The Spokes of the Wheel

So, another Beltane has come and will soon be gone. I’ve said it before, this is not my favorite festival of the year. In fact, it rates right down there with Samhain for me. And what makes that even stranger for me – these are two festivals that are directly across from one another on the Wheel. But I have had plenty of Pagan folk ask me why these two in particular? And I have answered time and time again – its not really the festivals that make this time of the year not so much fun. Its the over-emphasis on these two points on the Wheel.

Just After Sunrise - Glacier National Park

Perhaps, I approach things from a far more odd-ball perspective than most Pagans. For me, each day provides a new moment in time, with the eight marked spokes on the Wheel as markers for the rotation. Each moment, each minuscule turn of the Wheel provides a point for reflection, celebration, and marvel. But much like Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter are moments for celebration, I continually remind myself that there are those that will place emphasis on these points for reasons far different than my own. And to stomp all over that would be nothing more than sour grapes on my part. Or so it would seem to someone else. The reality is merely that I just choose to approach the Wheel from a slightly different vantage point.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post talking about why I celebrate Beltane alone. To this day, it still holds true, though I am trying my best to come out of my shell a bit more. I had planned to attend a Beltane celebration today, just an hour away. When the location got moved at the last minute because of events that were beyond the control of the organizers, I had to reluctantly cancel. An hour drive in one direction I can handle. A two and a half hour drive in one direction, that’s not ideal. Especially when it called for traversing DFW traffic to get to the location. Still, it would have been nice if the plans had not changed as drastically as it had happened.

Perhaps next year. Lots of factors will need to be in play for that to be determined. In the meantime, I spent my Beltane in a quiet fashion. Doing my weekly chores around the house, working on my OBOD studies, setting out my morning offerings to the Spirits of Place and the Gods…and observing the day, just as I had yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. And as I will tomorrow. And the day after that, and the day after that. The marked spokes on the Wheel are nice observances of moments in time. But my work as a Pagan happens daily. And for me, each day is a special moment in time…which will never happen again. Nor will I be able to revisit it, except in my memories.

Being a Generalist in a Specialized World

At one point in my working career, I was considered to be a generalist. An individual with knowledge of many working areas (in my case, Hardware and Software), but no specialization. At the lower rungs in the business environment, this was particularly fine for someone that was just starting out in a company. But as I advanced further down the line in my career, I was pushed more and more towards the concept of specialization. Until I find myself where I am now – Data Scientist, Data Analyst, Data Herder….whatever title you’d like to bestow upon me. My job is simple. Get information out of the complex data network that the college has, and get that individualized data to the correct people to help them make an informed decision of some sort.

I cam across the following passage in “Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing” by Robert Wolff. And this passage has certainly got my gears grinding over the difference between the way Pagan beliefs tend to approach spirituality, ritual and honoring the Gods, and how more mainstream systems such as Christianity do the same.

All systems (health systems, economic systems or political systems) are creations of our unique way of looking at the world, our reality. Systems are expressions of our beliefs.

…(A)ll our systems are designed around a belief that everything is so complex and difficult to manage that we require experts to help us navigate. There are experts for every aspect of life. Everyone who does anything at all needs training, probably a degree or a diploma, certainly a license. The result is that each of us is powerless, except in the narrow slice of the world we ourselves inhabit. There is hardly anything we can – or are allowed to – do for ourselves. We are made to think that we must ask for expert advice for everything we do.

Because systems are rooted in beliefs, we and even the experts find it difficult to imagine that there might be other ways of doing things. We cannot imagine that there are other beliefs. Thus we think that ours is the only true reality, that other people, other cultures, are backward, archaic, underdeveloped, and so on.

By judging others as less than ourselves, we cannot learn from them. That is sad, because we throw away, suppress, and deny the accumulated wisdom of generations or ancestors. (p.59-60, “Original Wisdom: Stories of an Ancient Way of Knowing” by Robert Woolf.

A few days back, I wrote about my need to redefine the concept of the term “Priest” and how it related to me. In reading this, I am realizing that my problem is not so much that the role is defined in a certain manner by Christian concepts. Its the specialized nature of the role within the Christian definitions that bothers me so much. In many Christian churches, I sat in the pews and listened to frothy-mouthed pastors shout about how to follow the word of God as it sprang forth from the Bible. They would utilize a concordance to help assign modern definitions to translated words and passages. They assumed a role as an intercessor between their congregation and God. It was this specialization that I have been assign to the term Priest…correctly or incorrectly.

