Doing Means More Than Titles

A long while back, I wrote a post about accepting the idea of being a “Priest”. In that post, I made the following statement:

Yes, I am a Priest – just as you are. I may not fully embrace the title or the term, but I embrace the workings that are part of it. And in my estimation, that is far more important than whatever descriptor I attach to it. I celebrate Life every day. In every breath that I take. In every action I perform. When I add mindfulness to that equation, I discover where I am on the Pattern, and how my strand of the Song fits in. And at the end of the day, when I step out on to my porch to wish the Sun well on its journey to the other side of the Planet, and greet the Moon as She rises in His place – I celebrate what I have managed to create. I celebrate my workings as a Priest.

I have always thought that this final statement was a fairly good closing descriptor of my position, but apparently it was not. A few weeks ago, I received an Email from a reader noting that following a Pagan Path – particularly a Path of Druidry – is to follow a path towards priesthood. I have to say, it was a little difficult to not fire back in a sarcastic retort, but I maintained my calm the best that I could – and attempted to write a reply Email….and didn’t get very far.

To be perfectly honest, it would have been far easier to write a sarcastic retort – but that would have also been far less productive. So I let the entire issue sit and percolate in my brain-meats for a couple of weeks (three now), before I decided to write this blog post as a response – of sorts.

I am a Priest – Sort Of

Every day that I rise from bed, my eyes look to the skies to find the sun. Yes, even on cloudy days. The Sun is my constant companion throughout the daylight hours – and even into the night-time hours through the reflection cast across the face of the Moon. Each day provides me with a new opportunity to explore new-found connections with my

environment, as well as finding even more connections that I was not aware of. I work in a data analysis position, so I am given time to explore connections through data-centric models – a connective measure I had not really considered until a few months after I accepted the job (I started in September of last year). I perform rituals, for myself, on a daily basis as well as on marked aspects of the Wheel of the Year. I commune with my patron God, and the Spirits of the Land in a large variety of ways. And I am aware that every moment I have in the “here” moment of Life is unique, even when it seems very similar to another moment from the previous day(s). Its taken a lot of time for me to get beyond the idea that being a Priest means that I have followers, students, and a congregation of some sort.

Titles Mean Little to Me

Followers. Students. Congregation. Yeah, I have to shake my head at that notion. That is steeped in Christian definition. An individual that practices on their own is not a Priest within the Christian definitions. Rather, that image is provided a different definition, such as Lay-man, Monk, Mystic. But honestly, I could embrace the notion of any of these terms. And yet, I would rather eschew titles such as these. If I was to ascribe myself to a title, it would be this:  Me. Yeah, I follow some of the concepts that define the term “Priest” in what I do on a daily basis on my own Path, but I really doubt that a title is going to transform me into any sort of a holy man. My actions and studies will do that for me. Smeg, if a title was going to instantly transform me into something — I’d like to be a jedi, please.

If Titles Mean Nothing….

So, if titles mean nothing, then why am I studying the OBOD Bardic Grade course? Why am I taking a class with Cat Treadwell on Druidry? Why do I hold a Bachelors degree in Computer Science? Why do I hold a Masters degree in Information Systems Management? Why do I hold a Masters degree in Business Administration? Why am I continuing my education towards a Bachelors degree in History?

Well, its not some wildly complicated answer. I do all of these things because I like to learn. Each of those areas of learning afford me a different angle in Life. And seeing through that myriad of angles, I can find even more connections to the world around me. And the people within it. And the animals within it. And the plants within it. And the Gods. And the Spirits of the Land. And myself. I do these things because I want to understand the connections to the world around me. I do these things because I want to experience the world around me. I do these things because this is who I am.

Just Being…

Its really hard to explain any of this beyond those words. This Path works for me. I could give a hang about the titles. Call me whatever you like. Priest, Solitaire, Solo Practitioner, Me, whatever…it makes no difference to me. I know who I am. I know why my feet leave footsteps on this Path. I want to know more and experience more on this Path. I am only starting to understand my thread within the complex rhythm and sound of the Song we all sing together. And that alone compels me to continue my daily exploration – finding the connections within this world, and others.

Thinking Negatively About Positive Things

Starting to get a little quiet on my front here. Not really from a lack of something to say…I’ve always got an opinion on something. But more from a lack of something constructive to say. And to be completely realistic, this is something I struggle with on a nearly daily basis. Its really easy to write about something from a negative perspective. All you need to do is go back through my blog here, and you can find a handful of rants against this or that littered throughout the postings. The harder part is writing about things that come from a positive point of view.

