Thinking About: My Gratitude Ritual in mid-December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: I Prefer Being an Informal Teacher

“Why aren’t you teaching online Pagan classes like {x} or [y} are doing?”

::big sigh:: Every so often, I’ll get asked why I’m not teaching some kind of online class in Paganism. I hear this question at least twice per month. Nine times out of ten, I don’t really have much of an answer. When I do manage to give an answer, its never a really adequate one, or at least that’s the way I always feel. Going deeper into the reasoning, everything boils down to a few points – none of which seem to be absolutely convincing arguments.

You see, I spent three and a half years in the collegiate classroom as an adjunct instructor. I taught Introduction to Business Applications, which allowed me to talk about something I really enjoy: computers and the ways to use computers. I have nearly the same number of years working in the various parts of the Information Technology world as I do on a Pagan path. The computers beat the Pagan path by a mere year and a half. I have worked on mainframes, desktop systems, mobile systems of all sorts, and servers. I have fulfilled positions of maintenance, Help Desk (Levels I and II), Customer Service, Database operations, programming, Systems analysis, Data Specialist, Systems Administration, and even more functions than I can recall. When I got the chance to talk to folks about all of that, while supplying lesson material aimed towards teaching them what a system does and how to use the applications on the system – I was really within my element. Over the period of a semester, I would get to know my students better, so as to tailor parts of the course to the majors or emphasis that they were working on within their collegiate careers. Over that time, I even became something of a “father confessor” to some of the students, helping them with real-life issues that they encountered. I may have been a professor for a little more than 1,000 days, but I have never had a more exhilarating time within my entire career. As you can see, I can’t rely on the excuse that I am not a teacher. There is no doubt in my mind that I am.

Its not the technology or the platform that would give me pause to say no. After all, I’ve worked long enough in the technology field that new applications and hardware do not intimidate me. Otherwise, I would not have lasted long in my chosen career field. No, my two reasons are a bit different from that side of things.

In a way, my primary reason will sound…not appropriate to some ears. It has to with money. I have never felt “right” about accepting money from others. I know, I know. If I was teaching a class, I would be offering a service to others, and payment would be something that would be associated and expected for it. Except that accepting money for providing my perspective on how to be a Pagan…just doesn’t feel “right” to me. In a way, I see what I would provide as a perspective on Spirituality to be something that would be done around a campfire, while we all sip on drinks of our choice. At most, share a pint with me…and we would be even-steven. Sounds dumb, doesn’t it? But it really is a major hang up of mine when it comes to the idea of teaching Paganism to others.

Honestly, I’ve never been great about asking for money. Back when I was podcasting, I had a nearly two-year period where I was unemployed. I put a Paypal link up on the website for the podcast, which was basically asking if anyone felt moved enough to donate for the hosting services for the podcast, I would appreciate it. I think I said something about the Paypal link on two shows and never mentioned it again. Over the eight years of the show, I received one donation which helped to cover one and a half month of the hosting services. That was more than I ever expected to get. I used the monies completely on the hosting services, and still I felt guilty for having gotten it. Receiving monies has never been a strong point for me.

The other issue that I have over teaching simply comes from my personal belief that I am not ready to be a teacher within Paganism. The old adage that “when the student is ready, the teacher will arrive” goes in the other direction too – at least I think so. When the teacher is ready, the students will be there. Or maybe not. Perhaps, the teacher never really gets the chance to be completely ready. Maybe? I have never been completely sure about taking a single student under my wing. I’ve never seen myself as much of an expert to be able to fulfill the obligations and responsibilities of being a teacher. Perhaps that’s not really a lack of readiness and more of placing myself on a lower rung of confidence.

This is not the same struggle that I have with the terminology of being a Priest. Though there are some who would draw a correlation between the two. I am not struggling with the definitive aspects of being a teacher. My struggle comes more from not seeing myself as an expert or knowledgeable enough to be in such a position.

Now, with all that said, I know a few folks that are teaching their brand of Paganism on the internet. Whenever I get asked about such situations, I point students to these folks. Why? Because I respect their knowledge, their confidence, and yes – their expertise in teaching what they do. Would I take a class with any of them? Sadly, no. I think what they are doing is awesome, but my personal brand of Paganism is not the same as theirs. That doesn’t mean I think they are lousy at what they do – merely that our approach is different enough that I would spend a large part of my time adapting their foundations to my fit my own, and not get any value out of the rest of the material. However, like I said – its not saying that their stuff is so different that I wouldn’t recommend it. I think they do an awesome job. I really do.

With these two fundamental issues, I would have a really difficult time teaching to anyone via any forum or delivery system – save one. That would be the good old-fashioned deep-night discussion around a campfire. In that environment, I find myself at ease to talk about subjects, knowing that I am only espousing my perspective and opinion to others. No talk of compensation (unless you count a nice hug before we head off to our separate sleeping arrangements). I know. So weird to hear/read a Pagan that isn’t looking for compensation for what they provide to the community. The discussion wouldn’t be some kind of lecture hall, where I am set to the front like some kind of matter expert. Its just a night-time discussion around the fire. Nothing beyond that.

Perhaps my perspective tells you that I lack confidence. Maybe it even rubs against the grain and you view me as some kind of a snake-oil salesman. For me, I see my perspective as being something less than a teacher/mentor point of view, and more of a less formal discussion. I’ve always felt that the informal perspective is best. It places everyone on the same level, so we can see eye-to-eye.

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thinking About: To Group or Not to Group

“You hate Pagans working in groups, huh?”

“Being solo means that you aren’t understanding the correct way to do things.”

“You’re not a ‘good’ Pagan when you don’t have someone to mentor you along the way.”

“Working your Spirituality alone is the Path to doing things absolutely wrong.”

This is just some of the stuff I’ve heard over the last fifteen-plus years. When I run afoul of the Pagan-Groups-Mafia, some iteration of this gets thrown in my face. How I have no idea of how to be a Pagan because I don’t espouse group work is the only “correct” way to handle one’s Spirituality. I usually find this back-and-forth stuff to be unhelpful, at best. I will; however, reiterate one thing concerning all of this before I start scratching the surface a little harder: many of the group-oriented Pagans that I know are not in this category. Those that I have met that are a part of a Grove, Coven or what have you…they tend to be respectful, and sometimes inquisitive towards a non-group approach to a Spiritual path.

So why talk about this at all? If its such a minor derivative set of folks, why bring about this focus? Well, while folks like this are a minor sub-set, they are quite vocal, and can sometimes be quite aggressive towards solo Pagans. In a series of belief systems grouped together under a wide umbrella, that can be quite distressing to those that encounter those with such a strong zeal. What I offer here is not the quintessential “survival” manual for such moments. Instead, I am offering some of my own perspectives on what occurs, and a few tips on how I’ve dealt with these folks in the past.

HATING THOSE WORKING IN GROUPS

I have been accused of this numerous times, including in the very not-so-distant past. Truth be told…I have a hard time hating ANYBODY. It’s a super strong emotion that requires a lot of energy. I’m quite lazy by nature. So, I can’t work up the concept of hate towards anyone. You’re laughing, but I am quite serious. Its far easier for me (and more conducive to my own mental health) to just point myself to disagreeing with others’ perspectives and letting it sit there. If there’s a desire from across the way to escalate things further…I’ve found it easier to just walk away. Escalating the emotions involved is just not a direction I want to head. I disagree with group work – for me at this point in my own Spiritual path. However, I started by working in a coven. This was where I learned some of the basic basics that apply to Wicca, but also have a cross pollination into Druidry as well. None of that killed me, made me hate working in groups, or created a distrust of what others will say about Spiritual paths. In the past, I have counseled fledgling Pagans that finding a group dynamic that works for them will provide a more conducive environment to learning and understanding some of the basic fundamentals of what Paganism is about. If you have a desire to go the solo route later on, the material you learn in a group will be formative to designing elements of a solo practice. Groups are not something to hate or fear.

ON YOUR OWN

Well, there’s no real measure to say that you should spend [x] amount of time in a group. In fact, you don’t have to spend a single second in a group to achieve what you want. How hard doing it alone is depends on you and you alone. Looking back, I’m glad I got my basic foundation within the bounds of a group. However, I can understand if that doesn’t work for everyone. After all, we all process and understand information differently. What works for me will not necessarily work for someone else.

But what about the drama that goes with every group? The power struggles, the personality differences, the awkward dating issues within a group that ultimately arise? Well, I’ve been through all of that. Yes, a lot of that stuff sucks. And it’s a bad moment when it takes place. BUT….   That happens in any group. Even Christians go through these dynamics issues within their congregations. That’s a bad example…but its easiest to understand. I promise you, that shit takes place in military squadrons and commands. I’d even bet that you can find these dynamics playing out in a professional sports team, except that its kept behind the scenes to avoid bad publicity which generates even more drama with team management and ownership. Drama is going to happen no matter where you have people gathering together. I’m not going to offer advice how to get beyond the drama factor because…as I said…what works for one person does not necessarily work for another.

If you’re dedicated enough to work within a group, you will find ways to make the dynamic work. Trust me, a group dynamic is like a large polycule relationship. It takes just as much communication to make a group work as it does to make a polyamorous (or even a monogamous) relationship work.

GOING SOLO IS NOT ALWAYS THE ANSWER (NOR EASY)

You can go solo to get away from the difficult dynamics or if you prefer to be the sole individual in charge. But being solo has its own difficulties as well. You have no one to really bounce ideas off of. There’s a tendency to not have other Pagans to just socialize. Humans are naturally social creatures. Sometimes you have no choice but to go solo. You’re in a small town and are apparently the only Pagan for miles around. But if you do have the choice, think carefully about what you are wanting to do.

I live in a small “city” (Hillsboro is not a city no matter what it wants to claim) between the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the city of Waco. I am a solo Pagan on my own. The nearest Pagans to me are over an hour of driving (one-way) away. And those are the ones that I know of. I do most things on my own. The only interaction I tend to have with other Pagans is at an OBOD retreat in Louisiana, which hasn’t been held for the last two years because of COVID-19. Being a solo Pagan has been very lonely, except for the internet. But even internet friendships can only hold back the lonely feelings for so long. As I said, human beings are social creatures. Researching topics is a solo effort, which might be better (and provide a lot more information) when tasks are broken up between others. Plus group discussions on research always yields many different perspectives since there are more than just two eyes on the situation. Everything you have within a group will fall on a singular pair of shoulders – yours. That’s a lot more work than you think.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I get excoriated a lot because of my championing individuality within a Spiritual practice. The are a lot of folks that come to the assumption that I hate group-work and loathe the people that do group-work. However, they do so because they do not know where my Spiritual path started or how much group-work has been essential to my laying down and creating my own foundational aspects to my own Spiritual practice (ugh, I dislike that term). Instead of responding back in angry tones, bringing back the same hardcore angry energy, I’ve found its better to ground, center, and remain true to myself. Group work is not bad. Its not evil. Its not being spoon-fed material. Like any repository of knowledge, you get out of it what you put into it. But its not for everyone. And the only way that you will know if it is or isn’t…is to try it for yourself. For me, it was a critical part of me foundation later on my Spiritual path – as a solo Pagan. Again, its not bad or evil. Its just not for everyone.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Too High, Much Too High

I’m writing this blog a day early, as I will be on the road on Thursday and the weekend. It just makes sense to me to write the three blog posts for the week at the same time. Don’t ask, its my insanity. 😉

The following showed up on Facebook as a November 15th memory from three years ago (2018). I thought this might be a good starting place for this blog post.

PM Q: Who do you count as a mentor?

Oh wow. Uhm, I’m not sure I can count anyone as a mentor nor would I want to curse them with that title or position within my life. A lot of that is placing them on pedestals, no matter how small or large, and that is just a lofty location I would not want to put anyone.

I do have folks that I consider to as influences in my life. Cat Treadwell, Nimue Brown, and Joanna van der Hoeven have all played roles in my growth as a Pagan and a Druid to this point in my life. Their books and blogs have served as starting points for discussions in my own life on topics that I needed to sort out. Kristoffer Hughes continues to be an inspiration on how to approach life with a zest and passion for the good stuff, in whatever form it can be found. And there are so many others that I could continue to name for one reason or another…essentially, if you are in my life, I draw a piece of my daily passion or a slice of growing from you…and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But none of these folks are mentors or folks that I look up to. Each of them are people I look in the eye…because to treat them any differently would be an injustice to what they have helped me to discover for myself – people are people. Besides I cannot get awesome hugs from them when they are so far above me…its far easier if we are standing toe-to-toe with one another. And hugs…are everything.

