A Different Drummer? Nine Hells, I Brought My Own Orchestra!

I do not typically watch award shows. Last night Academy Awards show was no different. My reticence comes from one area alone — having to listen to people pontificate about all the people that “helped” them to achieve the award that they have just received. While it may not be a series of empty platitudes, to my own – untrained – ear, this is precisely the feeling that comes off. Add to that, whoever is hosting tries to keep people entertained in-between segments with jokes that are either superbly flat or purposefully outrageous to an insulting and scandalous level. On both counts, I just have very little tolerance to subject myself to that. Sort of like the lack of tolerance you may have to taking a flat-head screwdriver and jamming it into your right eye socket. Late last night, I had a particular acceptance speech pointed out to me — Graham Moore accepting the award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie “The Imitation Game”. It was not the fact that he had won an award for a movie that I not only loved, but was emotionally moved by — it was what Graham said at the very end of his acceptance speech that prompted a friend to point it out to me. I have included a video snippet from YouTube here:

Essentially, his point is for people to stay “weird” — to not despair when other people ridicule you for being who you are. To not take your own life as a final act of desperation; that there will come a time when you stand atop the rocks and have succeeded. If only that were true to the degree he was pointing out — to win an award and receive international recognition for your talents. But then, we are back to where we were in the last post — trying to define what “success” is and how it can be measured.

I work in a college. Previously, I taught in the classroom with the same college for three years. During my time as an instructor, I measured success by what students learned while in my classroom, and if they could apply some of that knowledge in the final assignment. Most of the time, I was disappointed; other times — and far fewer — I was elated at how a group of students would take to the subject, and broaden their understanding. I joked, frequently, that I would be happy if I could reach just one or two students in a semester and achieve the results I was wanting. Typically, I taught up to ninety students in that time frame. As part of the administration, I see a different side to the “success” equation – students are measured under a grading scale. A’s, B’s, and C’s are considered to be “successes” – anything else is strictly a “failure”. And here I had been sitting in the classroom, counseling students that “failures are not failures – just merely opportunities to learn and grow from”. What a twisted quandary that is turning out to be in my mind.

So, back to Mr. Moore’s speech. Yes, I am taking a small bit of exception with his pointing out that if you stay “weird” – eventually you will be able to rise up above the insults and hurtful rhetoric that tends to be blasted in your direction. I understand where Mr. Moore is coming from – and I find his statement to be one of beauty and optimism, something I really wish I had in my early youth.

I grew up as a military dependent. My family moved whenever my father received a new duty assignment. Making friends was not something that came easily to me – mostly because I knew that in a short period of time, either we would move away or they would. I learned a lot of coping skills, such as walking or biking through the neighborhood on my own – and reading. A lot of reading. It was through reading stories, myths, legends, and history that I found my escape from people that didn’t want to accept me. And it was from those same books that I learned about developing my own style of who I am. In high school, I was considered to be the strange, weird kid that hung out with the “undesirables” of the school – the outcasts. Why? Because I found people who were interesting, intelligent, and not afraid to be themselves. Even when doing so subjected them to such unpleasant activities as “toilet-swirlies” (where you are dangled upside with your head in the bowl, which is then flushed). When I joined the United States Air Force, I spent my off-time answering messages and playing with folks on Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs). Some of those folks are still stead-fast friends of mine to this day. But that was considered “odd” behavior because I would spend hours calling several different BBSs every single day. It was through the BBSs that I found out that my spiritual beliefs had a name: “Paganism”. And embracing those beliefs – I was considered to be weird and strange within the military community. Overseas in Germany, I was accosted over my beliefs early in the morning (shortly after I had gotten off my shift at 12:15am) in the Post Office location – simply because I had been recognized from an article about Pagans that had been published in the Stars and Stripes. And the incidents have continued on into my later years…to be short and blunt about it – I am far more disinclined to believe in what others call “normal” – I am far more appropriately described as “just me.”

I understand what Mr. Moore is getting at. But I tend to put it in different words – which may come at cross-purposes to his point. I have said this to so many people over the last three-plus years. Both in the classroom, and outside of it. Just be yourself. If that makes you “weird” so be it. That’s someone else’s label. Embrace who you are. Particularly if you are young. I am nearly fifty — not quite old, but definitely not young. I have a fairly good idea of who I am – and I am still finding new ways to explore that. If people see that as marching to a different drummer…so be it. But I brought more than that to the show. I have a full orchestra. And I deal with that daily. Some people call it weird…I call it “me”. Either accept or reject me over it – I am perfectly fine with all of that. But to be honest, me being me is not going to help me to a position where I am standing on a stage accepting an award. That takes hard work – that’s what will get me to that point. Two loonies – spend them as you wish.