Of course, than I get accused of farting rainbows and fairy dust. As if posting on positive topics automatically fills me with a gaseous need to expel multi-colored hues of refracted light or shoot sparkly, glittery formations into the air from my rear. I have honestly never understood the desire to shoot down someone else’s outlook on Life as something to be approached as an adventure, rather than another twenty-four hours locked in a stalag.

Sure, there’s plenty for me to lament in Life. The loss of both my mother and father over a six month period. How dealing with that has placed me on a literal “road warrior” status every weekend since Spring Break. How my adhesive capsulitis (read: frozen shoulder) condition in my left shoulder has worsened to the point where I want to cry when I go to sleep. But that’s only portion of my life…only a single part of my Daily Path. To focus solely here would be shutting out everything else.

Every morning, I get the chance to wake up looking into the rising sun – a reminder that each day is a unique moment in time. Perhaps I am lucky, I have a job that I enjoy doing – with a boss that I enjoy some level of discourse with. I work for a college that I really believe in, and the individual that is President is someone I would walk over hot coals for. So going into work is never a really bad thing for me. I am walking a Path that shows me every single day that there are new ways to see connections to the world around me.

Sure, Life could be worse. But its not. Yes, there are plenty of outside factors that can make things worse. Political issues here in the States, social issues and injustices that happen in many places around the world, potential economic strife and issues that could flare up at any moment. But I only have to remind myself of how little influence I have over these things – and that my focus is where I can work directly with my environment, where I can find connections with the Gods. In short, where my center is located.

Sure, maybe I am farting rainbows and riding a flying unicorn while emitting beams of White Light from my eyes into the world around me. But Ted, my flying unicorn, needs to get out every once in a while.

unicorn_farting_a_rainbow

The Footsteps of a Conversation on Christianity

As I sit here with my headphones on, listening to the jaw-dropping sounds of the late-Gary Moore, my mind wanders back to a few days ago on Facebook. I made a statement about Christianity, and watched the comments roll in – mostly about how the basic concepts of Christianity cannot be removed from the adherents that misinterpret or misuse/abuse those same concepts. So, I thought it might be a good topic to explore from my end.

First, its probably best to put the statement into play….

Its not the tenets of Christianity that is the problem, folks. I’ve never had a problem with Christianity. Its the inappropriate application and misinterpretation of those tenets by the adherents of the Christian faith that is the problem.

Now for a little background on the “why” of the statement. After all I don’t normally make statements like this whatsoever – much less out of the blue, which it seemed to be for some folks. I have Christian friends, just as most Pagans tend to. I hear from Christian friends from time to time about religious issues, and every once in a while we have a good conversation on the topic. We have known one another far too long to go the “conversion” route in a conversation. Its more like a friendlier “Green and Grey” for those familiar with the song by Damh the Bard. Anyways, [R] made the statement that I disliked Christians simply because I was a Pagan. I retorted with the statement that I liked him just fine. His reply was that I disliked the Christian beliefs because of what those beliefs stated.

This brought on a discussion that continued into the basic tenets of Christianity. When we were done discussing the basic aspects, [R] began to see my point. Its not the basic concepts of those teachings I have a problem. Loving and respecting your fellow man is something I would love to see happen more often throughout the world. Caring and helping those less fortunate than yourself (regardless of the reasons that bring them to that point) is another measure that I would love to see happen more often around the world. Being a good steward of the Earth is something that we as Pagans are constantly trying to do. Now, don’t try to get me to quote Bible verses on this stuff – I don’t know the Bible inside out, and don’t really care to. And don’t quote Bible verses at me either. That’s the fastest way to get me to ignore you in a conversation. I’m not interested at all in what the Bible says. I’m far more interested in hearing what you – the individual – has to say. And if you can’t be original without leaning on the Bible, then you – in my opinion – are missing the point of what Free Will allows you to be. And that grows into another area of discussion (look a tangent in Tommy’s writing!  How rare! [/sarcasm]) that leads me away from my point.  Maybe another time for this one.  Maybe.  Back to the point though….

