laugh at myself, not taking myself that seriously — I have learned that from Trickster Gods.

IMG_0209Ritual is a moment where we honor the Gods, honor our ancestors, honor the Spirits of Place, and celebrate the turning of the Wheel of the Year. Its also a time where – if you are doing this in group practice – that we get together to celebrate our bond with one another. If we do that in an uptight manner, where we are not relaxed…it comes off as stilted and stiff. As if we are uncomfortable around those we are with. A little mirth goes a long way towards relaxing yourself, and everyone around you. Stop worrying about if – or when – you screw up in a ritual. Relax. be yourself. You screw up, acknowledge it, and step back up to the plate. if the candle won’t light, improvise. Just don’t light yourself on fire (or anyone else for that matter).

Getting upset because something didn’t work right or you stumbled over your lines…that just changes the energy within the ritual, and removes some of the relaxed aspect of what is happening. Honoring the Gods, Ancestors, Spirits of Place – that all starts with honoring yourself. Don’t be so hard on yourself. And trust me…you’ll make the “O” face when you pull that stick from your rear-end. I know I did. But after removing that unbending aspect of myself…I can certainly walk a lot easier now.

 

Comfort Over Form- Revisiting Ritual Clothing

Ritual clothing. I have talked about this before on the blog. Now I’m not completely sure why anyone might think I have a problem with ritual clothing, but apparently some do. That notion is a little far past my honest reality.

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaWhen it comes to clothing, I prefer something that I am comfortable in. Typically, that’s jeans, tennis shoes, t-shirt, and a ball cap. Now, even on casual Fridays, this configuration is frowned upon where I work. And I completely understand why. Our work environment is set to a standard of “business casual” which I find to be open to some degree of interpretation, depending on who you might ask. But there’s an image to uphold in all of that. A long time back, I worked for a dot-com company (jobs.com to be precise) where the attire was casual to all degrees that may imply. We were asked to not be too revealing in our dress style, but flip-flops certainly seemed to be the summer-time norm for footwear. The business model was built on the idea that we interfaced with our customer and consumer bases through electronic means, therefore a dress code was a nebulous thing. Again, since we were hardly seen, our image wasn’t a necessary thing to place emphasis upon.

But that brings me back around to the concept of ritual clothing. For some, like myself, its nothing to even be semi-concerned about. For others, its such an important aspect of Paganism, that they may even snigger at folks such as myself (and yes, this has happened before). Are the Gods and Goddesses really going to be that concerned with how I dress for a ritual? Perhaps. After all, Crow may not have a problem with my Grateful Dead t-shirt, but could potentially balk at a Motorhead t-shirt, right? Could this not be where some of this may go? What attire is or is not pleasing to the Gods and Goddesses?

Potentially. Then again, there may be something said for someone who wears a shirt that proclaims “a woman is no substitute for a game boy” t-shirt into a ritual where the Morrigan is going to be called. The t-shirt may not offend the Morrigan, but there certainly is some aspect of feather-ruffling that will take place – even on a subconscious level – with the other individuals attending the ritual. I’d mark that to something akin to wearing a Klansman robe to a Black Panther meeting – the robes may be comfortable, but certainly there is something there that might make things difficult, right?

Coming back to the idea of ritual clothing. I have seen some really nice robes, dresses, and outfits. And I wonder how comfortable it is to wear that? Some look very comfortable, others look downright constricting. But then the ideal of “comfort” is more in the skin of the wearer, than it is in the eye of the observer.

