The “War on Christmas”– Trying to Find an Underdog to Fight For

Its the most annoying time of the year…

IMG_0140Well aside from killing your ears by hearing me sing that line with no sense of harmonics, the holiday season running from late October on through to Beltane is just not one of my favorite times of the year. Particularly, the closer we get to Yule…Christmas…whatever you want to call it. I cringe just being out in public during all of this stuff, hearing the constant barrage of holiday well-wishing that accompanies me from store location to store location. And then the awkwardness of trying to figure out how to respond without offending the thin-skinned well-wisher who is covertly shoving their religious beliefs down my throat. At least, that’s the way I used to handle this stretch of holidays.

These days, I have learned to tone down a lot of my animosity towards the large majority of Christians and their over-exuberance in sharing their beliefs. I have had to remind myself that not everyone is truly tuned into how difficult it can be for someone to deal with their desire to constantly share the so-called “good news” with no regard for the recipient’s own beliefs. Nor should they be. People handle their own perceptions in different ways. Sometimes, they have blinders on towards particularly perspectives – sometimes they cannot even fathom those perceptions. So I have become tone-deaf to the “Merry Christmas” tidings that fly through the air, some being the opening salvo on that war front. Because, these folks are only trying to share a small part of their lives with others…even when it wasn’t asked for in the first place. Then there are the ones that are deliberately confrontational and offensive over stuff like this.

I guess it was about six years ago that I first heard of the full-throated concept of the “war on Christmas.” I am not sure if I first heard of it on Bill O’Reilly’s show, Sean Hannity’s show or an interview with “actor” Kirk Cameron – but I know it originated somewhere in there. Of the three, O’Reilly made a better description of the concept and how it could be expanded. Hannity and Cameron were more like small children shrieking and crying because their favorite toys were not being allowed at the dinner table. And in the years since that time, I have realized that both truly are the equivalent of petulant three-year-olds that never grow beyond where they are.

Apparently, secular (defined as anything, not the exact bend of Christianity that the proclaimer is) forces are out to wipe out Christmas because its the celebrated birth of Jesus Christ. That the religious aspect of the Christmas season is meant to be driven underground so that it becomes nothing more than a holiday of gift-giving. Through this insidious plot to drive Jesus out of Christmas, the desire is to eventually destroy Christianity by chipping away at its edges until it is finally broken and shattered into smaller pieces. The old divide and conquer theory.

Kirk Cameron is a devout proclaimer of this concept, touting terrible end-times concepts in his “movies” where Christianity is thrust aside by the masses, and a handful of “true believers” are left to carry out their beliefs in secret, trying to avoid press gangs and hunter squads of non-Christians seeking to incarcerate and/or kill them. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I have watched Pagans go through much the same fears as their lives are torn apart by over-zealous Christian neighbors setting Child Protective Services on them, simply because they practice a belief system that is antithetical to their concept of the 1950s “Leave it to Beaver” concept of the suburban Christian family. The fears of Cameron and others of his ilk are mirrored from within the Pagan community – and I have no doubt that these can also be found within other religious communities as well.

Oh yes, fear of persecution because you live differently from others is quite real. We saw that fear given rise in World War II Europe, as Jews, Gypsies and other “undesirables” were rounded up and sent to camps, treated as lesser than animals. We see it today, in the way that immigrants and gypsies are treated in society within Europe. It’s no different here in the States. We have an underlying, deeply seated current of racism, a distrust of those who have come here from other countries and cultures…we fear the unknown, the people that are not “like us.”

Think I have gone too far? From “Happy Holidays” to the sad manner in which we treat others that are different from us? And by “we”, I mean the collective “we” of our modern society – not you individually. I would submit that there is no “war on Christmas”. Rather, O’Reilly, Hannity, and Cameron (and others like them) are shoving a narrative to set their supporters in a position of being the victim, the underdog, the oppressed, the outsider…all of these are archetypal perspectives that are easy for us to grasp. We understand very well what it is like to have the odds not be in our favor. You find it throughout our entertainment options. The many movies of Rocky Balboa, who never seems to be favored in any fight he takes on, and yet when he wins, we all feel like we’re part of it because we can relate to all the bad shit happening to him. The high school kids in the movie Red Dawn, who face down Soviet and central American forces in the Rockies, while the adult population merely capitulates. Honestly, it is easier to draw up the fight in you when you feel like you are backed into a corner…its a feeling we have all been weaned on.

