Thinking About: Here There Be Monsters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damh the Bard, “On the Shoulders of Giants”

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

–Tommy /|\

Photo by Filippo Peisino on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Past Lives and Passed Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: Solo v. Group Dynamics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

Around the fire at OBOD’s East Coast Gathering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thinking About: In the Beginning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–T /|\

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

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

“You are.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About: What’s Best Left Unsaid

Catching up with old friends always brings out the most interesting conversations. Last night, I spent some time with an old friend that I had met on the local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) in Fort Worth and Arlington here in Texas. This part of the timeline of my adventure called “Life” takes place during my years at Carswell Air Force Base, sometime between 1986 and 1991. These were the earliest days of my walk on my Pagan Path and looking back – I’ve changed a lot since those days.

BBSs were a part of escaping from the regimented life that I had in the Air Force, as well to connect with Pagans I encountered in the various conversation forums. All of this is pre-internet days, and the computer systems were just transitioning from the 8-bit world to 16-bit. Well, at least at the beginning of this point in time. By the latter portion, the start of the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit was already underway. My workdays were engulfed with keeping a 1950s mainframe operating (UniSys 1100/60) for the United States Air Force units located at the base. When I was off-shift, I would spend many hours connecting to the various BBSs in the area, and participating in the long running, analog conversations that took place there. One system that I would hang out in was The Church Mouse BBS, a Christian-oriented system that encouraged discussion and debate of religious beliefs. I made some of the strongest friendships that I have to this day.

Being extremely new to my Pagan faith, I would spend countless hours in many strongly worded “debate” over Paganism, Christianity (in many different aspects), Judaism, and other faiths. I placed quotes around the word debate because many of the conversations went from friendly discussions to some of the angriest and hate-filled statements I have ever encountered. I fired my own personal attacks within the forums, so I am not claiming to be a Saint through all of this. In fact, its this activity of my own that I am trying to highlight here.

Looking backwards through my life, there’s not a whole lot that I would change. Some of my actions and statements on the BBSs; however, is certainly something that I would. If I could find a way to apologize to all the people I interacted with on such a horrible level, I would. I do have to keep reminding myself that I was a very, very different Pagan then. My girlfriend at the time, a Wiccan High Priestess, had provided me with a handful of books to read. Many of these books provided an author’s perspective of the infamous Witch Hunts in Europe, an act that still stirs some anger within me. As a new individual walking that Path, I transferred those feelings directly on to the overt Christians that I encountered. Also occurring during this time was the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, which my young, very impressionable mind turned into a modern-day Witch Hunt, minus the Malleus Maleficarum for guidance on how to dispose of Witches that the “faithful” encountered. Gods, I was so quick to leap to conclusions, and hyper-quick in painting with a broad-brush.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. There are Christians that would prefer to rid the world of non-Christians in violent means. Think Westboro Baptist Church here. However, if you look around the world you will find other faiths ready to destroy others – all in the name of their beliefs. There are wars that have been fought everywhere in this fashion. So, don’t think that I am choosing to paint with a broad-brush in the other direction here. However, there are better ways to deal with things in common discussion and debate without stooping to anger and insults to inflame things further.

Eventually, I learned that my behavior was not something that was well received by others. I spent a lot of time discussing much of this with another Wiccan High Priestess that I met when I was stationed in Germany. She was stationed in the Kaiserslautern area, in the United States Army. She was a little older than me, and a few ranks above me. On our mutual days off, we would take walks in the densely wooded areas around Kaiserslautern, where we encountered remnants of the old Roman garrison that had been stationed there many eons back. Ivy was always a helpful sounding board, particularly after my picture appeared in a center-spread article in the European edition of the Stars and Stripes. I got some good-natured ribbing from some of the people in my duty section, but the article had also drawn the ire of some of the Officers, who had made a few disparaging comments towards me about my beliefs. Had all this attention been turned to me just a few years earlier, my reaction would have been swift, vile, and extremely regrettable. Ivy explained that getting wound up and fighting back was exactly what was expected.

