This Space for Rent….

You don’t really advertise the podcast.”  You have no idea how often I hear this. Quite a lot, in fact. I jokingly refer to myself as the most invisible podcaster on the face of the planet. Oh, I do have the Facebook page for me as a podcaster. If you are interested or inclined its located here. But I am seriously terrible at self-promotion – I always have been.

Consider – there are far more well known podcasts out there with much, much larger followings than I have. Druidcast with Damh the Bard. The Wigglian Way with Mojo and Sparrow. Down at the Crossroads with Chris Orapello. All fantastic, and top-notch shows. And none of which I would ever consider myself to be on-par with. But then, that’s something that’s never really been a part of the Pagan pod-verse — competition. And in my eyes, that makes this small community of folks a very unique and wonderful group of folks. We even try to promote amongst ourselves — sometimes to great results… but there’s that point: results.

I have been podcasting for close to nine years. Nine? Yeah, something like that. I have honestly started to lose track of how long — simply because its not that important to me. Just like the download stats for the podcast don’t really matter to me that much. I peek every once in a while — typically about every three months or so. But the numbers just don’t mean much to me. The first two or three years of putting out podcasts, it meant a ton to me. I checked nearly every day to see how things were going. I worried and fretted over shows that didn’t download at high numbers like others. I obsessed over the numbers like a soccer mom with her oldest child playing in their first season. And then…I didn’t.

I don’t really have an answer for why I stopped really paying any attention to the numbers. I just did. And when I put “From the Edge of the Circle” to bed and brought up “Upon a Pagan Path” — the numbers meant even less to me. Even when others asked for the numbers, it was hard to really put any significance to what those download numbers meant to me. I guess that makes me a bad podcaster of some sort….

But lately, I have been getting questions about getting the word out about the existence of the show. I’ve heard people quietly stating that they really wished I would promote the podcast a bit more than I do. And people asking why I don’t promote the shows more than I do. And I have begun to wonder just how I could do that.

Granted, getting the podcast back on track with regular timing of shows would be best. There’s a plan in place for that to start happening with the upcoming episode that’s coming this weekend. I promote the podcast through the same Facebook and Twitter posting models that I currently use for the blog. So, aside from putting flyers under the windshield wipers of cars at the local Wal-Mart parking lots…I’m at a touch of a loss.

Interviews of me on other podcasts (you have no idea how much I recoil in horror at that thought – what the Nine Hells would *I* have to say that anyone would want to hear)?  20-second promos for other podcasts? I have always relied on the wonderful tool of “word of mouth” from listeners to help out there…. I’d do smoke-signals, but I think the local volunteer fire department might have something to say about that….

Yeah, when you get pecked enough…you start to say ouch. Well, I’m not only saying “ouch”, but I am also wiping away blood…time to put the podcast back on the rails. Time to make the train go again….

Discovering and Rediscovering My Gypsy Soul….

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

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

Currently, I am reading Neil Peart’s book “Ghost Rider” which details how he found healing after the untimely deaths of his wife and daughter. I admit, there is a definitive appeal to being able to travel places without any aim or destination in mind. I do find long-distance driving to be relaxing, and quite a bit therapeutic. Two summers ago, Pam and I traveled up to Glacier National Park in Montana – driving the entire distance. Along the way, there were stops in South Dakota – which included a drive through Pine Ridge reservation, and a very wild scene where a protest was being made against the liquor stores in the “community” of White Clay, Nebraska. The return trip included a stop at the very magickal place of Medicine Wheel in Wyoming – a location I have a very strong desire to revisit.

The long drive went along the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, which afford some wonderful views of the majestic peaks just to the west. And while Glacier National Park was a fantastic location to visit – along with the wonderful energy that the entire area gives off — it was the long driving that was most therapeutic and relaxing for me. I enjoy being behind the wheel of the car during the long drives – watching the scenery unfold before me, as each mile moves beneath the vehicle. Perhaps there’s a bit of gypsy in me, perhaps its the ability to viw the beauty of the vistas that appear before me — I have no true idea. But its something that definitely drives into my soul.

