Revisiting "Hashtags, Labels and Bias – We Are Not Talking to One Another"

These past few days, I have spent some time and effort looking through some of the older posts that I have. As I read through these posts, two things occur to me – (1) my writing has gotten better over time, and (2) in a lot of those posts, I did a fairly poor job of getting my point across. Thus, I created these “revisiting” posts, along with the category tag here on the blog. The idea is not to rehash what I wrote, but to provide some clarity, as well as expanding on where I was headed on those topics. The post I picked for this treatment works on a topic that is a particular pet peeve of mine – labels.

This particular post is not all that old, having been published back in July of 2016. However, it does represent a particular frustration of mine – categorizing people into convenient little buckets which are then provided vague, sometimes categorically racist descriptions. For instance, in American history, the prevailing understanding of African Americans were that they were “lazy” and “incapable of intelligent thinking” – both holdovers from an America that had created institutional slavery throughout the southern states (and elsewhere in the north, though this is rarely discussed openly). Descriptive labeling such as this continues even to this day, and America, as a society, continues to struggle with this perspective.

However, this post is not about racism, its about the convenience behind the perspective of labeling and categorizing people. Its about the slippery slope that I believe labeling can set us on. My approach to politics is fairly well known. I am an unaffiliated voter, meaning that I choose not to self-identify with any political party. My understanding of how the American government *should* operate in regards to the Constitution and the American society as whole, is much closer to that of the liberal aspect of things than that of the conservative side. However, I not only see and grok what the conservative perspective is – I even agree with some aspects of it. My middle-ground stance has had me labeled by some of my friends as a “liberal” or “Republican” – depending on who you talk to. I have been called some rather colorful Anglo-Saxon terms over my approach, with some friends actually deciding that I was no longer someone that they wanted to associate with.

In many of these instances, I have been told that I do not love or want my country to survive the current Constitutional crisis taking place in the halls of Congress (the impeachment process of President Trump). Where I am branded as a liberal, I am accused of wanting America become a communist state. Where I am branded as a conservative, I am accused of letting America slip into the world of a tyrannical dictatorship. The reality is that I have absolutely zero desire to see America move from a Federal Republic to a Communist state. Nor would I sit back and let America slip into the hold of a tyrannical dictatorship. My oath of enlistment into the United States Air Force was to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Though I have been out of the United States Air Force since 1994, I do believe that my oath is still in effect – and will be until the die I pass beyond the veil.

So, how to deal with this labeling stuff? How can I make a difference on this? Well, I am not sure. I treat people as individuals, and desperately try not to lump groups of people into a single category based on some vague descriptive. I am human. I wish I could say that I am one-hundred percent perfect in doing this. I am not. I have caught myself doing exactly what I am describing here. But I do try my best not to fall back to this default programming that has been sustained for many more years than I am alive, thrice over (or more). I do not make my friendships or relationships based on some political scale. That is a lousy way to live life, in my opinion.

Liberals, Conservatives, and everyone in-between – they all love this their respective countries. They just differ on the ways it should be governed. The reality is that what really works is somewhere in the middle of the two – in a place where compromise can be found. In our current political climate, where it seemingly is more fashionable to be offended than it is to roll up your sleeves and step forward to work *together*, its hard to see where compromise can be had.

Sitting here listening to Rick Springfield (yes, I’m a fan), I am reminded that the current political fight is like watching two people fight over what gets played on a stereo. Other folks might like to hear some Tool (not a fan) or maybe some smooth jazz or rap. let me relay this a bit more with a story from my past…

When I was in Non-Commissioned Officers’ School (yes, there is a class that teaches enlisted personnel how to be a Non-Commissioned Officer), I was placed in charge of playing music during class breaks. In the entire six weeks of class, I never brought in a single CD of my own. The other twenty-four members of the class brought their CDs instead. I placed these into an order of when each was received. We played everything. Jazz, Country, Rap, Rhythm and Blues, Hard Rock, Pop, Metal, and even some Classical music. All of it got played. You knew that your music might not get played during a particular class break, but eventually it would be played. Furthermore, everyone was exposed to other music types – even the types that they might completely hate. The point was not to expose us to various types of music, but to realize that compromise means that you don’t always get your way, but eventually – you will. You merely have to build some patience to wait for your turn. And that for this process to work, everyone had to respect their classmates’ musical choices while waiting their own turn.