At Pantheacon, I was very well aware of the fact that I would likely wind up in a ritual or two during my time there. I took four t-shirts, and four pairs of jeans with me. I chose my cheap Wal-mart black running shoes over my new, white Nike Air-II sneakers – if only for the reason that my Nikes are not broken in yet. In other words, I went for comfort. Now, I do have a particular white, thin, cotton, hooded, long-sleeved shirt that I have designated as my own version of a “robe”. But long-sleeved shirts are not comfortable in warm weather. So I opted to leave that behind. In the end, minus a bandana for my head, I looked like the quintessential, in my early 50s, hippy. I’m not ashamed of that…because I am exactly that. Where I have had a few sniggers aimed my way just prior to a large outdoor Pagan ritual, at Pantheacon I never seemed to get a second look from anyone. ::sigh::

But there’s a certain degree of respect that I aimed for in dressing that way. That’s right. Respect. If I was wearing something uncomfortable, eventually I was going to start fidgeting in the presentations I attended, or in the rituals that I participated in. That would mean that I am not concentrating on what should have my attention – the presentation or the ritual (depending on which I was at). In my mind, when I am not focused on what is being presented or is being done in a ritual, I am disrespecting the individual(s) who are pouring their talent into what is in front of me. Thus, I dress for things like this so that I am comfortable, which allows me to keep my focus and attention on where it should be – rather than on how uncomfortable I feel at that moment.

Now, I am a firm believer that there is a time and a place for decorum, particularly in areas such as ritual. Were I asked to dress in something more appropriate, I would certainly acquiesce to such. But, when someone expects me to dress a certain way without asking or noting that it should be – they should understand that some people will dress for comfort over style. Particular an old fart such as myself….

 

Free-Form Ritual – Knowing It

I’m a huge fan of the movie “The Matrix“.  Stop me if you’ve heard me say this before.

 

Damnit.  Ok, just humor me for a few minutes.

As I mentioned, I am a huge fan of the movie “The Matrix“. There is one scene in particular that resonates very deeply with me. That’s the sparring program, where Morpheus spars with Neo.

Morpheus makes the statement to Neo – “Don’t think you are, know you are.” Its this statement that I am building this post around.

I have mentioned a few times that ritual is not one of the major aspects of either being a Pagan or being on a path of Druidry. However, its not really ritual that is the problem for me. Its the structured aspect of ritual. The rote statements for calling the directions. The memorized lines. For me, too much structure kills the moment. Its probably better explained from a previous post:

Well, perhaps the best way to describe it is with the phrase: “its just Jazz, man.”  The musical form of Jazz is so vibrant and alive, in my opinion. The musician doesn’t just play the music, they play the music that’s inside of them. No true set form, Jazz is improvisational – coming from within, to be played as a tribute to the world around the musician in that moment. There are many people that find this style of playing harmonious, beautiful, and very in the moment. I am one of those people. But there are others who find it discordant, out of sync, and sometimes just purely random. I can understand that. Not everyone has the same connection to the world around them. Some folks prefer a bit more structure to what they do.

Just as I may find structure kills the inspiration, the vibrancy of the moment – others like the structure. They find harmony with the rote movements and statements. Its provides them with comfort, and gives them depth of understanding. It works for them, but not me.

There are only two rituals that have any level of consistency in form with me. One is my morning ritual of greeting the sunrise. The other is spending a few moments to say goodnight to the sun as it slips over the horizon. Begging for a promise that it will return again in the East. But even that is full of changes from time to time.

Sometimes, I will stand silently and watch the sun rise or set. Other times, I may silently intone the Awen chant. And other times I may say it out loud…as a whisper, or a conversational voice, or even shouting it. Whatever the moment holds for me. Don’t think I am, know I am.

IMG_5745
My backyard circle at the old house in Corinth

My belief system is full of experience. Not XP, like you get in a Dungeons and Dragons table-top game. Experiential. Feeling the moment. Experiencing all aspects of it. One particular morning that I can easily recall is a quite Summer morning sometime around two-plus years back. The morning weather forecast called for rain showers to start shortly after sunrise. When I stepped outside, I could feel the muggy atmosphere all around me. I could smell the aroma of the rain in the air, mingling with the smell of the flowers on the vines of the bush that was growing outwards to cover my backyard window. I could hear the quiet little chatter of the birds, as they gathered nearby, anxiously awaiting the birdseed I had in the two plastic drinking cups I was carrying with my left hand and arm. In my right hand was my cup of coffee, steaming silently, even in the humid, hot air of the morning. I approached the bird-bath, set the bird seed cups down, and stared off into the darkened horizon of the East. The sun would come up behind the clouds, so I would not catch a glimpse of the rays as the Sun rose over the rooftops that made up my suburban horizon. But I knew I would experience the moment of its arrival, as the sky would dim slightly before being a dimly light sky. I drink my coffee in short little sips, tasting the mix of Splenda sweetener with the sugar-free Hazelnut creamer. The slight bitter taste of Community Coffee with the nuances of these tastes is the perfect punctuation to my waiting time. And as the sun started to lighten the cloudy skies, I lifted my coffee cup to the East, and silently bid the Sun a good morning. And as I set my coffee cup down in the two inches of water that comprised the bird-bath’s depth, I heard the song “Days Between” from the Grateful Dead playing in my mind. As I poured handfuls of birdseed into my hand, and scattered it across the ground – I remembered the visuals that are prompted from the lyrics.

