Thinking About: Individual Self-Image in Contrast With Fictional Characters (Part Two of Two)

Remembering Episode One

So far, in trying to answer a question that was snarkily (my impression) posed to me in wondering if I thought I was Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings, I have discussed some of the fictional and re-imagined historical figures that I identify with in movies, tv shows and novels. In re-reading what I have written to this point, I feel like I am completely psychoanalyzing myself to a large degree. In this follow-up second part, I wanted to take some of what I have written and swing it back around to my Spirituality. I mean, this blog is about me, but the primary focus is on my own Spirituality. All of that is done in the hopes that maybe one person gets something out of all of this and has their own personal revelation as to how these fictional stories helps provide the necessary cement to hold these concepts together. This particular post is no exception.

Somewhat Circling Back to Science Fiction as a Gateway to Paganism

Back in 2016, I attended one of the three Pantheacon conventions I ever made. At this particular convention, I attended a panel entitled “Morphing the Myth” which was about Paganism in popular fiction. I wrote a handful of posts inspired by this particular panel (“Morphing the Myth – a Personal Look“, “Morphing the Myth – Gateway to Paganism“, and “Morphing the Myth: What Does Myth Mean to You?“). However, I wanted to take this time to circle back to the idea of Science Fiction and Fantasy as a gateway into Paganism. or at least part of the role that these science fiction characters play within my own life. When I go back and look at the characters that I named, there is a strong note of independence between all of them. That concept of being able to do what was necessary, even without the help of anyone else or whatever the odds might be. To use another Star Wars character that I strongly identify with, look at Jyn Erso in the movie Stars Wars: Rogue One. One perspective that I didn’t mention earlier was what others have described as my ability to be an inspirational leader. Jyn is also fiercely independent. She inspires a group of others to walk away from the Rebel Alliance party line and follow her in what was definitely a suicide mission just to obtain the plans of the Death Star so the Alliance could find its weakness and destroy it. Now, I don’t think that the character of Jyn Erso would have drawn me towards Paganism, if I were younger and not thirty-plus years on my own Path. However, I can see where someone younger might be inspired by the independent nature of Erso to look into other alternative areas of Life. Perhaps, in that search, they might come across Paganism. Who knows? Who can say? But the possibility is there. However, I can pull up a few dozen Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and series that could directly point a person into searching through Paganism as an alternative to their desired Spirituality. As Shadow has often reminded me:  “Words have meaning.” And as I have to often remind myself: “That meaning is derived from the individual reading those words.”

So did all of the characters I mentioned previously, as well as the ones I have not mentioned, turn me into a raging Pagan? No, not really. However, each of these characters, as they are written and portrayed, have provided thematic moments that have helped cement the character traits that I have. My sense of Honor. My buildup of Trust with others. My understanding of what is my own “tribe” of people. None of these characters fully describe me as a person. None of these characters are full amalgamations of what is my Druidry, what is my Paganism or the complex connections I have with the world around me. At best, they are good descriptors of a handful of all of that. These cinematic and novelized moments are; however, excellent visual descriptives to bring to those that are trying to understand aspects of who and what I am. These are absolutely not the greatest descriptives, but in each of these are handles that others can readily grasp and understand at the most minimal of levels. Deeper discussions can take place around a fire late at night, under the moon, with drinks of our desire of the moment in our hands.

Why I Believe Fictional Characters are So Important

These fictional characters are important in our lives. That’s right. I believe that these characters reinforce parts of who we are. When Billy refused to give up Chavez to the lynch mob outside, it shows that he values his friends in all matters – no matter the skin color of that friend.

Billy the Kid:  See, you get three or four good pals. Well, then you’ve got yourself a tribe. And there ain’t nothing stronger than that.

For me, this is an example of the meaning of the word “pals” as is stated at the end of the movie. These people that are part of your tribe are important. That moment in the movie only helped reinforce that idea. I am sure that there are many, many moments in movies and novels and tv series and nearly anything else you can comment on, which do the same for others. All of these pieces of entertainment that we watch are mirrors for parts of ourselves. Yes, even the evil, horrible, blood spraying horror movies that make an ‘R’ rating. All of this places a mirror in front of us, where we can see what we are made of. Now, I am not claiming that these things show us the psycho killer in all of us. Rather, these films show us ways that we stand up to such exciting villains in our own manners of thinking.

Curly Bill: You know what I’d do? I’d take that deal ‘n’ crawfish, then drill that ol’ Devil in the ass. What about you Johnny, what would you do?

Johnny Ringo: I already did it.

These two are speaking of a stage-play of Faust making a deal with the Devil. Haven’t you watched a scene where you had imagined what you might have done in that situation? How you would have responded? Have you ever diagnosed it a bit deeper and tried to figure out how your own personality traits would have made that scene different? Or how the character that is in the dilemma has responded exactly as you would have? Many of these stories allow us to place our own personalities into the mix for our imaginations to work through. In many instances in real life, we may find ourselves thinking back to how a favorite character might have responded to some of the situations we find ourselves in. And those quick summations in our minds may provide the inspiration for a better response than we had initially thought of. These fictional characters provide archetypes that we can form our own hypotheses around.

Should This Matter to You?

So, after writing all of these thoughts, there really is only one final question: should any of this really matter to you? Well, the only person that can really answer that is you. Much of drawing inspiration from popular media sources really lies within you. Not everyone is going to see themselves in characters of a movie, tv series, or novel. Some folks do watch and read all of this as an escape from reality. They are not trying to inject themselves into these characters – even if that injection is only a small part of who they are. They are wanting storylines that give them relief from a world around them, not solutions or inspirations for the very real pressures of Life. I completely grok that perspective and I respect it highly. Everyone has to make their own way through Life in the manner that works best for them. And honestly, there will be a lot of people that cannot agree with my perspective of self-identifying with characters and situations from a fictional world. But then, I am not suggesting that every single human needs to do things exactly as I do. I prefer people to think and do for themselves. I am only representing something that does help me and inspire me to find solutions of my own.

Bringing This Saga to an End/Final Thoughts

Wearing one of the masks that Shadow lovingly made for me

In my opinion, there is a lot to unpack for someone here. Furthermore, I know there will be folks who disagree with my assessment of some of the characters, as well as the self-assessment I have splattered all over these two posts. I am perfectly fine with those differences. Life is not always clean and easy. There is a lot of dirty to trying to live life as authentically as you can. When you start adding more and more factors into all of that – politics, dealing with other people, paying bills, working a job – the mud gets deeper and thicker. I do see a lot of these characters in myself. Not complete work-ups of me. Just smaller parts. And some of those parts are contradictory. And those contradictions are sometimes Gordian knots that you just cannot get untied easily. And some of them you don’t want to get untied because those contradictions make you who you are. In the end, we decide what fits our self-image and what doesn’t. Sometimes, we don’t know about all the aspects of our image. Others see us in a different way. And reconciling those different aspects can be even more tedious and difficult. This was just my way of trying to explain pieces of my own self-image drawn against the backdrop of particular fictional characters. Your mileage will definitely vary.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Individual Self-Image in Contrast With Fictional Characters (Part One of Two)

Much of what you are about to read came from a snarky question thrown in my face in a private Facebook message that I tried to turn into a single post answer.

So what gives with all the Ranger stuff? Do you believe you are Aragorn now?

Someone asked if I would take another picture of me wearing the mask correctly. So I obliged.

My initial reaction was to be a touch offended. Then I started laughing to myself, as I thought it was a touch funny to have myself compared to a character that I truly am not near in any psychological or emotional aspect. However, I started thinking about the characters that I do deeply associate myself with. Fictional characters (or in some cases interpretations of historical figures from the perspective of a writer, producer and actor) that I can see pieces of myself within. I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to answer the question without approaching this without taking a deeper dive than usual.

Looking at Characters from Various Mediums

So, yes, I do see aspects of myself in various characters from fictional works. I tend to look at these characters to be archetypes of smaller pieces of who I am. None of these characters, or the ones to come later in my life, are complete parts of me. Most characters from these stories are barely on the threshold of being three-dimensional, complex characters. Sometimes, the creator of these stories will provide some complexity to the characters, thus providing a touch deeper aspect of realism and reality to them and the stories that they are encompassed within, but even then, the full manner of approaching the complexity of a real human is still a much further reach. Certainly, there will be those that would disagree with me, which I am perfectly fine with. Essentially this little blog post (or essay if you will), is just my own personal perspective.

Billy the Kid
One of the characters that I completely identify with is that of Billy the Kid from the two Young Guns movies. I have often said that I likely was born in the wrong time frame of the world. I am drawn to that genre of the West very strongly. Now, given that, my pull is more towards the difficult times that encompassed that part of the world. A time when we were invaders into the First Nations. We had more difficulty in trying to work with the original inhabitants of that new environment because of our blindness for a new experience, a chance to live free from the rules of the Old World and the far more “civilized” eastern parts of the United States. The discovery of gold – and its terminal sickness of greed – paired with a lust of land ownership, only made things worse. Young Guns was not truly set in a world where that took place. Young Guns tends to lean more towards the romanticized thoughts of the old West. Billy the Kid is a leader of a loose band of friends that are caught up in the cattle wars and vendettas of the unincorporated New Mexico area during the Lincoln County War. Billy (real name Henry McCarty) spends much of the movie wise-cracking his way through various encounters with rival ranch hands, bounty hunters and eventually law enforcement. However, it is Billy’s unswerving loyalty to his ranch boss, even after he is killed by rival ranch hands, that rings true. This is also mirrored in a moment at a whorehouse, where Billy’s gang is surrounded by townspeople and the local law enforcement (Young Guns II). When the local Sherriff offers up the half-Mexican, half Native American Chavez y Chavez as an atonement to the crowd that is lusting for a lynching, Billy refuses, citing that the Sheriff doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘pals.” This is an example of Billy’s commitment to his companions. When he finds people he cares deeply about, he has a sense of loyalty to them, even when they turn sides on him as Pat Garret does in the second movie.

Doc Scurlock:  You son of a bitch! You’re starting to believe what they’re writing about you, aren’t you? Let me tell you what you really are! You rode a 15 year old boy straight to his grave, and the rest of us straight to hell… straight to hell! William H. Bonney! You are NOT a god! (Cocking his rifle and pointing it at Bill)

Billy the Kid:  Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out.

Billy’s loose grasp of leadership, treating all of his friends as equals, is a quality I have seen in myself. This came in very handy when I was a Sergeant in the Air Force. The Airmen that I was charged with supervising never felt that I had to lord my authority over them. I treated them as equals in the job, relying as much on their knowledge as I did on my own. Billy’s loyalty to his friends is a quality I have always prized within myself. Even when Doc turns on Billy, as noted in the above quote, Billy’s response is a quiet determination for Doc to go ahead and pull the trigger. Billy is loyal enough to not doubt Doc, even when staring the barrel of Doc’s rifle.

Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi’s character gets to be a little specific. I absolutely loved Alec Guinness’ portrayal of the character, but I never really identified much with the character in Episode IV. However, Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi in Episodes II and III were far easier to find myself within. Kenobi at this point is trying his utmost best to be several things all at once. A mentor to Anakin, a sitting member of the Jedi Council and a friend to both Anakin and Padme during a time where he is seemingly aware of the extreme close relationship the two have developed with one another – contradicting a personal code of conduct that Jedi are implied to follow. It wasn’t until I started watching the animated Clone Wars that I realized that Kenobi had found himself in the exact same situation as Anakin. I stumbled across this bit of information about Kenobi and Duchess Satine from a YouTube video that took parts of Kenobi from all aspects of Star Wars to create a fanfic tribute to the character. This only cemented my identification with the character, as Kenobi was shown to make good decisions, but also suffer from mental blindness in others because of his emotions for others. To this end, I could see a lot of the character traits of Kenobi within myself. Kenobi also has an ability to zero in on the completion of his assigned mission over everything else, a definite trait that I can see in myself – and often times, a personal failing of my own. Kenobi’s sense of honor and duty are very easily mapped on to my own sensibilities. But there is another very important quote of Kenobi’s that I find resonates deeply within me.


Obi-Wan Kenobi:  If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.

This particular quote defines a difference between myself and some of my supervisors that I have worked for. I have no desire to dominate. I have no reason to try and make myself look or seem greater than anyone else. I do not see a single way or path to accomplish what I am asked to do. Some ways or methods are longer in a time frame, but the results – in my way of thinking – might be better defined, explained and sourced. Honestly, this is a part of me that has started to come out more often than not. I do not seek to make myself right. I seek to follow where my footfalls may take me. I am not seeking a position of dominance or power. Neither of those fit into the goals of where I seek to go. To someone seeking drive, power, glory, name recognition and the such – I can readily see where our perspectives would clash.

The Mandalorian
The Mandalorian is a bit more of a difficult character to work through for me. The perspective is a little easier to understand though. The Mandalorian is only trying to make his way through Life, trying to provide for his clan in a manner befitting the honor he is trying to keep. As a bounty hunter, he wants to make sure that Justice is served towards those who broke their oaths and agreements to others. He is trying to do the “right thing”. When his bounty is to bring The Child to an individual that seemingly does not have its best interests at heart, the Mandalorian steps back into action saving The Child’s life. Not only is the Mandalorian driven by a sense of Justice, but he is also driven by a sense of Honor. Both aspects are larger parts of what drives me on in life, so there is a strong correlation there. A few friends have admitted that the sense and style of the Mandalorian character are very similar to who I am, at least in their eyes. For me, I am not completely sure that the similarities are as tight as others may perceive, but I also have to remember that I am looking into a mirror, where as they are looking directly at me. However, much like Kenobi’s direction towards accomplishing the mission, the Mandalorian does have a single-minded move towards accomplishing what the bounty requests. However, he does not sacrifice his friends to accomplish those ends, a trait in common with the Billy the Kid character from the Young Guns movies.


Hawkeye
This is not the character from the tv series M*A*S*H though I do I adore the zaniness of that character. This is actually the lead character in the book and movie, The Last of the Mohicans. This is perhaps the easiest character for me to self identify with. Hawkeye has a strong individualistic trait that is combined with a super-strong sense of tribalism with those he cares deeply about. For me, both of these are core traits as to who I am and what I believe.

Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.

Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.

That perspective of being what is not expected of you is a big part of my past, as well as my present.  I suspect it will be the same going into my future as well. This actually figures into a lot of what I am. When I was in the military, I sought out repair methods that were not traditional – not to be different – but to get the job done. The military’s stance, at least at that time, was not to improvise. Follow the repair instructions to the letter. I never consulted the instructions unless I ran into a dead-end and needed some inspiration on a different direction to try. My Druidry is much the same. I see the direction I am pointed, I walk it for a while and then try to find some parallel Path that allows me to explore in my own manner. I guess, it could be said that I am strictly unconventional. Not sure how that would sit with those that prefer a more conventional approach to Life, but then that’s their approach. I would never say their approach was bad for them. I would say, its likely not to work out as neatly for me.

The Ranger class of Dungeons and Dragons
Ok. Don’t laugh. In fact, try and have a little bit of an open mind. I have played dozens upon dozens of games of Dungeons and Dragons. Nearly every single character that I have played is the Ranger. When taking those inane Question/Answer personality quizzes that you see floating around Facebook, every single one of the Dungeons and Dragons themed quizzes have brought me the result of the Ranger.

Though a ranger might make a living as a hunter, a guide, or a tracker, a ranger’s true calling is to defend the outskirts of civilization from the ravages of monsters and humanoid hordes that press in from the wild.

This fierce independence makes them well suited to adventuring, since they are accustomed to life far from the comforts of a dry bed and warm water. Some rangers find the responsibility of protecting the rest of an adventuring party to be burdensome, but most quickly find that other adventurers who can carry their own weight in a fight against civilization’s foes are worth any extra burden. City-bred adventurers might not know how to feed themselves or find fresh water in the wild, but they make up for it in other ways. A ranger’s talents and abilities are honed with deadly focus on the grim task of protecting the borderlands.

Warriors of the wilderness, rangers specialize in hunting the monsters that threaten the edges of civilization—humanoid raiders, rampaging beasts and monstrosities, terrible giants, and even dragons. They learn to track their prey as a predator does, moving stealthily through the wilds and hiding themselves in brush and rubble. Rangers focus their combat training on techniques that are particularly useful against their specific favored foes. Thanks to their intimate familiarity with the wilds, rangers also acquire the ability to cast spells that harness nature’s power, much as a druid does. Their spells, like their combat abilities, focus on speed, stealth, and the hunt.”  

“Classes –Ranger”, Dungeons & Dragons website, located at https://dnd.wizards.com/dungeons-and-dragons/what-is-dnd/classes/ranger

The point that stands right out for me is the concept of fierce independence, followed quickly by a desire to defend others against forces aligned against them. I have always felt a desire to protect and defend others. My military service was filled with the perspective that part of my duty as a military member was to defend the Constitution of the United States against all aggressors – foreign and domestic.” And while I don’t serve in the military any longer, I still hold that oath as being in place with who I am. Admittedly, its not the easiest of perspectives to maintain in this day and age, with the swirling political waters we found ourselves in. I have lost a few friends refuting their perspectives of what is appropriate for a President to do with Constitutional proof that its the exact opposite. Politically, I hold no party affiliation nor do I have a desire to affiliate or find any form of allegiance to one. I have taken that particular stand since I was eighteen. I’m nearly fifty-five now (in just a few days, in fact). For some indelible reason that I cannot firmly place my fingers on, I feel a kindred spirit with this particular class in a table-top role-playing game.

Cinematic Cliff Hanger for Part One

These are just some of the characters that I find myself associating with. Certainly there are others, but these were the first ones that came to mind when I was writing this. Just as I am sure there will be others going into the future as well. With this particular section now approaching 2500 words, I’ll bring this to a stop here. In the next post, the second half of this, I want to take a look at how stories with these archetypal characters influence us on levels that we might not even be aware of. I will also take a step back to looking at Science Fiction and Fantasy as potential gateways for folks into Paganism, something I have done before. Lastly, I want to explore one more aspect – if all of this should matter to you at all – a rhetorical question I will probably dance around the edges of, but one that I think might be useful for some folks to explore.

Thanks for reading part One. I hope you stick around to read Part Two which I’ll post tomorrow.

–T /|\

Thinking About: How Endings Can Really Be Beginnings

Usually, I save the ‘Thinking About” posts for Thursdays, but that has not really worked out the last few times. So, I sit here in a darkened office, with music playing in the background on a borderline Saturday night/Sunday morning with my mind trying to take in what is essentially some stolen time. Time to take in the last few days and juxtapose that against some of the other times I recall in my life.

At this point, it has been a little more than twenty four hours since the news of Justice Ginsberg’s passing reached my ears and eyes. Her death has not really been a shock to me. At eighty-seven years of age with failing health issues, the length of her time on this side of the veil was quite apparent to be short. Her passing means that another Supreme Court seat is now to be filled. Ironically, it comes with even shorter time than it did for the end of President Obama’s second term, a Senate hearing for the position that was held up by Senate Republicans claiming that it should be filled by the people’s choice for the Presidency. Now, the seat on the Supreme Court needs to be filled immediately, according to those same Senate Republicans. Hypocrisy at its finest. Capitol Hill politics as usual (remember, we were supposed to have the swamp drained from such political antics by the Blowhard-in-Chief when he took office four years ago?). For me, someone who has watched the Capitol Hill scene since the early years of the Reagan Administration, all of this is nothing new to me. For many of the younger folks out there, its a moment of sheer outrage. How can these politicians not do what they were elected for? For a lot of others, Justice Ginsberg’s death feels like a death knell in their lives. Without Ginsberg to provide the moral compass for the Supreme Court, all is certainly lost.

Mid-March of 1994. I had arrived at the airport in Shreveport, Louisiana the night before. My flight schedule had been an early afternoon non-stop flight from Frankfurt, Germany to a late-night arrival at Dallas-Fort Worth International airport. All I was carrying with me was a backpack and a jacket. My suitcase was in the belly of the plane. Both that suitcase and myself had to run a race of time across two terminals to reach the flight from Dallas to Shreveport. Otherwise, I would be waiting another eight-plus hours for the 6am flight the next day. Honestly, if I had missed the flight – it would have been faster to rent a car and drive the distance. I would have arrived two hours before that flight left Dallas. But apparently we both made it to the flight – moments before they closed the doors.

The morning after the marathon flight, I borrowed my father’s F100 1975 Pickup truck and drive along Interstate-20. I crossed over the Red River and arrived at the back gate to Barksdale Air Force Base. My instructions were to go through the front gate to the base, but if I had done that I would have needed to register the vehicle at the gate for what was a 150-yard walk from the back gate. I parked in the parking lot just outside the gate and gathered myself for the walk. I was wearing my Class-A Blue Uniform, with a dark-blue tie, and all my ribbons displayed. My correct rank of Airman First Class, which I had been stripped down to just two weeks ago, was correctly sewn on my uniform. I had a copy of my duty transfer paperwork, which released me from my squadron at Sembach Air Base to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO) here at Barksdale. This was the last transfer of duty station in my eight years with the Air Force.

I was being released from my six-year commitment that I had made four years ago at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. A base that had been erased from history just seven months prior by the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission appointed by President George W. Bush. The base’s problem was it was expensive to maintain. My problem was that I missed a mandatory formation. I overslept. That was enough to remove me from my position in the military. It was enough to reduce me in rank from an E-4 Sergeant to an E-3 Airman First-Class. The Air Force made the decision to separate me from their ranks. After eight years of not completely fitting into what they wanted as a model Non-Commissioned Officer and member of the Air Force, I completely agreed. Our compatibility just wasn’t there and we both knew it.

The entire ordeal took approximately thirty-five minutes to complete from the time I walked into the building to the time I was back on the sidewalk with my discharge paperwork in hand. Despite the fact that I was technically a civilian, I still provided a hand salute to the Captain I passed on the sidewalk, as well as a “Good morning, ma’am,” along with a smile. I made it to my father’s truck and drove back to his house on the west side of Shreveport. That evening, he started the conversation that I did not know how to finish: “So what are you going to do now?”

I had not really thought about this. The Air Force had sent me to a class on how to write my military experience into a resume. Most of my skill sets did not translate well into Corporate America. Most military positions don’t. Not every Corporation out there has need for a Command-and-Control Communications Systems Specialist. Most of the equipment that I knew and was essentially an expert on were well over a decade or more in the world of obsolescence. Plus no one in the Computer Communications needed a systems operator or technician that was trained in the usage of small arms, rifles and combat techniques. What in the world was I going to do?