Respect. In my very biased perspective (yes, I have bias – I admit that), this is what is lacking in today’s “modern” society. Like spoiled toddlers, we scream and yell because our choices are not being chosen. We draw lines in the sand (figuratively) and claim a hard-line, instead of seeking compromise. We berate others’ perspectives because it does not line up completely with our own, rather than trying to find ways to get some of what we want while giving the other side some of what they want. So, what do we get? Here in America, we have a populace that is divided over political perspectives. We have folks we no longer have as friends because they voted for the “wrong” person – when voting is an opinion. Perhaps, we really should slide into a Communist environment or a dictatorial government. Then, we might be able to move forward without having to fight over getting “our” way *only*.

A little too fantastical? I mean, is there any way that a world-power such as the United States devolves in such a manner, just from the overuse of labels? Perhaps. But as I noted, labels are just a convenient way of describing those who are different than we are. We have never done anything as drastic as changing our government over something like that, right? Tell that to the First Nations children who were forced into government run institutions, such as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where they were forced to abandon their cultural heritage, in order to change them from being “savages” into “civilized” humans.

That is just a singular example of what labeling can bring about, when taking things into the beyond. I am not saying that society is on this Path….yet. Sure as the lowest level of the Nine Hells, I hope we are so far down this Path. I’m old. I’m not in the greatest of health. But I will fight to my dying breath to keep stuff like this from happening. And to keep it from happening, in my opinion, it all starts with respecting one another…again.

Revisiting "Living versus Practicing" and Expanding a Bit

I was looking through some of the older posts that I have written over the years, specifically in 2014. I rolled up against one I wrote on 1/21 of that year. Its a short little screed called Living versus Practicing…. Its nothing really earth-shattering; being that the topic is essentially a push-back against the phrase of being a “practicing Pagan”. That’s a piece of phrasing that still has me wincing inwardly every single time I hear it. The phrase; however, is almost a deeply ingrained statement that can be heard in many different Paths.

I still hold that it sounds like a description of going out to practice one’s personal Path so as to be ready when the real moment comes along. However; railing against the usage of a word just because it does not sound right to my ears is somewhat ludicrous. To others, it may (and probably does) hold a far different meaning. Honestly, that is what counts most – the rightness that is heard in your ears. After all, its not up to me to determine how Pagan you are or are not. I am certainly not the judge of what that is in you, and neither is anyone else – except you.

I have been on my Pagan Path a long time (a bit beyond thirty years). I remember being completely “on-fire” as a Pagan. I read the descriptions in Uncle Bucky’s Big Blue Book (Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft), and had felt my own outrage over some of the descriptions of how Witches and Pagans have been treated over the years in Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance“. I railed against that to anyone who would listen to me. I was angered over what I noted as mistreatment and misconception over this new belief system that I had stumbled into, which dove-tailed nicely with what I had already perceived of the world around me. Yep, I remember those days well. I was not a very friendly person to non-Pagans, or even to Pagans who saw a softer approach that could be taken.

Over the years, I have mellowed on that perspective. My approach is still one of anger and disappointment, but I do not feel the need or the desire to fight those fights. Not because I feel that those fights are unwinnable or fruitless, but because my approach to my Pagan Path changed. My time is taking with my service to Crow and Coyote, along with getting to know Abnoba a bit more. My service to my Gods is first in my daily Path. The rest of my available time is spent on daily devotions, and my studies in my Ovate grade. Add to that, the daily things that I have to achieve in order to keep myself alive, my house in good order, cook my food, and my necessary sleep…along with the time I spend on other activities, such as writing or taking with my friends – and there is very little time left to spend on arguing with others whose minds are already made up.