Being Afraid of Success…A Few Thoughts

Me in Dublin, TX - in front of the Dr. Pepper Bottling Companys located there

Me in Dublin, TX – in front of the Dr. Pepper Bottling Company located there

Over the past few months, I have been doing a lot of meditations and long-thought processes over who I am, where I am on my own Path in life, and why I am. Not exactly light topics to say the least. There are parts of my past that I am not very proud of.  The days of hard-drinking, trying to forget myself in a bottle.The manner in which I chose to separate myself from the United States Air Force — I could have done so far more elegantly than I did. The poor relationship I find myself in with my blood relatives – though the reasoning for it is very sound, and puts me in a far more positive place than the alternative would have.  There are parts of my Path in life that leave me very happy for what I achieved. The day I pinned on my Non-Commissioned Officer rank. When I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree – nineteen years after I finished high school next to last in my class’ overall GPA rankings. When I graduated with the first of my two Masters degrees, becoming the first member of my blood-related family to achieve a graduate degree.  But those are merely moments that help comprise who I am today.

Every morning that I wake up, I am a culmination of everything that has happened to that point.  Good, bad, indifferent. Each of those moments have helped me become the person I am today. And each of those moments help me mask who I am from the world around me. That’s right, there’s more to me underneath all of that – and that’s what I have been focused on for the past few months. So, let’s take a little look at a piece of all that which I feel needs to see the light of day. And its not something I am overly proud of.

Underneath all of the wrappings, underneath all of the various accomplishments that I have had – and underneath all of the failures I have achieved as well – is an individual that is frightened.  Scared to death of success.  I can hear some of the laughter arising from folks over that statement.  What the Nine Hells do I have to fear about being successful?  Doesn’t every person dream of achieving success at the things that they do? I know – it sounds like something completely stupid. Enough so, that I have told myself over the decades (I am nearly 50 ya’ll) that my fear of being successful was just my way of justifying failure.  And to be honest, there may actually be something to that.  Its a part of this that I have not yet fully explored – and am not sure I will ever truly know the answer before I pass beyond the veil. But it is there, and its something I live with constantly.

I hate being praised openly. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. I don’t have desires of being THE person in my company at anything. I have desires of being the anonymous face in the crowd that keeps things running and doesn’t get noticed for what is done. I am far more comfortable talking in terms of “team” than I am in terms of “me”. In today’s “me”-centered society – I realize that I am an outlier in the bell curve – so to speak. I am happiest when a member of my team – other than myself – is singled out for accolades and applause. I m extremely proud when that happens, and tend to be the biggest cheerleader of all during those moments. But when its just me, thrust into the white-hot spotlight, I have a tough time of it.

I hear from a lot of people that I have leadership qualities – and I agree, I do have that. However, I am not a jump out and charge forward type of leader.  I am the kind of leader that talks to people quietly, and steps forward WITH them, not in FRONT of them. Going forward means we step forward TOGETHER, not as individuals.

And yet, here I am – talking about this openly. Stepping out – in a slight manner of speaking – into the spotlight.  Well, of sorts.  The internet makes it easier to be somewhat anonymous. So my being ill-at-ease with this is lessened to a greater degree. I still get nervous when I do the podcast — I sometimes feel uncomfortable in front of the microphone on my computer – and all I am doing is just talking. Even in the classroom, I have felt somewhat twitchy standing in front of nearly thirty students – talking about computers, the internet, data, and databases.

So, I have sat for the last few months and thought about this.  I could stand up, pump my fist in the air, and proclaim that I am going to wipe the floor with this feeling!  I am going to kick its ass to the curb and move forward in a positive manner in my life! And while those words look great – the reality is that I would still have that feeling – being scared to succeed. Some may say that I have already managed to succeed just by writing this blog post. Perhaps that’s true. But I still have the fear of success.

There are tangible things, in my mind, to worry about with success.  Much of that comes from money. After all, in western society, we are taught from a young age that success and money go hand-in-hand. If we are successful at what we do – money gets thrown down upon us, like some ticker-tape parade that trumpets our triumphs to the world. But to be honest, that does not happen nearly as much as a lot of people think. People can be successful at what they do – and still receive a pittance of pay for it. Which lets me breathe a sigh of relief. I have no desire for large sums of money – I merely want enough to be comfortable. Able to pay my bills, groceries, gas, and have a little bit leftover to do other things with my spare time. I have no desire to live the life of a rich person – purchasing things that I have no need for. I just merely want to be able to afford what I need – and then a small amount more.  Nothing extravagant. Nothing outrageous. To me, that would be financial success, but that’s only part of the equation.