This year, the big trip was to Mesa Verde, and the beauty of the trip was marvelous. The Pathway in Mesa Verdeland around me was filled with the wonderful magicks of Place, and the misty touch of Ancestors that were not my own. This December, I travel back to England – the first time I have been back to the island since the mid 1980s. I have no idea what to expect — except that I will be on a tour with the college. So my time in various locations will be limited. But I know that I will be filled with a desire to come back again – on my own terms, and my own speed. And that will happen.

But I came back to my apparent wanderlust. My desire to travel to places and see. To experience. To connect. And I am sometimes a little unsure of the “why” factor or if that even matters. And I read books like Peart’s, and I understand some aspect of riding a motorcycle those long distances – the freedom, the feeling of experiencing….and I know a kinship with that.

And I am left wondering how that fits in with who I am, and where I am in life — and how it connects with where I have been, and what I have been in my past. And I realize…there are shadows in who I am.  Darkened little corners that I have yet to explore too deeply. Some areas that I once was very connected with – that I have set off to the side, to sit in the dark, gathering dust until I returned…I know who I am. But there are always parts of me that I will discover and rediscover….

Continued Thoughts on Ritual Improvisation

Yesterday, I went down into the Denton/Lewisville area – the area I used to live in – for a massage therapy session, and to see a movie. It didn’t take long for me to remember why I moved up here, a few miles from the Oklahoma border. The traffic, the teeming mass of humanity rushing everywhere, to be somewhere so that they could scratch an item off their list. It also did not take long for my anxiety levels to ramp up beyond belief. I have only been here in this new house for a handful of days, and I am already feeling at ease with my choice. Granted, my office looks like a bomb went off in it, I am still without a TV/Satellite connection (and not really missing it all that much), and I have two large cardboard piles in the house. But I am in no hurry to unpack too many things. A few things at a time – the essentials:  clothes, dishes, and books.

I have yet to map out a walking path through the neighborhood, but after I finish this blog post, that will happen. Not sure I will walk it today, since I have laundry to do. But it is far too long that I have been off my daily walking ritual. Plus, since I meditate while I walk – it will provide me the chance to reach out to the Spirits of Place and see how the landscape sits here. Life certainly is in a small state of flux, but I have learned that improvisation is the key. Which brings me to the movie I went to see:  The Martian.

Before going to the movie, I had a vague idea of how the storyline was going to go. I had seen a single preview, and then refused to watch any more. This was a movie, like Interstellar, that I wanted to really experience. And while I loved Interstellar, there were parts of the storyline that never really clicked for me. When I arrived at the theater, it was jam packed. Our seats wound up being on the far left side of the theater, up against the wall. Normally a pair of seats I would avoid. But, the seating wound up being ideal. I was able to lean against the wall and relax while I watched the film.

I am not going to spoil the movie for anyone, except to note that it delves into an area that NASA seemingly no longer wants to be in. Improvisation. Somewhere over its history, NASA has built in the idea that redundancy upon redundancy is the ideal way to go. True, redundant systems are necessary – particularly when things fail – and typically things DO fail. But what do you do when things fail, and the redundant systems disappear with it? You have to understand the basic premises of things to be able to improvise. You have to be forget what things were designed to do, and figure out what they are capable of doing. And to be honest, at times it seems that NASA has gotten away from this concept and become far too reliant on scripted processes, and stopping those processes cold when things don’t follow an expected pathway. Sometimes, you don’t have time for a committee to make a decision on what to do next. You have to rely on the issues set before you, make a decision and go. The Martian showcases this in ways it makes both serious, and light-hearted. I won’t spoil the movie beyond that – just suggest that you see it in the theaters. If, like me, you have not read the book (or like me were not even aware that there is a book) – see the movie first.