The internet reminds me of a BBS Special Interest Group I used to inhabit all the time (back in the late 1980s to mid 1990s) called “Holy Smoke”. I cannot remember which Bulletin Board System (BBS) Distribution feed it belonged to – quite possibly PODS-Net (Pagan Occult Distribution Systems Network), but I am not completely sure. Anyways, the internet has started to devolve into a place where folks can scream into the Echo-Chamber of their choosing on whatever topic they feel like. Honestly, there is nothing wrong with that. Until one starts saying that others *must* participate as well. Sorry, not my cup of tea. I will be happy to take the long, protracted conversation/discussion (not debate) around the fire (see Around the Fire for what I mean) or wherever else such organic discussion happens. My days of screaming into the void are long gone.

Circling back to the “practicing” v “living” aspect that started this whole post… I am still a strong believer that words have meaning, just as actions punctuate the meaning of those same words. I live as a Pagan, as a Druid, as a Polytheist, as a Data Analyst. That’s right. What I do for a mundane living is a part of who and what I am as well. I do not practice any of these things. I live each perspective as an aspect of who I am. What I do in each of those perspectives define me as sharply as the definitions you will find in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. And just as those words in the dictionary may have more than one meaning, how these terms define who I am will be different than how those terms define someone else that uses the same descriptors. The differences come in how we go about living our lives within these perspectives. We can be different, and still be held under the same descriptives.

So, how much of a Pagan are you? That is really determined by you. You are enough Pagan for you. Trying to measure how much Pagan you are against someone else is a useless comparison. You don’t need to be me. I sure don’t want to be you or anyone else. How much Pagan you are is your choice, and your choice alone. As a final example, I am a HUGE Grateful Dead fan. I have several gigs of digitized albums, and fan-made concerts on my hard drive. I have dozens of versions of various songs – by the Grateful Dead, off-shots of the band, and other bands doing covers of those tunes. Other folks may be just happy with the album versions of the songs – maybe even just the songs that they love. Its not for me to say that they are not fans of the Grateful Dead, simply because I have more digitized music than they do. They can be fans of the band as well. The degree to which they decide to be fans does not change the way I am about the band. And the way I am about the band should not change the way they are about the band. The same holds true for Pagan beliefs…and nearly anything else.

What makes a Pagan a “true” Pagan? What is in your heart. What is in your approach. If what is in your heart clicks with what is in your approach – how you do your Paganism – that is all that matters. Spiritual perspectives belong to an individual, not a group. Peer pressure is so high school. The same holds true for your Spiritual approach. If you are unhappy with your approach to your Spiritual beliefs because it does not feel like it is enough for you – add to it. Conversely, if it feels like it is too much, dial it back. You have the controls. Stop playing the Keeping-Up-With-the-Jones’ game. Be you. That is all anyone should ever ask of you. If something offends you, be offended over it. Just don’t be offended when someone else does not share your righteous indignation. No one *must* feel exactly as you. Ever. We should never build walls separating us from others based on the degree to which we feel others are “serious” about what they believe. In case you’re wondering what that looks like – visit Northern Ireland, as a singular example…

Thinking About – Magick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spending My Energy…One Point of View

Not feeling the greatest today, as I try and write this. Let’s face it, its flu season – and everyone gets sick from time to time. So there is a lot of water, orange juice and iced tea in my immediate future, along with a lot of time spent not moving around too much. That means that I have more time than usual to spend reading stuff on the internet. All the folks getting ticked off about a story on a particular news site about “becoming a witch in a week” or some such non-sense. Other groups of folks are in a ruffle over the impeachment proceedings against the President. Even more are outraged over a gun-rights rally that took place in Virginia, pick whichever side you want for the outrage. Me? Not so much.

I can understand folks being upset over all those things, as well as so many others. For me, I will keep my powder dry for fights that I want to spend my time on, such as combating climate change. Of course, that battle might be futile in the end, since there is some reporting from the scientific communities that we have already achieved the tipping point in the balance. Despite that, I will keep trying to help in whatever ways that I can – well, because I am stubborn. ::laughs::

There will be plenty of folks upset that I am not aligning perfectly with them on their cause du jour. I can completely grok that. I get upset when I hear people belittle the aspects of climate change. A much younger, far less disciplined version of me would be yelling in their faces, increasing the volume of my voice – as if decibel power were the primary way to get people to change their minds on a topic. Here, in what has started to feel like my twilight years, I have resorted back to an old format of dealing with issues – make my point, repeat it again to reiterate the point, and then move on.

