Respectfulness in a Community of Diverse Experiences, an Opinion

At the end of my work day on Tuesday, I was fired from my position of the last five years (nearly to the day). The reasoning doesn’t really matter to this post, but it was because I had made a large mistake in a data pull. Look, I’m only human, I do make mistakes, but as I said, that is not relevant to this post. In talking with several of my now ex-comrades, a thread of declaration started to ring out from their statements – kindness, willingness to explain without talking down to people, respect. These words came through in several statements, which I appreciated.

Currently the college is in its second year of working through the process of Achieving the Dream. This organization, and its resulting process, assists colleges in trying to balance the scales where people of color – or minorities in the vernacular that some folks utilize – are concerned. This is very important, particular in service areas where whites hold a strong majority of the population, and an even stronger majority in salary ratios. In a manner of speaking, the program is about trying to treat everyone fairly, no matter what their ratio to the overall population shows to be. That concept of ratios where ethnicity and race is concerned is extremely important, but I find that there is an easier way to deal with the issues related to this than creating a study to find where policies fail to reach appropriately. Respect.

Respecting Others

The Pagan community goes through this from time to time. Sometimes, the self-examination we do for ourselves will create knee-jerk reactions, particularly in (and concerning) groups that actively exclude people of color. I am a firm believer that every group of Pagans should be able to determine their own criteria of what constitutes their particular group. I am very Libertarian in that attitude, including the need to take responsibility over whatever criteria gets set forward, especially in terms of criticism. You set the rules, you take the heat for those rules, particularly where exclusion takes place.

From my singular perspective, I find no differences between those seeking their Path within Paganism. Whatever age, skin color, eye color, political perspective, gender, who they choose to love or how many – none of that matters. A Seeker is a Seeker is a Seeker – they are trying to find whatever footing appeals to them the most within the Pagan community, or if they really belong in the Pagan community at all. I remember the time when I was a Seeker, all the bewildering choices and directions that opened up before me. I remember where I was treated with respect for my desire to look into a Path, and where I was treated with contempt and derision over some minor aspect of who I was. When I meet a Seeker, I see all of that from where I had been, and try to treat the Seeker with the respect that I had been treated with or what I wish I had been treated with.

Every individual wants respect in their lives. They want to be treated in a manner that does not belittle them. And every single individual deserves that. I do not have to agree with a Trump supporter whatsoever to be able to treat them with the respect and dignity that any human being deserves. I can disagree without being nasty about my disagreement, even if I don’t get the respect I deserve in return. I am more than happy to return respect until the insults become personal or physical. After that, the other individual has crossed a line that I personally cannot abide by. But that’s a post for another time.

No Fan of Exclusion

I am not a fan of exclusion, whatsoever. For me, Paganism is something that is open to anyone, at any time. If you are seeking your own Spirituality, be drawn towards that. But I do have to remind some folks, Paganism in any form is not for every single individual. Sometimes the monotheistic and more traditional Spiritual Paths are better suited to some folks. I am not one of those – obviously – but I do grok that those Paths are specifically well suited to others.

Buccee is a weird Beaver, but you can still be respectful to the guy

For instance, I have a draw towards the Spirituality of First Nations peoples here in North America. I am not of the First Nations peoples, and honestly what I practice does not draw on their ceremonies or rituals – just two of their Gods that have laid Their claim on me. When I first started with Crow and Coyote, it was made very clear to me that following the Spiritual Path of the First Nations peoples would be a very slim part of what I would be doing. My own Path is where I belonged. No ceremonies, pow-wows, or First Nations rituals would be observed or practiced by me. There would be no “Dances With Wolves” moment for me where I would be accepted into the First Nations rituals. I was to follow the rituals of my Path within Druidry. Essentially I share a connection with their Gods, nothing more. But I digress, and have posted about this recently as well.

I feel that excluding folks from a particular Path within Paganism essentially waters down the wonderful aspects that diversity of experience would provide. Even the most neophyte individual brings aspects of their life’s experiences to their presence within a group. I completely grok the perspective of men-only/women-only aspects of Pagan practices, and I applaud folks who follow these particular aspects of their beliefs, but I do wonder about how much is lost when the other half is not incorporated into more generalized aspects of practice.

Now I am a solo practitioner, I only have to worry about one individual – myself. But just because I follow my Path with my own foot-falls, does not mean that I exclude others. Rather it means that I live much further away from others to be an everyday part of their lives, setting the wonders of the internet to the side for the moment. I do not; however, feel a need to be exclusionary of others when I do practice within a group. In fact, the best groups I have participated in as a guest, have been those where the diversity of being Pagan really meant the most.

Concluding With an Eye on the Future

Thinking on the future of Paganism, where the term falls to a much wider encompassing umbrella concept, the practice of diversity is already there. When one drills down into the more singular aspects of the Pagan Paths, there can be a lot of push-back on the inclusiveness for a wide variety of reasons. Understanding that kind of push-back is easy, except where people get excluded because of the color of their skin or their genetic makeup. That is where the sticky meets the bun. As I said, my concept of a Paganism going into the future, is where we respect others and their individual Paths – even where we do not fundamentally agree. But to be completely honest, I do have trouble being completely respectful of those Paths that exclude on the basis of skin color and genetic makeup. From where I stand, those Paths are missing out on some truly great individual experiences and perspectives. Just my two quid worth….

Health – a Reminder

As I wrote earlier, July 3rd was a rough day for me. At approximately 5pm on that day, I collapsed in my office suite in front of a few of my coworkers. From the accounts I have gotten from those who were there, I had stopped breathing for almost a full minute before I came to. After that, the paramedics arrived and whisked me to the Emergency Room at the nearby hospital. After a few hours, I was moved to the Intensive Care Unit, where I did not come to until around 7pm on July 4th. I had a high blood glucose reading of over 1100, insanely high from where I should be normally (120-160). I had suffered a diabetic seizure. As I have read up on this, i have come to realize that it was not my heart that had stopped, but my brain. I could have suffered brain damage. I could have died. I was lucky.

Many people go through very intense experiences through events such as this. Mine did not happen until after the fact. On July 6th, I was released from ICU and sent home. That night, my first at home since the seizure, I came face-to-face in a dream-state with Crow.

“What did you think you were doing?” I had been trying to figure out which of my numerous medications were making my feet swell. Since my doctor’s nurse practitioner had stated that the swelling would “eventually go away”, I had taken matters into my own hands. I used the only method I could think of – stop all my medications and take only one for three days and check my feet during that time. Not a wise move on my part, but it was the only method I could think of. “I have need for you that I cannot get elsewhere. But I can only stop certain things from happening, so often.” It was quite clear that my Patron God was unhappy with my actions.I was given an ultimatum of sorts…either follow through with what was asked or be on my own.

I enjoy a very strong relationship with Crow. But to be scolded like a five-year-old child has never been part of that. I promised to do better, and the response came back to prove it. That meant a re-dedication to Crow, which I prepared myself for, and did a few nights later at the stone circle in the backyard.

Now, there will be those who claim all this to be my imagination getting away with me. Frankly, I do not care what is said. I know what I have experienced, and continue to experience. Their opinions mean nothing to me. They can say what they want to. Hurled insults and ridicule mean little to me. Sure, their words have a sting, but my life is not about trying to please them. My life is about my own experiences, what I learn, what I see, the people I met and connect with…that’s what matters more than anything else. I control what matters to me, and I control how much or little the opinions of others fit into all of that.

I have always inwardly scoffed at the perspective of near-death experiences. Those have always felt so phony to me. Until now. From 5pm on July 3rd to 7pm July 4th, I remember nothing. My brain had shut down because my blood was too thick to be utilized properly. So, if that what death was like, then it was a removal of the aspect of experience that can best describe it. Is that death? I am not sure but it certainly describes an aspect of what I would seriously consider to be death. Its an environment that I hope to never experience again – though I do know that there will come a point where my body will completely fail me. What lies beyond that, I am not completely sure, as I have noted.

My relationship with Crow has been renewed. But with that comes the need to follow through on various things that were asked. Some of these have long range implications and are a little complicated. I have worked on these in smaller pieces, which is the speed I need to continue. Smaller, shorter range items, require a bit more speed and urgency behind those. This experience has lit a small fire of urgency under those. My “spanking” from Crow impressed on me the need to complete things that were asked.