IMG_0243For me, as I have to come to understand what the role of a Priest means to me, I find my understanding to be different. As a Priest, my role is not to serve as a position between someone and the Gods. My role is to help in honoring the Gods through ritual – whether solo or in a group. I may be a mentor of sorts to those who are young on their own Path, but even then I am not to serve between the individuals and the Gods. I am to be there, to stand by their side and offer support, and advice. And whatever advice I offer can be rejected, as the choice is the adherent’s to make, not mine. My role, as a Priest, is to be more of a generalist in service to the Gods, to my Community, to my extended family, and to myself.

Certainly, this different manner of looking at the concept of Priest is a step in a slightly different direction on the Path…but its a step I am willing to explore and embrace, as I discover the new sights and sounds with this unmarked trail….

 

What Does It Mean to Be a Pagan?

Every time someone that *thinks* they know me finds out that I am a Pagan, the questions begin in a cascade. I am used to the shower of questions, followed by more questions, cynicism, disappointment, happiness, and the literal tidal flow of other emotions and questions. But sometimes, its a decent exercise to stop, pull up some ground underneath a tree, and ask some of the questions of myself. Some folks call that “navel gazing” – so be it. For me, its more like a casual inventory to see where I am headed along my personal, everyday Path. Sort of like stopping from time to time, and checking the backpack to make sure that there’s plenty of rations for the next few days, and that there’s enough clean clothes before I pass beyond this stream.

There’s literally a dozen-dozen ways to describe what a Pagan is, isn’t could-be, might-be, should-be….but I am not trying to define what a Pagan is for the masses. Rather, I’ll approach what being a Pagan means to me. I am all for disagreement over the terminology, but in the end, this particular meaning is my own.

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaBeing a Pagan is about being not only connected with one’s environment, but also being aware of that connection. Yeah, that should be vague enough. LOL For me, its being aware of the changing in the seasons, and how those changes affect not only me, but the immediate area around me. Currently, my area of the world is experiencing Spring. I drive through a set of cow pastures via a Farm-Road, and have passed many new-born calves in the fields, attended by their mamas. The sights of those little calves going all wobbly on their new legs has been fun to watch, as has been their transition to running, frolicking little cows as well. As I watch, I am reminded of all the people I have encountered in this last year that have started on their respective Paths. During Gulf Coast Gathering, I was honored to lead a Bard initiate to her Bardic initiation in OBOD. I was also present to watch several others taking their initial steps on their respective Paths. Their excitement and enthusiasm has helped fuel my own desire to finish with my long trek through the Bardic grade as well. Yes, the enthusiasm of frolicking Bardic initiates is contagious, indeed!

While my own Pagan Path is rooted in my connectivity to the world around me, I am also a polytheist. The Gods and Goddesses are indeed real. Every day, I leave a small portion of my lunch outside for the local Crows and Sparrows. This is my offering to Crow, the God I am pledged to. My offering of water in the evening, at my backyard circle, is for Fliodhas and Coyote, the Goddess and God that I also work frequently with. I do these offerings as daily devotionals to these three, because I wish to honor them. I accord myself with the Gods because I not only believe, but know that they are real. I do not wish to be someone that attempts to convert people to how I believe. I would rather that people who do believe come to polytheism on their own; there is no need to swell the masses by forcing people to believe. Either they do or they don’t. For me, it really is that simple.

Above anything else, being a Pagan is simply living my life daily. I do my devotionals to my two Gods and Goddess that are part of my daily worship. I read, watch videos, spend time outside in my local environment…all to build up my knowledge, as well as my experience. Paganism, for me, is not about sitting at home and just reading books and watching documentaries. Its about getting outside, and experiencing the world around me. To me, Paganism is an experiential belief system. If you aren’t getting your hands and boots dirty…well, isn’t that what being in a nature-based belief system is all about?

I work in a job that is about compiling statistics and numbers in relation to the rest of the departments. Its not really about looking at percentage rates, its about finding the causes for those rates. Its about finding the connections that make those rates climb or fall. And its about telling the stories behind that data. Certainly data is just a numeric counting of stuff…but those numbers represent people – and each of those people has a story on why they are here and why they are doing this or that now. To merely report the numbers only scratches the surface, the true merit of understanding things is in understanding the information underneath all of that – understanding the people. The single mothers wanting to better themselves so that they can provide for their children in a manner that they believe is appropriate. The individuals returning from military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, eager to put their GI Bills to use, in order to better understand their desired trade, and get a leg up on the competition for their careers. The faculty members who spend countless hours not only teaching their subjects, but also working with their students to help them become the very best graduate that comes out of the college. The administration folks who facilitate all the things that keep the buildings running, the lights on, insure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, so that financial aid comes to the student on time, and that the classroom is available, clean and the technology ready to use. All of that is part of the story of the data. Connectivity brings all that together to make the story.