Awen

Honestly, it has made life a little more lonely – since most folks tend to get the idea after a few attempts at arguing with me. I am happy to let other people have the last word. Especially, if it helps alleviate the sheer anger I tend to face for unpopular opinions. I admit, I only have so much energy to deal with long, protracted debates. If I had the constitution for that, I would spend some time and energy to run for the Senate of the United States, so that I can join the most exclusive nursing home in the United States. No, I reserve my energy for what I need to do within my own Spiritual practice, and other aspects of my life.

“But the loneliness…” Yeah, I understand that. However, its more a lonely process in the pseudo life environments, such as Facebook. I only share a certain component of my Life there. Not every aspect or moment of my daily Life is set there for viewing. Most of what I post is to share an aspect of introspection that I hope others might understand and see within themselves. So much more of my Life is experienced here, first-hand, without the aid of a computer system combined with an internet connection.

Before anyone completely flips out and thinks that I am saying that Facebook is a place of falseness or that the connection with other folks via the internet is a terrible way to connect with others – let me bring this point about. The internet and all the sites and platforms we have for communication are wonderful tools in which to stay connected with others, as well as meet many others we may never have the chance to meet face-to-face. It is a manner in which we communicate. You will get what you put into it, just as you do in face-to-face communication. I find these methods to be wonderful ways to stay in touch with others, but sadly – not nearly as effective as face-to-face interactions.

So, let’s bring this back around. How we communicate is important. The value we place on the communication we have is also important. How you spend your energy on that communication is also important. I could spend a few hours debating the impeachment process of the President with others. In the end, the chances of my changing the other person’s mind is imperceptible because the chances are so close to zero percent. I could spew my outrage over an article on a terrible perception of how witches and Pagans are perceived – but I sincerely doubt I am going to change anyone’s understanding of Paganism or even witchcraft (I’m not a witch of any sort – so my understanding is fairly rudimentary basic at best). I have no desire to shout into an echo chamber just to hear my voice. Rather, I would prefer to spend my energy connecting to the world around me – finding where I have commonality with others, even on things as mundane as Baseball. That commonality, when reinforced over time, may be helpful for changing perspectives in conversations when it really matters. In the meantime, I’ll be far happier to focus my energies on getting past the point of illness. After that, its the continued process of packing for a move away from my beloved southern central plains…

–T /|\

Life is a Wide-Open Journey…A Few Thoughts

Life is an interesting journey. Sometimes you find yourself on a wide open plain with so many directions to try. Other times, you find yourself trying to squeeze into the most impossibly narrow alleyway. Not to mention all the other path sizes in-between that are yet to be dreamed of. 1/14/2010

I wrote this quote as a Facebook status ten years ago. A lot in life has changed in that decade. A lot has happened during that decade. I made my way into the collegiate classroom after being unemployed the first two years of that time frame. I would spend three years in the classroom, enjoying every moment that I had. I would then transition to a reporting position within the college, where I lasted nearly five years, until finally finishing the decade where I started – unemployed. In some ways, that trajectory has felt somewhat unsatisfactory, particularly when I start measuring it under the standards of those who employed me. And while that decade can be colored in with that particular crayola color, its not truly indicative of what the decade brought to my life.

My life is not a single, monotone structure of failure and success. While the decade did have its moments in employment, as well as several health scares, the deaths of my parents, and a few other items of minor interest, there were a handful of moments of success and triumph as well. However, all of these are not the primary color of my decade. I spent more time in my Druidry studies than any other time in my life. I learned more about the deeper, unseen connections between myself and the world around me. Yes, some of that came about directly from my studies in the Bardic and Ovate grade material from the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD). Those studies did more to unlock and open portals of experience I had never really contemplated before, as did a year-long study I did with Cat Treadwell in the mid-range of the decade.