Yes, I have gotten lazy in aspects of my Spirituality. I have also gotten lazy in aspects of my friendships. I moved up here near the Oklahoma/Texas border to be closer to my job, and to have a slower lifestyle than living in the city. I have lived more as a recluse than anything else. It is long past time to no longer be that recluse. That means changes, opportunities that are elsewhere, and making decisions that I didn’t think I would have to make. Now, I have to seriously put consideration into those.

The only piece of advice I can really hand out is this: do not put other things in front of your health. If your charge is to help others, you cannot help them when you cannot function yourself. If your charge is something else, you cannot have the experiences you should have when your health is poor or failing. You have to take care of yourself.

The below picture is from the afternoon before a lunar eclipse. The location is near Dolores, Colorado. Not taking care of my health means that I will not be able to fully experience places and sights such as this.

The Future Looks Here for Inspiration and Understanding, Whether We Are Ready or Not

Every once in a while, I hit one of those moments where I look at my Druidry and wonder what the Nine Hells I am doing. I carry a small book where I have quotes written…and today, I dug in and found this quote from a talk by Kristoffer Hughes at Pantheacon a few years back: “Druids are not defined by who they are. They are defined by what they do.” As well as this one from the same talk: “Stand up, be the Druid that you are. Be the Priest that you are. BE YOU.”

Those two quotes are reminders to me that I cannot measure myself against anyone else. We all function, to some degree, in congruent circles. Our characteristics, values, and functions can overlap to any degree, but in the end, we are all unique individuals at this moment in time. What we offer up to the world around us is not just a set of skills, but also a unique analysis of the experiences that we all have. Kristoffer also commented “…the Druids of the Future will look to the Druids of Today for reference when it comes to rituals…”, and I will add, a great many other aspects of Druidry as well.

What in the Nine Hells am I doing? Existing. When I write in my journals, I am documenting that existence. Not just for myself, but for whoever uncovers those journals and reads them. Then, my words will become part of their existence as well. Our Druidry of Today is a single marker in the time-line of Druidry, but it lives on in our collective experiences – documented in blogs, journals, books, articles, videos, and podcasts for those Druids of the Future. Think about that, not in terms of immortality or what it means for you, but for the awesome responsibility that it really means…just a thought under the watchful eyes of our Gods.

#JustAThought

I wrote the above as a Facebook status back on July 17th. However, there is more to say, and more to add. So I am adding on to this via a blog post. I wrote this with a mind towards the future. My focus there came from a very recent event in my life. On July 3rd, about a half hour from the end of my workday, I had a serious diabetic seizure in my office. Luckily, there were quite a few people in the office at that time, and some of them immediately rushed to my side. I stopped breathing for a little more than a minute. When the paramedics arrived, I was taken to the local hospital, where my condition was stabilized over time. I woke up at 7pm on July 4th, very disoriented and confused as to how I came to be in the hospital. On July 6th, I was discharged and sent home. My doctor refused to release me back to work for the following week, and I had a lot of time to think about how poorly I had been dealing with my health condition. I also had time to think about some of the various projects that I had been thinking of doing, but had not started. One of which is a book that will be about my experiences as a Pagan of some thirty-plus years.

As I started back into that paused project, I began to wonder why in the Nine Hells I would do such a thing. That led to me thinking about why I write my experiences in journals. That dropped down into why I write blog posts, why I write articles (none of which have been published by the magazines I submit to, yet), why did I run two podcasts? What was I trying to accomplish with all of this? I have never wanted to be “famous” or “well known”. When I thumbed through my book of quotes, I came across Kristoffer Hughes’ statement about how the Druids of the Future will take their inspiration from the Druids of the Present. Where would they get their inspiration and information? From all the media formats, we have taken the time to create, curate, and disseminate. The articles, blogs, books, podcasts, interviews, music that we create, the photos we take, the documentaries that we create and participate in – all of that provides a record for the future. All of that shows how we are, what we did, how we did it – even how we had fun with one another at public celebrations. All of that becomes a record of who we are, set aside for the future generations to take the inspiration for their own model of Druidry, for how and what they want to build onto our model, and yes, even what they want to reject from our model as they aim towards their own iteration of Druidry.

This is how our Druidry will grow – one foot in the Past, another foot in the Present, and our eyes towards the Future. I have no idea what the Future will hold for Druidry, Paganism or even the human race. But I can already see the younger generations of Druids, Pagans, and humans already seeking for ways to place their own imprint onto what will be their Present, and how much of that will provide the beacon for where the Future will move from their coming Present.

As I have said, I have no desire to be some muckity-muck, well-known Pagan. I write the blog to present my own ideas and thoughts, as they stand right now. Not for the gratification of my ego, but for the hope that what I write will provide the inspiration for others to continue seeking on their own individual Paths, and then share their knowledge and experiences for others to be inspired by as well. Moreover, I have come to realize what an awesome responsibility that is. I am sure there is a level of seduction for authors, musicians and podcasters when the public begins to treat them differently than they were before becoming successful in the public eye. In my opinion, the focus should be on the message, not the messenger. However, that may be a thought process for another time.

Our time in this incarnation is limited for a time that we do not know. My desire is to leave this incarnation having done something to add to the overall knowledge of today’s Paganism. Not for a name, not for a title, not for the recognition, but for the inspiration of others to come.

Seeking Baggage in Percentages and Stereotypes or Someone Call a Porter For Me

There are not that many folks who grew up as Pagans (though that number keeps getting bigger and bigger as time goes on). Thus, many of us have come from other backgrounds and theologies from when we were growing up. Not many folks got the chance to experiment and check out other belief systems. Usually, we all tagged along with our parents to whatever church or belief system that they were into. Me? Well, my family were Methodists, but my parents wanted me to have the ideology and beliefs of the Catholic church instilled into me. Thus, I was put into Catholic schools from the sixth grade on. When the sisters or the priests would ask me how I believed, I would always respond that I was Methodist. They would point out that I understood when to stand, sit, and genuflect better than the Catholic children did. I guess I took the concept of understanding the theology that was presented to me better than others. Or maybe I just didn’t want to look so obviously different by merely sitting quietly (the option provided to the non-Catholics that had to come to the mandatory service). Whatever the case, a lot of those posturing movements stuck with me over the years, just as much of what we learned from our various previous theological aspects have stuck with us over the years. Some folks call this our “Christian baggage”.

Some of the hills around the Red Rocks amphitheater, which sits about 9,500, compared to the estimated 30,000 Druids in the US

Recently on Facebook, Morgan Daimler brought up this aspect of “Christian baggage” that is apparently strewn throughout our cultural society. As an example, when you first meet a person, most folks will assume that this individual is a Christian of some kind. As if the auto-default for folks in America is Christian. That default setting seems to imply a bias of sorts towards Christianity, but is this bias because of baggage, a leftover set of internal programming from our days as younger folks?

Leaning on the Wikipedia page titled “Religion in the United States”, 73.7% of the total population in the United States is Christian of some sort. The statement goes further to include Protestants (48.9%), Catholics (23.0%), and Mormons (1.8%) into the Christian classification. Judaism is the second largest population at 2.1% and Islam drops in at 0.8%. Calculating this all together, this makes a total of 76.6%, meaning that Paganism, Atheism, Agnosticism, and dozens upon dozens of other beliefs make a total of 23.4%. With a nearly three to one ratio, it certainly seems to imply that the programming is correct to one degree. What about the Pagan groups?

In the same Wikipedia article, it cites a study by the American Religious Identification Survey that estimates that there are approximately 30,000 Druids in the United States. It also states that Wicca is the far more populous group within the Neo-Pagan (their words not mine) grouping. I’d estimate that the difference between Wicca and Druidry could be as high as a four-to-one ratio. Hardly anything to challenge even the lowest percentage of less than a percent for the followers of Islam. So I would, again, make the assumption that the default setting being Christianity in most aspects of assumption would be correct. Annoying as fuck, but correct.