Me, 11/15/2018, Facebook

We’ve all watched the entire issue happen before, particularly if we know someone who became popular in the wider Pagan community. A person writes a book, gives a series of public talks, offers classes, publishes/creates music, or any other number of things – any of which catch the fancy of the wider Pagan community. That popularity elevates them to an unspoken status of being a “BNP” – a “Big Name Pagan.” Their elevated status places them in a position of being consider some kind of “hero” or “mentor” to others. When those BNPs attend public gatherings, people tend to treat what has been conveyed in a talk as some kind of “holy writ.”

I’ve known a handful of these “popular” Pagans over the years. Many never wanted to be elevated to any status that placed them over others. My first was the late Pattalee Glass-Koentop, the author of two books in the late 1980s/early 1990s with Llewellyn. She was my grandmother Priestess in the first Wiccan group I joined. She was co-owner (I believe) of a locally run Pagan bookshop in Grand Prairie, Texas called “Flight of the Phoenix.” I was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base in west Forth Worth, a fairly decent drive away (a little over an hour, as I recall). When I first met her, I had no idea that she had written a single book, much less two. I just knew she was the grandmother Priestess of the group I had joined, and that I could find Pagan books and music at her store. I always took the time to strike up a conversation with her, and she was very down-to-earth with me. When she finally noted that she had written two books, I purchased one and took it back to my dormitory room to read. When I returned, we struck up a conversation about the book. When we finished, she casually commented that she was pleased that I didn’t give her the “author treatment.” My reply basically noted that she was a human being just like anyone else. Besides, I noted that if I placed her on that pedestal, I couldn’t get a hug from her. Her saucy retort was that this was true, but I could look up her skirt. We both had a belly-laugh over that.

Over the years since then, I have encountered and befriended quite a few more Pagan authors, as well as those that some would refer to as BNPs. I’ve always found that these folks tend to be very aware of their infamous status and are always relieved when you treat them like anyone else. My experience has been that most folks don’t like the lofty heights that a pedestal or hero worship can place someone in. When I was podcasting, I ran into much the same issue…though not nearly the lofty heights that others may have encountered. Both of my podcasts never really took off, even though I put nearly a combined eleven years into that effort. I would surmise that my pedestal that I was offered would only be a few inches in height, but its not the height of the pedestal that seems to be the issue. It’s the matter of being held in a position of being “more important” than anyone else.

When I taught at the community college, I got some similar experience from various students over those three years. After my very first semester, I was determined to extinguish the attitude that I was unapproachable as a professor. That somehow, just accepting the role of professor in the classroom, made me better than my students. That was never true though. After that first semester, I started every first day of class by reminding the students that I was no expert in Information Technology. That the difference between myself and them was merely years of experience. The amount of experience doesn’t make one better than others. It merely means that I’ve done things in that discipline a lot more often than the student has done.

I’ve been the neophyte. I’ve been the student. I’ve been the inexperienced one. I’ve been the one doubting every new step because the environment is new and unfamiliar. And to be completely honest, every BNP that is out there – they’ve been in the same spot too. If they claim that they haven’t, they are being completely dishonest. No one crawls out of the womb with the knowledge of someone that has mastered a discipline. Mastery of a discipline takes a lot of study, a lot of hard work, a lot of experience, and a lot of mistakes. Everyone had the same starting location. Some learn faster and deeper than others. Its part of what makes us all different and individual.

I have my heroes – people that I look at and wish I had their talent. The late-Cliff Burton, the late-Randy Rhoads, the late-“Dimebag” Darrel Abbott, Joe Satriani, and many of the Pagan authors that I have met, as well as conversed with. But I don’t want to place them above me…any of them. I prefer them at eye level, which isn’t always possible. For example, Kristoffer Hughes TOWERS over me. I think I am just below being able to look him in the armpit. With that said, Kristoffer gives the most amazing hugs, where I get dangled a foot off the ground. These folks (and so many more) have touched my life in such profound ways. They are all heroes to me. They are all mentors to my living life the best that I can. But I don’t want to place any of them on a pedestal. I’m only 5’5”. 😊

Remember, all these Pagan folks that you read. All the Pagan folk whose music you purchase and listen to. All of us Pagan bloggers. We’re all people, just like you. I would almost bet the farm that all of them would prefer that you treat them like they were your neighbor, and you were just talking out by your respective driveways. I know I appreciate it when people do that to me – particularly when they tell me that they read my blog and are inspired by what I write. I don’t want to be placed on a pedestal. Besides, I’m scared of heights. No, really I am.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Those Formative Years of My Pagan Approach in the US Air Force

Another veterans’ day is upon us. A day where all the fast-food joints around me will be offering free items for me to eat. My local coffee house is offering a free small coffee to thank me for my service. My local Whataburger is offering a small French-fries with any purchase. ::big sigh:: I won’t partake in any of the offers though. I’m not being unappreciative of the offer, its just that accepting free things for the eight years I spent in the military….is not something I am comfortable doing. I served eight years in the Air Force. Those years were formative in becoming the adult that I am now, as well as the Pagan that I am today.

It was the Air Force that taught me to do bulldog problems at the job to ensure that the part of the daily mission that my squadron was responsible for were completed in a timely manner. It was the Air Force that helped develop the troubleshooting skills that I have. It was the Air Force that taught me to use what I had on hand to get something working again and worry about repairing it later in the right way when I had the right materials on-hand. I violated more regulations than I care to admit to, just to ensure that things would work when the mission called for it. Because I know that lives could potentially be on the line. That work attitude has carried over into my professional life, not that it seems to ever be appreciated by those individuals that are in positions of authority above me.

In those same eight years, I was on the front lines of fighting for the rights of the Pagans of today in the military. When I was deployed overseas, it was the first time in my younger years of Paganism that I was on my own. No coven. No High Priest and High Priestess nudging me back on to the Path prescribed by the Tradition. I was on my own. My direction was my own choosing. For me, it was a scary and (often) very lonely time. Much of my free time was spent walking in the woods directly behind Kapaun Air Station. Thick woods, as tends to be the case throughout the wooded areas of Germany. Old woods. It was in these woods that I first encountered a Spirit of Place. Another moment that was jarring for a fledgling Pagan. A moment that has always stayed at the forefront of my memories. A moment that I still have dreams about. During the three years that I was stationed in Germany (Kaiserslautern Military Community), I learned more about being on my own with my personal Spiritual practice (I still detest the sound of this phrase). I did interface with other Pagans, but all of them came from very different perspectives from my own. At best, we were a confederation of individuals who all approached our Paganism in very different ways.

In those three years, I helped with approaching the Ramstein Air Base chaplaincy about allowing a Pagan group access to chapel space for the purpose of holding public ritual. Eventually, we were granted that privilege. However, some of the conversations were contentious with the Chaplain’s office. There were doubts about the legitimacy of what we believed. So, we pointed the chaplain’s to Circle Sanctuary in Wisconsin. Selena Fox (and others, I assume) helped calm the fears and doubts of the Chaplaincy. Our first night together for public ritual, turned out to be my next to last with these folks. A second ritual was held later on one of the Army Kaserne’s, but in a warehouse space. Over time, there occurred the typical power struggles, as well as one individual declaring all of the Pagans that had banded together as a “Wiccan coven under his control.” That led to a lot of us removing ourselves from the group – Pagans, a Santerian Priestess who had joined in solidarity, Wiccans of a different stripe from his, Druids, Ceremonial Magicians – so as not to be lumped into a category or affiliation of what we weren’t. About four months after this, I departed the Air Force and returned back to the United States.

Another military cause that I added myself to was petitioning the leadership at the Pentagon to allow for the terminology of “Pagan”, “Wiccan”, “Druid” – among others – to be placed on our dog tags. The purpose of placing your religious affiliation on your dog tags is to assist the Chaplain’s office for what rites to perform for you, in the event of your untimely death in battlefield conditions. When I originally joined the service in 1986, I was given a list of options to place on my dog-tags for religious affiliation. At that time, I wasn’t a Pagan, but that wasn’t an option. I chose “Other” because I didn’t know. Once I came to realize I was a Pagan, I found I couldn’t add my affiliation to a new set of dog-tags. Pagans were not the only ones that were approaching the Pentagon leadership over a need to change this engraved line on the dog-tags. Eventually, the military service relented, and service members were allowed to provide that line with whatever affiliation they desired. When I left the military service, I surrendered my dog-tags at my final separation, ignorant of the fact that I could keep them if I had wanted. Thus, sadly, I do not have my “Pagan” dog-tags.

Looking back, the eight years of my life that I provided in service to the United States’ military were a mixed bag of success and failure. But the successes far outweigh the failures. I fondly remember a time where the members of the Pagan Support Group (what an awkward name we decided upon) helped clean a wooded area of Ramstein Air Base next to the on-base Burger King. We all rolled up our sleeves, put on gloves, and bagged trash for pickup. No fanfare. No advertisement of our efforts. Just pitching in and getting it done, so our local community had one less trash infested area. I can see the faces of so many people that I spent time with during those three years in Germany. I also recall the hard times at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, when I first became public about who I was. The times that my room was searched without announcement or when I was on-shift at my duty assignment. The way that my co-workers suddenly equated me with evil. How I was placed on a shift with three Evangelical preachers because no other shift wanted me working with them. The long interviews with members of the Office of Special Investigations. The threats of pulling my security clearance, which would have effectively ended my military career. Like I said, those eight years were a mixed bag.

My time in the Air Force helped me to grow up and become an adult. I was given responsibilities that helped me to understand that consequences always arise when you neglect the responsibilities that you have. Those eight years also taught me a lot about being solo in my Spiritual responsibilities. How difficult it can be to do things on your own. As well as how rewarding it can be to accomplish things through your own efforts.

I’m chuffed about the eight years I gave in service to this country. It might be a little tarnished compared to the stellar service and approach of others, but I don’t give a shit about that. I bent rules, broke laws, and improvised my way to ensure that the mission was accomplished. I am most proud that I always managed to make things work out, even if it was in the most unconventional manner. I can say the same about those early years of my Paganism. I started out in a coven environment with people I still – for the most part – still talk to today. They were there at the beginning. They will always be family for me. My three years overseas provided an avenue for me to do things on my own. To be able to walk the deep, thick forest on my own, off the beaten Path.

I do, occasionally, wonder how different my Paganism would be had I never been deployed to Germany in the early 1990s, away from the coven I was part of. Would I have stayed on a Wiccan Path? Would I have remained within a group? Would I have never found my way to doing things on my own? I’m never sure of what the answers to those questions would be, but that’s a what-if game that never really produces worthwhile results. I am who I am, what I am because of the experiences that I have had over the thirty-plus years I have been within Paganism. Certainly, I don’t fit the criteria of what some others believe I should be, as a Pagan or Druid, but these are my footsteps – not theirs.

–Tommy /|\

Me – USAF – July 1992

Thinking About: The Essence of Druidry (For Me)

As I move throughout each day, each week, each month, each year – I do my best to follow the mantra that Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead stated at the end of the last concert for the band directly to the audience in attendance: “The feeling we have here – remember it, take it home and do some good with it. I’ll leave you with this: Please be kind.” Those final shows, at Chicago’s Soldier Field July 3rd, 4th, and 5th in 2015, were billed as “Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead.” Coincidentally, I celebrated my 50th birthday a few months later. I livestreamed the July 4th and 5th shows. Later on, I purchased the (HUGE) USB drive of “30 Trips Around the Sun” which is described as “shaped like a gold lightning bolt with the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary logo engraved on the side. The drive includes all of the music from the collection in both FLAC (96/24) and MP3 formats and is an individually numbered limited edition of 1,000 copies.” Its is, by far, the largest USB drive I have ever owned, easily larger than my hand in physical size.