So, so many people have asked me what I learned in my Druidry studies, and what they might learn from doing those studies. I learned more about myself, how I connect to the world around me on a daily basis, and how to explore each of those connections. Those studies and lessons still stick with me to this day, and color so much of my way of contemplating the moment in front of me. For instance, as I write this, I have no idea who might read it today, tomorrow, five years from now, or even further into the future. I sometimes wonder if what I write will have any impact on how others approach their daily Spirituality. In the end, it does not matter how many find anything of importance from what I write. If I reach even one person, at any point in the future, and help them make a better approach to their own lives – that is all the connection to the future that I would truly want. One or many, the number does not matter, so long as what I write helped make some kind of positive impact. As for what someone else might learn from these lessons, that is really hard to say. Every single person is different. Each person has a different set of needs within their own Spiritual life. And to be honest, every person will get something different, according to their own needs. I know Druidry has helped me in numerous ways, especially in understanding the abstract, but I cannot say that anyone else would get the same thing from Druidry that I do.

During the decade, I turned fifty years of age. In some ways, I feel much older, particularly where my health is concerned. However, in terms of living my life – I feel like I have only just begun. When I was twenty, I felt like I would never be forty. That age was just “too old” for me to contemplate. Now at fifty-four, I hope to experience as much of life as I possibly can. I am open to whatever possibilities are out there. A radically different mindset from the hard-partying twenty-something I was before. I don’t have the desire to run through life with a whiskey bottle in one hand, while waving a sword with the other. I’m a touch more reserved in that capacity thirty-plus years down the line. I have begun to understand that rushing through life is no way to really live – there are intricate details to observe and partake of. Only when you slow down, do you catch those subtleties. And like I noted, I want those experiences.

As I noted in the quote, life is a journey. The past decade has been spent trying to wriggle my way through some fairly tight passageways to get to where I am now – where the plain opens up before me. I can choose nearly any direction I want, except back. I have been there. I want to see the things that I have yet to see. I think that the best plan at this point is to follow the pretty sunset – it leads to an even prettier sunrise. And the deep night between has its own marvelous sights and sounds to be experienced, under the gentle fall of the sky’s dark, star-brightened blanket.

–T /|\

Around the Fire – Where the Magick Really Happens

Every year, I have a few questions about what public events am I hoping to make. I am not much of a public figure, so I have never really thought that my presence at some event is a big thing. Maybe if I wrote a book that everyone liked or if I was giving some kind of Paganism 101 lessons, but I am really just like anyone else. So I am always bemused when I get asked this question.

This year; however, is playing out a little differently than previous years. Pantheacon was already a big “no” – and continues to be a “no” even through their announcement that this would be the last event. Paganicon has always been a “no” since their timing always bumps up against OBOD’s Gulf Coast Gathering, which I will be attending. Mystic South has gone from a hard “no” to a soft “maybe”. I am also making plans to attend the Austin WitchFest, which will be an interesting change of pace for a Druid. 🙂 All of this, I have already tossed out for reading over on Facebook before. However, there was a tag-along added to the question of what I might attend:

What would be your ideal type of Pagan conference or gathering, if you were to attend as a speaker or guest?

Well, I have attended different types and sizes of Pagan conferences and various gatherings. I have been in workshops that were heavily hands-on affairs, presentations that bordered on academic lectures, and rituals of all types. To be frankly honest, while most of those have been both fun and informative, I have learned more and enjoyed to a great degree stuff that was not on a program sheet or list. Its the discussions in the hallways or lobbies of the conference hotels that have been some of the most exciting and informative moments. Its the time around the late-night fires that have meant the most where the discussions can be free-wheeling and cover nearly any topic within the known universe. This is not meant to take away from the awesome work and blood, sweat and tears of the folks who put on the conferences and workshops. There is plenty of treasure to be had there, but its those free-wheeling conversations that have meant the most.