When all we ever wanted
Was to learn and love and grow
Once we grew into our shoes
We told them where to go
Walked halfway around the world
On promise of the glow
Stood upon a mountain top
Walked barefoot in the snow
Gave the best we had to give
How much we’ll never know
We’ll never know

For me, moments such as that do not come a second time. And while someone may claim that not to be a ritual. I am reminded that many people do not consider Jazz to be music, but rather dissonant noise. Free-form ritual may not look like ritual to others, but for me – its that jazz-style poetry that rises up in the branches of the trees.

I don’t think it, I know it.

Thanks for humoring me…..

Movement as Meditation and Ritual

Here in the United States, we have this odd time-shift that happens twice a year. In the Spring, we move our clocks forward one hour, and in the Fall, we move them backward one hour. Its a concept called “Daylight Savings Time” – and to be honest not everyone observes it. I believe that Arizona is the only state that does not move its clocks in such weird ways.

Well, this morning is the result of the Fall time change. And I am ok with it. I’ve not really been observing my daily ritual and routine by the time of a clock, but rather by the rising and setting of the sun. For me, its a manner of connecting with the world around me – and I thoroughly enjoy it. While I dread some days where I go into work, every morning holds a moment that might be similar to the morning before, but is truly unique regardless.

Last night was Samhain, and while I had planned to attend one particular ritual, my back had other plans. One of the joys of getting older. My body begins to betray me in ways I had never dreamed before. But then, I’m not that old. I just turned fifty a month ago. So, instead, I have to amend the statement somewhat. Its not my body that’s betraying me, its me that is betraying my body. I do need to eat a little healthier – man cannot live on Taco Bell and Dairy Queen alone, though I am certainly testing that theory these days. I also need to exercise a bit more.

Over the past year, I have gotten away from the routines I had previously. A huge part of that had to do with my hour-plus commute from home to work, and then from work to home. By the time I made it home, I was exhausted, and in no mood to exercise. Just prior to my birthday this year, I purchased a home that was a ten-minute drive from work. And I have continued the routine I had fallen into — coming home, and not exercising.

Well, Samhain is the start of a new cycle of the Wheel of the Year. And its certainly the time to start new routines. For the next month, I an adding a daily walk back to my routine (for as long as the weather holds out) and some Tai Chi movements to help stretch and limber my muscles. I figured I would start with something simple, and add a new stretching routine every third month. The first movement that I am adding is “Part Wild Horse’s Mane”. While I know there is a spiritual element to this, its important for me to learn the physical movement first – this is why I am only adding a new form every third month. I have a month to concentrate on the physical form, and a second month to add the spiritual element to it as well.

While there is an aspect of physical health needs involved in all of this, my secondary goal is to add the elements of achieving balance through the movements as meditation. As many people know, meditation is a primary aspect of what I believe and practice. Plus there’s other elements that add on to this as well. I learn to move more graceful, become more conscious of my poor posture and change my daily habits to better that posture, and in some manner — learn to dance. Anyone who has seen me dance….had better stop laughing now.  ::grins::

When people ask how my beliefs fold into my daily life, its things such as these that make the difference for me. Not everyone is drawn to Far Eastern practices. I certainly am. Not everyone sees movement as a form of meditation, I certainly do. There are even those who would scream about cultural misappropriation.

