Being a Druid and a Pagan always brings some of the zaniest notions from family, friends, co-workers – even neighbors. I have been asked if I roast small children over a fire pit in my backyard by a few hardcore right-wing nutjobs that claim to be Christians. I have been told that I am doing Satan’s bidding in the current world. Those statements typically get a smile and a shake of my head as a response. I have found that anything beyond that only encourages more vitriol from those folks. However, I do get questions from the above-mentioned group of folks that are fun to answer and provoke some interesting and nice conversations.
When I was teaching at the community college, I never hid the fact that I was a Druid and a Pagan. I didn’t advertise it, but students can be some truly resourceful information gatherers. One student approached me after class as I was walking in the parking lot to my truck. “Why all the emphasis on trees? Why is nature so important?” I beckoned him to follow me to the truck. I popped the tailgate, so we had a place to sit, and I started to relate my reasoning for that emphasis, as it occurred to me.
Thinking back to that moment, I realized it might be fun, informative, and a good exercise for me to backtrack to this conversation. However, it will just be a one-sided “conversation” here with the blog. Hopefully, you will allow me this indulgence.
To be able to articulate the perspective behind “Why Nature? Why trees?”, I have to start a lot further back. I didn’t grow up in the United States, for the most part. My father was active-duty Air Force, and we moved around a lot. A lot of my younger years come from living in Germany. My father enjoyed Germany and its culture, plus he married my mom – a German citizen. We were always close to family. We participated a lot in German culture, particularly in Volksmarching. I knew the term for this form of non-competitive fitness walking as Volkswanderung, and I really enjoyed participating it. Most 10km, 20km, and 30km trails went through the countryside near various towns. I remember walking along the trails in farming fields, along streets in towns, and through dense forested areas, which Germany has in quite an abundance of. Later, when I got stationed in Germany as an active-duty Air Force member, I recall marveling how the populace would avoid growth, to preserve the forested areas between towns. During my walks in the woods, both as a child and as an adult, I always felt a sense of calm and easiness when walking through the wooded areas. I always felt at home there. During my adult years there, I even found the time to reach out to the Spirits of Place within the forest. Those Spirits felt so old and ancient – and at a few times it felt like They were just ignoring me. Like people come and go at such a fast pace, that Their attention towards humans was just not warranted.
Prior to my Air Force time in Germany, I spent the mid-to-late 1980s at Carswell Air Force Base in Forth Worth, Texas. At that time, the Dallas/Fort Worth concrete jungle had not completely formed as it is today. There were wooded fields between Fort Worth and Arlington (to the east). Living in Fort Worth was like living in a small city that was out on its own. No huge worries. If I needed a dose of nature, it was not a big drive to get to it. In 1994, when I returned from Germany and was ending my career in the Air Force, the Dallas/Fort Worth had changed a bit. I have watched it grow into the concrete jungle that it is today. Every time I go through the main population area of the DFW metro-mess (my term for it), it does not take long for me to feel disconnected from the natural world around me. When I was living in Houston a few months back, I felt much the same way. While I understand why people live in large metropolitan areas, I have come to understand that its not for me. Where I live now, I’m in a rural area. For me, its very easy to reach out and connect with the natural aspects of the world around me.
Still, why nature? Why the trees? As I noted, I feel more at home in such an environment. I have dreams – or goals, if you prefer – of returning to Germany and walking through stretches of the Black Forest that I had played in before. I had that same feeling when I visited Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming. Each moment felt so serene, so peaceful, so perfectly in tune with what I needed. For me, these natural spaces within our modern, plastic, steel, and concrete world are important. These spaces allow people to reach back to feelings of simpler times. When man lived with Nature and did not attempt to dominate Nature and bend it to the greed of a few. For me, time in places where man has not bent the environment to his will, those are moments where I can recharge my soul. Where I can ground and center myself. Where I can lean back into the grasses and watch the skies above change from light to dark. Where I can easily see the stars in the far-flung Universe above without having to fight the light-pollution generated by the concrete cities that never sleep.
I know. Many folks will point out the romantic and over-blown notions that I hold on to. After all, I live in a heated and air-conditioned home, even out here beyond the growing reach of the greater metro area. I have a grocery store where I can gather food stuffs that are already caught, cultivated, and processed for my consumption. I am not trying to become a survivalist or anything along those thoughts. I admit that I have that part of the “modern” human with me, and without that, I would be hard-pressed to adapt to a different way of living. However, getting out into Nature – away from the amenities of modern living – allows me to take a few moments to commune in a manner that I find to be deeper and more comforting. I don’t need that every day, but I do need it from time to time.
Perhaps the way I go about all of this might some hypocritical to some or unnecessary to others. However, I live my life as I need to. I’m not here trying to reach the accolades and praise of others, according to the manner that what I do matches their efforts. I applaud them for what they do, how they approach things from their own perspective. I have no desire or need to deride them if their efforts do not match mine. Everyone does things according to their own needs, abilities, and desires. How all that works for them is not for me to judge. Rather, I would prefer if a few of them would come around the campfire, so we can talk or maybe just listen to the sounds of the night or watch the stars above. I find that to be far more desirable than arguing over who is doing something right or wrong in communing with their environment. In fact, I prefer that over arguing over a whole slew of things. And if no one joins me? Well, the trees don’t argue or deride anyone over their choices. Plus, you must be quiet to hear the conversations through the rustling leaves and branches. Just thinking about that brings a huge smile to my face.
Why don’t you protest things more often? Don’t you care about what happens??
I cannot count the number of times I have been asked about this. When the Black Lives Matter protests were in full swing, I was frequently questioned on why I did not participate in the protests that took place all over the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. At times, it seemed that I was being accused of not being responsive enough (or at all) to the movement – thus providing the assumption that I didn’t care. There are other movements and protests that I have surreptitiously avoided providing support for, which creates the assumption that I don’t care. I have seen these “charges” laid against other individuals within the Pagan community as well.
Probably the first thing to step up to the plate is the notion that if someone doesn’t protest in your cause that they don’t care. This is an easy dichotomy to fall into. I call it the “Us versus Them” theory or perspective. You can find this divisive mindset all throughout the wider cultural spectrum. In the movie “Ben-Hur”, Ben-Hur’s childhood friend Messala presses for Ben-Hur to name the Jews that are speaking out against the Roman occupation. When he refuses to do so, Messala exclaims that “You’re either with me or against me.” In 2001, then President Bush made an appeal to the United Nations for all countries to supply something in the effort against the war on terrorism. He noted that some countries didn’t want to contribute troops, which was understandable. He noted that they could, instead, contribute intelligence-sharing. “Over time it’s going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” Even the Bible makes mention of this divisive trope. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30). For those looking to statements such as this for support in their desired “Us versus Them” paradigm will not find me among the fold.
I prefer to follow a different path in my thinking.
You should have disagreements with your leaders and your colleagues, but it becomes immediately a question of questioning people’s motives, and if immediately you decide that somebody who sees a whole new situation differently than you must be a bad person and somehow twisted inside, we are not going to get very far in forming a more perfect union.
William J. Clinton’s Dole Lecture at University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, archive.news.ku.edu. May 21, 2004
I know that President Clinton is not a popular figure in the overall spectrum of things. However, disregarding his sexual exploits, I admire his approach to conversation on difficult topics. Rather than completely avoiding the difficult conversations that allow us to determine a deeper consideration of an individual perspective, President Clinton urges that finding the middle ground is more important. Middle ground is a place where everyone can agree on the same point and explore differences from this perspective. In that manner, the common ground is the tie that binds everyone’s exploration together. For instance, the Left/Right divide here in the United States. Both sides have a love for what this country is about, and a respect for the laws that have been set up to govern the country. It’s the interpretation of that governance; coupled with very different views of what a future America would look like, that create the division that we currently labor through. We hyper-focus on the differences rather than anchoring ourselves back to the perspective that should unite us. That hyper-focus and uber-vigilance towards a future vision has driven the deepest wedge between two political perspectives.
So, bringing this all back around – why am I reluctant to head out into the streets to protest? Because I would prefer to find a way to achieve the middle ground between the two sides. However, over the last decade or so, it has become increasingly difficult to find members of either side that are willing to communicate and compromise. Its either this way or that way – or all-out war. This way or that way do nothing to ratchet down the tensions that are prevalent. Nor does going to one side or the other solely for a solution provide an answer. At this point, I hold my middle ground, and hunker-down in place – to survive.
Turning to the “you don’t care” commentary, I understand where that comes from. I don’t care enough about your pet cause to provide any appropriate feedback for you. I understand the easy stance of believing me to be against you and not caring about you. For me, its not that simple. I can disagree or even be ambivalent to your cause, and still care about you. Your pet cause is not you. I am more interested in you and your well-being. I can understand that this may rub people the wrong way, but I look at the person first, and their pet cause last. Not sure how else to put that, so I hope that makes sense to whoever winds up reading this.
Over the last decade-plus, I have watched politics invade every single corner of our daily lives. We take political sides over schoolbooks, brutal policing issues, and seemingly everything else. I have my ideas of how the government should be run here in the United States. However, I am just one voice of many. Others have different ideas than I do. The difference? I’m not willing to bloody someone’s nose, knock out their teeth or take their life because they don’t see my way as being correct. I can only hope that there are many others that would think this way as well. However, after January 6th – I just can’t be completely assured of that. To me, that is a scary prospective indeed.
So, you have started working your way through Paganism. Your first steps were exciting. You met some wonderful people. You have had the most experiences at a few Pagan gatherings. Now you are trying to figure out what group to commit to. Or should you? You start reaching and pulling for rules. Anything that might be helpful in navigating the road you are on. However, your anxiety is building up and you are having this feeling that you do not have control of the wheel.
Sound familiar? This did to me. The above narrative is not typed word-for-word the way it was presented to me in Email. However, this is what was presented to me well over three months ago. The individual and I have traded quite a few Emails back and forth, but I will respectfully withhold the identity of the individual – despite being given permission that came across as being hesitant to me.
When I first got the Email, I felt the difficult feelings I had over the first year of my journey into Paganism. I offered the same starting point I was given – the late Margot Adler’s amazing tome – “Drawing Down the Moon”. I explained the difference between the original and expanded editions (urging that the expanded version should be chosen, but in the end it was still the individual’s choice, not mine). A week later, I was asked for more, and offered up Philip Carr-Gomm’s “What Do Druids Believe?” and noted all the books listed in the reference section of both Adler’s and Carr-Gomm’s works. “These are the springboards into finding out what works for you,” was my additional comment.
Our traditional – and very linear – conversation has led to many other roads and tracks. Music, art, ritual, clothing, how to deal with the mundane world… Re-reading through our discussions, it had never occurred to me all the various things that new Pagans must wander through. None of that even addresses the over-consumerism effect that starting down a new Path can have on an individual. Believe me, books, clothing, travel to rituals, training materials from your chosen tradition/group – even those must-have, gorgeous crystal balls that you could haul down to the local bowling alley…all of that costs a lot of money, even if you make the clothing yourself. All of that can really drive you straight to the workhouse. I mean, we all must be good little Pagans purchasing everything in sight, right? Right?
In a simple word – Yes. But only to a point. If you are trying to decide between that new book from an author you adore (I have several on my list but three that are always tops) and your rent – pay your fucking rent! I know quite a few Pagans that continue down the consumerism tract – and that works for them. But to be honest, you don’t have to buy that cool chalice for your rituals – a Red Solo cup works just as well. Save your money up and buy a chalice when your are financially capable of doing so. The same goes for any ritual tool you can think of. Remember, you must survive, even in this corporate-mad environment that we currently live in. Splurge when you have the capability to do so. In the meantime, just make it work with what you have. Trust me, the Gods don’t care about all the trappings…well, most of the time. Just handle things the best that you can without driving yourself into the arms of the workhouse.
Eventually, our conversations have turned towards choosing a particular Pagan Path, as well as what type of Tradition to look at. Admittedly, the choice being made was Wicca. Not a Path that I claim to know a ton about, but I provided some advice on choosing a Tradition – try things out with Tradition members when you feel comfortable. Look into more than one. Be open to the idea of striking out on your own. Trust your instincts. The last point I made is a self-deprecating one, which I know many people hate when I do that. Even the advice I give to you might be wrong. Because I am not empirical fact for anyone, except myself. And even that is debatable.
I have always viewed myself to be more of a modern-day Ferryman in the Pagan world. You climb in my boat, and I do the best I can to get you to a point where you can do for yourself. I did the same for this individual. I provided Email introductions to a few Wiccan High Priestess that I know (asking if they would be willing to help with the individual’s informal education beforehand) and have settled into a more background role in this person’s Path.
Very few us on our Pagan paths came here first. Very few of us chose this as our first Path. Naturally, we bring a lot of baggage from other Paths – mostly Christian and Southern Baptist in nature. I came from a very conservative Catholic perspective. Naturally, I have my own baggage that I carry as well. Take, as a singular example, my dislike for the term “Priest”. I have struggled with that the entire time I have been on this Path and will likely struggle with it until I pass on beyond the veil. For many of us, it will take some time to grapple with the changes between one Spiritual Path and another. In some cases, we may never completely shed our understanding of our new Spirituality because of things we were taught in our childhood Spirituality that was imprinted upon us by our parents. For many, including myself as I noted, it will likely be a life-long struggle. No need to beat myself up over that point. I will have my struggles. There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be days in between. One step at a time.
