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….

Flying Solo

This weekend has definitely had a plethora of Beltane celebrations – a few of which I was invited to – none of which I accepted. I have previously discussed why I prefer my Solo Path during this time of year. Quite a few times I have heard the statements of “But you’ve not experienced a good Beltane celebration before, so you need to come join ours.” Which typically winds up with me trying to smile nicely and politely decline the offer a second time. Its this scenario that I have found is particularly maddening for an individual following a solo path. Group ritual, celebration, and study can be a wonderful thing, but…for me, at least…its not nearly as fulfilling as working solo.

What an anti-social perspective!

How elitist of you!

You have no idea what being a Pagan is all about!

::sigh:: If I had a penny for every time I’ve heard these statements hurled back at me during conversations about being a solo Pagan, I’d be able to pay my taxes from somewhere other than my work salary. However, I think its worth looking at each statement in turn – and seeing what we can glean from it. Learning about things does not always have to be rose-water and glitter. Most of the rational behind the “explanations” are going to be coming from my own personal perspective…after all, I’m a spokes-person for no one beyond myself. Essentially, I’m a kingdom of one. So when trying to apply this to other solo Pagans — be careful. You may have to make adjustments to what I say…and some may be 180-degree perspectives from my own.

Solo Pagans are Anti-Social

This is sort of an unfair statement, but it does get made about the solo Pagan from time to time. Essentially, if the solo Pagan would just be nice and talk with other Pagans – they would find no need to be solo followers of their respective Paths. You know, the old “birds of a feather…” analogy (sort of). I can seriously be anti-social with the best of them – ask anyone at work. My preference is to stay in my office, where I can get my job done. However, I am part of a community too – so I also attend little gatherings for things such as co-worker birthdays, celebrations of work anniversaries, and the occasional coffee-clutch at the gazebo out by the little pond near the parking lot. if my preference is to stay in my office, why attend these celebrations and events?  As I said before, I am part of a community. Now, that doesn’t mean I attend EVERY SINGLE EVENT that comes down the pike. If I did that, I would never get my job done. I select those times that work for me, and attend those events. The same holds true for Pagan events.

If I attended every single Pagan event that I could within the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex (and beyond), I would spend all my free-time traveling to these events, And as wonderful as that time, spent with people I know and people I don’t know yet, can be it is time that gets removed from my own personal spiritual work. So I do what I can about being in the public eye and spending time with others, while trying to insure that I can still handle my own Spiritual needs as a solo adherent. As I have stated before, I have been nudged to be far more out in the public arena, so I am learning to handle a new balance in that mixture.

You Elitist, You

This is, in my estimation, more a personal insult than anything else. Seemingly, it is provided with trajectory and air-cushioning when the hurler finds a problem with my inability to see things from their perspective or to agree with their point of view 100%. I have found the best response to statements like these is that of silence. Arguing with the individual over the correctness or incorrectness of the statement is not likely to change their mind. It creates a charged atmosphere, where insults become the bullets and artillery of mindless warfare.

However, not responding also allows the control of the perspective to be handled in only one direction. For decades, we have heard Christians splatter Pagans with claims of “Satanism”, “ritual sex with minors”, and other slanderous statements. Its far more productive, in my mind, to make a singular statement in a calm manner – and then leave the “battlefield”. So here goes…

I am far from being an elitist. As an individual who practices my beliefs, I fall under no definition where I believe a system is to be governed by an elite class or group of individuals. In fact, I believe that an individual is responsible for their own spiritual growth, and those that follow their spiritual growth through a group of individuals do so under the same mandate. Your spiritual growth is your responsibility, even when learning from others. How that classifies me as an ‘elitist’ I am unsure, and frankly am not even concerned with beyond this statement.

No Idea What Paganism is All About

Typically, once one insult does not work, the next is to go deeper. Instead of striking at who I am, the blow comes against what I know or understand. To be completely honest, this is the point where I typically tune folks out on things like this. I am far more interested in learning what I can in my own studies, than trying to tell people that they are doing it all wrong. I am a lot more receptive to people who will state:

Here’s what I learned on the topic, and the teacher/book/column/blog-post/podcast/television-show/movie/documentary/whatever that opened my mind in that way of thinking.