No, there is no “war on Christmas”. For O’Reilly, Hannity, and Cameron, the beating of the war drum allows for people’s fears to loosen up their wallets and purchase whatever is deemed as “necessary” for the coming battles. Their hard-sell of the underdog in society plays on our worst fears: trapped behind barbed wire, forced to capitulate to a foreign God or Gods. Funny, all of that played out in the boarding schools for the children of First Nations’ peoples. If you want to see what it REALLY looks like, read up on that history. The so-called “war on Christmas” does not even approach that environment. Not even close. If that is not enough for you, read up on what happened in the concentration camps for “undesirables” or even in the ghettos of Poland under the regime of the Third Reich. Or look into the work camps in Siberia or even the prison camps in the southwest deserts for individuals of Asian descent during World War II – a lovely, glossed over moment in American History.

Yeah, there are many examples of what can happen if the so-called “war on Christmas” were given any respectable footing within our society. But it is a process that has many more miles to go before it gets to a critical mass. More closely to a point of critical mass is the manner in which we treat immigrants trying to come here to America – or even in Europe – looking for a better life for their families. Most of these people are seeking solace and shelter from war-ravaged and violent areas. And honestly, if I were in their position, I would be doing the same thing – going elsewhere to seek a better life. No matter how I got there. No matter what it took. Screw the “war on Christmas”. if you were looking for an underdog fight to champion…look no further.

 

Tapping the Brakes on Life

27858032_10155057913836751_1589891266989413670_nSamhain, as I have explained a few times before, is where I consider the start/end of the Wheel of the Year. For me, its a time similar to the Julian calendar turnover at December 31st. Many folks at that time will look back over the past year and reflect on what happened, as well as looking forward into the near future with resolutions and prognostications concerning their lives. During Samhain, I follow a similar thought pattern, though I leave the forecasting to a more generic level.

Throughout the year, I kept getting the urgent messaging to “slow down” from both Crow and Coyote. I made plans to alter my scheduling a bit more, pulling back from many events, and made the final push towards closing out what had turned into a very hectic personal schedule. My idea was to slowly pull back, and use the winter as a time to relax and turn a lot more inward in my practice. Apparently, I was not heeding what I had been told, as I found out in my return from a pilgrimage trip to Iceland, as I contracted pneumonia from my time there.

My pneumonia has brought my life to a stand-still. I spent eight days in the hospital before being released for home-care with a PICC line inserted into my right arm. That line allows intravenous antibiotics to be added here at home rather than me staying in the hospital. After a week, I was pulled from the antibiotics because my blood-levels were completely out of whack. I now wait for my blood levels to return to normal before finding out what the next steps in-home care will be. In the meantime, my pneumonia continues to run its course with heavy coughing on my part. My body continues to work the problem, albeit at its own pace.

During this time, I have been kept from work, which means I have far less to do on a daily basis than I did before. It also means that my anxiety and the pressures of my job are non-existent. My focus has been on writing (for as long as I can sit at the keyboard at any given time), reading, and working on my Ovate grade studies. Focuses that I have set to the side so that I can manage my job’s workflow in the past. All of that has been a step-by-step analysis of not only where I currently am in life, but where I have been in the past year.

My life has definitely been a race from location to location to task to task. A true comparison of the metaphorical rate-race, without the competitive rat. To continue along that analysis trail, I have been running in the wheel, but going nowhere. My recent life has been concerned with a constant barrage of work tasks related to data retrieval and analysis, both major aspects of my job. My problem was that I would bring all that home with me. There was no shut-off valve. Nor was there any outlet for other things or people that I could wind down my week with a few hours – not that there have not been offers of such, there certainly has been. But I continually fell into my pattern of work over everything.

The trip to Iceland was about connecting with a land that was very foreign to me, removing all aspects of my life to the side and focusing on something different. The trip was meant to be a change of pace and certainly served to be exactly that. I spent the trip relaxing, connecting with the land, and connecting with the people on the trip. In my estimation, I was the only Druid on this trip. The majority of the others were Witches of one variety or another – so there was a distinct difference in daily approaches to personal Spirituality. But with ten days, there was not really a ton of time to talk with others about such areas of personal depth – particularly when you are taking the time to get to know them as people first. Were the trip longer, I could see deeper conversations becoming a measure of focus in conversations.