That’s perfectly fine for me. I don’t need or desire a debate with people over such things. I know what works for me. I reject no method or technique. I understand and feel the intentional draw and pull that works for me, and then utilize that to understand the connections around me, and how I can be a more complete “me” from that. And when it comes to aspects of spirituality, that’s what matters most, in my opinion. The Gods and Goddesses that call me, call me regardless of what Pantheon or system they are part of. Each is a unique, individual relationship that is cultivated through ritual, meditation, and honor. Its not for me to worry about the “why” — rather my focus is on the “what” and “how”.  But that’s a conversation for another time…very soon….

The last part of this blog post is on why I see Movement as Ritual. Or, rather HOW I see Movement as Ritual. The largest majority of my rituals are impromptu and somewhat different in form. I utilize the framework that I have been learning in the Bardic Grade of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. But there’s always other elements that I add. For instance, my walks back at the old house where built on a round-about track. There was always an element of North, South, East and West as I walked. So there were certain points of my walks where I would greet the directions as I would in a ritual. And in a manner of speaking, I treated it as a ritual. Between each direction, there were central foci that were aimed towards a particular aspect of that cardinal direction. I will be setting up the same here, at my new home. I have already mapped out a two circuit walk through the neighborhood for a distance close to four miles. That’s a mile longer than I walked before – so I will be stretching myself a bit more.

The first few times I walk this circuit, I will not be focused on the ritual aspect, but rather on reaching out and trying to locate where the Spirits of Place are. This area is far more rural than the sub-urban environment I previously lived in, so there’s a need to “explore” a bit more to see where my “neighbors” are. But I will also be scouting out appropriate locations for my cardinal points in the circuit as well. In essence, I am making sure of where I am and what is out there before consciously setting up my little ritual state. For me, that’s just a matter of courtesy….but that may just be me.

In what I practice and believe, every movement is a sacred, conscious action. A deliberate motion, which is attached to everything around it. Every swing of my arms, every step I take upon the grass or concrete, emanates a ripple into the environment around me. And while I may not see their “eyes” – I am watched, observed, noticed… and each movement, along with its associated intent, is noted.

Continued Thoughts on Ritual Improvisation

Yesterday, I went down into the Denton/Lewisville area – the area I used to live in – for a massage therapy session, and to see a movie. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I moved up here, a few miles from the Oklahoma border. The traffic, the teeming mass of humanity rushing everywhere, to be somewhere so that they could scratch an item off their list. It also did not take long for my anxiety levels to ramp up beyond belief. I have only been here in this new house for a handful of days, and I am already feeling at ease with my choice. Granted, my office looks like a bomb went off in it, I am still without a TV/Satellite connection (and not really missing it all that much), and I have two large cardboard piles in the house. But I am in no hurry to unpack too many things. A few things at a time – the essentials:  clothes, dishes, and books.

I have yet to map out a walking path through the neighborhood, but after I finish this blog post, that will happen. Not sure I will walk it today, since I have laundry to do. But it is far too long that I have been off my daily walking ritual. Plus, since I meditate while I walk – it will provide me the chance to reach out to the Spirits of Place and see how the landscape sits here. Life certainly is in a small state of flux, but I have learned that improvisation is the key. Which brings me to the movie I went to see:  The Martian.

Before going to the movie, I had a vague idea of how the storyline was going to go. I had seen a single preview, and then refused to watch any more. This was a movie, like Interstellar, that I wanted to really experience. And while I loved Interstellar, there were parts of the storyline that never really clicked for me. When I arrived at the theater, it was jam packed. Our seats wound up being on the far left side of the theater, up against the wall. Normally a pair of seats I would avoid. But, the seating wound up being ideal. I was able to lean against the wall and relax while I watched the film.