Perhaps its just me growing older, but I define success far differently than I used to.  Success is being able to take time off from my job – and head out into the woods for a weekend, where I can look up at the stars on a clear night. Success is being able to take trips to places I have always wanted to be – experience the Spirits of the Land there, and possibly meet with friends I have only talked with online. Success is just being who I am meant to be — and that has nothing to do with job status, or how much I get paid. And in thinking along those lines – I am not as scared of being successful.

To be honest, I will also be a little twitchy about meeting people who read my blogs and hear my podcast episodes, and describe themselves as “a fan”. Perhaps, I need to change my perception of that moment – and see it as an opportunity to have the person see themselves not as “my fan” – but rather as “my friend”. Sure, its a manner of semantics – a little word play, if you will – but in the end, I would rather have friends than fans – though people I meet could certain fall into both categories…that is if I wanted to play the “labels” game….

 

All in the Name of Greed and Profit

Not feeling all that well today, I took a sick day and have stayed home. In that time, I have sat and watched wretched movies (Van Helsing), and boring reality tv show after another…at least for the first few hours. The tv just ceases to have its former draw with me, and I stepped back to a favorite thing to do:  read. My choice of reading was driven a bit by one of the two History classes I am taking – the Dust Bowl, and Pre-Columbian United States’ History. The book I picked up was the one for the History side of the Dust Bowl class (its technically a Humanities class with a History, Soil Science, Literature, and Art History section embedded into it). One of the particular aspects that really spoke to me was the point that was made concerning the manner in which agriculture was treated by the government and the populace at hand during that time.

No, I’m not talking about GMO or governmental conspiracy garbage. The point was made that the farm was seen as a business. Single crop farming robbed the nutrients of the soil, because the farmer had to pay off debts that were incurred by purchasing newer, higher yield machinery by credit. The reason for the need for higher yield machinery was that the farmer had to work larger and larger acreage in order to compete on the marketplace. The higher yield crops – typical wheat and corn – produced a glut on the marketplace, which drove prices downward, creating a spiral or cascade effect on the farmer. Or, in the words of one of our four teachers:  “The American farmer was forced to farm the hell out of the land.”

Now, my farming thumb is as black as they come. I have tried my hand at crops such as jalapeños – a supposed “can’t miss” crop I was told.  After a whole Spring and Summer tending to my “crop” – I got two peppers. Out of ten plants. Yep, Farmer Tommy for sure!  Now, it may have something to do with the soil in my backyard or some such mess – the point is that I am not a Farmer of any magnitude. However, I certainly get the point – and it has more to do with my understanding of my world through Paganism more than it does through Agriculture Science. We must achieve a balance with the land, if we are going to hope to live from it. For me, my perspective comes from Animism with a dose of polytheism thrown in. Thus, finding balance with the land means finding balance with the Spirits of the Land and with the Gods that are in this region.  Yeah, I do hear folks saying that Animism and Polytheism shouldn’t mix and what not…that’s not my point, nor is it going to be a point going forward into the future. Its just the way that I – as one single individual – work with this.

A view of the plains to the west of Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

A view of the plains to the west of Medicine Wheel in Wyoming

Let’s try and face some concepts here as well, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of seven and a half billion people on the planet. And while some people live and eat better than others – I remember reading a WHO statistic somewhere that if we stopped all farming, hunting, fishing, gathering activities right now – that the current food levels would be enough to feed the entire world for about twenty days. I may be off a day or two in either direction on that number – but it is a sobering thought. Another sobering thought is that the amount of fresh water in the world is fairly low as well.  Here in the Texas region of the United States, we are entering into the double-digit arena of a drought. There are times when it doesn’t feel like a drought, but still the amount of rainfall we get here each year is substantially below what is normally expected. Droughts are a part of life around here – and they run in cycles. It winds up being an issue when it comes to things like feeding cattle, watering crops, and keeping the danger of wildfires down – though wildfires are a naturally occurring phenomenon as well.

I am not saying that trying to achieve balance with the land is going to be something that fixes things — there’s a lot more than just making peace with the local Gods that will need to be done.  But perhaps its something that would be a good start. ::shrug::  At least it seems like it would be a good start in my mind.  But there’s something else to remember…a warning of sorts.