I had gotten the messages of slowing down, changing focus, and diving deeper into my own personal Spirituality before the Iceland trip. I had plans to bring everything to a slower pace – tapping on the brakes a little at a time. Apparently, that was not appropriate. Now, before anyone thinks I am laying all of this at the feet of Crow and Coyote – you would be very wrong. My pneumonia was likely brought on by the change of temperatures between Iceland and Texas (approximately 60F on the day of return), along with the heavy pressures I had already built for myself where work was concerned. But this pneumonia is a major hammer-fall to what I need to change in my life. Something that Crow and Coyote have been chiding me over for nearly the past year.

So this illness, while not exactly the best timing whatsoever, is a major reminder that life needs to change. I have noted before, I am not a Priest for Coyote or Crow. I am not built that way and my working agreement with the two of Them does not approach that kind of concept. But I do need to tighten down parts of my bonds with both of Them. My work in the OBOD training materials also needs to be tightened up and followed. It was a promise I made to myself during the first Gulf Coast Gathering. My practice there has gotten sloppy and needs to be brought back together. Finishing is extremely important to me. And yes, there are specific plans for what happens when I am finished with all three grades within OBOD. Lastly is a change of perspective. Reworking what is important, and placing work in the isolated box it belongs in. I am so much more than the work I do. And its time I focused on that a lot more with the focus that the rest of my life deserves. Work has been placed first for too long.

As I noted, Samhain is the New Year’s point for me. This is the time of year that I tend to dive deep within myself and look at where I am, where I have been, and where I would prefer to go. This year, I get the added notation of my own health and focusing on fixing that for the future going forward. My future does not hold protests against the current Presidential administration as a high-level goal. Nor does my future hold a spot for me to be a “big-name Pagan”. As far as I am concerned, I’m just me. I ramble on. I prattle about topics here and there. If people listen, they listen. If they get something from what I say, that’s great as well. But in the end, I am no different than any other Pagan in the wide world. Just like them, I am trying to live my life. Simple as that.

 

Checking the Focus of the Lens

Every so often, I run into folks who seem to have a major chip on their shoulder when it comes to how others practice their own Spirituality. Stop me if you have heard this before: “I looked into <x> brand of <some Pagan-oriented system> and I just couldn’t get into it because everyone associated with it doesn’t have my values or ideals when it comes to a Spiritual Path” or some such nonsense. I grok that someone is looking for a Path that fits their values and their perception of what is wrong with today’s societal juggernaut, but when I hear folks seemingly get uber judgmental about how others are approaching their own Spiritual Paths, I get really disappointed in what I see and hear.

IMG_9670A long while back, I wrote a blog post called “I’m Woke, Just Not in the Way You Might Assume”. The point was that I do not really follow in lock-step on some of the various social injustice proclamations. And I certainly do not feel that every individual following a Pagan, Polytheistic, or Druidic Path must hold to the same ideals that I do or that there are certain “core” social issues or stances that make an individual a Pagan, Polytheist or Druid or even disqualify them from such a perspective. So, when I hear people slam a system of belief or even a faith-oriented organization because it does not fit their precious, self-inflicted paradigm, I have a tendency to roll my eyes and move on. But I always keep an eye out for these folks as well, because their self-aggrandizement can be harmful to others that they encounter. And I damn well want to be sure to not step in the way of shit like that.

See, I know what it is like to be belittled in ways like that. I know how hurtful that kind of tripe can be, and I certainly do not want to see anyone else go through that. I went through it with my parents. I had a desire to be a programmer coming out of high school. My parents did not want to see me go a route like that. There was not enough money in it. Besides, a medical doctor is where I should be. Both of my parents worked in the healthcare field, so there was a desire for me to follow in their footsteps. My younger sister certainly did not have the desire to head in that direction (nor did I), and while my grades were not the best (I was next-to-last in my graduating class in high school in terms of GPA), I had the acumen to learn complex issues. That was one of the skillsets that I thought really qualified me to be a programmer. Besides, I loved my little Commodore 64. To my parents, it was a toy, nothing more.