After all, when stated this way, someone is not condemning you for not following their particular path. Instead, they are merely sharing what worked for them, and they are not stating that it will most definitely work for you too. They are only asking that you give it a look. And there’s nothing wrong with that…

Flying Solo

I like the perspective of flying solo. Occasionally, its nice to meet others that follow a similar path – as I did during Hearthstone Grove’s Imbolc Retreat, and the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering, both earlier this year. I am looking forward to doing the same at this year’s OBOD East Coast Gathering as well. Its always wonderful to be among fellow folks on various points in their own Druidry studies – as well as those folks not on a Path of Druidry. The conversations are always fun, fascinating, and sometimes even provocative. However, none of that is going to change the fact that my little bi-plane has a cockpit for one. We can, occasionally, fly together in formation though…

Yes, I spend a lot of time reading - even when I go to the beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

Why I Choose to Be a Solitary Pagan – A Look at Ritual

SunriseMornings always bring a new perspective on the Path for me. When the sun rises up over the horizon and starts that slow climb into the day-time sky, I can typically be found with a cup of coffee in my hand – watching. Its a morning ritual that has served me well. During the time of sunrise, I clear my head of the cobwebs from my sleep during the night. I can put my mind into gear and start to prioritize my day in my head. But there is a lot more to my morning start….

I spend a few minutes doing my first centering and grounding exercise of the day. Next to my large backyard tree, I can visualize myself growing roots through my legs and feet, reaching deep down into the ground. I can feel the strong comfort of the earth embracing me, holding me upright. At this point, I usually set my coffee cup down, and reach my hands towards the sky. I can feel my arms and hands embracing the warmth of the sun’s rays, and the air gently moving around me. After a few moments of embracing the world around me, I move internally and find my center – my grove of the heart.

This is my internal sanctuary. The place where I find solitude and comfort. This is typically where I meet my Dream Crows. Even five minutes in this place will remind me of how I need to approach the world around. My worries, stress, and anger are not necessary. I remember that each moment, each breath, each action is a celebration of Life. I entwine myself in that thought, took another deep breath, and come back to this moment. And I begin my day.

Rituals do not need to be complicated motions and incantations – rote statements and actions. That works for other people, and I applaud them for finding something that works for them. My approach is much more simple. This is the style of ritual that holds deep meaning for me, it is a deep reservoir that I can access at any time and place. Most importantly, it works for me.

No, it has not escaped my notice that my perspective of ritual comes from a singular perspective. My ritual style will not translate well to any aspect of group dynamics. But this, I have come to understand is why I am a Solitary Pagan on a Path of Druidry. My rituals are in my Grove of the Heart. I cannot translate accurately what that Grove looks like. I cannot translate correctly the emotions that are tied to every experience.

I do the best that I can with the writing I do in my journals, but those words splayed on the pages hold more meaning for me than for anyone that may forage through them. Each statement made there is charged with attached meaning and understanding for me. I wrote those words, and the memories and emotions attached to it are my own. Thus, I am able to translate what I have written there in a manner far more meaningful than anyone else. Much like we all attach feelings, emotions and memories to the songs we hear on the radio, the words I place on a page will have a different meaning to me than to someone else.

In contemplating the idea that I am a Solitaire by choice, I realized that the word itself implies loneliness. The lone individual traveling through a Spiritual Life, alone. No friends, no one to discuss those experiences with, no one to celebrate the turning of the Wheel with. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am a Solitary Pagan by choice, but I do spend a lot of time talking with other Pagans. Occasionally, I will attend events and group celebrations to touch base with those same friends and to encounter new friends. A Solitary Path is not a lonely one. Yet there is the implication that it is. In my manner of thinking, this is from a deeply ingrained perspective that is brought about by our modern society. For instance, lonely people are thought to be deeply depressed, deeply resentful of others around them, and that eventually they will snap in a violent manner and strike out at that connected, communal world around them. I am quite sure that there is some aspect of psychology that can be set forth to “prove” my point to be “wrong”. That’s all right though – I still stand by this point. No, I am not lonely. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I am a Solitary Pagan by choice.

This is only the first in a series of posts that I will be making on all of this. I am exploring the perspective of why I have chosen to be a Solitaire. I am not questioning whether I should remain a Solitary Pagan. I am trying to explore a bit more of who I am, and why I am. My first look here has been at this from a perspective of ritual. There will be more to come…

Tommy /|\