Prior to the Dust Bowl, we – humans – farmed the Nine Hells out of the land, squeezing every possible nutrient we could from the land until it was nothing more than bare soil. That bare soil then rebelled against us, and created an environment that gave us the frightening experiences of the Dust Bowl (check out pictures of the Dust Storms that you can find on Google). We learned about soil conservation, and that we needed to plant in ways that helped keep the land in harmony. We learned about rotating crops to extract the nutrients we needed, which would also replace nutrients for other crops. But we didn’t learn the lesson.

Farmers planted heavily and based their entire harvest on single crop because that was where the money was to be had. In the last decade, we have turned towards a manner of extracting materials from deep within the earth, which help to fuel our vehicles, our economy, and essentially lubricates our lives. Hydraulic fracturing is occurring all over the world – a new methodology to pull nutrients from the ground in order to fuel our vehicles and lubricate our lives. Have we not already learned what happens when we farm and extract nutrients from our earth on a wide scale without an accounting for balance?? All in the name of greed and profit.

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

American Eagles Gold Mine Near Cripple Creek, CO

I have watched the Spirits of the Land in my area around Denton. For the most part, they ignore human beings, in much the same way that we ignore ants. At least, we ignore them until they intrude where they should not be and start doing things they shouldn’t – such as getting into our storage containers of sugar on our counters and pantries.  Then we get mad, get out the pesticides, and wage a fast war on them. As I watch the Spirits of the Land, and hear about the increasing small earthquakes that are happening as a result of what hydraulic fracturing is doing to the lands – I’m wondering when the pesticides will be released for us??

 

“Speaking Crow” or “I Finally Get It! Stop Pecking the Back of My Head Already!”

I will be honest and up-front — its a lot of fun to have a God in your life. But I will be honest and up-front — sometimes its not exactly the easiest thing either.  You wander around the Pagan blogosphere long enough, and you will come across someone – somewhere – that has had their life touched directly by a God or a Goddess. Some will refer to it as being “called” – others (like myself) look at it as more akin to being “claimed.”  But regardless of the verbiage that gets utilized, it is something that happens.

My Backyard Stone CircleBeing claimed by Crow has been a very strange experience for me. After all, this is a First Nations God – and is usually a part of the Northwest tribes. I am on a Path of Druidry – a decidedly Celtic experience. So its a little strange to find myself being claimed by a Northwesterly Native American God. On a whim, I did a DNA test to see what my lineage was.  I am mostly European/Germanic, which wasn’t that surprising, considering my mother was a full-blooded German. But there is also 1/64th of Native American DNA – likely from my father’s side of the family – emigrants that left Holland to settle in the lower Appalachians (Tennessee/Kentucky area). But even with 0.16% Native American DNA, I am still somewhat stymied that a Native American God would find interest in me.

I first realized that there was something there about four years ago. Everywhere I seemed to go, a Crow or a Blackbird or a Starling would turn up. I thought it was cute. Then, my meditations and dreams started to have these little dark, winged visitors arriving as well. When I did some research, I found that Crows were considered to be messengers – so I started to affectionately refer to these Crows as my “Emails”. The only problem was that I could never figure out their messages.  One night, I wrote a poem about them….

Every moment I look up
They arrive from elsewhere
Beating black wings
The Crows are here again

They bring shiny bits
Buttons, twigs, and string
Like small offerings
Brought to their Gods

I know they are messages
Sort of like Emails
Meant to bring meaning
With their offerings

Some messages are clear
Others…well not quite so
Regardless of the clarity factor
They continue to arrive

What are you trying to tell me?
What does blue shirt button mean?
Why the yellow strands of yarn?
If I could only speak Crow…

—Tommy

The past few weeks, they have become more and more insistent. Guided meditations, where no Crow should be, had dozens upon dozens of them. All sitting silently, and watching my every move. At times, I wondered if I was to be working a guided meditation, or was I seeing my death via some Hitchcock film? It turned out to be neither. I was being told more and more to do what I had promised I would do – to change the podcast from being about me (From the Edge of the Circle) to one that showcased others (Upon a Pagan Path). This last year was the first for the new podcast – and while I did a great job with the first two interviews – the rest of the year was done very poorly. My job was to get it back on track.

That message come through loud and clear at the Saturday night ritual at the Imbolc Retreat – now almost a week ago. While everyone else was raising the drinking horn around the circle, and offering up to their patron Gods and Goddesses – I watched the fire, and turned my focus inward. I sat down in my Inner Grove and listened to the Crows. They cawed and danced just beyond my reach. Their beady little eyes watching each move I made. And when I looked up, I saw Crow standing at the very edge of the fire. I listened as He slowly explained that I had to get the podcast back on track – to get the voices of the others out there. When I came out of my moments in the Inner Grove, I found I had not been gone for more than few seconds from the ritual fire.

