Thinking About: Stories

You need music, I don’t know why. It’s probably one of those Joe Campbell questions, why we need ritual. We need magic, and bliss, and power, myth, and celebration and religion in our lives, and music is a good way to encapsulate a lot of it.

Jerry Garcia

I was reminded of this quote from Jerry during the Days Between of Jerry’s’ birth and death. This appeared on Mickey Hart’s Instagram account. Hart was one of the drummers for the Grateful Dead and a very close friend of Jerry’s. The quote always reminds me of the necessary need for music towards the expression of our collective emotions, as well as a transport for strong stories that bring inspiration to our minds. If you need examples, I will point to songs such as “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” by the Charlie Daniels Band, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, “One” by Metallica, or even Iron Maiden’s “Still Life” as singular examples among so many others.

Music also brings other stories to mind. Several songs will easily invoke moments where I first heard these songs with friends. As an example, I remember walking with friends around a football field, listening to Midnight Star’s album “No Parking on the Dance Floor”. I’m not overly fond of dance music from the 1980s, but any song from this album will automatically evoke the memories of that late afternoon and evening. Of that group, only three of us are still alive to this day, and none of us speak to one another for various petty reasons. But despite that, my memories of us cutting up and pretending to lip-sync the synth-induced robotic voices will quickly bring a smile to my face. Music has that ability to bring up those stories that we may have long forgotten; however, it is the essence of those stories that provide strong emotions related to those stories.

Here in the blog, I have relayed quite a few of the stories that I have from my experiences throughout the thirty-plus years I have been a Pagan. Some have been humorous. Some, not so much. Each story; however, is a simple momentary glance into what has gone on in my life. My sharing of these stories is just to let you peek into my life or to provide an entertaining look at what a doofus I can be at times. What I hope to invoke with you is a moment where you can start to sort your life into similar small peeks – sort of like mini-chapters of a novel – into who you are. My point is not to have you do the same as what I am doing: sharing it openly with others. Rather, to get you to look at those mini-chapters and find the experiences that you need to work with or save to remember later. Certainly, if you feel called to do so, share those experiences with others. When you feel the need to teach or mentor others along their Pagan paths, you will need these experiences to showcase lessons for others. Drawing parallel conclusions between what you stumbled over, and what your student may encounter can not only be a rewarding teaching moment for them, but also a cathartic experience for yourself.

Stories drive our lives. We can envision ourselves in the roles of the characters we read about in Louis L’Amour novels. We can see ourselves as major or minor characters in the stories we read, or those that we watch on our televisions or movie screens. However, sometimes in our mundane lives, we forget that there is more to this story concept. These days, we all watch on the screen as the numbers of total corona-virus cases rises and the deaths continue to climb upwards in a parallel dance. But each of those numbers, is a singular human being. And their life is a story. How they contracted the virus is a story. The very sad way in which they died is a story. Those that survived and have gone home or a continuing story of success, as well as further struggle with how the virus has wrecked their bodies. It can be somewhat comforting to reduce their stories to numbers, since those can be sterilized to faceless counts. But, in my opinion, that reduces them from human beings to nothing. Those stories need to be told – by their friends, their relatives, their friends, their lovers, and their colleagues. Those who are remembered, truly never die. They live on in their stories that are told.

When I initiated into my Bardic grade at Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana (directly across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans), I remember the faces of everyone that initiated with me, as well as those that participated in the initiation. Many of that initial group have slowly filtered to the wayside. Others have shone brightly in the camps that have come afterward. And some of disappeared altogether. Yet, I still feel the need to talk about these initiates with any new initiate I can corner for five minutes. I want my fellow class of initiates to continue in their own stories. I also want the new initiates to take a moment to see the others initiating with them. The stories that brought everyone to that first initiation of Bards at Gulf Coast Gathering are as wide and varied as the personalities among all of us. Their stories live on. As does the growing legend of the Screen Boar, though I am certain so many folks get tired of hearing it every year. 🙂

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

I have so many stories about the people that I worked with at the college. Some are fun. some not so much. After leaving there, I am not in contact with these people as much as I thought I would be. For a couple of thousand days, I spent time with all of these people. We worked together, we had fun, we certainly had fights and arguments. But the further that I get from August 28th, 2019; the more my memories of those folks begin to fade. This is an example where the moment of the stories ceases to hold its importance going into the future. The same holds true for my memories of high school. Certain events and moments, I distinctly remember, while others have faded so far from memory, I can scarcely remember them happening. And in a manner of speaking, it is sad that these memories have faded to near total darkness in my mind. At one time, these were very important to me and were vividly recalled at a single moment. Are these moments in time that really were not important? Perhaps they were at that time, but more recent experiences have slowly pushed those out, as my mind has set those off to the side as “not as important as I thought they were”. I cannot say for sure that this is what it is, but I am certain that those memories have faded…