Having been a classroom instructor, I have always marveled at the moment when the “aha!” lightbulb goes on for a student. That moment is easy to see. The student suddenly seems to have an intense moment of clarity and understanding. Well, working through things in Email, I had my own “aha!” moment. I believe I have a better understanding of the difficult, rocky path that new Pagans have. Their footing is never sturdy as they scramble up the somewhat steep side of the mountain before them. It will take them time to navigate their way to a more well-traveled Path. They will stumble and fall at various points on their Path. But with a little encouragement and patience from someone who has been there before, they will manage that difficult terrain. I can’t walk the terrain for them. That’s for them to manage. I can provide some tips on how to achieve better footing or what area of the terrain might be more useful for them. I can also applaud their efforts and encourage them to continue when they have fallen. I can’t take away the bloody knee or scraped skin, but I can let them know that someone gives a shit at how they are doing. And if they happen to decide to go a complete different Spiritual Path – even falling back to their old Path, I can be there to congratulate them on their effort and experience.
To be certain, Paganism isn’t for everyone. Just like Christianity, Judaism, the Muslim faith, Buddhism, and any other faith are not for everyone. The obstacles that new Pagans can be faced with may not seem to be amazing or difficult, but for some these choices can be paralyzing, especially when they are coming from a Path that encourages everyone to be alike, purchase the same things, eat at the same fast food chains….having choices can be a paralyzing moment too. Not every Pagan will have the patience to deal with newbies who are going through these issues. Me? I try my best. But I have never been perfect.
I love talking to folks who are new to the Path of Paganism. Regardless of their age, I have always found it to be a wonderful experience to feel the excitement that they have for what they have (apparently) stumbled upon. Feeling all that energy that they churn up over their new first steps is some amazing stuff. I have always thought that it would be great to bottle that feeling up and sell it online. I would probably pass gates and Musk in valued monetary worth. LOL
I still remember my first steps in Paganism. How excited I felt about finding something that properly fit the way that I believed. Over time, I have realized that it does not always fit properly. Its not an air-tight fit, but then it never was meant to be one. In the beginning, there was a lot of confusion over what direction to pick. The lady that introduced me to Paganism handed me all kinds of books to read, but the first one she handed me is one I continue to run to over and over. The late-Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon” was my first steps into the wider world. The first time I read it, I realized that Paganism was a lot broader than I had realized.
Wiccans, Witches, Druids, Goddess worshippers… honestly, I was overwhelmed. My first time reading DDtM was like trying to drink from a fire hose that was attached to a high-pressure hydrant. There was a lot of information to take in, but I could only get small drops of it at a single time.
Now, I have written at some detailed length about my first steps on my own Pagan Path. My confusion, my exploration, my decisions…. all that is littered throughout the blog. However, I really have not written much about the next steps. My first five to six years on the Pagan Path were akin to trying to find your way through a forest during a dense fog. The real formation for the foundation of the pagan I have become came in the next four years.
Once I started to find my feelers through the world of Wicca, I started to realize that this was not the Path for me. No matter what Tradition I decided to study with, or whatever author I picked up – the emphasis on spell work was always a constant. For me, it did not take long for me to realize that spell work was not for me. At least not as a first-choice tactic towards solving problems or figuring out issues. For me, spells (and curses) are like nuclear weapons in the military. You keep it in your arsenal, but you try to find all kinds of solutions to keep from using it. Yes, I hear the groans and grumblings of those who disagree with that statement. Honestly? That is perfectly fine. That is the way those folks step towards such matters and issues. However, its not mine.
So, I set Wicca and Witchcraft into the rear-view mirror and started exploring elsewhere. Druidry, Ceremonial Magick, general Paganism… nothing seemed to fit. So, I struck out on my own. I decided to blaze my own trail through Paganism and develop my own way through Paganism. However, I kept studying other directions while I was doing this, and eventually stumbled across Druidry (again). This time, I had a different perspective. Seeing this with a new-ish set of eyes, I started to understand how I could work within the framework of Druidry, and still walk my own Path. Thus, here I am.
Now, that all worked for me. The chances are quite real that this won’t work for someone else. We’re all individuals on our personal Spiritual Paths. We all experience everything from a different perspective. There are similarities between everything, even Christianity and other Spiritual Paths. But each vantage point can only be occupied by a single individual at a single time. At least that’s my theory.
Confused yet? Yeah. That was (and still is) a constant feeling that I encountered along my own Path of Understanding. Typically, I step on the brakes, park my Spiritual beliefs at the side of the road, and get out a blanket and some food to sit and contemplate things. Most of the time, I will find a way to remove some of that confusion. Most of the time. Sometimes, I remain confused. Either way, I eventually pack things back up, get back in my Spirituality car and get back on the road.
Still confused? If so, that’s only a natural response. My imagery works for me, not necessarily for everyone else. However, much of where I am at now comes from a singular piece of advice that Gardnerian Wiccan in the US Army offered to me at a ritual I attended in a forested area near Kaiserslautern, Germany.
Your footsteps are yours alone. What you see is what is processed by your brain for you only. You can describe the feeling of the Path under your feet. You can describe what you see. Everyone will interpret what you say differently according to their own experiences and biases. Don’t be confused or angry when others don’t feel or experience the same way.
Ivy was kind enough to relate that perspective to me that night. What she told me resonated with me then and still does to this day. My only wish is that I knew that back in my first five to six years on my Pagan Path. But then, if I had known that, I would have had far different experiences on my own Spiritual Path – and who knows how different a Pagan I would be today.
When Pagans, particularly those fairly new to their own Pagan Path, hear that I have been on my Path for close to thirty-five years – well, its only natural to come and ask how I have walked my Path. Ivy’s statement is a good one to give, and I have done that on a few occasions. However, I have a larger tendency to just respond with “Be curious, be open-minded, and find Joy in your Path.” Sometimes, I get the feeling that wasn’t the answer that they might be looking for. Sometimes, I am even told just that. But I am not some Pagan guru that is sitting on top of a mountain waiting for students or seekers of information to find me. I’m a student and a seeker of information too. The only difference is that I happen to have been on this search/quest much longer. That doesn’t make me wiser, smarter, or better than anyone else.
The immortal Jimi Hendrix once wrote:
If you can just get your mind together Then come on across to me We’ll hold hands an’ then we’ll watch the sun rise from the bottom of the sea But first Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced? Well, I have
“Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix
The real question to ask basically boils down to what do you mean by “experienced”? Depending on how you explain that, well I have. That still doesn’t make me better than the person just taking their first steps on their own Pagan Path this morning.
I am not much of a news watcher, especially after the way the news agencies have devolved from news platforms into opinion launching platforms. I always had bright light shining out of that darkness. That would be Brooke Baldwin. When Brooke took the anchor chair for the mid-to-late afternoon broadcast section on CNN, I was hooked. A pretty smile coupled with a “facts only” manner of presenting the news, she became my go-to option for the news. During these times of COVID, where I have basically lived within the house and rarely head outside, I always found comfort in watching her broadcast times. As CNN has devolved into the center-left version of MSNBC and Fox News, Brooke always held to her “just the facts” broadcast style. Brooke’s broadcasts wound up being my comfort food for the news. After nearly eleven years in her position, last week marked Brooke’s last on CNN. She wasn’t fired or let go. She resigned, leaving on her own terms. With her last three minutes on the air, she said goodbye, which you can watch here.
In that goodbye, Brooke makes the final comment that we need to get uncomfortable. Her challenge was aimed towards women rising to the challenge of being equals in the workplace – finding their collective voices, and not being afraid to speak up. I sat and thought through what Brooke had said and realized that her challenge was something I could incorporate into my own Spirituality going forward. Not just from a perspective of raising the voices of women throughout Paganism, but also raising our own voices on difficult topics. That it was beyond time to start having the uncomfortable discussions here on the blog – and elsewhere. So, with that in mind, a cup of coffee to one side of the laptop, a bag of mixed nuts on the other, and Pat Metheny playing on the Bluetooth speaker; I set out on that journey.
Within Paganism we have a lot of issues that we simply gloss over. There are a few people who have stepped out into the open to initiate the discussions. Some have been more successful than others. Me? I have stayed in the shadows. My movement towards such subjects has been tepid at best. My approach to Paganism has been that what I do within Paganism is my business. How others approach Paganism is theirs. That still applies. However, I do have some hard lines I just cannot cross. Some of what I will see through this exploration will come off as a bit judgmental. That’s not the point. Rather, in doing these types of explorations, I am trying to find where my own boundaries get drawn. In setting much of this out here on the blog, the idea is to stimulate conversation and thought. And not necessarily even conversation between me and someone else. But conversation. Some of what I will write over the long point of exploration will not be hard and fast boundaries for me either. I change and grow like anyone else does. My perspective can be altered on some topics.
So, I’m about five-hundred words in at this point. Where do I start? There are so many different directions to go. Well, let’s start off a little simple, at first. Acceptance of other beliefs.
Over thirty-plus years, I have watched many, many Pagans rail against Christianity. Some of it is rightful anger. Some of it comes across as a knee-jerk reaction to becoming a Pagan. You know. Paganism is right because I practice it. Christianity is wrong because they want to destroy all other faiths. This is a convenient “Us verses Them” dichotomy that plays out nearly everywhere in our lives. When the United States is in a war with another country, people of that country are evil. Those people are hell-bent on destroying the American way of life. That kind of rhetoric makes whipping up the winds of war very easy. Particularly when linked with Patriotism towards the country. I saw a lot of it when I was in Desert Shield/Storm. I see a lot of it in today’s Left/Right political dichotomy.
The paradigm of “Us versus Them” is an easy one to embrace. We have had paraded throughout our lives. Sports rivalries. Race issues. Politics. Nationalistic pride. There is nothing wrong with this perspective, so long as it is balanced against the perspective that the folks on the other side are human beings and deserve the same dignity and respect that we ask for. After all, if you are looking for dignity and respect, you must provide it just as much as you ask for it. Demand dignity and respect, but not provide it from those you demand it from…well, we have watched wars erupt over such differences.
We Pagans are no different from the Christians. We all breathe air the same way. We live our lives very similarly. We love others in much the same manner. We just disagree on our approach to Spirituality and the Divine. Christians cling to a particular passage in their Bible that states that Christians must convert others to the Christian faith. Their doctrine teaches that those that are not Christian will be sent to their idealized perspective of a “bad place” when their God calls them back to Heaven. To that degree it is hard to deal directly with the idea that Christians want to destroy all the other faiths. I can grok where others would see that. But not every Christian is that way. Certainly, the loud and aggressive ones are, but not all Christians are like that.
Over my time as a Pagan, I cannot count the number of times I have dealt with aggressive and loud Christians. You know, the kind that want to take their beliefs and shove those straight up your ass. As if forcing a stubborn, independent-minded individual such as myself will have positive results. However, I have seen the other side of all this as well. The rabid, foaming-at-the-mount, fundamentalist Pagan. The one that wants to shove the Burning Times down the throat of every Christian that they meet or hang it around their necks like a scarlet letter. If you go back to my very earliest days of being a Pagan, I was one of those. I demanded respect from those of other beliefs. My beliefs were just as valid as theirs. However, practitioners of my belief had to stay hidden because the Christians out there would set the police and the justice system on to us, like a pack of rapid dogs at the hunt. I still cringe inwardly when remembering that part of me.
Shouting my beliefs does not make those beliefs any more valid than if I quietly had my say, and then walked away. In fact, shouting my beliefs would likely be a major turn-off to anyone that I was trying to convey my message to. I know that I stop listening to those Christians who have a need to shout their beliefs at me or make physical threats to me. Or even threatening me with eternal damnation. All I wanted to do was find some common ground from which we could have a discussion, not a debate.
I have many friends within the Pagan community who have come out of abusive situations from within the Christian church. I am not going to out any one of these individuals by telling their stories. Besides, those are not my stories to tell. But they are my friends, and I will stand right next to them whenever they need me to be there. My support does not need to be loud and angry. My support needs to be gentle, kind, and take whatever form they need at that moment. They have a right to their anger towards their former faith. I do cringe when they start into their venting at what had been done to them. I feel their pain. I feel their anger. I feel their sorrow. I feel their sense of betrayal. Likewise, I have friends who have left Paganism because of the same issues. Rest assured, Paganism has much the same issues of abuse of authority as the Christians do. Much like the Christians, we have a lot of internal cleanup to do.
So, what do we do? How should we do it? When should we do it? Well, a lot of those answers are going to depend on you, and what you are willing/capable of doing. For me, the start of everything comes from an open, honest, and sometimes brutal discussion. How do we deal with the abuse of power within our communities? How do we handle those of other faiths that proselytize against us? How do we handle such issues as sexual abuse, pedophilia, and even illicit drug use within our communities? All sub-trails leading off from where I stand at this moment. All items that are likely to be dealt with in different ways by different people. Believe me, there are many more things to look at. This is only the springboard for me.
Now, am I trying to build some sort of rigid dogma for Paganism? Hardly. I only have control over what I do, think, and believe. I cannot, and categorically, will not do any of that for anyone else. I am, however, willing to talk, listen, and discuss issues. As I have said before, my preference for those discussions is around a fire, under a glorious starry night. In my experience, such a setting makes for ideal conversation periods over meaty topics such as these. Plus, the darkness allows us to hide our uncomfortable nature, circling back to Brooke’s original point.
I do offer one more piece of caution. Don’t get your feelings hurt when you find others who completely disagree with your perspective. Instead, tuck your feelings back a bit, and listen to their perspective. They may provide a piece of knowledge you might not have encountered, or a perspective you may have dismissed out of hand. That’s learning.
I understand the outrage over supposed Christian perspectives that can turn many Pagans from knowledge-seeking, fun-loving folks into rabid, angry individuals. However, I have come to realize that much of what is believed about Christian beliefs by many Pagans are broad-brushed strokes that are derived from much smaller groups within Christianity. Just like many Pagans are painted over with the broad-brushed strokes derived from Wicca. Perhaps, we might be better served to take a step back, and attempt to understand the perspective and motives of the Christians before we begin to condemn them outright. We might also try to remember that they are human beings too. They just happen to see things from a different perspective around the great bonfire that we call Spirituality.