Immediately after ritual and dinner, I stayed up at the main house rather than partake in the Bardic Circle. I knew that alcohol would be plied throughout – and being a diabetic, it was just easier to step aside rather than politely refuse over and over again. I pulled out my iPad and the blue-tooth keyboard, and set about checking Emails. Its just happened that in the inbox was a message from an author that I had expressed interest in interviewing. We have exchanged a few more Emails, and I am hoping to make the connection for the interview fairly soon. Another author, whom I respect greatly and love her work, was the one that helped setup this contact. I also expressed a desire to interview her as well – and I hope that can happen very soon as well. During the course of the evening, and into the next morning – I found individual after individual that expressed an interest in coming on the show and talking for a bit about their own Pagan Path. When Crow says to do it, I merely have to do it. And as if I needed more encouragement, a conversation I had that last morning…circled around this very thing.

Since that time, I have had a handful of personal meditations — and in each one, I still have a crow or two arrive. But nothing like the dozens of dozens that I had previously. Friday afternoon, I came home to find my backyard tree was covered in Starlings on nearly every branch. I made my way outside with a bag of bird seed, and spread the contents on the ground. When I looked up – they had all flown away. All I could do was smile, mouth a silent thank you to the clear, blue evening sky – and head back indoors.

Yes, being claimed by a God can be an interesting thing. Maddening at times, particularly when you don’t quite understand the point of whatever is being said…but no one ever said that life with a Trickster God was going to be easy. Interesting? Yes. Informative? Yes. Easy? ::sigh::

–Tommy /|\

Peering into the Flame – Thoughts on Paganism into the Future

Imbolc Retreat 2015 - photo by Amanda Godwin

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

What will our world look like in ten years?  Twenty?  Twenty-five?  One-hundred??  That’s really hard to say.  I am about as good at predicting the future as I am picking against the spread on National Football League games (I was .484 for this last season using a statistical model I created myself). But it was this very style of question that John Beckett asked during Hearthstone Grove’s Imbolc Retreat. He walked everyone through a guided vision/meditation and then asked for responses to questions.  He then utilized these question to extrapolate a perspective that he was trying to showcase in his talk.  It was quite effective, and absolutely fascinating. The responses were varied, and were helpful in
showcasing what John was aiming for.  But I want to take a few steps back…

First, I am glad John didn’t call on me to express what I had seen. At this point, my Dream Crows were in nearly every meditation that I had been doing – and this was still the case at this point. However, I have had close to a week to sit and think about what John had presented. Plus, my Dream Crows have subsided to a greater extent, but that’s for tomorrow’s blog post.

 

Wanting for the Future – Looking to the Past

To be honest, I don’t see much of a change to where we are right now in our Pagan communities over the next ten to fifteen years. Sure, there will be some groundwork (important groundwork) that gets laid down, but for the most part – I can see the Pagan communities remaining in local focus. And to be completely honest, I grok the desire of others to not only have a cohesive community with a wider focus, but also the desire for Paganism to come more to the forefront on the religious scene. There’s a lot more groundwork left to be laid there.

Falcon Circle at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Back when I was in the United States military, Paganism was very much an underground aspect. Coming out openly usually hurt one’s chances for promotion, and sometimes provided strife between one’s self and their coworkers. I went through all of that when I came out openly at Carswell Air Force Base in 1987. When I was finally reassigned to Sembach Air Base in Germany in 1990 – I know that many of the people I worked with (hardcore Catholics and very aggressive Charismatic Christians) probably breathed a sigh of relief. In Kasierslautern, Germany I found more Pagans to talk with and spend time with. Most were Wiccans — and at this point, I had stepped away from Wicca and noted myself more as a Pagan (in reality, this was where my original steps into Animism came from – including me taking super long walks in the absolutely stunning forests there). The group that I was working with eventually managed to get status as a “Chapel sponsored group” which meant that we could hold religious ceremonies in Chapel controlled space.  That was a first in the United States military. This also happened to coincide with the time frame where the Department of Defense allowed the usage of the term “Pagan” on one’s dog-tags. At the Imbolc Retreat, I was able to talk with folks who have been in the United States military – and while these aspects are still in place, and a few more base commanders have relented to providing space for Pagan worshippers — not much has changed since I got out of the service in 1994.