Stories are everywhere around us. You can read the ongoing saga of how Donald Trump has destroyed America daily in the papers. Or, your perspective can be that he has saved America from debasing itself. Sometimes stories can be interpreted differently by many people. Much like experiences, everyone will pull something different from a story that they read, watch or live. We are, after all, unique individuals with unique perspectives. Rest assured though, stories can be found everywhere or be evoked by any of the senses or combination thereof. As someone who places a heavy value on the telling of stories, I would suggest that examining the world around you to find all the stories evolving around you….it is an endeavor that may open your world to a perception you may never have noticed. Such as the war between the two ant colonies on either side of the yard. Or, as Rush detailed in their amazing song “The Trees“, the battle for sunlight between the Oaks and the Maples, as well as the hinted at government that governs the forest. There are plenty of stories to read, watch, experience and discovery. The first step…is finding them.

–T /|\

Rambling on About Stories

From time to time, I look back on older posts to try and draw inspiration for newer posts. Today, four posts caught my eye, all with the thematic “Morphing the Myth”. These were all written back in 2016, shortly after I had returned from my first Pantheacon. The panel was titled “Morphing the Myth” (hence the thematic of my post), and was led by S.P. Hendrick, Diana Paxson and a gentleman whose name I never found out. The entire panel’s discussion was held on a very academic level, which I appreciated deeply. But within my notes (which I still have) was a perspective that Science Fiction and Fantasy works can become the gateway to Paganism, as well as pulling in a personal perspective of how myth fits into one’s modern-day life. Plus, I added a bit more on how music can play a part in all of this as well, using my love for the Grateful Dead as a backdrop. The four posts I am referencing here are:

Now let’s be clear about something. I am a better writer today than I was back then, so some of these posts meander into left field and the such. Not that I don’t do that these days here. However, try and excuse a lot of the mistakes that I make within these older posts, in much the same way I make mistakes these days.

Perhaps, instead of seeing myth or Science Fiction/Fantasy stories as the gateway to Paganism – we could talk a bit about the way that these stories live within our minds and imaginations, and fed aspects of our own personal Spirituality. And this plays a little deeper into another post that I wrote about this panel – Static or Dynamic Mythology. Yes, it can be said that this particular panel really opened my eyes to a lot of different avenues in relating to myths and story-telling. The panel also led me towards understanding how important story-telling is in our everyday society, as well as how it plays into my own Spirituality.

J. Michael Straczynski’s Bablyon 5 series was the first instance where I found storytelling reaching deeply into what I thought myself to be. The storylines, the characters, the settings all played into my own imagination of what the future could hold – a place where various alien races could gather and work out their differences without resorting to war – though that did happen several times in the show. The characters all had flaws, strengths, and were believable as individuals. Some of them even changed from one type of character towards being a different one – just as people tend to do in real life. From that construct, I started to look at the world of myths and story-telling differently. I started to place the pieces into the stories that helped the characters and their tales come alive in my mind. And from that, my understanding of how to work with the perspective of the Gods being alive started to take a more solid shape in my life.

In my instance, Science Fiction and Fantasy was the gateway towards seeing how the Gods were truly alive. Granted, I was still applying my construct of being alive onto Beings that I could never truly relate completely to, but it still allowed me to understand the Gods from a perspective that felt more alive. It also allowed me to see the Gods as something that could change, ever so slightly because Their reality of time is most assuredly different than my own….that They did not have to be a static, never-changing concept. The Gods are most assuredly alive.

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

Are the myths alive? Can we re-tell the myths, adding flourishes and embellishments along the way? Well, certainly we can do just that. We’ve done that through re-telling of the legend of the hero Hercules. In some ways, to make the story more palatable for an animated Disney feature. You can be quite certain that the myth was not followed completely. Does this re-telling of the myth change what Hercules is? Only if we let the animated re-telling stand in place of the actual myth. And the concept of just letting it stand really depends on the individual more than it does on society (in my not so humble opinion).

Stories are important, in my opinion. Sit around a campfire at any gathering, and eventually folks will begin to tell the tales that they know. Some may be about the heroic deeds of Hercules, or two hobbits taking on a task that was seemingly impossible for them to do. Perhaps it will be about the time that I got lost in the forest just outside my assigned apartment in base housing when I lived in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Or maybe the times that I would go to the Class VI store on Ramstein Air Base, purchase a bottle of whiskey, and ride the German rail system drinking until I was removed from the train at the German border. Everyone knows a story. And the story does not have to be mythic in nature. Nor does it need to just entertain. Regardless, stories are an important part of our culture.