Anyways, focusing on what Mickey stated at the concert, I have always tried my best to follow that mantra – to always be kind. A few years ago, Cat Treadwell provided me with a button that sits on the only makeshift altar that I have. The button states: “Kind But Badass”. It is a constant reminder that my daily life is the only face that some people may ever see of me. Just that one, momentary glimpse. That this one momentary glimpse, this single interaction might be the only chance that those individuals ever have to see someone that is kind to them. They may not see a smiling face for the rest of the day. That this single interaction may the highlight of what is a rather shitty day for them. Whether I like the idea or not, I may be the difference in their day.

I deflect a lot of concepts of positivity away from myself. You’ll read a lot of it here on the blog. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a Priest. I’m no one special. I’ve constantly drawn those perspectives around me, like a warm, comforting blanket that I can wrap around myself. I can wrap that around myself like armor and deflect the praise that I get from others. I do this because I really do believe that I am nobody special. In my reality, I’m just a Druid making his way along his own daily Path. I’m not here to revolutionize Pagan thought. I’m not here to be some Big Name Pagan (BNP) that thrives off the adulation of others. I’ve been to a handful of Pagan conventions over the years – never as a presenter. I’ve been recognized by seven people over those years. Seven total. I’ve never been invited to present at a single event. I don’t fool myself into thinking I’m big shit. I’m just me. No one else.

Nearly every interaction I have had with other Pagans has been cordial. Nearly every discussion I have had with other Pagans, I have tried to steer into how they are doing. Not how I am doing. I wanted them to tell their story. Most of mine is here in the blog. For other people to read. Most of it. Its easy for people to read what I’ve gone through. I want to know what they are going through. I want to hear what they are thinking. If we ever get back to having the conventions again if you encounter me at one and strike up a conversation – just realize that’s where I am going to steer you. If we ever get to the point of having conventions again. And if I ever become gainfully employed again – so I can pay for such things.

For me, everyday interactions are an integral part of my Druidry. Rituals, spellwork, whatever else you can come up with from the more occult aspects – that stuff is ancillary. My Druidry is driven by the interactions that I have. Not just with people. I interact with the plants and animals around me as well. A lot of people wonder if I am daft when I start talking to their pets. I do that to acknowledge their individual presence as well. I talk with small kids. Why? Because interaction is important. It acknowledges one’s presence, as well as placing importance on their moment in that place and time.

Then there are the folks that want to spend that time interacting by discussing politics. When that happens, I tend to shut down and become quiet. Why? Because politics is not about people. Its about political parties. I have no interest in that shit. I grok that there are people who are totally ate up by that crap. I’m just not one of those people. The kindest approach I can utilize there…to just stay quiet and wait to focus on something else with those folks. Should they insist on staying on the approach…I’ll find a moment to politely excuse myself from that discussion and move on.

There are those that will accuse me of not caring enough about others because I try to avoid conflict. That’s not true, however. I see someone being abused in some manner by another – I’m not one to keep quiet about that. I will intervene on someone’s behalf. But for the most part, I do try to mind my own business until a line gets crossed. What line is that? I’m not totally sure, but I know it when I encounter it.

See, Druidry is about interaction with me. Its about experiencing the world around me. That moment on a trail in the woods becomes more than just a place to walk. The sounds of the wind blowing through the leaves and limbs of the tree. The songs the birds sing as they flit from trees to the ground to the sky above. The quiet around me, as I spot a fawn deeper in the woods searching a meal of berries from a bush. Or the sounds of the cars and trucks on the interstate just a little over a mile from the house. Or the sounds of the construction workers building the three houses just on the other side of my backyard fence. Or the sound of Doro Pesch singing “All We Are” though the speakers of my headphones while I type this. All of that, along with the knowledge that if I place myself in the exact same spot, at the exact same time tomorrow…all of those sounds and moments will be there to experience. All so similar, and yet all so different because every moment is unique. All of that comes from a quote from the movie ‘Troy”:

The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.

Achilles

Druidry, for me, is all of that – and so much more. So many moments, so many experiences that I cannot put into words that would make sense to anyone but me. Each of those experiences circle the idea of being kind to others. Because those moments of kindness are some of the most joyful that we can share with others, especially strangers that we may only see once. In line at the grocery store. Walking on the sidewalk in town. Those encounters have so much more impact than we might realize. A smile. A heartfelt “hello.” Just a simple kindness. An experience, a momentary encounter. That single moment where we are the most beautiful that we will ever be in our lives. That, for me, is the essence of my Druidry.

–Tommy /|\

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Samhain, My Perspective

Well, the time of trick or treating is upon us. This year, the day falls on a weekend (A Sunday), so my local area communities have been shifting the time frame to tonight (Saturday). Plus, its not being called “Halloween” but carries colorful names such as ‘Trunk or Treat” or “Autumn Fest” or “Fall Fest”. Yeah, the right-wing Christian community has that typical knee-jerk reaction to this time of year. The Chick tracts start reappearing. The darker time of the Wheel is starting to approach. Which leads me to a small side thought…do we have to view the Year in terms of a Wheel? I’ll come back to that in another post soon.

Samhain is that time of the year where I take a deep dive into where I am at this point in my journey. I take stock in where everything has gone over the last year, look at what needs to be addressed for the coming year, and make my plans accordingly. For me, this time of year is about putting things back on course – navigational corrections, if you will allow me the descriptive.

The last year didn’t go well for me. COVID-19 played a huge role in driving me to avoding people as a whole. A huge life change turned out to be something completely different from what I envisioned. Another year being unemployed and working one-off gigs has placed a lot of the mundane life on shaky ground. Much of what I had hoped to accomplish was placed into the background for the time being. Thus, this time seems to be a good place to bring everything back into focus, re-group, and determine what needs to be handled and how.

Probably the best way I can describe what this time of the year is for me is to compare it to a Project Management overview meeting. I have done my share of these kinds of meetings in my professional life, particularly in the Air Force. Essentially, a Project Manager, who is responsible for a project’s forward progress towards completion, will have scheduled “update” sessions with team and shift leaders at certain points. The point is to have discussions about where each part of the project is at, what obstacles have been encountered, and what resources/assistance is needed to accomplish tasks. Not every project stays on track, and occasionally its necessary to nudge it back into the correct path. I have found this process to be very helpful, even in my daily existence. After all, none of us are perfect, and things don’t always go as planned.

Samhain is also about more than sitting down and re-planning the course of my daily existence. There is a point of comparison that I can make as well. How much have I changed over the year? Not physically, but mentally and spiritually. What I look at is where my mindset is at. Last year, I decided to make a more concentrated effort to place local, state, national, and world politics as far back as I possibly could. Politics has an effect on all of us, whether we want to believe it or not. Its important to keep up with what is going on, so we can be informed citizens. However, it doesn’t need to be something that swarms our every waking moment, unless we want it to do so. Me? Not so much. I hold a dim view of political parties, especially when their actions seem to be geared more towards their needs rather than those of the citizenry. So, I made the decision to step away from politics, and concentrate my daily time and effort on to other things that held a higher importance to my daily life. For the most part, I feel I have done far better than I have in the past. I spent far less time railing about the inefficiencies and delusion of people hood-winked by President Trump. I spent far more time reading, learning, and getting outside. I found my mental health felt far better than before. That’s one – somewhat extreme – example of what I have done in this process.

So, delving deeper into what this time of year means to me – rather than the process of it. Samhain is a point of acknowledging transformation that has occurred, and planning for future changes. The weather is getting colder, so staying indoors is becoming more and more commonplace. The time of the year is getting darker and darker as well, as the days shorten. The ability to turn inwards is much easier. The seeds of transformation will grow in these deeper, darker times. The need to turn inward is becoming more and more insistent. Thus, this process is logical for me. For others, some of this might not seem to be so.

I have always acknowledged that I don’t approach my Paganism or Druidry or Spirituality as others do. My mindset is my own. I don’t always travel the commonly traveled paths. I don’t see the points of the Year in the same manner as many others. So, some of what I write here will be at odds with what others feel or point out. Honestly, for me, I am more than “ok” with that. I have a different view than others. I also don’t make claims to have the “right” or “correct” view on Paganism, Druidry, or personal Spirituality. No one has to do a single part of those in the same manner as me. I don’t create holy writs or claim to be an authority on Druidry, Paganism, or Spirituality…except where it pertains to me. I know there are those that rail against people doing their Spirituality, Paganism or Druidry on their own. I’m not one of those people. I think that you can do your own thing in your own way, so long as you don’t claim to have the “absolute truth” that everyone else MUST follow. So, I just ask that you remember that what I write here is my own approach, not some “gospel truth” for the masses.

Samhain is also a good timeframe for gathering with others. Just because I do much of my personal Spirituality alone doesn’t mean I don’t like the company of others or eschew group ritual or workings. I’m a human being. I am a social creature. Plus, I enjoy the company of other people. I’m not some moody, Gollum-like creature that sits in the shadows grumbling to itself about its hatred of others. While I have my own reservations about the hardcore revelry of Samhain and Beltane (a blog post for another time in the near future), I do acknowledge that this is a good time to build up the reserves of social interaction that I need to get through my solo times. Honestly, this is one of the reasons I enjoy giving out candy to the trick or treaters. Not only do I get to see the excitement in the faces of the costumed kids, I also get a few moments to acknowledge the trailing parents who are escorting the little ghouls and goblins on their candy retrieval quest. Samhain is a great time for brief social interaction. Or if you are attending some kind of adult costume party…a much longer time frame of social interaction.

There are a lot of things that Samhain can be. For me, it’s a period of time that lets me take a few moments to nudge my desired approach to Life back onto the rails. For others, it’s a time to revel in spooky-themed interaction with others. For others, there are a larger collection of reasons and needs during this time of the year – some of which I cannot even imagine or come to think of. We’re all individuals. We all have different needs and desires. My idea of a spooky time is to put Mercyful Fate, Exodus, King Diamond, and Slayer on the headphones, turn off the lights, and light a single candle. Listening to the music, I look at the candle’s flame and let the music move me to thoughts that come to life in the candle’s background. For others, they may turn off the lights, light a few candles in the room, and watch a marathon of the Halloween movies back-to-back. The possibilities are completely endless. It all depends on the individuals involved and the desired activity. How you spend your Samhain is solely up to you. There is no wrong way to do so. Make it meaningful in the way you need it to be. Whatever and however that looks.

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Just Being Me

What should I write on? My earlier effort on this turned into a bitchy tirade that I eventually abandoned. Looking out the window on the back-yard patio door, the sky is cloudy, and the threat of rain within the high humidity shows in the darkening grey. for all intents and purposes, its the perfect day to sit and sulk on woes and angst. I’m now into another year of being unemployed and seeking temporary one-off gigs. Yet, I sit here with a happy grin on my face. My mood is up-beat. Maybe its the morning coffee. Maybe its the fact that I am listening to REO Speedwagon’s “Hi infidelity” album – music that I associate with my early years of high school.

At fifty-six (Gods, I really am that old, huh?), I realize that the years ahead are far shorter in duration than the years in my wake. I’ve been on this Pagan path for almost four decades now. I’m far different than I was as the wide-eyed, naïve, neophyte that I was at the beginning. I’ve seen my share of in-fighting within the Pagan community. I survived the infamous “DFW Witch Wars” of the mid-1990s. At the beginning of my Pagan walk, I found myself in the middle of the scary times of the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, an “event” that seems to be making a comeback today within the Evangelical Christian community here in the United States. I cannot even begin to count the number of Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, etc. etc. who have been a part of my life during that time and passed beyond for a variety of reasons. Somehow in all of that, I have managed to get three degrees, a Bachelor of Information Science, a Master of Information Systems Management, and a Master of Business Administration. I’ve been into and out of the United States Air Force, where I helped blaze a bit of the trail that the military Pagans of today walk. Through all of that, I still wonder what I need to do within the Pagan community.

I’ve mentioned – probably more frequently than many people care to hear – that I struggle with the perspective of being a Priest or even a casual reference to being an Elder within the Pagan community. However, whether I accept these descriptives as portraying who I am, there are others who do apply these to me. I cannot (and will not) control those perspectives in other people. While I might eschew these concepts in application towards me, the fact remains that some see me in these roles. Whether I want to accept it or not, being on this Path as long as I have will place me into these roles. Instead of pushing back against these, I can try to handle this in a different manner.