“The more proper approach is to say nothing. Don’t react. Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have scored a direct hit. Perhaps they will just go away when they can’t get the triumphant feeling of having angered you. Or perhaps they will go further and cross a line where command authority can no longer just look away.” We had that conversation sitting on a Roman wall in a warm rain. I’ve never forgotten those words. Every steady rainfall I encounter leads me back to that time.

So here I am now, a lot of years removed from that moment. The BBSs are gone. However, Facebook and other social platforms have taken the place of those slow, arduous, analog “debates.” The speed of communication is much faster now. The anger and the vitriol much thicker, far deeper. That’s easily seen in the huge chasm of division in today’s politics. That’s easier for me to see here in the United States, simply because I live here. But I can assure you that it takes place all over this spinning ball of rock and dirt. The sharp quickness of the speed of communication means that what we type in anger, gets sent out much faster…and, in many cases, has had very little effort at self-editing. We are quick to fire off what we feel at that very moment without a single thought at what damage our words can cause to others. Or perhaps, we do intent the damage that our words convey to others. Either way, we have learned the power of taking discussion into the realm of emotional and verbal attacks. We have learned the power that being an anonymous keyboard warrior can provide us. We know the cruel pleasure of belittling someone else. For the most part, we like it. We like the way it makes us feel powerful. Able to crush someone’s weak emotional state with just a few well-placed verbal jabs. I know how that feels. I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum.

I can’t really tell you how to handle such things. Everyone deals with this back-and-forth communications style in their own way. However, I can note this – before you click on send, read what you wrote. If its what you intended to send, no worries. If its not…edit it or don’t send it at all. As Ivy told me on that rainy summer afternoon, as we talked under our respective umbrellas, sometimes the best response is the one that you leave in your pocket. I certainly wish I had that advice a few years prior to that moment. I certainly wouldn’t feel that the me of then was such a fool.

–Tommy /|\

Carving at a Roman Spring
Carving at a Roman Spring near Kaiserslautern, Germany

Thinking About: A Path of Assumptions Leads Nowhere

Music is something that is normally present in my life. When I am driving long distances, I prefer to have music playing – instead of conversation, if someone is riding with me. When I write, I always have music playing to help put me in the mood to write. As an aside, I currently have The Eagles’ “The Last Resort” from their “Hell Freezes Over” album playing at this moment. When people find out that I am a Pagan, they think that I will have Wendy Rule (awesome), Damh the Bard, Spiral Dance, or some other Pagan musician playing over my speakers constantly. Truth be told, I have material from those artists and quite a few others – but usually my speakers have something a touch more mainstream on. That usually disappoints some folks, as it seems that some folks think that being a Spiritually-oriented person – be it Pagan, Christian, or otherwise – means that you are just that every waking moment of your life (and you are – just not the way they mean it).

I’m sure that there are people out there that are like that…except that I am not one of them. My Pagan beliefs are a part of who I am. I can’t shake that whenever I want. Twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year….that’s what I am. A Pagan. However, being a Pagan doesn’t mean that I chew on my Druidry every moment of my day. I don’t have Damh the Bard on solid rotation on my music play-list every single day. My Paganism, and my Druidry, casts a wider net than that.

When I started down my own path in the Christian faith, I saw a lot of this in the southern Baptist perspective. See, I grew up in a non-religious household, attending Catholic schools. Mass was an extended performance of rote symbolic gestures made once per month with my class. At one point, my teacher commented to my entire eighth grade class that I knew the proper time to kneel, the proper method of genuflection (making the sign of the cross – I think that’s the right term – its been a long while and then some) – and I wasn’t even a Catholic. For me, it was an example of the emptiness I saw in the Catholic faith, coupled with the constant pounding of the faith’s perspective in mandatory “Religious Education” classes. When I had the chance – after I graduated high school – I took steps into other areas of faith. My first stop – and last – within the Christian faith was the southern Baptist environment. Here, I found the same empty gestures made every Sunday – once in the morning and once in the evening, as well as Wednesday nights. Sing when prompted. Stand at certain points. Sit quietly and observantly at others. Much like the Priest in the Catholic mass, the Pastor was my intercessor between myself and God. Without them, I could not “properly” understand God.