Much of what I have written here comes from my heart. It also comes from thirty-plus years of scars provided to me by being a public, open Pagan. I don’t hide who I am or what I am. I am always open for a discussion about any aspect of those things. To be brutally honest, I am not engaged on topics of my Spirituality by others very often. Thus, my ability to discuss these openly with others is not always the best. Furthermore, I don’t study theology, so I am thoroughly confused by some of the terminology that grows from that area of academic study. I am not a theologian of any sort. I might be considered a Priest of some kind, or even an Elder because of the number of years I have been on this Spiritual Path. I’m just me. No different than anyone else. I have the same unanswered questions as many. I desire to explore the world around me and experience as much as I can before I shuffle off this mortal coil and on into whatever lies beyond. But above all, I prefer to find a way to co-exist on this planet with everyone. Even the hardcore Trump supporters. Because we are all people. And to understand one another, we really do need to find a way to discuss our differences, not debate the right or wrong about them. As Brooke said, we need to get uncomfortable.
Synchronicity is defined as “the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.” I have often referred to it as a “gentle nudge” from the Gods” or even as “the Universe is trying to tell me something.” This doesn’t happen often for me, so it’s not something I can put an absolute definition to. Honestly, I don’t really care to even try to define what it is at the moment. I’m not a person that gets hung up on definitions or the uber-minutiae of stuff. So long as I can grasp what’s up…well, that’s all that really matters in my thinking.
The past few weeks, I have been catching up with a lot of older friends and colleagues that I have lost touch with over the years. While we have caught up, a running theme has started to occur in our discussions. Over and over, I have been asked if I was going to head back to the classroom. Not to learn, but to teach. That is not a direction I have entertained openly. Frankly, adjunct faculty members at the collegiate level get paid bullshit wages. But I can string together adjunct positions at several colleges that have online instructor needs, to help supplement things. In a manner of speaking, I would be going full-on mercenary in the collegiate world.
Professionally, I must face some facts concerning my place in both the technology and collegiate administration worlds. I turn fifty-six this year. In the Technology world, this provides me with the moniker of being a dinosaur. Skill-wise, I am what is referred to as a trouble-shooter. In today’s vernacular, I would be classified as a generalist. If that is still confusing you think of this in terms of the statement: “jack of all trades, master of none.” In today’s marketplace, generalists are at the bottom of the structure, bottom of the pay-scale, and are the most expendable piece of the corporate structure. Furthermore, these positions are typically filled by individuals out of high school. An individual of my age, my experience, and my education (one bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees) would easily be passed over as “over-qualified”. In the collegiate administration, I find myself in a similar strait.
However, the faculty realm is a bit of a different story. Age is not a major factor. Experience is needed in your field of instruction. Mastery of a particular area is a desirable thing, but not necessarily a be-all, end-all thing. You need to know how to connect with the students over the course of your instruction with them. You need to have the ability to intelligently discuss technical issues in a way that non-technical people can understand and relate to the material. I have done all of this during the first three years I worked at the college. I still do this when I have friends that ask for technical assistance with their computers. As much as it pains my high school instructors to hear it, I’m an instructor.
Even my former faculty members have urged me to get back into the classroom. When I taught at the college, I was known for my unorthodox lessons. One semester, I utilized an entire class period to teach the students about assembly line concepts and techniques. I did that by having them build paper airplanes according to a specified set of instructions. Airplanes that were not constructed correctly were rejected at the Quality Control step. The number of correctly built airplanes at the end of ten minutes were counted. The team with the most correctly built airplanes received fifty bonus points to be split among the team members. Once the counting had been completed, and the chaotic noise had subsided, we had a conversation over what they observed during the process. Bottlenecks, the need for precision in following instructions, and the perspective of specialization on the assembly line were openly discussed. Yes, the class was an introduction to Business Information Systems, but to understand how Information systems provide information relating to business operations, they had to learn the business operations. The students loved the exercise. My team lead was not too enthusiastic, claiming it was a waste of class time, until I demonstrated it during a department meeting.
For me, teaching is not just vomiting facts, dates, and other information from a text. Teaching is about making those facts, dates, and information come to life for the students. How does all of that relate to their daily lives? Where and how does this subset of technology touch their lives? Teaching is about bringing the concepts to life in a very personal way for the student. It means that you must love explaining things, and never tire of hearing questions.
For OBOD’s Bard, Ovate, and (presumably) the Druid grades (I have not made it to Druid grade, so I can only speculate here), there are mentors that are available to help you. A place where you can ask questions of someone who has been through the lessons of that grade. Someone that can help gently guide you towards a specific way of seeing the material, without running the perspective and personal experience that it will provide. I imagine that these folks love what they do, otherwise being a mentor would be a rather unfulfilling prospectus for them. Hopefully, one day, I can step into such a role, should the Order think I am a good fit for that. I certainly would find that to be a fulfilling direction for me.
So, today, I have started re-working my resume to emphasize my perspective and experience on being an instructor. Within fifty miles of where I am right now, there are ten Community Colleges and Universities where I might be able to be added to their adjunct instructor pools. There are five or more national institutions where I can potentially find employment as an adjunct instructor. I am cautious, but hopeful of finding my place at any of these as an online instructor, or for the closer ones, being able to teach face-to-face (my preference). Instead of struggling to find a place where my skill sets may fit in, I will be looking for something where I get to do what I enjoy most – sharing my experiences with others, and getting them to understand, in a very intimate and personal manner, the information being presented to them. I feel like I am doing the same thing here on this blog. Sharing my experiences and my perspective with others. I hope you find what I write to be rewarding, informative, and thoughtful. I do enjoy writing these blog posts.
As I missed the Tuesday blog post because of medical appointments on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – I will be posting two blog posts over the weekend. I will be headed more into some of my personal “how-to” perspectives of my own Druidry and Paganism. Until Saturday (the first post)….
Yesterday, I was reading a post on the ESPN Major League baseball site about what goals the writer thought each team should have going into this season. Goals. That prompted me to start thinking about my own goals, and how to apply those to what I work on daily. And I started segmenting my life into various areas. My Professional life. My Spiritual life. My Educational direction. My physical workout direction. As I did this, the goals all started to pile up, and I realized I didn’t have enough time in the day to reach everything I wanted to get to. That felt paralyzing. However, I didn’t want things to stop there. So, I took the evening to think a bit more on all of it.
Early in all the thinking, I realized that segmenting my life might not be the best thing in the world. I have heard it referred to as compartmentalizing, where one takes certain things and separates them from others. Lately, I have begun to realize that doing this is not workable for me. While I work in data and statistics, I cannot separate that from my Druidry. My Druidry provides me insight into my analysis and finding trends in the data I work on. How everything fits together and operates together is part of how I view the entire world around me. To divorce my Druidry from my Professional life would require me to not utilize my approach to everything around me. I just cannot do that. The same holds true for my approach to my own education or my approach to being more physically fit. All of which fits together to make a more complete picture. Separating each of these into individual component parts to be approached and worked on individually would, in essence, be ignoring everything I understand about myself.
Setting My Goals
I used to keep these elaborate lists of everything that needed to be accomplished. I would even graph out specified time frames in my calendar to bracket time for completing things. A few months back, I realized that this approach was just not really working for me. I do keep lists, particularly when I am packing for a trip, but I found that this process was not really working for handling my goals. So, I turned towards a different approach. I started to set smaller, more realistic goals that I could work towards without building these elaborate lists.
As an example, my Ovate grade work has many aspects to it. There is a lot of things that need to be accomplished, a lot of approaches to be thought through. I used to mark on a calendar a time frame that I would work on each Gwers. Each time I set up this goal-oriented structure, it failed. I would find myself off-track after a short period of time. So, I altered the approach to not be so list or task structured. I work with each Gwers as I can. Sometimes, one lesson is worked through and absorbed quickly. Sometimes its not. However, I have no worries or anxiety because I no longer place time limits on my time with each one. This stuff is not a race. Now, with work related things, it’s a little different. I am not the one setting the deadlines. But I do try to approach my work in a similar vein. I do my best not to hurry.
Working (and Rocking) My Goals
I do have long-term goals. I have a desire to finish my Ovate grade and move on to the Druid grade. Its not a given that it will happen, but it is my goal and desire to do so. I am seeing a need for more education in my Professional life. I am already looking into prospects for another master’s degree, which will assist me in improving my ability to do my work. There is always a chance to better yourself. I am headed in that direction. My physical self during this time of COVID has been diminished, thanks to being held inside (mostly). I am looking at ways to improve my physical strength, as well as my diminished health. No heavy goals here, except to get healthier. I am not looking to make a certain weight or be able to ride a stationary bike at a certain speed for a certain distance. Just a desire to get healthier.
One thing I have learned is that when you set unreachable goals for yourself, your failure to reach those unattainable heights can influence your mental health. Sometimes, its far better to walk away from those unattainable goals than to continue to reach for what is constantly just out of your grasp. Believe me, that is a hard lesson to learn. Plus, it is a real head-slam when you finally understand it. The difficult part is to not beat yourself up over it. Yes, you failed. But you can always alter your approach and try again. But there are also goals that will never be attainable. Those, you need to realize for yourself, and walk away without trying again. Those are the hardest moments that you can have.
Now, I will end this with stuff that I usually say. This is a process and a set of thinking that works for me. This is not going to work for everyone. Everyone is their own individual. Everyone will have their own way of motivating themselves towards their goals. Everyone will have their own way of analyzing things. I am not writing this as an ultimate manifesto of how to do things. I write this as a potential kick-starter for others to examine their own personal processes. I am not the ultimate authority of anything, except where it pertains to myself. I do suggest that if you find yourself getting paralyzed over trying to move forward with your own personal goals…start small. Those small successes will help. For me, it provided a way of seeing that I could accomplish things. That I was able to do it. Just a thought. Your mileage will vary.
Well, its Tuesday. Time for another blog post. Still pushing through writer’s block, I was coming to this with empty pockets. However, I came across a Facebook post by Cat Treadwell, which reads (in part): “I’m undertaking more rites of Passing lately, due to the state of the world, but wanted to say again that I’m absolutely fine for my details to be passed on as needed for any such work. We’re not able to gather for celebrations yet, but officiants are still needed.” All of that got my head to working its way around a few thoughts, which are turning into this post.
Currently, we are starting to come out of the nightmare of COVID we have been living through. This morning, I realized that it was right around this time last year that we all started to become aware of COVID. One year ago, this was the time of change for all our lives. Now, we are still moving towards that finish line – the battle with COVID is far from over, despite what idiots like Texas’ Governor Greg Abbott may think, but this is the right time to stop for a moment, and determine how we move forward from here.
The Pagan community is a vast, constantly growing, constantly changing macro-organism – so pretending like I know what will and won’t work for such a widely diverse community would be the height of arrogance on my part. I am just one Pagan. One Druid. One Polytheist. I have one voice. One opinion. One dream. The reality of all of that is that I can only speak on behalf of a single person – me. But I can, point out what I believe needs to be addressed, from where I stand. It might jive with the perspectives of other people. It might not. But here goes.
Cat is pointing out something that is a reality in the wake of the forward motion of COVID. We, the wider Pagan community, will be quite likely be in the process of mourning someone in our community, immediate family or even someone that we admired from afar. For those Pagans that identify on the Path of a Priest, those roles will be more important than ever before. Generally, we tend to think of the rites of Passing when catastrophic events occur within our lives. Well, COVID is here. We’ve all focused on trying to survive, hoping that we don’t have to face the awful event of someone in our immediate sphere of existence passing from this awful disease. But it does happen. Many of our folks that are in that path of Priesthood, generally, seem to be approached at times of happiness. That is typically the rite of Handfasting. We have many members of our communities that will need comfort and assistance…and that does not have to come solely from those in the Path of the Priest.
COVID has also cut off some folks from their chosen communities. For instance, I have not seen a single member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) since I saw John Beckett at Austin WitchFest last year, sometime in April. In fact, that was the last public Pagan gathering I have attended to this day. I am sure that many others have similar stories. Being cut off in this manner can create issues of anxiety, depressive states, and feelings of extreme loneliness. As a community, we need to reach out to others…just to make sure they are ok. Reassure them that we are all still here. We are still connected, despite the distance of time. Reassure ourselves that things will come back together for everyone…even if it is a little slower than we want it to be.
Let’s face a few facts. We have not kicked COVID’s ass. Not yet. There is a distant light at the end of the tunnel, that’s for sure. We have vaccines available. I’ll be getting mine (the Moderna two-shot version) on Friday, with the second four weeks following that. Even after that occurs, I’ll still be wearing my mask in public. Just because I got the vaccine does not mean things are over and I can act like everything is back to the time before COVID showed up. Even despite what my state’s governor may say. That also means that Pagan public events should not be kicking off starting tomorrow. In fact, I believe it will be a while before even those get going again. And perhaps even longer before we start really trusting those public type of events again. That means that people who have a major social aspect to their pagan practice – and I am including myself here – will need to remain patient. We will need to remain content with the sterile virtual gatherings we have all come to understand and relate with in these times. It also means that we need to take the time to check in on everyone…making the reassurance that those connections are still there.
One day we will all be able to see one another face-to-face. We will be able to hold hands, hug one another, show each other the genuine affection we have for our people. In the meantime, we must stay vigilant, and keep ourselves safe. Not just for us, but for everyone. Yes, even that annoying Trump supporter that lives down the street. Because that dude is a human being too. A bit misguided, but still a human being.