I am not going to spoil the movie for anyone, except to note that it delves into an area that NASA seemingly no longer wants to be in. Improvisation. Somewhere over its history, NASA has built in the idea that redundancy upon redundancy is the ideal way to go. True, redundant systems are necessary – particularly when things fail – and typically things DO fail. But what do you do when things fail, and the redundant systems disappear with it? You have to understand the basic premises of things to be able to improvise. You have to be forget what things were designed to do, and figure out what they are capable of doing. And to be honest, at times it seems that NASA has gotten away from this concept and become far too reliant on scripted processes, and stopping those processes cold when things don’t follow an expected pathway. Sometimes, you don’t have time for a committee to make a decision on what to do next. You have to rely on the issues set before you, make a decision and go. The Martian showcases this in ways it makes both serious, and light-hearted. I won’t spoil the movie beyond that – just suggest that you see it in the theaters. If, like me, you have not read the book (or like me were not even aware that there is a book) – see the movie first.

Kokopelli's Stone Circle at the New HouseOur own Spiritual Paths are like this as well. When we rely on scripted parts and roles, and insist that these roles be followed to the exact letter — we lose a sense of the Divine in that process. We cease using the scripts as a guideline to be followed, to keep us on track of where we need to be in the moment – and rely on them as an unbending gospel of how it should be. Sometimes, its better to set down the scripts – and open our thoughts, feelings and emotions to the moment. What does it matter what words you speak, as long as you put your emotions, feelings, and desires behind it. During Cerri Lee’s presentation on “The Art of Ritual” at this year’s East Coast Gathering, she made this exact point. It speaks to a grander perspective of how I practice my own Druidry – very improvised. More focused on intent, rather than words. But there’s a side effect to it as well….

During her presentation, I could feel myself following her thread of thought – noting where she was taking it, and knew I completely grokked her perspective. But while she was discussing it further, helping others to see where and how improvisation and dramatic presentation could enhance ritual experience, I decided to follow the thread in the other direction. Where was it flowing from? And its the exact opposite. There’s a foundation of how things need to be on a basic level. The framework, if you will. The bedrock upon which everything else is built. Which element is ascribed to which cardinal direction. When each cardinal direction is called. What element of the ritual happens when. Once these are understood and agreed upon, the rest of the ritual can be decorated and adorned with inspiration…allowing the Awen to embrace the role players, as they move forward with the ritual.

The movie The Martian follows some of this as well. To be able to improvise, you have to know two things:  how the process you are working with should work with the correct elements in place, and what other items can be utilized to replace the missing elements you do not have at the moment. I improvise my own solo rituals because it feels “right” and “correct” for me. But my manner of improvisation will not work with a group of people – all of whom understand the bedrock of what is being done. If I deviate too far from what is known and understood, my other participants do not have a common keystone that they can grasp on to. And they will be confused and not truly understanding what they are witnessing.

Its true though. Here in our modern lives, we do not improvise enough. When we are faced with a complex issue that does not meet any of the criteria that we would expect in this part of the process – we typically quit. We find an expert to come and fix our mess. Or we abandon whatever it was that we were working on and never look back. In the first case, I have someone that I can ask questions of, find some answers as to what I did wrong, how to fix it, and/or how to do it correctly. In the second case, sadly I have something that will never be finished. Gasping for metaphorical breath…

ECG Leftovers …But What Should I Wear? Further Thoughts on Ritual…

I am not your typical Pagan. I would say that is a fairly safe bet to make at any time, any place. My approach to a concept such as ritual is one area that is most noticeable to any individual. Most of my rituals are done impromptu, and solo. Location, time of day, time of year – all mean little to nothing to me. More important is intent and frame of mind. For me, it is literally about the nature of connecting with my environment. Finding my place, being my place in that panorama. Not apart from everything, but becoming a pare of everything. For me, ritual is a song of being, not just belonging. In a brutish way of speaking, its a party of sorts…but what should I wear?

If you asked me a few weeks ago about my ritual clothing – I would have ran my hand from my shoulder to my ankles to emphasize whatever I was wearing at that moment. For me, that is typically a t-shirt of some sort, jeans, and a pari of tennis shoes. I come from a point of view that one is able to achieve a state of connectedness when one is comfortable. T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes are comfortable attire for me – so it makes sense. However, that has changed to some degree for me, particularly after the Alban Elfed ritual at East Coast Gathering.

Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)
Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)

I was approached for a conversation about my idea of ritual clothing shortly after I had returned to the camp — and quite some time after the ritual. (I am not going to out this individual by name, but if they want to come out of those shadows – they certainly will if they choose to do so). The question was raised if I had ever thought of having a ritual robe or cloak made for myself. I confessed that I had not — although the idea of a robe made me a little uncomfortable. I had seen what several folks had been wearing, and none of it looked very comfortable to my eyes. But a cloak was certainly an appealing thought. After talking a bit more, I had to confess that I had brought something I had thought of using as ritual clothing – a white hooded, long-sleeved shirt. I had bought this shirt a long time previous – along with a purple one – for the idea of implementing this as ritual clothing. In the end, I had opted to not wear it to the ritual – and instead utilized it as my shirt for going home on the plane. In retrospect, I wish I had worn it to the ritual instead.

Our conversation soon turned to the “why” of keeping ritual clothing. I understood the aspect of having something that was worn specifically for ritual – bringing the act of ritual to a level above the everyday. The clothing helps to heighten one’s awareness of the particular act of ritual – elevating it slightly from the everyday toil of life. And while the everyday toil of life is a ritual in its own respect, providing actions that are tied in with our beliefs – making the moment of living just as sacred as any moment in ritual – the act of ritual is a celebratory moment, where we connect with our environment, with our Gods and Goddesses, and rejoice in the moment…

So, I have once again set my hooded white shirt to the side – only to be worn for rituals. Granted, I will still be wearing jeans and tennis shoes, but the shirt will have a different significance – a different purpose. Yeah, I will still look a lot different than the people wearing white robes — but my clothing will have a similar purpose and intent. There’s that intent word again…there’s meaning behind that too….

Just Because

A little more than a week ago, Summer Solstice moved on through. I read a few posts on Facebook from friends that were celebrating the turn of the Wheel. I had even been invited to a few celebrations that were taking place at various points during that weekend. But I opted for a quiet moment: standing in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee; while watching the sun peek over the horizon. Yes, for those of you that read me on a semi-regular basis (all three of you), this sounds familiar. Its my daily (mostly) ritual for the start of my day. In short, I followed my usual routine for Summer Solstice.

There’s a lot to be said for specific rituals for specific times. Summer Solstice is no exception to that. There are many gorgeous rituals that one can do. One of my favorites is the Summer Solstice Meditation that John Beckett posted a short time ago on Patheos. However, there is also a bit to be said for just handling the day like any other.

My Stone Circle (28Feb2015)
My Stone Circle (28Feb2015)

A few years back, I was struggling to find a way to put organized rituals into my life — specifically those that are meant for specific times in the Wheel of the Year. I had difficulty locating time in the specified day to do a ritual. Sometimes it was because there were competing needs in the course of the day. Other times, it was because I was totally drained of energy to manage a ritual of any sort. One cold evening during the early months of the year, I remember looking outside at the falling snow and thinking it would be really interesting to try a ritual in this weather. I was home alone, so I pulled my boots on, grabbed a coat and headed outside to do just that. It wasn’t much of a ritual, at least I didn’t think so. I walked around the big tree in my backyard, faced each direction, and spoke the words to the Druid’s Prayer. I then beat the accumulated snow off my boats and coat and headed back inside.

I was completely energized by what I had done. It had come about at the right time, in the right place, and in the right way. Except that it wasn’t at any prescribed point in the Wheel. It didn’t have the purpose that any of those particular rituals had. But it had tons more energy! It took a while for me to realize, it was the spur of the moment that really drove me forward. It was that spark of the moment that kindled the fire deep within me. So I spent time thinking about this entire experience. Why did it work for me? What should I do going into the future? And I eventually realized that this was the way that my Paganism was going to have deeper meaning for me.

I still manage to hold some form of ritual at the major spokes in the Wheel of the Year — just not all the time. Its not because it isn’t right for me – not at all. Its merely because its not the right timing for me. There are some rituals that I do follow on with at the appropriate time. There’s honestly not a lot of spark to those moments, and sometimes I feel like I am doing things from rote memory, “just because”. However, giving over to the moment, when everything feels “right” about the here and the now…just letting go and allow myself the self-prescribed permission to do so…that’s the difference.