One thing the military did teach me well was how to adapt to situations. I needed about another three weeks to sit down and assess where the technology world was and contrast that with where I was in terms of skills. I needed education. I knew how to deal with processes, how to learn new technologies on the fly, but I lacked the modern language to discuss those aspects of myself. With the help of my parents, I enrolled at Bossier Parish Community College and started to learn. I listened to how the professors talked. I talked with other students who were already employed in the computer fields. I learned the vernacular. I learned the technology. Two years later, I found myself employed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and my career in Information Technology started its step-by-step process to where I am today.

Justice Ginsberg is gone. Her legacy remains. All the work she has done in her life to bring equality for women is well detailed. I certainly understand that it feels like the paved road just ended and you may feel like you are back on the dirt road. However, her passing is not the end of the struggle to gain equality for all. Her legacy is the foundation from which we build FURTHER. The end of my military career had that same distinct feeling of the end. I had envisioned a twenty to twenty-five year career with the military. That road wound up only being eight years long. I was twenty years old when I enlisted. I was twenty-seven when I was ejected from that world. I used the experience that I got from that short time to build into a new career. And with the loss of each successive job after that, with the transition from one part of the Information technology world to the next, I built the experience and career that I have now. All of that wasn’t pretty. Some of it was downright scary. Very little of it was precisely what I had intended for it to be. However, I found ways of making it work. This movement that we currently have going – the desire for equality throughout human-kind regardless of color, race, creed, gender (or non-gender), hair color, eye color, height, weight – whatever else we can dream up as a difference between all of us….it continues on without Justice Ginsberg among the ranks. But we continue to build, we continue to grow…using her work, her energy, her drive as the continued foundation. And we use the same from so many other people as well, some not even known to any large contingent of folks, we continue to build on that foundation to make a world equal for all.

One thing I have learned throughout my life, there is always another way to continue. If there wasn’t another way to continue, I don’t think I would have survived as long as I have. Adaptability is the name of the game. I cannot tell you how many times I have broken rules and laws to keep computer systems working in the short-term so that I can develop a long-term repair to replace the illegal or improper repair that I created to keep things going. Whenever my commanders or supervisors asked me how I fixed something so quickly, I always replied with “Sir, Ma’am – with all due respect, its better that you don’t know.”

So, cry over Justice Ginsberg’s passing. But remember what she stood for – Change, Equality, Justice and the Law. And remember, when you feel you have mourned enough, there is still work to be done. Work that is done for the change for others, seeking equality, demanding justice and following the law. But in all of that, done in the name of love. Love for us all. Justice Ginsberg, I believe, would never have wanted anything less.

To be able to change, we must be able to adapt. To be able to adapt, we have to want to live. If we want to live, we have to want to love. to be able to love, we have to open our hearts to everybody. Those seeds do not perish for a lack of watering or planting. Those seeds die for a lack of empathy for all.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Continued Musings on Wanderlust in the Time Before COVID

Yesterday’s post (which should have been Tuesday’s), Wanderlust, Memories and Spirits of Place – Against a Backdrop of Times Before COVID-19, was only a small slice of my travels over the past decade or so. There are so many other places that I have traveled, where the pull of Spirits of Place was immensely strong. Some were in the oddest places. Some, I have suspicions that it may not be the Spirits of Place that still haunt the areas.

I have already made my love of driving known. I seriously have no issues pulling long drive of twelve to fourteen hours before I need some kind of lengthy rest. In the past, I have made long drives from the north area of Dallas to just north of Kansas City in a single night of driving. Part of that drive is through a tolled section of Interstate-35, which is mostly a rather boring drive that is punctuated throughout with overtly right-wing Christian signs denouncing abortion. Those signs are placed on the private property that borders either side of the roadway. However, there is a section of the drive where the landscape changes dramatically. This is the Flint Hills region of Kansas, and it is a magnificent part of the drive. The interstate winds down into the Flint Hills and the back up other hills. Unlike the majority of the turnpike going north, this is not a straight line of driving. All around you, on either side of the road, is miles upon miles of prairie land. Occasionally, you can see animals in the distance, but it is essentially clear, flat-land for the most part. Most of the commercial signage also disappears here, as well as a huge amount of the done-in-the-garage anti-abortion signs. Plus, there is also the strong pull of the Spirits of the Land here. Even with an interstate and barbed-wire fencing, this area has that strong feeling of power. Anytime I have driven north or south through this area, this particular part of the drive has always been my favorite. I always exit the Flint Hills part of the interstate with a feeling of energized power, which I have no explanation of. For reference, this is the ancestral lands of a few First nations peoples including the Kaw, Kikaapoi, Oceti Sakowin (Sioux), and the Osage.

When I was stationed in Germany, in 1992, it was a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I was younger and living in Germany while my father was stationed at Weisbaden, we never took the chance for a visit to Berlin. Thanks to military mission that I was attached to, I got that chance in April of 1992. We didn’t get the chance to stay very long, only three days, However, we all took the opportunity to visit the remains of the Wall, as well as Checkpoint Charlie. We were not allowed to bring cameras with us, so those of us that went did not have anything but our memories to carry back with us. I remember thinking how different life was on each side of that wall. On the West Germany side, apartments and shop fronts were as close as ten to fifteen feet from the Wall. On the opposite side…mostly guard stations and barbed wire. Over the years, there were many attempts by East Germans to scale, tunnel or circumvent the wall to a freer society in West Berlin. Most were stopped and taken to prisons or killed in their escapades. While visiting, I felt strong presences there. Many of them. These did not have the same feeling of Spirits of Place. It was more as if they were there because they had nowhere else to go. To this day, I wonder if I could still feel those presences so near the foreboding Wall that separated Germans from Germans, sometimes splitting families in two.

The calling card of a local bear near Medicine Bow Peak in Wyoming

Another place that I ventured to was Medicine Bow Peak near Laramie, Wyoming. On October 6th, 1955, a United DC-4 crashed into Medicine Bow Peak killing all 63 passengers and 3 crew members aboard. The aircraft was traveling from New Your City to San Francisco, California and had made a stop in Denver, Colorado for a routine crew change. Assigned to an altitude of 10,000 feet, the plane was to fly through the Rocky Mountains along a path that kept it away from mountains taller than the assigned altitude. There is; however, a narrow shortcut through the northern tier of the Rockies that can be flown, that would reduce the flight time to Seattle by nearly ninety minutes. As there was a lengthy delay in Denver, it is assumed that this was the reasoning that the crew deviated from the flight plan and attempted the shortcut, in order to get the flight back on scheduled time. Instead, they fly straight into Medicine Bow Peak, a mountain of some 12,000 feet in height. When I visited the area, I was struck by the number of boulders strewn all around the area below the summit. About a mile away from the crash site, there is a paved road (back in 1955 this entire area was wilderness with no roads – paved or otherwise) which leads to a parking area with many picnic benches. The day I was there, it was very sunny, and extremely warm. Plus, there were no other people at this location. The hike alone the well-worn path was a nice stroll, with the exception of coming across a tree with deep claw slashes in it, which appeared to be fresh. This was the sign of a bear marking its territory. Keeping that in mind, the rest of the walk was rather brisk and a bit short, leading to the location where the aircraft had slammed into the sheer face of the summit. In this particular place, the Spirits of Place were extremely strong, and I wondered what it might have been like here long before the pavement invasion of the white man. These lands are the ancestral home of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Oceti Sakowin (Sioux). All three of these tribes figure prominently in the retelling of Hollywood versions of the time of the first white Settlers in the west. Early history of Medicine Bow Peak is not known prior to the 1833 and 1834 expeditions of John C. Fremont within this area. Down in the foothills, the Lakota, Ute and Eastern Shoshone were known to have also inhabited the area or utilized the canyons and mountain passes as travel routes to and from Summer and Winter lands.

Each of these locations hold vivid memories in my mind. Both the Flint Hills and Medicine Bow Peak have often left me wondering what the area must have been like before the coming of the white Settlers. While most of my musings likely have a heavy tinge of romanticism attached to them, I do understand how rough life would have been. Still, I envy the sheer closeness that comes with being so close to nature. Even under the auspices of such terrifying ferocity that was surely evident from the various predators that lived there.

I have so many more memories of pre-COVID travel, but I am also reminded about the one rule I have made for myself when visiting these places, even man-made places such as the Berlin Wall: leave no trace. At Medicine Bow Peak, if you walk on the other side of the lakes formed by ice and snow run-off, you can still find parts and pieces of United Airlines Flight 409 among the rocks and boulders. The plea from many folks is to leave it where it is found. Photograph it, but don’t pick it up. Leave it there, so others may have the chance to experience the “discovery” of such things for themselves. Bring in food, at your own discretion and caution. And by all means, if you bring it in, pack it back out with you. Dispose of your trash where it should be…not just letting it fall out of your hands casually. Let others have the same or even better experience than you did.

COVID-19 will not be here holding us all hostage in our homes forever. Much like influenza, a work-around will be found. We do not have a cure for influenza, but we do have a yearly vaccine that helps control its spread and its effects on the human body. We will eventually reach that point with COVID-19. It probably won’t happen as soon as many would like, but I am hopefully that it will happen. In the meantime, we stay safe. We wear our masks in public. We keep our distance from others, as much as we possibly can. We thoroughly wash our hands. And we practice patience, as best we can.

–T /|\

Part of the summit of Medicine Bow Peak

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 /|\

Thinking About: Getting There

I typically reserve Thursday blog posts for a moment where I pick at a topic. For this Thursday, my plan is to go a touch deeper. I want to talk about all the protests that we see culminating in the streets. However, I don’t want to go into too much detail of what each movement is. Rather, I want to go a touch deeper into why I feel we should get involved. Yes, before everyone starts freaking out, Black Lives Do Matter. And before All Lives can Matter, we must resolve the issues keeping Black Lives from mattering. None of that is likely to appease either the BLM or ALM folks, but it is not meant to. We also have the continuing issue of “Water Is Life” – a movement that seeks to preserve the waterways of the world from contamination, the power of corporations to super-impose themselves upon any land (including sacred burial grounds, as what happened in the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation), and the right to access to clean water sources. And as I sit here and think about it, there are many, many more protests taking place to preserve the rights of all individuals, regardless of skin color, race, gender, sexual orientation – among many others. What do these have in common? A challenge to what is considered as “traditional values.”

In many places in the world, the concept of traditional values revolves around a white, hetero, Christian mind-set. In some other places, it is a bit different, but each of these traditional values pits their world vision into a Us v. Them paradigm. You either conform to what we believe, or we find ways to limit whatever freedoms you have. Because there can be no challenge to what values they hold.

For no matter what you do, if you do it against or without the approval, prescription, recommendation, or permission of a ruling party, it is a denial of that ruling party’s power, and thus a protest.