For those on the Path of the Priest…those rites of passing are important. We need those. We need you being able to do those. Even if its just a virtual session. We need that connection. We need you to be in your role.
We all have roles within our community. Some are Priests. Some hold other roles. Some are just trying to find their own footing. Whatever the case may be, we have all been interrupted in our approaches from what has happened with COVID. We have all learned to survive on our own. We have all managed to handle our personal Spirituality on our own during these times. To whatever degree that may be, it doesn’t matter. We’ve made it here. To this point. We still have more of this lonely road to travel, but soon we will be walking it with others again. Hand-in-hand, side-by-side….together. Let’s manage these last steps with our minds on what is yet to come – and what we must do to get there.
It is no secret that most of my daily Pagan and Druid path does not include magick or even divination tools such as the Tarot. I have always had a certain level of reluctance when things start to bend in those directions, but not because I lack the ability for such things. My reticence comes from a lack of experience. That, and my strong belief that I have no need to add my own push to whatever the Universe is going to bring about. I view magick, divination, and many other aspects of the Pagan Path to be tools. But tools that are a last resort after you roll up your sleeves and get on with the work that is stacked up directly in front of you.
This is also an area that I do not readily discuss with others. As such, I do not have a lot of information to gauge against my own to determine how common my approach may or may not be. I just know that it is my own way of seeing things in the overlay of the land as it is set before me.
Oddly enough, I have had a frame of mind that equates magickal usage as something common and everyday in the life of a Pagan. Sort of like the moment where Anakin Skywalker uses his force powers to cut up food for Padmé Amidala in one of the Star Wars movies. Where magick is one of the first tools that a Pagan might reach for. This is probably a silly thought, and my approach that magick is kept as a tool of last resort is probably more appropriate and practical within the Pagan community at large. However, I have no empirical data to back up that perspective from either direction.
Not that long ago, I took some initial steps into the Tarot, which resulted in a particular interpretation of a reading that I did for myself. Well, I found out how bad I am at doing readings using the Tarot. Going back to that reading, which was done in early October of last year, I can see where I misinterpreted certain aspects because I was certainly too close to the subject matter to come back with a concrete meaning. In other words, I was too close to the forest to see the trees. That has brought me around to the notation that I am excruciatingly bad at doing Tarot readings. I have heard that doing readings for one’s self should be far easier to manage than those for others. There is no way that I would ever unleash my horrible interpretations onto others, particularly when I have become to realize how bad I am at it with myself.
However, I also now that experience helps attune one’s self to a task at hand. Thus, I am not throwing the Tarot tool into the trash and labeling it as “useless.” Rather, I have labeled it as “unrefined” at this point and have started looking at ways to fine tune what I am trying to do. I know its not the deck, The Celtic Tarot has provided good readings – particularly at one-card draws, which I have been using to refine my knowledge of the cards themselves. Perhaps, I need to look to other layouts to see what might work better for me. Or perhaps, I need to loosen up the interpretations I have made a bit more, so as not to make my readings so uber-specific. Whatever the case may be, I am trying different approaches, methodologies…and going into the future, maybe even a different card set. However, at this point, I do have to remind myself that I am the ultimate day-on novice at all of this – and not be too hard on myself over the stumbles and failures. Learning takes time. Time means patience. I am not going to be a Tarot expert over-night, that is for sure. 😊
However, all of this does remind me… everyone has these moments. Moments where they fail at something that they thought would be easy to put into practice, easy to be excellent at immediately – only to be sitting in the dust, wondering how the Nine Hells you got there. Being humbled in a manner like this is a royal kick in the pants, so to speak. But it is also a lesson. One can be confident in their ability to learn, but not so over-confident as to over-extend one’s weight over one’s skis. Yep, learned that lesson in the sixth grade. Skiing. Broke my tibia and fibula in my left leg. Wore a hip-high cast for nearly two months. My over confidence of my ability to ski was the cause of my injury. I was the only kid to suffer an injury during that trip. The only kid whose parents had to drive down to where we had gone on our trip to bring me home. For a sixth grader… it was quite a blow to the ego. Even if my fellow classmates were all more than gracious about it. There are all sorts of places you can find these little lessons…and most of them aren’t even magickal or even Pagan in nature. 😉
I will continue my journey to learn about the Tarot and how to use this tool in my daily Path. I will learn as much as I can, but I know there will be so many others that learn more than I do. That’s awesome though. Because they learned as much as they could. We are all individual from one another. Our strengths are often different. The depth of our learning in a variety of subjects is as varied as the material presented. I will eventually discover my depth in the Tarot. Right now, I have only got one toe in the water. And I can’t even tell if the water is cold or hot. At least not yet.
Today is a rainy day here in Hillsboro, Texas. As I sit here and write this blog post, I am reminded of the time of year. We are in the time of Imbolc on the Wheel of the Year. A time of new beginnings. For me, today is no different in that regard. In my life, I stand on the edge of new beginnings. I also stand at the edge of endings as well. After all, many beginnings in our lives are the start of new adventures. Much like Bilbo Baggins sprints down his Path to catch up with the dwarves on their quest to the Lonely Mountain, I find myself taking steps along a new portion of my own Path. Just as Bilbo left behind his contented life for new adventures, I leave behind pieces of my Past, and move towards a Future that holds some exciting promise towards the short-term. While a lot of other Pagan-y folks find Samhain to be the time of taking stock of how things have gone over a period of the year – essentially making Samhain akin to the secular concept of New Year’s Day – I find that this time lends itself better to my perspective of thinking.
I can understand that a lot of folks will read into this idea of new beginnings and think that I am changing and vacating my Druidry. Hardly. In fact, if anything were closest to the truth it would be that I am doubling down on who and what I am. I am a Druid. I am a Polytheist. I am a Pagan. None of that is part of any aspect of change. My approach to each; however, is subject to change. Parts of that are also in the mix of new beginnings. Much of what I am about to relay may come off like a batch of New Year’s resolutions, and that is exactly the point. Right now, my life is sitting off the railway tracks. Part of this is a process to right the train that is me, and get things rolling forward in a positive manner.
Exercise. Let’s face it. I am a chubby, out-of-shape, fifty-five-year-old man. I have underlying health conditions that are not in my favor where life is concerned. That means that I need to do better at keeping myself as healthy as I can. That means taking my medications at regular intervals, as prescribed by my doctor, eating better, and getting my fat ass out of my computer chair on a regular basis. I have already plotted a four-and-a-half-mile walk through the neighborhood, which is what I used to walk every other day when I lived up in the Corinth, Texas area. Add to that I’ll be adding some weight training, along with some stationary bike work. I know that I will probably not be able to hit every single day that I have planned for working out, and that is really “ok”. Just so long as I manage to do most of the times that I have laid out. I am not going to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Dwayne Johnson, but I will be a lot healthier than I am now.
Gwers Studies. My goal here is to be finished with my Ovate studies by the end of the calendar year at the latest. I have created a schedule for this as well, making sure that I do not push myself too hard. Recently, I have restarted my Ovate work, and am taking things very slowly and methodically. I have learned that it is far easier to move at a pace that I am comfortable with rather than push myself too hard. Pushing hard achieves burn-out status for me far too easily.
Online gatherings. This past year of COVID has taught me a lot about myself. I am a far more social creature than I had realized. Time away from Pagans that I truly love and admire has cratered my own feelings of loneliness and despair. I have eschewed online gatherings for quite some time, always sermonizing to myself that it does not replace the feelings that I have in face-to-face gatherings. The reality is that this statement is true. However, when online gatherings is all that is available during a time frame where a pandemic is raging throughout the country (much less the entire world), you work with what you have. Sure, I can grumble about it, but what is available is what is available. Today and tomorrow, I take steps in that direction with two online Imbolc gatherings.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time indoors in 2020. During that time, I managed to read three books. Three. Long past time for me to get back into that habit. Plus, I will be doing reviews on what I read from time to time. I also watched very little television and very few movies. I already have a list of tv shows to check out, as well as a grouping of movies. I seriously doubt I will be reviewing any of these, but I do need some leisure time in all of this. Plus, I purchased a Play Station 4 and am already scouting for games to play. However, I don’t want to get sucked down that rabbit hole too far. Games are nice for leisure, but I certainly don’t want these to dominate my free time.
Just as there are new beginnings for this time of year, there are also endings to be considered. Some endings are not worth the time to dwell upon, beyond acknowledging that things had happened. Others contain some important life lessons to put into perspective and think more deeply upon. Certainly, I have had some endings to things within my life. Most are quite personal, which I will not share here. Some are extremely painful to dwell on, others not so much. All have provided lessons that will help me find a better perspective towards walking my Daily Path. Some have involved people no longer being in my life, an aspect that has me mourning the loss of these folks within my life. However, life continues, and dwelling on these losses for too long of a time will stall the forward momentum I am trying to achieve. But as I stated, they will be mourned and remembered in a happier light by me.
Imbolc is a time of new beginnings. This is approximately the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The crops are growing again. Slowly, in this colder period, but the promise of lush, green growth is there. The beginnings of Spring are upon us. The beginnings of new endeavors are here as well. This is the reason that I see this time as a position where new resolutions for your daily Path can be made. The above is merely my perspective on this time of the year – my personal outlook on how I am approaching this new year. This is also a time of the year to be hopeful of what is to come…an outlook that I find encouraging with a COVID vaccine becoming more widely available. Change is certainly in the air. How you approach that is up to you.
Back when I was working through my nearly decade-long trek through the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids’ (OBOD) Bardic grade (ok, it was seven years), I would run into periods that I would call the “calm seas”. Some folks refer to this as “the doldrums” which I thought would be interesting to look up and refer to here.
The Intertropical Convergence Zone, known by sailors as the doldrums or the calms because of its monotonous, windless weather, is the area where the northeast and southeast trade winds converge. It encircles Earth near the thermal equator, though its specific position varies seasonally.
(Found as a description for the Wikipedia page for Intertropical Convergence Zone during a Google search for “doldrums”)
According to some of the information on the Wikipedia page, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” describes just how the doldrums could play havoc on ships during the so-called Age of Sail. It’s an interesting perspective, when you place it against the studies, lessons, and other aspects of one’s Druidry. About six months ago, I hit that same wall here in my Ovate studies. This time, instead of retreating and trying to restart from a previous point, I have let myself sit at this spot for six months. Several times, I have picked up the Gwers I am stuck on, only to make zero progress. I have reached my doldrums within my studies.
Back during this period (several periods of this) in my Bardic studies, I questioned whether I was on the right Path or not. This time, I know that this is the Path I should be on. However, this time I have a better idea of what the issue is. It’s my approach to my own Druidry. A few posts back, I detailed a point where my approach to Druidry set me in a position of physical danger. I took on a role I thought was correct – without being sure that I was not setting myself into unnecessary danger. But that wasn’t six months ago. Six months ago, I hit a brick wall. A few months later, I realized that it was my approach to Druidry that had me at a halt. It’s taken me a few more months to realize that this is what has me stalled.
See, my life is literally upside down right now. or at least that’s the way it feels. It could be sideways or even right-side up. My problem is that I don’t have the proper footing in my own mind to know what the correct orientation should be. Until I can manage that, I may not be able to find a straight-forward path through my studies. However, it is good that I know what the issue is. That allows me a starting point to gaining my perspective again. Once I can manage that, my forward progress through my studies will be capable again.
Why do I write this? Well, this is just one perspective of what happens when things go wrong. Sometimes, Life is going to get in the way of your studies. Sometimes, your studies are going to get in their own way. When that happens, you are likely to find yourself at a full stop. Take that stop. Grind everything to a halt. Then pick up each issue, one at a time, and find solutions. When you manage to clear the tracks for the studies to continue, take a deep breath and move forward. There is no time limit to your OBOD studies. There is also no need to compare yourself to others on their paths within OBOD. Everyone’s journey looks different. Everyone’s progress will be different. That’s because we are all different. The speed you move is the speed you move. Don’t agonize and beat yourself up over the speed of your progress. And when you run into roadblocks, don’t accept defeat. Solve the roadblocks, take a deep breath, and keep on with your studies at that point.
Yeah, all that sounds a lot simpler than it really is. My current roadblock is dealing with my own depression, coupled with a need to rewire the way I make decisions. Both of those have added minor issues that I also have to work through. So, there’s a lot of things to do before I can get my own Ovate studies train back on the tracks. But I will manage things and get moving again. It’s a goal I have set for myself. First, one step at a time. One issue at a time. One solution at a time.
So, maybe you’ve run into some issue. Let’s say it’s rough. Well, let’s sit down right here and now. You and me. Maybe it’s extremely frustrating and aggravating. Maybe you’re super tense over things. Let it out. Cry. Kick your feet. Pitch a fucking fit. Just let it all out. Once you feel you have released all that tension, let’s take a few moments and re-center your energies. Let’s ground, and center. Whatever technique works for you. Then let’s sit for a few minutes and just listen. Hear the nearby cars driving by? The birds chirping from the limbs of the trees or over in the bushes? Or if you have music playing, listen to the instruments, the voice, feel the rhythm. Anything to bring your mind to the here and the now. When you’re ready, stand up, and let’s start walking forward on your chosen Path. See, it’s a good thing to let go of the tension. Once you let the tension drain from your muscles, you can start focusing on what you need to do to get past the things as they stand. Then, you can focus on the things you had to set to the side.
Right now, my life is difficult. Difficult because I am unsure of any decision that I make. At this moment, I have decided that it is time to sit down on the ground and cry. I have reached out for mental health counseling to help me through this moment. Someone that can listen to me objectively and is not part of anything going on. Soon, I will need to stand up and move forward, with this counselor’s advice, and their unbiased perspective. After that, I will find myself moving forward, unsure of what my world is going to wind up looking like.