When I was in the Air Force and when I was promoted into the ranks of Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), I was provided with a mantle of responsibility that I always felt I was never really ready for. Part of my responsibilites was to supervise lower enlisted ranks in the discharge of their daily duties in the function of my duty section’s role within our Squadron and Air Wing. In essence, I was placed in charge of what needed to be done during my shift, and I was looked upon as the on-scene subject matter expert – even if I didn’t feel that I was any of that. Furthermore, I bristled at being referred to as “sir” by the lower ranks. As a matter of fact, I still despise being referred to in this manner. Despite my misgivings as being seen as a subject matter expert or being referred to in an approbatory manner, others (including commissioned Officers who were my superiors) saw me as being such and deserving of an affirmative perception.

So, whether I completely agree with the descriptives of Priest or Elder, there are aspects of these that others might place upon me – simply becuase I am where I am on this journey. Recently, I received an ordination with The Universal Life Church. Its not difficult. Its free. The purpose? Well, if I am needed to fulfill a function of being a Priest, I can do so. Like I said, whether I agree with the idea that I am a Priest – I am such. With the ordination, I can legally fulfill obligations if a more suitable individual is not available.

I am;however, other things as well. I am a Druid. Currently working through my Ovate lessons, but I am a Druid. Does that mean I wear white robes, climb ladders to cut mistletoe from trees with a sickle, and brew potions that provide other worldly strength to others? Well, I refuse to wear a white robe of any sort. While I grew up in the Air Force, many parts of that were spent living in the South-eastern United States. White robes are synonymous with the Ku Klux Klan. While I grok the usage of such robes within Druidry in Europe – and I also spent parts of my youth living there – I just cannot bring myself to wear a white robe. So, I can firmly push that part away from me, while I embrace my green cloak, black pants, tennis shoes, and Grateful Dead t-shirt as my ritual clothing. yeah, its not the most “mystical look” but then I’m going for comfort, not stage presence. Besides, I see ritual in a different light than as something that is meant for looks or to be “seen.” Ladders? No thanks. I have an irrational fear of heights. Besides, I like mistletoe to stay up in the trees. Brewing? That’s like cooking, isn’t it? Trust me, you don’t want to eat my cooking. I’m registered as a lethal weapon, in that regard. 😉

My point here is that I don’t really fall into the stereotypical thoughts of what a Pagan or a Druid is. But then, I think the stereotypical representation of a Pagan, Witch, or Druid from the 1980s (my reference point) no longer applies in this day and age. We are all individuals in our own right. There are those who feel the need to have the pointy hats that have long been associated with Witches. Plus, the striped knee-length socks/hose, and the all-black clothing. Cool. If that makes them feel comfortable, that’s awesome. I’ve had folks look at me with derision over my ritual attire. Its taken a long time, but I essentially ignore those looks. How I approach my Paganism is important to me…that’s what matters.

I guess, in reading back through all of this, my thought process falls along the lines of being an individual. In the early footsteps of being on one’s Pagan path, you will find yourself walking in the footsteps of someone else. Some Pagan that you think is “cool” or “right” in their approach. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with doing that. Its the easiest manner to find something that makes you feel like “you.” Black lipstick, eye shadow and a micro-miniskirt with four-inch heels makes you feel like “you.” Well, do it. A green cloak, a Grateful Dead t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes makes you feel more connected when you are in ritual? Do it. Not sure what to do? Try things. If it doesn’t work for you, abandon it, and try something else. Just remember, in the end – its about being yourself. Clothing, makeup, shoes, hair color…none of that makes you who you are – unless you want it to. For me, its about comfort. For you, it could be something completely different. Don’t let anyone tell you how to be you – even me. 🙂 Just remember, exploring yourself on this Path of Spirituality isn’t just about growing yourself – there’s also basking in the beauty of everything around us. And finding happiness in being who you are. You’re beautiful.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Quitting

Her: Have you ever thought about quitting?

Me:  Gods, yes. At least twice a day.

What am I quitting? Well, you name it. Anything. Everything. I’ve had that feeling in anything I’ve ever done. Jobs, programs, SQL queries, people, even Druidry (which apparently I can’t spell since I’ve typed that six times now). I cannot count the number of times I’ve thought about just quitting writing this blog. I did the same thing over two podcasts. Eventually, I brought both of those to an end, not really quitting, but acknowledging that others were doing a far better job at it than I was. I doubt I ever bring the blog to a close. Unless I wind up with an injury that keeps me from publishing one. I enjoy writing this blog, even if not that many people read it. ::shrug:: I’ve had the worst thoughts too. Quitting life. Both happened at very deep depths in my life. Both are deep into my past. But yes, I have had thoughts of stopping my journey along the OBOD grades.

The first time I came across that feeling, I was in my seventh year in the Bardic grade. I was frustrated over the amount of time it was taking me to get through the lessons. My constant re-starting was forcing me to realize that I wasn’t quite “getting” it the way I had envisioned. Then, I went to my first OBOD camp – the Gulf Coast Gathering. The folks there were not only receptive to my doubts, but they were also helpful with tips of how to get past my doubts. “Don’t stop.” “Stop the restarting.” “Put yourself in a comfortable frame of mind before picking up a lesson. If you can’t get there – don’t do the lesson that day.” Susan Jones, the (then) tutor coordinator for OBOD, provided the best advice of all: “Asking for help is not a crime. No one is going to penalize you or look down on you for seeking help.” That one comment alone provided enough push to bring me back around to working through my lessons and getting through the grade. That bit of advice is what continues to push me through my Ovate lessons to this day, and not be self-disparaging over my slow progress.

The second time was just a short time ago. Less than a year. I kept asking myself what I was trying to accomplish by going through the OBOD grades. I didn’t really need the OBOD system to be the Druid I want to be. I didn’t need OBOD to be the Pagan that I am. Was it a sense of accomplishment that I was pushing for? Did I just want to be able to say I was a recognized Druid according to a Druid Order? Some kind of credential that proved my knowledge to everyone else, like my three degrees do to potential employers and professionals in my field? I have certifications that I can hang on my wall, along with those degrees, in my office. Am I proud of those accomplishments? Yes, I am. Fiercely so. I put in a lot of effort, time, sweat, and energy to get those. Is that why I am here on this Path within OBOD? Do I really need this? The answer, over time, is “Yes. Yes I do.” Not because it’s a box to check off. Not to have some honor that I can hang on the wall for others to see. That shit doesn’t matter. Its because I want to do this for me. I want the knowledge that I will get from taking the courses. I want to utilize that knowledge to be a better human being, a better Pagan, and hopefully be helpful to other Pagans on their respective Paths. To be there to cheer them on with their accomplishments, be there when they slip and skin their knees, to acknowledge what they have accomplished, and show them that someone cares about them. I don’t know if I will get that out of the entire OBOD grade experience and knowledge, but I know that my own trials tribulations, doubts, and getting beyond all of that to finish will provide me with a point of reference to help others.

I’m an independent person. Same holds true for my Pagan practice (Gods I hate that phrasing. It makes me sound like I’m a medical Doctor). I’m used to doing things on my own in my Spirituality. To paraphrase the Dennis Leary line from the movie ‘Demolition Man”: I do what I have to, sometimes other Pagans come along. Why would I want to help others, when my Spirituality is so pointedly aimed towards doing things by myself? Well, that goes back to my upbringing. My parents, who have long since passed, instilled that behavior into my sense of others. I’m not anyone special. Just your average, everyday human being trying to live life day at a time. Sometimes, its just one hour at a time. Or even one step at a time. But even through my own issues, I can stop, and take a moment or twelve for someone else. Being a Pagan that relies on a Solitary existence doesn’t mean that I have to be a hermit. Being a solo Pagan (that phrasing is even worse. It makes me feel like I should dress like Star Wars’ Han Solo), means that most of my Spiritual work is done alone, but I’m not going to shove everyone out of my life. Believe it or not, I do have friends. Don’t be shocked. I can be a prickly individual, but I’m not the Don Rickles of the Pagan world either.

So, yes, I do get the urge to quit from time to time. Everyone has those little doubt-gnomes that sit in their shoulders and whisper in their ear. I like gnomes as a better image than devils and angels. You could even substitute brownies (the critters, not the pre-Girl Scout kids) for those shoulder weasels. Or whatever imagery works for you. But you hear the words. “You’re not good enough.” “Those people aren’t going to like you.” “You’re a failure at everything.” “Why even try? You know you’re going to fail.” Yep, I hear those all the time. My method of dealing with them is to stop, take a deep breath, and remember – I am worthy. People out there do care about me. If I were to shuffle off this mortal coil, there are people who would miss me. I am capable of doing whatever I put my mind to. It might not look pretty, but it will get completed. Its never a shameful thing to ask for help. In fact, it’s the bravest thing you can do.

So, if you get those feelings that its time to quit, just stop. Trust me, I have been there. Quitting means giving in to what others might think of you. They may have already made up their mind that you weren’t going to make it. Well, fly them the finger, get back up, and finish. Just to spite them. Because you can do it. I, for one, am in your corner. If you ever need an ear to bend…just write me. elfster@gmail.com I might not get back to you immediately, after all I have my own stuff to get through. But I will answer. Don’t ask for money though. I’m far more skint han you. I promise you that. LOL

–Tommy /|\

Back when my hair was longer….

Thinking About: Being Here Versus Tomorrow

The “spooky” season of the Wheel is right around the corner. Some would argue that its already here. Me? I’m not much of a horror film fan, so the “spooky” side of Samhain doesn’t appeal very much to me. (Sorry to disappoint those of you that really get into that stuff) This time of year is usually the start of the deep dive that I take into my personal Spirituality. Where I eventually surface, I never know. So, I have no idea where things are going to eventually take me.

Many times, in the past, this time of year has brought about questions of the future. Where are things going? What will Paganism look like in the near term? What about the far-flung future? What contribution will I have made towards the future? How will I have shaped the future? How am I shaping the present?

All of this presents an aspect of heady thought, much of which can be reduced to a single perspective: am I really THAT important? I tend to shrug off the idea that I have any true importance in the wider Pagan community. I have no desire or motivation to be considered as a motivational aspect of Pagans, or even Druids. I’m not trying to shape Druidry or Paganism into something that I believe it should become. I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I am someone who has the answers for anyone, other than myself. My Path is aimed towards trying to do better by myself by trying to be the best individual that I can be.

I write the blog. Its never been for me or even about me. Instead, my (hopeful) focus has been to provide advice to those that read it. Whether that be now or sometime into the recesses of the future. In a manner of speaking, I’m trying to be a narrative history of what Paganism, and Druidry mean to me. Perhaps, someone will find some synchrony in what I write with their own Path. That what I leave behind will turn on that light in their own thinking, providing them with an easier direction in adding to their own lives.

I write my journals. Each day, I spend a few moments at the end to surmise what’s happened, as well as what’s on my mind. In many moments of synchrony, what I write in the blog tends to mirror what I wrote in my journal. After all, what’s on my mind is what’s on my mind. 😊 Should my journals somehow survive beyond…maybe someone gets something out of those as well. Perhaps a future ancestor. Who knows?

Perhaps, what I consider to be the biggest imprint that I can leave behind for the future is the interactions that I have with others. Whatever my lasting imprint will be with those people, will likely be the legacy I am remembered for. For some folks, there will be a happiness that is my imprint. For others, my imprint will be one of disappointment or anger. Look, I’m not fooling myself into thinking that everything I’ve ever done is “good”, “happy” shit. I’m no choirboy. However, considering this time of COVID, with enforced solitude, those lasting impressions are not done face-to-face as much. Rather its managed through video conference, and more so through written communication. But its there, for better or worse.

Am I THAT important? Do the things I do help to shape and reshape Paganism within this day and age? I would posit that the answer is yes. Not just for me, but for everyone out there. Everyone supplies the change and reshaping of Paganism as we continue to move forward into our future. You might think that you don’t, but you do. We all do. Because we’re living it every single day with everything that you do.

Paganism, for better or worse, is moving into a realm where the individual is becoming more and more important. As an individual that does not work in groups, this move only feels “natural” to me. For those that are wedded to groups being the be-all, end-all – it can be construed as a disaster in their minds. The reality is probably closer to being cyclical, in the end. Somewhere in the Past, the practice of Paganism (or whatever alternative descriptive there may have been for it) was more likely done in solitude and secret. I have no proof for that statement, only supposition on my part. However, looking at where things are in today’s modern Paganism, I would posit that this move to a more grounded, individual practice comes from that potential cycle.