Brendan Myers, ‘Dangerous Religion”, p16

Currently, I am reading Brendan Myers’ book “Dangerous Religion” and I found the above quote to be extremely enlightening. Myers points out that the mere existence of Witches, Druids, and Pagans is a direct challenge to the values of a predominantly white, hetero, Christian society. By just declaring what you believe, challenges their power base. At least, in the eyes of the so-called “ruling class.” Because, honestly, I don’t see myself as challenging them in any fashion, by being the Pagan, Polytheist, Druid that I am. I just want to live my life, honoring my Gods, my Ancestors, and the Land. However, I choose to live what is deemed an “alternative lifestyle” and as that is outside of the bounds of what they determine as “normal” – I’m considered to be a threat. And so are you, if you do not follow what they considered to fall within their parameters of normalcy.

I take a stand for Black Lives Matter because I know that it is the first stepping stone towards making All Lives Matter. As blacks are being attacked and killed in far more disproportionate numbers, it is the first of many stepping stones that need to be negotiated. I take a stand for LGBTQ+ rights because I think people should be able to marry the people that they love. I believe that people should be able to self-identity as who they are. I stand with the Water Protectors everywhere because I believe that Water is Life, and that Life is a basic human right. I am a straight, white, hetero, male…the antithesis of much of what I am supporting. Why do I support that? Because its the right thing to do. In my eyes, its basic human decency.

So, what to do about this? If you’re healthy enough – join the protest lines. If you have medical skills, volunteer as a medic at those protests. There’s no guarantees for your safety. If you’re not healthy enough to be out in these COVID-19 times, such as myself, provide funds to pay for the bail of those arrested. Find food systems to put donations to, so protesters can be fed while on the line. As dumb as it sounds, write to your representatives at EVERY level of government. Let them know that you want to see change in areas such as police funding, the usage of force, the immediate cessation of military tactics against the protesters, for them to cease kowtowing to corporate entities over their citizenry. Remind them that they work for you. As Pagans, Witches, Druids, and other Magick workers…there are a few more steps that can be taken.

Oppressed people frequently resort to magic to assert themselves when other strategies have failed them: this is what the Ghost Dance was all about. Heterodox systems teach that the feeling that “things are not as they ought to be” is a trustworthy feeling. Instead of passive resignation to the world, or uncritical acceptance of the ruling party’s vision of the world, they advocate active participation in the world – often in the form of the supernatural intervention of magic and prayer, often connected to social activism and direct public confrontation.

Brendan Myers, “Dangerous Religion”, p17

I am not a super skilled magick worker. For me, it is the nuclear option – a means of last resort. As Myers puts it, a strategy to use when all others have failed. Others…don’t have this perspective and are willing to do magick work on behalf of the protesters. I say “go for it” if that’s your thing at this moment.

When you listen to a lot of other Pagan folk out there, they talk of “The Storm” or “Tower Time” as a manner of describing this time. I like Myers description of things being “not as they should.” I don’t work in Tarot, so “Tower Time” has little meaning to me, and while I appreciate the symbolism of a coming ‘Storm” – Storms have a far different meaning for me. But this would be arguing over descriptives…and to me, that’s unnecessary. We’ve reached a time where getting things done is what matters.

Now, I have essentially pointed at the Christian, white, hetero community and set them up as the opponent, except that they are not. Some of those folks that fall into that grouping are loving and accepting of all of us…no exceptions. Painting with too broad of a brush will set these folks into a realm of collateral damage, where they need not be. Let’s make sure that we are clear on who these folks are. They are the far-right wing of the Republican party. People who see those of us who live life different from them as being beneath them. They see us deserving of their contempt. They do not see us as their equals.

Do they need to be utterly wiped from the face of the earth? I don’t think so. As I noted before, I am just a Pagan, Polytheist, Druid who wants to live my life honoring my Gods, honoring my ancestors, and honoring the Land. Surely, I can be left in peace to do that on my own? I have no desire to make a single individual believe or practice as I do. I am not the one wanting to make laws prohibiting how others live. I only want the law to apply equally to every single human being. We don’t have to agree on a single thing – except that everyone has the same right to live their life free. Capable of loving who they want or how many they want without interference in the practice of that love. Able to live freely and without fear of police violence being visited on them for the color of their skin or how they dress.

Live and let live, as the saying goes. However, we must get there first. And challenging long-held values is not going to be an easy fight. But we will get there. And hopefully, we can not only find peace when we do get there, but also lasting healing as well.

–T /|\

Lead, Follow or Get out of the Way – Thinking About: Leadership

So, I am doing my usual Thursday routine. Sitting at my keyboard, music pouring through the headphones (today its Deep Purple, and currently its the album “The Battle Rages On…” which may be quite appropriate), and trying to come up with something to write about. I mean, this is a ‘Thinking About” post. It should be as easy as ever to come up with some kind of concept to babble on about. Except its really not. Writer’s cramps (or writer’s block, if you prefer) has been in a strong hold for the last week-plus. So I sit here wondering what to write on. I can tell you that moments like this are frustrating, but also a lot of fun. Quite the contradiction, don’t you think? I get to spend time turning topics over and over in my mind…hopefully I can latch on to one and get started on all of this.

For some reason, the concept of leadership continues to boil around the edges of everything that I am thinking about, so let’s go there. Most of my perspectives of what makes one an ideal leadership come from what I learned in the military. The United States Air Force thought enough of my potential to lead that they sent me to two leadership schools. But before we get too excited over this, both are mandatory training schools for those who sign up for a second hitch with the United States Air Force. I took my first class, the Non-Commissioned Officer Preparatory School in my fourth year of my first enlistment, shortly after I had signed on to my second enlistment. The premise of the school was to teach leadership skills and how to build effective communication skills – focusing on making me into an effective front-line supervisor. I did not exactly excel at this training, but I was not at the end of the group either. I learned about methodologies to create more effective communication with subordinates, as well as finding my footing as an individual that would be able to lead. In particular, the school taught me a lot about how to lead by example, something I have tried very hard to do in whatever job I have been installed into. Three years later, I was inserted into the NCO Leadership School, which was a continuation of what I had learned three years previous. Many lectures ensued. I was taught how to march subordinates as a unit (a skill I personally found to be utterly useless), as well as more training on weaponry and tactical skills that I might need to use in a combat situation. Through all of that, hardcore emphasis on leadership skills and abilities, as well as effective communication were heavily emphasized. Much of what I have learned in methodologies, I have carried forth in my life since then.

Capricorn – Max Ernst

What makes an effective leader? Well, for me, its obvious – an ability to effectively communicate with others coupled to an ability to lead people towards a common goal. In thirty-plus years in Paganism, I have encountered effective leaders, and those that would make you laugh and cry at their ineptitude. For some, the power of being a leader goes to their heads, and they become tyrants. If you need a visual, think Donald Trump on a much smaller scale. I have also seen quiet leaders, who roll up their sleeves and start getting the work done. They don’t push others to do the work, they might openly ask, but they hope that their example of getting the work done will inspire others to be involved. I like these types of leaders. Not only do they seem willing to do the work, but they typically are also willing to show others how to do the work – so as to build their skills too.

But that brings me to another thought. What about being a good follower? After all, not every single person can be in charge. Unfortunately, I see a lot of the “too many leaders and not enough followers” within the Pagan community. I get the perspective though. Everyone has a better idea of how to run things compared to whoever happened to step forward. I’m the same way. Whoa. Don’t look so shocked. I have ideas of how things should go. I have ideas of what the better steps of making things run should be. At least from my own perspective. It took a little bit of growing up and realizing that I do not have all the right answers to set me straight. Making something that is setup for the good of everyone means that you have to swallow your pride and sit on your ego, when the direction is not completely your own personal vision. To be a good follower, you may need to remember the direction that the cause is going. Plus, no project or vision went anywhere without people doing the hard work. That means taking direction. That means using your talents and your sweat to get things accomplished. That also means that you cannot always be the one at the top of the pile. Success happens when everyone works together.

My previous job was at a local Community College. To be honest, I have never seen a more dysfunctional work environment in my life. Upper Management declared that they would be transparent in all that they do with the entire staff and faculty base. Over time, it became obvious that they only shared what they felt everyone else needed to know, while continuing to cling to the perspective of being transparent. The work environment felt like the Pharaohs themselves had returned. Many employees were told to just do their work and not worry about the direction that everything was headed. People that wanted to be good followers were confused with the say one thing and do something completely different approach. Leadership was ineffective. Employees tried to offer ideas of how to fix things and were shot down without a second thought. That lead to anger and resentment, and these folks started to do just enough to get by with their jobs. That lead to anger and resentment from others who were working hard. And all of it was due to a single variable: ineffective communication by upper management. There’s a few other things that exacerbate the entire situation – leadership that constantly and continually changes its mind concerning short and long range plans. And while I no longer work there, I still feel sad for all those that do.

When I was in the military, I learned a phrase that I still use. In fact, at my previous job, I stated this to my supervisor behind a closed door one afternoon: “lead, follow or get out of the way.” Accomplishing things is important, particularly when a group of other people are relying on those results. Ever wondered what goes into planning a Pagan conference like Pantheacon? A lot more than I really wanted to know. There are lots of moving parts. Everyone has a role to fulfill. Some are time intensive. Some require everything to be right at a particular moment in time. Power struggles are unforgivable lapses in accomplishing one’s role. In an environment like that, there’s a lot of “get out of the way” involved. In the military, one of my functions was to insure that crypto-communications were cycled to appropriate command-level personnel in a very timely fashion. Morning intelligence briefings had to be cycled down to the USAF Intel group, the US Army S2 group, and the NATO Intelligence group before 6am. Being late because a printer broke down was an inexcusable fault. My unit’s job was to make sure things ran correctly so things like that would happen. We accepted our role in the process, and agreed to perform to the very best of our abilities. We agreed to be good followers. We were not about to go down to each of those groups and tell them that the large Intel briefing should be held after 8am, so that we could have our breakfast and coffee without being rushed through that momentary morning pleasure.

Now, Pagan communities are not military units. But there are roles and functions to fulfill. Not everyone can be at the top trying to pull everything together. But those who are, they better damn well understand the need for effective communication. They better understand the concept of rolling up their sleeves and working side by side with those that they lead. And those who have roles, functions and responsibilities need to understand that they have agreed to do what they are being asked to do. And if they cannot or will not do what they are agreeing to…they need to get out of the way.

I still hold by the basic principle that I am not a leader. Because I am not. I understand how leadership works in theory. In practice, I’m not the greatest at it. And I know it. I know how and where my personality clashes with others. I know where my weaknesses are. I know my strengths. I know precisely where my intolerances are located, and how far I can be pushed before things go beyond a controllable point. Am I a good follower? I try my best, but not always. But I do recognize leaders that I would follow. I see what they are capable of and where they can be pushed a little further. I know who I would follow and who I wouldn’t. And for me that counts for something. What that means to you, for you, or about you is something you will need to determine for yourself. What leadership looks like….that all comes back to your own personal understanding.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Being Alone in Paganism

I am in quite a few groups on Facebook and while I do not always participate, I do read them. A few weeks back, in one of the groups (I do not remember exactly which one), an individual who was also studying the Path of Druidry dropped a question that instantly felt like a plea for help.

Does anyone else feel alone on this Path?

I saw that quite a few folks had already responded to the individual, so I left the conversation alone. The question; however, has lingered with me since. For the most part, my personal Spirituality has me on a Path where I am alone. I do not have a grove to study my Druidry with. Or to hold ritual with on a regular basis. Or to socialize face-to-face – though that is truly impossible with the increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections here in Texas. With my health conditions, I would turn done even the most innocent gathering of more than two people.