Currently our stories are told to use in books, spoken word recordings, songs, television shows, and movies. In the past, families would gather around the radio in the living room to listen to the stories that were told over the airwaves. Prior to that, everyone gathered around the campfire and took turns regaling one another with tales. No matter how much we deny it…stories are the fabric of our society. Stories matter.

Stories Matter

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

Last Monday, I went to see a fan-financed documentary on Stark Trek: Deep Space Nine called “What We Left Behind”. The documentary discussed, from the perspective of the show’s actors, actresses, writers, directors, show runner, and even the fans, aspects of the tv series and how it had affected their lives. In essence, it was a story of a show that brought stories to the small screen for all of us to experience. And it brought so many aspects of that series back to life, and into the forefront of my memory. The restoration of characters that I had loved so long, and eventually set on to the shelves of my mind when the show had come to its conclusion, was a moment of pure joy for me. And a reminder, that stories matter.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a different kind of Star Trek show. Set in the same universe and time frame that ST: Next Generation and ST: Voyager were in, it brought forth a much darker feel than those two shows did. Some of the aspirations of Star Fleet were shown to be shady power grabs of the quadrant, sometimes placing the lives of the innocents that lived on the planets there in the position of being pawns in a much larger game, as shown through the lens of the Dominion War. And sometimes, aspects of the show mirrored what was happening in real life during its time of original airing. The feelings generated from some of those moments were pulled back into my thinking, like the opening of semi-healed scabs that are re-opened again. Because stories do matter. Stories sometimes provide the echoes of the soundtracks to our lives.

In the tv series, one of the characters – Nog – loses his leg during a battle with the Dominion. This sets a story-arc for the character as he rehabs his injury, and pulls back from all of the characters that are part of his family and friends. Portrayed by Aron Eisenberg, this story arc hit home for me, as well as many other US military veterans. Aron recounted, in an interview in the documentary, that US service members who had suffered in some manner would constantly and consistently thank him for this particular story arc. That the way he portrayed the character resonated with their own experiences, and allowed some of them to approach their rehabilitation from a different perspective. Stories do matter.

Leaving the trail of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I cannot recall the number of times that I found myself really drawn and focused to some of the characters that Charles de Lint has created and regaled tales of in his Newford series of books. His characters go through emotional moments of joy, rejection, anger and sadness that are written so descriptively that I cry with them in their triumphs and shrink back in their defeats. Stories and tales that resonate in that manner can help us to deal with our own emotions, allowing us to feel with and through these characters in an open manner that today’s society seemingly desires to cut us off from. Stories really do matter, particularly when the individual experiencing these stories allows themselves to be openly vulnerable. And typically, we read or watch these in spaces where we can be vulnerable in that manner.

I work in a job that relies on statistics to tell the stories. Cold-hearted formulas that relate to an aspect of measurement. Did we pass five percent more students this semester than we did a year ago at this time? How many more graduates did we have? And those stories can be nice when the successes are measured in a positive manner or the lack of success can be used like a surgeon’s scalpel to remove perceived issues. What gets missed in all of those formulaic stories are the real measures of success. The student that not only got their classwork in and participated in class, but also worked two jobs during that same space, so as to keep her children fed and clothed. The sacrifice that her parents made to insure that the children had babysitting available while she went to class or needed to study. And the best part of the story won’t take place at graduation. That takes place when she finds a job suited to her newly acquired knowledge and her unique skills, and that may not happen until much further into her story. In the meantime, she may still have more hardships to overcome, more difficult and trying times. Why? Because life can be hard sometimes. Not every story gets a storybook ending. But those stories – and so many others – do matter.

Within Paganism, we lean back to mythology for a lot of inspiration. These myths – these stories, provide examples of life in motion. Its really not that important as to the veracity of the story. Just as the veracity of de Lint’s Newford stories is not nearly as important to the connection that folks feel to the characters. Don’t like de Lint? Try a different author. Don’t like Science Fiction or Fantasy? Try a different genre. The stories are out there, the writers pour their hearts and souls into those pages, finding the essence of these characters – and they tend to get their inspirations from the people around them. Why? Because THOSE stories matter. The stories might get a different wrapping, a different setting, and some of the elements might become fantastical aspects that we don’t readily find here in the mundane world. But we’re good at metaphorical thinking. We do a good job of finding details in the abstract. We find ways to get the stories to matter. We find elements of who we are in the characters that we read about, the ones we watch on tv or on the movie screen. Or even the ones we picture in our heads while a storyteller spins a yarn around the campfire. Stories are who we are. Stories matter.