My idea of an ideal gathering is one where all the lessons, rituals, and workshops happen, but where organic conversation, actions, and thought takes place around the camp fire. Even with a starting topic already scripted, the conversation can carry into its own organic branching from there – and carries on for as long as the participants want it to.

Let me provide a specific example from the first Pantheacon I attended. There was a panel entitled “Morphing the Myth” which was about the perspective of mythic elements in fiction stories, science fiction/fantasy books, television shows, movies, and even song. The starting point was to describe each of these thematics in terms of how myth can grow and inspire, but eventual the conversation turned to a perspective of how to approach the Gods, as single entities, psychological archetypes, or somewhere in between? While the moderators of the presentation gently brought the topic back to the original perspective from time to time, the discussion continued to wander into other areas – developing threads of its own. These new threads brought new perspectives to my mind. I walked out of that presentation with nearly eleven pages of hand written notes. Notes that I still refer to today – nearly five years after the fact. These types of free-wheeling conversations are what I would enjoy being a part of, were I to provide a descriptive of the type of Pagan conference that I would want to attend.

While Pantheacon was a wonderful environment to attend, for me it was a bit too much. Not in terms of what was offered, but in terms of the number of people crammed into a hotel for an event. I prefer events to be a little more intimate and quite a bit smaller. I have attended professional conferences when I was employed, and I preferred the smaller events to the massively large ones. The last conference that I attended was for a national conference in San Diego. I offered one presentation on SQL code. I had over one-hundred people in the room at the time. That was a little intimidating for me. I prefer far smaller crowds, that is for sure.

An ideal Pagan event for me would be a weekend camping trip with about thirty to forty people. Just a chance to spend time under the stars with folks of a similar mind, talking about whatever topic. Typically, talks like this can turn towards one’s personal Spiritual Path, which is a super intimate subject. In a daylight setting, very few people seem willing to step forward, but when things turn dark – and the light of the fire does not readily illuminate everyone around it…. Seemingly, people feel more free to open with their own perspective within the semi-anonymous environment that a night fire provides.

Even for me, an individual that has been on his Pagan Path for a little over thirty years, those moments are powerful. People sharing such intimate perspectives of who they are, I have learned so much from moments like that.

At the Arlington, Texas Pagan Unity Day, there is a small clearing in the edge of the wooded area near the UU church where the event is held. That clearing has some rocks and wood stumps for natural seating, but the area is essentially a roundish patch of sand. The first year that I went there, this was where individuals who were providing lecture-style presentations were setup to talk. I have often wondered what an hour session of just sitting and talking might present in that same spot during the PPD event? It would be in the daylight, but if enough people were willing to discuss topics without being too intimidating, I think it might work. And really folks, someone that has been on their Pagan Path for thirty-plus years – like me – can be intimidating to folks who are new on their Path.

I completely grok how hard it is to open up to a grizzled veteran of the Pagan Paths, like myself…even though you should never be intimidated by someone like me. After all, I’m just me. if my personality is not your cup of tea, that is really just as awesome as would be if I was a long-lost brother to you. You should never be afraid to ask honest questions. Just my take on that.

Lots of folks like to sing songs and tell tales around a campfire. I am really not one of those people. I like to have discussions. So mostly, you will see me avoid the song campfires. But be forewarned…I do enjoy being the Trickster in the dark as well. ::Pointing at Crow and Coyote:: After all….

Really, my ideal Pagan conference or gathering is where the organic conversations can be had. I have enjoyed some of the most awesome conversations with people who were strangers when we sat down near one another in the hallway. Given some time, and a mutual desire to lower our personal, out-in-the-open defenses…those conversations are some of the best treasures I have from those conferences and gatherings. From my experience, that tends to happen around the evening camp fire more than anywhere else. I’m still trying to contemplate how a Pagan gathering can be concentrated around that concept…. 🙂

–T /|\

I am Probably Not the Kind of Druid You Thought

I have relayed, many times in the distant and not-so-distant past, the myriad of questions that I get asked by non-Pagans over my own personal beliefs. Many of those questions fall along the lines of the questioner trying to understand a belief system that is completely alien to their own perceptions of religion. These perceptions are typically colored by the banners of monotheistic thoughts. In the final understanding, either the questioner disregards the entire perception of polytheistic perception or their mind is opened to a wider potential perception. But the questions from Pagans are typically more difficult to answer, and are generally best left for a cold night, huddled around an open fire, and passing a whiskey bottle between us all throughout the discussion. or at least that is how I see it.