Much like what I described before about some of the assumptions made about Pagans, I saw a lot of the same within the southern Baptist environment. During this time, I was very much a hard rock and heavy metal listener. Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, Tygers of Pan Tang, Krokus, and others were main music staples for me. I was delighted to find a Christian heavy metal band in Stryper. However, I was told by the Pastor the church that I was attending that the members of Stryper were “of the devil” because they chose to dress like KISS, Motley Crue, and others. However, I listened to the lyrics of the band as well. They sang lyrics that praised Jesus as Savior, just as “accepted” Christian artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patti, and others did. Furthermore, I was being tempted by Satan because I continued to listen to secular music. However, nothing was said about the music director’s second job, playing country and western piano at a local bar on Fridays and Saturdays. Nothing bad about that. For me, it wasn’t the music director’s job I had issues with – it was the hypocrisy of accepting what he was doing, which certainly didn’t seem to play well against the concept of “good Christian behavior.”

Eventually, I left for the Air Force, and stumbled on to Paganism. However, when I hear people question why I don’t have Pagan music on twenty-four hours a day, or comment that I should be at my Pagan studies every free waking moment that I have – I am reminded of the same cloud cast upon what Christians should be doing. None of that really works for every single individual. Where others may prefer Pagan music on their speakers, mine are usually crowded with Van Morrison, the Grateful Dead, Phish, Iron Maiden, the Tygers of Pan Tang, the Bangles, Halestorm, Eloy, Coyote Oldman, Pantera, and others. But it isn’t the music that makes me a Pagan. The music is just the backbeat of my normal day. How I choose to interact with my environment on a daily basis helps inform my own Path of Pagansim and Druidry. Paganism and Druidry are what are in every breath that I take, every step I take throughout the day, what I eat, what I drink….essentially how I live. The music is a part of all that experience, but it is not the definition of how I experience.

The really great thing about what I am loosely describing here? Its not the same for anyone. How we choose to experience is up to each one of us. What we experience, while coming from the same sources, can vary so wildly that the directions one can go with it are amazing. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

–Tommy /|\

PS: As I finish writing this, my iTunes player has shuffled me on to the Grateful Dead’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee” from their March 18, 1971 concert at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri. Damn good stuff, especially here on what would have been the late Jerry Garcia’s 79th birthday.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Those Darn Younger Pagans

Over the past few weeks, I have listened to DNA family (all my age or slightly younger/older) lament how this country is going to “Hell in a handbasket” because of the younger generation. Most of it comes from the seemingly mind-scratching adulation that the younger generations have for Senator Bernie Sanders, but I have heard a few other folks lamenting the younger generation in the same manner in some of the local coffee stops in the area. I find that perspective to be both interesting and humorous. When I was younger, and my father and his brothers were around my age – I heard much the same sentiment aimed towards those of my generation. I would even go out on a limb and say that lament has been uttered time and time again throughout the ages. So, while many of the folks my age think that they have uncovered some amazing revelation – it seems to be a cyclic perspective that occurs throughout the human growth process.

It makes sense though. The younger you are, the more you are looking for new experiences, and trying to find your own footing in the world around you. Unless you are so ingrained with your parents’ philosophies and perspectives, there is always a need to reach into other areas. Once you get older, you become a bit more conservative in the way that you see the world. If you are one of those people that must have everything done your way – you will see the younger generations’ manner of finding their own footing as “reckless”, ‘dangerous”, and “destructive” to the values that you have built up.

As an example (albeit a sports-related one), I grew up watching baseball without the designated hitter. I hate the designated hitter. I prefer pitchers bat for themselves. I prefer to see pinch-hitters in the latter stages of the game, which can lead to all kinds of strategies. Today’s modern game of baseball is geared towards a younger generation that adores the home run over a 2-1 well pitched and defended game.

All of this has had me thinking about our younger generation of Pagans within our wider community. Many of these younger Pagans have, potentially, come from families where the parents were Pagans. In contrast, most Pagans in my age group that I know came to Paganism from other religious perspectives. Given that we had so much baggage to unload during our formative Pagan years, our experiences are far different than many of these younger folks.