The reality is that this potential cyclical change doesn’t matter. What matters if what you believe, what’s in your heart, how you connect to environment around you. What you call it, doesn’t matter. How you do it, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it.

Yes, I do wonder about the future of our collective modern Paganism. I do wonder what all of this will look like in ten or twenty years. I do wonder what effect I will have had on that future Paganism. No matter how small or insignificant. What would it be? What shape will it have taken? What I realize is that it really doesn’t matter what effect I will have had on the future Paganism. What matters is how I effect my own approach on Paganism within myself. The shape that my effect will take is in the shape of myself. A shape that may physically disappear over time, but it will have been here. It will have provided the energy that I put into my practice. It will be supplied by my own motivation and drive. Because I am here.

Paganism, in whatever form it has been, currently is, or will eventually come to be – happens because of each of us. Each new Pagan, the passing of our Elders and those before their time, our explorations into new experiences, new environments…all of that continually shapes and reshapes our collective Paganism. Wiccans, Druids, Witches, Heathens, Love-and-Light Pagans, and so many more make up the multi-colored quilt that we are. We keep adding patches and pieces, creating something unique and cherished. That’s what the future will be…what we make of it. What we add to it.

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Having Fun and Interacting (My Perspective)

In my last post, Howling Into the Wind: Change, Communication, Respect, I was reminded of something that I don’t talk about much on the blog – but should. Well, actually a few things, but I wanted to address this point at the forefront. A reader of the blog, jswhite, noted that the wider Pagan community could use more playfulness. That notation is a lot more important than you may first realize, at least from where I sit – here behind this keyboard.

A lot of the blog tends to fall in the realm of what I would call “navel gazing.” This is what is described as “self-indulgent or excessive contemplation of oneself or a single issue, at the expense of a wider view.” I can be accused of this perspective on quite a few occasions. Let’s face it, I can only show you my own perspective here. After all, it’s the only viewpoint that I can discuss as a subject-matter expert. I know me better than I know anyone else’s perspective. Talking about how someone else might feel would be arrogant of me, wouldn’t it? Most of the stuff I talk about tends to be around approaching topics from a Pagan perspective or how I do (or don’t do) certain things related to my Spiritual practice. But what about having fun??

At fifty-six, I’m not as active playing sports as I used to be. My ancient body just can’t take the physical beating I used to, plus I am not as healthy as I used to be. However, I still throw a good game of darts or play an average game of pool (or even snooker – though it has been an uber-long time since I have done that). Not that long ago, I was part of a bowling league. Again, I’m no pro, but I did enjoy throwing three games once a week with friends. Here in Hillsboro, Texas, a small town, there’s not a whole lot of Pagans around (I’m the only one that I am aware of) to do things like this on a weekend afternoon or evening, but it certainly would be fun to do. Way back in the day, as I said before – when I was healthier and far spryer – I played soccer, and softball in local leagues. For me it wasn’t about winning or losing, but about being around other people, and having fun. I’m far more competitive when it comes to darts, pool, and snooker. 😊

When I am in OBOD camps, I’m typically a trickster. In the Gulf Coast camp, which is held near the edges of Lake Pontchartrain, just outside of Mandeville (directly opposite of New Orleans on the lake), I’m always trying to find ways to get folks to laugh and joke around. In the little pond nearby, there are alligators (could be crocodiles – I never learned the difference). One OBOD member, I teased about dangling them over the edge of the dock to attract the little swimming, meat-eating lizards. A nickname of “Gator Bait” soon ensued. I get teased plenty in camp as well. There’s no bad intent though. All of it is good fun. The point being that the camp is not all about being super serious. The workshop schedule ALWAYS goes wonky, but most folks don’t worry over that too much. We all get the chance to enjoy one another’s company. While the workshops provide a serious side (for the most part), the shenanigans that occur balance things out, and help provide the closeness of the tight-knit family we have all become over time.

What else do I do for fun? Well, it’s not always for fun, but I read – as I suspect most folks do as well. In fact, reading is one of the major things I have noticed that most Pagans have in common. That, and TV show and movie binging. It’s a great way of doing something you love that can also provide you the chance to be close with someone in your life. Ever read together on the couch? Or cuddled together to binge a season (or two) of a TV show that you enjoy? For me, there’s nothing like it. You can even combine a few things into all of that. Like reading while someone else plays video games – and snuggle up on the couch or even the floor. Or if you feel like being super silly, making a pillow fort in the living room. Whatever works for you.

See, a personal philosophy of mine is that Life is meant to be utilized to better yourself. There is certainly a time for seriousness in our Paganism (shared or not). However, there is also a time for play. A time to set all the seriousness aside and do things that allow us to blow off steam and reset ourselves. This is what a game of darts, pool, or snooker in a pub does for me. I’m not a heavy drinker, so I can nurse a single beer a really long time. But its not about the beer or the game of whatever – its about the company. Spending the time together to get to know one another better. We can talk about anything. We can even spend the time philosophizing between shots or throws. We can even try to solve the world’s problems between games if you want to turn to a more serious side. But the key is interaction. That’s the key in all of this. Interacting.

Writing and thinking about all of this makes me wish for more Pagans near me. To have others with a like mind, who would enjoy getting together to relax, have fun, and interact…about whatever. One day, I’ll find that again. I’ll have a whole new group of Pagans to interact with. In the meantime, I stick to my walks, my music, and my books. And my online friends. We may be physically parted by such geographically significant features such as oceans, but that doesn’t negate the closeness we feel for one another. Because we interact. Again, that’s the key.

–Tommy /|\

I read to learn and to be informed, but I also read to have fun, and take a break from everyday reality too.

Thinking About: Here There Be Monsters

So, its 6am here as I write this. The youngest cat is winding back and forth between my legs, underneath my chair. Outside, the world is pitch black, as the world slowly spins towards the sunrise. I have my headphones on, so I don’t wake anyone in the house to the sounds of The Pretty Reckless. Through all of this, I sit here and stare at my open Word document, wondering what to write. In some ways, I feel like I have written about nearly every topic I can think of. After all, the blog has been up since 2013. Eight years is a lot of time to write about this topic and that topic. In some cases, I have covered topics more than once. I’ve even gone to the degree of re-visiting some topics from time to basically just refresh my perspective on something. Not that my perspective is anything important. After all, I’m just one person with opinions of my own. Nor am I the type of person to make my own understandings into empirical facts. I have no mandates that Paganism is this or that every Pagan should be doing that or that Pagans should react this other way. That tin-stamping perspective is what turned me off to what Christianity is about. You must do this. You must believe this. You mustn’t do that. No room for exploration.

Exploration. The desire to dig further on your own within a topic. The need to see what becomes your own “truth” within your beliefs. The feeling that not every topic will appeal to you, but that such a lack of connection will not invalidate who you are or what you believe. That’s considered to be such dangerous territory to fundamentalists of all kinds. Why? Well, simply put – you are going beyond the teachings and directives of whoever believes that they are in charge. The digging further might lead you to question the strong pillars of their teachings. In other words, you’re going off-script. You’re wandering off the map. And off the map, there be monsters. Or so the warning goes. The reality is that you are going beyond what those so-called leaders know. And that great void beyond is scary for them because it might really invalidate the pillars of their belief.

In my eight years at the college I was employed at – the first three were as an educator. I was an adjunct faculty member. I taught a course called “Introduction to Business Applications.” The course was an introduction to what essentially was the Microsoft Office Suite. Super boring shit that most students already had a firm grasp on. I know I was losing the students’ attention, as I stood at the head of a classroom of thirty seats. They already knew the basics of using Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. For most of them, Access was an abstract concept that went a bit beyond their comprehension. But for the most part, they already knew all of this stuff. So I took the class on a deep dive beyond the syllabus. I scratched the surface on Business Intelligence by showcasing the usage of Information Systems. I showed them the usage of Information Systems within the legal and judicial systems by bringing in real-world cases straight out of the news. At the end of the class, I challenged them to go beyond what the class text taught them – to envision where a technology would be in the future – five years, ten years, fifteen years, and twenty years into the future. When I was asked what a “technology” would be, I brought up concepts beyond that of computers. One enterprising student wrote about the future of coffee brewing. The idea was to get them to think outside of the box, to delve into a technology (or industry as one student argued the point) in a manner that was to place them in a position to forecast the aspect of “cutting edge.”

Our teachers, even within Paganism, wish us to learn the basics. In our formative years, we learn the basics – the techniques, the concepts, the rote words, and motions of spell-craft and ritual. All of that is emphasized year after year. Rarely, is there a case made for students to explore beyond those basics. Exploration is never discussed, and in some cases discouraged. Because you are headed off the map. Here…there be monsters.

Speaking from the perspective of what some would call an Elder – a term that I do not like being adhered to me despite me nearly thirty-five years in Paganism – as well as that of an Educator and a Student, I sometimes wonder if we have lost the desire to grow beyond what our teachers provide for us.

Underlying all of this is the idea of growing Paganism. Not in terms of the number of people that decide that they are Pagan, but in terms of exploring aspects of our beliefs beyond what we know and use now. I am not foolish or arrogant enough to believe that Paganism has stagnated. Nor do I believe that no one is making motions towards growing our Pagan knowledge beyond where it is now. There are always innovators within any movement. Sometimes, they are overlooked because they are quieter than most. Sometimes, they are overlooked because they are the weird, eccentric people that no one wants to associate with. The people that helped innovate these wonderful, electronic devices that we use to communicate over great distances in real-time with people we may never meet face-to-face – they are all too aware of how that perspective feels.

Also, there will be those that prefer to stay on the map. The unknown is not where they want to be. They will travel into that realm when – and if – they are ready. There is nothing wrong with that perspective. Not everyone is made to explore into the unknown and deal with the unexpected, the failures, the desire to restart from scratch when any attempt to stretch and innovate becomes a fabulous disaster. My clarion call is not meant for those people.

In many ways, much of what I am expressing here is just reaching out to those Pagans that are seeking to reach beyond the edges of the map. Others may see your efforts as being useless. That you are flirting with unnecessary danger. That there is no need to look beyond the horizons, to stretch beyond the sky. I would point out, that as an educator my time in the classroom with my students was a multi-fold operation. I was there to teach the students the basics of the topic, while providing inspiration (and sometimes guidance) to go beyond the topic, should they desire to do so.

So, do you want to be a Priest in a manner that you believe to be unapproached by today’s modern Pagan Priesthood? Then research that direction. Learn about what it takes to provide what you believe to be needed. After that, seek ways to become that kind of Priest. After all, Priesthood is about serving others within their own Spiritual Paths – if that’s your calling, reach for it. Remember, the only thing that limits you in what you can do – is you.

Re-reading this, I’m a little astonished where my mind took all of this. However, knowing how I approached the classroom environment after my first semester – its not an earthquake of a shocker either. As I noted, at the end of each semester, I was challenging my students to think beyond what the class taught them. To build upon that knowledge. As Damh the Bard notes in his song “On the Shoulders of Giants” from his album “Sabbat”

So by peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand,
On the shoulders of giants we stand.

Damh the Bard, “On the Shoulders of Giants”

We build our traditions and groups with each new generation that arrives. These new Pagans will use our foundation of knowledge, traditions, and effort as the building blocks for their future. I tell you know, most the pioneers in the computer industry would be astonished to see where their start with basic computers built in their garages has gone. And who knows what the future holds. Well, the younger generations do. Their imaginations will take us beyond. First, they must have the desire to move beyond the edges of the map, as it is drawn now. For beyond those edges, there be monsters.

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Filippo Peisino on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Druidry Isn’t About “Winning” to Me

Just recently, I started getting out and walking through the neighborhood. Around here, that’s not exactly a safe thing to do. Hillsboro, Texas is not exactly a modern town. While there sidewalks on the more traveled parts of town, as well as the newer neighborhoods (such as the street that I live on) – the rest of town is just a series of paved blacktop roads with no sidewalks. To augment my own personal safety, I walk on the side of the road that has me headed into oncoming traffic. That way, when cars come towards me, I can move off the paved road into the (sometimes) mowed yards or fields that border where I am walking. Just to provide a touch more context, much of Hillsboro was wiped clean by a tornado in October of 1974 (Halloween to be exact). Much of the neighborhoods bordering mine consist of beat-up mobile homes, run-down homes, and empty lots. A LOT of empty lots. So my walks can, sometimes, be a touch adventurous with folks zooming these “back streets” at higher than posted speeds. However, there are other “hazards” that come with walking on the surrounding streets of the neighborhood – friendly folks.