Request for Waiver – Non-Chaplain Personnel Certification – 8 Dec 1992

Granted, the United States military is a closed environment – particularly on a social level.  Its members are not subject to the freedoms that we US citizens enjoy under the Constitution. They are governed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which over-rules the Constitution for military members. But it is important to note, that very little progress has been made for active duty members in a little more than twenty years of time. Yes, there has been a lot of progress made on the front of grave markers and headstones for Pagans – as well as the formation of Open Circles in forward operating locations – when there is a military member willing to serve as the Lay Person.  And the military is most assuredly not the civilian populace in the United States.  (I know I am very slanted towards the United States societal aspects in this blog post — please remember, I can only speak for where I live).

But Progress is Progress, Right?

Yes, I agree that progress is progress. Baby steps forward are still steps forward. And those little steps forward mean that we need to be patient about that progress. After all, we are still the teetering toddler at the moment. A few steps forward, as we struggle to maintain our balance before we fall forwards on to our chests, or backwards onto our diapered butts. Then, we struggle to maintain balance as we stand and continue making our small steps forward. We must learn to walk before we can run.

So Mr. Smart-ass, how do we manage that?

That’s the tough one. We continue to manage our steps forward – mostly within our local communities. We have folks that are heavily invested in inter-faith relations and dialogue. And that’s a great thing. Until you run across the Pagan-folk that criticize the bad apples within a non-Pagan religious community, and than paint everyone in that community with a very broad brush.  To be fair, its a common tactic – and one that I hate to see utilized in any capacity against anyone.  For instance, there’s whacko politician Sarah Palin – who injects her version of religion into everything she espouses politically. She’s described herself as a “non-denominational Christian” — and yet, when she makes some whacky statement about the dominion of Christianity, I see people using that to paint over other Christians – as if every Christian beliefs precisely as she does. ::sigh:: And that’s just not true. And there are just as many instances as that with people taking some individual’s controversial statements that are made – and broadly painting that on to other members of that same person’s espoused belief system.

In my opinion, one of the first things we have to do is to stop the broad-brush painting attribution.  There’s an old saying I remember (just don’t know who said it)….

The cycle stops here…with me.

I’m by no means perfect, and just as guilty as anyone else of doing the broad-brush technique. But I really try my dead-level best to see people for what they are – individual people. No one is the construct of their own belief system – they are merely people. And people make mistakes.

What About Your Point on the Future? Where is the Progress?

True, let’s bring this back to the center point – where do I see Paganism in a series of time-line events. In ten years?  We are still making baby-steps at this point. There will be areas of improvement – progress if you will – but nothing so earth-shattering that Paganism will be challenging any of the Big Five (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism). Twenty years? Even more progress, perhaps Paganism will begin to flower and grow to the point where we can walk as easily as a teen-aged kid or an adult. Fifty years?  A hundred years?  I’m not so sure. I would hope that the world would be far more open and inviting to various faiths. But when I look back through the jaundiced eye of History, I see wars fought on differences of religious perspective. Some of them are not that far into the rear-view mirror at the moment. I see a lot of people being bombastic about their beliefs and using high-handed tactics to try and be influential (Kirk Cameron, anyone?). Until attitudes like those are flushed into the background and treated as suspect, unhelpful, and injurious – I really see no reason to hope for the kind of progress we all would like to have.

Ursula Drawing Crows

From my perspective, Paganism is the perfect belief system for the world going forward. There are harms to the environment that we need to mend, and I believe that we can get the Spirits of the Land to help out – provided we can prove that we are no longer the harmful species we have become. I see the Gods being able to provide guidance and inspiration for everyone. But I am also cautioned by my own patron God that I am merely one person. My predictions of the future – at best – are myopic. I can only manage my life on this Path as I have before – greeting the Sun each morning with a cup of coffee in my hand, a song in my heart, and a smile on my face. Beyond that – I really don’t know until I have taken my steps down the Path for today.

–Tommy /|\

Somewhere Between Departure and Arrival – We All Changed

As I had posted previously, I went to an Imbolc Retreat that was hosted by Hearthstone Grove of the ADF. It took a bit of cajoling to get me to go — but the crows pushed and pushed until I finally could find no other reason to say no.  And thus I went.  And had a lot of fun.  And learned a lot about myself.

Was i uncomfortable?  A little bit.  I only knew one person at this event in a face-to-face context. Beyond that, I only knew two others via an online context. The rest were completely unknowns to me. Which forced me way out of my normal comfort zone. I mean, way way out of my comfort zone. Yet, everyone was not only kind and open – but there were a lot of folks that were a ton of fun to talk with.  Good thing for me:  I’m good at remembering faces.  Bad thing for me:  I am terrible at remembering names.  Nonetheless, it took me about a full day to be a little more at ease with folks, probably one of the worst side effects of being a Solo Practitioner.