Most of the puzzling aspects tend to come from the facts of what I believe and what I follow. I am a hard Polytheist. I believe each of the Gods are their own distinct, Spiritual Beings. Simple enough, and rarely does this come into any aspect of heavy confrontation. I follow a Path of Druidry. Another fairly straight-forward perspective. So far, so good. I work with two First Nations Gods (Crow , and Coyote), and a Germanic Goddess (Abnoba). And here is where the twist starts to come into play. I am a Druid. I work within the framework of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD) – both of which imply that I work within a Celtic framework with the Gods. And yet I don’t.

I have been called everything from a hypocrite, to a non-genuine Druid, to a few other names I would rather not repeat in general company. I SHOULD be following a Celtic path, dedicating myself to Celtic Gods, and trying to work my rites under a Celtic perspective. How dare I call myself a druid when not doing such things?

Yeah. I have dealt with all of that. I do realize that the general concepts of Druidry are firmly embedded within the concept of Celtic faith and practices. I utilize the framework of ritual and practice as outlined by OBOD as a framework where I hang my own beliefs, my own perception of the world around me, and weave in the practices I find that not only work for me, but call directly to my heart and my soul. My heart is within Druidry, as I have come to understand it. Not in a definitive form for others, but one form for me. Some of what I do can be found in what others do. And some aspects of my Druidry are things that I, seemingly, am alone in doing. But it works for me. Furthermore, I am not claiming it to work for anyone else. I may not seem “authentic” to others, but I am not undertaking my Druidry for others. I work towards what is authentic for me.

My undertaking in learning Druidry through the OBOD system is not to become another Druid like [insert OBOD member you know here]. I work through the lessons in order to become a better Druid for myself. Certainly, part of being a Druid is in helping others. That I completely grok. In wanting to be a librarian, my desire would be to help others find the information that they desire. But to become that helpful resource, I would need to learn to be a better librarian for myself first. The same would hold true in being a Druid. I need to learn to be a better Druid for myself. In that process, I become someone that can help others as I learn more about the Path of Druidry, and the world around me.

Do I have to be completely immersed in Celtic studies to be a Druid? No. But I do need to have an understanding of Celtic studies to help me gain perspective on where Druidry has come from. Ignoring the past of the framework that I am using, so as to achieve whatever the future may hold for me would be….well, criminal, at least in my mind.

Alongside my Druid studies, I have decided to start learning more about the aspects of being a Priest. I have a lot of baggage that I carry around based on my perception of this word. Just as others hand me the baggage that they carry in regards to the term Druid. I have, somewhat, come to grips over this concept of Priest. I am not going to ever lead any type of a congregation – not because I cannot, but because I will not. That type of function is not for me. I do not need to lead anyone anywhere. But we can walk together as equals, and we can discuss topics together. You might seek advice from me. Or I might seek advice from you. My function, as I am starting to understand such, is to be there for discussions with others. Perhaps, I would be able to lead a group ritual at one point or another? Perhaps. I am starting to give up on the idea that I might look the fool in doing so…that might just come with the territory. The point is to not be afraid to do so…because in leading a ritual, I can show others that with a little work and some dedication to the task – anyone can have the chance to do so, and to succeed at it – whatever that means.

Certainly, I may not be the Druid that some expect. I sure as the Nine Hells hope I am not the Druid others might expect. I do not need to be solemn and stoic. I will probably be laughing a little too loud. Likely, I will be having long-drawn out conversations by the fire while passing a bottle of whiskey from person to person…discussing everything under the moon and stars. Because to me, this is what being a Druid is all about – living in the moment. Being alive for the now. And if my Gods are not quite what you would have expected…just think how surprised I was.