Every step I tried to take in the direction of working with computers was met with resistance. I was told I was not smart enough to do the job. I was told that there wasn’t enough money in the field to get rich. Even in my senior year of high school, I never had a desire to be rich, just to make enough money to live comfortably. Anything beyond that would place me in a position of responsibility that I just was not comfortable with. Yes Virginia, having lots of money adds extra responsibilities on to you that some folks just cannot fathom. For my parents, the amount of take-home-pay I earned was the be-all, end-all of what employment was all about. And every step I took away from that one over-arching principle was to be squashed, belittled, made fun of, looked down upon – even if it meant crushing my personal self-esteem in the process.

Yes, I know what it is like to have over-bearing people paint their principles, their mores, and attempt to supplant your hopes and dreams with their own. I spent a lot of time deprogramming my own personal thinking from those days, just to get back to where I am today. I sure as the Nine Hells would not want to see that happen to people who are trying to find their footing within their own individual Spirituality.

I get it, some people get a feeling of moral superiority when they can slam others for not finding a more actualized way of living. I have been on both sides of that coin before. But can we not focus on our own Path without having to charge into the judgment of the chosen Paths of others? Personally, I think folks can manage that, be able to focus on their own Spiritual undertakings, DISCUSS their own perspectives, and let others decide how they want to add (or not) this type of perspective to their own practice. We can certainly do that without judging the rightness or wrongness of how someone else approaches their own needs on their own Spiritual Path, right? Maybe?

Lastly, there are the folks who deem it necessary to make a huge stink about how a Path doesn’t work for them. Get over it. Get on with finding something that does work for you. I am more impressed with the folks who set down things that no longer work for them and check into other ways and perspectives without having to send up flares for the world to see where they have problems. As one of my supervisors in the Air Force told me:  “..solve your problems at the lowest possible level with the least amount of noise and fuss.” In other words, if I have an issue with a person, take the time to privately discuss the issue with them on a respectful level. If I have an issue with Paganism and find that it no longer works for me, it would be far better if I kept that to myself and looked through other Spiritual platforms for something that did. No need for histrionics. No need to pull at my hair and claw at my clothes. Just look, research, and try other things.

Sometimes, I wonder why we need all the drama in our lives. Why do we need to create something unnecessary? To fill some void we feel? Or do we need to draw the heat of the spotlight to ourselves? Me? Honestly, I prefer the edge between the light and the dark – where the shadows are in twilight. Not because its the start of darkness, but because its quiet there. Because I can spend time working on me without worrying too much about how others may or may not perceive it. Because, believe it or not, I may desire to not care one whit about how others might feel, but there’s a sliver deep down inside me that certainly does. I just do my utmost best to ignore it and to not feed it.

 

Looking for Advanced Pagan Practices – Roll for Initiative

How do I get my own devotional practice out of beginner status and into advanced stuff? I want to learn more advanced Pagan stuff, where do I go to learn that? What titles do I need to achieve to get there? I need to learn the powerful stuff, where or how does one get out of newbie status?

Good Gods above and below, if I had a quid for each time I have had to field questions like this. And to be completely honest, my answers tend to leave an individual angry about time they feel was wasted in talking about this with me, or disappointed and confused. And none of that has ever been my intention. I try to be as clear and concise as I possibly can, without leaning in one direction for the individual asking the question or being prejudicial to one Path over another. But where does one find all this “advanced” stuff? What are the rules, written and unwritten, to getting there?

To start off, let me cross over into prejudicial Pathways – otherwise known as my personal opinion. I am not sure I can distinguish between a basic Spiritual Path and an “advanced” one. To me, this equates to a level system in some Nintendo gaming system. The more experience points you have, the better your chances are at getting to use the “advanced” stuff in the “restricted” section at the library in Hogwarts. Its almost as if I should be marching around life with my level denoted over my head in a numerical form like some magical avatar. Yes, to be able to utilize some magickal forms, spells, etc – there is a need to build up experience and theoretical understanding of various foundational aspects to get there – but in my mind, none of that makes you “advanced” – just a little more knowledgeable and experienced.