I know, I can hear you say it…what makes a friendly person so hazardous? Well, its not their friendliness that is hazardous. Plus, “hazardous” might not be the absolute correct term, but its what I’ve managed to come up with – at this point. Embedded in the ten-mile radius from my house are fourteen Christian churches. Most are small churches. The sole exception is a rather large church that is closer to the nearby interstate than the neighborhoods. That’s the local Baptist church. Many of the closer ones are in run-down buildings that look similar to much of the neighborhood. Here, there are other Christian denominations. Five of them are independent Evangelical types. Those folks are a touch more rabid about their beliefs. They are also the folks I tend to encounter on my walks.

A few weeks back, I went out for a walk on a fairly warm day. I had my staff with me and a bottle of water with me – I’m not particularly stable in my walking, I am still basically recovering from the pneumonia and its side effects from the Iceland trip, though I am far better than I was. I came across an elderly man working on his front yard. Well, he wasn’t that much older than me. Probably in his sixties. We exchanged “hellos” and he stood and walked over to me. He held out his hand and introduced himself. I returned the greeting. Then he started in with asking me if I knew Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. Yeah, here we go again.

We talked for a while, all gathered around my response of: “I’m not a Christian.” After about five minutes, I politely excused myself from the conversation and continued my walk. I’ve not avoided his house over the next few walks I took. We cordially wave and greet one another. Every single time though, he will stand and come towards me. I’ll politely wave him off and cheerfully reply: “Not today, thank you,” as I continue my walk.

So, as I sit here drinking my coffee, listening to some Electric Light Orchestra, I wonder about the entire concept of proselytization. This whole concept of trying to share your beliefs with others, in the hopes of converting them to your way of believing. I get it, sort of. You are happy about what you believe in. You want to share that with someone else. You want other people to experience the same happiness and sense of belonging that you have. All of it makes sense. Particularly, if you believe that you are holding the ONLY truth that is out there – the ONLY peace and happiness that can be had. I also realize that according to the writings that these people base their beliefs on, that I am here to deceive others, just as I have been deceived. So, I understand the perspective, though I complete disagree with it.

Were I just twenty-five years younger, I would have reacted differently. I would have stayed in this man’s front yard and had a full-fledged, loud volume theological argument. All of which, would have resulted in nothing more than damaged feelings on both sides, along with a healthy slice of resentment. Yeah, I might have actually “won” the argument, but what would I have really won? I could have added another battle notch to my staff (which has no such notches in it). So, a few added thoughts. I’m not a theologian. Not even close. I’m just me. A simple Pagan Druid trying to live my life each day. I’m not even attempting to convert a single soul to Paganism. Honestly, if someone is interested in Paganism – they have to make that choice for themselves. I’m not going to push them into it. I’m not going to tell them that Paganism is filled every single night with people sitting around a fire, sharing alcoholic drinks, and slowly finding a partner for the night, somewhere away from the fire. I won’t deny that such things happen – but that’s not the be-all, end-all of Paganism. In fact, it doesn’t ALWAYS happen. Sometimes, its just people taking a quiet walk in the woods together, talking about subjects that interest them. Sometimes, you are just sitting at home watching The Owl House (my current personal flavoring, outside of Gravity Falls) or some other television show or movie. Sometimes, you’re sitting in your backyard alone – gardening or taking a snooze in the warmth of the day. Sometimes, you are sitting in a coffee shop reading a book or people watching. Or you are going to some sports-ball game to watch your kids or grandkids or loved ones play. Living your faith, your beliefs, your Spirituality – all of that is no different than anyone of any other faith. The only difference is our perspective on Spirituality – how we approach our chosen God(s). And honestly, when you pare away all the frivolities and trappings associated with that – there’s a lot more similarities than differences. In arguing over which perspective is more correct, we’re just arguing semantics. We’re essentially arguing over the meaning of these symbolic gestures that we make. Meanings that are individualistic because we are individuals. Not one of us is the same. Our concepts of derived meaning are as individualistic as our choices in coffees, teas, soft drinks, and flavorings.

What would I have won if I had carried that front-yard conversation to its end? A sense of superiority? Would my Gods have given me a prize that I could have carried around with me? Would the wider Pagan community acknowledge me as a “great” word warrior against the “hosts of evil?” Going even deeper, would I really even want accolades like that?

Like I said, I’m not a theologian. I’m not here to fight some religious war. I just want to live my life as I can – without judgment from others, without interference from those that cannot understand that my perspective is just different than theirs. I’m not here to disprove Christians (or any other belief system, for that matter) and what they believe. I’m not here to tell them that they are wrong. I’d rather give them the same courtesy that I want to receive from them. Even when I don’t receive it from them. However, like anyone else, I have my limits…I just haven’t reached them yet. I hope I never will.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Past Lives and Passed Lives

Have you been here before? Well, that requires a bit of belief in reincarnation – that your existence is passed from this life on to another one. That your current existence came from an existence previously here before. Attached to that is a notion that you stay on this mortal coil until you have learned all the lessons that you needed to. Then your essence gets an eternal rest, once you have completed that. Many folks cannot hold a belief in all of that, for whatever reason. Me? I believe in reincarnation. I believe in past lives as well. I don’t hold much countenance in the idea of counting into existences until certain lessons are learned, but I won’t completely discount the possibility. Why? Well, let’s explore that for a bit.

I do believe that I have been here before. There are folks that I have encountered that there’s that immediate connection with. I can’t explain it, but I believe there’s more than just chemistry that causes that. I have also gotten the same experience in various places that I have been. Again, many will explain that away as a chemical aspect within my body. Sure, I get that is what is happening, but why does it happen? Science has never been able to completely explain that away. So, I look at it as a kind of connection. Some of the people that I have connected in that fashion are long out of my life in this existence. Some of the places I have felt that “chemical reaction” are so far away that it is likely I will never have the chance to be there again. How can I explain that? Well, I call that something similar – Passed Lives. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Why do I believe in reincarnation? Because I believe that there is more to this existence than just being here, and then – poof – you’re gone. Just a memory for those who are still unfortunate to be here. Or a footnote in recorded history. So, that means that I believe I was someone historical, right? I’m a follow-on to Aleister Crowley? Sir Francis Drake? Some member of Egyptian royalty? No. Not really. I figure that who I am today is not that different from who I was in the past. So they had computers in the far distant past, right? Or my incarnations only go back to the time of Ada Lovelace?? Well, no. My personality is that of a technician and a troubleshooter. Not necessarily computers. But I can’t really tell you what I was in the past. See, I don’t do the past life journey stuff. I just don’t want to know.

As for the aspect of everyone going back and finding that they are someone important. Or the several hundred Aliester Crowley’s that are out there today. Well, everyone likes to believe that they were someone important. I’m not saying that they might not be those individuals. Just that I wonder where the average, everyday farmer working his fields in medieval England. Or the cart-wright that was mending the wagon wheels in the “wild” west of the United States? Surely, average minions such as these folk would make it to another incarnation in my theory? Certainly, they would. But let’s remember, very few people believe in reincarnation, much less look into it. They aren’t concerned with the Past. They are concerned with the here and now, just as those folks were doing in their time. As for all the Crowleys, perhaps Crowley had Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), and all these incarnations are individual reincarnations of who he was? Or maybe the folks who claim to be Crowley are all seeking attention? I don’t know, and honestly I don’t care. I don’t need to prove or disprove what I believe to anyone.

What about this “Passed Lives” thing? Well, this is not reincarnative (is that even a word?) theory. This is about the crossroads that we all encounter within our lives. You’ve been there before. I’ve been there before. There are choices that you make, which change your life drastically. When you look back, you will see where if you decided on this instead of that, your life would be far different than where it is today. Those choices that were not taken, I refer to those as “Passed Lives.” Or, if you prefer, alternate lives. That series of “what-ifs” we all have in our lives. How different would my life be if I had chosen to buckle down on my collegiate studies back in the mid-1980s? For reference, I graduated high school in 1984. I did not receive my first collegiate degree until 2003. There’s a lot of life lived in-between those two points, much of which was dictated by my decision to not throw myself into my original collegiate studies in earnest. I would never have joined the Air Force. In not joining the Air Force, I would most likely have not encountered Paganism. I would not have met all the friends that I encountered through the world of Bulletin Board computer systems. I could spend a long time looking at those Passed Lives. Sometimes, I do wonder what kind of person I might have been, had I traveled down those roads. However, I also remember that I like who I am now…so those wandering memories are best kept as the Passed Lives that they are.

Whether the choices that I made in this life or in another are good or bad – in the end, I am who I am today because of those choices. There are more choices that I will make in this existence that will continue to shape who I am. While I do believe that I have been here before, that I have a connection with some folks going into other existences, much like the wake left by a boat traveling over water – those ripples will fade. The energy of those ripples will flow to some distant shore, where the echoes of those Pasts will slide into the beyond. While I believe that the wake existed in the Past, there’s no need to dwell too long on where the boat has been. The till still needs to be manned, and the boat brought safely into the harbor.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Iceland, Travel, and How It All Fits in With My Spirituality

Travel has always been a large part of my life. Some of my earliest memories are being crammed into the rear hatch area of a Ford Pinto which was pulling a small trailer. That view through the rear window was my view of so many destinations throughout Europe with my family. We travelled to many places in mainland Europe. Valencia, Spain. Montpellier, France. Countless locations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. All the trips I took throughout Europe when I was stationed in Germany as an adult. The myriad of locations throughout the United States that I have travelled to as an adult. Various locations throughout the Rocky Mountain chain. The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Carolinas. The long three-day driving trip from Texas to Glacier national Park, with a stop at The Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming. The magical trip to Yellowstone. The two trips with the college to Ireland, Scotland, and the United Kingdom. However, none of those compares to where I was three years ago – Iceland.

The trip to Iceland meant doing something I truly loath. Flying. Kind of strange for a former United States Air Force to dislike flying, but I do. I know its an irrational fear, so I always spend time shoving it into the back of my mind – just so I can get on the plane and avoid running down the aisle, screaming my head off about getting out of this tube-shaped coffin. However, Iceland was worth every second of anxiety in all the flights that had been to be taken. Plus, I got to visit YYZ, otherwise known as Toronto Pearson International Airport, both coming from and going to. An absolutely gorgeous airport, which there was no time to explore with time between flights being under an hour in time.

The terrain of Iceland is absolutely stunning, and quite varied. Around the airport, everything looked like wide-open prairie from west Texas. Granted, the plants looked different, but it had that same feel to it. The bus ride from the airport to the first location we stayed at with our group was really not that notable. Near the hotel that we stayed at (which was like a series of bungalows) was a location where steam vents could be seen. According to the folks at the hotel, these had been opened a few years earlier from an earthquake. I took the opportunity to walk to the steam vents. At the beginning of the walk was a MASSIVE uphill walk on a worn-down gravel path. I remember thinking that I had to go back DOWN that hill on my way back. The walk to the vents was a long way down the path. One the walk there, I marveled at the terrain, as well as the shadows that the sunset was putting on the hillside behind me. Just gorgeous stuff. At one point, I stopped for a few minutes to open myself to the land around me. I could feel the VERY ancient Spirits of the Land, no where near as active as those that I had encountered back on the northern plains of Texas. Everything seemed to move slowly and deliberately. If I take a moment, I can still feel that moment now. How small I felt. How insignificant I seemed to be in comparison. How I was so readily ignored. Then there were the smaller beings that I could sense. What some on the trip referred to as the “fair folk”. I never really found anything like a name for them, but they always felt like pesky little creatures. Back at the hotel, the folks in the bungalow next to mine got locked INTO their room. Weird stuff like that happened throughout the trip.

Once we started heading north, the terrain changed and became extremely dramatic in perspective. Valleys that we drove through had steep mountains on either side. From where we were on the road, neither side seemed that far away. That is, until you saw a building of any sort further down in the valley. These buildings were large barns and large houses but looked even smaller than the houses that one saw on a toy train set. When you started to think about your own size in the bus in relation to the building that was seemingly in the middle of the valley, you started to get a real sense for how far away the mountain side on the other side of the valley really was.