Its not the basic aspects of Christianity that bother me. Not even the one about proselytizing. That’s not even annoying, until the proselytizer starts to get pushier than a used car salesman trying to meet some end of the month quota. And that’s where I begin to have the problems with Christianity. Not with the tenets, not with the basic concepts – its with the people who follow it and take it a step (or a few miles) beyond where it is. Discussing your faith with others is one measure of “spreading the Word” — when you slip into Joey O’Brien mode (Robin Williams’ character in Cadillac Man) trying to schmooze the deal…you’ve essentially twisted what the tenets are into something beyond. When you take scriptures such as “though shalt not suffer a witch to live” and not investigate its original meaning (KJV is not an original writing of the Bible – and if you read enough history, you will find it was rewritten for political purposes, not divine measures). Its the twisting of a spiritual path for political reasoning and power that I have an issue with.

Granted, not everyone is going to find someone like [R] who is willing to discuss matter such as this in a logical or meaningful manner. People like that – even within the Pagan paths – are very hard to find. But when you find people like that – people you make a connection with, hang on tight. Those people are what make a good conversation worth the time.

Do I agree with the tenets of Christianity?  Some of them, yes. I find measures of truth in most Paths I have studied. My path is that of Druidry – with some mixture of Zen, and Native American added to it. But those footsteps are mine, and mine alone. Sometimes, other people walk beside me on that path, sometimes directly behind me, sometimes directly in front of me – but only my footfall can occupy the spaces I am in at any given time. Sometimes, the footsteps near me are those of the Gods, but they tread light enough that I usually don’t know they are there until moments ago. Regardless of who is there – who is near, its inevitable that we will eventually strike up a conversation. I’d honestly rather have a conversation, than a full-fledged debate, or even an argument. Just my preference…hopefully, you weren’t looking for a debate on Christianity, and are delighted to find the traces of a conversation…

Just Being….

Today has been the first time in about three weeks where I have had a decent day off. I’m not on the road today. Its not a work day. And I only have a handful of chores to finish off. And to that end, I have had a lot of time to do some of the things I have not been able to do – like a long meditation. Its been nice to take a few moments and breathe, relax, empty my mind and emotions…and just be.

I am now getting the chance to process my moments in my Bardic Grade initiation more fully. So much further down the timeline than I had originally wanted to. It was an intense moment in time, and still remains as such with me. A moment where my intentions and actions now meet – a moment where my focus is continually drawn back to, with nearly everything I have done since that moment.

One of my biggest recent influences has been Emma Restall Orr’s “The Wakeful World” – and its one particular quote that I have taped to my iMac that reminds me that I need to revisit this book sometime in the next calendar year – when I have stoked my Animism, Philosophy, and Psychology lexicon a bit more…

…the song is the expression of the moment as it unfolds, our soul riding the current of the spirits whose perpetual motion is our becoming. The Songs of being are the music of presence. The song is what we express and celebrate in every moment of our living.

This is what I have been missing over the past few weeks. The time to sit and take in thoughts such as this – and apply it to my daily moments in life. Literally, I have been missing the time to do just that. To be so focused on a thought, that I can block out most everything else.

For me, life is about being in the moment – the experience of what that very moment entails. The feel of the air against my skin, the drop of sweat that I feel beading down my arm, the feel of the dusty dirt beneath my feet, the hot, stifling humidity in the air – making me feel like I am drowning on dry land. That’s a typical mid-day during summer here in Texas. But then there’s the moment of hyper-focus – as I have described above – where I block out the rest of the world, take a thought and turn it over and over. Both of these types of experiences are critical for my daily Path. And when I don’t get the chance to maintain those two moments – I feel out of balance. And for the Libra that I am – I suffer from that.

The song of being – for me, I hear it in Wendy Rule’s music.  Her voice and demeanor are the perfect foil for me to reach out and connect to my environment. Just as the cries of the Crow and the Grackle here at the house remind me that the bird bath needs to be cleaned out and refilled. And the connection, and related actions bring me to the moment of experiencing Life as it is…a moment of just being…

Dreams

How does the lyrics from “Jesus Christ Superstar – the Rock Opera” go? Ah yes…

Pontius Pilate: Then you are a king.
Jesus: It’s you that say I am. I look for truth, and find that I get damned.
Pontius Pilate: And what is ‘truth’? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?

I can change this every so slightly…we all have dreams, are mine the same as yours? Seriously, we all do have dreams. Dreams of our job expectations, dreams of how our spiritual beliefs can effect the world around us in some ginormous way. Dreams of how our votes can change the political climate we found ourselves in. And then we run into that brick wall of reality. But we’ll come back to that in a moment…

Me -- 6 years old

Me at 6 years old

I had dreams when I was a kid. Wild dreams. I wanted to be a fighter jet pilot – but my five foot six inch height stopped me real quick on that. Plus, my fear of heights compounds the issue for me. I also wanted to be a dragon-slaying, ninja warrior. With all the grace of a master martial artist, the honor of a Samurai, and the babe-magnetism of a medieval knight. Yah. Thankfully – for society as a whole – my fat, short ass is not that graceful, and my ability with a sword is more than passable, but hardly at “hero” quality. And if I had any magnetism, I would be stuck so hard to my armor, that I would be begging for a can opener.