So, the better question is whether we should be pissed off when people assume that we are Christian, particularly if they do not ask the question. Well, I would suggest that assuming things about people is not the nicest thing to do. Assumptions tend to lean into aspects of stereotyping, which takes us down paths towards racism, ageism, gender discrimination, and spending time beating up on Gingers (red-heads).

I, for one, am not a fan of stereotypes whatsoever. As an example, when I went to the convention in San Diego for one of my college’s vendors, after my presentation I was asked by folks from another college up near Minneapolis if I helped herd cows in the pasture after I got off of work. Now, these folks were trying to be light-hearted and break the conversational “ice” but its a stereotype that grates on my nerves. Yes. I live in Texas. Yes. I drive down Farm-to-Market roads that bisect six different cow pastures. Yes. I understand where I am in the season by the size of the calves in the fields. And yes, I have helped herd a cow from off the road back into the pasture. It is, after all, a neighborly thing to lend a hand where it is needed and necessary, even if my cow herding skills are non-existent (which they are). I did not fire off a retort nor did I chide them for their statement. I laughed lightly, and moved the conversation elsewhere. Pick your fights wisely.

So, as I continue to pick through all of this – trying to find an obvious aspect of Christian influence within secular US culture, I just cannot find it. Certainly, there are some aspects where people will use the default assumption that *everyone* is Christian and bring something Christian to the forefront (prayers at football games, before meals, when things go haywire – everyone seems to default to praying to a Christian-inspired aspect of God, for instance). However, as I noted in the statistics, at three-to-one ratio of Christian to everything else, the assumption is a fairly safe one to make.

Again, I have to wonder if this is even a fight worth picking. Paganism is a growing religion, but I sincerely doubt that we will see it rise to any kind of percentage growth to rival Judaism at a little more than two percent of the total population. At least not in the near generations. Personally, I think combating the constant default to stereotypical understanding of those who are not like you, would be a far better aspect to strive for. That; however, is me dreaming of a world where people have a much higher degree of respect for others. At this point in our collective societal atmosphere, I fear I am spitting into the wind.

Moving Through Life and Taking a Breather

“You can’t do that.” “You’re not capable of what is going to be asked of you in working towards that goal.” “You’re just not good enough to be at that level.”

I used to hear these all the time from my parents when I was growing up. I was constantly and consistently told that I didn’t have what it took to succeed at various tasks or reach specific goals. The bad thing about constantly hearing that, is that eventually it became the default setting towards trying to succeed at anything on my own. It took a long time before I started to realize what they were trying to do. They were not out to destroy my self-confidence, but try to place me into less intensive moments where I could have an easier time of succeeding. Still, looking back into my childhood, I do wish my parents were a little more open to letting me try and failing – and then encouraging me to get better at certain things before I tried again (and encouraging me to try again). I still carry the scars and programming from this with me to this day. Though I’ve been somewhat successful in de-programming myself to the default of not trying because, as Pink Floyd points out in the song “Fearless”, ” You say the hill’s too steep to climb.” (Pink Floyd, ‘Fearless” from the album Meddle.)

Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)

I spent seven years on my Bardic Grade in the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Now, I find myself at the halfway point of the same time-frame within my Ovate Grade. Life gets in the way, sometimes I get stuck on a particular point, I sometimes forget that there is the message board available to me for assistance and moral support. Plus, there’s always my mentor that I can turn to, along with numerous other members that I know that are also on their Ovate Grade studies, Druid grade members, and those who have finished all three courses that I can lean to for assistance. There’s lots of sources for assistance, so why do I let myself wind up in bogged down places? Because I am stubborn. Very much so.

Its not that I cannot comprehend difficult conceptual information. I proved that back when I was in high school and took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Test (ACT), scoring among the highest grades in my class. I also posted the seventy-fourth lowest grade point average among my senior class, a graduating class of seventy-five. My GPA came about because of boredom and disinterest. If I was interested in the course I was taking, my grade point average was high (History, and Basic Computer Systems). If I was uninterested, my grades reflected that, Theology (Catholic), Mathematics (any), and English (except personal writing assignments). As a point of comparison, I showed up to my ACT test hung-over from a heavy night of partying on that Friday night (the test was Saturday morning, 7am sharp). My younger sister, who had a stellar GPA at her high school (I went to all-boys Catholic school, she went to the all-girls sister Catholic high school across town), studied almost nightly for the ACT for three months’ prior to the test. My scores were far above her’s, leading to a declaration that “its just not fair!”

The reality was that my parents’ did not expect much of me at that point. Thus, there was no pressure on my to perform well on the exam. No pressure meant that I could just show up, read the instructions, take the test, and be done with it. Whatever I scored, is what I scored. I suspect, my approach to my Bardic and Ovate studies has been much the same. I show up, I do what I can in the studies, and whatever the outcome winds up being is the outcome. Except…I get stuck on concepts and topics. As I noted above, Theology has never been an interest of mine; though my teacher in my Junior and Senior years was a fascinating man. Mr. K. L. (I do not have permission to use his name…mostly because I did not approach him about it when writing this) had a way of using everyday life to teach topics, which made the class somewhat interesting and ket very dry topics just a touch more “juicy” then they would have been. Its that teaching style that I carried into the classroom when I taught during my first three years working in the college.

So, let’s circle back around to the start of this little discussion, what my parents’ used to say to me about succeeding in various things. A lot of what was said to me came from my mother’s dislike of my personal appearance. I’m not the snazziest dresser in the world. Honestly, popular fashion can kiss my ass. I dress to be comfortable. It just so happens I am more comfortable in concert t-shirts and a pair of jeans. I prefer my balding hair to be long, not because I am hiding my fading hairline (which I’m not – male pattern baldness sucks) but because I am most comfortable with my hair in such a way. My mother’s desire was for me to become a doctor or a lawyer, not because of what those jobs do, but rather because of what those jobs PAY. Again, another clash of thoughts between us, because I look at money as a means to have a place to live, clothes on my back, and food on the table. Whatever is left over can pay for the “extra” stuff in life – IF there is money leftover. My job isn’t about trying to achieve the “extra” stuff, its about being of service to others. I work in a college, and my job deals with metrics and looking at trends in terms of things like enrollment, grading, etc etc. If something looks “off” in the trends, I report it to my supervisors. The hope is that it can become an actionable item to help students achieve success, in whatever means that provides. My salary is meager, at best, but I never took this job for the salary. I took this job to be of service to the students enrolled in this college. As you can see, when my mother was alive and cognizant (before her dementia robbed her of so many memories), we were constantly butting heads.

So, as I falter in the completion of my Ovate Gwers and begin to see the same pattern of working through my Bardic Grade starting to arise, I have to remind myself about my de-programming, my personal stubbornness to fight constantly with a problem until I resolve it; as well as my inherent laziness that pops up from time to time. There are so many factors that play into my lack of speed working through this material, as well as working through other aspects of life. Being so critical hard on myself for not moving at better speeds only makes things a little worse. Sometimes, I just gotta give myself a little bit of a break over this so-called “failures” and remind myself that these are not “failures”. That sometimes, when traveling down the Path, you gotta stop at one of the benches along the way, sit down, and take a breather. And I am good enough to do this; whatever it may be. I amy fail a few times, but I can always try again.

Free Will, the Gods and Us. One Perspective.

I work with two Gods and a Goddess, on a semi-regular basis. None of my Gods demand a whole lot of me, but when They do, the request is fairly straight-forward. There’s not a whole lot of guessing as to what is being required of me, but there’s a ton of ambiguity when it comes to the “why” part of things. Rarely do I get that explained to me. After all, I’m not a God or Goddess, and I’m not really privy to what Their agency in this world is about. I get a request to complete a task. A lot of people think that you can’t say “no” to a God or that you cannot bargain with Them over the equitable recompense that provided at the end of the task being asked. You can do so….respectfully.

See, the Gods are asking for our help. Sometimes, those requests can come across as being demanding, but the reality is that you can say no or even negotiate. After all, you have Free Will, and its not just a Christian concept. Free Will provides you with the choice of how to respond. Just because you work with a particular God or Goddess does not mean that you do whatever is asked of you, or even accept the requested price for your services. You can reject the recompense and request a different bargaining price or even reject the request outright. That doesn’t mean that there might not be a consequence for the bargaining change or the outright rejection, you have to weigh that into your response as well, but you have the Self-Agency to reject or make changes to the task.