For me, these are not the “doldrums” – these are the “dark hours.” I am in the depths of the forest, climbing the tree to see above the canopy of the trees. I know that Bilbo saw the butterflies but could not see an end to the canopy of trees. I have no idea what I will see, I only hope that when I breach the canopy that the skies are daylight and not night. But climb the tree I must.
Druidry has been a part of my daily life for around a decade. There are times that it has been at the forefront. Other times its been on the back burner. And others – all sorts of locations in-between. Over the past two months, my life has been undergoing a massive amount of change. Some of it was planned. Some of it wasn’t. There were plenty of decisions that were made in that time frame as well. Many of those choices were made through a lens provided to me through my understanding of Druidry within my life. Some of those decisions were not the best ones that I could have made…laced within the perceptions I had of what Druidry was.
I’m not some ambassador type. I’m not here to solve conflict in peoples’ lives. Nor am I meant to make everyone happy and pleased with the decisions that I determine for myself. Yet, I have done that. That all drives back into a narrative that Druidry is about being the Peacemaker. But that is also not me. I am built more in the vein of a Protector, not a Diplomat. I may not be a physically strong specimen, but I’ll step between an abuser and their target.
As many of you know, I am currently going through some difficult times within my life. It can definitely be hard to be anything for anyone else when you are tearing yourself apart. My depression has certainly become the dark forest that I have always feared. At times, its difficult for me to figure out which way is ahead, and which one is behind. Many of the markers that I have counted on to mark my path, just have not been there. That includes my Druidry.
I have reached out to professionals for help. With their help, I have started to understand some of the places where I am broken, and which places are just bent and needing to be reshaped. At this point, my Druidry has not been a focal point of my life. I am not reaching out for connectivity to the world around me, as much as I am reaching within to find the connectivity of myself. In doing this internal process, I have started to re-evaluate where and how Druidry connects me to myself. I’ll worry about how Druidry connects me to the world around me later. To put in a different sense, I am learning to re-wire me.
I wrote in a previous blog post how people who know me the best – those who have been and are a part of my daily life – started to notice how much I was pulling inside of myself. How much I started backing away from everyone. How my demeanor was more akin to an abused animal waiting to be hit than it was to who I have been. They all asked me to get help. They all tried to steer me towards seeking assistance in dealing with what I have now come to define as “the dark hours”. The stubborn parts of me said that I was alright. That I didn’t need help. That my beliefs could steer me through all of this. None of that was true. I needed the help, and denying it not only kept me in the dark hours, but also was an indicator that I wasn’t listening.
I did; however, realize what was being said, and reached out for help. I have been learning a few techniques and processes to help me with my decision-making, and with my ability to process information. I am not completely better, but I now have some tools to work with. Moving forward will be a slow process. The scarier part is who will still be there, standing by my side through all of this. I can’t predict the behaviors of others, but I do know that some people will and may already have, left my life over these changes I have made. Everyone has their own choices to make.
So, circling back now, where does my Druidry fit into all of this? Well, many of the studies that OBOD has, deal with working with the Inner You. Once I manage to figure out where, how and why Druidry is a part of who I am, I plan to step back to some of those lessons, and approach things with a new perspective. First; however, I have to build a basis of who I am. Am I still the Protector that I envision myself to be? Certainly. That’s always been a part of me. But how that particular role fits into my everyday Life…that’s up for my internal discussion and debate.
I did get asked about how I am looking at all of this mental health work in relation to who I am. I see it as needing to stop, take a good look at the overall engine, and see what needs to be re-tuned to make it run better. I know that my process will be slow…and may likely continue through the rest of my life. For anyone seeing that as a “bad” thing….it’s not. There will be good days. There will be bad days. There will be many, many days somewhere in-between. What I am learning to do is manage those days…so that I can be a better person. One who continues to get people to laugh, smile, and enjoy themselves. Not the brooding, withdrawn individual I had become. My Druidry fits in there somewhere. I’m just not totally sure where and how…just yet.
Dealing with depression is not something new. Many of my friends have had and/or are continuing their battles with depression. For me; however, that’s a different story. The likelihood that I have been waging my own battle for much longer than I have realized is most likely pretty high. To be honest and open, I managed to get really good at hiding many of the things that I have uncovered in my life recently…even from myself.
Thirty days. Everything can change. In a little more than thirty days, I have turned my life upside down. Everything changed. And some of it, not for the better. But in that time span, I also found out more about myself than I had wanted to know. About parts of me that I had kept below the water-line. Things that I am now finding myself trying to address the very best that I can. And it’s not easy. I am not stepping forward to face my demons. I’m stepping forward to face something a thousand-fold worse. Me.
When I had some of the people closest to me remarking that I was depressed, I initially didn’t want to believe that it was happening to me. How could it happen to me? I didn’t feel depressed, even though I really had no clue what it was like to be depressed. It took a little while for me to realize that they were all correct. I might not understand how it felt to be depressed, but they understood what it *looked* like to be depressed. And for me to cross those last steps to not only recognizing that perspective but completely agreeing with it – some drastic, and seemingly hurtful, steps were made to get me to see. But those were taken out of love and caring for me. Those steps were hurtful because I had to be shown what I needed to see. Because I needed to recognize what was happening to me. And to recognize that this was hurting others close to me.
In trying to do more personal research on the perspective, I have very few resources within Paganism. Cat Treadwell‘s excellent book “Facing the Darkness” has been my primary resource. Exercises within the book have been helpful in getting me to realize some of the destructive behaviors I have created to insulate myself from the truth of how I feel. But I needed to dig further and find more information. I ran across a blog from 2012 on DruidLife, written by Nimue Brown. Titled “Of Depression and Druidry”, one particular quote immediately found its way to my eyes.
As a Druid I have to stay open and aware. I cannot look away, ignore my responsibilities and pretend that all is well in the world. As some ambling ape-descended biology, I can’t always sustain that and keep moving. I have good days, and bad days. My body has a finite capacity for coping with distress. I try and generate hope. I do not always manage this.
I am only taking my initial steps into all of this. Trying to find ways to make my way through the swampy bog of my mind, while seeking solid ground where I can build a better understanding of who I am under all this protective muck I have created. But to read this, that there are good days and bad days, is very helpful towards allowing me to relate to issues I will deal with every day. It has taken time for me to realize that much of what I want to be within my Druidry will need to get set to the side while I deal with the bad days. That sometimes my brain will short out my ability to do the best that I can. And I will need to learn to recognize those days and find my own coping skills and mechanisms to make it through those times.
In many ways, I am a newborn in the woods, all over again. I am learning to interpret, find and walk those trails all over again. This time with a different perspective. One I had never thought would exist. Currently, I am still stumbling along the Path, tripping over the exposed roots that catch the toes of my boots. I still fall flat on my face in the dirt. It will take time for me to get used to seeing the terrain differently. And for now, that Path is empty. I walk it alone because I have to. In time, there will be others that will walk beside me. Who they are, when they arrive…that doesn’t matter. I have faith that they will. Right now, I work inwardly. Soon, I will work outwardly. Soon, I can help others as others have helped me. Because we are not in this alone.
When the dark wood fell before me. And all the paths were overgrown. When the priests of pride say there is no other way. I tilled the sorrows of stone.
I did not believe because I could not see. Though you came to me in the night. When the dawn seemed forever lost. You showed me your love in the light of the stars.
Cast your eyes on the ocean. Cast your soul to the sea. When the dark night seems endless. Please, remember me.
In the last couple of weeks, I have had two people in my life tell me to stop with my “Druid peacemaker bullshit.” Now, in both instances, it’s related to a subject I will not discuss openly, but there are some aspects that were pointed out to me that I will share. I have a major tendency to try and keep everyone happy in a situation. In this particular instance, I chose to put myself in a potentially dangerous and compromising position, in order to not to hurt the feelings of another individual. While nothing happened that was overly threatening nor untoward to me, there were reasons that I should not have done such a thing. In the aftermath of all of this, it’s gotten me thinking a bit more about my boundaries, in conjunction with my perceived responsibilities. To say this has been a bit unsettling is a major understatement.
I have always perceived that Druids are the peacemakers in conflicts. Always striving to find all sides of an issue and attempting to help cooler heads prevail. While that may be true to a certain degree, there are a few other aspects to consider: personal boundaries, safety, and discretion. Each one of these areas has brought me face-to-face with how foolish my perception has really been.
Sometimes, you just have to hold your hands up and say “enough is enough.” Don’t laugh and those of you that get the irony in me making that statement – stop laughing. I am quite well known for taking on too much, far too often. I have a bulldog mentality when it comes to getting things done, I don’t like to let go until I’ve managed to get things done. My hardest issue is learning when I’m in over my head before I really am in over my head. In nearly every employee evaluation, I was always marked down because I would never seek help in a timely fashion. Shadow – and quite a few others – refer to this as my “stubborn side.” Sometimes, being overly stubborn can put you in a bad spot. So, the aspect of personal boundaries needs to take shape. Knowing what I can and cannot do – and being ready to ask for help. Along with that, I need to do a much better job of realizing when I’m in danger and walking quickly away – instead of escorting it to the end of the driveway for a talk.
Safety is definitely a high concern of mine. Most Druids will note that their role is to be the peacemakers in situations, but sometimes there can be a larger issue of personal safety. In my case, I had already been warned about the potential issues of an individual, and yet I still stepped forward to try and talk things through – rather than just closing the door. Without getting into too many details, I literally put myself in potential danger by not following the warnings that had been given. And all of it was done to try to smooth some ruffled feathers, so to speak. Something not worth putting myself into that kind of danger. So, I really have to note here, if you are that kind of person who wants to be that peacemaker…just like any fight, choose your battles wisely. I did not. And I was VERY, VERY lucky.
We have all heard the saying: “discretion is the better part of valor.” This is an extension of the back part of the personal boundaries statement. The Oxford Dictionary describes this as a proverb which means, “it is better to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it.” (https://www.lexico.com/definition/discretion). Avoiding the danger, whatever it looks like or however innocent it seems, would be the more prudent direction to take. In my instance, I did the very wrong thing. Even despite the warnings, I went on a perception I had previously of the individual, not knowing what had been said that precipitated the warnings. It’s not just a matter of discretion. It’s also a matter of using your noodle. I had the warnings, which were credible. I failed to heed that, and put myself somewhere I never should have been. All because I was looking to appease every individual in the situation.
I will say it again. I was damn lucky. Nothing happened. But that’s not really the point here. I slid into my “Druid peacemaker bullshit” role and set about trying to be everything for everybody. And that shit just isn’t going to work. Fact of the matter, that shit is going to get me hurt or to be even more dramatic – killed. Instead of trying to live up to some romanticized aspect of what Druidry is, I need to start living up to how Druidry fits into Tommy. Druidry doesn’t get to dictate my concepts of boundaries, safety, and discretion – I do. Perhaps, I have been looking at some aspects of Druidry in a backwards manner. Certainly, there is a role for a Druid to be a peacemaker but one gets to walk away when aspects of boundaries, safety, and discretion are bent, mutilated, or just outright destroyed. Much like so many of you, I have so much more of my life to live…I have a lot to be living my life more safely for. And it is long past time that I started putting my safety first and forward in my life.
I will say this, if you see the peacemaker role as one that fits you – by all means go for it. All I really ask is that you are careful in what you do. Think before you get involved. Look, listen, and read everything that you are presented with. If the situation doesn’t look right or seems a bit more dangerous than you thought it might – take a moment and assess things carefully. You have got a lot of life ahead of you. Be safer with it than I was.
I will also add that not every person studying Druidry *HAS* to be a peacemaker. The perception that every Druid will step into any conflict to try and restore some peace is just a ludicrous concept, in my opinion. Druidry doesn’t turn people into peacemakers, just as Druidry doesn’t turn every individual into a fabulously wonderful Priest that is capable of serving the needs of a wider community. In my opinion, Druidry helps you to become a better person. If part of that helps you achieve the perspective of a Priest or a peacemaker, wonderful. Just don’t expect that to happen to every individual that is studying Druidry.
One last note to all of this. The largest criticism of me has come from my tendency to try and make everyone feel happy in a given situation. That singular perspective put me in more danger than anything else. I am learning that I cannot and should not try to make everyone feel happy over an issue. Sometimes, I have to say “no” in a rather hard manner and just close the door. That is going to hurt some feelings along the way but it will keep me safe and not needlessly in danger. And I realize that I am using the word danger a lot here; however, the threat was real – whether I perceived it that way or not. Don’t be foolish and stubborn like I was. Be smart with how you deal with situations in your life. Be careful, you have a lot to live for. I know I do.
Usually, I write these blog posts with some standard idea of a topic that I want to cover. I may not have an idea of what precisely I am going to say, but I normally have a topic in mind. This past week and a half has been a complete jumble of personal emotions. Every blog post has been a struggle and a fight for my mind. Today, Thursday as I write this, my mind is tapped dry. So, I guess it might be time to talk a little about what happens with me during Samhain. Because a lot of what I am going through has a lot to do with the energies that I get during this time of the year, and at Beltane as well. But let’s keep the focus at this time of the year. I warn you now – I am about to dive into some of the darkest parts of my personality. Please don’t take this post as me looking for a way to end everything. I am nowhere near that point. In fact, I have a very bright and vibrant life ahead of me and a partner who will be there to steady me whenever my footsteps become stumbles from the exposed roots of the trees of the forest. Without her, I would truly be completely lost.
However, aside from working with my Ancestors (arguably, the weakest link within my Druidry), I also take a walk down much darker Paths. On these Paths, I work with some of the emotions that I tend to push back – sorrow, anger, rage, jealousy and even hate.