I have often wondered if our perspective of these younger Pagans might be different because their exploratory options may have a different depth and richness to them than our own did? Do we look at them and think that they are “doing it wrong” when they make changes to rituals that have been “done this way since anyone can remember?” Perhaps, they have experienced the “rote” way of doing things, and seek new, different experiences through improvisational methods. Lately I have wondered if there are any quiet grumblings that these younger Pagans are too “reckless” in their potentially cavalier methods. That these new Pagans with a different way of seeing the experiential world around them are “destroying” our Pagan experience?

My perspective? Well, I tend to look at some of these newer perspectives and think to myself: “Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way. But then again, I’m not them.” To most traditional Pagans, I am usually considered to either be a “joke” or somebody to not take seriously. So, to a point, I can understand the derision heaped upon these newer Pagan perspectives. I’ve had it laid at my feet often enough. Any advice I would give to these younger Pagans is to (a) remember the basics, and (b) follow where your heart takes you.

The basics are important. Once you understand the basic aspects of ritual, or even spell work, you have something that already works – just not as deep as you might want. Now you can improvise, add, subtract elements as you need. You can work in experimentation, but you always have those basics to come back to.

As for following your heart, to me that’s everything about being who you are. You know what works for you – what feels right – what resonates with you. However, there is a point of caution to all of this. Following your heart can lead you to dead ends that you thought would be nirvana. Those disappointments are hard to get beyond. Those moments hurt really hard. If you are not ready to risk that, you may want to be careful utilizing improvisation and exploration as the basis of moving your Spiritual beliefs forward. Just as exploration and so-called advancement is fun – sometimes spending time with where you are right now is good too.

I have heard a lot of grumbling about the younger generation being “bad” for today’s society….from all corners. I heard it aimed at me when I was younger by my parents and their generation. I stepped away from their influence and have lived a life based on my own choices, desires, and needs. Some of it has been the best moments of my life. Other moments have blown up gloriously in my face and caused me to take steps backward. Society certainly doesn’t seem the worse for wear – aside from some deep divisions over political crap. I have heard it aimed at this current younger generation. I know they are going to step on their landmines in life. I don’t think that society is going to be any worse for wear over their life choices and explorative ambitions. I know many of their choices won’t be things that I would have done presented with the same moments – but then again, I’m fifty-five. They’re not here….yet.

–Tommy /|\

Thinking About – Me and Eeyore

Finding joy. Such a simple thing. We all have a fairly good idea at what brings us joy. For me, a well-played baseball game, putting comfort music on the speaker (usually the Grateful Dead), becoming totally lost in a good story, making my home-made hot sauce, a long walk on a nice day – these are among many things that bring me joy. However, like many of my friends, I can suffer from bouts of depression. When life feels like absolute chaos, nothing can go “right”, everything has that urgent pressure of doom and gloom – many of us know these feelings all too well. Even participating in the activities that brings us joy do not seem to quell what some of my friends term as “the black dog.”

My usual manner to resolve my depressive moods is to get outside for a walk with the headphones on. Or, if the mood strikes me, to sit and write. However, these are not immediate fixes. I have not found anything that really wipes away that malaise immediately. I have found that it is far easier to let the mood run its course, and if I can do so – converse with someone about where my mood has taken me. The first part is easy. The second – well, not so much. Much of that comes from a fear of opening up to others when I fall into that depth. Surely, no one wants to hear what I have to say. No one really likes to hear the dark mood of someone else. That right there is part of the problem. Deciding how others feel about something before even attempting to bring the conversation to light.

I am super guilty of doing this. After all, I hate the idea of burdening someone else’s bright day with my Eeyore-self. You know Eeyore. He’s the grey donkey in Winnie the Pooh. Always has a grey cloud over him. Always depressed and gloomy. There are days that I feel like I am that character, especially when I try to communicate my issues and problems with my friends. Woe is me. Doom and gloom. Eeyore and I have a lot in common.