Now, let’s be clear about something, I am not suggesting that the Gods are some kind of Automated Banking Teller that just drops goodies, knowledge or experiences whenever you want those items. The Gods will exchange what They have for what They are asking of you. Its a fair barter system, with the “fair” part being judged and weighed by all parties. If there’s a judgment of inequity by any of the involved parties, this barter-style transaction will either be amended until all parties find a balanced equity or the transaction is outright rejected by a single party with no equitable re-offer provided. But the Gods don’t just drop loot on the floor and give it away for nothing more than an outstretched hand begging for help.

There’s also another side to the entire transaction as well, the Gods have Free Will as well. You ask for assistance with your favorite Social Justice issue with your favorite God or Goddess, They can reject you outright without explanation as well. Just as you have the capability to reject Their requests for assistance, They can reject your requests as well. The Gods have their own aspects of Free Will that They can follow, without explanation. I know quite a few folks that see their requests of the Gods to be similar to the Christian concept of imploring the aspects of the Holy Trinity through prayer. They have to listen. They have to respond. They cannot leave Their followers just hanging. Wanna bet on that?Even the Christian God has the opportunity to not heed the calls of His followers’ prayers. Just as we have Free Will, so do the Gods. And just as we don’t owe a single explanation to the Gods when we reject Their requests; They owe us no explanation as well.

Now, I noted that the Gods can extract consequences from us when we do not heed Their call; well, we can do the same in return for Them. We can choose not to follow Them in our rites. We can choose to not provide them the worship that we provide, if we feel that Their non-answers to our requests merit that kind of action. There are always consequences for any kind of action that is deemed to merit that kind of response. After all, working with the Gods is a relationship, which both sides must nurture and grow. Both dictated by our own unique aspects of individual Free Will.

Have I rejected a God before? No, nor do I plan to. Not unless I am asked to do something that I just cannot ethically bring myself to do. And before I reject the request outright, I would attempt to bargain and structure the request in a way that I could accomplish in a manner that doesn’t challenge my own individual ethics. If I could not find a way to restructure, only after a failed attempt at bargaining would I reject the request outright. To me, that is the ethically way to deal with the issue.

And the entire process? Doesn’t happen in split seconds in my head. It can take weeks of thought, debate, discussion, and musing. Things like this don’t usually happen in split second thought processes.

Now, there will be those that will describe all of this as folly in my own mind. I grok that perspective. I disagree with it, but I grok where it comes from. But I am not writing this for those people. They can deal with their own Spiritual processes on their own, quite well without me. And I will deeply respect that the process works quite well for them and not try to find ways to punch holes in how they believe. To do so, would indeed be folly on my part, since I look at all aspects of how people approach Spirituality on their own as a sacred process worthy of my respect, not my ridicule. But for those that do understand. Those Polytheists that do see the Gods as unique individuals that can be communicated with, reasoned and bargained with, and worthy of our time and passion, I offer what I have written as one way to approach the Gods and communicate with Them. Not a Bible of how to do so, but merely my perspective into doing so. Remember, They are unique Beings, just as we are…They have Free Will too.

Going Beyond

Being a teacher can be a tough and somewhat thankless job. For nearly three years, I was an adjunct professor at the community college, where I now work in the administration for. I both dreaded and enjoyed teaching students about information systems and the uses these seemingly perplexing machines have in our society today. I enjoyed explaining how data-driven queries and algorithms actually have a major effect on people’s lives, even when they did not really comprehend that such processes were being placed in how their lives were being lived. However, I also dreaded being in the classroom because I always had a fear that a student might actually be able to showcase their knowledge having gone further than my own. Looking back, I had such a silly notion in that area.

A few weeks ago, the silliness of that notion was on display in the newest Star Wars film. During the dialogue between Yoda and Luke at the Jedi Temple, Luke laments that he cannot be what Rey needs, and Yoda responds:

…we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. –Yoda

My fears were truly unfounded. Should a student find a mastery of the topic that went beyond where I was, it should be a joyful moment. I have poured all of my knowledge and wisdom (a truly debatable term for another time) into my student, in the hopes that they will grow beyond the point that I have managed to reach. The goal is not my vanity and ego as being the font of be-all, end-all knowledge. Because, in all honesty, I continue to grow my own mastery and understanding of the knowledge as I, myself, progress in this existence.

In a manner of speaking, a teacher is considered to also be a leader. The expertise and mastery of an area of knowledge, as well as their wisdom (there’s that word again), places a teacher in a position of potentially leading others. There’s a similar area of responsibility in the hands of the follower, who provides a connection to that leader by allowing that architecture to be placed in the individual (or individuals in the case of larger groups with more than one individual placed in a role of leadership). That dual-feed of the teacher providing information, knowledge, and wisdom, and a student placing their trust and faith in an individual or individuals to lead them correctly can be a very wonderful relationship with the right degree of trust and responsibility coming from both ends of it. To quote from many places, it truly is a manner of perfect love and perfect trust. Too much or too little from either side, and it can be a corrosive and/or abusive relationship (another deer trod to travel down at some other point).

What about flawed individuals? People who have done bad or unsavory things when they were in these positions of teaching or leadership? We need to toss everything they have taught us and start fresh with a better perspective, right? Or we need to abandon that particular Path of knowledge because we placed a leader into a position of being far more than what we should have. Our reasoning for following them is flawed; therefore, everything we learned is flawed, right?

I would say that is not necessarily the case. We do need to stop, look back, and re-evaluate everything. But that is by taking everything one piece at a time, determining what value that bit of knowledge has to us, and then making a decision to keep it, alter it to our needs, or pitch it all together. Plus, I have one another thing to consider: every single one of us is flawed in one manner or another. A significant majority of us has done something wide of the mark in our past to one degree or another. However, before we all start feeling guilty about all the stuff we did when we were teenagers or in our early twenties, let’s consider one other side of Yoda’s statement to Luke in that same scene:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. –Yoda

We have all met failure to one degree or another. We all have weaknesses (one of mine just happens to be Bushmills whiskey). And I would daresay that we have all done wrong by someone or many someones at one time or another. The true measure of these incidents in our lives is not what we did, but rather if we have grown beyond those transgressions.

I am a firm believer in second chances. I am also a firm believer that knowledge can grow and become stronger from places where most others would see rot and decay. Time, patience, and so many other elements are important factors to add. Or as I am fond of saying, x and y are important variables, but their strength in the overall argument can dissipate or grow due to the variance of the z-variable (typically referred to as “time”).

As we, Pagans, continue to grow our knowledge and our various traditions, we stand on the shoulders of giants, as Damh the Bard notes in his song “On the Shoulders of Giants”:

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

We stand on the shoulders of our Elders, our teachers, our leaders – growing our traditions for the coming generations so that our shoulders they will also stand upon – a mighty foundation. Over time, our foundations can wear down, from the equalizer of time, as well as other factors. But even that weathered stone has merit. It may not look as pretty and polished as it did in a time long past, but it is still there. Over time, we may found out that our Elders, teachers, and leaders have done things in their lives that we find to be unsavory or even difficult to comprehend. None of that nullifies the knowledge that was brought to us. Because it is not the individual that provides the legacy, but the knowledge itself. A founding member of a tradition can be found to have done unspeakable, unimaginable things in their lives. None of those actions can nullify the beauty, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, loving attitude, and joyful care that the Priests (men and women – I believe Priest to be a gender-neutral term) in that same tradition have today and what the future Priests will bring as they receive their ordination. I just cannot condemn or color what a tradition is because of the actions of one individual…even a founding member.