There were a few rituals around the fire, and each had its own fascination for me. And one moment of anxiety as well – providing an offering, which including drinking from a horn. Each and every time, I abstained – typically holding the horn up and towards the fire in a silent gesture before handing it on to the next person. I also never approached the fire with an offering either. Each time, it didn’t feel like the “right” way for me to do so. So instead of providing an empty offering or taking a pull from a drinking horn with nothing more to say than “thanks for having me here” — I decided that it was better to not do so.

My Backyard Stone CircleHowever, each morning I rose just before the sunrise and managed to stand out while the sun rose up over the horizon. So as not to make too much noise up in the main house, I didn’t get my first cup of coffee until somewhere close to an hour later. It was here that I made my offerings – quietly, and just at the edge of the buildings. The first morning (Saturday), I had a bit of a biscuit in my pocket – leftovers from breakfast on the road on Friday. As the Sun peeked through the morning cloud cover, I crushed the biscuit in my hand and scattered the crumbs in the area directly behind the bunk house, offering my silent thanks to the Gods and my Crows for pushing me to be there. The second morning (Sunday), I managed to get a cup of coffee shortly after sunrise (more people were up early at this point) – and poured the last of the cup into the grass near the same area – again providing my silent thanks to the Gods for the start of a new day. It seemed a little more appropriate for me – but I have to remind myself, I am a Solo Practitioner.  Quiet little rites and moments like this are a daily part of my practice.

Aside from being able to participate in a ritual that I had never seen before — I was part of the awesome energy that was raised during each one. I also managed to understand a few of the personalities that had driven from their homes to come out into the Texas hill country to give homage to Brigid. And driving home that early Sunday just before noon, I realized that this was the one thing that made this very special – and it was mentioned during the opening ritual. We came here – some of us as strangers – to give homage to the Gods, particularly Brigid. And when everything was over, we left as individuals that had bonded together during that time. Even now, a week later, I still feel a lot of that bonded energy each morning that I wake up and step out into my backyard to greet the morning Sun with a cup of coffee in one hand, and a handful of birdseed in the other for the Crows and the Spirits of the Land.

I sit here in my office, typing on a keyboard, looking at the screen of my iMac — and I remember the feelings of each evening and night. Talking with people that were new to me on a Friday – and when I left on that Sunday – it was like leaving old friends. Yes, there was magick in that weekend – some of it was even raised in the circles in ritual. Much more of it was raised in our hearts and souls.  And its that magick that I will be seeking – as I step out of the shadows of my Solo world…  ::Raising coffee cup::  Slainte!  I arrived as myself, and left as myself – and somewhere between arrival and departure – the fellowship of this group of people has changed me, and dare I say — it has changed all of us, for the better.

–Tommy /|\

 

ADF Hearthstone Imbolc Retreat – and Just Doing It….

There’s been an over-arching theme in my daily life for the past four months.  Yes, there’s the crows that are EVERYWHERE.  My dreams, my meditations (even where they do not belong), real life…just everywhere. At first I thought it was cute – all these crows constantly cawing at me, dropping buttons and yarn in my lap in my meditations – just cute adorable stuff. After a while, I realized there was a message behind all of this – that Crow was trying to make me understand something. I just couldn’t puzzle it out.

Now, I’m not one to be out in public very often – at least not the Pagan Community aspect of being public. I’m always afraid that someone will recognize me (beyond the people who know me face-to-face already), and just squee all over the fact that I am a podcaster. Yes, I fear the notion of “fame” – and its taken quite some time to get over that notion, much less realize it.  More on that in a bit.  So, when I saw the invite in my Facebook messages section from Chris Godwin about an Imbolc Retreat in the hill country here in Texas….I balked and attempted to put it out of my mind. The idea of getting out into the public is an issue of being gun-shy for me.  So I just let the invite sit in my inbox.  I didn’t decline it (like I normally do when get things like that) – and I couldn’t really relate to why I did that. But then the dream came up…where the Crow shouted “Do It!  Register and go!”…and I sat up in the bed, went to my computer, made sure I had the funds to sign up, and left myself a sticky note to ask for time off with work. And after getting the a-ok for that, I registered and paid my reservation in full. And right after I hit the button, I knew there was no going back.

And Still the Crows Came

Every dream, every meditation, everywhere I turned – there were crows.  Still.  I thought I had satisfied the necessary requirement that Crow had been bugging me about. I still didn’t understand.  And when the day came to head down, I got to talk with a friend through half of the trip about the dreams, the meditations, the crows…

“Messengers,” she said quietly after listening to me for close to fifty miles. “Crows are messengers. They bring information to Odin. Odin understood, but the Crows had to bring him the information to work with.” I shared a nervous laugh with her, as I wondered what the messages might be. On the third day of the conference, I was talking with one of the attendees, and she mentioned much the same thing. ::holding finger in the air:: First point to Crow.