Kokopelli's Stone Circle at the New HouseOur own Spiritual Paths are like this as well. When we rely on scripted parts and roles, and insist that these roles be followed to the exact letter — we lose a sense of the Divine in that process. We cease using the scripts as a guideline to be followed, to keep us on track of where we need to be in the moment – and rely on them as an unbending gospel of how it should be. Sometimes, its better to set down the scripts – and open our thoughts, feelings and emotions to the moment. What does it matter what words you speak, as long as you put your emotions, feelings, and desires behind it. During Cerri Lee’s presentation on “The Art of Ritual” at this year’s East Coast Gathering, she made this exact point. It speaks to a grander perspective of how I practice my own Druidry – very improvised. More focused on intent, rather than words. But there’s a side effect to it as well….

During her presentation, I could feel myself following her thread of thought – noting where she was taking it, and knew I completely grokked her perspective. But while she was discussing it further, helping others to see where and how improvisation and dramatic presentation could enhance ritual experience, I decided to follow the thread in the other direction. Where was it flowing from? And its the exact opposite. There’s a foundation of how things need to be on a basic level. The framework, if you will. The bedrock upon which everything else is built. Which element is ascribed to which cardinal direction. When each cardinal direction is called. What element of the ritual happens when. Once these are understood and agreed upon, the rest of the ritual can be decorated and adorned with inspiration…allowing the Awen to embrace the role players, as they move forward with the ritual.

The movie The Martian follows some of this as well. To be able to improvise, you have to know two things:  how the process you are working with should work with the correct elements in place, and what other items can be utilized to replace the missing elements you do not have at the moment. I improvise my own solo rituals because it feels “right” and “correct” for me. But my manner of improvisation will not work with a group of people – all of whom understand the bedrock of what is being done. If I deviate too far from what is known and understood, my other participants do not have a common keystone that they can grasp on to. And they will be confused and not truly understanding what they are witnessing.

Its true though. Here in our modern lives, we do not improvise enough. When we are faced with a complex issue that does not meet any of the criteria that we would expect in this part of the process – we typically quit. We find an expert to come and fix our mess. Or we abandon whatever it was that we were working on and never look back. In the first case, I have someone that I can ask questions of, find some answers as to what I did wrong, how to fix it, and/or how to do it correctly. In the second case, sadly I have something that will never be finished. Gasping for metaphorical breath…

Warts and All – Fifty Circuits Around the Sun

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaYesterday was my birthday. It marks the end of my 50th circuit around the sun.  For those wondering how that translates into what today’s modern society calls our “age” – that makes me fifty. Yep, one of the “big” birthdays. But to be honest, I still feel like I did eight years ago. Currently, I am sick with a nagging and very robust cold — but I really feel the same way I did eight years ago. For the most part.

Eight years ago, I buckled up my belt, set my personal spiritual Path to the side, and started to look at other ways to walk my Path. The next thirty days would lead me to many doorways, but on October 30th – I set my feet on a path of Druidry, I had no fecking clue how I was going to get there. Just that what I had been reading and dreaming (in case you have not figured it out, dreams play a huge part in my spirituality). In time, I found myself being placed at the doorstep of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids again, and again. I eventually took the big step and started my Bardic Grade. And stumbled a whole lot. A whole lot.

Earlier this year, I took the time to go to the very first Gulf Coast Gathering, and opted to take my initiation into the Bardic Grade. I had already done the initiation solo, but being initiated with my fellow Bards at that moment changed my entire perspective. Two particular individuals were at that initiation, who I have a deep reverence for. Both had comments for me about my Path. Both have had a great influence over who I am and how I have approached my studies since that March evening. The solo ritual was life-changing as well, but the initiation at the Gathering was vastly different and to keep the the one portion of the entire initiation that makes it so magickal….that’s as far as I will pull the shroud back from the ceremony. The mystery is still key….