As for me, I have my own transgressions in my past that haunt me. No matter how much I want to wipe those away with notations of second chances or excuses, I will live with those for the rest of my life – however long that may be. For those that know what those are, I can only hope that they see the change in who I am today versus that person I was previously. For those that I wronged, and have been able to apologize to, I can only hope that they have forgiven me and accepted those apologies. For those that I cannot make apologies to, for whatever reason, I can only continue to offer my apologies when I pray. And yes, even Pagans pray. And while those transgressions do paint a tone to who I am today; for any future students I have, any followers who may provide me with the reins of some form of leadership — those failures helped me to learn and try to be a better teacher and leader. And through those experiences, as I continue to move further along this nearly thirty-five years on a Pagan Path, I hope that I become the Elder that the Gods have aimed me towards being. After all, I am fallible — like anyone else.

Leadership is About Sharing Experiences – At Least in My Opinion

I have written a few times about the concepts of leadership, but to be honest – I have always thought it silly for a solo Pagan, like myself, to speak on things like this. My connections within the Pagan community are slight. Much like the title of the old podcast, my area falls more to the edges than anywhere else. Not only am I more comfortable out on the periphery, its almost as if I have been called to be here.

Back in the 1990s, while I was in the United States Air Force, I stepped up to the idea of being a leader in the community. I tried to help with the leadership of the local Kaiserslautern military Pagan community. What I found in doing this was that more people were willing to complain and criticise than those willing to roll up their sleeves and help do the work. And that winds up being a real turn-off to me. So, once I left the United States Air Force and came back to the United States to live my life as a civilian – I choose to be solo. But not after another attempt at being a part of a local community – and what would be the last chance I would give Wicca to be what I needed in my life. But that is a post for another time and topic.

So, I dove deep into being a solo Pagan. I continued to follow the Wheel of the Year in my daily life. And while I never hid the fact that I was a Pagan, I surely did not advertise the fact either. And I discovered a lot about myself during this time. I was not a leader. Working on my own was more effective for me. Wicca was definitely not the Path for me. The Nordic Path had no pull for me to follow. And I was not interested in reconstructing any older belief or practice. And all of that was true, with the exception of the first two statements.

When you are on your own, and there are no effective means of communicating with others, your concept of leadership comes down to a single person – yourself. I can deny my ability to be a leader in crafting my response through my desire to not be a leader. But that desire is not because I lack the ability to provide leadership in anything I do. It comes from my fear of being out front, where others look to what I have to say or do, as an example of what they can try on their own. And at the age of 52, I can literally say that I have been running from leadership since my late teens. And that is certainly a long time. It has colored a lot of the way I handle myself in other situations. I have developed patterns of an introvert as defense mechanisms to insulate myself with ready-made excuses.

I was never ready to be considered a leader in anything. I have always looked at leadership as being some modicum of control over others. My libertarian streak inside of me informs my perspective that only an individual can be the leader of themselves. We make our individual choices on our own. We decide what is right and wrong for our own individual selves. A leader does not have to be manipulative and controlling. In fact, I would posit that such actions are not perspectives of leadership whatsoever. Leadership is not about grooming others to be what you expect them to be but helping them to become what they are. The individual chooses the direction that they wish to go; the leader helps find ways to assist in the growth of that person. Sure, there are many other definitions of what a leader is or is not. Ask a group of ten people for a definition of a leader, and you’re likely to get fifteen different answers.

Over the past ten years, I have slowly brought myself back into the Pagan community. Through the podcasts, the blog, going to local events, going to not-so-local events…and rarely have I interjected myself into the concept or perspective of being a leader. Most of the events I have attended have had very well defined perspectives of leadership. Some folks were well suited to be leaders, others not-so-much (in my opinion). With the podcasts and the blog, my “voice” tends to be given a position of authority and credence that I don’t normally attribute to myself. But in both instances, whether I agree with it or not, I stepped into a role of leadership. And I do have to provide ownership of what I write and say in both areas – after all, I did say it.

Whether I completely agree with it or not, I have been a leader to many folks. No one should be following me into the woods just because that is where I am going. But some folks have asked about what type of gear I am carrying into the woods with me and then creating their own group of items to carry with themselves when they go into the woods. Sometimes, their items have stuff that I took, sometimes it doesn’t…and most likely, it has stuff that I never thought about. In the end, we learn from sharing our experiences. And in a manner of speaking, this is the kind of leadership I see myself providing.

All of this has gotten me to think even more about what happens going forward. Certainly, I will keep blogging about my experiences. Here shortly, the podcast will get moved forward and back into gear. Both of those platforms allow me to share my experiences, as well as the experiences of others. And through that sharing, my libertarian heart says that we will all be able to make better choices for ourselves. We can find the level of comfort that we have in our communities and develop the roles that we should each be filling. And in that manner, we become leaders – in our own definitions of what that means.

And while it is a pretty dream that might never be achieved – simply because we apply this theory to the fallibility of human beings — I am willing to dream that dream. And reach for it as well.

Divided We Fall…and Falling We Are

The time of Samhain is a time of change, at least for me. The colors of the foliage turn from green to golds, reds, and browns…the temperatures begin to grow colder (supposedly – it is nearly a perpetual Summer here in Texas), and the Wheel of the Year begins the change to a new year. There are those that will call this time a “thinning of the Veil” between here and the Otherworld, which I believe to be misleading – but it is a  common descriptive to describe an overlap between the Otherworld and here. The point is not about the difference between There and here or what the transition between the two should be called – merely that the blending of the two seems to be more visible to many more folks.

…and to be honest, nearly the entirety of this year has seen change. We, here in America, have elected a moron to be king – not that the choices were all that great, but that is a debate for another time.

Tell me when the stars begin
Or is there an unending place?
Or is there a guiding ship of Dreams
Floating at the edge of space?

There are no words
There is nothing you can say
But this whole world
Is turning night and day

–“This Whole World“, Coast

One of the bigger changes I have seen in myself is further distancing myself from the over-permeation of politics that I have been watching.

Not a day goes by where I have not hidden some political meme or post that someone on my Friend’s List has shared. I watch less and less of the news. Everywhere I look, there is one sub-group or another that is proclaiming some aspect of being “victimized” or trying to find some manner in which to shame some other sub-group of people. We keep hearing about “making America great again”, or how this group of people shouldn’t be included in the Democratic process because of this or that reason. Various sub-groups of people demonize others for one reason or another. And as we, as a collective society, continue to categorize and herd others into groups – the compartmentalization of everyone has begun. We find more reasons to be aggrieved over one thing or another. And we only laud our efforts to remove these divisions when a tragedy occurs, and we make the efforts to save others from natural disasters or some twisted individual in a 32nd-floor hotel suite with a cache of rifles.

A few days ago, I was talking with a co-worker about the way that nearly every grant at the college focuses on compartmentalized factors such as race or gender when dishing out monies to students that need assistance with the ever-rising costs of a collegiate education. “It is rather depressing,” I noted, “To think that students get the extra funding that they need to get an education based on their skin pigmentation or their gender. A collegiate education should be helpful for a student to develop their critical thinking skills, and help them to understand that skin pigmentation and gender mean nothing in defining a person for who they are, and what they are capable of accomplishing. Yet, here we have an entire system of collegiate monies tied to those two factors, providing meaning to something that should not have any such distinction.”

Sure, I have heard the concept of “White Privilege” or “Male Privilege” or a combination of the two thrown at me many-a-time. My response has always been the same – sure, society provides me a degree of privilege because I am a white male. That does not mean that I accept that concept as being the driving force of where I am today. Nor will I accept that this same concept will stop anyone else that does not fall under the “white male” umbrella from accomplishing anything they set their hearts and minds to. And to be honest and blunt, if there is a manner in which I could utilize that so-called “white privilege” to assist anyone that is not under that umbrella….point it out to me.

Depeche Mode said it best….

People are people, so why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully?

Indeed. I look around and watch people search out for things to be outraged by. People taking a knee at the National Anthem. Instead of asking “why”, people got mad at the action and never left that to find out more about the reckless abuse of police powers that happens all over the United States. People getting pissed about statues that were put up during the “Jim Crow” era and demanding the statues be removed and destroyed – without trying to find a better way to tell the other side of that story. Instead of listening to other opinions, intentionally derogatory terms such as “white-‘splaining” and “man-splaining” get hurled back. And the complete dismissal of an individual’s perspective by labeling it as “liberal” or “Nazi” (depending on your side of the political spectrum). To some degree, civil discourse certainly seems to be dead.