Informally Clothing Myself

This past week, I have sat and watched as the news exploded with issues related to the Charleston shooting — mostly about tearing down Confederate memorials and removing the flag that flies at some of those locations. If you are looking for a post related to that topic, please move along. I am only setting some of my frame of mind here. After a few days of watching the back and forth on the topic – I decided that this paragraph would be all that I do to address the issue. The anger and over-zealousness of the topic on various social media platforms helped me to realize that its not worth my effort of a discussion. So let’s move on towards something a little more interesting….

—-

In a few short months, I will be taking a trip to the northeast for the OBOD East Coast Gathering. This will be my first time there, and I am excited about meeting Damh the Bard, Kristoffer Hughes, and be reacquainted with quite a few of my fellow attendees from the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering from earlier this year. I have had a few private discussions with some of the folks going, and a similar question kept popping up:  what ritual clothing will you be bringing?

MeThis is a somewhat odd question to ask me. I have no robes – and honestly have no real desire to have a set. My ritual garments tend to be whatever I have on my body at the time. A real example of this is the photo you see here. This was taken at the Imbolc Retreat in south Texas earlier this year. I am not sure of who took the photo, otherwise I would have their name attributed here for credit. But this picture was taken during one of the three rituals that I was part of. My ritual wardrobe consists of a pair of jeans, a tshirt, (in this instance) an MLB cap, and a pair of tennis shoes. Seriously. This is about as “formal” as I get dressed up to do most things. I have no need for a ritual robe made specifically for this or that. The Gods accept me for who I am, and that includes the manner in which I am dressed at that moment.

In my mode of thinking, I am an extremely informal individual.  This does not just include ritual, but nearly every facet of my life. At work, I tend towards polo shirts versus button-downs. When I can get away with it, I wear dark jeans rather than dress slacks. I have attended a few weddings of friends, not wearing a tie. And I have caught plenty of flak over the way that I dress. However, my point is always the same:  I would rather dress comfortably and have appropriate personal bearing, than dress uncomfortably and fidget throughout the entire event. I do understand that my informal mannerisms tend to make me unpopular with some folks. Why can I not just follow everyone else’s lead and dress similar to them? Because I would rather be the authentic “me” than try and dress me up in a manner in which I am not. To put it in another way — I would rather be myself, than try to be something I am not.

So, in a few short months, I will be getting on-board a flight to the northeastern United States. And I will be carrying no robes or ritual garments with me. I will have a few shirts with hoods on them, but nothing made or purchased specifically for a ritual. There may be a few who shake their heads because I approach ritual settings from such a lax point of view. Maybe. My experience has been that most people don’t care. Its more about the frame of mind you bring to the ritual, rather than what you have on your body in terms of clothing (or lack thereof in some settings). To be quite open about it — I would rather be my genuine self with what I practice in my spiritual beliefs, than be something I am not. This is why everything I do in that sense – clothing, the ritual itself, the setting it is placed within – is informal. And for me….it works.

Jazz-Style Paganism – the Song I Sing for Today

“You’re a Pagan, right?”  A little absent-mindedly, I nod in the affirmative.  “So, are you a re-constructionist?”  And I draw a very deep breath and slowly release my inevitable sigh.

That particular scenario has not played out for some time. My somewhat addled mind strains to recall how far back in time that goes. Six years?  Eight?  Perhaps further than that. Shit, it could have been yesterday. But here it is again. And its the same answer it has always been – No. Which leads to a ton of other questions from my querent. And the start of what could be a promising discussion, or a series of frustrating question-and-answer sessions.

I’m not a re-constructionist by any means. I wouldn’t even consider myself a “constructionist” of any sort either. I know in some minds that this may disqualify me as a “Pagan” in their eyes – but to be frank, that does not matter to me. I don’t follow my beliefs, practice my rites, and learn to expand my consciousness and connectedness to my environment to appease someone else. I follow my somewhat unmarked trail of Paganism through the forest because its the Path that works for me. But, here we are diverging from the trail of this subject slightly – so let me set us back on the Path somewhat.