I can’t definitively state what it really means to be a Pagan for anyone other than myself. My Paganism is a part of me. What I have learned on my Path so far helps me to understand inter-related concepts throughout my life. I can’t really separate or compartmentalize my beliefs from other parts of me. I used to say that religion, politics, and other aspects shouldn’t mix. But to be perfectly honest, there’s no way I can separate any of those things within myself. How I approach my daily life, through the lenses of my Paganism, relates to how I see other parts of life. My personal politics is informed by who and what I am. Certain candidates do not align with my viewpoints…and that’s fine. They certainly will not gather my vote. While I will never find a candidate that meets every single perspective that I have – unless I run for a political office, which is HIGHLY UNLIKELY – I can choose candidates based on how they approach their worldview, and how comparable it is to my own. When I come across an accident on the highway, my compassion for the victims of the accident comes from who I am, and what I am. try as I might, I can’t set things into little categories anymore.

I am a Pagan. I am a polytheist. I do try my best to be aware of the world around me. I don’t always succeed at any of that. I am, after all, human.

 

 

Paying the Priest Another Visit

Priest. I have written before about how I struggle with this term. How I cringe inwardly whenever someone mentions that I am on a Path towards a priesthood. Depending on my mood, my frame of mind, the temperature outside, and how much good IPA beer is available at the moment, I can embrace the idea that I am a Priest. But later down the line, I will back away from the entire concept, nearly aghast at how I was able to embrace the concept. So in many ways, its a love/hate/love-to-hate concept for me.

Perhaps some of what I am feeling comes from my dislike of labels. Or perhaps, more appropriately, it comes from my pairing of the concept with the archetypal image that resides in my mind. The black outfit, the white collar, spending time trying to fashion the religious directions of those who are lost. I mean, who is to say that I am not also treading the Path in my own fog? And yet, I would argue that I am here doing just that with these blog posts, and with the podcast episodes I do manage to put out. Providing a light for others that are walking through a similar fog in their lives. But then, I would toss aside the concept of being a Priest, and place that under the descriptives of being “friendly”, “helpful”, “kind”.

IMG_0243

The forest is my church

Interesting descriptives there though. I’ll circle back around to the priestly concept in a moment. But let’s focus here for a few paragraphs. When we talk about our Pagan spirituality, we discuss things in terms of doing this or that for the worship of the Gods and Goddesses. We – well some of us – leave offerings to the Gods, Goddesses, and Spirits of the Land because it is a giving part of our worship, our dedication to Them. Our focus is on our rites, our magicks, our rituals, our Gods and Goddesses. We do circles and rites to work against those who choose to use and abuse our environment as a resource, and ignore our collective attachment with one another and that same environment. We certainly focus well in these areas as a collective community. But we also tend to miss out on another important area…one another.

A recent post by Cara Shulz on the Wild Hunt brought some of this focus into my mind yesterday. A serious medical diagnosis for her has changed a lot of her focus, and has certainly brought areas of the world into focus for her. Cara and I have had our run-ins on Facebook over the past few years, and mostly because I was being a flippant ass. Her sharp rebuke of me over my behavior was appropriate at that time (and would be as well today). Despite that, I have a lot of respect for her, as she is very dedicated to showcasing Paganism through her stories on the Wild Hunt. Both the good and bad sides…after all, we learn from good stuff, as well as the bad. Her individual story from yesterday is not easy to read. Even this morning, knowing what is said within it, brings tears to my eyes. But another side of her story made me realize that I am approaching this entire concept of “Priest” from the wrong angle.

See, I keep looking at Priest from a religious clergy perspective. There is a lot more to being a Priest than just the religious perspective. Priests also look after the folks that are part of their parish, congregation, group, whatever you want to call it. They also look (or should) look after the people in their local community – even if they aren’t of the same faith as the Priest. Let’s face the facts though – many people who perform the role of Priest or clergy for their group don’t really care about those outside of their small circle. Which goes against some of the points that Jesus ben Joseph made to His followers. But this post isn’t about indicting Christian believers over what they do or do not do in the area of consistently following the teachings of their risen Savior. Thus, I digress slightly (as I always tend to do).