I really hate writing stuff like this. Perhaps I am too much of an idealist and believe some sugar-coated version of the world. But. I do have faith in human beings. I firmly believe that the concepts of compartmentalizing human beings on factors such as skin pigmentation and political perspectives – and believing others to be inferior because they do not fall into your particular compartment — it is a reflexive way of thinking that is taught. I also believe that when this compartmentalized way of thinking is removed, and people begin to see each other as equal human beings – we become far stronger and capable of tackling real, extinction-level issues – such as global warming. However, so long as we bathe in divisive natures….

–T

Another Circuit Around the Sun – With All of You

Another circuit around the sun comes to an end for me, and a new one begins. Yes, it is my birthday today. On October 1st in 1965, I was born at the hospital in Tachikawa, Japan. Yes, that means that today is my 52nd birthday. For me, it means that my 53rd circuit around the sun is just now starting.

I understand that birthdays are essentially a celebration of the individual having them. However, I am not really one for “tooting my own horn” as it were. If you ever wanted evidence of that, you only have to look at how little I have ever advertised the existence of my two podcast endeavors. (smile) So, let us tackle this year’s annual remembrance in a slightly different fashion. Instead of me smiling faintly and saying “thank you” dozens of times over for birthday wishes, I want to focus on what makes life wonderful: all of you.

The turn of the calendar had me in Ireland. Another trip with the Honors program with the college. And to be blunt, I am in love with that country now. Dublin was amazing. Belfast was intriguing. And the countryside was simply incredible. If I had been given a chance….I would have stayed. I will be back….

I made it down to south Texas and hung out with a bunch of Ár nDraíocht Féin folks at an Imbolc celebration. This year, I was a little more outgoing and hung out with a lot more folks at both the main fire and on the porch. I am not an ADF Druid, but these people are more than just friends. They are family. I follow a slightly different Path than they do, but it is not the differences in our chosen Paths that stands out. We stand together as friends and family, willing to stand between threats and one another. I am truly blessed to have a family like these people.

Just a mere week later, I found myself at Pantheacon. This time, I attended solo. Once again, I found myself being a bit more outgoing than I usually am. I managed to connect with Selena Fox for a few minutes and thank her for all the help she provided to the military Pagan group I was a part of in Kaiserslautern, Germany. That was the first time I had ever met her face-to-face. I also managed to connect with Patrick McCollum, another individual that helped that same group. Bringing moments like that full circle is a totally amazing experience. I also caught up, again, with Jon Drum at the ADF Hospitality suite (I had seen Drum at the ADF Imbolc), and got to say hello to Sean H., whom I had met a few years earlier at the same Imbolc gathering. I also caught up with some OBOD family members, including the incredible Frank M. During the con, I got to spend some time with other people that I consider to be wonderful, extended family. Shauna Aura Knight, one of the most lovely souls I have ever met; the amazing Byron Ballard (whose conversations I need to sit on the edge of one of these days), and the amazing Kristoffer Hughes, who I would see again in three more weeks. Hugs from these three are the stuff that lasts a lifetime.

Three weeks later, I found myself at my Spiritual home – Gulf Coast Gathering. It was also here that I found myself at the end of another cycle, and the start of a new one. I had finally finished my Bardic grade and was initiated into the Ovate grade, where my studies currently have me. Here, I find the larger part of my family. Conversations, hugs, Screen-door shenanigans, and discussions are the fires that stoke my heart until the next year’s gathering. Again, the thematic aspect to my 52nd circuit has been about stepping out of the shadows and being more outgoing. I found myself stepping up to the Bardic Cycle and telling the tale of the “Screen Door Boar” which happened at the previous Gulf Coast Gathering. Every year, I met new people at this event. Whether they are wearing garish cowboy boats, or come from as far away as the west coast – they all end up with a piece of my heart and becoming a part of my collective soul (no apologies to the band).

The latter part of the Summer found me heading to the northwest to Many Gods West. Face-to-face, I knew NO-ONE at this event. I had met a few people online and got to meet them face-to-face. Ember, George, and several others helped stoke some long, cold coals in my polytheist’s heart. Returning from the event, I found myself diving deeper into my connections with Crow and Coyote, as well as exploring some other connections that have seemed to be mere flirtations. In many ways, the Many Gods West event pulled back the curtain on areas of my polytheism that I had only guessed at.

But life has not just been about change in my Spiritual life. Work has seen a few changes as well, with my job being more focused on pulling data and writing code. I am learning to play the guitar. I am eating healthier (no cake or cupcakes for me today – it is about vegetables and a home-cooked dinner for tonight). I am working out on my stationary bike, and have obtained a new bike to ride outside. And coming in the very near future, I begin the search for an anchor stone within the Unitarian Universalist world. And I am even finding ways to showcase my writing, which I still do not believe is the best in the world – but apparently, what I write is helpful to others.

So the world is constantly changing, constantly evolving; even if I feel like nothing has really happened in my life. And through all of it, my family, my friends have been a part of it all. And to be real – I would have it no other way. Because without all of you, the world would be a smaller, angrier, less beautiful place.

–T /|\ Slainte!

I Have No Desire to be a “Helicopter Elder” – More Thoughts on Being an Elder in a Changing Pagan and Polytheist Community

Well, we have now come to the last of the topics I have culled from all my notes made at Many Gods West 2017. This last one, I have written about to various degrees already. But I thought it might be interesting to explore this from the perspective of Polytheism added to the Pagan slant that it builds on.

As the Elders of the Pagan community move on, our generation becomes the next Elders. What happens next? How do we nurture the younger generations to help facilitate the necessary change and growth within our varied Pagan communities??

I believe that the entire paragraph is worth looking at by each successive generation of Pagans and Polytheists as time progresses on. For me, this paragraph continues to underline that realization I had last year — being in the Pagan community to one degree or another since 1986, I have become an “Elder”. I certainly hope that I am not looked upon in that manner because I am unsure what it means to be an Elder, aside from the single descriptor of longevity. But honestly, that descriptive measure of time is a large part of what defines the concept of Elder or at least that’s what I have come to comprehend. But this is really not about wearing the “Elder cape” – it is about being helpful to others as they also grow on their own Paths.

First, Pagans are fairly independent folk. Needing nurturing or leadership is not necessary for many. Nor do they need to have someone tell them what they are or not. I watched this play out in a Pagan group when I was stationed in Germany. What was meant to be an umbrella group that encompassed many Pagan beliefs was perverted into being a “Wiccan” circle by one individual, who represented it in this manner to the Air Force chaplaincy at Ramstein Air Base. It made many people upset over the designation and drove a lot of people away from the group. Not all Pagans are Wiccans and that held true for the group. And it holds true here in the present day. So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do?

So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do? Well, I cannot speak from the perspective of anyone other than myself. And to be honest, if you ask five other Pagans this same question when we compare all the answers – we should have nine or ten ways to approach it. So, what I share comes solely from me….

I believe the best way to approach the idea is to encourage people to explore what they are experiencing but with caution. Sometimes, in exploring something, you can place yourself in a dangerous spot. Have someone that can be your anchor. Since my experiences with spirituality will differ from your own, most of the time, I cannot explain what is right or wrong in what you experience or the process that you undertake. I can provide examples of how I would do something, but that is merely how I would approach something.

So, in nurturing younger Pagans and Polytheists on how to move forward in their own Spirituality, I would be available to them to explain my processes, my experiences, and my methodologies. However, being available is different from trying to wedge my way into their practices. The well-worn saying of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” comes to mind. And I am not fond of the “teacher” part of this, as I see myself more as a mentor. I am there to provide advice, and if you trust me enough – I will even gladly be an anchor for you. I am not teaching as much as I am advising. It is still up to you to decide what to do, when, where, and how. For me, this is an ideal way to approach the concept of nurturing the growth of the younger generations of Pagans.

Perhaps, in the future, members of these younger generations of Pagan and Polytheists will step into roles of leadership, teaching, and being Elders, themselves. I certainly hope that I can serve as some kind of example for some of them, just as so many other Pagans and Polytheists out there will also serve as examples of leadership – both positive and negative examples. Yes, the infamous Pagan musician that gets arrested for child porn and has a sullied reputation throughout the wider Pagan community can serve as an example as well as a beloved writer, blogger, musician, Priest or Priestess does. Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for.

Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for. There is no police force for our community, other than ourselves. In order to help our younger Pagans and Polytheists have a safe environment to learn and experience within, as they make a choice of where they will go in their Spiritual growth; we need to know what to look for, as well as what to guard against. Furthermore, we need to also be careful that we do not wind up imitating the insane Witch Hunts of the 1980s that fueled a rabid evangelical Christian base to forcing non-Christians to submit to some aspect of a “character test” to prove they were “fit parents” according to their (the Christians) standards. There is a fine balance between protection and persecution – we (the Pagan community) should be cognizant of that measure, especially as our younger generations begin to come of age.

Honestly, I am not what I consider to be a “leader” of any sort. Emails, text messages, and conversations from many other people tend to prove me wrong on that point. I am not a Presidential figure that stands up and makes statements that every Pagan should hear about. That is one type of leadership. I am available for advice. I am available to just be an ear to bend for others. I am available to talk about my experiences within my Paganism and my Polytheism. I am available for hugs. I am available to stand between you and someone else, barring the way when you need shelter or protection. And while I consider all of that to just be “me being me” – I have come to recognize that it is a form of leadership as well. I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow.

I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow. I dream of a day where being a Pagan and/or Polytheist does not draw a negative stigmatism from the general public. Where being a Pagan or a Polytheist is just as accepted in the wider world society as being a Christian, an Atheist, an Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other faith tends to be. Where living a lifestyle where honoring the Gods openly is not seen as some sign of “mental illness or instability.” And that is not going to happen unless the younger generations to explore what being a Pagan means to them. They will eventually need someone to talk about their experiences, their theories on various subjects – and not be prejudged for what they think. For me, that happens when they are given the room to do just that….and I have no desire to become a “Helicopter Elder”.

All Means ALL

I don’t normally dig too deep into politics, or even into everyday events. Which is why you won’t hear me driving too deeply into the Charlottesville mess. At least not directly. Nor will I dig into Donnie’s responses and the lack-luster part of those responses. Because while politics of all kinds of levels touch my life – daily and otherwise – I refuse to let any of that tinge what I am or who I am. I don’t really care about race arguments, debates, and fights – not because I’m thrilled with being a white male with privilege. But because I refuse to join in on the label game. For me, people are people. We should all be treated equally – in life, how the law is applied to us, how we are taxed…what have you. We treat one another differently, in my opinion, because we are taught to do so. We are conditioned into a variety of ways to not only see differences between one another, but to also glorify those differences in any manner that we can.

I like to call this the “Us v. Them” complex. We want to be different than everyone else. We want to stand out. We want to be noticed immediately as being different. We want privilege to automatically apply because of those differences. Sometimes, we want to set the standard of what this or what that is. We want to be the epitome of that standard. Or we rebel against the standard by dressing differently, acting differently, talking differently. We want to create our own group where others cannot enter – particularly if they are not like us. We develop these cliques in high school, we continue to create cliques at our churches, our social functions, at work, in college – nearly everywhere we go. We look at those not like us with disdain. Who wants those people for friends? They aren’t the “right” people to be around me.

…and I have talked about this before. We label people. We place everyone into convenient containers that allow us to quickly determine what type of person that individual is or isn’t.

They wear all black clothing, dark lipstick, and makeup that makes their complexion look pale. They smoke clove cigarettes, and wear anklets or bracelets or collars adorned with spikes. Women like that have loose morals. Men like that are aggressive and just prefer to be violent all the time.

Nine Hells, if I followed that advice, which incidentally came directly from my late mother, I wouldn’t have half of the friends that I have now. And I would be missing out on some of the people that I treasure deeply in life today. All because I followed some inane labeling concept of what a person was or wasn’t. But I decided, back when I was in my late teens, that I just didn’t want to be in a world that was so monochrome. Painting people with a broad brush of stereotyping would get me nothing. I would miss out on the Punks that I became friends with. Or the Goths. Or the Preppy types. Or the Rednecks. Or the Loners. The Geeks. The Freaks. The Nerds. The Jocks. All because I let a set of labels and definitions divide me from them.

Sure, there are a few people that fit the stereotype and definitions associated with that. So what? Talking with these people allowed me to see a different side of the world. And you can change all of that into the racial labeling that goes on as well. If I had paid heed to why this person wasn’t worthy to talk to – I would have missed out on some very special friendships that I managed to work with.

Tony – whose name is changed here – was literally a card-carrying neo-Nazi skinhead when I met him. He never had a kind word for me. He even beat the smeg out of me one night. I had nearly given up on the concept of having a semi-intelligent conversation with him. But he eventually he stopped doing things, and asked what my deal was. See, no matter had happened the previous day, when I passed him in the dormitory hallway, I always said “good morning” to him. So, I asked him to come over to the end stairwell, and have a sit, a smoke (he smoked, I didn’t), and a conversation. We talked, we disagreed on a lot of things, we agreed on very few things. Five cigarettes later, we got up, shook hands and went different directions. The next four years there were lots of times to talk. We never changed one another’s minds. I cared about everyone regardless of skin color, he only cared about whites. Twenty-two years later, I ran into him in a bar called The Bomb Factory in Dallas. We talked a bit to catch up, and I asked about the racist attitude. “Dropped it,” he said. “Didn’t fit with what I turned into.” “What’s that?” I asked, literally on the edge of my bar stool. “I became a human being. Everybody’s gotta make their own way on this ball of dirt. You taught me that back at college.”

If I had heeded the labels and definitions that we create for ourselves and within society, I would never have had that conversation with Tony. Was I the one to change him? Nine Hells, no!! Tony changed himself. I only provided a different window for him to look out of. And I honestly doubt I would have ever made a difference, if I spent my time shouting at him, or trying to bash his skull in with my staff. People in Charlottesville didn’t want to talk…they wanted to shout over the other side. Loudest side wins, ya know??

Except that it doesn’t. Simple, plain discussion is what gets heard. REALLY gets heard. All of this started with the desire for the removal of Confederate statues. Absolutely. Let’s remove the statues. Let’s put these things into a museum, where they really belong. Where all of this can be noted for what it is – the adoration of a group of people that decided to step away from the union of the United States over a myriad of differences…the easiest of which to understand was the subjugation of people into a lower class based solely on the pigmentation of their skin. Its not the sole reason for the parting, and to truly understand the reasoning behind the Civil War is a complex, difficult thing. But overt racism was one of those reasons. And there were those that adored these leaders of the Confederacy for just that reason. These statues are the proof of that.

Much like the concentration camps of World War II are still open to the public to tour…these statues need to be set somewhere in a museum so that we don’t forget. Not that we don’t forget who these men were, and what they stood for, but rather for what the statues came to symbolize as our country got further and further from the Civil War. And in that same museum needs to be statues of those who fought for equal rights. Equal rights for blacks. Equal rights for women. Equal rights for all. Because that is the struggle that I keep thinking today is losing the sight of. Instead  of fighting the Civil War all over again….let’s change the narrative to fighting for equality for all. So let’s keep one set of labels:

ALL: which means everyone.

Human Beings:  which replaces all the racial, gender, etc etc labels out there and applies to ALL [see first label].

#TwoPence

Many Gods No Masters – How a T-Shirt Can Lead to Assumption Becoming Communication

Anyone who has ever discussed issues of personal belief, theology, or UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) knows that I will not step up to the edge and peer into the abyss of fundamental belief. I am just not the kind of individual that sees a need to make what I believe and what I experience to be the law of the land. Recently I was challenged over that with a t-shirt that I wear that has the line “Many Gods, No Masters” stenciled on it.

How can you claim to be a polytheist, be claimed by two Gods, and not see Them as your Masters? After all, that’s what the shirt proclaims – that you disrespect what the Gods are.