See, I find labels and titles misleading and unhelpful. Looking at the way any individual approaches their own Spirituality as “advanced” or “basic” is just not helpful at all. It sets everything on a course of competitive comparison. We work on our approaches to Spirituality, trying to climb some mythical mountain of progress, marking our distance and speed towards completing each task in relation to how someone else. For me, it is not a race to get to some point, but rather the depth at which we immerse ourselves. For some folks, the necessary depth may be only ankle-deep, for others, it may be thousands of meters. There is no judgment concerning the depth an individual is willing to explore, merely that they explore.

For me, being an “advanced” Pagan is about expanding your own perspective, reaching out to feel new connections, find new ways of doing practices that have stagnated. In other words, exploring who you are and how you are connected to the wider world around you. Want to advance your devotional practice? Explore the Gods and Goddesses you work with, find new ways to connect with Them, find smaller correspondences to dig deeper into, spend a bit more time meditating on who They are. If doing things within a mystery school, a correspondence course, or even sitting down with other Pagans and discussing their approaches seems helpful – explore it. Or conversely, if doing it on your own with no assistance is more rewarding – go for it. Becoming more “advanced” isn’t solely about the learning of the minute details, it is also about the doing, the exploring, the work through trial and error…the perseverance.

Speaking of which, in order to push, pull, scratch, and claw your way through things – what is your goal? Do you desire to draw closer to your Gods, to your Ancestors, find a deeper communion with the Land…or maybe you just want to accumulate more power? Well, if it is more power that you seek, realize that there is always a trade-off in things like this. The same holds true with drawing closer to the Gods, your Ancestors, communing deeply with the Land…all of that has a trade-off in some aspect or another. Ask yourself this question before you start – are you ready to provide that trade-off, even if you have no idea what it might be?

I’ll be open and honest here…when I started down my Path towards devotional practice with Crow and Coyote, I had no clue what I was getting into. Had I thought out some of the aspects of all of this, I might have been a lot more cautious than I was. I doubt I would have said “no” – just that I would not have gone through all the jokes, humiliation, and smack-downs that I endured in the beginning. I certainly would have put my foot down a lot sooner than I did…essentially displaying my “spine” as Coyote had chided me when I expressed my frustration.

So, if you are still thinking about taking your devotional practice to the next level, I will provide some advice that I have created from my own experience. By no means do I consider this to be exhaustive or even “laws” of any sort, except in relation to my self. First, do your research. Read into the God or Goddess that you plan on working with. Find out everything you can. Pay attention to those details. Make sure some of Their actions as shown by the myths are things you can stand by. Second, weigh your options before committing. Make sure you know what you are getting into – now and in the future. If you can find those dedicated to the specific God or Goddess, talk with them. See what is being placed on their lives. If you’re still not sure – don’t be afraid to say no. After all, you have sovereignty over your life. Third, set your limits in the very beginnings of the relationship. Be prepared to accept restrictions placed on you as well. Its a relationship, there’s a two-way street going here. Fourth, pay attention to the way requests, statements and the such are worded to you. Sometimes dealing with Gods and Goddesses is like talking to lawyers. Words matter. Context is everything.

As I said, I have no idea what an “advanced” practitioner looks like or should even act like. And to be truthfully honest, I don’t really care. The depth at which you are prepared to go into your daily practice is at the comfort level that you feel you are at. If you wish to wade into deeper waters, later on, you can do that. If you need more shallow waters, you can do that as well. To me, there should never be any judgment placed on those choices. Going deeper or more shallow isn’t about advancing another level for your Dungeons and Dragons character. Your personal Spirituality isn’t some game. This, in my honest estimation, should not be about gaining degrees, titles and ranks…because none of that stuff means anything in the connection between you and your Gods.

 

 

So you’re an Elder…what now? Finding my role without really looking…

I am an Elder in the Pagan community. I have been on my Pagan path since 1986. Other Pagans do talk with me about their own Path and seek advice as to what I would do in their place. And honestly, every time that happens, I hit freak-out mode, even though I do realize that it will happen, and people will ask.