During the retreat, there were two evening rituals – both of which featured the opportunity to step forward and offer a blessing or a sacrifice in whatever fashion you wanted to. I passed on both opportunities. Each morning after, I found myself wide awake at 6am – even earlier than I normally am. The first time was because of someone else having left their phone alarm on. The second time, I awoke suddenly. When I checked my own phone this morning, it was 0600 on the dot. The first morning (yesterday), I found myself watching a cloudy sky – waiting for the sun to rise.  But the second morning, I didn’t wait for the sun, I walked out into the foggy mist and off into the wooded area behind the retreat bunk houses.

About a mile away, I sat down at the side of the dirt road – butt on the ground, my arms around my knees – and I listened. I could hear the cars on the nearby interstate, their tires noisily gripping the road’s surface as they were compelled onward by their occupants. I could hear the caw of a crow, somewhere nearby. Damnit.  Even here I can’t be alone. So I centered and grounded…and asked what I wasn’t getting. I got four words in response:  “Not you. Do it.” All I could think was:  thanks a lot. Cryptanalysis was never my strong. I could fix the machines and operate them, but I couldn’t break cypher codes by hand. I slowly got up (I’m not as spry as I used to be), and my movement apparently startled a nearby deer having her breakfast. As she dashed into the underbrush, I murmured an apology after her white-brown rump. And headed back to the retreat center for breakfast.

Just prior to breakfast, I’m talking with John Beckett about the prospect of an interview I had been wanting to line up for the podcast.  After a few moments, he stops and quietly notes that he has an editorial comment:  “Stop talking about things and just do them.”  I’m not sure John noticed the look of shock on my face, but here was the Rosetta Stone I was needing for my meditation moment just a scant half hour before.  Trickster Gods…  I spent most of my drive home contemplating that entire few moments of synchronicity…  Damn Trickster Gods…

And Then There Was That One Moment….

Remember I was noting how much I fear the entire concept of “fame”?  During dinner on the second night (last night), John and I are eating and one of the attendees sits down noting that she is about to have a “fan-girl” moment. Now, John is fairly well known – so I was prepared to sit and listen to someone talk with John about his excellent writings on his blog. However, after she notes how long she’s been reading John, she continued with “…and I have been listening to you for quite some time too.” And I have my first moments with a fan of my shows that isn’t someone I already know in real life. It didn’t turn out like I had always feared it would…she had wonderful conversation, along with her non-podcast-listening friend who turned out to have a lot in common with me (databases), with both John and myself (John and me, John and I — whatever the correct vernacular is).  And her demeanor really put me at ease. Once again, I had blown up the idea of what it would be like to run into one of the twenty-some odd people that listen to my two podcasts would be like.  When all was said and done…I could hear Crow and Coyote snickering about how foolish I felt after that (and still do).

There Was a Lot More Too…

U BAR U Retreat Center - in the fogBeing out by the fire with a group of dedicated Pagans looking to raise some energy for a cheerful purpose was absolutely amazing stuff!  To put it into perspective for me, DFW Pagan Pride Day in 2013 was simply amazing stuff. It paled in comparison to what happened during this Imbolc Retreat. There were several good roundtable discussions (one of which was an excellent presentation on looking forward into the near future of Paganism given by John), and lots of good feedback from folks in the audience. An overwhelming thematic throughout proved to be that of hospitality, and of community. And I do have to say that our hosts were most hospitable people throughout, and are really amazing people. Chris and Amanda Godwin, I have known only online for the past two years, but it was super incredible to meet them and get some really nice warm hugs from them!!

Looking Backwards and Forwards…

Yeah, it took more than little coaxing to get me to go. And after all the apprehension on my part – I found that I had no reason to be apprehensive whatsoever. I have met so many people at this Retreat that I likely would never have connected with otherwise. And I feel completely enriched from having spent the time with them – and I hope the same can be said for them spending time with me.  LOL  If they hold this again next year…I am already making plans to be there…  I hope that doesn’t drive attendance down…  ;)~  But I did come away with one big takeaway that was specifically there for me…we’ve talked about making this podcast go.  Its past due the time to make it go.  And starting yesterday, this little boat of a podcast is moving forward, and I will not be the focus.  That will be the people who come aboard for an interview….  Its time to just do it.