In a recent post, John Beckett pointed out that change does not readily happen from the top-down. Its far more beneficial and long-lasting if it comes from the bottom-up. This holds true for this as well. We can all lament how others have not fulfilled the conceptual role of a Priest when it comes to administering to the needs of others, particularly in the Pagan community. We make the offerings to the Gods on behalf of others, but sometimes its not the offerings that they need. Sometimes, they need people to come over and tidy up the house, do the dishes, mow the yard, run out and do some grocery shopping, help out with the laundry. Sure, they are ill, and the offerings to the Gods are done to assist with getting them to better health…but what about rolling up your sleeves? And before someone wags a finger at my Solitary ass, let me be the first to point out – I am far more guilty than many others in this respect.

So, I definitely need to do a lot more rethinking on what a Priest is. And I need to start by ditching the Christian and mainstream definitions of just what that role is. Perhaps a better way for me to approach this, is to define what the role means to me, and apply it right here – and not project it out onto others. Start at the base of what the definition is, and work upwards from there to build and strengthen the word’s meaning to me, and me alone. And to remember that the application of that meaning is for me and me alone. How I perform the function of Priest becomes something that inwardly is between myself and the Gods – and is projected outward into how I work within my Community….both mundane and Pagan.

Perhaps, instead of trying to shun the label, I need to embrace it. I can be a Priest, just not the way that the mainstream definition holds to it. By ditching the overtly Christian diagnostic of the term, I can utilize the term in a way that is a positive reflection of who I am, and where I walk on my Path. Perhaps, its because Druidry taught me that. Terminology should be flexible, able to grow and change with the needs of the role it describes. Definitely a thought going forward…and a lesson in how to release myself from Christian dogma that is heaped on terminology that I should see far differently.

 

Earth Day – an Opinion

A reblog for Earth Day….I wrote this two years ago….

Life With Trickster Gods

So another Earth Day has come and gone. A lot of friends asked me if I was doing anything special for today. “You know, ” the addendum to their statement would typically start, “Some kind of ritual, or a prayer to the Gods?” It can seriously be a royal pain in the backside to be the only Pagan in the group. Too many times, I drew a deep breath, counted to twelve, and made nearly the same reply every time.

Every day is Earth Day for me. I give thanks to the Gods each morning at sunrise for helping me see the connections with my environment, as well as my individual place within it all. The only ritual I need is to continue living life in a manner where I try to accord some bit of balance of my own. My silent prayer every night is that human beings could…

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Be Offended, B-E Offended…

Every political cycle, stuff seems to get more contentious between folks. And its really not just politics that does this – religion, sports, even statistical programs and analytics methods can bring out the worst in folks. However, I sincerely believe that its not really the subject matter that gets folks on edge, but rather the way they approach their subjects. But with our over-exposed media coverage – particularly here in America, where politics seems to be a hobby for some – it certainly seems like politics is the catalyst for everything.

Let’s face it, depending on your perspective, you either view America as a country that needs to get religion (Ted Cruz), become “great” again (Donald Trump), get civilized in its discourse concerning legislation (John Kasich), needs to continue some (but not all) of President Obama’s policies (Hillary Clinton), ditch every model of government and give everything away (or so it seems) (Bernie Sanders), or just needs a complete change to something new (any third party candidate). Or perhaps there’s some direction I’ve not mentioned for any of the above noted candidates or (seemingly invisible independent) third-parties. To be honest, none of that really matters one bit. Its all an over-generalized (on my part) perspective concerning various perspectives towards electing a figure-head position in a “representative” government, where the true manner of representation for the citizenry is flat-out ignored by that same citizenry. And much like Robert Conrad’s old battery commercials…everyone wears their political perspective on their shoulders, daring everyone to “knock it off”.

See, we’ve created a society that is more interested in getting offended than anything else. We wear our politics on our sleeves. We slam our beliefs under everyone else’s noses. We dare others to be offended over what we say, read, speak, and act upon. We seem to want to pick the fight. And this is especially common during political election cycles. We champion the President of the United States as being the “everyman” – the individual that we want to typify the everyday, average citizen of this country. Its not about electing a spokesperson. Its not about electing an individual that understands how to marshall legislation through the political waters of the Congress. Its not about finding a statesman (person?) who can find common ground with the political opposition in order to find legislative means to benefit the common citizen. No, what we want is a politician that will fight for our rights, trample the rights of those groups we could give two shits about, and tell the media to go fuck themselves while flashing a million-dollar smile. All while balancing a battery on his shoulder, just daring anyone to be “brave” enough to come knock it off. We want someone who is going to stand up and personify the manner in which we want to react to being offended.