The last part of the trip was spent around the northern city of Akureyri, which I can only find the nearest comparison of Koriko, the city where Kiki comes to live in the Anime film “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” I have never fallen in love with a city as quickly as I did with Akureyri. Having grown up for part of my life in Europe, I was well accustomed to the concept of walking and mass transit for inner city travel. Walking part the small mom-and-pop restaurants and bakeries was just amazingly enchanting. Here, in the city, it was easy to find the Spirits of the Land, as well as the Spirits of Place. All you had to do was open yourself to the experience. There were also older, and what felt like extremely watchful entities as well. Not quite like a Spirit of place, Land, or Ancestor. These felt more like “Protectors” or “Guardians.” There are legends within Iceland mythology about the Gods being present to protect Iceland from invaders. Not being too familiar with the legends and lore, I can only presume that these beings might be them.

While part of this is me reminiscing over a trip from three years ago, its also a reminder that there is more to my Spirituality than honoring my Gods, venerating my Ancestors, and celebrating the turning of the Wheel. Travel, exploration, and experiencing the wider realm of my environment is equally important. For the past two years, COVID-19 has put a lot of that on hold for me. Just around a few months ago, I took a trip back to southwest Colorado, a trip that was needed for my personal well-being. I needed to be out in places that have that sacred feel to me. The trip to Mesa Verde did just that for me. Not only did I get the chance to explore Mesa Verde a bit more, I also got the experience of being caught in a torrential downpour – complete with terrific and terrifying lightning strikes. A reminder of what I find so sacred about the world around me. The sacred beauty, coupled with the terrifying elements, has that feeling of being my own personal RESET button.

Iceland provided the same thing for me. The beauty was certainly there. The cold that I returned to Texas with set into my lungs – providing me with pneumonia. I still suffer from its effects to this day. A reminder that places like Iceland, while beautiful and rugged….can certainly kill you if you don’t take it seriously enough. Every single day, I have a reminder of that. My shortness of breath. The swelling of my feet. Just two ready symptoms that serve as reminders of how small I am upon this world. Now, I live in the central part of Texas, much further away from my beloved southern-central plains. The Spirits feel different here. They react differently here. Yet, the way I approach my own Spirituality remains – largely – the same. I take comfort in that sameness. Yet, I still yearn for the capability to travel safely to return. Soon.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Solo v. Group Dynamics.

Why are you on your own? Why not join a group? You’ll be better off if you do.

I hear this a lot, particularly from my Pagan friends who have been working exclusively within a group throughout their Spiritual career. Honestly, its an understandable position from them. They have found something that works quite well for them and they wish to share that perspective with every Pagan they encounter. For me, it’s a reminder of why I left traditional Christianity behind when I was in my late teens.

Don’t go to that southern Baptist church. The one I attend is so much better.

That approach, for me, is like high pressure sales at Best Buy. You know, when you want to get your fingers on the various technologies and hardware platforms, so you can see the differences for yourself and determine which one meets your needs. Then the salesperson comes along and starts explaining why they think this platform sucks when compared to that one.

As I have noted before, I have been on my Pagan Path for thirty-plus years. Its never been smooth sailing. I’ve gotten a lot of bumps, bruises, and scares on this Path. There have been times that I have wondered just what the fuck I am doing. There are other times where everything just fits together so clean. There has been a lot of hard work that I never wanted to tackle at all. There has been work that I could barely contain my glee at getting straight into. And there’s been a lot of stuff that falls between the extremes I have noted here. In all my time on this Path, I have been with a local (to me) groups for about less than twenty percent of all that time. Most of that has been in the first few years of my time being on the Path. So, I am firmly entrenched in being a solo Pagan.

I know, I know. I can see your eyes starting to glaze over. This is Tommy getting started on the sales pitch as to why being a solo Pagan is so much better than working in a group. Except that its not. Having gone through my own bumps and bruises in my own personal experiences of bring in a group, as well as transitioning to being a solo Pagan – I know better than to declare one as being better than the other.

Some people take to the dynamics of groups far easier than others. When they discover that, sometimes they believe that going the route of the group is the answer for everyone. Their zeal at having found that missing puzzle piece to their practice can become a self-assigned mission to help others to “see the way.” Trust me, I know that feeling all too well.

When I first encountered Paganism, I wanted to share my new knowledge with everyone, particularly with my Christian Air Force co-workers. I pushed hard for them to understand and accept my beliefs as valid. I wanted them to realize how badly the earlier members of their faith had persecuted the earlier members of my own. What I wanted them to see was how alive I felt at finding a Spiritual Path that worked for me. Essentially, I let my zeal get too far ahead of my skis. So, I can really grok how that happens with those folks that want other Pagans to join their group. Just as I wanted my co-workers to revel in my moment of ecstasy of finding a Path where my footsteps were those of joy, I can see how these folks want that from their Pagan friends too. In fact, I marvel at their joy and would encourage them with heartfelt joy of my own for the beauty of those footsteps on their newfound Path. Seeing people taking those early steps is one of the most awe-inspiring things I know of.

Over the past few years, I have been asked to join a handful of local groups as an active participant and member. I have turned each one down, noting that I would be more than happy to attend as a visitor and participant for their public rituals, but that becoming a member just wouldn’t be in the cards for me. The reactions have been a mixed bag. Some have accepted that I prefer being a solo Pagan. Others have taken that rejection of becoming a permanent part of the group as a total rejection of their Path. I can understand that reaction, even if it is the furthest point from the truth. I do my utmost best not to be offended by that. Everyone has their own viewpoint of how something is.

I am a part of a group, even though my Spiritual path is taken from a solo perspective. I am a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. (OBOD) My training in the three grades is done on my own, though I always have a mentor assigned for help. A few times a year – except while COVID-19 rages throughout our world – I will come to their gatherings, so that I can participate with other members, as a group. For me, this is a reminder that group work is essentially to my growth, but that I can approach that on terms that are a little more comfortable for myself. No judgment. No pressure. If I wanted to completely cut out the group aspect, I can. I continue with this smaller aspect of group because it works for me. I can expand or constrict it as I need to.

I know there are those that would believe that I hate working in a group. That my preference to work alone is due to the “fact” that I prefer to not have any accountability. But that’s not true. I am accountable to myself. Believe me, I am much harder on myself over failure than anyone else would be to me. Truth be told, I am far more comfortable approaching my Spirituality on my own than within a group. That’s no indictment of groups or the people that prefer that approach. They know what works for them. They know how that approach brings ecstasy to their Path. But works for them does not necessarily work for others. And I really enjoy that diverse approach. I prefer human beings be their own individual self in whatever they do. There is a myriad of approaches that work. That myriad of approaches shows the creative inspiration that drives our collective reality and makes us the unique personalities that we are. Viva la difference!

–Tommy /|\

Around the fire at OBOD’s East Coast Gathering

Thinking About: Technology, Personal Spirituality, and Where They Cross/Connect

How do you reconcile your approach to a nature-based belief system with the advances of the digital age?

This was an interesting question that was asked via Email. The individual that sent the Email specifically asked not to be identified. Its taken me over a week to formulate my response because I had to sort through a variety of layers to get there.

To be able to understand where I am coming from, I need to explain how things were when I started down my path of Paganism so you can contrast that against what you know about personal communication at this point in your life. That’s right, you will have to create the contrast and comparison against what you know. For me to do that would be trying to force my perspective against what you know for yourself. Furthermore, my understanding of the digital age goes back even further than my Pagan Path does. To those who encountered the digital age just a few decades back, their understanding will begin in a far more sophisticated perspective, which will make their understanding quite a bit different. Yes, technology has changed that quickly over the years.

My initial start with Technology beings in the rise of the personal computer, as well as in the beginning of the digital age from the 1950s. I started on the path of the personal computer in 1981, at the height of hobbyist computers. Think the earliest versions of the Apple }{, as well as the predecessor of the Commodore 64 computer – the venerable Commodore Pet-Plus 4. These computers had RAM modules around 4 kilobytes. That’s less than today’s digital watches. Professionally, I started on a UniVac 1100 series 08 mainframe system. This was my second duty station in the United States Air Force. To compare with the personal computer, the mainframe took up approximately half of a building, and required several people working in various functions to operate it. For me, these two very different systems were my start down a professional and personal path within computer technology to where I am today.

When I first started down my Pagan path, I was working on that mainframe environment at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas. At that time, I had purchased my own Commodore 64 with the 5 ¼ floppy disk drive (the 1541 model), along with a modem that would allow me to connect to local Bulletin Board Systems via a telephone call. That modem, which was the connective aspect that would allow me to connect with other Pagans in the Arlington and Fort Worth parts of the Dallas/Fort Worth metro areas. I would find friends that I still have today through the discussion boards on each BBS (Bulletin Board System). I would also find out about various public rituals that I got to attend, as well as various face-to-face gatherings in various local pubs. I do miss those days. However, I do acknowledge that all of that has led me to today’s internet, where I am able to discuss lots of things with Pagans around the world.

That’s really the biggest change from nearly forty years ago. The breadth and depth of people that I can communicate with. There was no Facebook, or anything close to it, back then. Much of what we know about the internet today wasn’t even dreamed of at that time. However, the internet has allowed us to communicate between one another in a much wider degree. A lot of communication has taken place within the Pagan community over the internet. We write blogs. We “chat” with one another via text and/or video. We have discussion forums on various platforms. We exchange ideas. We argue with one another. We insult and denigrate one another (Back in the BBS days, we called inane arguments and insult hurling: “flame wars”). We discuss whatever topics we desire. We make plans for get togethers, public rituals, private group meetings, and a lot of other things, all of which help connect new Pagans with groups that interest them. Today’s digital world is as much a part of our daily lives as eating, drinking, exercising, and sleeping. We make friendships and strong connections with other Pagans that are far away from us, even in other countries. Some of these people become closer to us than our physical families. I have a few of these long-distance relationships with people I might never see face-to-face. That fact, the distances – neither have mattered when it comes to the strong, close connected relationship I have with them. I’m quite certain that others have similar relationships.

So, all of that doesn’t reconcile well with the strong connection we Pagans have with Nature. The internet is a man-made concept. It has become rather pervasive within our daily lives. Some of us use it to connect with our jobs, particularly in this age of COVID-19. How does all this fit into the beliefs that we practice in nature-oriented beliefs? Well, for me, it’s rather simple – it’s a tool. A means for communication. An access point to research that I wouldn’t have otherwise. But its not a part of my beliefs. It is a part of my personal history.

In the late 1990s, I was working on a mainframe environment for a financial company in Dallas. On a shift, I was talking with one of the other employees working on the operations floor. We started discussing religious beliefs. Being rather open about what I believe, I talked about Pagansim. At that time, we were all temporary employees. This individual and I were up for the same full-time job. When he went in for his interview, he couched it that I was a Satanist and should not be employed at the company. In my interview, my soon-to-be supervisor asked me point-blank about it. I answered that I wasn’t a Satanist, that I was a Pagan. I gave what amounted to a quick minute-and-half explanation of the difference. After I was hired, my new supervisor mentioned what was stated in the interview. The Director of the department had bluntly stated back to this temporary employee that she “could care less if I worshipped the computer system, so long as I did the job that was asked of me.” First time I had ever been accused of worshipping the mainframe system. At another job, I maintained the computer labs for a for-profit college. I worked the nights. The students would bring food into the labs, which was a no-no. I told them it would be all right, so long as they didn’t make a mess and kept drinks on the floor with lids on. One night, I went through a computer lab to get ready for closing. On the floor in the back corner, I found a paper tray filled with the bones from hot wings that a student had brought in for their dinner. The bones were all neatly arranged on the paper tray. I surmised, in my own sarcastic humorous way, that the student was working on a difficult project and had brought in the hot wings as a sacrifice to the computer Gods for a better chance at a successful project that would earn him/her a better grade. These two instances are as close as any moment has gotten to a religious inference with a computer being specifical involved. Thanks for letting me sidetrack you for a moment. 😊

Much like an athame, ritual clothing, a crystal, a table designated specifically for ritual, a staff, a written set of instructions for ritual, and even a meditational state of mind to put a participant into a correct frame of mind – the digital world that we find ourselves in is a tool. Certainly, it is used for more than just furthering our personal practice. It serves other functions and provides for other mundane needs. For me, beyond the use of a communications and research tool, the computer and internet serve no huge part in my beliefs. As a tool, these aspects of the digital age do help to further part of my beliefs through the communication aspects and research capabilities. I have used these to connect with others for assistance. Last year, I connected with a long-time friend for assistance in remembering a function of rebuilding my own personal shielding – simply because I had forgotten the technique. That would never have been possible without the amazing connective technology that we have today.