Most years, I get the chance to feed my social interactions with others at events such as ADF’s Imbolc Retreat held by Hearthstone Grove here in Texas, and OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana. Like Said….most years. This year….well, its definitely a little different. Both events were cancelled for this year, which put my social interaction with other Pagans and Druids at zero, in a face-to-face setting. While online gatherings are a nice way to somewhat reconnect, its not truly the same. Thus, the feeling of isolation creeps in a little deeper. Sort of like a body check by Scott Stevens. So, when I read the individual’s post on Facebook, my mind immediately answered back.

Nine Hells, yes. Especially this year.

Now, I am in the Ovate grade in OBOD. My studies are meant to be taken and completed alone, which in some ways exacerbates the entire feeling. I cannot speak to how other Druid orders do their training, as I have never done or participated in any of them. So I started wondering, how often might others feel this way?

I can only guess, but I would hypothesize that its a fairly sizable number. Adding to that, the pure isolation that social distancing from others in this new age of COVID-19 may give an extra edge to that feeling as well. I know quite a few Pagans who have issues with being out in the open community, for one reason or another. And that fear of being around other people – I would guess social anxiety might be the best descriptive for it – can be an extremely paralyzing moment. I’m a fairly social creature (I dare you to get me to shut up in a social setting, right Shadow?), so I can only attempt to understand how all of that feels. In a new social setting, I can be the ultimate wallflower, believe that or not. However, once I get the feel for the people there, I am more than happy to sit and talk. About anything. So social anxiety is not something that I, personally, suffer from. I do; however, know many folks that do. And I have bothered to quietly ask what that feeling is like. Suffocating. Paralyzing. The general feeling of panic and a need to flee for the safety of solitude. So, it leads me to wonder if this particular individual might have been feeling the same thing??

On the other hand, when walking your Path in your Spirituality, there is a series of moments that I refer to as “travelling the dark woods” that happens. Where you find your footsteps have taken into a part of your Spirituality that feels dark, foreboding, and downright scary. Where you feel like you are going to need to wash out your underwear when you manage to get beyond this…IF you get beyond this. Those moments can feel like the entire world abandoned you on the doorstep of the Nine Hells with only a teaspoon to defend yourself with. And that’s if they were being nice to you before leaving you there alone. That moment in your Spirituality can be an extremely lonely moment. I have had this happen to me several times in my thirty-plus years on this Pagan Path of mine. Each time has a slightly different feel to it, but the feeling of lonliness has always been there each time. No lie, that stuff can feel rough.

Do I feel all alone on my Path? Depends on what day and hour you ask me. Right now, with all the COVID-19 issues out there keeping people from meeting – my answer would be yes. When all this clears up, and I can get out and meet with other Pagans? Probably not. In the meantime, I do the best I can to cope. Emails, texts, video playback of gatherings that happen online ( live streaming is a little difficult from where I am at) – this will have to suffice as I move forward. In the meantime, to avoid thinking about the solitary aspect of my walk as it currently stands in today’s environment, I go back into doing my Ovate grade studies. And sharpening my database and programming skills. And reading. And listening to the playback of Shadow playing Ark on Twitch (I love the farting dinosaurs). All of this comes down to one prevailing thought. In all of the dark times I have encountered in my daily walk, the only way out was to keep walking. To keep moving forward. No matter how lonely it felt, I knew it couldn’t last forever. Because I cling to hope like my old, beat-up Teddy Bear from my childhood. Were it not for that tattered Teddy Bear as the physical incarnation of hope, I am not sure what might happen.

–T /|\

Thinking About: My Potential Role and Why

So…another Thursday dawns, and with it another ‘Thinking About” segment. This time, I want to pull the focus back from all the politics, revolution and talk of change to the concept of police forces. Not that this stuff does not have an importance in everyone’s live, but uber focusing on it certainly gets old after all – and all the talk around it starts to feel like a tremendous echo chamber. So, its a little important to pull back a bit, if for nothing else than sanity’s sake.

In my mundane life, I’m what is usually referred to as a “Generalist”. I have programming skills. I can handle networking and system administration functions adequately. I can troubleshoot issues with desktop systems and help non-technical users manage their way out of confusion. I can build and repair hardware systems. I am quite capable of working Project management timelines and associating costs to tasks. I can troubleshoot difficult software problems. My area of primary ability – where I am the strongest – is in managing and dealing with database systems. To that end, I can also do some data analysis, though my skill set there is rudimentary, at best. I am not a “professional” looking individual. I am closer to the wild-eyed, coffee-guzzling, grizzled Information Technology geek that is kept in the back. Honestly, this is where I am most at home. Let me know what needs to be done, and I’ll do it. Bring me up front in front of all the Executive members, and they will wonder what sewer you dug me out of. I am better at being your “Mr. Scott” than being your “Mr. Spock” or to quote a sketch from the comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”: “Scotty, just fix the fucking engines…”

Would it surprise you to know that this type of role is also where I am most comfortable within the Pagan community? You know, the Pagan that rolls up their sleeves and tries to get things completed….or in some cases, just started. I am not comfortable formulating the overall plan, but I can look over the plan and tell you where things might have issues – where things will potentially bottleneck. Ask me what the best route to take to get a local Community from point A to point B, and I can formulate a few suggestions, but I doubt many of them will be good. Ask me how to get the community moving in the direction of point B, I’m more than likely your Pagan. But there is a problem.

I am not just a technician. I ask questions. Furthermore, I will try to determine better paths to a solution. There are a lot of people in leadership roles that have issues with people like me. Many folks in leadership spots are accustomed to providing directives and having folks do what they are asked. But I do have to ask questions because I like to make sure every avenue is explored. Plus, if I do not understand what is being done, I tend to ask. Not because I am questioning the ability of the person who set things up, but because for me to do my job correctly and efficiently, it helps to know what the end result that is attempting to be achieved is. What I have found is that this tends to irk people, rather than them feeling that I am trying to be helpful. That leads to a lot of friction, which cascades into personality issues. I am more than understanding over the fact that I can be quite abrasive, especially when I feel that I am being blown off so that I will just get back to work.

So how does all that fall back to my Druidry? Well, the way I work is an intricate part of who and what I am. I cannot turn that off. I do the same thing within my Druidry, and the results of that type of working is probably a large part of why I choose to work alone. See, while I do ask a lot of questions, I am also a conflict-adverse individual. I do not like to start up arguments or even continue an argument – unless there is a valid reason to do so. To me, short-term conflict and disagreement is useful, but only if there is discussion associated with it. If the response I get is to “shut up and just do it”, as I have heard so many times in my previous job….well, I tend to stop asking questions or offering solutions after a while, which runs counter to my nature. I like to be helpful. But I can only be beaten down so much until I become unresponsive. To avoid a lot of that, I work alone. That means that my arguments tend to be with myself, as do my discussions. And now, you have an even clearer picture as to why I tend to follow my Path alone.

But I am not completely solo, Han, Hope or otherwise. I do like to be around other Pagans. I do enjoy conversing with other folks and discussing where and how they are on their own Paths. Those conversations are not only fun, but informative. And yes, I do offer advice and a different perspective from time to time. I’ve never worried about whether someone follows what I tell them. They have to figure out that for themselves, and its a point I always try to make clear.

Tuesday, I posted about finding one’s leadership role within today’s society. Don’t worry, I am not about to go on a short rant about that here. Rather, I want to focus on the Lakota proverb I posted.

Do not only point the way, but lead the way. — Lakota proverb

My role as a Druid (Ovate grade, OBOD) is simply this – to be there for others. I am not going to tell people what to do. Rather, I am going to gather up the lantern and help find the way for not only myself, but others. In a weird sort of way, I am like Charon, the Boatman of the river of Styx. I just don’t have a boat nor am I requiring the payment of the coins placed on your eyes to ferry you across. Or maybe, I am a signpost, pointing the way, with the number of miles left to go. My role is not to lead you, but to help you find your own footing on your own Path. In a super strange sort of way, that’s what this particular blog is becoming. I don’t overtly point you down your Path. I do my best to provide with points and topics to turn over in your own mind as you travel on your Path. Some are not going to see me in that light…and to be honest, I am perfectly fine with that. What I have to say and the way you interpret it, is for you and you alone. I’m no Oracle. I’m no Seer. I’m just the guy in engineering….

And Captain, its those damn dilithium crystals that are causing the problems!

–T /|\

Thinking About: Winds of Change

So. Folks are rioting over the deaths of various folks at the hands of brutal police tactics. They are aggressive in their protests. They are destroying property. And a lot of folks that are fairly well off are wringing their hands over all of it with worry on their minds.

But here’s the thing, when someone feels that they are not being listened to, feels that they are not being treated fairly or equally…the last recourse that they feel they have is to react in a manner like this. Its an understandable reaction and a natural recourse to where these folks feel they are in today’s society.

Is it the end of America? The beginning of the destruction of what is America? Hardly. This is a marker of a need for change. Our society still lives around the idea that a corporate product is more important than the wage workers that support its creation and sale. Currently, many of those wage workers have been sent packing from their jobs because of this COVID-19 pandemic. Its not the livelihoods of the corporate elite that are in danger here. These wage workers are in danger of losing their housing. With no job and no associated health-care, these are perilous times for these folks. There’s a need for change….and this has nothing to do with politics. This is not about pulling down and putting away historical remembrances of the US Civil War. This is bigger than all of that, and far more meaningful.

This is about societal change. Where we start caring about one another…and stop the soul-less concept of just looking out for number one. We are at a cross-roads for our futures. What we decide to do at this point will reverberate throughout our Past, Present and Future.

Now, you can look back through the posts here on the blog – you’ll find I don’t say much about stuff like this at all. That’s because I don’t write this blog to influence who you do or do not vote for. Nor do I write this blog to chide you over whatever other choices you do or do not. I sincerely believe in your ability to choose for yourself. And I sincerely believe in the ability of human beings to do the right things on their own. This blog is not about celebrating that or being some kind of instruction manual for how to live one’s life. I have no desire to be that person.

What I do hope that comes across in the blog, is that my own perception of other people comes from their actions – not from their skin color, hair color, eye color, height, weight, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever else you can come up with. I try very hard to live my life not judging people on the way that they look, but rather on the actions (or non-actions) that they take in their lives. Because this is the way I HOPE the rest of the world can start to act in this same manner. And yes, I am aware that I am a single individual, and that my influence is limited to those that will read this blog. But I am reminded of a quote from the Dalai Lama

Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.

My reach may not be very far, but I hope that it affects change in someone else, who can be the next pebble dropped into water – thus increase the reach of this idea – and so on, and so forth. The Gods know, I am far from being perfect. I have my own personal prejudices that I fight on a daily basis….but I do fight. I do my best to affect change within myself. And that is really all I am in control of. My fight is a constant internal struggle, and not seen by very many. I can only hope that others can see my struggle and desire to change, and seek that in themselves as well.