Its also reshaped some of my thinking as a solo Pagan – as a solo Druid. As I noted in the last blog post, being solo does not mean you have to be alone all the time. In fact, its always good to have some other Druids that you meet from time to time to just socialize with. That tiny socialization factor really does help – a whole lot more than one might imagine. A whole lot more than I had imagined.

So here I am at fifty years of age – starting my fifty-first circuit around the sun (to borrow from the Grateful Dead as I typically do). I feel no different than I have previously, but as with every single day, every single footstep, every single breath – I am changing. The individual I was ten seconds ago is a different person than I am now. That is part of what makes up the entire universe around us. We are all energy, energy that is constantly changing, constantly evolving, constantly dying off, constantly renewed with each moment. Interacting with all the other energies around us. In whatever forms those energies take.

So again, I sit back and look at who I am. I look at where I have come from. All the Me at 6 years oldmistakes and mis-steps I have taken in my life. And all the most awesome steps in the right direction I have taken as well. Reflection is not just about learning from your mistakes, but also reveling in your successes as well. And that leads to the one question that everyone always seems to ask:  what would you change about your past if you could?

Not one thing. Changing anything would change who I am now. And I really like who I am. Warts and all.

Being A Solo Pagan Doesn’t Mean That You Are Alone

Being A Solo Pagan Doesn’t Mean That You Are Alone

As I sit here nursing a cold, and listening to a wild Texas Rangers-Detroit Tigers game – I am reminded that there is a rhythm to the year. And currently that is aiming us solidly along to Samhain and the Halloween season. Much like Beltane, this is not one of my favorite times of the year. But its a little different this time around….

Gizmo hiding...sort of

Gizmo hiding…sort of

I’m not a huge fan of the overly commercialized version of the Samhain-Halloween concept. I grow very tired of commercial displays of shoddy, plastic costumes and the tons of candy that is set out where kids can pester their parents constantly for these items to be purchased. Do not get me wrong — I see an endearing quality in kids trick-or-treating in their neighborhoods in costumes that they make themselves (or with help from parents). I see a very strong connection to community with kids trick-or-treating at your door. But in this environment, where kids are preyed upon as victims of sick manners of abuse and harmful intentions – I can also see why things such as this no longer seem “wholesome”. And coupled with the over commercialization of the “holiday” season…well…

That brings me back over to the “scary” movies within the horror genre — something I am not a fan of. At least not in today’s movie environment, where the emphasis is on blood, gore, and abusive acts – rather than plot lines. To be frankly honest, I thought the movie “The Blair Witch Project” was absolute genius, in comparison to many of the blood-dripping movies that precede and follow it within the genre. The individual viewer’s senses and anticipation of what might happen next were key to the movie’s emphasis…but I digress ever so slightly….

Samhain is about a lot more than scary stuff. Its the time when the veil is at its thinnest. A time when communication between here and the Otherworld is easiest. Contact with the Ancestors is far more common. So, with that in mind, my own emphasis for this time of the year is in honoring those who have come before in my family. And if anyone has paid attention, I am not close to my blood relatives whatsoever. However, I do honor those individuals that I am related to. And Samhain seems the most appropriate time for that.

With my mother and father passing away over the past year – my understanding of this time of year…my understanding of honoring my ancestors – is a little stronger than before. While I was never that close with my parents in my adult life, but I do acknowledge that many of the values I have today come directly from growing up with my parents shaping my life. We were a military family, so we moved a lot. Which means that my friend-base changed constantly. It also means that some families we were very close to. And we crossed paths with them many times over the years. The strength of those relationships are part of what fuels the way I see family today.

My family consists of a lot of people who are not related to me directly via blood-lines (or at least not as I may have thought). But there is a very easy, very quick connection that occurs with these people. And one of the things that I hold to with them — what is mine, is theirs. And there are not very many of these people. Generally, they know who they are fairly quickly…and eventually understand how deep the connection is. These people are important to me. A statement I make constantly is that I would walk barefoot over broken glass for them. And I seriously would. That’s what “family” means to me.  And some of those people have passed beyond the veil as well. And every Samhain, I remember who they are, what they still mean to me….and how much my life has a very empty hole that is shaped like them.