Perhaps one day, we will come to our collective senses and realize that our government represents more than just our singular political, religious, sexual identity perspectives. That this country’s (and others’) greatest strength is that we stand together as a diverse group of people, embracing an ideal of freedom of individual choice. That we may choose differently…but we are united in the conceptual freedom of making our own choices. Maybe one day. In the meantime, I guess we will just have to continue looking for ways to be offended….

 

Talking About War

So let’s talk about war. And I am not talking about countries going to war – rather I am talking about religious beliefs being pitted against one another. I hear the great big “Huh?” that’s kicking up in various areas, but there’s certainly the distant beating of the war drums in the air. And there has been for some time.

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaLet’s take a few steps back first, though. Back in the early to mid 1980s, there was talk about how the Christian faith was waging a war against the non-mainstream beliefs. We had the Satanic panic, where anything not of the “big Five” (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islamic, and Judaic) was considered to be the supreme agents of Satan. Pushes were made in the government sectors to make things uncomfortable for the practitioners of these non-mainstream faiths. People with children were suspected of ritual abuse of these kids, in part thanks to the sensationalized (and eventually proven to be fiction) accounts of people like Mike Warnke and Sean Sellers. These folks, in their fictionalized accounts spoke of a vast, well-organized, underground movement of Satanic groups, who had infiltrated such establishments as child care facilities, and tapped into the runaway underground community to provide untraceable sacrificial content for their great Master. All of which was proven to be fictionalized accounts by the Christian magazine Cornerstone in the mid 1990s. But while the accusations were fiction, it was certainly the first salvos in a war against non-Christian faiths.

In the past ten years, we have had many news stories that relate the religious fanaticism of those of the Islamic faiths, and how that fanaticism has been directed against the Christian faith and western societies, all because the desire is to spread the Muslim faith through force. In other words, either be baptized and receive a new shirt or die, to borrow from another time frame.

But the question is not whether these accounts are being done in the vein of religious fanaticism, but who will benefit from these types of actions. That’s right. Who will benefit from the actions?

Now before I continue down this Path, I need to point out a few things. I am not advocating violence against anyone of any faith. Anyone who knows me well is very well aware of my desire for peace over force for finding amiable solutions. But there is a point in time where I feel that I may have to physically defend myself against someone that might be using their own spiritual faith and values to deny me the rights granted under the Constitution of this country. As I wrote once before in this blog, I have a staff – and its useful for a lot more than supporting me when I walk.

But is all of this really a war of Christians against non-mainstream beliefs?  Is there another war of folks of the Muslim faith against everyone else? To be perfectly honest, I am not completely sure. I would err to the side of believing that the “war” is perpetrated by extremists of either faith (pick a “war”) trying to establish a base of power over others by utilizing their “faith” as an excuse for their actions. How accurate is that statement?  No idea.

If there is a “war” brewing…all I can say is at least be prepared for the concept. Fifteen-plus years of working in Disaster Recovery Planning taught me that preparing for even the most impossible scenarios is always a good plan. When I worked at a Dallas-based financial company, we planned for the potential scenario of an earthquake of severe magnitude impacting our daily operations. It was extremely unlikely to happen, but it was better to be prepared than it was to be caught unaware. The same would go for a Christian v. Pagan war. Or an Islam v. the world war. For me, its unlikely that it ever happens, but I am ready to take action to defend myself, my family (most of whom are not DNA-related to me), my faith, and my understanding of the basic freedoms every American enjoys here in the United States.

More than likely, from what I have seen, we have two different very loud, very active, very extreme minority groups within the Christian and Islamic faith systems that twist their respective spiritual teachings to justify a hatred and fear of anything that is not like them. To combat that, the targeting does not to be wide, scatter-shot techniques. We don’t need to paint all Christians as having a hatred of non-mainstream beliefs. We need to be clear and precise as to who these people are, and how they differ from the Christians and Muslims that do not believe as they do. To do otherwise will only lend credence to their own twisted arguments that its an “Us v. Them” scenario, where they are trying to convince other Christians and Muslims that this convoluted perspective is truly correct. When we paint widely, and characterize all Christians or All Muslims as believing this – we lend truth and credence to their argument. When we target specifically, and draw out the differences between these extremists and their hatred policies and the rest of the Christian and Muslim practitioners – we provide better discernment for those Christians and Muslims to stand arm and arm with us in the battle against this type of hatred.

For me, any Path is valid for the individual practicing it, provided their belief does not advocate the harming or hindrance  of the physical, spiritual psychological, or psychic well-being of others nor bars the belief and faith of others. Plain and simple. And for anyone looking for a simpler way to call that:  its R-E-S-P-E-C-T.