This year, apparently this type of work is at the forefront for me. In the past few weeks (arguably a month and a half), I have been fighting my own war against these emotions on a nearly daily basis. As I move forward and am trying to shed significant portions of my past, these particular emotions are tied to several very distant memories. These memories have surfaced for a variety of reasons. I have found myself experiencing these emotions in a very real and distinct manner in relation to people who do not merit or deserve these emotive moments. As I experience all of this and paint it on to others unfairly, I find myself in that very memorable spiral. The lashing out, the regrets at doing so, feeling my own anger and sorrow at what I have done, lashing out at others…etc, etc. I wind up with Noctura’s “Die Another Day” lurking in my mind.
Believe me Never meant to make you feel this way Forgive me Before i die another day I can’t erase The things i said that made you go away Give me just one chance and hear me say I’m sorry -Noctura, “Die Another Day”
There is a reason I have a tendency to celebrate Samhain (and Beltane as well) alone. Because I know how I can lash out at others with my emotions that get generated from this time. if you look at the Wheel of the Year, you will notice that Beltane is at the exact opposite position. Both are times where the veil is the thinnest. And that thin veil does more than allow the Spirits to cross over. It also allows pieces of your Past that haunt you to cross over more easily as well. I am a quintessential Libra. I seek balance and calm in everything I try to do. But as an air sign, I can also be unbalanced by extreme emotional moments too. And an unbalanced Libra is difficult to deal with. I am not a vengeful person. I’m not an individual that seeks out conflict or wishes to harm others. But my darker parts of my personality can certainly lead me down the Paths to such thoughts.
Usually, this time of the year finds me reaching into those places where I have pushed back my jealousy, my sorrow, my anger, rage and hate. Normally, I don’t even realize that I am doing so, but can catch myself doing it. Its a sign that I need to draw up inside myself and deal with things. This year; however, has been a little more difficult to deal with in a manner I am used to. Starting right around my birthday (October 1st), my entire world has been shifted from its base. Done deliberately. By me. And I am now dealing with emotions that I had long buried underneath that base. In essence, the forest closed up around me and blocked out the light. There’s a path underneath all of this…I just cannot see it. I feel it from time to time when my feet cross over it. But I am still pushing through the darkness to find my way. I am still reliant on a helpful nudge in one direction or another….not knowing what or who pushed me in that direction. For all I know, I’m travelling in a wide circle at the amusement of Crow and Coyote. And in that darkness, I am encountering everything that I pushed back. And lashing out blindly as a result. This is what Samhain and Beltane feel like for me.
I wrote in one of my journal entries that I would be celebrating the full moon of Samhain alone again this year. Perhaps, next year will be different. In fact, I know it will. I’ll have others there that will help me walk a bit more solidly during this time. I don’t know what shape that will take. Each step of the journey will get me closer to that time. But this year will not be that time.
In “Samhain Approaches….That Time of Year“, I noted that I do the best that I can to work with my Ancestors at this time of the year. As an actual outcast from my family, its a bit difficult to work with disapproving Spirits of Ancestors. However, during the full moon, I will do my best to honor Them, as they are my Ancestors. They don’t have to approve of me nor I of Them for me to give honor to the footsteps They left on this earth during Their time. A good friend of mine passed away earlier this month. I only found out today. Though he and I disagreed with one another for the last decade-plus, I still consider him family. I still care about him. He will be given honor in my ritual on the full moon. There are also so many others within my Path of Paganism that I will find time to honor as well. They all had a hand in my growing to be the Pagan that I am today.
For me, I will continue to struggle with the strong emotions that I encounter during this time. This year, I have Shadow’s help, love and understanding to help me through – even though that is at a physical distance for the moment. Next year…things will be different. But for this year, I continue my struggle in a time of constant flux, change and no base/foundation to completely work from. But I’ll manage. Because the alternative is to succumb and let the waves crash over my head and allow the current to drag me to the bottom. And I just cannot let that happen. Whenever I drive any kind of distance, I also tell Shadow when I have left and when I reach the destination – so she knows I am safe. During the drive, she reminds me to “drive safely.” My response has always been the same: “I will. I have a lot to be safe for.” The same holds true during these overly emotional moments for me. I could easily let these completely overwhelm me to the point that I am unresponsive to the world around me. But I have something that reminds me there’s a reason to fight back – the future, the here and the now. And I am learning to ask for help. Because asking for help is the bravest thing you can do.
So far, in trying to answer a question that was snarkily (my impression) posed to me in wondering if I thought I was Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings, I have discussed some of the fictional and re-imagined historical figures that I identify with in movies, tv shows and novels. In re-reading what I have written to this point, I feel like I am completely psychoanalyzing myself to a large degree. In this follow-up second part, I wanted to take some of what I have written and swing it back around to my Spirituality. I mean, this blog is about me, but the primary focus is on my own Spirituality. All of that is done in the hopes that maybe one person gets something out of all of this and has their own personal revelation as to how these fictional stories helps provide the necessary cement to hold these concepts together. This particular post is no exception.
Somewhat Circling Back to Science Fiction as a Gateway to Paganism
Back in 2016, I attended one of the three Pantheacon conventions I ever made. At this particular convention, I attended a panel entitled “Morphing the Myth” which was about Paganism in popular fiction. I wrote a handful of posts inspired by this particular panel (“Morphing the Myth – a Personal Look“, “Morphing the Myth – Gateway to Paganism“, and “Morphing the Myth: What Does Myth Mean to You?“). However, I wanted to take this time to circle back to the idea of Science Fiction and Fantasy as a gateway into Paganism. or at least part of the role that these science fiction characters play within my own life. When I go back and look at the characters that I named, there is a strong note of independence between all of them. That concept of being able to do what was necessary, even without the help of anyone else or whatever the odds might be. To use another Star Wars character that I strongly identify with, look at Jyn Erso in the movie Stars Wars: Rogue One. One perspective that I didn’t mention earlier was what others have described as my ability to be an inspirational leader. Jyn is also fiercely independent. She inspires a group of others to walk away from the Rebel Alliance party line and follow her in what was definitely a suicide mission just to obtain the plans of the Death Star so the Alliance could find its weakness and destroy it. Now, I don’t think that the character of Jyn Erso would have drawn me towards Paganism, if I were younger and not thirty-plus years on my own Path. However, I can see where someone younger might be inspired by the independent nature of Erso to look into other alternative areas of Life. Perhaps, in that search, they might come across Paganism. Who knows? Who can say? But the possibility is there. However, I can pull up a few dozen Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and series that could directly point a person into searching through Paganism as an alternative to their desired Spirituality. As Shadow has often reminded me: “Words have meaning.” And as I have to often remind myself: “That meaning is derived from the individual reading those words.”
So did all of the characters I mentioned previously, as well as the ones I have not mentioned, turn me into a raging Pagan? No, not really. However, each of these characters, as they are written and portrayed, have provided thematic moments that have helped cement the character traits that I have. My sense of Honor. My buildup of Trust with others. My understanding of what is my own “tribe” of people. None of these characters fully describe me as a person. None of these characters are full amalgamations of what is my Druidry, what is my Paganism or the complex connections I have with the world around me. At best, they are good descriptors of a handful of all of that. These cinematic and novelized moments are; however, excellent visual descriptives to bring to those that are trying to understand aspects of who and what I am. These are absolutely not the greatest descriptives, but in each of these are handles that others can readily grasp and understand at the most minimal of levels. Deeper discussions can take place around a fire late at night, under the moon, with drinks of our desire of the moment in our hands.
Why I Believe Fictional Characters are So Important
These fictional characters are important in our lives. That’s right. I believe that these characters reinforce parts of who we are. When Billy refused to give up Chavez to the lynch mob outside, it shows that he values his friends in all matters – no matter the skin color of that friend.
Billy the Kid: See, you get three or four good pals. Well, then you’ve got yourself a tribe. And there ain’t nothing stronger than that.
For me, this is an example of the meaning of the word “pals” as is stated at the end of the movie. These people that are part of your tribe are important. That moment in the movie only helped reinforce that idea. I am sure that there are many, many moments in movies and novels and tv series and nearly anything else you can comment on, which do the same for others. All of these pieces of entertainment that we watch are mirrors for parts of ourselves. Yes, even the evil, horrible, blood spraying horror movies that make an ‘R’ rating. All of this places a mirror in front of us, where we can see what we are made of. Now, I am not claiming that these things show us the psycho killer in all of us. Rather, these films show us ways that we stand up to such exciting villains in our own manners of thinking.
Curly Bill: You know what I’d do? I’d take that deal ‘n’ crawfish, then drill that ol’ Devil in the ass. What about you Johnny, what would you do?
Johnny Ringo: I already did it.
These two are speaking of a stage-play of Faust making a deal with the Devil. Haven’t you watched a scene where you had imagined what you might have done in that situation? How you would have responded? Have you ever diagnosed it a bit deeper and tried to figure out how your own personality traits would have made that scene different? Or how the character that is in the dilemma has responded exactly as you would have? Many of these stories allow us to place our own personalities into the mix for our imaginations to work through. In many instances in real life, we may find ourselves thinking back to how a favorite character might have responded to some of the situations we find ourselves in. And those quick summations in our minds may provide the inspiration for a better response than we had initially thought of. These fictional characters provide archetypes that we can form our own hypotheses around.
Should This Matter to You?
So, after writing all of these thoughts, there really is only one final question: should any of this really matter to you? Well, the only person that can really answer that is you. Much of drawing inspiration from popular media sources really lies within you. Not everyone is going to see themselves in characters of a movie, tv series, or novel. Some folks do watch and read all of this as an escape from reality. They are not trying to inject themselves into these characters – even if that injection is only a small part of who they are. They are wanting storylines that give them relief from a world around them, not solutions or inspirations for the very real pressures of Life. I completely grok that perspective and I respect it highly. Everyone has to make their own way through Life in the manner that works best for them. And honestly, there will be a lot of people that cannot agree with my perspective of self-identifying with characters and situations from a fictional world. But then, I am not suggesting that every single human needs to do things exactly as I do. I prefer people to think and do for themselves. I am only representing something that does help me and inspire me to find solutions of my own.
Bringing This Saga to an End/Final Thoughts
In my opinion, there is a lot to unpack for someone here. Furthermore, I know there will be folks who disagree with my assessment of some of the characters, as well as the self-assessment I have splattered all over these two posts. I am perfectly fine with those differences. Life is not always clean and easy. There is a lot of dirty to trying to live life as authentically as you can. When you start adding more and more factors into all of that – politics, dealing with other people, paying bills, working a job – the mud gets deeper and thicker. I do see a lot of these characters in myself. Not complete work-ups of me. Just smaller parts. And some of those parts are contradictory. And those contradictions are sometimes Gordian knots that you just cannot get untied easily. And some of them you don’t want to get untied because those contradictions make you who you are. In the end, we decide what fits our self-image and what doesn’t. Sometimes, we don’t know about all the aspects of our image. Others see us in a different way. And reconciling those different aspects can be even more tedious and difficult. This was just my way of trying to explain pieces of my own self-image drawn against the backdrop of particular fictional characters. Your mileage will definitely vary.
Much of what you are about to read came from a snarky question thrown in my face in a private Facebook message that I tried to turn into a single post answer.
So what gives with all the Ranger stuff? Do you believe you are Aragorn now?
My initial reaction was to be a touch offended. Then I started laughing to myself, as I thought it was a touch funny to have myself compared to a character that I truly am not near in any psychological or emotional aspect. However, I started thinking about the characters that I do deeply associate myself with. Fictional characters (or in some cases interpretations of historical figures from the perspective of a writer, producer and actor) that I can see pieces of myself within. I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to answer the question without approaching this without taking a deeper dive than usual.
Looking at Characters from Various Mediums
So, yes, I do see aspects of myself in various characters from fictional works. I tend to look at these characters to be archetypes of smaller pieces of who I am. None of these characters, or the ones to come later in my life, are complete parts of me. Most characters from these stories are barely on the threshold of being three-dimensional, complex characters. Sometimes, the creator of these stories will provide some complexity to the characters, thus providing a touch deeper aspect of realism and reality to them and the stories that they are encompassed within, but even then, the full manner of approaching the complexity of a real human is still a much further reach. Certainly, there will be those that would disagree with me, which I am perfectly fine with. Essentially this little blog post (or essay if you will), is just my own personal perspective.
Billy the Kid One of the characters that I completely identify with is that of Billy the Kid from the two Young Guns movies. I have often said that I likely was born in the wrong time frame of the world. I am drawn to that genre of the West very strongly. Now, given that, my pull is more towards the difficult times that encompassed that part of the world. A time when we were invaders into the First Nations. We had more difficulty in trying to work with the original inhabitants of that new environment because of our blindness for a new experience, a chance to live free from the rules of the Old World and the far more “civilized” eastern parts of the United States. The discovery of gold – and its terminal sickness of greed – paired with a lust of land ownership, only made things worse. Young Guns was not truly set in a world where that took place. Young Guns tends to lean more towards the romanticized thoughts of the old West. Billy the Kid is a leader of a loose band of friends that are caught up in the cattle wars and vendettas of the unincorporated New Mexico area during the Lincoln County War. Billy (real name Henry McCarty) spends much of the movie wise-cracking his way through various encounters with rival ranch hands, bounty hunters and eventually law enforcement. However, it is Billy’s unswerving loyalty to his ranch boss, even after he is killed by rival ranch hands, that rings true. This is also mirrored in a moment at a whorehouse, where Billy’s gang is surrounded by townspeople and the local law enforcement (Young Guns II). When the local Sherriff offers up the half-Mexican, half Native American Chavez y Chavez as an atonement to the crowd that is lusting for a lynching, Billy refuses, citing that the Sheriff doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘pals.” This is an example of Billy’s commitment to his companions. When he finds people he cares deeply about, he has a sense of loyalty to them, even when they turn sides on him as Pat Garret does in the second movie.