One last thing, let’s remember that people are not born as racists. Its a taught thing. Most of us that acknowledge our own struggles with racist concepts in our lives – no matter what skin pigmentation you have – learned that behavior from others. I know I did. And I am not holding my parents as members of the Klan or something. But they did occasionally comment about how I was supposed to be better than others simply because of my skin color. Over time in their lives – both of my parents have passed away a while back – they came to understand a little better that skin pigmentation meant nothing. Its the internal will and desire of the individual that causes them to succeed and none of that will and desire comes out of skin color. It comes solely from inside the individual. It took them a long time to accept that and change, but they did change. Their desire was to be better grand-parents than they were parents – and I like to think that they succeeded at that. Others can change too. Maybe not as fast as you want them to, but they can change. With some patience, love, and understanding.

Where we stand now, with escalating violence in these protests, the burning of buildings, the constant barrage of “burn this mother-fucker down” — the effect of getting people to listen… Its been achieved. People are listening. The news coverage is there. Its time to talk openly about what is needed. The changes that must be put into effect. How brutal police tactics need to come to a halt. Changing laws so that police officers can be held accountable in a court of a law. Breaking the barriers that provide the unseen privileges that whites like myself enjoy without even the barest knowledge of it existing. Now is the time to talk. Now is the time to make the demands. Now is the time to make those changes happen. I can only hope that some folks that everyone can listen to say something, and start moving towards effecting these changes.

By the way. I said this was not about politics. Its not. But politics may need to be utilized as a form of leverage to get there. To be openly honest, I don’t believe that either the Republican or Democratic candidates are the people poised to make those necessary changes – much less even listen. And no, I don’t believe that Mr. Sanders would have been the right person either. Mr. Obama was the right catalyst to start the conversation to make those changes. America is going to need another forward-thinking President that can create inclusion to help get over this hump. Who that individual is – I have no fucking clue. I just know that individual did not run for President of the United States in this cycle.

We aren’t looking at a change of “Empire” or the crumbling of America as it stands. In my eyes, that’s not what the Storm is all about. We are; however, looking at a strong societal change coming down the streets of this country. In fact, I can see a lot of this same change starting to well-up in the streets around the world. We have to change our mindsets from getting whatever we can for ourselves and our chosen tribes – and fuck everyone else. We are hearing people’s anger over being treated differently than others. The laws of our various countries are meant to be applied equally across the board – not at differing levels according to your skin color or the amount of money you make. In the workplace, there is enough monetary wealth to insure that workers in your companies have more than adequate health-care, the means to do more than survive from paycheck to paycheck, and for facilities for the appropriate and loving care of their young children. We have the monetary means to insure that our education systems are more than government run babysitting facilities. But to get there…..we have to find a way to get people to stop being consumed by greed, and that is a steep hill to traverse. Not impossible, but extremely difficult. We, as a species are better than this. I have faith that we can accomplish this, but no mistake – it will require changing a lot of mindsets. And I sincerely doubt its going to happen in my lifetime or the lifetime of my child, or even his children. But I do have hope that it will happen. It will be a long, tiring road. We need to vow to be there for each other, and even for those who think differently than we do. Showing them that we live and love the way we think – that’s what will change minds.

#TwoQuid

–T /|\

Thinking About: The Power of Words (Magick)

Its Thursday….which is exactly a week since the last blog post. I went down to Houston to see Shadow this past weekend, so that left the weekend posts out of the loop. Then when Tuesday rolled around, I thought it was Monday…until about 11pm that night. So that’s how Tuesday fell out. My fault. But then I don’t have an army of these posts floating around either. I write these off the top of my head – on the days that I post them. Today is no exception to that. As usual, I am stuck for a topic at the moment…and no, I have no desire to write about politics or what’s in the news. Just really don’t want to rehash what’s already out there….

A long while back on the blog – somewhere, I’m just too lazy to go look it up – I had a bit of a discussion on magickal names. The idea seems to come from picking a new name when you start your Path down whatever Tradition you are in – you take a new name to signify the change you are going through in your life. When I first started on my original steps in Wicca, I did this as well. I didn’t really stray too far from who I am – I went with my pen-name, Robin Birchleaf. This was the name I’ve used in writing my poetry…at the time, it was on various dial-up Bulletin Boards. Nowadays, my poetry tends to be kept private or when I do post it publicly, I do so here on this blog. But the name seemed to suit me. Robyn came from the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Robyn Goodfellow, a play that has filtered throughout my life in various manners. Birch is one of the younger trees in the Beth-Luis-Nion alphabet (I think that’s right) and signified my start on this new Path. The leaf? Well, I am just one individual of a greater whole…the leaf seemed appropriate.

These days, I go by my nearly life-long nickname – TommyElf. This is another name that originated from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. Growing up, my hair was nearly white in color, which is hard to believe given my dirty, dish-water blonde hair of these days. The high school students at the local Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS) were putting on the play, and were auditioning parts. I happened to be playing soccer nearby. The teacher leading the production saw me, and asked me to come in and read a few lines…as King Oberon. She liked me in the part so much, she asked where I lived, and walked me back to my home there in military housing – so she could ask my parents if it was alright for me to play the role. To shorten this down a bit…my parents said yes, and I was in the week-long run of the play. After the play’s run was over, I would run into the same high school students from the play – and the referred to me as “King Elf” for a short while, a nod to my role as Oberon. Shortly after, they started referring to me as “Tommy the Elf” which got shortened to “Tommy Elf”. In later years, I’ve just scrunched it all into a single word “TommyElf” and I have become far better known by this than even my legal name.

This is the lesson in the power of names – magickal or not. My pseudo-name Robyn Birchleaf lends power and meaning to the first steps of Pagan Path. I use it sparingly now, still primarily with my poetry writing. My childhood nickname, on the other hand, has taken a life of its own – with whatever power and meaning it lends to the person who uses it. For some folks it can be a happy thing. For others, it can have a meaning like “Oh shit, here comes THAT dude.”

But that gets me to thinking a bit more about the power and meaning we place behind all kinds of words. I have often wondered if writing can be considered as some kind of spell or magickal working? Just putting thoughts to the reality of existence – and yes, there is POWER in doing just that. Just as there is POWER in the way a good speaker tells a story with intricate details and flowery wording – weaving that picture in the minds of those listening. Writers do the same thing…even in something as simple and mundane as blog posts. A well written piece (that typically doesn’t come from this corner folks) can excite you, outrage you, make you fall in love, or feel completely at peace with everything around you. Or maybe even all at once. What we read, what we speak – how we speak it, how we write it – that’s all got power within it. That’s all pure magick.

Yeah. Magick. As in spells and all that stuff that I avoid like the plague. And yet here I am, doing just that in the writing word – or when I ran the podcast, in what I talked about. Others can do all the wand waving and the incantations at the precise moment that the moon reaches apogee and the ginger-ale in the cauldron boils….or whatever — I’ll stick to honing my magick through writing. And occasionally speaking when invited to do so. (Just remember, I write and say “fuck” a lot – I’m generally NSFW, unless told to bring it down a notch or twelve)

So….make your magick your way. If writing or speaking just ain’t your thing….cool. Whatever is your way, do it. But for me, I am just starting to realize where my magick really is. And now I have to sharpen it and make it better. I am trying. And I haven’t even started addressing the ideas of music or even computer coding as magick.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Aptitude Testing and Personal Spirituality & Growth

What do you want to do with your life? Here, take this block of aptitude tests, so we can figure out what career path will work best for you…

I remember these kinds of questions quite well. The first one, I heard from my parents, my high school teachers, and my high school guidance counselor – ALL the time. And I honestly had no real clue. I was enthralled with the Apple //+ computers that were in a basement classroom at my high school, and completely in love with my Commodore 64 computer, but I was never really sure you could make a living with these things. The second, the statement about aptitude tests, was what the United States Air Force made me do when I had initially enlisted. I had seven months from the time I enlisted to my initial reporting date to Basic Training. In the time between, I went in for an all-day physical, where they tested my reflexes, my hearing, my sight, my teeth, my heart rate, and made me pee into a bottle for drug testing (good luck finding anything aside from alcohol). The next week, they sent me in for a series of aptitude tests called ASVAB (otherwise known as the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). The four areas tested are Arithmetic Reasoning, Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, and Mathematics Knowledge. These are all combined into a singular score which is then utilized as an AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) which determines if you’re qualified to enlist in the US military service. That was all back in 1984, when I took the test….I know its still given, but I am not sure of how it used now. Back then, your scores helped determine what specialty job you were assigned to. Me…even with my lower mathematical scores (I only went as high as Algebra II in high school), I was placed in command-and-control systems, which included the wild world of cryptography. My ease of use and understanding of computer equipment, apparently made me ideal for this career field, and off the Air Force trundled me in that direction.

I have a lot to thank the Air Force for in that regard. They taught me a trade skill. They taught me responsibility and leadership. They also showed me that my absolute adoration of the Apple //+ and the Commodore 64 from my latter high school days, could become an occupational skill set. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had been noted as an individual with mechanical aptitude. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by people who can work on engines of all sorts…but that’s just not me. No, computers were the big dream, I just had no idea how that dream could be formed and shaped – at least not until I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 2003.

All of that got me into thinking….which is why this has wound up here in a “Thinking About” segment on the blog. I wonder….how did I get to this point in my Spiritual Path? What was the “big, formless dream” that I had in regards to my personal Spirituality that led me down to here?

Fortunately, there’s no ASVAB testing to determine your faith. I mean, we had those idiotic vocational tests in high school that would attempt to determine if you were a writer or something else that it tried to determine. Mine came back with “Philosopher” – no, seriously. I figured I could get a better descriptive out of a box of Cracker Jacks. But there’s nothing like that for testing your Spirituality. Big burly guy, who likes axes and swords? Well, you belong in the Heathen club. Petite young lady who has an affinity for the color black or purple? Off down the Witch Path with you. Like wearing white and being in the forest? Welcome to Druidry! Yeah, thank the Gods that there is no ASVAB for Spirituality.

I have talked about my perspective before…I was drawn to Polytheism earlier on, thanks to my constant reading about the Greek and Roman Gods out of the encyclopedia sets in the library. But how I showed up with Druidry, was a much longer road. In the very beginning, for me, there was Wicca. And it just didn’t work. I went overseas to a new military duty station and left Wicca behind for a bit. There, I met Pagans of very different stripes, including a couple of Ceremonial Magicians. I figured out fairly fast that I wasn’t interested in that direction either. When I came back to the United States, I found a different Wiccan tradition, and give it a second try…with the same results. So I started hunting for something that might fit better – with the knowledge that I might not fit anything. I ran across Druidry through Ross Nichols’ work, “The Book of Druidry”. After reading it, I could not see how Druidry could fit into what I was trying to do…thinking that the way Druidry was described was a hard, fast set of rules. So I kept looking. Eventually, I came across Philip Shallcrass’ book, “Druidry: A Practical and Inspirational Guide” published through Piatkus Books. This made me reevaluate what I had read in Nichols’ book, and I started to realize that Druidry was a lot more than I had thought – and was far more pliable in relation to my own beliefs. This search through Druidry led me to a better understanding of how I could make Druidry my own through the OBOD teachings. And that’s the short version of how I got here.