During the Iceland trip, I actually had a long, interesting conversation with two folks over a lunch. Yes, advice was asked for, and I tried my best to puzzle out how I would respond in that individual’s situation if it were me. Afterward, I still had my little freak-out moment, and I knew I needed to process this a little more because it has become increasingly more obvious that situations like this will continue to come about.

img_9678Part of my consternation comes from my dislike of titles, particularly those bestowed upon me simply because of the amount of time I have been on my Path. I can somewhat grok the perspective that my thirty-plus years as a Pagan provide me with a potentially unique insight. I have seen much happen within the Pagan community in that time. Some good, some bad, some not easy to label with a descriptive. I have watched some Pagans maneuver through their starting points on their Path with grace and ease, I have watched others include myself, struggle through some aspects in a difficult measure. I have watched some Pagan communities splinter and dissipate, while others grow, change and evolve. But does all of that observation (and in some cases my own participation) provide me with some unique perspective that makes me all-knowing or places me in a better position than anyone else to offer advice or perspective?

Traveling through this part of my feelings, and my struggle towards accepting my own role as an Elder has brought me to this point. What in the Nine Hells am I expecting of myself in a role as an Elder? My struggle with this has nothing to do with the people that stop me along their own Path and ask questions. No, my struggle comes back to a feeling of being responsible for someone else’s Spiritual Path. Which, to be blunt, I’m not.

I’m not trained as a Priest. I do not, will not and cannot perform those functions. There are members of the Pagan community who are more than capable of doing these functions. They have pledged their lives to be Priests for their communities. Part of their function is in assisting and training others who are also on their Path. It would be wrong, unethical, and very unwieldy for me to perform such functions. I am not a clergy member. It is not my function nor my role.

However, what I can do…is talk and discuss with other Pagans. I can offer my own solutions to some of the issues that they may have. I can add my perspective and opinion to the wider conversation. My thirty-plus years on my Pagan Path does provide me with a unique perspective. But my perspective is no better, no more rich and fulfilling than someone who has been on their own Path for less than two years. The breadth and depth of personal experience are not measured in years, but in the richness and fullness that an individual gathers through their own steps on their Path. Part of that comes through discussions with others.

So, as I struggle with my own myopic view of what an Elder is, how can find my own role within the context of this label? Or do I really need to? I work in my Spirituality under the precept that I need to handle my own approach as my own. If it doesn’t conform to what someone else is doing, that is perfectly fine, so long as it works for me. As I learn more and more about my own Path, my own perspective, my own Path – I have started to realize that my divergence from what is essentially the mainstream of today’s modern Pagan Paths is not because of a desire to be different, but a need to follow what is a concern within my own personal Spirituality. And the resulting conversations with some of the newer Pagans on their own Paths is not about converting them to my way of thinking, but just pulling the curtain back on where I have walked and how I have managed to get here. I can show them the hows and whys of getting here…they still have to walk the walk. They still have to want to do the hard work that gets them to a point similar to this. I am not their Priest. I am not their Guru. I’m just me.

I have always worried about getting conflated, confused and packaged together with others. Enough so that it bothers me to a degree and level I never feel comfortable with. And I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to distance myself from others and their Paths. Especially when its easier to point out, I’m not them, I’m me. There are similarities, some very strong, but in the end, we are still different because we are not the same person. I have and will continue to follow in the footsteps of others. Not because I want to be them, but because in some instances its far better to follow their efforts than it is to reinvent the entire Wheel, particularly in learning the basics. Once I understand those basics, its time to place my own stamp of personality onto those practices.

For me, Paganisms, Druidry, Spirituality, Ritual and all that encompasses all of that is extremely personal and individual. What is useful for me, might work to some degree for another (or even not at all). There’s no judgment in all of that. Merely a different approach or experiential perspective. My role as an Elder is truly a simple one: be me, and be available. Talk. Discuss. Point others in the directions where you have been. Talk with them about your approaches. Provide advice when asked for. Try not to be judgmental about other approaches. Simply just be there. And you do not even have to embrace the title of “Elder”…you can simply just be you. Just another Pagan, living each day in service to your Gods, experiencing what life has to offer…and being there for others. In the end, this should be service enough to others because a safe place to discuss any topic is where and who I should be. And through all of that, none of it marks me as “special” – merely that like anyone else, I am unique.