Am I some kind of cyber-mage? Does my use of technology make my Druidry stronger? As I am chucking out loud right now as I write this – you should be able to realize that my answer to both questions is no. I do; however, consider the dreams that became challenges that moved others to create and refine these technologies that we use today to be real magic. I marvel at what they have created. So, I end this with some of the lyrics from Rush’s song “Mission” which pays tribute to the Awen/inspiration that they had, in taking their own ideas and dreams and bringing that to a reality that could be shared by everyone. If you are looking for something that would bind these technologies to my beliefs – it would be this. Where the Gods helped spur the idea of innovation and creation. Not what resulted from it, but the drive to make what seemed impossible become a reality.

In the grip of
A nameless possession
A slave to the drive of obsession
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission

I watch their images flicker
Bringing light to a lifeless screen
I walk through
Their beautiful buildings
And I wish I had their dreams

But dreams don’t need
To have motion
To keep their spark alive
Obsession has to have action
Pride turns on the drive

It’s cold comfort
To the ones without it
To know how they struggled
How they suffered about it

If their lives were
Exotic and strange
They would likely have
Gladly exchanged them
For something a little more plain
Maybe something a little more sane

We each pay a fabulous price
For our visions of paradise
But a spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission

Rush, “Mission” from the album “Hold Your Fire”
My old classroom

Thinking About: In the Beginning

Over the weekend, I was having a linear conversation on Discord with a new-ish Pagan over my personal start down my Pagan Path. All of it started over a personal lament over how difficult it seems to be to navigate the deep waters of what kind of Pagan one can be. I completely grok the perspective, as well as sympathize with the real struggle of finding one’s footing. Of course, there is a bit of difference between our stories. I started down my Pagan Path in 1986. A very pronounced difference compared to here in the late 2010s and early 2020s. Information is more widely available here in the digital age. People are far more open about their beliefs. There are also more Pagans today than there were back in the mid-1980s.

As I write this post, my music program (the rather vile Apple iTunes) has Dokken currently playing – a particular favorite of mine from the mid-1980s. The music does put me in the frame of mind to remember back to that time.

I graduated all-boys Catholic high school in 1984, a year later than I should have. Thanks to my family moving all over Europe, and then returning to Alabama for my father’s last few years in the Air Force, I was missing a few credits from the lower levels of my four years of high school – specifically Louisiana Civics, and a requisite two classes of language. While I walked through high school graduation with my class, my diploma was a blank piece of paper until I could attain the two classes I was missing: Louisiana Civics, and a Government class, both of which I achieved in Summer school sessions with students from the public school system. Here, I was exposed to the idea of alternative beliefs.

Being a “loner”, as well as being classified as “weird” by most of my classmates, I fell into the same daily routine that I had in high school: essentially being alone. However, my appearance: long hair, Hair band t-shirts, torn jeans, and a battered black-and-white checkered Vans, pointed me towards the goth folk that hung out in one corner of the second-floor atrium. Their interest in me increased when they realized that I was one of the Catholic school kids. Here, I was introduced to the aspects of Satanism, tantric approaches, Wicca, and other non-mainstream concepts. Once Summer school ended, my life went back to “normal”, until I joined the military. Here, I continued to research these non-mainstream perspectives until I ran across two books: The Spiral Dance by Starhawk, and the much more influential (for me) Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler. These two books, along with the myriad of local electronic Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) that I would call into, cracked open my worldview a little further. Not only did I find a myriad of other resources to learn from, I found people to meet and talk with in person.

Back in the mid-1980s, which also harkened the Satanic Panic, there were very few resources available – mostly books, and magazines and newsletters such as the Green Egg. Any other information tended to be passed around by word of mouth. In today’s environment, there is a lot more material available, thanks to the advent of the internet. Being a solo Pagan is much easier today because of the depth and breadth of available information. Back in the mid-1980s, the dearth of such information usually meant that a new Pagan had to reach out to a local group, learning things in that Tradition’s perspective only. In my opinion, it was much more difficult to find your own footing than it is today. I grok that many folks would disagree with me and point out that new Pagans are more likely to be more confused and scattered in their Pagan practice because of the lack of a solid anchor to work from. Certainly, there is an argument to be had in both ways. However, which is “right” and “correct” really depends on how the practitioner feels about their own personal footing within Paganism as they are experiencing. Some will say that the solo methodology of today makes Pagans with a much shallower practice. I can grok that perspective, except its not for my to judge what is and is not “deep” practice for someone else compared to my own practice. Besides, personal Spirituality is not a competition for me. I hope we all will win, regardless of our own individual Paths.

One thing that I didn’t enjoy about those early days on my Path was that your ability to advance in knowledge all depended on how your “teachers” felt that you were progressing. Much of that didn’t rely on the knowledge that you attained and worked with. A lot of that went into how well you stroked the egos of your “teachers” and how well your personality mixed and meshed with theirs. However, being a solo Pagan today means that you get to pick and choose from topics and perspectives. You can avoid the topics you don’t want to be in, meaning that some of your training and learning can be unbalanced. Take, for instance, my reluctance to deal with spell work. Much of that comes from perceiving spell work as something similar to a nuclear weapon: , it is nice to have in the fold, but its usage as more of a deterrent. I continue to choose to set it to the side. Certainly, if I had stronger training in its usage, my perspective would be very, very different. Thus, I believe that there are strengths and weaknesses to both the trained and solo approaches to things.

Back in the beginning of our conversation on Discord, I had been asked which perspective I preferred. Well, if you go back through the blog, you will see that much of my approach to my Paganism is very unorthodox. I even acknowledge that in my approach. Is it the proper approach? For me, yes. But many others require a much more organized and orthodox approach. There is nothing wrong with that either. Really, this is a matter orthopraxy versus orthodoxy, or so I have been told. For me, its just picking a style that works best for you. I love Dokken. Not everyone does. It’s a matter of personal taste and style. If that’s the same as orthopraxy versus orthodoxy, cool. If its not…that’s cool too. I’m not a theologian of any sort. I’m just me. Some need the feel of theology and all the terms associated with it. Cool. That’s not me; however.

I still hold to the perspective that today’s new Pagans have so much more information at their fingertips than the Pagans of my initial period of “newbie-ness” had. That depth of information provides them a open avenue towards being a solo Pagan. Most solo Pagans during my “new” period in the mid-1980s did so because they had far fewer Pagans near them. The wider base of knowledge, coupled with the way the internet has narrowed the communication gap with one other, provides greater capacity and capability for these solo Pagans (which I am one of, by choice). But really, none of that is wrong. How you come to your Pagan Path is your choice, and your choice alone. Your initial steps on your Path will be ringed with confusion. I remember how confusing my first three years on my Pagan Path was. So, I do grok that feeling – far better than many folks will realize. The difference for me were teachers and friends that I had to talk about things along with the way. Without them, my Path might not have been possible. I am eternally grateful that they were there – and are still there – when I have need. I only hope that my own counsel, perspective, and friendship has been as helpful to them.

–T /|\

Thinking About: Pagans v. Christians, Why Can’t We Be Friends?

A few weeks ago, I took a walk in the local park. While walking, I came across a group of other people that were walking on the park’s trail as well and was invited to walk with them. Well, with new people, we all started talking and reaching out on various topics – just trying to get a feel for who we all were. Eventually, our conversations turned towards religious beliefs. I brought up that I was a Druid and a Pagan, and one of the ladies kept giving me this weird, panicked look. As I gently explained what a Druid and a Pagan were, as well as how I viewed both perspectives, I finally stopped and asked her if I was upsetting her.

“You are.”

“I’m sorry. That wasn’t my intention.”

“I know, but now we can’t be friends.”

Her fellow walkers started telling her that she was acting stupidly. I stepped in a little closer to continue the conversation on a lower tone.

“I don’t understand. Why can’t we be friends?”

“Because you’re a Satanist, and I’m a Christian.”

“Let’s have a seat for a few minutes,” I gestured to the nearby park bench. The three of them sat down on the bench. I sat down on the sidewalk. “I’m not a Satanist. I’m a Pagan. Pagans are not Christians. Satanists are anti-Christians and part of the Christian beliefs.” I saw her immediately take several steps backwards mentally. “That’s a more complicated discussion though. Let’s stick to why we can’t be friends.”

Over the course of the discussion, her point had been that Christians and Pagans are supposed to hate one another. I asked where that written rule was because no one supplied that to me when I was given all the rules of being a Pagan. I quickly assured her I was being sarcastic with this point. Our discussion continued with a lot of point, counterpoint but at the end of it, we hugged. We have done a few more park walks since then, and our conversations have continued. All of it has provided a lot of nice examination of both of our points of view.

All of that has led me to think a bit along the lines of why Christians, Pagans, and other religious viewpoints must find ways to dislike one another. Much of this takes me back to when I first started down the Path on my Pagan journey. I had the horrible habit of preaching to my Christian co-workers about the damages that their people did to mine (Pagans). Gods, I was insufferable. Enough so that it became necessary to move me to an entirely new shift, which was populated with charismatic Evangelical preachers, who preceded to make my life a living Hell. I learned from that to keep my mouth shut about my beliefs, but I still harbored against Christians for what had been done to Pagans so long ago.

Eventually, I was transferred overseas, where I kept my beliefs a little quieter among my co-workers until one Halloween weekend, the Stars and Stripes newspaper – read all over Europe – published a center-spread article called “Practicing Pagans”. I was featured in two photos. Even with my last name misspelled, it was easy to realize it was me. My first day back to shift after that weekend, and I was in front of my duty section supervisor, being questioned about what being in that article meant. Some of my fellow duty section co-workers were positive – others not so much.

All of that was a good twenty years ago or more. Over that time, I have come to realize that what was done to Pagans so long ago during the inquisition cannot be laid at the feet of Christians today. However, what has happened to Pagans and their families in more modern times, such as the Satanic Panic of the 1980s (which arguably persists to this day), can be laid at their feet. However, the Satanic Panic is not real. Most of it is pure fantasy from the minds of people who fear that which they don’t understand. If you look back to the time just after 9/11/2001, you will find much the same attitude by these same Christians towards individuals of the Muslim faith, as well as those who are of middle eastern lineage but not of the Muslim faith. Many of these Christians that act in such atrocious ways are consumed with the End-Times scenarios – looking for a way that this world can end, so that they can move on to the life afterwards that they believe is promised them. Looking for Satanic invasions, and ways that the world can end are meant to be “signs” that will hasten judgment on others and provide them with the magical after-life they imagine will be there for them. In the meantime, this world continues to spin, and those co-called “signs” continue to prove to be fantasies of unimagined proportions.

So why all the hate and anger aimed at those who are not Christians, and those who do not fall into their same-sex manifestations of what is right? Well, I tend to agree with those that say that it is far easier to hate than it is to love. Plus, that hate fuels their narrative. Why does it go the other way too? Why do some Pagans hate Christians of any stripe? Well, most likely its because a Christian did something to them or to a family member. That’s my best guess. Honestly, beyond that guess, I don’t know. I’ve refused to be a part of all of that.

My perspective changed when I realized that by feeding the cycle of anger and hate between a Christian and Pagan perspective did nothing that was worth my time and energy. It took a little while to get my walking friend to understand where I was coming from, but she soon understood what I was getting at. I also took the time to understand her perspective too. Without judgment. Without emotion. As a human being she deserved that much respect within the conversation. In the end, she asked if I was going to change her perspective on things. I told her that changing her opinion/perspective would have to start with her, not mine. Just as it took my constant observation, talking with others, and understanding how things came about for me to change my own.

All the anger marshalled up between Christians and Pagans is a complicated ball of energy and emotions. Does it ever dissipate? I don’t know. That’s a question beyond my understanding and comprehension. I do; however, hope so. Probably not in this lifetime or even the next, but I do hope so.

–Tommy /|\