My depressive moments also have a strong impact on my Spiritual day-to-day, as well. When I am in a depressive mood, I am never in the right frame of mind to perform ritual of any kind, or even to go into a meditative state to my Inner Grove. However, over time, I have come to realize that these things need to be continued at their normal times, even when my mood is not conducive to doing so. Much like eating, bathing, and other daily things – I NEED to do these things. Keeping that point of “normalcy” is important to battling my own depressive state. I may not want to do things like ritual or cooking meals but keeping to those things does provide an anchor to dealing with what I go through. Greeting the Sun each morning is a reminder that Life does continue. Cooking and making meals are a constant reminder that acts of Self-Love are always necessary. Yes, I consider feeding myself an act of Self-Love. Keeping those “rituals” (of a sort) every day provides an anchor that reminds that Life is still being lived and will continue to be so. As moronic as it might sound, it’s a calming and steadying factor for me.

Through this process, I always manage to wiggle out from underneath my Eeyore-cloud. Every time I have done so, I have realized that there is so much of the world to explore. So much more to see, experience and feel. All of that is a major part of what my own Paganism and Druidry are all about.

Slowly, I have started to find the people that I can reach out to when I need to. We might be separated by oceans, but we have that connection – that cord that holds us together. Some folks, I have known face-to-face, but our lives have managed to set us physically apart. We still have that bond – that something that is more than just friendship…a connection I could describe as family. We have watched one another go through our triumphs, comedies, and tragedies within our lives. A veritable Greek theatre come to life. We have cheered one another on. I have been there to commiserate the tragedies and losses within their life. Yet, I back away when I need the same thing. Because I don’t feel worthy of receiving such empathy from others? Possibly. Most likely because I don’t wish to be a nuisance. I don’t wish to be the Eeyore in their life. However, even Eeyore had friends that looked out for him. Friends that cared about him – even when he didn’t see where they stood in his life. Thinking through that, perhaps I am the Eeyore among my friends – so long as I continue to move away from them during my depressive states. Certainly, I need to locate my footing and move on from “The House at Pooh Corner”, located in the southeastern corner of the Hundred Acre Wood. I need my friends and others just as much as I need experience within my Druidry. However, I need to walk before I can run – that’s for sure.

–Tommy

Thinking About: Offerings

With the upcoming trip to Mesa Verde, I will be returning to the spot where I had a strong “moment” with Crow. This time around, I plan on bringing an offering with me. The notation of this prompted some questions being tossed to me about what I mean by that. Specifically, Karen S. wanted to know what ritual I was planning on doing for the offering. J. Thompson wanted to know what I was considering using for an offering and why. Fair questions, indeed. So, I gathered those up for today’s blog post.

Why Offerings

Thinking this through, there is a bit of a need to cover the reasoning behind offerings. In this instance, I am providing my thanks for the last six years of guidance. In returning to where I was provided with what I now consider to be “stern advice.” Crow’s message of “keep going” was meant to be more than just walking the Petroglyph Point Trail, and more than just working my way through the second passageway. That voice has echoed in my mind at several points in the past six years. A reminder to not stop moving forward, even when the prospectus seemed to be completely bleak and lonely. That voice has reminded me that what’s in the past remains in the past – exactly where it belongs. The only way through things is to go forward. So, my return to that point on the trail is about providing my thanks for that message. It will also serve as a “thank you” for the Spirits of the Land and the Spirits of Place for looking out for me as I moved through the trail in a reckless manner.

Ritual

Well, this usually winds up being a controversial part of anything that I try to explain concerning my daily practice. My rituals are simplistic. I don’t call quarters. I don’t call directions. I don’t even make a circle. I take the time to offer my ritual space to Whoever or Whatever may be watching, so long as They come without malicious intent. Then I do whatever the meat of my ritual is, and then close by thanking Whoever or Whatever decided to watch. Simple as that. My offering rituals are even simpler. I take a few moments to ground and center, using that time to bring myself to a place of calm. Then I provide whatever I am offering and give thanks to Whoever or Whatever I am providing the offering to. Then I take a few more moments to bring myself back to the awareness of the environment around me and I move on. I know some of this will sound silly to some – especially those who place a great deal of importance on elaborate (or what I consider to be elaborate) ritual gestures and intonations. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with any of that – its just not what I do. When I am with others, I defer to whatever everyone else wants to do. But when I’m alone, I keep it as simplistic as possible. Some might even call it primitive. ::shrug:: It works for me.