I Believe in Multiple Second Chances

lakota-siouxA few words passed between a pair of individuals – seemingly harmful and hateful, but the immediacy of all that will pass. Much like sticks and stones, words can hurt. They certainly can sting quite a bit at the moment. However, the elixir of time will be a salve well used. Well, in most cases. Some folks will take the time to hang on to those moments of anger, and slowly feed that hot ember until the desired moment arises where its fires will consume the world around the individual, providing that ultimate revenge. I know. I’ve seen the start where that passing of words happens, and after a few years overseas in the military, I came back to the smoking remains of what was a thriving, cooperative local pagan community. And I have seen it happen time and time since then. The variations change from instance to instance, and the circumstances are different enough to be considered unique from one another, but still much the same framework of the narrative.

Every time I see it happen, even in my much wider online communities, I still am sad. I watch people take up sides on some of the barest specks of evidence I have ever seen produced. I’ve watched them dig their trenches deep, set their weaponry to cover the distance between their trench-line and that of the opposition – ready to ensure nothing lives between. A literal depiction of this side or that. And that’s where the sad in me starts to come out. That people cannot, even for the tiniest moment, hold out a hope of a spot of common ground, somewhere that dialogue can be had. Somewhere that civility can live.

Yes, I can hold out hope for that common ground, that place of civility between myself and someone I am diametrically in opposition to. Can I have civility with a person who is a known animal abuser and is unapologetic about their behavior? Yes, I can. Just as I would hope a Dominionist Christian could want civil dialogue with me, an unabashed, unapologetic, hard-Polytheist, Pagan Druid. Because I believe that in every individual there exists the ability to be a civil-mannered individual that acknowledges the beauty of someone else’s existence as a human being as well. Even if just for a moment. Even if all they can do is stub their toe into the edges of that common ground.

Why? Because I am stupid and foolish and naive when it comes to my fellow human beings. Because I am empathetic to the people that fuck up and never get provided the chance to change who they are. Not the second chance. Or the third. Or the fourth. Or the ninetieth. The whatever chance. I don’t care enough to count the number of times. I want them to change who they are because they see how much others want to believe in THEM – no matter what they did or might have done. Yes, I am all for being careful in all of these chances being provided for them to change. Yes, I believe they need to be treated warily and with caution from here to the day that they die and move into the beyond. But in all of that, I want them to have those multiple chances. Because I don’t want to give up on them.

I have been there. I remember how fucking hard it was. No one wanted to help. No one cared enough to help. Why? Because I fucked up and betrayed what they thought was the image of me. Karma decided to be instant in my life, and bite me in the ass thrice. I lost the people that were my family. I lost their trust. And in all of that, I lost the only paying job I had. I had the pleasure of starting all over again. And I deserved that. And I was very lucky that someone else took a chance on who they thought I could be. And from all of that, I have arrived where I am now. Three degrees: a Bachelors and two Masters degrees. Three more degrees and a high school diploma my father never got in his lifetime. All because someone saw the potential, and kept pushing me back to the straight and narrow pathway that I needed to walk. And I remember all of that….

…and I cry when I watch my Pagan community rip itself apart over the slightest this or that. I hear Pagans talk about how Christians want to just destroy all Pagans to rid the world of our beliefs. We do more than half their work on our own while waiting for only the smell of burning sulfur dioxide from a match to signal the moment we start that race.

Maybe I am stupid. Maybe I am naive. Maybe I do fart cherry-flavored rainbows on Sunday. But I do believe in more than just a second chance for people. Because I believe there is a good person somewhere in every person. And where others might be willing to give up on that, I certainly am not. Because I believe in you. I believe in what you mean to other people in your life. And I am not willing to see you as diseased flesh to be given up on. Just realize, not giving up on you does not mean I won’t protect myself or others near and dear to me from you. I trust you, but I do have some limits.

Pre-Iceland – A Few Stems and Pieces

I am about to head out for Iceland this next week with Land Sea Sky Travel. I’ll be gone about ten days from home, and likely not blogging while I am there. That does not mean I will not be writing blog posts, merely not posting them. And to be honest, I have nothing in reserve. My mundane job has been a level of insanity and intensity I do not normally see, and I have spent most of my time running from point A to point B with no real spare time between. What that means, is that starting Saturday 9/15 to Wednesday 9/26, the blog will be silent. My hope is that I can get plenty of writing time in during the trip, and have a large group of blog posts ready to line up for folks.

In the meantime, I have nothing.  LOL Except for some smaller things that I just can’t wrap a thousand words or more around. I usually call this “stems and pieces” for a lack of a better descriptive…maybe I will come up with a better moniker for this.