Yes, there’s still a very lovable quality to Halloween. The tradition of trick-or-treating has a very strong community factor to it. Even with the danger of certain people doing dangerous things to children — there’s still a need to remember that part of being in a community is participating in little traditions like this. That’s what keeps things safe in a community. Knowing one another – and being committed to one another. Perhaps, its a trait we have gotten away from in our individualized society…and to be honest, I have to remember that even as a Solo Pagan, I am part of the wider Pagan community. Both those physically close to me – and the wider ranging Pagan community online. And keeping our community safe and strong means being a part of it…not standing outside of it. Being solo means practicing my Druidry alone — not being a Pagan alone. Quite interesting that this comes to me as we get closer to Samhain. But not so unusual when you consider the context that was in play at East Coast Gathering….

ECG Leftovers …But What Should I Wear? Further Thoughts on Ritual…

I am not your typical Pagan. I would say that is a fairly safe bet to make at any time, any place. My approach to a concept such as ritual is one area that is most noticeable to any individual. Most of my rituals are done impromptu, and solo. Location, time of day, time of year – all mean little to nothing to me. More important is intent and frame of mind. For me, it is literally about the nature of connecting with my environment. Finding my place, being my place in that panorama. Not apart from everything, but becoming a pare of everything. For me, ritual is a song of being, not just belonging. In a brutish way of speaking, its a party of sorts…but what should I wear?

If you asked me a few weeks ago about my ritual clothing – I would have ran my hand from my shoulder to my ankles to emphasize whatever I was wearing at that moment. For me, that is typically a t-shirt of some sort, jeans, and a pari of tennis shoes. I come from a point of view that one is able to achieve a state of connectedness when one is comfortable. T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes are comfortable attire for me – so it makes sense. However, that has changed to some degree for me, particularly after the Alban Elfed ritual at East Coast Gathering.

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

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

I was approached for a conversation about my idea of ritual clothing shortly after I had returned to the camp — and quite some time after the ritual. (I am not going to out this individual by name, but if they want to come out of those shadows – they certainly will if they choose to do so). The question was raised if I had ever thought of having a ritual robe or cloak made for myself. I confessed that I had not — although the idea of a robe made me a little uncomfortable. I had seen what several folks had been wearing, and none of it looked very comfortable to my eyes. But a cloak was certainly an appealing thought. After talking a bit more, I had to confess that I had brought something I had thought of using as ritual clothing – a white hooded, long-sleeved shirt. I had bought this shirt a long time previous – along with a purple one – for the idea of implementing this as ritual clothing. In the end, I had opted to not wear it to the ritual – and instead utilized it as my shirt for going home on the plane. In retrospect, I wish I had worn it to the ritual instead.

Our conversation soon turned to the “why” of keeping ritual clothing. I understood the aspect of having something that was worn specifically for ritual – bringing the act of ritual to a level above the everyday. The clothing helps to heighten one’s awareness of the particular act of ritual – elevating it slightly from the everyday toil of life. And while the everyday toil of life is a ritual in its own respect, providing actions that are tied in with our beliefs – making the moment of living just as sacred as any moment in ritual – the act of ritual is a celebratory moment, where we connect with our environment, with our Gods and Goddesses, and rejoice in the moment…

So, I have once again set my hooded white shirt to the side – only to be worn for rituals. Granted, I will still be wearing jeans and tennis shoes, but the shirt will have a different significance – a different purpose. Yeah, I will still look a lot different than the people wearing white robes — but my clothing will have a similar purpose and intent. There’s that intent word again…there’s meaning behind that too….