What to Offer

I know a lot of Pagans and Druids that pour libations to their Gods and Goddesses as offerings. Typically, these seem to be alcoholic in nature. That’s perfectly fine for what they do. Nine Hells, their Gods and Goddesses may have made it known to them that was what was needed. Who am I to say that’s right or wrong? Not my Gods, not a request from my Gods. Just like my rituals are simplistic, I do the same for what I offer.

My typical fare is birdseed, tobacco, water, or some combination of that. As a follower of Crow, I figure that the birdseed is a fairly understood gesture. With Abnoba, a forest Goddess, the birdseed also makes sense there as well. Usually, I go with a Birdsong mix that I pick up in large bags at my local Wal-Mart. A ten-pound bag will usually last my three-to-four weeks. Yes, I do frequent offerings in the backyard using this.

With Crow and Coyote being First Nations Gods, the offering of tobacco is a somewhat standard gesture within First Nations’ cultures. In a manner of speaking, I am borrowing from those cultures with this offering. However, I am not trying to pretend that I am on the same standing as the People (the First Nations’ cultures) are. My offerings do not come with the pretense that I am doing medicine of any kind. I am merely making a familiar offering to a pair of Gods I work with. My go-to for this is any loose-leaf chewing tobacco product, which typically means ‘Red Man”. Unfortunate branding name, but the pouch version of this product tends to work best for my purposes.

Water is probably the easiest of the offerings to understand. Just as was stated constantly during the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, “water is life.” I provide water in most of my offering rituals for this very reason. If possible, I leave the water in a vessel that local wildlife can easily access. If not, I will pour a small amount while quietly stating that “water is life.”

Again, my offerings are kept simple and to the point. One reason is that I prefer the simplicity of such gestures. Another is that I can do these quickly in public places, such as Petroglyph Point Trail, without drawing undue or unwanted attention. The public practice of my beliefs is not meant to be a sideshow for others to gawk at. Thus, I keep my offering gestures short, simple, and concise. The shortness does not lessen the depth of what I am doing or what I am offering. I know that doesn’t work for everyone. It does for me.

Final Thoughts

I am a solo pagan. A single Druid. Just one guy. Much of what I do is kept simple because its what I am comfortable with. I don’t wear robes. The only true piece of “ritual” clothing I have is a cloak, which is not the most comfortable thing to wear in the Tejas heat. Most of the time, I am wearing a concert t-shirt, jeans and boots or tennis shoes. I dress for comfort. When I am comfortable, ritual comes far easier for me. I keep my offerings simple. Unless my Gods or my Goddess ask for something different. They haven’t. Yet. Maybe it happens one day, but in the meantime, I stick to what I know, understand, and can manage on my own. Keeping it simple. After all, I’m just a simple Pagan Druid trying to make my way through this everyday journey that we call Life.

–Tommy

Thinking About: Living Intentionally

Over the last week and a half, everything I have written has come out like an uncompleted thought. Thinking about it, this tends to happen a lot around this time of year. Perhaps, I may utilize that as a short break in the blog’s postings. I’ll have to give that a bit more thought. However, that simple moment of intentional scheduling sort of leads me into what I wanted to write about – living intentionally within my Druidry.

There is no secret that everything in my life has come apart over the last six to seven months. All of that has worn on me like the weather will wear a stone smooth. This past year and a half has had a feeling of wandering aimlessly through my life – both mundane and Spiritual. I even went through a period of re-examination of my Druidry, trying my best to find where the fault with everything really lay. In the end, I changed a handful of things, but nothing of major distinction. Still, everything felt so rote, so much like life was on automatic for me.

Let’s face a major point in all of this – the past year of COVID-19 forced a lot of us to live our lives in a manner that was difficult. Yes, connecting with one another via video, phone calls, and even Email kept the feeling of solitude at bay. However, we are all communal creatures. Enforcing the COVID-19 standards took its toll on all of us. For me, it has meant not seeing friends and extended family for over a year. However, it was necessary – considering my badly compromised immune system. Now, as we all slowly get vaccinated, we have begun to emerge from our enforced hibernations with some mixed emotions as to how to proceed. Or maybe not, but I know that I have these emotions.