Q: Do you know what God or Goddess is a good, direct comparison for Crow or Coyote?

Well, you might be asking the wrong person this question. See, I don’t see a direct comparison between any of the Gods and Goddesses. To me, that implies that every Goddess of Love is the same Goddess of Love, just in a different guise to a different culture. That really does not wash with how I see the Gods and Goddesses. Each of Them is a distinct being, very real, very unique, very distinct from one another. Yes, They do address some of the same aspects of things to various cultures, but to me, They are individual and unique. If I was looking for Gods or Goddesses that address similar perspectives to Crow or Coyote, I would start with Tricksters. Dare I say, Crow is not Coyote, nor are either of Them Loki or Dolos or even Bluetongue Lizard. All of Them are unique, distinct beings that are a part of their respective cultures and mythologies. I know that likely does not answer your question, but it is as close as I will dare venture towards that line.

Q:  You work with Native American Gods. Do you consider yourself to be a Shaman?

I answered this one on Facebook a few days ago, but I wanted to add it here and enhance my perspective a little more. My original response follows:

Nine Hells, no. I work with a pair of First Nations Gods: Crow and Coyote. I have a vow of service to Crow. But my rites, rituals, magick-working, spell working, what-have-you are not those of the First Nations’ peoples. Most of what I do follows closer to that of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids’ ritual formats with a lot of it improvised on my own part with what feels “right” at that moment. I am not trying to be like any aspect of First Nations’ peoples or of European Celtic culture or anything else. I’m just trying to be authentic to me. So why Crow and Coyote? I don’t know. I have theories, but those are only theories. I could have wound up having the influence of Thor and Tyr, Lugh and Demeter, or any other combination of the Gods that could be thought of. It turned out to be Coyote and Crow. As I am continually reminded by others, the Gods call who They call. But “Shaman”?? Not my bag, man. I have no training in that arena, and it would be inappropriate to claim myself to be that, just as it would be for me to claim a title of “Medicine Man”. My service to Crow is a measure of Priesthood, and I have referred to myself as a Priest of Crow…but in thinking on that title…that’s not a true measure of the relationship Crow and I have. So it would be much more appropriate for me to say that I am in service to Crow. What title does that provide me? Honestly, I don’t know. And trying not to be rude about it, whatever title might be appropriate for me, holds no meaning or relevance to who I am and what Path I am on.

Now, to add a little more: As I noted, I have theories as to why Crow and Coyote decided to work with me and through me. But these are just theories. Why? Because I cannot know the mind of the Gods (much less human beings I see on a daily basis who are far more erratic in their own behaviors and decisions). I live in an area that is the southern edge of what used to be the central plains of what was termed “Indian country”. Three different bands of First Nations peoples lived in or near the area I live in. Perhaps that proximity means something. Maybe not. All I know is that my life is lived in relationship with two First Nations’ Trickster Gods. If They ever decided to divulge Their reasonings with me, I will have a better understanding of the “why” but my focus is narrowed more to the “how” aspects.

Q:  See you at Pantheacon 2019?

Ah, no. Sorry, but this Iceland trip will zap all of my vacation days for the rest of the college’s year (we start on September 1 so I will be massively in the hole throughout the year). I have two days of vacation left over when everything will be done, and I have those earmarked for travel to Gulf Coast Gathering in March of next year. Besides, I have been three years in a row to Pantheacon, the first and third year traveling with John Beckett, and the second year on my own. Its an expensive trip on my own, and just barely on a degree of inexpensive when keeping costs down by rooming with John. I wish I could make it back, as there are folks there who go every year (they are in the “local area” – or as local as it can get in California), who I consider as family. I adore seeing them every year…but I gotta watch the pocketbook too.

Well, folks, I gotta bring it to a close. There is packing to get done. I want to hop on the Peloton bike for my nightly ride. Looking forward to meeting new people on this trip, seeing a country I have only seen out of the windows of a B52 cockpit, and relaxing away (and out of touch) from work. And yes, there will be pictures. Lots of them. I just have to figure out where to store them all, and yes, I will point you towards them when I give them a landing spot. Stay safe, stay well, and remember to find some enjoyment out of life…even if its just five minutes.

–Tommy /|\