As I said, I’m not a constructionist or a re-constructionist. I draw my inspiration from the long cold ashes of a belief system that has very little documentation to it. But I have no desire to build it up into a vision for everyone, nor do I have a desire to try and recreate it from those ashes into something close to what it may (or may not) have been. I merely want to follow my Path to wherever it may lead, and spend my time trying to connect more with my own environment.

Now, before the re-constructionists start to freak out as their blood gets warmer than my freshly brewed cup of coffee – let me make something crystal-clear here. I am not saying that the path of re-constructionism is wrong. Nor am I saying it is right. FOR ME. It works for those that are on that Path – and more power to them. I’m not about to say what’s right or wrong for anyone else – particularly in a spiritual sense. I’m not a spokesperson for Paganism. I am; however, a spokesperson for myself. And with that out of the way…

jazzSo, how do I approach my beliefs? Well, perhaps the best way to describe it is with the phrase: “its just Jazz, man.”  The musical form of Jazz is so vibrant and alive, in my opinion. The musician doesn’t just play the music, they play the music that’s inside of them. No true set form, Jazz is improvisational – coming from within, to be played as a tribute to the world around the musician in that moment. There are many people that find this style of playing harmonious, beautiful, and very in the moment. I am one of those people. But there are others who find it discordant, out of sync, and sometimes just purely random. I can understand that. Not everyone has the same connection to the world around them. Some folks prefer a bit more structure to what they do.

Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put, and it never will.  –J.J. Johnson, Bebop Jazz Trombonist

I have talked about this previously on the blog. I am not that big on structured ritual. It has its place in my daily Spirituality – mostly tied to the Wheel of the Year – but my improvisational rituals are far more relevant to me. And there is nothing “formal” to my processes either. Things can be as simple as a walk through the wooded area just south and west of my home in the swampy area of Lake Lewisville’s north shore near the Goatman’s Bridge. if you went walking with me, we might stop along the way to listen to the birds singing their morning song, or clumsily dance together in a sandy section of the trail – just because. For me, its celebrating the world around me for this very day, which the Gods have unveiled before my eyes. Or I can hold my ritual at my desk at work, wearing my headphones – lost in the teen-age wastelands that “Baba O’Riley” is conjuring in my mind. I can grab a hold of the strong energy of The Who and let that flow through me – a celebration of the Awen that created the song.

Much like the Jazz soloist, waiting for the bass player and the drummer to lay down the syncopated backdrop against he/she will paint their feelings against in a fountain of musical notes, I hold my rituals in the same fashion.

The quest for spiritual experience begins with the quest for feeling. What moves you? Has anything in your life been beautiful enough to make you cry? What took your breath away, put you on your knees with awe, turned your world over and shook it?  —Nimue Brown, Spirituality Without Structure, p.22

Nimue’s wonderful book put into words much of what I already knew. I already understood the “why” and the “how” of my rituals. I lacked the lexicon to explain it adequately. I still do – in my opinion – a lackluster job of explaining things. A lot of that has to do with my brain running far faster than I can type or talk.

If you’re gonna sing meaningful songs, you have to be committed to living a life that backs that up.  –Joan Baez

This one quote of Baez’ brings me back to a semi-grounded state. Celebrating the day is one thing…I still have to live my life with integrity. I remind myself that I need to remain grounded and centered in the face of the world that doesn’t accept me for who I am. Exploding in anger and rage for the lack of respect or recognition of who I am and what I believe does nothing for me – and only fuels their argument that what I do has no basis in a reality that they choose to define. I may declare myself as not being a “Priest” of any type – but I am still viewed as a “Pagan” in that vein by others. I MUST follow my Path…

I am ok with being looked upon with disdain by re-constructionist folks. I only need to remind myself – I am the one working with my own spirituality. I only need to have my own permission to do what I need to. And much like the Jazz musician…I play what I feel. I feel the environment around me, and let that influence the pattern of notes that I will play – the song I will sing for today….