However, as I grew older and changed into a slightly responsible adult, my dreams changed with me. In high school, I had the desire to be a History teacher. That desire to teach has not disappeared, and I have realized that part of my dream – teaching Computer Science at the junior college level. I still have the desire to teach History…and continue to take steps towards that direction as well. I never would have figured that I would work for the United States Air Force. Or the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Or any of the myriad of other places I have worked. Nor would I have ever thought I would be working as a Research Analyst in my current job position. Nor would I have guessed that I would actually enjoy the job that I do.

But I still have dreams.

I always envisioned a belief system that would embrace my feelings of Nature as a mystical, spiritual place – not a resource that was placed here for my use – as if God was dropping relief packages for the stranded race of human kind. It was a dream that such a thing existed. It did, and I eventually found my way to it. I have dreams of where I can go within those bounds, and how much more I can learn about myself and the world around me through those bounds. I never would have dreamed that I would eventually have the semi-attention of one of the Gods, much less find myself working in a direction through the podcast to showcase Paganism to others.

And still I dream.

I dream of a day when a candidate comes on to the political scene and holds the same beliefs that I do. The same ideals of how government should be in a position to foster community amongst the individual states, while protecting the freedoms and rights of the individual citizens within those states. I have yet to find that candidate…but I hold out hope that one will eventually come along on the scene.

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 dream of a day when anyone practicing a Pagan faith can do so openly. Without fear of reprisal, oppression, or rejection. I dream of a day when every faith can stand shoulder to shoulder — agree to disagree without angry rhetoric or statements of damnation or urges of eradication. With each passing day, I am not sure that will ever happen during this lifetime – but I hold out hope.

I dream of a day, when education is available to anyone that desires to have it. Where the costs of that education are kept at a reasonable cost – for the government to fund. Yeah, I get that this is rather socialist of me…but I can dream, ya know?

…and tonight, I continue to dream. I dream of a quiet open thicket in the middle of a forest – the tree line just a touch out of sight. In the center of that thicket stands five trees. One large oak, surrounded by four birch trees at each cardinal point of the compass. And just under the branches of the Oak – near the eastern-most Birch – sits a large rock. When standing on that rock, one can reach up and grasp the branches of the Oak with minimal effort. Sitting on this rock, I will wait. Wait for my blackbird friends – who chirp, caw, and qwork at me with greetings.

I dreamed, I dream, I continue to dream. How about you??

I Am a Survivor – Solo Ritual vs. Group Ritual

Over the past few months, I have been stepping outside of my own bubble. Its a bit daunting, at least for me, as I have noted before in this blog. But I have also been subjected to some experiences I had never had before. Such as my first encounter with someone who has been a “fan” of my podcasting work for a few years now. A moment of sheer, inner terror for a momentary flash…but I survived, at least I think I did. ::grins:: But there are other experiences I have had that were far different. Here’s one that had me a little bemused, befuddled, and feeling somewhat awkward – from the same Brigid retreat held by Hearthstone Grove.

As a solo practitioner of my Path, its very rare that I attend group rituals. Typically when I do, the format has rarely called for an individual moment within the ritual. However, during the rituals held during the Brigid Retreat I attended earlier this year, I found myself confronted by just that, and more than once. And before I continue, let me note that I am not placing blame or anything like it on anyone other than myself — and even than its not really blame, just a “critical” observation.

Imbolc Retreat 2015 - photo by Amanda Godwin

Imbolc Retreat 2015 – photo by Amanda Godwin

The first time, a chalice cup was passed around, from which all were offered the chance to drink. I had watched the preparation of the cup, and knew that there was alcohol in the chalice. Being a diabetic, I knew I had to pass on drinking from it – alcohol is not a friendly thing for a diabetic. However, I was unsure if this was to be some sort of affront to my hosts. When the Chalice reached me, I held it in silence, raised it to the skies, and then handed the chalice to the next individual within the Circle. As I watched the Chalice make the rounds through the Circle, every individual drank from the Chalice, and every single individual offered up some words to Brigid or the God or Goddess of their choice. Damn I felt out of place! Worse still, I felt that I may have committed a faux pas of some sort.