Doc Scurlock: You son of a bitch! You’re starting to believe what they’re writing about you, aren’t you? Let me tell you what you really are! You rode a 15 year old boy straight to his grave, and the rest of us straight to hell… straight to hell! William H. Bonney! You are NOT a god! (Cocking his rifle and pointing it at Bill)
Billy the Kid: Why don’t you pull the trigger and find out.
Billy’s loose grasp of leadership, treating all of his friends as equals, is a quality I have seen in myself. This came in very handy when I was a Sergeant in the Air Force. The Airmen that I was charged with supervising never felt that I had to lord my authority over them. I treated them as equals in the job, relying as much on their knowledge as I did on my own. Billy’s loyalty to his friends is a quality I have always prized within myself. Even when Doc turns on Billy, as noted in the above quote, Billy’s response is a quiet determination for Doc to go ahead and pull the trigger. Billy is loyal enough to not doubt Doc, even when staring the barrel of Doc’s rifle.
Obi-Wan Kenobi Obi-Wan Kenobi’s character gets to be a little specific. I absolutely loved Alec Guinness’ portrayal of the character, but I never really identified much with the character in Episode IV. However, Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Kenobi in Episodes II and III were far easier to find myself within. Kenobi at this point is trying his utmost best to be several things all at once. A mentor to Anakin, a sitting member of the Jedi Council and a friend to both Anakin and Padme during a time where he is seemingly aware of the extreme close relationship the two have developed with one another – contradicting a personal code of conduct that Jedi are implied to follow. It wasn’t until I started watching the animated Clone Wars that I realized that Kenobi had found himself in the exact same situation as Anakin. I stumbled across this bit of information about Kenobi and Duchess Satine from a YouTube video that took parts of Kenobi from all aspects of Star Wars to create a fanfic tribute to the character. This only cemented my identification with the character, as Kenobi was shown to make good decisions, but also suffer from mental blindness in others because of his emotions for others. To this end, I could see a lot of the character traits of Kenobi within myself. Kenobi also has an ability to zero in on the completion of his assigned mission over everything else, a definite trait that I can see in myself – and often times, a personal failing of my own. Kenobi’s sense of honor and duty are very easily mapped on to my own sensibilities. But there is another very important quote of Kenobi’s that I find resonates deeply within me.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: If you define yourself by the power to take life, the desire to dominate, to possess…then you have nothing.
This particular quote defines a difference between myself and some of my supervisors that I have worked for. I have no desire to dominate. I have no reason to try and make myself look or seem greater than anyone else. I do not see a single way or path to accomplish what I am asked to do. Some ways or methods are longer in a time frame, but the results – in my way of thinking – might be better defined, explained and sourced. Honestly, this is a part of me that has started to come out more often than not. I do not seek to make myself right. I seek to follow where my footfalls may take me. I am not seeking a position of dominance or power. Neither of those fit into the goals of where I seek to go. To someone seeking drive, power, glory, name recognition and the such – I can readily see where our perspectives would clash.
The Mandalorian The Mandalorian is a bit more of a difficult character to work through for me. The perspective is a little easier to understand though. The Mandalorian is only trying to make his way through Life, trying to provide for his clan in a manner befitting the honor he is trying to keep. As a bounty hunter, he wants to make sure that Justice is served towards those who broke their oaths and agreements to others. He is trying to do the “right thing”. When his bounty is to bring The Child to an individual that seemingly does not have its best interests at heart, the Mandalorian steps back into action saving The Child’s life. Not only is the Mandalorian driven by a sense of Justice, but he is also driven by a sense of Honor. Both aspects are larger parts of what drives me on in life, so there is a strong correlation there. A few friends have admitted that the sense and style of the Mandalorian character are very similar to who I am, at least in their eyes. For me, I am not completely sure that the similarities are as tight as others may perceive, but I also have to remember that I am looking into a mirror, where as they are looking directly at me. However, much like Kenobi’s direction towards accomplishing the mission, the Mandalorian does have a single-minded move towards accomplishing what the bounty requests. However, he does not sacrifice his friends to accomplish those ends, a trait in common with the Billy the Kid character from the Young Guns movies.
Hawkeye This is not the character from the tv series M*A*S*H though I do I adore the zaniness of that character. This is actually the lead character in the book and movie, The Last of the Mohicans. This is perhaps the easiest character for me to self identify with. Hawkeye has a strong individualistic trait that is combined with a super-strong sense of tribalism with those he cares deeply about. For me, both of these are core traits as to who I am and what I believe.
Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.
Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.
That perspective of being what is not expected of you is a big part of my past, as well as my present. I suspect it will be the same going into my future as well. This actually figures into a lot of what I am. When I was in the military, I sought out repair methods that were not traditional – not to be different – but to get the job done. The military’s stance, at least at that time, was not to improvise. Follow the repair instructions to the letter. I never consulted the instructions unless I ran into a dead-end and needed some inspiration on a different direction to try. My Druidry is much the same. I see the direction I am pointed, I walk it for a while and then try to find some parallel Path that allows me to explore in my own manner. I guess, it could be said that I am strictly unconventional. Not sure how that would sit with those that prefer a more conventional approach to Life, but then that’s their approach. I would never say their approach was bad for them. I would say, its likely not to work out as neatly for me.
The Ranger class of Dungeons and Dragons Ok. Don’t laugh. In fact, try and have a little bit of an open mind. I have played dozens upon dozens of games of Dungeons and Dragons. Nearly every single character that I have played is the Ranger. When taking those inane Question/Answer personality quizzes that you see floating around Facebook, every single one of the Dungeons and Dragons themed quizzes have brought me the result of the Ranger.
Though a ranger might make a living as a hunter, a guide, or a tracker, a ranger’s true calling is to defend the outskirts of civilization from the ravages of monsters and humanoid hordes that press in from the wild.
This fierce independence makes them well suited to adventuring, since they are accustomed to life far from the comforts of a dry bed and warm water. Some rangers find the responsibility of protecting the rest of an adventuring party to be burdensome, but most quickly find that other adventurers who can carry their own weight in a fight against civilization’s foes are worth any extra burden. City-bred adventurers might not know how to feed themselves or find fresh water in the wild, but they make up for it in other ways. A ranger’s talents and abilities are honed with deadly focus on the grim task of protecting the borderlands.
Warriors of the wilderness, rangers specialize in hunting the monsters that threaten the edges of civilization—humanoid raiders, rampaging beasts and monstrosities, terrible giants, and even dragons. They learn to track their prey as a predator does, moving stealthily through the wilds and hiding themselves in brush and rubble. Rangers focus their combat training on techniques that are particularly useful against their specific favored foes. Thanks to their intimate familiarity with the wilds, rangers also acquire the ability to cast spells that harness nature’s power, much as a druid does. Their spells, like their combat abilities, focus on speed, stealth, and the hunt.”
The point that stands right out for me is the concept of fierce independence, followed quickly by a desire to defend others against forces aligned against them. I have always felt a desire to protect and defend others. My military service was filled with the perspective that part of my duty as a military member was to defend the Constitution of the United States against all aggressors – foreign and domestic.” And while I don’t serve in the military any longer, I still hold that oath as being in place with who I am. Admittedly, its not the easiest of perspectives to maintain in this day and age, with the swirling political waters we found ourselves in. I have lost a few friends refuting their perspectives of what is appropriate for a President to do with Constitutional proof that its the exact opposite. Politically, I hold no party affiliation nor do I have a desire to affiliate or find any form of allegiance to one. I have taken that particular stand since I was eighteen. I’m nearly fifty-five now (in just a few days, in fact). For some indelible reason that I cannot firmly place my fingers on, I feel a kindred spirit with this particular class in a table-top role-playing game.
Cinematic Cliff Hanger for Part One
These are just some of the characters that I find myself associating with. Certainly there are others, but these were the first ones that came to mind when I was writing this. Just as I am sure there will be others going into the future as well. With this particular section now approaching 2500 words, I’ll bring this to a stop here. In the next post, the second half of this, I want to take a look at how stories with these archetypal characters influence us on levels that we might not even be aware of. I will also take a step back to looking at Science Fiction and Fantasy as potential gateways for folks into Paganism, something I have done before. Lastly, I want to explore one more aspect – if all of this should matter to you at all – a rhetorical question I will probably dance around the edges of, but one that I think might be useful for some folks to explore.
Thanks for reading part One. I hope you stick around to read Part Two which I’ll post tomorrow.
Usually, I save the ‘Thinking About” posts for Thursdays, but that has not really worked out the last few times. So, I sit here in a darkened office, with music playing in the background on a borderline Saturday night/Sunday morning with my mind trying to take in what is essentially some stolen time. Time to take in the last few days and juxtapose that against some of the other times I recall in my life.
At this point, it has been a little more than twenty four hours since the news of Justice Ginsberg’s passing reached my ears and eyes. Her death has not really been a shock to me. At eighty-seven years of age with failing health issues, the length of her time on this side of the veil was quite apparent to be short. Her passing means that another Supreme Court seat is now to be filled. Ironically, it comes with even shorter time than it did for the end of President Obama’s second term, a Senate hearing for the position that was held up by Senate Republicans claiming that it should be filled by the people’s choice for the Presidency. Now, the seat on the Supreme Court needs to be filled immediately, according to those same Senate Republicans. Hypocrisy at its finest. Capitol Hill politics as usual (remember, we were supposed to have the swamp drained from such political antics by the Blowhard-in-Chief when he took office four years ago?). For me, someone who has watched the Capitol Hill scene since the early years of the Reagan Administration, all of this is nothing new to me. For many of the younger folks out there, its a moment of sheer outrage. How can these politicians not do what they were elected for? For a lot of others, Justice Ginsberg’s death feels like a death knell in their lives. Without Ginsberg to provide the moral compass for the Supreme Court, all is certainly lost.
Mid-March of 1994. I had arrived at the airport in Shreveport, Louisiana the night before. My flight schedule had been an early afternoon non-stop flight from Frankfurt, Germany to a late-night arrival at Dallas-Fort Worth International airport. All I was carrying with me was a backpack and a jacket. My suitcase was in the belly of the plane. Both that suitcase and myself had to run a race of time across two terminals to reach the flight from Dallas to Shreveport. Otherwise, I would be waiting another eight-plus hours for the 6am flight the next day. Honestly, if I had missed the flight – it would have been faster to rent a car and drive the distance. I would have arrived two hours before that flight left Dallas. But apparently we both made it to the flight – moments before they closed the doors.
The morning after the marathon flight, I borrowed my father’s F100 1975 Pickup truck and drive along Interstate-20. I crossed over the Red River and arrived at the back gate to Barksdale Air Force Base. My instructions were to go through the front gate to the base, but if I had done that I would have needed to register the vehicle at the gate for what was a 150-yard walk from the back gate. I parked in the parking lot just outside the gate and gathered myself for the walk. I was wearing my Class-A Blue Uniform, with a dark-blue tie, and all my ribbons displayed. My correct rank of Airman First Class, which I had been stripped down to just two weeks ago, was correctly sewn on my uniform. I had a copy of my duty transfer paperwork, which released me from my squadron at Sembach Air Base to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO) here at Barksdale. This was the last transfer of duty station in my eight years with the Air Force.
I was being released from my six-year commitment that I had made four years ago at Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. A base that had been erased from history just seven months prior by the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission appointed by President George W. Bush. The base’s problem was it was expensive to maintain. My problem was that I missed a mandatory formation. I overslept. That was enough to remove me from my position in the military. It was enough to reduce me in rank from an E-4 Sergeant to an E-3 Airman First-Class. The Air Force made the decision to separate me from their ranks. After eight years of not completely fitting into what they wanted as a model Non-Commissioned Officer and member of the Air Force, I completely agreed. Our compatibility just wasn’t there and we both knew it.
The entire ordeal took approximately thirty-five minutes to complete from the time I walked into the building to the time I was back on the sidewalk with my discharge paperwork in hand. Despite the fact that I was technically a civilian, I still provided a hand salute to the Captain I passed on the sidewalk, as well as a “Good morning, ma’am,” along with a smile. I made it to my father’s truck and drove back to his house on the west side of Shreveport. That evening, he started the conversation that I did not know how to finish: “So what are you going to do now?”
I had not really thought about this. The Air Force had sent me to a class on how to write my military experience into a resume. Most of my skill sets did not translate well into Corporate America. Most military positions don’t. Not every Corporation out there has need for a Command-and-Control Communications Systems Specialist. Most of the equipment that I knew and was essentially an expert on were well over a decade or more in the world of obsolescence. Plus no one in the Computer Communications needed a systems operator or technician that was trained in the usage of small arms, rifles and combat techniques. What in the world was I going to do?
One thing the military did teach me well was how to adapt to situations. I needed about another three weeks to sit down and assess where the technology world was and contrast that with where I was in terms of skills. I needed education. I knew how to deal with processes, how to learn new technologies on the fly, but I lacked the modern language to discuss those aspects of myself. With the help of my parents, I enrolled at Bossier Parish Community College and started to learn. I listened to how the professors talked. I talked with other students who were already employed in the computer fields. I learned the vernacular. I learned the technology. Two years later, I found myself employed at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and my career in Information Technology started its step-by-step process to where I am today.