Thinking through all of that, I wonder what would have happened way back in 1984, if I had take a Spirituality aptitude test to determine what Path I should follow. I had been through Catholic schools through the seven years of my secondary education. This included mandatory education in Catholic theology, an area I understood quite well despite my reluctance to adopt its teachings as Writ. When I started looking through other faiths, I settled on Southern Baptist for the year and a half prior to entering the United States military. This was mostly because most of the people I had as friends were Southern Baptist, and it was a way to somewhat identify with them. Again, I understand the perspective, just never really bought the idea that it was holy Writ. Where would I have wound up? Well, given the amount of programming and teaching that was poured into my head on a nearly daily basis at school…I’d probably have remained within the Catholic faith. What that would have done to me as a person, I am not even sure I want to contemplate.

Did I dream of being a Druid? Of being a Polytheist? No, I can’t really say that I did. At least not anymore than I did when I was trying to figure out kind of job a person could get for fiddling around on a computer, playing with native programming languages. Or that there was even some abstract concept such as a data-driven database that I could stuff information into.

Am I glad to be here? To be in Druidry? Of course I am. This is the best fit of anything that I have encountered for the way I view and deal with my own Spirituality. I am happy with where I am, with what I have become, and for the choices I have for what I can become. There was a lot of hardship and confusion along the way, but all of that helped me to determine ways of working through issues and problems. All of my life has been an informed process of getting to this point and will continue to do so going forward. Honestly, I would not have it any other way – because this is me. And I am happy with me. And its been a much more logical choice and solution than what I think may occurred – had there been an aptitude test for Spiritual back in my last year of high school.

–T /|\

View From Medicine Wheel

Thinking About: What Makes a Druid a Druid?

Yesterday, I was surprised by a comment on the blog by William. Now, I don’t get a ton of comments about the blog – either openly or privately – so getting one is always a nice surprise, but William posed a question to me, which I have to openly admit, is a really tough one to answer.

What defines or maybe a better wording is what are the essentials that make one a “druid”? What is the tie/beliefs or tenets that connects all druids and are unique to those calling themselves druids? Or is there such a thing?

This is a really tough question to answer, for a whole lot of reasons. Probably the most recognizable issue is something that William noted in his question.

Get too general and it encompasses other paths….. try to narrow it down and it seems to exclude too much.

Complicating it even more, is that not all Druids follow similar Spiritual Paths. For instance, I am a Pagan, Polytheist with bits of Animistic philosophy thrown in for good measure. There are Druids that follow a Christian Path, those that fully embrace Buddhist philosophy and principles into their Druidry. And I haven’t started to delve into the various type of Druid orders that are out there.

So where to start? Well, I could make this completely about how I see things, except that my own perspective would fall into the narrow thought process that William noted above – thus excluding a lot of other Paths and beliefs held by those that embrace Druidry at their core. When I start trying to figure things out, I tend to go into my old academic mode…I went to the bookshelf and pulled a group of books I thought might help build something of a core perspective to work from. Yes, this is my default mode. Seriously.

There is no ‘sacred text’ or the equivalent of a bible in Druidism, and there is no universally agreed set of beliefs amongst Druids. Rather than it being founded upon doctrine, it urges followers to learn from their own experience of being in the world. Despite this lack of doctrine, there are a number of ideas and beliefs that most Druids hold in common, and that help to define the nature of Druidry today. … Druids share a belief in the fundamentally spiritual nature of life. … the greatest characteristic of most modern-day Druids is their tolerance of diversity. …One of the unwritten tenets of Druidism is that none of us has the monopoly on truth, and that diversity is both healthy and natural. they also believe that the world we see is not the one that exists. –Philip Carr-Gomm, “What Do Druids Believe?” ISBN 1-86207-864-5

Within a spiritual tradition where there are so many different views it is almost impossible to find an all-encompassing definition. …In many ways, Druidry is even more complex than Paganism or another broad spirituality, such as Hinduism. Its is truly a polytheistic faith, within which can be found space and honor for any deity or any concept of deity, together with their priests, devotees and philosophers. There are many within the tradition who call themselves Christian, while some assert that Druidry is not a religion at all, not even necessarily a spirituality, but simply a philosophy of living. –Emma Restall Orr, “Thorson’s Principles of Druidry” ISBN 0-7225-3674-7

Rather than being an organized religion, Druidry offers a personal individual life path that can become part of a modern urban existence as easily as a rural life. It connects us instinctively to the life-giving energies of the earth beneath the pavement, and the sky above the highest office building. Druidry has the same reverence for the ancestors, love of nature, and awareness of the life force flowing through plants, insects, animals, and humans alike that characterize the indigenous culture of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. So in a world that daily gets smaller with the advances of technology and faster travel, people of all cultural backgrounds can find kinship within Druidic ritual and celebrations of the passing year. –Cassandra Eason, “The Modern Day Druidess” ISBN 0-8065-2637-8

So, working from these three quotes, there are a lot of directions and conclusions one can make. But in Emma Restall Orr’s quote, the notation that it is nearly impossible to find an over-arching definition of exactly what a Druid is seems to be the wisest choice of understanding here. Druidry is essentially about the individual experience, which will be completely unique from person to person. No two perspectives will be completely the same. Similar, yes – but not completely the same. But all of this is not all of what William asked. William asked for me own perspective. And for that, I will have to take a few steps backwards.

My perspective of Paganism is one of individual experience. For me to understand something, I need to experience it. That has been the case for nearly anything throughout my Life. I went to an all-boys Catholic school in my last two years of high school. Topics and perspectives were taught as infallible writ. Questioning any aspect was particularly frowned upon, and you were regarded with suspicion from that point on. All for the crime of being inquisitive enough to try and understand what was being relayed through a lens of individual experience and thought. From there, I wandered into the camp of the southern Baptists, where individual experience is described in terms of collective group perspectives. For someone seeking something that embraced the idea of individual experience, this was an off-putting environment. Eventually, I found myself within Wicca, where everything was seemingly compartmentalized into the males do this, and the females do that. Granted, this was likely some of the doing of the tradition I was a part of…but I moved on as quickly as I could. (I had been involved in Wicca earlier, but that experience was far different for a lot of other reasons) When I finally rolled across Druidry, I was not expecting the full embrace of what I came across. I had passed Druidry by several times, mostly with the thought – “I just don’t look good in white.”

What I found was a path that I would describe as a framework upon which I could hang and frame my own Spirituality, my own understanding of the world around me, and the world beyond. However it wound up looking like did not matter. It was mine. I could decorate as I felt it should. I could set what felt right to me, without judgment. But what exactly makes a Druid? What exactly does a Druid believe? What are the principles that bind all Druids together, regardless of their chosen direction? I think a lot of that is encompassed in what is termed 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 the Earth our mother, and all goodness.

Now, this is the version that I personally utilize. Some replace “O Gods” and “the Earth our mother” with what feels right to them. All Druids, in my experience (which is admittedly limited), believe in the points of providing Protection to those in their communities, lending their Strength to those that need it, trying to understand a perspective before making choices, continuing to broaden their Knowledge, seeking Justice where it is needed, believing in the need for Justice found through Love of all things, which brings diversity, and the love/connection with Nature (that is to say, that mankind is part of Nature, not separate from Nature).

So, what makes a Druid a Druid? Well, an attachment and affinity for those concepts, mapped against every individuals own unique experience and connection to everything around them. is there a hardcore definition that can be found and utilized? Most likely not. But if you are looking for something that might connection all Druids together, the above “Druid’s Prayer” may just be the keystone you are seeking.

…and just to muddy the waters a bit more…the “Druid’s Prayer” can easily be applied to any other Pagan Path, should the adherent choose it for their own Path. Maybe, deep down inside, we are all Druids….but only if you want to be. Your Path is your own to define. #TwoQuid

–T /|\

Thinking About: Voted Most Likely Not to Be What You Thought a Pagan Is

Not that long ago, I wrote a blog post about not being the kind of Druid you think I might be or some such nonsense. The basics boiled down to not being what people conjure up in their minds when it comes to the concept of what a Druid is. Given that, I’m not likely what you expect a Pagan to be either, and yet I am. When you mention to people what they think a Pagan is, the typical response is some kind of drug-crazed, hippy-type, who sleeps with whoever and whatever they damn well please. They have a pack of tarot cards jammed into one of their pants pockets, and have adopted some crazy-assed name like “moonbeam” or something.

Ok, I fit some of these silly stereotypes, just not that well. I’m not drug-crazed, unless you count the hard-core coffee addiction, and the occasional snort of whiskey when my diabetes doc isn’t looking. I am what people would “420 friendly” even though I don’t smoke the stuff. I’m just not out to condemn those that do partake. And then there’s my childhood nickname of “Elf” that has stuck with me into my fifties. Yeah, I might be related to Moonbeam in some fashion. But the reality is that is about as close as I seem to get to many of the other Pagans I have met.

Most of what I am relating to here are really horrible stereotypes. The truth is that you will find Pagans in many walks of Life. For instance, when I was in the military, I was a very open Pagan. My superiors knew about my beliefs. Some of them were quite the assholes about it, and that may have contributed a bit towards my dismissal from the Air Force over a missed formation. Most of the Pagans that I encountered in the military ranks were junior enlisted. There were only a handful of Non-Commissioned Officers (including myself) that I encountered. But there was one Commissioned Officer, a Major in Army Intelligence. Now Commissioned Officers do not frequently mesh with enlisted folks, and when they do, its typically with higher Non-Commissioned Officers – mostly because of the similar ages. This Major was also in a career field that is fairly sensitive, so his religious preferences were fairly well carved in such a way to not led any speculation to Paganism. The point here is that this Major came from a much different part of the military ranks as most of the Pagans I encountered. And its not that different out in the civilian world either.

Many Pagans seem to come from fairly lower ranks within the economic stratum of everyday life. The keyword here is “seem”. I have met Pagans from all levels of economic stratum in society. However, sometimes it seems that most of the Pagans that are out there struggle to make ends meet. An interesting observation in pre-corona virus days, and one that is indeed difficult to fully explain. At least to the naked eye. However, its not really all that inconceivable to find Pagans that are fairly well off, financially. I would hate to say that Paganism only seems to fully reveal itself to people in the lower economic stratum in our global society. I’m sure it would provide a fascinating study, by someone other than me, for a university dissertation. For the moment, I will postulate that it only seems that Paganism is largely made up for folks from a middle-to-lower economic stratum in society as a whole. Seemingly, it makes sense since the economic stratum is skewed heavily towards the lower income and economic stratum by a wide and varying level of factors and variables. But like I said….a study for some future Pagan academic.

More men than women in Paganism? I would say its about an even split, until you start looking into specific aspects of Paganism. Then, you can find some very extreme disparate data points between the sexes. Add to that folks of transgender status, folks who do not identify by any gender, those who identify in dual genders – and any other combination and thought you can come up with – and this particular data point becomes a very messy perspective to handle. No wonder the federal government has been slow to add a fourth gender category to the gender assignment category within the Federal Department of Education. Certainly, it has proven to be a near herculean task for colleges and universities to deal with the male, female and unreported categories, particularly in environments with open enrollment standards. I still stick to the 40/40/?? split….

So, I started this out with pointing out that I am probably not the type of Pagan you envision. Honestly, let me dress like I usually do – a Grateful Dead tshirt, torn up jeans, tennis shoes and my Grand Teton Association hat…and I just look like a tired, burned-out stoner hippy type. I could literally blend in with many other individuals of my age (mid 50s) on a casual Saturday in the park. Stick me with a group of Pagans…and I sort of stick out like a sore thumb. I’m older. I’m more out-of-shape. And I don’t really have a flair for the dramatic. Aside from my Awen pendant or my Ying/Yang wolf necklace…you would be pretty hard-pressed to identify me as a Pagan in that crowd. How am I not what you might have expected? Well, if you had seen me at the Austin WitchFest…you would know what I am talking about.