At the second of the three rituals I was a part of, I knew that the Chalice would be passed again. I wondered what I should do. This time, however, there were quite a few more people who had made it into camp since the previous ritual. Even before the Chalice reached me, there were others who had made the same silent gesture I had made before. Relief! I had not committed some social error. But then, there was a curve-ball thrown my way: an offering. Oh damn! What in the Nine Hells was I going to do now??

I actually take offerings very, very serious. When I am doing a working where I encounter Crow, I take the time afterwards to offer fresh water and fresh bird seed outside in the shade of my backyard tree. As I pour fresh, cold water into the bird-bath, and as I spread seed with nine throws from my hand, I silently give thanks to Crow and hope that what I offer helps to nourish the bellies of the flock.

But that’s at home. Here I am in a Circle in ritual with a large group of folks – some of who I know, others that I don’t. No birdseed in my hand, none in my pocket, no water bottle with me. When it comes my turn, I will be offered some incense to toss into the fire, or some alcohol to pour into it. Neither offering feels “right” to me. So, I quietly shake my head when my turn is offered. I watch individual after individual step up to the fire, make a statement, and provide their offering. I stayed silent. Oh shit, certainly I have done the wrong thing here…

IMG_0199After the ritual, I waited for someone to come and pull me aside and tell me what I had done wrong. Essentially I was waiting to be scolded like a child. It never came. No one looked cross-eyed at me. No one treated me any differently than before. I breathed a sigh of relief, and made my way back to my bunk in the cabin, where I had a small baggie of birdseed sequestered within my giant plastic tub that was doing double-duty as a footlocker and a suitcase. I pulled a small handful from it, grabbed one of my last bottles of water and made my way up the hill towards a tall wind-vane. As the darkness started to come down around me, I scattered the handful of seed, and poured out some water. I took a long pull from the bottle for myself, and silently gave my thanks to my patron God for the finish of the day. The next morning, I would get up before dawn and repeat the process in a little grove of trees on the other side of the community fire.

By the time the third ritual had come around – I knew that my previous actions were perfectly fine and acceptable, so I was at a much greater ease continuing my silent acknowledgement of the moment.

Now, my purpose with this is not to put shame on the folks who put on the Retreat…I know full well, if I had brought my concerns to them, they would have put me at ease. The purpose behind this is to showcase how different ritual can be for a person who is a solo practitioner and someone who is used to doing group work. Those first moments in a ritual that one is not familiar with can (and typically is) filled with moments of trepidation and inner terror. What if I do something wrong? What if I say the wrong thing? Will I be looked upon with derision because I don’t know the “basics”? Will I be an embarrassment to my hosts?

While some of may not remember those moments – we have all been there before. And we have all survived those moments. I can say that I am a survivor…many times over…

Thoughts Going Forward

Dealing with the passing of a parent is not an easy thing. I know. I dealt with the passing of my mother a little over six months ago. Dealing with the passing of both parents can also be quite trying. I know this too. My father passed away just a couple of week ago. These last two weekends, I have dealt with being in my parents’ house, trying to determine what belongings I wish to have, and what I can part with through an estate sale. Its not been easy. Today, I pack up a small rental moving truck with most of the belongings I wish to keep. Some of it – in particular five large living room cabinets – will be problematic, but I should be smart enough to figure out a solution. Other aspects will merely be packing boxes. In all, I may be taking less than an 1/8th of what is here. But its not the amount of things I take that matters, its the memories that are attached to them.

In all reality, I’m still dealing with my grief for the passing of both of my parents. But I am reminded that I have my own life that continues. I see the amount of material that my parents have left behind – the amount of material that is pure detritus – just collections of “stuff” — and I know that I have a very similar problem at my own home. Material that serves no other purpose than taking up room. My footprint must become smaller. I’d much rather pass tangible memories on to my family, then a pile of material that has to be sorted, cataloged, and disseminated after I pass beyond the veil.

While I was at the OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering, I encountered, mingled, and meshed with a group of people that I fit with. Not friends, not people I know – family, in the purest sense of the word. I want to pass and share memories with these people, things that transcend material objects…shared moments of experience. And I can’t do that sitting in my home, sequestered from the world around me. Yet again, I feel the gentle nudge from Crow – get out there, be a part of it. Yes, that’s how I will make those lasting memories – those shared experiences that will be held far beyond the sentiment behind some physical object.