Justice Ginsberg is gone. Her legacy remains. All the work she has done in her life to bring equality for women is well detailed. I certainly understand that it feels like the paved road just ended and you may feel like you are back on the dirt road. However, her passing is not the end of the struggle to gain equality for all. Her legacy is the foundation from which we build FURTHER. The end of my military career had that same distinct feeling of the end. I had envisioned a twenty to twenty-five year career with the military. That road wound up only being eight years long. I was twenty years old when I enlisted. I was twenty-seven when I was ejected from that world. I used the experience that I got from that short time to build into a new career. And with the loss of each successive job after that, with the transition from one part of the Information technology world to the next, I built the experience and career that I have now. All of that wasn’t pretty. Some of it was downright scary. Very little of it was precisely what I had intended for it to be. However, I found ways of making it work. This movement that we currently have going – the desire for equality throughout human-kind regardless of color, race, creed, gender (or non-gender), hair color, eye color, height, weight – whatever else we can dream up as a difference between all of us….it continues on without Justice Ginsberg among the ranks. But we continue to build, we continue to grow…using her work, her energy, her drive as the continued foundation. And we use the same from so many other people as well, some not even known to any large contingent of folks, we continue to build on that foundation to make a world equal for all.
One thing I have learned throughout my life, there is always another way to continue. If there wasn’t another way to continue, I don’t think I would have survived as long as I have. Adaptability is the name of the game. I cannot tell you how many times I have broken rules and laws to keep computer systems working in the short-term so that I can develop a long-term repair to replace the illegal or improper repair that I created to keep things going. Whenever my commanders or supervisors asked me how I fixed something so quickly, I always replied with “Sir, Ma’am – with all due respect, its better that you don’t know.”
So, cry over Justice Ginsberg’s passing. But remember what she stood for – Change, Equality, Justice and the Law. And remember, when you feel you have mourned enough, there is still work to be done. Work that is done for the change for others, seeking equality, demanding justice and following the law. But in all of that, done in the name of love. Love for us all. Justice Ginsberg, I believe, would never have wanted anything less.
To be able to change, we must be able to adapt. To be able to adapt, we have to want to live. If we want to live, we have to want to love. to be able to love, we have to open our hearts to everybody. Those seeds do not perish for a lack of watering or planting. Those seeds die for a lack of empathy for all.
Yesterday’s post (which should have been Tuesday’s), Wanderlust, Memories and Spirits of Place – Against a Backdrop of Times Before COVID-19, was only a small slice of my travels over the past decade or so. There are so many other places that I have traveled, where the pull of Spirits of Place was immensely strong. Some were in the oddest places. Some, I have suspicions that it may not be the Spirits of Place that still haunt the areas.
I have already made my love of driving known. I seriously have no issues pulling long drive of twelve to fourteen hours before I need some kind of lengthy rest. In the past, I have made long drives from the north area of Dallas to just north of Kansas City in a single night of driving. Part of that drive is through a tolled section of Interstate-35, which is mostly a rather boring drive that is punctuated throughout with overtly right-wing Christian signs denouncing abortion. Those signs are placed on the private property that borders either side of the roadway. However, there is a section of the drive where the landscape changes dramatically. This is the Flint Hills region of Kansas, and it is a magnificent part of the drive. The interstate winds down into the Flint Hills and the back up other hills. Unlike the majority of the turnpike going north, this is not a straight line of driving. All around you, on either side of the road, is miles upon miles of prairie land. Occasionally, you can see animals in the distance, but it is essentially clear, flat-land for the most part. Most of the commercial signage also disappears here, as well as a huge amount of the done-in-the-garage anti-abortion signs. Plus, there is also the strong pull of the Spirits of the Land here. Even with an interstate and barbed-wire fencing, this area has that strong feeling of power. Anytime I have driven north or south through this area, this particular part of the drive has always been my favorite. I always exit the Flint Hills part of the interstate with a feeling of energized power, which I have no explanation of. For reference, this is the ancestral lands of a few First nations peoples including the Kaw, Kikaapoi, Oceti Sakowin (Sioux), and the Osage.
When I was stationed in Germany, in 1992, it was a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When I was younger and living in Germany while my father was stationed at Weisbaden, we never took the chance for a visit to Berlin. Thanks to military mission that I was attached to, I got that chance in April of 1992. We didn’t get the chance to stay very long, only three days, However, we all took the opportunity to visit the remains of the Wall, as well as Checkpoint Charlie. We were not allowed to bring cameras with us, so those of us that went did not have anything but our memories to carry back with us. I remember thinking how different life was on each side of that wall. On the West Germany side, apartments and shop fronts were as close as ten to fifteen feet from the Wall. On the opposite side…mostly guard stations and barbed wire. Over the years, there were many attempts by East Germans to scale, tunnel or circumvent the wall to a freer society in West Berlin. Most were stopped and taken to prisons or killed in their escapades. While visiting, I felt strong presences there. Many of them. These did not have the same feeling of Spirits of Place. It was more as if they were there because they had nowhere else to go. To this day, I wonder if I could still feel those presences so near the foreboding Wall that separated Germans from Germans, sometimes splitting families in two.
Another place that I ventured to was Medicine Bow Peak near Laramie, Wyoming. On October 6th, 1955, a United DC-4 crashed into Medicine Bow Peak killing all 63 passengers and 3 crew members aboard. The aircraft was traveling from New Your City to San Francisco, California and had made a stop in Denver, Colorado for a routine crew change. Assigned to an altitude of 10,000 feet, the plane was to fly through the Rocky Mountains along a path that kept it away from mountains taller than the assigned altitude. There is; however, a narrow shortcut through the northern tier of the Rockies that can be flown, that would reduce the flight time to Seattle by nearly ninety minutes. As there was a lengthy delay in Denver, it is assumed that this was the reasoning that the crew deviated from the flight plan and attempted the shortcut, in order to get the flight back on scheduled time. Instead, they fly straight into Medicine Bow Peak, a mountain of some 12,000 feet in height. When I visited the area, I was struck by the number of boulders strewn all around the area below the summit. About a mile away from the crash site, there is a paved road (back in 1955 this entire area was wilderness with no roads – paved or otherwise) which leads to a parking area with many picnic benches. The day I was there, it was very sunny, and extremely warm. Plus, there were no other people at this location. The hike alone the well-worn path was a nice stroll, with the exception of coming across a tree with deep claw slashes in it, which appeared to be fresh. This was the sign of a bear marking its territory. Keeping that in mind, the rest of the walk was rather brisk and a bit short, leading to the location where the aircraft had slammed into the sheer face of the summit. In this particular place, the Spirits of Place were extremely strong, and I wondered what it might have been like here long before the pavement invasion of the white man. These lands are the ancestral home of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Oceti Sakowin (Sioux). All three of these tribes figure prominently in the retelling of Hollywood versions of the time of the first white Settlers in the west. Early history of Medicine Bow Peak is not known prior to the 1833 and 1834 expeditions of John C. Fremont within this area. Down in the foothills, the Lakota, Ute and Eastern Shoshone were known to have also inhabited the area or utilized the canyons and mountain passes as travel routes to and from Summer and Winter lands.
Each of these locations hold vivid memories in my mind. Both the Flint Hills and Medicine Bow Peak have often left me wondering what the area must have been like before the coming of the white Settlers. While most of my musings likely have a heavy tinge of romanticism attached to them, I do understand how rough life would have been. Still, I envy the sheer closeness that comes with being so close to nature. Even under the auspices of such terrifying ferocity that was surely evident from the various predators that lived there.
I have so many more memories of pre-COVID travel, but I am also reminded about the one rule I have made for myself when visiting these places, even man-made places such as the Berlin Wall: leave no trace. At Medicine Bow Peak, if you walk on the other side of the lakes formed by ice and snow run-off, you can still find parts and pieces of United Airlines Flight 409 among the rocks and boulders. The plea from many folks is to leave it where it is found. Photograph it, but don’t pick it up. Leave it there, so others may have the chance to experience the “discovery” of such things for themselves. Bring in food, at your own discretion and caution. And by all means, if you bring it in, pack it back out with you. Dispose of your trash where it should be…not just letting it fall out of your hands casually. Let others have the same or even better experience than you did.
COVID-19 will not be here holding us all hostage in our homes forever. Much like influenza, a work-around will be found. We do not have a cure for influenza, but we do have a yearly vaccine that helps control its spread and its effects on the human body. We will eventually reach that point with COVID-19. It probably won’t happen as soon as many would like, but I am hopefully that it will happen. In the meantime, we stay safe. We wear our masks in public. We keep our distance from others, as much as we possibly can. We thoroughly wash our hands. And we practice patience, as best we can.
I was reminded of this quote from Jerry during the Days Between of Jerry’s’ birth and death. This appeared on Mickey Hart’s Instagram account. Hart was one of the drummers for the Grateful Dead and a very close friend of Jerry’s. The quote always reminds me of the necessary need for music towards the expression of our collective emotions, as well as a transport for strong stories that bring inspiration to our minds. If you need examples, I will point to songs such as “The Legend of Wooley Swamp” by the Charlie Daniels Band, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, “One” by Metallica, or even Iron Maiden’s “Still Life” as singular examples among so many others.
Music also brings other stories to mind. Several songs will easily invoke moments where I first heard these songs with friends. As an example, I remember walking with friends around a football field, listening to Midnight Star’s album “No Parking on the Dance Floor”. I’m not overly fond of dance music from the 1980s, but any song from this album will automatically evoke the memories of that late afternoon and evening. Of that group, only three of us are still alive to this day, and none of us speak to one another for various petty reasons. But despite that, my memories of us cutting up and pretending to lip-sync the synth-induced robotic voices will quickly bring a smile to my face. Music has that ability to bring up those stories that we may have long forgotten; however, it is the essence of those stories that provide strong emotions related to those stories.
Here in the blog, I have relayed quite a few of the stories that I have from my experiences throughout the thirty-plus years I have been a Pagan. Some have been humorous. Some, not so much. Each story; however, is a simple momentary glance into what has gone on in my life. My sharing of these stories is just to let you peek into my life or to provide an entertaining look at what a doofus I can be at times. What I hope to invoke with you is a moment where you can start to sort your life into similar small peeks – sort of like mini-chapters of a novel – into who you are. My point is not to have you do the same as what I am doing: sharing it openly with others. Rather, to get you to look at those mini-chapters and find the experiences that you need to work with or save to remember later. Certainly, if you feel called to do so, share those experiences with others. When you feel the need to teach or mentor others along their Pagan paths, you will need these experiences to showcase lessons for others. Drawing parallel conclusions between what you stumbled over, and what your student may encounter can not only be a rewarding teaching moment for them, but also a cathartic experience for yourself.
Stories drive our lives. We can envision ourselves in the roles of the characters we read about in Louis L’Amour novels. We can see ourselves as major or minor characters in the stories we read, or those that we watch on our televisions or movie screens. However, sometimes in our mundane lives, we forget that there is more to this story concept. These days, we all watch on the screen as the numbers of total corona-virus cases rises and the deaths continue to climb upwards in a parallel dance. But each of those numbers, is a singular human being. And their life is a story. How they contracted the virus is a story. The very sad way in which they died is a story. Those that survived and have gone home or a continuing story of success, as well as further struggle with how the virus has wrecked their bodies. It can be somewhat comforting to reduce their stories to numbers, since those can be sterilized to faceless counts. But, in my opinion, that reduces them from human beings to nothing. Those stories need to be told – by their friends, their relatives, their friends, their lovers, and their colleagues. Those who are remembered, truly never die. They live on in their stories that are told.
When I initiated into my Bardic grade at Gulf Coast Gathering in Louisiana (directly across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans), I remember the faces of everyone that initiated with me, as well as those that participated in the initiation. Many of that initial group have slowly filtered to the wayside. Others have shone brightly in the camps that have come afterward. And some of disappeared altogether. Yet, I still feel the need to talk about these initiates with any new initiate I can corner for five minutes. I want my fellow class of initiates to continue in their own stories. I also want the new initiates to take a moment to see the others initiating with them. The stories that brought everyone to that first initiation of Bards at Gulf Coast Gathering are as wide and varied as the personalities among all of us. Their stories live on. As does the growing legend of the Screen Boar, though I am certain so many folks get tired of hearing it every year. 🙂
I have so many stories about the people that I worked with at the college. Some are fun. some not so much. After leaving there, I am not in contact with these people as much as I thought I would be. For a couple of thousand days, I spent time with all of these people. We worked together, we had fun, we certainly had fights and arguments. But the further that I get from August 28th, 2019; the more my memories of those folks begin to fade. This is an example where the moment of the stories ceases to hold its importance going into the future. The same holds true for my memories of high school. Certain events and moments, I distinctly remember, while others have faded so far from memory, I can scarcely remember them happening. And in a manner of speaking, it is sad that these memories have faded to near total darkness in my mind. At one time, these were very important to me and were vividly recalled at a single moment. Are these moments in time that really were not important? Perhaps they were at that time, but more recent experiences have slowly pushed those out, as my mind has set those off to the side as “not as important as I thought they were”. I cannot say for sure that this is what it is, but I am certain that those memories have faded…
Stories are everywhere around us. You can read the ongoing saga of how Donald Trump has destroyed America daily in the papers. Or, your perspective can be that he has saved America from debasing itself. Sometimes stories can be interpreted differently by many people. Much like experiences, everyone will pull something different from a story that they read, watch or live. We are, after all, unique individuals with unique perspectives. Rest assured though, stories can be found everywhere or be evoked by any of the senses or combination thereof. As someone who places a heavy value on the telling of stories, I would suggest that examining the world around you to find all the stories evolving around you….it is an endeavor that may open your world to a perception you may never have noticed. Such as the war between the two ant colonies on either side of the yard. Or, as Rush detailed in their amazing song “The Trees“, the battle for sunlight between the Oaks and the Maples, as well as the hinted at government that governs the forest. There are plenty of stories to read, watch, experience and discovery. The first step…is finding them.