Now for the bigger question. What does it matter? Really? Because when it gets right down to the brass-tacks in the Witch’s brass bra in the dead of Winter….it really doesn’t matter. Paganism has never been about how much better you dress than someone else. Or how much you can out-Pagan the other Pagans. If that’s your idea of Paganism, well – more power to you. You will have a difficult time associating with me as a Pagan. And to be honest, that’s fine. I’ll still treat you as a Pagan because you said you are. I have no reason to doubt you. Furthermore, I have no desire to do so. My idea of Paganism deals with my experiences with the World around me – not judging others on their own experiences. I’m here on my Pagan walk, not yours. You can; however, invite me to walk for a bit on your Path with you through the forest. I’ll be more than happy to do so. Not because I’m validating you as a Pagan. Rather, I find you an interesting person and would love to walk through the forest and talk for a bit. Maybe even exchange Emails so we can continue the conversation later in private. Paganism, to me, isn’t about judging you – its about finding a connection between us that we can turn into a tighter, more constructive bond. And in this day and age…we can all use a friend that looks out for us.

–T /|\\

Thinking About: That Time When I Tossed My Beliefs on the Fire…

Sometimes, I get asked what life with two Trickster Gods – Crow and Coyote specifically – is like. Well, at times, it can feel like your life is a giant dumpster fire. Other times, its like being at a comedy rave, where the joke is your Life. But there are always lessons to be worked through, and plenty of chances to laugh at yourself. Every once in a while, you get the chance to stop and take inventory of everything that has happened. For me, this is the moment that transcends all the others. Its the moment that I really live for in my Spiritual Practice, even if it comes far more infrequently than I would prefer.

Coyote has been a part of my life far longer than Crow or even Abnoba (the Germanic/Gaulish Goddess that has been working with me recently). Coyote was there to throw the match on a lot of what I had managed to cobble together in the early aspects of my Spiritual Path. I have been on my Path for over thirty years. In the first fifteen or so years, I believed strongly in a polytheist world, but one where the Gods were psychological archetypes, not individual, distinct entities. When I moved onto the edge of the central plains (here in the United States), I managed to stumble into Coyote through a series of meditations. At first, I thought it was just a dream or some sort of manifestation of my subconscious. Then things would disappear from home, and turn up in the hands of Coyote, who would describe exactly where the item was – in a place I had not been before. That’s when my perception and understanding started to change to where I am now – that the Gods are each singular, distinct entities that are real, but just beyond the perception of one’s everyday, normal senses.

All of this placed my previous perception of Paganism and Polytheism in a position of change. Everything I knew was being tossed into a dumpster. My eyes were opened to a different level of understanding and perception. To be able to step forward, meant that it was time to light everything else I understood on fire, sit back to watch the blaze, feel the energy from the heat, and sift through the final debris to see what was salvageable. I even had a very vivid meditation that detailed this scene very well. The entire time, I heard Coyote’s howls of laughter in the background, as I felt a welling sorrow for all the work I had done and developed being destroyed right before my eyes. You can imagine how chaotic my world had suddenly become. I had no anchor to work from, nothing that felt solid.

A lot of folks would have walked away from their Paganism at this point. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame them. I nearly did as well. For a different perspective, imagine yourself as a doctoral student that has been preparing his/her final dissertation. All that hard work and research to build a strong foundation towards their Life’s work, and then having that foundation erased in a single night because of a sudden revelation about one piece of evidence. That it was an improper perspective, and removing it brings the entire study to a resounding crash.

Yep. Welcome to the crash of my world and understanding. And all of that to the soundtrack of laughter and derision from the God that pulled back that curtain. Crushed just doesn’t even begin to describe where I was.

Thankfully, Coyote was not a vengeful individual. Some pity was eventually taken upon me, and some long discussions explained the necessity of developing foundational understandings that were built of more solid aspects. Coyote even provided some direction to start working from. So, I started out rebuilding what I knew, starting with my perspective on Polytheism. From there, I started to see where the path of Druidry that I had started following – that of OBOD (Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids) could help settle some of the framework that I needed to design from my new foundations. There were some things that I added that got laughter from Crow (and some folks that I talked with), but I learned where to defend what I had added to my structure, and where I needed to make a more critical look for amendment or deletion.

Picture by John Beckett, who takes amazing photos

Following this path has been very similar to writing a Doctoral Dissertation. Reading, research, experimentation, testing of hypothesis – all of that has helped me to get to this particular point on my Path. Please do not misunderstand, its been a major shit-ton of work, but there has been a lot of fun too. And a whole lot of learning. About me. About Druidry, in general. About Polytheism. About religion, in general. And about personal belief. And there’s a whole lot more to learn…about everything I just stated, and more. Stepping out on your own Spiritual Path is a lifelong journey. And there is no degree or graduation ceremony waiting at the very end.

That’s right. Nothing like that. When I finish the three grades within OBOD, I will still be learning about everything that I have noted, and more. The reward? The sating of my own personal curiosity and desire to learn, both of which will never have their individual thirsts quenched. What I will get from all of this is the satisfaction that I kept on learning, that I kept on experiencing. And that is what my approach to Paganism has really been all about – experiencing. I don’t accumulate the experience in order to move up to the next level for my class. Dungeons and Dragons is a really, REALLY fun game, but its not Life.

So where am I at with my Paganism? Well, let’s see – I started back in 1986. I don’t remember exactly when – so I’ll be kind and use 1987 as the first full-year in Paganism. That puts me at thirty-three years and change. But all of that time makes me no better than you. All of that time makes me…well…me. And that’s really all I can really ask for. If you are trying to figure out what do for your own Paganism, especially in this particular time-frame that our world provides for us….dive deep.

What do I mean? Simple. Set your Paganism out on the table. Dig into what it is. Do you believe in a Polytheistic Path where the Gods are individual entities? Do you believe that the Gods are archetypes that are rolled into a God and Goddess that is defined by the face of the Deity that you see? Or is it something else? Whatever it might be, examine why you believe that way. I mean REALLY examine it. Get to the root of things. Then build outward from there. And believe me folks, you won’t be able to do this in a single day or even a single week. Take your time, do it right – do it slow. When you’re peeling apart your beliefs, you are essentially re-learning you. You’re making love to what you are. Trust me, you’re going to want it slow and deep. And that’s not just some sexual innuendo.

My Life will always have these two Trickster Gods in it. Crow and Coyote enjoy tossing obstacles in my way, but nothing that I am not able to overcome. Both of them know how to challenge me. Both of them also are reminders that Life is meant to have laughter within it. No matter how much I want to be absolutely serious about a topic – there’s always some aspect of it that can appeal to the juvenile within me. And to be honest, I just love the sound of laughter….even when I’m the butt of the joke.

Dive deep….

–T /|\

Thinking About – Magick

A quiet night. That is what it is. I have a tall, cold glass of water on my desk. Nora Jones’ “Not Too Late” album is playing on the speakers. I have the volume down a little lower than I normally would. That beautiful smoky voice is softly rubbing against the thoughts I am allowing into my mind.

“We’re gonna be sinking soon. Everybody hold your breath because we’re gonna be sinking soon.”

What a lyric to float on by. Last year was rough. Massive health scares. Loss of a job. Yeah, last year can just scatter down the alleyway. This coming year is going to be about changes, that’s a flavor in the wind these days.

Some folks have asked how I go about doing magick. Well, to be honest, its not so much me doing magick, as it is just sitting back and letting it happen. Aleister Crowley once defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” I can understand and relate to that aspect, but for me, I have come to understand magick as a tidal force that we sometimes dip our toes and fingers into. The ripples we cause with our splashes, is a cause of what we toss into the pool. Sometimes, we want the ripples to effect something in our lives, and we attempt to have an effect on that through spell work and the such. But magick is always there. My idea of working magick comes from just sitting back, thinking about something, and letting it happen.

I don’t do a lot of spell work because I prefer to let things happen. I will influence everything as I live. My preference is to sit and think in the early morning hours or the earlier parts of the evening. The mid-day and midnight portions of the day are for other things. One of those moments, which I can still recall vividly, is the second time I attended the ADF Imbolc Retreat – that Saturday morning.

I am not one for staying up too late in the night. As I noted, midnight time has its own uses in my daily Life, namely that of sleep and dream-work. I had stayed up at the evening fire for a short time, and eventually made my way to bed – long before most folks. The next morning, I was up before the sunrise, showered and ready to greet the Sun in its promised returned. I would surmise that the fire had only recently been allowed to burn out, as there was still a smoldering aspect there. The smoke drifted upward into the cold air. The location for the retreat was in a higher elevation of the Texas Hill country, so the temperature was a little cooler than I had expected. I sat on one of the benches closest to the fire, and noticed that the wood it was feeding on was fresh, an indication that I was not the only early riser in camp. I shrugged my shoulders and hoped for a bit of a respite from company.

I did the grounding and centering exercises that I had learned from my Bardic Grade material, and then opened my senses to the world around me. I could hear the crackle of the fire, with the slight twittering of nearby birds – all carried by the slight breeze I could hear blowing through the nearby Mesquite branches. Far off in the distance, I could hear trucks applying their air brakes on the hilly portions of the nearby interstate. I let the sounds wash over me, and integrate into my own thoughts. At the time, I was fuming over trying to finish my Bardic Grade material in OBOD, and was beginning to wonder if my six years of working the material was too long. My mind set that to the side for the moment, and I wandered over to a variety of other thoughts until I was interrupted by the individual who was tending the fire. We re-introduced ourselves and started to talk about our pasts, finding much commonality between us. Through that conversation, I made mental notes on a new approach to my Bardic Grade material, eventually finding a way to work past my mental blocks.

See, I did not need to fashion a spell to work with magick. I know that spell work is something that others work with intensely and find that it works wonderfully for them. For me, not so much. Spell work, as I understand it, is a super intense mental focus, done through the use of materials or spoken words or ritualistic gestures. I completely grok how that can be helpful to other folks. For me, its really a matter of just finding a quiet place and time to think and let things happen. Perhaps, what I do can be construed to be an aspect of spell work or ritual work designed to bring magick into focus. But I prefer the idea that magick is not something to be forced into “doing” but is something that is just “being”. To use a water-ish concept, I like that the river flows on its own – where, when and how it should. I know that I could divert it to try and focus it for a particular use, such as a water wheel to move a grinding device or other uses that a water-mill has. However, I prefer to let the river flow as it does, without intervention or coaxing from me.

Perhaps, my understand of magick is vastly different than yours. I can understand that. Everyone will have their own way of understanding the more abstract aspects of such concepts. For me to say that your perception is wrong or incorrect….well, that would be greatly arrogant of me. Plus, it would go against my own acceptance that my Path is right…right for me. Parts of what I believe might be right for you…or maybe not even at all. However, I would dare not say that everyone *must* believe as I do…I left empirical Spiritual mandates behind a long time back….I have no desire to pick that up again. Ever. This is merely one perspective, which happens to be mine. Hopefully, I have articulated it well enough to allow you to understand….