ECG Leftovers — Solo Practice Thoughts

I have been back from OBOD’s East Coast Gathering in Pennsylvania for a little under a week now. I cannot get the sights, sounds, and conversations that I encountered throughout that weekend out of my mind. I was not really involved with too many of the conversations, as I had chosen to be in the background of most things, such is my nature as a solo practitioner. But there was a single moment that still sticks in my mind.

Yes, that moment in time was Cerri Lee’s talk as I had mentioned previously. There was a lot that she talked about where ritual was concerned – the logistics, the mannerisms towards making ritual a much more robust experience. But then, she started discussing how public rituals – as well as gatherings like ECG – served another purpose for those solo practitioners: providing the experience of being in a group.

Now, I am a solo practitioner – I am really beginning to detest the term “solitairy” – by choice. I have several Pagan and Druidry groups around me. I could easily join one and get the “group experience” that many Pagans enjoy. But I enjoy being a solo practitioner – able to choose my direction from a moment’s thought, and explore. And not have to be tied at the ankle with someone else, who may not be wanting this same direction of exploration at the time. My rituals for the Wheel of the Year are done by myself with no one else involved. These are impromptu as well — utilizing the OBOD ritual schematic as a framework, but weaving in what seems and feels right at that moment. Sometimes spoken, sometimes not — its a manner and style that works best for me.
But these public gatherings provide a different element for me. I am able to watch and observe others in ritual. See how they encompass the roles they are provided. During the Alban Elfed ritual, the Queen of the Harvest strode into the center of the circle, shrugging her cloak off with an effortless motion, and strode forward with a bearing that suggested she was the Queen. Her bearing was incredible — and she had me envisioning her as the Queen. She sold me on her part in that role. And I watched and observed, seeing how she not only played her part – she channeled it. She was the Queen, the physical embodiment of that role. I watched others as well – the fluid, easy-going manner that some had. As if ritual was a natural part of who they were – whether they were in the circle or not. Their bearing was the same inside the ritual circle as it was outside. In a way, I could observe them anywhere and see their Druidry in action. Sitting at a table discussing something as mundane as a Science Fiction television show, or something as deep and personal as their observation on what the Gods and Goddesses mean to them.

Cerri Lee also made the comment that “lone wolves were few and far between.” At first, I disagreed with this comment – after all, I am that Lone Wolf that she was discussing. However, in thinking further and deeper on that – she has a valid and important point. I can definitely remain in my aspect as a solo practitioner. However, at some point in time, I need to rejoin with people that are like me:  Pagans and Druids – and not necessarily those that are also solo practitioners. After all, OBOD has become my family. My tribe. My brothers and sisters. At Gulf Coast Gathering, we all cautiously sniffed at one another – trying to get a feel for one another. At East Coast Gathering, it was like a family reunion. My tribe.

My tribe. As a solo practitioner, the idea feels a little strange to me. As someone who has been on my Bardic grade for a while, I had never really noticed that before. And it showed in the way I went about my studies. I kept looking at some of the lessons in terms of solo work, and never added in the elements of working with others or others figured into what I was doing. Now, my studies have changed somewhat – I look at both aspects, and a lot of what I was not “getting” is starting to feel natural to me. But again, as a solo Pagan, it can sometimes be a little odd feeling for me.

In a manner of speaking, its a lot like living in a third-floor apartment of a forty-floor building — and being the only person living there. Once other people start moving, you start to understand the needs of being in a community. There’s the degree of protection, but there’s more in the spirit of fellowship as well. Of knowing that if you get stuck somewhere – you need only ask for help. And as I start to truly understand all of this, as I start to realize that respect, compassion, and truly loving and caring about others in a group can be possible — my ability to respect others, to have compassion for those in need – and even those who have no respect for me — I can feel my Path changing. Expanding. Growing. And all of that brings so much more meaning into every single moment in life for me. Each moment is unique. Everything around me is changing in each moment. Some at more rapid rates than others. All of them affecting and exchanging energy with others to varying degrees. And the depth of that thought is amazingly deep for me to contemplate.

Such deep, deep waters indeed.