Ok. I can understand that particular postulation. And there may be a chance that folks associated with where I purchased the t-shirt may believe that as well. I truly cannot speak to that. But for me, that’s not what this t-shirt means. The “Many Gods” part is self explanatory. I am a polytheist, I believe in many Gods. I believe that each of Them are individual entities. I work with Coyote and Crow. I am starting my relationship with Flidais. Ech of Them have Their own demands and expectations of me. Particularly Crow, where I am bonded as a Priest. But none of Them are my Masters (or Mistress if one would apply that in a gender specific aspect for Flidais, but that’s a post for another time). I can walk away from any of Them whenever I choose to do so, just as They can walk away from me anytime They choose to do so. I am compelled by agreeable oath to a stricter relationship with Crow, where stepping away would have to be a far more formal process, but again, none of Them have me slavishly doing Their bidding.

“No Masters” – for me (I must stress this) – means that I have no one compelling me to be a polytheist. I have no middle-man Priest or Preacher that has to stand between me and my Gods and interpret material on Their behalf. I need no intercessor to bring me before the Gods or to tell me what the Gods need from me. And honestly, if anyone ever approached me and told me that Crow commanded me to provide 10% of my income to that individual to show my loyalty or devotion; I may burst a seam from laughing so damn hard. I have no Masters that need to interpret what my Gods require of me. I have no Masters that will compel me to do this action or that task in the name of my Gods. My Gods communicate that directly to me. I have no need of a Master to hold the strings of communication between me and my Gods. Nor am I that intercessor for anyone else. Many Gods, No Masters means that I am capable of handling my relationship between myself and the Gods on my own.

Now, all of that said, this is not me sticking my fingers in the eyes of Christianity or any other belief system that has these Priests and Preachers that do act as intercessors for the masses within those systems. If others have a need for an intermediator within their own beliefs, I see no issue there whatsoever; provided they do not apply their framework to me. Everyone utilizes the framework that works best for them.

Certainly, there is an implication that is set forth by wearing a t-shirt with the statement of “Many Gods No Masters” emblazoned upon it. Just as there is an implication that can be made by the Rainbow-flag sticker I had on my truck (before someone took it upon themselves to peel it off without my permission). But the rainbow flag sticker makes me no less a straight male than a t-shirt stating “No Gods No Masters” implies anything about my relationship with my Gods.

Maybe a t-shirt with a slogan on it or a decal with a rainbow flag helps the receiver of the silent message to find a manner to label or define someone. However, in my mind, prior to applying the final thread to sew those labels into people; perhaps some communication can be made prior to doing so. In our modern society, we draw conclusions on just who people are or aren’t based on their Facebook memes, their Twitter posts, or what decal is on the bumper of their vehicle. A little conversation can go a long way to clarifying things prior to making conclusions on such inane things. And that would be conversation – not debate, not argument, not forcing people to have to defend why they wear these t-shirts or put those decals on their vehicles or why they found the need to post this on their Twitter feed.

Maybe all of this is just my over-reaction to something simple. Or maybe, a lot of this is symptomatic of how out of touch society has become, as we divide ourselves based on politics, religion, skin-color, who we love, what we eat, what we read, and what we listen to. We currently live in the age of information, where communications abilities are more prevalent and quicker than ever before. And despite all of that, we certainly seem to communicate far less than ever before. Perhaps the age of information is not about communications, but rather about freeing folks up to make conclusions and assumptions about people without having to really communicate with them at all.

I certainly hope not…but in the meantime, its time to crank up some Edgar Winter (Free Ride) and enjoy the sweltering Texas heat. Yes indeed, I live in an Easy-Bake Oven.

A Dream For Another Sleep….

Let’s be [x] Pagans. To be a Pagan, you need to do [y]. If you don’t believe [z] then you’re not a Pagan. Or to put it in other terminology…

IF != x THEN NOT “Pagan”

IF y = “This” Then “Pagan” ELSE NOT “Pagan”

If != “Belief” THEN NOT “Pagan”

Yeah, pulling things into programmatic statements seems a little silly, but its there to emphasis a point. Mathematical equations within programming constructs tend to be empirical. A value or variable that is compared against the equation is typically true or false. It makes for awesome usage in a programming statement. But it tends to make for a lousy statement concerning an individual’s belief. But not because a comparative value of one’s beliefs cannot be utilized. Rather, its because of the cold, calculating usage of boiling down an individual’s spiritual experiences into a pile of cold, heartless numbers and equations just to place an individual into a category.

Its no real secret. I hate the concepts of labels. While labels are great descriptives, and can put you into a mindset of what an individual believes in at an extremely basic and simplistic perspective; it propagates the basic desire to make assumptions on what a person is or isn’t. From my perspective (read: opinion), it keeps one lazy in the notion of getting to know someone. It negates conversation, and the exploration of belief with someone else. And for me, an individual that loves experiential moments within life, that negation of interaction loses all of what being alive and connected with the world around me is all about.

Back in the day of the old Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs – and I am completely showing my age here), conversation was mostly sequential. I typed a message. Then someone read it, and formulated a response. I read that response, and replied back. And thus the exchange went on. Occasionally, I would get the chance to meet some of these other folks face-to-face, and we would sit in a pub for hours – talking, eating finger food, and drinking beverages of our own choosing. And those moments were sometimes intense, and sometimes completely silly. But when the end of the night arrived, we exchanged hugs, and eventually started back into our “online” conversations. And while we didn’t meet that often, typically once every three to four months, some of those folks became friends that I would hang out with even more often. Many of these folks are still friends to this day.

Some of them are Wiccans and Witches, some of them are Druids. There’s even a Chassidic Jew, and a handful of very opinionated Atheists in all of that. And not a single one of them even comes close to being an archetypal practitioner of their respective beliefs. All of them are unique individuals, with equally unique opinions, and very distinctive voices. Were I to envision these people under an archetypal impression of what each of them would believe, I would likely not have interacted as greatly or deeply with each of them as I have. And I would have missed out on those experiences, and honestly, I would be less of a person today without the input I got from each of them in conversations that we had.

There are friends that I have on the internet of today – a far more generalized tool of communication than BBSs were back in the day. Some, I have had the chance to have conversations with – both face-to-face and in an online manner. I have found that each of these folks are no less individualized than those I met far earlier in my Pagan Path. Some of them are very close to the archetypes of what they believe. Many others seem to cling to the label, but are far afoot from the archetype. If I were to apply just the label to each of them, I again would find no real connection with them.

So, when I hear/read people within the Pagan-sphere make statements that “Pagans are [x]” or “Christians are [y]” – I cringe inwardly. Many of the statements fall into the area of stereotypes, or if you prefer archetypes. And laying empirical statements concerning an individual’s faith is, in my experience, almost certainly a recipe for a landmine to step upon. A short examination sometimes yields that the archetypal statement, while true to some extent, certainly does not represent the individual as a whole. After all, a person’s Spirituality and how they approach the Divine, is only a small variable in the summation of who they are as a person. And I have always found reasons to celebrate what a person is in their chosen approach to their Spirituality. My only moment of revulsion seems to come from those that feel their Spiritual approach is good for everyone.

Perhaps, this is where I tend to clash with others. I follow an approach that what you do in Life works best for you. We might walk a similar Path, or we might be on completely different highways headed in completely different directions for completely different reasons. But your Path is yours to walk. Your connection to the God(s) is your own to handle, manage, and experience. When you stray from your lane, and believe that I should be driving the same car as you, driving at the same speed as you, headed on the same highway as you, for the same reasons as you – this is where I draw the line. I am driving into the middle of nowhere, so that I can experience the incoming thunderstorm from the middle of a wheat field. You might be headed to a storm shelter because you are seeking shelter from any tornado that spawns from the storm. I’m not going to criticise you for heading to the storm shelter. I can only hope you would do the same for me, as I drive out to the wheat field.

For me, Spirituality is not something that can be boiled down to a variable whose value gets plugged into some equation to prove or disprove the veracity of one’s faith. Spirituality is a connection to the God(s) that each individual will experience differently or sometimes not at all. While I may not completely agree with your experience, I certainly don’t feel any need to denigrate it either. Its merely not how I experience my Spirituality. So long as I am not trying to compel you to believe as I do, or vice versa – we should be able to co-exist near one another with no problem whatsoever. But then again, we are humans. And humans do, for the most part, fear that which they do not understand. My only hope is that we eventually do understand, but that is a dream for another sleep….