Thanks to Cat Treadwell, I have run into the point of living intentionally. The concept is nothing new to me. However, placing it in the context that I am going to be working with it will be.

What Is It?

Living intentionally is a conscious manner of living your life according to your values and beliefs. I have always tagged this within my mind as being tied to the concept of intentional communities, which are people who band together to live in a certain manner. Thinking it through in that manner, choosing to be a Pagan can be construed as choosing an intentional community, of sorts. Choosing to be a Vegan can also be thought of in the same vein. But just choosing is not enough.

I decided to be a Druid, after nearly twenty years of searching through the wider ‘verse of Paganism because it most closely fit what I believed in. I chose the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) because it was the most malleable to what I was wanting to do. To this day, OBOD continues to be the underlying basis of my everyday Spiritual practice. Over the last decade and a half, I have taken things that I have learned through the OBOD system and plied it into something that works better for my daily practice. I have utilized devotional practices to the three Gods I work with as a basis of everyday life. All of that is a part of living intentionally. Much of what I have written throughout the blog are my attempts to live my beliefs and my values in the best manner that I can. Its not perfect. It never will be. But I try my very best.

The COVID-19 hibernation has brought me around to other realizations that have needed to change. I have had to make decisions of what I am willing to tolerate within my life, and what I am not. As an example, I have DNA family that believe whole-heartedly in President Trump. They believe that the election was rigged. They believe that the January 6th insurrection was necessary and founded on sound principles. On all of that, I feel extremely different. I don’t care for having that in my life because I find it to be fundamentally wrong thinking. During the COVID-19 hibernation, I have had to place these people at arms-length or further. An intentional act of what I am willing to have within my daily life. Here, at the end of the COVID-19 hibernation, I have realized that more needs to be addressed as well.

Part of my personality, for lack of a better description, is that I try to be accommodating to everyone. As a prototypical Libra (right smack in the middle of the sun sign), I try to find balance in everyday dealings with everyone, including those that are diametrically opposed to what I believe. Why? Because I am working through a particular value that I have: that all people deserve respect, until they lose that through their actions. Circling back to the above notation, I have very little respect for those individuals that follow President Trump blindly.

In trying to live my life intentionally, I originally thought that this meant that I needed to find a purpose – particularly within my personal Spirituality. I have struggled with the concepts of being a Priest. The reality is that I am a Priest, and I am not a Priest. Rather circular, eh? I am precisely what I need to be at any time, at any moment. To quote one of my favorite songs:

Some of my friends had it worse
Some were better off than me
Hard to say who’s more fucked up
It’s strange reality
I’m thankful to be alive
I’m so lucky I can be
Anywhere at any time
No one to blame now but me
If I come crashing down

–“Crashing Down“, TNT from the “Transistor” album

Where to Go From This Point?

I can’t really say that I know. However, certainly not into another full-scale examination of where I am on my Pagan/Druidry path. Been there. Done that. Frankly, it was a waste of time, effort, and energy. Perhaps, it will be a better examination of seeing where my value of personal hospitality should have its point of culmination. An examination of where my limits are would probably be a far more lucrative expenditure of my time and effort. In the meantime, I continue to live my life as the Druid and pagan that I am. I do not have to be like my other friends who are Pagans or Druids. I just need to live the way I need to. Living it consciously and aware of what I am doing, and where I am moving towards. Step one, finish my Ovate grade. Step two? Who knows? But it will be an adventure getting there.

–Tommy

Thinking About: Trees

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.

Medicine Wheel in Wyoming…one of the most magickal and alive places I have ever been.

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.

–Tommy

Thinking About: the Shrinking Common Ground

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.

#TwoQuid

–Tommy

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Thinking About: Obstacles for New Pagans

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.

–Tommy

DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013
DFW Pagan Pride Day 2013

Thinking About: Are You Experienced?

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.

–Tommy

Thinking About: “Get a Little Uncomfortable”. This is My Start

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.

–Tommy

Thinking About: Paper Airplanes and Personal Experience – Why I Enjoy Teaching

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)….

–T /|\

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